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Reprisal: A Chronicle of Iniquity

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Reprisal

A Chronicle of Iniquity

Richard Fierce

Reprisal: A Chronicle of Iniquity

© 2012 | Richard Fierce

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner, also known as the author.

Cover art by Carlos Cabrera.

Used with permission.

Reprisal – act or an instance of responding to an injury with an injury; act or practice of resorting to force short of war in retaliation for damage or loss suffered.

continued

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The heat was scorching him.

The sun was in the middle of the sky and beating down on him. His customarily brown robes were covered in a thin layer of dust from the reddish brown knee-high grass that he was trudging through. Drenched in sweat, it gave them the shiny appearance of copper armor. They weighed heavily upon him as though they truly were made of metal. His last encounter with civilization seemed so long ago. When he had stopped to trade with a merchant in that small town, the dealer had told him it was a three day walk to the outskirts of the Ruins. It had almost been a week now. His injured arm was definitely slowing him down, but he also had no idea if he was even traveling in the right direction.

The fight with his master had left his arm swollen and bruised. The pain had not subsided completely, but was more or less a deadened throb. A dull feeling as numb and endless as the path that lay before him. He reached a small hill and began the ascent, his legs burning with every agonizing step. As he crested the hill, the landscape changed abruptly. The tall grass simply ended in a straight line across the land, as if some divine figure drew a boundary across the earth. The distinct changes of the terrain was one thing that offered him proof that gods had indeed formed creation. No one landscape overlapped into the next, as if there were some invisible lines that separated them and barred them from mixing.

Desert sands stretched as far as his eyes could see, and littered across the vast landscape were enormous pieces of black stone. In some areas, entire rooms of the once impressive Tower were still intact. Even time itself seemed to have no sway over the spells that had once protected it. The Ruins was a place of intrigue to much of the world, but it was not the geography that instilled fascination in the populace. It was the history of the area.

Three hundred years ago, the Ruins had not been a place of scattered stone, but a place of dominion. The Tower had overshadowed the surrounding region and pierced the very sky. It had been formed with the darkest of magic and woven together with the very earth itself. Its impenetrable walls had stood against the sky as though it could insult creation itself, vying for supremacy of the heavens. Though it was a scene of ancient destruction, Siddian could not help but be awed by the sight. He knew the legend of the Tower, knew the story of the ones who had founded the dark arts and those who came after them, expanding the existing knowledge.

One of the Academy’s greatest leaders, Vixen had been the mastermind behind the structure. So versed in the art of magic, she became consumed with learning everything she could. She explored so deep into the craft that she discovered a new type of magic that seemed to have no boundaries. Serpentine, the first leader of the Council, being very wise and venerable, saw that Vixen was on a path that would ultimately lead to death and destruction—thus, he banned the form of magic from ever being used.

Vixen was next in line to be the head of the Academy, but her lust for knowledge, and ultimately power, was so intense that she left the order to pursue her studies. Being deemed a renegadeand the Council on her heelsshe used her new found powers to create the Tower as her first display of sovereignty. Deep within the walls of her fortress, Vixen’s power continued to grow.

Late one night, seeming to happen without any cause, the Tower exploded. There had been speculation as to what had caused the blast, but none knew for sure. Serpentine had refused to send anyone to investigate, fearing members of the Academy might stray from their path if they were to find anything that Vixen had discovered. Despite the fact that centuries had passed since the Tower had been destroyed, no one ever visited the ancient place.

The Academy had long since disbanded the branch of sorcerers who patrolled the boundary that led to the Ruins, giving Siddian free reign to explore the area. He looked over his shoulder, still expecting to see pursuit from the Academy. But there was no one. Not a single soul anywhere.

Gingerly massaging the area right above his swollen elbow, he stepped into the desert. He didn’t worry about his inability to defend himself with his sword. The number of powerful spells that he had learned from the book he took from his master’s study were more than enough protection against anything he might encounter. And yet, despite the amount of power he had gained from that book, it was not enough. That was one thing he was beginning to understand about power; about the magic. Regardless of how much one had, it was never enough. It was an addictive allure with no end that had become the driving force of his life.

As he approached one of the large blocks of black stone, he noticed drawings on some of them. They weren’t runes of magic, but crude scrawls of some sort of mountain range with a giant snake-like creature atop it. He stared at the drawings intently. Only certain blocks had them, and only one side of each block had been drawn on.

Siddian was unsure how old the drawings were or who might have drawn them. And what was the story behind these images? What was that creature? He traced the outline of the drawings with his finger and he could feel the enchantments deep inside the stone pulsating against his flesh.

“The magic that crafted these stones was incredible,” he whispered to himself. He continued walking among the maze of stones, massive pillars of ebony so black it appeared as though pieces of a starless night sky had fallen to the earth.

 

 

After an hour of exploring, he came across a block of stone that was different than the rest. It was rectangular in shape, roughly fifty feet tall and eighty feet long. On the front side of the stone, indented on the surface, looked to be a shape of a doorway seven feet tall and six feet wide. After much study and deliberation, Siddian came to the conclusion that the doorway must be opened with a touch or a rune drawn on it. The question for him then became where exactly on the doorway did he need to touch?

His body was beginning to weaken from dehydration, and he placed his palm against the stone to keep from falling over. A loud hum began to reverberate through the air, and a blinding light flashed briefly before Siddian felt the doorway budge under his hand. Jerking his hand away, he took a step back.

The doorway split down the middle, making two separate panels that slid in opposite directions; one to the left, one to the right. The sound of air coming out of the stone chamber sounded like someone exhaling a deep breath. Siddian looked around, unsure if he should enter. The sun had gotten much lower than he realized during his survey of the area, and the air was much cooler. He needed water and food, but more importantly he needed shelter. He had never been in a desert before, but he knew how cold it could get at night.

He decided to enter the chamber and see what was inside. If no one had inhabited the place since the Tower’s explosion, maybe he would find something of value to trade for resources back in the small town. He stepped through the doorway, and as his foot touched the floor, a pale light came to life in the top of the structure somewhere. It made the floor look like it was merely empty space and that if one attempted to walk across the surface, they would fall for eternity. Siddian waited in the dimly lit room for his eyes to adjust to the darkness. He whirled around as the sound of the doors closing startled him. He ran his hands across the surface, trying to get them to open again.

It was too dark for him to see anything, and after a few moments of futility, he gave up. As his eyes attuned to the pale light, he noticed a double staircase leading up to a balcony that overlooked the area he was standing in. The entirety of the inside was made of the same stone as the outside. Each stair had a garnet colored rug of the finest quality on it. Siddian found it interesting that despite hundreds of years having passed, there wasn’t a trace of dust on anything.

The power that was required in order to control such meticulous details as that was beyond his comprehension. His master had been powerful, but this …

Siddian found the absolute silence comforting. He cautiously made his way up the staircase to the left and counted fifteen steps to the landing. There was a circular antechamber with two hallways. One to the left, one to the right. There was an ornately carved alter in the center of the chamber with two large ‘V’ shapes on the sides. They were an off white color and reminded Siddian of the ivory decorations on the desks at the Academy. Everything was so crisp and clean, as if it were all newly made and not centuries old.

He continued to explore, taking the hall to the left which was straight and led to a single door that he could not open. Going back, he went down the other hall which also was straight and took him to a single door, but this one was partially ajar. Siddian peered into the room but could not see anything except a winding staircase. He pushed the door open and stepped inside. The staircase led down to a lower level. A small oval shaped pool with crystal blue water provided a dim light for the entire room. Siddian wondered where the magic’s source came from. Everything was enchanted with powerful magic, but even the strongest spells weakened and faded away over time. Yet the power of the spells in the chamber felt formidable and potent even now.

A large oak desk was situated against the wall and ran the entire length of it. The wall to his left was covered from the floor to the ceiling by an enormous bookcase. Each shelf was full with books of various dimensions and colors. A wooden ladder on wheels provided access to the highest shelves. Siddian stared in astonishment. The library in the room rivaled even that of the Academy’s! How much knowledge and power did each book hold?

Siddian went down the winding staircase and stood before the pool of water. He had seen one almost identical in Erastus’s personal study. It had many uses that he knew of, but his former master’s was never used as a light source. He knelt down and dipped his hand into the water. He cupped his palm and brought it to his lips. A concentrated shock ran through his tongue and he cried out in surprise. He dried his hand on his dirty robes and wiped his mouth off. He wouldn’t make that mistake again.

He walked over to the bookshelf and selected a random book and carried it over to the desk. He sat down in the large leather chair that was in front of the desk. There was still a slight tingle in his tongue. The cover of the book read ‘The Shadows’. He read through a couple pages and realized it was a book on the dark arts of shadow-casting. Exhaustion began to take its toll on him and his eyes began to water and blur his vision. He laid his head down on the desk and closed his eyes, telling himself he would only rest for a moment.

He awoke to a stiffness in his neck. He groaned in annoyance and sat up. At first he was unsure of where he was. When he saw the book in front of him, everything came flooding back. There was another book lying on the desk that he did not notice earlier. It was left open and only half of a page had been written upon. Above the book was a quill and ink goblet.

The summoning did not go as planned. The priest lost his nerve and the demon escaped the field of containment and killed him. I narrowly escaped the chamber with my own life, and the chamber will not able to keep the demon inside. Something doesn’t feel right. I must go back inside and banish the demon.

That was the last of what was written. He flipped back a couple pages and realized he was reading words penned by the legendary Vixen.

This place, he thought, must have been the personal library of Vixen. His heart raced with excitement in his chest. If this was the lair from inside the once great Tower, and it had laid undisturbed all this time … all the knowledge of the dark arts that lay within the books was now his for the taking!

one

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Once a year, the Council of the Academy comes together to choose a single individual from Daarax to come and study. Daarax is the home of the Choshech’alfar, the dark elves. Though they are viewed as a race of evil intent, the Academy has many treaties and agreements with the royal ruling family of Daarax to ensure good relations. And when the current year of teaching was to begin, the Council sat down with the leaders of the Choshech’alfar to choose this year’s student.

“Na’talasa was given the opportunity to come here to the Academy. It is a rare privilege for us to host a member of the Choshech’alfar in and of itself; however, this year we are truly honored to have a member of the ruling family with us. Na’talasa was chosen for her talent with the arts of magic, but also to strengthen our ties with Daarax.”

Shalareven paused in his address, looking across the expanse of both students and masters gathered in the courtyard of the Academy.

“As you all know, one of our masters was recently murdered by an apprentice. Erastus was one of our most learned scholars, and it was he himself who was responsible for our ability to bring Na’talasa here to study. Unfortunately, … not due to these events, our honored guest will be departing our walls. Do not worry about our relations with the leaders of Daarax, however. She has been asked to return due to border clashes with their enemies.” Shalareven turned to face Na’talasa and gave a slight bow. “As always, our doors are permanently open if you ever wish to return.”

Na’talasa did not reply, but merely inclined her head ever so slightly in acknowledgement. As the crowd began to disperse, Shalareven walked with the elf to a less public area of the compound. “I have no authority over what you do when you leave these grounds, but I trust you will not go seeking out the murderer. He sealed his own fate when he chose to commit his atrocities.” He had always been intimidated in the presence of any of the Choshech’alfar, but this one was different. She seemed … more dangerous than most.

Na’talasa’s sword was a glassy black. The weapon might have been made of obsidian, save that it was perfectly molded, with a shadow-smooth blade and none of the conchoidal flaking marks one might expect. The shimmering pommel was made of silver, and the blade was sheathed on her back in an unusual sheath that held the sword upside down. Tight fitting leather as dark as her sword covered her lithe figure, starting from her neck and working down; clinging to her flesh like a constricting snake. A deep crimson colored cape with swirling black runes and a hood covered her back.

Her left hand sported a metal gauntlet with clawed tips that were usually covered in a lethal poison. Her face was the only area that her ash-colored skin was visible. A mask—the symbol of her royal bloodline—was made of the same metal as the hilt of her sword and covered the lower part of her face. It displayed a winged lion-like creature and had been enchanted to distort her voice.

But the most startling thing about her appearance was her eyes. They glowed with a cerulean shade of blue, a trait known only to the Choshech’alfar.

“It is as you have said,” she answered, her voice low and whispery. “His fate is already sealed.”

two

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Siddian paused at the doorway and took a long look around. The darkness was comforting to him. This magical place had become his home. It had taken him a while to figure out how to open the door from the inside, but once he had, he realized he didn’t really want to leave. He didn’t need to either. The place had everything he needed. The pool in the library, after some study, had proven to be very useful. It had the ability to bring most things that he needed into existence. He had everything he could ever need or want here.

But his lust for power had not plateaued. The more he learned, the more power he got … it wasn’t enough. There was an ancient book he came across about a giant beast said to have made this world its home. And among the treasure it had collected was supposedly a scroll. The book mentioned more about the beast than it did about what was written upon the scroll, but the book vaguely mentioned that the dwelling place of an angelic creature was written in the scroll. Siddian believed it existed. The drawings he had seen on the stone pillars when he first arrived at the Ruins substantiated his theory that if one existed, so must the other. The book only mentioned the Grantesh mountain range by name, one that Siddian was familiar with from the Academy’s maps.

He remembered his father’s tales of dragons when he was a boy, mythical creatures of great size and strength that ravaged the land in times long past. He had always wanted them to be real, but assumed they were just stories told by a father trying to bond with his son. Perhaps there was some truth to his father’s exaggerations. The nameless men who rose up had enchanted weapons to defeat the beasts. He had found a couple of books on weapon enchanting similar to what the Academy had. Assuming a dragon guarded the scroll, one would need something much stronger than frail enchantments. Maybe if he combined two kinds of magic?

An idea was born in that moment, and he decided to try it. Runes and enchantments might have a different effect on a weapon. Siddian had already made up his mind to travel to Grantesh, but first he needed a weapon.

 

 

The mountain appeared flawless upon first look. But Siddian knew it was no mountain created by the natural forces of the world. This mountain had been created by something more powerful, and far more destructive, than nature. It wasn’t as enormous as the mountains surrounding it, but it stood out from the landscape because of its color and texture. It looked smooth and easy to traverse. No boulders or shrubs dotted the terrain. It was a grayish color, making it seem as though it were a large heap of ash. Siddian stood there a long while, contemplating his plan to enter unnoticed. Could a creature like the one living in this place be so vain as to assume no one would seek him out, or rather, what he guarded?

He unsheathed his battleaxe and held it up. Though he had more training with a sword, an axe was more versatile, giving him the choice of throwing it to deal damage from a distance if needed. He inspected every rune etched into the metal, each one having been meticulously placed. The thrumming of the enchantments pulsated against his flesh. He wondered if it would be enough, if the magic would be able to withstand the fearsome power of the creature inside the mountain. He couldn’t allow his thoughts of doubt to betray him. The book he read described the beast in great detail, and he knew that if his mind were not strong, the creature could easily manipulate him. There was a side note in the book that told of a legend about the beast having eaten a psionist, and resulted in the creature gaining the power of telepathy. Whether or not it was true, Siddian didn’t know. But he certainly wouldn’t give the creature the upper hand by assuming anything. He continued toward the mountain, his footsteps taking him closer and closer to the tunnel that led inside.

 

 

Siddian didn’t get far without being unnoticed. The tunnel opened up into a massive cavern and he had barely stepped inside when he was confronted by the beast. The creature was the same ashy color as the mountain it called home, but he couldn’t help wondering why the creature would blend in with no predators to hide from. The giant serpent was standing upon mounds of shimmering treasure, and although it was more wealth than he had ever imagined, he could not take his gaze off the beast. And then it spoke, its thick voice like the booming of thunder. Siddian felt the vibrations of the beast’s voice tingle up his legs. This creature was much larger than he could have imagined.

“What is your name?”

“S-Siddian …”

The beast’s tongue flicked out into the air, reminding Siddian of a snake. “This name is not unknown to me,” the creature boomed. “It has been mentioned to me.” Siddian was confused by this, but he was trying his best not to allow the creature to know he was afraid. It was obvious he failed miserably.

“There is little that is unknown to me, foolish man. Though time is nothing to me, your life is like a vapor in the wind. So speak quickly. What is it that you have come seeking?”

Siddian almost decided then to give up his endeavor. Almost decided that what he was seeking to accomplish was beyond his mortal grasp, and that he should give up and run for his pathetic life while he had the chance. Was the beast insinuating thoughts into his mind, or was his deep seated fears and doubts coming to the surface of his mind? He didn’t know. He pushed those thoughts to the back of his mind with every effort of his will.

“What is it that every man seeks, Great Serpent?”

The serpent’s eyes looked as though a fire sprung up deep inside them. It leaned forward and lowered its head to Siddian’s height, leveling its gaze upon him. “You answer a question with a question … perhaps you are cleverer than those who have come here before you. But perhaps not so clever to survive this meeting.”

Siddian tried not to look at the pile of human remains laying to the right, but instead focused all his energy on holding the creature’s gaze.

“Every man seeks glory and riches, and a name for himself in the world.” Siddian could smell something strong, (sulfur?), on the beast’s breath. “Yet what man who has gone before has a name that the world knows? What man’s glory or riches has outlasted the years of time? What king is exalted over any other? There is not a single one, foolish man.”

Siddian’s doubts were creeping back into the forefront of his mind. If he did try to run, how far would he get before the beast snatched him up in those powerful looking jaws and snapped him in half?

Focus.

“What you say is true, Great Serpent. And there is no man that I can think of whose name is great in the world and is known by all. But is there any, whether man or beast, whose name is known so gloriously? I stand before your awesome power and tremble, yet I do not know your name over any other beast.” He paused, hesitating to speak any further. “Tell me one thing, and I will answer you as to what I seek.”

The creature glared at him, and for the third time he felt as though he had no more resolve. The beast was so massive and awe-inspiring that his knees shook uncontrollably. And it could have been his imagination, but it seemed as though the fire in the creature’s eyes was burning hotter, as if the serpent’s gaze itself could incinerate him.

The beast issued a low growl that sounded like rocks grinding against themselves. “Who are you to question me? Have you shaped the landscape under your wings? Can you leap into the sky and see its limits? Have you searched the world and found anything that is not a mystery to you? Have you commanded fire to come forth from your mouth? Do you comprehend the earth’s limits? Have you lifted your voice to the clouds and brought forth a mighty rain which has never been known? Can you tell the lightning where to go and it answer to you ‘Here I am’? Do not be so foolish as to think you have any value in the span of eternity.”

He felt as though insanity had taken over his mind and launched an assault on his mouth as he spoke with a boldness he had never experienced before:

“And even so, you also were created by another. How does your power measure in the face of the ones that made you? For all your boastfulness, you are still less than divine.”

A great roar shook everything around him as the beast’s anger came to a peak. The beast thrashed its tail wildly, flinging gold and silver across the cave. “You wear my patience thin, foolish man! Ask your question and perhaps I will not devour you where you stand!”

Siddian took a moment to look around the cave then. And then he saw what he had come searching for. The scroll sat suspended in the air behind the beast, the glint of silver runes shining even in the pale light of the cave. His momentary stare was not lost to the beast.

“So you come seeking power?” the creature rumbled. “As have many men before you.”

Siddian dropped down on one knee, and as carefully and stealthily as he could manage, he unsheathed his battleaxe. His time was running out, and he had only one opportunity. “Great Serpent, it is not power I seek from you, but wisdom. Where is the domain of Araqiel, the angel who guards the Prophecy?”

A raucous noise filled the cavern, and Siddian wondered if the creature was laughing.

“Man has many weaknesses, and pride is the biggest. I will answer your question, for you will not survive to the turning of the next hour.”

The beast raised a clawed hand and drew an invisible sign in the air. The room exploded with a multitude of colors and scenery. Through the image, Siddian saw the beast had wings. Was this serpent a dragon? He felt his plan solidify in his spirit as he watched the image unfolding. He recognized the royal city of Zelphor with its five surrounding cities and ocean view. And high above it in the clouds, what appeared to be a golden sphere hovered among the clouds.

“This is where the defender of the Prophecy dwells, foolish man! High above the ground where no man can reach his finite hand. And now I shall destroy you!”

Siddian jumped back a few steps and brought his battleaxe to bear in front of him, quickly chanting the words to a spell of protection. An azure light flared to life around him and he watched the beast snake forward and open its jaws, a fiery blast roaring forth from its mouth. He closed his eyes as the flames met his magical shield, desperately hoping it would hold up. It did for a moment, but the beast’s own magic was much stronger than his, and the shield began to burn away like a piece of parchment. He could feel the cavern floor sinking under his feet. The very rock melted from the dragon’s fire!

The searing heat made Siddian stagger back. His foot slipped and he fell on his back. He could feel jagged pieces of rock stabbing into his flesh, but he had much more deadly problems on his hands. He narrowly missed being swatted across the cave by the great claws of the beast. He rolled onto his side and crawled back to his feet. He could smell that his clothes had been singed, or more likely scorched. He pulled out a red crystal, similar to the one he used to escape the Academy, and tossed it to the ground.

The crystal shattered and smoke rose into the air. A red skinned creature covered in horns stepped out of the smoke and charged toward the dragon. Siddian hoped it would give him enough time to get close enough to the dragon that he would be able to injure the beast with his enchanted axe. His hopes were dashed as the dragon crushed the minor demon into the ground with its giant claws. Siddian swore under his breath and sprinted toward the back of the cavern, ignoring the pain in his back as he ran over the uneven surface of the cave’s floor.

The beast opened its jaws and let another blast of fiery death spew from its mouth. Siddian dove into a roll and slide to a halt behind a large rock. The flames began to melt the rock, and Siddian realized it was not a rock at all, but a giant boulder of gold. He jumped to his feet and continued his mad dash toward the hovering scroll. He tripped on a crack in the floor and fell forward, smashing his face onto some jagged rocks. He could feel the warmth of his blood wash over his skin. But more importantly, he heard the dragon close behind him; too close.

He rolled onto his back but he couldn’t see for all the blood on his face. He began swinging his battleaxe wildly and felt it catch on something. The dragon let out a roar and Siddian quickly wiped his face with the sleeve of his robe. He saw that the lower jaw of the beast was split cleanly in two. Apparently his enchantments had been the correct choice. He staggered to his feet but dropped to his knees as he felt a sharp pain shoot through his ankle. He must have sprained it when he fell. He crawled quickly to the back of the cave and snatched the scroll out of the air. He could vaguely see the dragon writhing in agony near the way he came in. He couldn’t go back that way. Despite the injury he inflicted on the beast, he knew he would not be able to get past the beast without more conflict, and he was smart enough to know he could barely walk, let alone swing his axe.

Then he noticed in the dim light what appeared to be a shallow hole in the wall. He crawled closer and realized it was larger than it looked, and he pulled himself over the lip of it and crawled inside. It was certainly no way out, but maybe he could wait inside until the beast left the cave. He looked out at the beast, trying to see what it was doing. His eyes were getting heavy, but he didn’t feel sleepy. The loss of blood was making him weak, and before he knew it, his body had shut down on him and he blacked out.

 

 

He awoke to the sound of breathing. Loud and raspy, he realized it wasn’t his own. He looked out into the cavern and everything came flooding back to him. He realized then how foolish he was to allow himself to pass out in the beast’s home. The dragon appeared to be sleeping, perhaps the after effect of a healing spell, but he still needed to get out of the cave. He moved his foot back and forth to see if the pain was still too much to walk on it.

There was a dull throb, and though it would be slow going, he thought it would be fine. Then came the challenging question. How was he going to get past the beast? He didn’t have a clue. He quietly pulled himself out of the hole and stood up. His ankle would support his weight, but not for long. He certainly couldn’t run, and doubted that would be a wise decision either way. He decided the safest route was going to be crawling. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out his dragon brooch and pinned it on. Vanishing from sight, he began crawling toward the front of the cave. It seemed as though every rock he crawled over made a louder noise than the last one. And it seemed to take an eternity to move a few feet.

Slowly, however, he made it to the cave’s entrance. He decided to put his weight on his foot and hobble out the rest of the way.

 

 

Across the cavern, the beast watched as the pathetic human walked out of his domain. The man’s enchanted artifact could not hide him. The creature could see in every plane, especially the plane of magic. He could have easily crushed the man, even mustered enough energy to ignore the pain of his severed jaw and spout out some more fire. But just killing this one would not be enough. No, there was much torment in store for this one.

 

 

three

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He awoke to the sound of breathing. Loud and raspy, he realized it wasn’t his own. He looked out into the cavern and everything came flooding back to him. He realized then how foolish he was to allow himself to pass out in the beast’s home. The dragon appeared to be sleeping, perhaps the after effect of a healing spell, but he still needed to get out of the cave. He moved his foot back and forth to see if the pain was still too much to walk on it.

There was a dull throb, and though it would be slow going, he thought it would be fine. Then came the challenging question. How was he going to get past the beast? He didn’t have a clue. He quietly pulled himself out of the hole and stood up. His ankle would support his weight, but not for long. He certainly couldn’t run, and doubted that would be a wise decision either way. He decided the safest route was going to be crawling. Reaching into his robes, he pulled out his dragon brooch and pinned it on. Vanishing from sight, he began crawling toward the front of the cave. It seemed as though every rock he crawled over made a louder noise than the last one. And it seemed to take an eternity to move a few feet.

Slowly, however, he made it to the cave’s entrance. He decided to put his weight on his foot and hobble out the rest of the way.

 

 

Across the cavern, the beast watched as the pathetic human walked out of his domain. The man’s enchanted artifact could not hide him. The creature could see in every plane, especially the plane of magic. He could have easily crushed the man, even mustered enough energy to ignore the pain of his severed jaw and spout out some more fire. But just killing this one would not be enough. No, there was much torment in store for this one.

four

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Shalareven stood at his window and watched as Na’talasa left the grounds of the Academy under the “direction of her people”.

“She is lying,” his apprentice stated boldly.

“I am aware of that. The Choshech’alfar are not known for their honorable traits.” Shalareven turned his gaze to his younger counterpart. “What course of action would you take, were you in my shoes?”

The young man sat in silent thought for a moment. “What good would it do to try and stop her? Her and her people do as they wish regardless of the consequences, that much I have seen.”

Shalareven laid his hand on his apprentice’s shoulder. “You have much to learn. We shall send someone to follow her. If she can find Erastus’s murderer, then perhaps we can bring him back here to face the judgment of the Council.” His apprentice seemed shocked by his answer.

“I thought you let him go?”

“I did not allow him to be taken into custody because I have long suspected the dark arts were being practiced within these walls. Within the structure of those who practice the banished magic, there is fierce loyalty to one another. Except in the case of Siddian. He murdered Erastus, his master. Though it was unknown to us before, Erastus was teaching some of the apprentices the dark arts in secret. Siddian’s action helped us to discover this. I believe that was the reason he brought Na’talasa here to study, as well. But how many others, I wonder, did he take under his tutelage?”

The apprentice shrugged. “Will we ever know?”

Shalareven turned his gaze back to the window. “Only time will tell.”

 

 

Na’talasa was getting closer. She could feel the pull of magic calling out to her. Her race was known for their aptitude with the arts. There were legends among the elders of her race that boasted claims of having been the first to discover the art, and that later on man had stolen their secrets.

Tradition and the history of her people were as important as air, or so her father believed. They had only survived the Eradication Wars due largely to the fact that the fortress the Choshech’alfar called home was deep within the confines of the Dreadland, a thick wooded marsh. None of that really mattered to her. Her sole reason for agreeing to go to the Academy in the first place was to secure her right to rule in her father’s stead when he died. Her younger brother was the weakling of her siblings, and though it was customary for the males to succeed as ruler, exceptions to the rule were far from rare. She had arrived at the Academy almost at the same time as Siddian, though she did not know he was an apprentice of her master as well.

Erastus had a lot of secrets, it seemed. She had noticed that her master did not show each apprentice the same things, either. The book that Siddian had taken, and the blood magic he had used to kill Erastus with, were dark arts that she knew existed, but Erastus had not trained her in. Perhaps he had kept some things a mystery to each of them to ensure his power over them.

The Choshech’alfar were stronger, better militarily trained, and innately talented in the magical arts compared to the humans. And she feared none among her own people; had never really experienced fear at all. Until she met Erastus. He had the aura like that of a god. She knew that with the power and wisdom of his teaching, she would certainly take the ruling position of her family, but also could use that power to bring the other ruling families under her iron fist.

Yet all her aspirations were thrown away with the actions of the traitor Siddian. She would make him pay for what he did. And then she would stake his body atop the highest tower of the Choshech’alfar castle as a sign to the goddess Riran that any hint of treachery would be paid with the highest price. She would sweeten her revenge by defeating him with what their master had taught her, and then she would make him beg for mercy before ending his pathetic life.

The pull of the magic was strengthening. As she continued traveling east, she was beginning to suspect that Siddian may have taken refuge in the Ruins. Removed far from civilization, it would make sense for a rogue sorcerer to flee there. The only regret she had was that she would have no one to witness her fearsome display of power.

four

—————————

 

 

Siddian saw the mysterious figure cross the border into his new domain through the crystal blue water of the pool. Was it someone from the Academy, come to bring him into custody? He watched the individual for a few moments. He wasn’t sure, but the cloaked figure looked like a dark elf he had seen at the Academy. It was the only Choshech’alfar he had ever seen, but he had never spoken to her.

The mask she wore across her mouth certainly looked the same. But what was she doing at the Ruins? He had heard of the reputation of the dark race, but he wasn’t sure how he should react. Should he go out in a show of force, or wait and see what she was doing? He saw her look up, as though she could see him. Could she see him? He thought he saw her eyes narrow before his pool suddenly distorted and went blank.

He ran his finger across the surface of the water.

Nothing.

“Perhaps Shalareven sent you,” he whispered. He grabbed his battleaxe off the oak desk and was headed up the stairs when he felt everything shudder around him. What was going on?

He heard a loud shattering sound and felt a ripple of magic in the air. He quickened his pace and made his way to the entrance of the structure. He traced a sigil in the air and a gray light outlined his body. Before he could open the door, it began to convulse and push forward before exploding around him. A shower of black stone and sand filled the air and he instinctively threw his arm in front of his face.

“Impressive,” a whispery voice reached his ears. The next thing he knew, he was laying on his back with a boot pressed into his throat. The shadowy elf was looking down at him. Confusion and a flood of questions ran through his mind, but he pushed them out of his thoughts. Somehow he had managed to hold onto his axe. He swept his right arm upward to knock the elf off her feet.

Almost as if reading his body language, she lifted her foot from the ground and used his chest as a platform to flip backwards into the air, landing gracefully and bringing her sword up before her.

Siddian pulled his legs back and up, forcing his body into a backwards roll and coming up on his feet. His magical shield was still in place. Holding the hilt of his axe with both hands, he held it out in front of him and attempted to size up his enemy. The Choshech’alfar were known for their skills with both the blade and magic. Defeating this opponent would be no easy feat.

“Who are you?” he demanded.

“I can smell your fear … you pathetic worm!” The elf sprang forward and thrust her glassy blade toward his chest, but he turned the blade aside with a spin of his wrist. He knew in that moment he would not win this battle with weapons as a dull pain crept its way from his elbow to his shoulder. He had thought the injury from the fight with his master had healed.

“Did you think there would be no repercussion for your treachery?” she snarled. Siddian didn’t have any idea what she was talking about, but that mattered little in the face of death. He released the axe with his right hand and twirled about in a circle, swinging the blade out as far as he could reach with his left. The elf danced backward out of his range, and he used his right hand to launch a fiery blast of darts her way.

She rotated her blade in a complete circle, her enchanted sword deflecting all but one which only managed to graze her cape. Siddian made a quick mental note to incorporate a spell like that into his arsenal. He dropped to a crouch and aimed a clumsy chop at her knees. She deftly blocked it and tried to knock the axe from his hand. To his credit, he anticipated that and compensated for strength with agility. He let his body flow with the force from her blade.

The air crackled around him and as he came full circle a bolt of lightning forked from her palm and struck him directly in the stomach. Fortunately, his shield held up under the powerful blast, but it managed to knock the air out of him. He doubled over and noticed the pungent smell of sulfur. And then the bottom of her boot made contact with his face, mostly his nose, and he heard a crunching sound.

He fell onto his back, his nose throbbing painfully. He knew it was broken before he even tasted the blood. He didn’t have time for pain. He forced himself back up on his feet. The elf was glaring at him with a hatred he had never even felt himself.

“How a worthless creature as yourself managed to kill Erastus, I may never know,” she spat.

“The Academy sent you?” he asked, wiping his forearm across his bloodied nose.

“Fool! I do no one’s bidding but my own!” He realized in that moment that this was not some assassination attempt or punishment rendered out by the Council. For her, it was personal. He knew no argument would sway her hand, and that left him with only one option. He charged forward and slammed his shoulder into her, both of them tumbling through the blasted doors and landing in the sand. He rolled away from her and noticed one of the large stone pillars was now only a heap of sharp fragments. That must have been the sound he heard. He focused his concentration on the shards and drew a few symbols in the sand. Forming a telekinetic link, he used his hand to move the jagged pieces toward the elf while she struggled to untangle herself from her cloak.

She shrieked in pain as the shards bit into her flesh, but Siddian didn’t stop. He lifted more of the rocks and flung them at her. One of them struck her in the face, knocking her mask off. She staggered to her feet and weaved her blade in a figure eight motion, deflecting the remaining pieces away from her. She clenched her fist and slammed it into the sand, causing a ripple of force to travel the surface of the landscape, knocking Siddian off balance.

He recovered quickly, but not quick enough to dodge the flurry of strikes from her black sword. The smooth blade cut into his flesh: across his hip, straight up his ribcage, across his chest, narrowly missing his neck. They weren’t deep, his thick robes took most of the damage, but they stung his flesh intensely. Poison tipped? He didn’t have time to worry about that.

Siddian spun his axe around and grabbed hold of the top, stepping in close and slamming the butt of his axe into the elf’s face. She staggered back and he reversed his grip, holding the weapon upright again and swiping horizontally in an attempt to end the fight quickly.

She was much more agile than he realized, and she let the force of his blow carry her backward, the axe flying harmlessly past. She looked off balance, so he slammed his foot into her knee and she dropped to the ground. He unsheathed a dagger from within his robes and went in close for a lethal blow.

She used her legs to trip him up and as he tried to back up and get out of her reach, she grabbed her sword and crawled toward him, swiping the blade back and forth at his ankles. He attempted to kick her again, but the sword kept him from landing another hit. He jumped over her flailing sword and landed on her back, pushing her down onto the ground. He dove into a roll and came up behind her, scooping up his axe and turning to face her again. She got back to her feet and pointed her sword at him. She flicked her thumb up the hilt which activated a switch. Each side of the blade came loose and shot forward, two thin projectiles flying through the air.

They both hit him directly in each shoulder and the force knocked him into one of the giant black stones. His arms went numb … he couldn’t even feel the metal of his battleaxe even though it was still gripped in his hand. The elf pulled the axe from his hand and placed the blade on his neck. All he could do was watch her. Perhaps it was his imagination, but he could hear some sort of flapping noise.

“A pity,” she spat. “You might have”

A great gust of wind swirled the sand around and a glint of light reflected off gray scales left a burning impression in his eyes. Siddian watched as Na’talasa turned around to face the giant dragon before its jaws closed over her, snapping her frail body in two. Blood splattered in every direction and the dragon turned its fiery gaze on Siddian. He could see a long scar down the beast’s jaw where his axe had cleaved it in two. The dragon had come for his life, he knew.

Broken and bloodied, he couldn’t even fight to the death. He closed his eyes and waited for death. And waited. He opened his eyes and saw the dragon staring intently at the stone behind him.

“What is this place?” the beast hissed.

Siddian turned his head and realized it was one of the stones that had the crude drawings on it. The feeling was coming back in his right arm. He pushed his bloody hand against the stone to try and push off of it. Maybe he could run through the blasted doors of his domain before the dragon killed him.

But as his flesh touched the stone, he felt the magic deep within come forth. It flung him forward into the sand, the pieces of the elf’s sword snapping off inside his flesh. The dragon roared deafeningly and tried to leap into the air, but some invisible force kept the beast from moving. Siddian could feel the ground shaking beneath him and with a great effort he rolled onto his back.

The black stone with the drawing was moving, ever so slowly, through the sand. As he watched, he noticed the other stones that had drawings on them, four in total, moving as well. And the beast was being pulled toward the stones. The beast thrashed around, but it could not break free of the power that was pulling it.

Siddian watched in fascination as the dragon was pulled into the center of the stones. The stones surrounded the creature and boxed it in as a red light lit up the drawings. A humming sound filled the air and the dragon gave one more bellow before everything fell silent. Siddian lay there in the sand. What had happened to the dragon? What caused the stones to do what they did? What did they do?

 

 

Time passed and his mind continued to swarm with questions. As the feeling restored in his arms, an excruciating pain began to throb in his shoulders. He struggled to get back on his feet and almost gave up. The pain felt as though it had spread through his entire body. He managed to do it, however, and he stared at the giant stones that now appeared to look like some sort of enormous wall. The drawing of the dragon in flight was still glowing with a faint light. Siddian gingerly reached up and touched the outline of the depiction.

A surge of energy filled his body. Images of various places and things filled his mind. He felt extremely hot and yet was comforted by it. The pain was quickly fading and he felt stronger. The voice of the dragon echoed in his mind. Yet just as quickly as it came, it was gone.

He felt different somehow. Refreshed, stronger, powerful.

He had just absorbed the dragon’s soul.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Richard Fierce lives in Georgia with his wife and three step-daughters. He is the author of several novels.

Feel free to contact the author.

 

 

Email: [email protected]

 


Reprisal: A Chronicle of Iniquity

When Siddian flees for his life from the Academy after murdering his master, he has only one place to go: the Ruins. A place of mystery and seclusion from the world, Siddian finds more than he expects in the ancient place. He sets out on a quest to obtain the location of an invaluable book of prophecies hidden away from the world. But another apprentice who shared the same master at the Academy is out for revenge. With events spiraling out of Siddian’s control, he has to make decisions that will alter everything he has ever known …

  • ISBN: 9781370193172
  • Author: Richard Fierce
  • Published: 2016-08-15 02:40:10
  • Words: 9004
Reprisal: A Chronicle of Iniquity Reprisal: A Chronicle of Iniquity