Tristan woke violently thrashing at the air, trying to beat away the darkness.
Another dream, he thought.
Only another dream.
Armania sat nestled near by on the cliff that overlooked the Galatea Plains far below them. Her head was turned sideways, watching Tristan closely. A breeze picked up over the lip of the cliff, ruffling her feathers before moving on up the mountain.
Tristan looked around to get his bearings as he pulled off the deerskin blanket that lay half draped over his body. There was an early morning chill in the air that sent a shiver down his spine. Tristan stoked the smoldering embers and breathed in the smoky aroma of the cedar logs that still burned. A few flakes of ash salted his jet black hair as he finished breathing in the smoke. The cedar aroma cleansed his system and washed away the grogginess from his brain. Hearing a clicking sound, he turned around to see Armania grooming herself.
“Good morning old girl.” She squawked at him and then continued her morning ritual. Standing up, Tristan stretched, yawned, and then stepped over to the massive eagle and scratched the back of her neck. She cooed under his touch, closing her eyes and stretching her massive neck.
“You mind grabbing us some breakfast girl at the river down there?” he pointed down at the grasslands far below them. In the far west where the plains met the Lockdoon Sea, sparkled the legendary city of Abydos. It shimmered on the horizon like a diamond in an emerald sea.
Armania screeched an answer as she spread her 40 foot wingspan with silvery tips stretching out toward the sky. Folding her wings back in, she walked to the edge of the cliff. She looked back at Tristan with what might pass as a smirk for an eagle. 2 steps more and then she dove off, falling like a stone until she found the right current that leveled her out.
Tristan shook his head as he watched her gracefully sail on the air currents. He realized he envied her and actually longed to be in the air again. The freedom that was felt in the air seemed to wash over him just then and flooded his senses. The dream began to fade until it was a dull notion at the back of his mind. He smiled and then turned back to the campsite and looked over everything. His food bundle was still untouched, hanging high in a nearby oak tree. His twin swords lay with his bow near his bedding where he always kept them. Tristan’s hand went to his dagger on his belt unconsciously, his fingers tapping rhythmically on the pommel.
Never be empty handed little brother, you never know what is around the next corner. He could hear his brother’s words in his mind. Always be prepared Tristan, living on the streets taught me that. Don’t trust anyone…Tristan smirked at how true those words rang.
“Oh Malak how I wish things had been different. If only I had come back to the caravan sooner.” Tristan shook his head at the memories, “Maybe if I had found you before they had…”
“Maybe” is just a word we use when we can’t change the past. Tristan went over to the fire and got it going once more. He then sat down and pulled out one of his blades. He rummaged through one of his packs until he found his sharpening kit. He pulled out the stone and turned it over, studying the runes for a moment. He ran his fingers over them as an image of an elegant Elven face came to mind. A beautiful face, her emerald green hair flowing in the wind brushed across her features as she sat on a tree branch. She sat there with her blade drawn before her, a stone being run down its edge. She sang softly the mantra she had taught him during his training.
Tristan began to whisper the mantra to himself as he slowly began to work the stone along the blade.
For the Mind…
For the Body…
For the Soul…
For the Defense…
For the Offense…
The attack was always last resort, to attack first without the rest of your self ready meant you opened yourself up for destruction.
The mind must be guarded always Tristan. If not, you open the gates to evil and destruction.
The Elven woman’s words whispered in his mind once more. Linwe Anwarunya, The Dawn’s Light, had been a loyal friend and fighting partner during his life with the Elves. They had gone through training together from the time Tristan was old enough, and had worked and lived together as Guardians up until Tristan had left.
20 years, a lifetime ago it seems. A life well spent and a sanctuary of memories that he will cherish forever. It was the Elves that had saved him on that horrific day. The day his life was ripped away from him was the day that a new life had dawned for him.
A life for a life, Tristan smirked at the phrase that his friend had said many times over those years.
The body must be ready for any attack, both inward and outward Tristan. Train your body, push it to its limits, and then push it beyond.
As Tristan rubbed a polish on the blade he remembered many days of pushing himself to the limits. Training with numerous opponents, working out the different fighting styles and practices, he worked his blades around in a dance.
The Soul is always attacked, by both enemy and friend. It is your most treasured possession Tristan, guard it well. The Father cherishes and loves us enough to allow us a choice to follow his ways or not. He is not a dictator or tyrant like the Dark Lord, who rages against our soul in any way he can.
Linwe was warrior and priestess like no other. He respected her beliefs and resolve when it came to how she lived. 20 years had shown him that the Elves had so much more to teach us when it came to worshipping Eschua and to living in this world. Humans had short-lived existences and rushed through everything. We race to live, race to work, race to love, race to fight, and because of this we miss out on so much. It does not matter that the Elves lived longer, because it is still possible to live life fully. He knew from experience after living three lifetimes and now starting a fourth.
We must defend before we fight, never seek out violence and evil. Always be prepared, be vigilant in course, watch every corner, and be mindful of every shadow.
To lash out first before knowing who your real opponent is, or even if there is one, is folly. Misunderstandings and confusion can lead to chaos, and therefore always defend first and attack last.
Tristan had put away the first blade and now worked on the second one. Both blades were twins of one another, balance, design, and structure. Scimitars with ebony hilts inlaid with onyx runes connected to adamantium blades interlaced with blue diamond dust. This dusting gave the blades a starry look that in the right light blinded most creatures of an evil nature.
The final act is the offense, Tristan. I say it this way because we believe that to take a life is an offense to all life. But at times it is necessary; however all other lessons must be followed to the fullest before we attack. And when we do attack, we do so with the upmost precision, without mercy, without hesitation, and without regret. For if all others are achieved then there should be no reason not to go back against your actions for you will be fully committed at that point.
Tristan stood and pulled the other blade back out. He looked over his work, tested their balance, moved with them smoothly. He started going through his lessons, remembering Linwe by his side, their teacher Menkaura the Weapons Master, in front of them.
Tristan continued for some time until he heard the distant flapping of wings and turned as Armania dropped down on the cliff’s edge. Sweat dripped from his body, glistening in the morning light as a chill ran down his spine from the high altitude’s climate. He pulled his soaked hair back from hanging over his eyes as Armania made her way over to the fire. She leaned down and dropped the large pile of fish down on the rocky ground.
“A nice catch old girl, a fine catch,” He looked over the pile of fish and picked out two large fish and began to clean them by the fire. He laid them out over a flat slab, filleted them, and then cut them into strips. Some he cooked immediately while others he dried on the rocks nearby the fire to save for later. Armania began to work on the rest of the pile, taking her time as her human friend worked on his meal. Occasionally she watched Tristan work, while other times she looked out over the plains.
After Breakfast and breaking camping, Armania stood on the cliff edge once more, now with Tristan on her back. “Once more friend, let us take to the skies and finish our journey together.” He scratched the back of her neck as he held onto her feathers with his other hand.
Armania screeched in acknowledgment and then dropped off the rock face. Tristan held on tightly but no longer afraid and drank in the exhilaration of plummeting through the high winds. Armania rushed toward the valley floor and then leveled off at the last second and soared up to half a mile above the landscape. She found the current she wanted and relaxed as they soared off toward the shimmering horizon.
Click, click, click…
Click, click, cli…!!
A green lighted fireball blasted into the farthest most wall of the fathomless cavern. The cathedral roof, high above, shook under the destruction as part of the wall slid down in a chaotic symphony of debris and dust.
Silence reigned for what seemed like eternity through out the underground chamber. The darkness was lit only by the occasional flame burst from a vent or gaseous pocket in the rock face. Those flames were also greenish in hue with a slightly violet tinting on the fringes. The sickly shadows that cast around the great chamber could not even hope to reach the ceiling high above.
Click, click, click…
“AAaarrgghhh!!” A voice bellowed through the darkness in frustration. “I could not have missed you, pest!” A black mountain moved through the shadows, slithering around the great stone columns that held up the mighty roof almost a mile above. The mountain seemed to slither and move methodically, gracefully, and deadly silent. The mountain fumed and hissed suddenly, as greenish purple flames erupted once more. The fireball lit up the lower part of the cavern as it sailed the full length of the chamber.
More debris and dust whooshed out and covered the cave floor. Again the eerily silent oppression blanketed the cavern. 2 emerald orbs appeared near the top of the mountain of a shadow. They rotated this way and that way piercing the inky black of the atmosphere.
“Disturb my slumber, will you?” The form convulsed and shook as it laughed, “Ha, Ha, Ha!” The shadow moved back towards the other end of the cavern more than a mile away.
Amongst the rubble a fuzzy little ball popped out. A little white mouse twitched its nose and cleaned its ears of dust. It sat for a long time, watching the shadow mountain move away. Its large ears could faintly hear the light clicking of scales over stone, and the silent scraping of claws. Its heart rate slowed to normal as the last visage of the monstrous shape disappeared into the shadows. The mouse rummaged around the dirt and rocks until it found a walnut it had been working on. Grabbing it with its front paws the mouse licked its teeth in anticipation. But just as it was about to take a bite it heard a low growl and hissing sounds echoing from the other side of the chamber. Thinking better of it, the mouse scampered off into the dark.
Eesakar made his way across the cavern floor, his emerald eyes pierced across the dark expanse. The faintest hint of light glowed from a small tunnel cut out of the rock face. His scaly throat began to vibrate and thrum as the membranes below his cheeks began to glow a dull green.
“Noc tu varei, Noc tu marei,” Eesakar began to chant in the Daemonei Vas language, an ancient mixture of draconic and demonic languages. The shimmer of the horns flickered from greens to purples and repeated over and over. The shimmer then ran down his scaly neck, out over his leathery wings, and covering his steely claws.
“Noc tu varei, Noc tu marei.” The chant repeated over and over, starting from a low whisper and rising quickly to a thunderous shout. The chant echoed around the cavern, filling every nook and cranny with a sickening weight that caused any creature nearby to cower and retreat in fear.
Eesakar’s body began to diminish and morph. Bones snapped and rebuilt themselves, sinews popped as muscles tore apart and reworked themselves into a new form. His body twitched and convulsed as his scaly hide became fluid like. The fluid form shimmered and shrank as Eesakar grunted and growled under the process.
In the blink of an eye the four legged mountain stood on two legs at just over 7 feet tall. His wings and tail fluttered and flickered, shrinking down into an oily silken robe that covered his body in shimmering raiment. The once ancient spiny tendrils of his leathery face were replaced by a short trimmed mustache and goatee. The two great horns shrunk and transformed into long locks of midnight black hair that fell over his back and shoulders.
Lastly, the talons and claws melted off of him and pooled together into a silvery golden viscosity. As he placed his hand over the pool a form rose slowly up. The liquid form of a staff began to congeal together, almost sucking the viscous fluid into itself.
As the liquid disappeared into the now metallic staff, runes of the Daemonei Vas language began to appear across its surface. The top of the staff ended in a grotesque morphing of a skeletal draconic hand. In its taloned grasp was an eternal emerald flame that had lavender shades along its fringes.
The man peered deeply into the flames for a moment, his eyes mirroring the burning image until his pupils became miniature flames. The landscape around him became hazy and reality seemed to glisten over with shades of an ever deepening grayness. The staff stood of its own accord as the flame began to flicker more violently and shifted through different forms.
Whispers poured out of the flame, borne on wisps of smoke that raced around from one point to the other. They echoed around and through Eesakar, building momentum and volume coming to a thunderous climax.
The lack of sound was both deafening and oppressive. The weight of the silence in the cavern brought Eesakar to his knees.
A whisper coalesced around him, penetrating every fiber of his being.
Eesakar…What news do you have?
Eesakar thought quickly the route that would both please his master and hide his own plans. “Master, my main forces have already left and well on their way to Feyraven Tower.”
What of your other target? Eesakar…
His name sounded as if the voice had been thrown off a cliff into a silent abyss. Eesakar shuddered, then composed himself, “Ishme Dagan won’t know what is coming for them, my lord.”
Your machinations better not fail…Eesakar…
The Dark Lord’s words bore deeply into Eesakar’s blackened soul. Pain encroached on his mind like a thousand needle pricks. The flames of his eyes flared out of the sockets as he silently screamed in agony. He gripped the sides of his skull as he stuttered, “I…I, I…will not ff…fail you, master.” The pain subsided to a dull ache at the back of his mind.
See that you don’t…servant…
With that final word the flames in his eyes, the pain, and the atmosphere around him dissolved back to normal like ice melting away. Eesakar shook off the suffering that lingered and rose to compose himself once more. He blinked away the last remnants of the flames from his emerald green eyes.
Taking the staff in hand once more he made his way through the long, narrow tunnel. No torch lit the way except the eerie flame adorning the staff. After about a thousand steps or so the natural rock tunnel gave way to fine crafted marble steps. Here an occasional torch sat in a copper sconce on the smooth pomegranate colored walls. Another 300 steps later, and Eesakar came to a large platform made of what looked like volcanic glass. Like the walls the glass floor was a deep pomegranate color but it seemed alive. At first glance it looked like a placid pool of liquid amethyst and if you stared long enough it looked like it moved like water.
The door before Eesakar was solid obsidian with amethyst runes inlaid around the frame. Again he whispered in the dark language as he raised his staff, pointing it at the black portal. Indeed, it was a portal though only to a short distance. Its twin lay in a large room about 500 feet in front of and 1,000 feet below the first portal. The room can only be accessed by porting and even then there are wards and traps to prevent intruders’ access.
The portal shimmered from top left to bottom right 3 times before it became a vertical pool of oily liquid. The oily liquid was cool on Eesakar’s skin but it did not stain cloth as he passed through. Immediately he stepped into the room, the portal becoming solid obsidian again.
Like the platform, the room was made from volcanic glass the shade of amethyst. The glass seemed alive with motion when you stared directly at it, almost as if things moved just under the surface.
There were many shelves cut out of the glass walls, some covered with books and maps while others held an assortment of bobbles and trinkets. The room itself was some what spherical in design with a circular floor that held a set of stairs that curved downward to the lower hemisphere where another chamber stood. The circular floor of the main level was over 50 feet in diameter. At 10 foot increments along its circumference were obsidian pedestals that each held a blood red gem at its conical point.
At the northern apex of the floor rose an altar out of the glass like two skeletal draconic hands. In their clawed grasp sat an ancient book with a leathery cover made from the skin of Eesakar’s own draconic face ages ago. The corners and edges of the black tome are trimmed in dragon claws to strengthen the spine. Eesakar walked over to the tome and opened it. Finding the right incantation he raised his free hand, palm up, toward the center of the circle. The red gems on the pedestals began to glow as a low thrumming sound vibrated around the room. Light began to pulsate from each of the gems in a pattern around the circle. The pattern began to pick up speed as Eesakar’s voice rose in volume.
As Eesakar’s incantation grew in power the torch sconces around the room dimmed. At the center of the circle was a miniature pyramid with a crystal point. Crimson beams of light shot out from the gems and converged on the crystal. There was a miniature explosion of light and then a doorway about 9 feet tall and 4 feet wide appeared. Like the other portal the surface of the doorway was an oily black liquid.
Eesakar gave a slight shudder as a nightmarish form stepped through the portal. Smoke poured out of the form like a waterfall and cascaded down its sides before dissipating on the ground around it. The being wore a charcoal colored robe over its blood red armored body. The dark creature’s raiment smoldered as embers constantly flaked off.
Before Eesakar stood his greatest champion and his deadliest weapon. The Dark Messenger, Daemonas, was not only the general of his armies, but the living testament to the Dark Lord’s power. Delnok had sent 7 Messengers across Anoria to spread his dark prophecies and his conquest plans. Daemonas had come to the black dragon Eesakar two centuries ago, while its brother, Darmonas, was sent to the great dragon Odall. The two brothers were entrusted with getting the dragons first in line. The Dark Lord Delnok knew that the dragons had their own designs and plans for the world. Once he had them the Shadowlords came into being and began to rise into power.
With the rise of the Shadowlords and the dragons having their own armies the Dark Lord knew it was his time. Daemonas could feel his master around him, in him, his master had breathed life into him. He had a purpose and he would see it to the ends of life itself. Daemonas breathed deeply, rhythmically, as wisps of smoke exploded from his body at every heart beat and poured down his body like water.
“You have summoned me, Lord Eesakar.”
Flakes of ash peeled off of his outfit and fluttered about on an unseen breeze.
“Why? What news?”
His voice rose and fell with each breath like wind travelling up through a great chasm.
Eesakar moved away from the podium pointing at the dais as the book closed itself. He grabbed his staff and made his way over to one of the cabinets. For the moment, the only sound made was the clanking of the staff on the glass floor. He could feel the presence of the creature behind him even though there was over 45 feet between them. The aura like the light in the chamber seemed to have dimmed a bit since the Dark Messenger’s arrival.
“The Dark Lord was checking on our progress and…” he held his hand to his forehead for a moment as the pain returned, “…reminded me that failure is not an option for us.” He grabbed something from inside and silently slid it into an inside pocket. “By the way, how is it going with the preparations for our next target?” He didn’t give Daemonas the pleasure of facing him.
Daemonas crossed his scaled armored arms, “The preparations are fine, dragon lord. My warriors are ready to depart.” He never moved from his spot and didn’t even give the satisfaction of looking in Eesakar’s direction. He seemed to stare through the volcanic glass, the rock, everything that Anoria was and beyond all of that toward the endless void of the Abyss where his Master sat on a throne of tortured souls, skeletal remains of former enemies, and the screams of hundreds of thousands of beings burning in emerald flames.
The vision seemed to embolden the dark creature, strengthen the malice and darkness that was his very aura. “Why have you summoned me?”
Eesakar closed the cabinet stared at the runes carved into the dark granite stone work. They seemed to swim and dance before him as he closed his eyes and concentrated for a moment. Whispers escaped his breath as he envisioned their next target.
Seat of magical power.
The gatekeeper to a great deal of Anoria’s secrets.
Secrets that would soon be his…
“Ishme Dagan must be taken at all costs, Daemonas,” Eesakar moved to another shelf, never looking in the Messenger’s direction.
“We have been over this,” Daemonas breathed, “It will be done.” The words seemed to come from deep with in a great chasm, as they thrummed from his indigo cracked lips.
“Don’t get me wrong, I believe in your methods Messenger,” he chortled somewhat too happily.
Eesakar’s sarcasm boiled deep with in Daemonas as more embers flaked off of him. His anger seemed to make him molt even more than before. “Do not try me…Dragon Lord.” His robe seemed to flutter more violently on an unseen wind behind him. “The Dark Lord may have sent me to you…But he is my master…” he finally turned to face Eesakar’s back, “Not you.”
Eesakar shuddered as Daemonas’ gaze fell over him in waves of nausea. He smiled at the slight, relishing that he had struck a nerve. “You would do well to remember creature that the Dark Lord sent you to help prepare ‘My’ armies for his campaigns.” He raised a finger as he knew Daemonas was about to interrupt, it slowly transformed into a single dragon claw, “And that you would lead a special force to do the more, ‘Special’, assignments.”
“They are the Master’s armies, not yours,” his raiment began to glow as his anger rose. “You would do well to remember your place,” his eyes seemed to light on fire within the irises, “Snake!” He spat the last word with as much venom as he could muster.
Eesakar spun on that word, his own power building up. The rest of his fingers transformed silently one by one into long viscous looking dragon claws. His body seemed to half leap half glide across the distance between them, an eerie sound escaping the folds of his own robes. Daemonas put up his gauntleted arms but was too slow for the attack.
“I know my place, you wretched abomination,” his clawed left hand shot out as he landed in front of Daemonas and seized his throat. The claws one by one pricked the leathery dead skin of the Dark Messenger, an oily black blood dripping from each puncture mark. “The Dark Lord sent you to help and do my bidding when I command it, creature.” He glared into the dark visage of Daemonas, seeing thousands of trapped souls screaming back. He held back a shudder and kept his composure. “You will do well to remember ‘Your” place, and know that if you behave well enough you will be rewarded by our master.”
The claws pierced deeper for a moment, more blood spilling. In disgust and a burst of power he threw Daemonas backwards, his body gliding through the air in what felt like an eternity before slamming into the glass wall, cracking it. Daemonas landed on his feet, and began to compose himself, when an invisible force shoved him to his knees. He pushed with all of his might but could not rise. Flames erupted across his armor and robe as he exerted more power.
“Enough Dragon Lord,” he spat the words out. The power pressed on him even more as Daemonas tried to rise again. He tried to exert more power as he looked up into the face of his oppressor. He could see the loathing Eesakar had for him mixed with the jubilation of his own power over Daemonas.
“Enough!” He pressed again as he continued to stare into his eyes.
“Enough!” he repeated.
“Enough!” he screamed in anger.
The force of the word knocked both beings down. Fear rose like a whirlwind in the room as shadows began to coalesce and race around the chamber.
Enough of this insolence…
The two picked themselves back up but knelt before the gathering shadows. Eesakar’s dragon claws were forcibly transformed back into fingers. One by one they changed with excruciating pain. The sinews and bones felt like they were broken repeated and ripped apart before being put back together. Eesakar wanted to cry out in agony but contained his anguish, barely.
Daemonas’ flames rose higher and then consumed him as they changed colors. Each new color brought on a new kind of pain, as his armored body cracked and tore inch by inch before being put back together again.
You both serve me!
Know your places…
The individual attacks subsided for a moment as silence fell over them. The shadows dissipated, almost racing away like the retreating tides of a vast ocean.
A vision bore into both of their minds as they raised their eyes toward one another. Before their minds’ eye they saw their Dark Lord seated on his throne in all his demonic glory. Flames rose with the screams of souls around them, burning at their flesh and their very beings. The vision raced toward the throne at unbearable speeds and they were helpless against it. Across the great darkness they rushed forward until their own visions were encapsulated by two orbs void of all life and color staring back at them.
Remember your places and work together as you serve me…
They both tried to retreat from the onslaught of pain, fear, anger; all emotions seemed to tear at them like a thousand cutting blades.
Or I will drag you through the depths of Anoria all the way to the Abyss before my throne.
They were released from the tortured vision as it ripped its way out of their minds. They both gasped and held themselves on the floor of the chamber once more like two babes in the womb.
If you fail me or be insolent again you will learn new ways to serve me…