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Calm before the Storm

By Benjamin Lisman All Rights Reserved ©

Adventure / Fantasy

BenOni the White

The first rays of the sun found the young priest in patient meditation, his hands clasped in his lap as he quietly prayed for guidance. The gentle touch of dawn’s illuminating fingers grazed his skin, mottled from a life of tribulation, iron hard muscles crisscrossed with scars created by a slaver’s whip. His ruby hair was uncut and unkempt, cascading over his face in waves of red that seethed like flames in the sun. This morning he wore only the barest pieces of clothing he would allow himself; soft white muslin pants that hung loosely around his legs, the belt and cuffs stitched with the familiar sunburst red patterns that marked him by his trade, a healer, a mage of the white magicks. The winter morning’s sun gave no comfort, the icy wind biting his flesh with frozen fangs, but if he knew any sense of discomfort he gave no sign, his every aspect of attention focused on his prayer . . .

I give thanks to thee, my father, he who has no name. I have followed your teachings my entire life, though now I finally understand them, and they have given me the wisdom to set myself free. It has been a year now since I have slipped the bonds of slavery and you blessed me with the strength to persevere, and it has been my honor that I would carry your voice amidst the people. Your love lies warmly in my breast, your strength burns like a dragon’s fire in my veins; I am made greater, in your love, than I could have ever been as a slave. Today, I go to fight for the teachings you have given me, and should I fall, I do not fear; for if I do so, I will have given all that I am into my fight, and I find there is no shame in that.

The priest lifted his head, catching the dawn’s pastel glow with a face that was sculpted by the angels. His eyes were concentric circles of color, first silver, then blue, then green, and they shone in the light without shame. He was a free man, and he greeted the painted sky like a brother. He turned and quietly walked into the room he occupied at the temple, the stones chilled from the long winter’s night, and stoked the hearth’s blaze in quiet reverence. The flame was free, it was strong, it was uncompromising; he had always envied it for its unabashed nature, and now he was a flame of his own, and that excited him. He strode across the room to the stand beside his bed, staring at the ancient suit of armor that greeted him; the immaculately polished silver plate showed where it had been repaired from many wounds; sword marks, axe cuts, even the fangs of a few particularly unpleasant daemons marred its otherwise perfect surface. The suit had served him since the beginning, back when he had been sold to his queen as a slave, and now it served to cleanse his soul of that stigma.

Slipping on a muslin shirt, its waistline decorated by a row of starburst markings that lined up with those of his breeches, he began the process of donning the antediluvian suit of gothic plate armour. As he threaded the leather straps of each metal segment, his mind roamed through the mechanical motions, as he had done a thousand times before. Each strap and buckle was tightened not unlike a cilice, so that it would bite him and cause pain, paying penance for the many lives he took as a slave to the queen. But now, in the presence of his new life, he could not tighten the straps enough to cause discomfort; perhaps he had merely grown so accustomed to the feeling of the metal cutting into him that any sting was negligible, or perhaps it cut him no more, and his soul was finally clean, his penance paid in full.

It took hours to perform the ritual, strapping each interlocking plate into its proper alignment, maximizing movement while eliminating chinks for fighters skilled with a stiletto or cinquedea to monopolize. The maximilienne was three suits of armor in one; a suit of padded leather, upon which was riveted reams of chain mail to prevent piercing blades, upon which was fastened layered bands and plates. With the assistance of a ward or squire, the suit could be donned in minutes, but the priest would always perform the rite in solitude; it was his meditation, a way to unify mind, body, and soul for the tribulations ahead. Finally, with the attaching of the last two clasps on either side of his breastplate, the ritual was complete. Lastly, he donned the holocaust robe, its yards and yards of white cloth marked by the healer’s sunburst pattern. Already a broad shouldered, mountain of a man, the armor only made his frame more imposing; secreted beneath the cloth, none of his armor showed, leaving no sign of the metal case that preserved his flesh from harm.

With his mythril skin in place, he turned to the display rack where the hammers lay. Goratrix, whose flame scorched finish called to him, was a part of the past that haunted him. The demon for which the weapon was named lay trapped within the enchanted ore, screaming for carnage and death. Goratrix the Earth Shaker could rend the great continents asunder, so great was his power and hunger for destruction, and in the hands of the queen’s assassin he was a daemon with a full belly. Even now, the dark power of the hammer called to him, its spikes still colored by ancient blood that could never come clean. Choose me, priest, and I will make the masses bow before you in fear of your wrath!

He reached out, accepting the other hammer, whose silver body glowed with its own inner radiance. Mithras, named for the sun god, was the start of his new path. Its shining skin was free of shadow or blood; there was no dark reminder of death, only the promise of strength, the oath to defend, and that was why the priest chose it. Mithras was as clean as he wanted his soul to be, and the hammer felt . . . right, as he closed his fingers about it; this was the weapon of the courageous and just, a tool of the righteous. Goratrix fumed in its dark impotent rage, but Mithras, it smiled approvingly in his hand. It was now, with hammer tightly gripped in his fist, that he started down the corridor to the fight that awaited him.

How far have I come? He silently mused, the quiet brush of his robe on the stone ground the only sound to disturb the deafening silence as he walked the corridor. Ever since my parents sold me at thirteen, I have known only the queen’s command. I fought, and killed, and destroyed for years, praying that she might look upon me as she did the others of her guard. I was the Executioner, most feared of her arms, and all I wanted was for her to use me as she did the others of her ‘consort army’. All I knew in those days was a desperate need to be wanted, to be called beautiful, to be touched and to be desired as the others were. But I was the ugly one, forever to wear the iron mask, forever to be wrapped in that grave shawl of black cloth that stained my soul. But it was the only path I knew, the only path for one such as I.

He stood before the massive wooden double doors, his palm flat against them. This path, this new path, is unknown and terrifying. I walk through this modest portal as a new man, one who is not known or feared as the Executioner. Now, I am just a man, and the benefits of my dark deeds will not serve me. Am I truly ready to shed all I have known, just to look at my reflection again?

He pushed the doors wide, and the silence gave way to the deafening roar of the masses. The coliseum’s seats were full; spectators stood shoulder to shoulder at the rail, pressed tightly together as they jockeyed for the best view, determined not to miss anything of the fight that would soon begin. Their voices merged into a thunderous clarion call; screams of his name, and the name of the foe that had summoned him became a cacophony of disorienting sound. Here, he was not the feared executioner; here he was the same as any other man. And he was welcome. He slipped the mask over his face, the cool silver pressing against his flesh as he tied the band back. Then he pulled his hair back into a ponytail, and lastly, drew the sunburst marked white hood over his head.

I have lived in darkness too long, craven and afraid that I would never be good enough to be anything but a coward and a killer. He tightened his grip on the hammer, staring across the battlefield at his adversary, who stood in patient wait. The cries and accolades of the people coursed around both of their shoulders like a sash of sunlight. I am not the ugly beast that Queen Ancilla made me out to be. Scion of Equinox, Hand of Judgment, Ancilla’s Hand of Doom; the titles she heaped upon me no longer apply. He walked out into the sunlight, the massive double doors closing behind him with an ominous ‘boom’. He approached, clasping the hammer in both hands as he bowed before her.

“I am BenOni the White . . . and I am not afraid, not anymore.”

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