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>Combat Chaos - Story 37
D&D - Combat Chaos, Fantasy Stories of Battle
SULAIL V.S. GREDION
Gredion watched the fires burn impassively. Ten days ago, he had been chieftain of the Maste, a fierce and proud barbarian tribe. Then the sorcerer had come, an outlander. Gredion had been suspicious immediately, there was something false about the sorcerer’s charm and demeanor. He had been a little too friendly, too accommodating. His tribe had been swayed by the sorcerer’s foul magic, and had turned against him. They had risen against him, accusing him of betraying the ancestors and the tribe. The council had convened, finding him guilty of terrible crimes, impossible crimes. His sentence was simple, they took him to the tree of judgment and tied him to it. A sword had been driven into his side, his own sword, pinning his body to the tree. His fate was left to the gods. He clutched his bandaged side and winced slightly. A lesser man would have died within hours, but the gods had lent him strength, and he had survived. Walking through the smoldering fires he passed through the village, where corpses contorted in the pain of death greeted him. His home, his people, his family, were all consumed by the flames. A faint groan of pain caught his attention, something writhing on the ground stirred and moaned piteously. His face grim, he strode towards the wretched figure, the stench of blood and feces was overwhelming. Drawing closer his eyes widened in surprise, at first he had thought the figure on the ground was merely covered in blood, proximity had revealed the awful truth: He had been skinned alive. How the wretched soul had survived, Gredion did not know. The wretch had been staked out spread eagle on the ground, blood oozing from his raw flesh. Not one scrap of skin remained on his body. How he lived, the barbarian chieftain could only wonder. As he watched, the wretched form stirred and moaned piteously.
“Kill me…” It begged hoarsely.
Gredion stared impassively, recognizing the voice of his most trusted advisor. “You passed the judgment upon me. You drove my own sword into my body. And left my fate to the gods.” He turned his back. “The least I can do is return the favor.”
Sorcerer. The mere whisper of that word was enough to send most wizards trembling in fear. Their power was learned, external energy shaped by their will. A tool. Sorcerers were different animals altogether, their power sprang from deep within, channeled by their strength, both in mind and in body. Ever since he had been an apprentice, he had known he was different, better than all the others. His teacher had known it too, and been afraid. And in fear they had all made their mistake.
One by one he had butchered them, slaughtering them while they stood helpless against his might. Now he could wipe out an army with a mere gesture. But his power had its price. For years he had thought he could avoid it, that he would be strong enough. But alas no. It caught up with him, inevitable, unavoidable. Wizard’s called it sorcerer’s bane. It happened to nearly all of them eventually. When the magic outpaced the body too quickly. First it attacked the body, the fire of magic eating away at it until the sorcerer was too weak to stand, then, bereft of a proper vessel, the magic would dissipate, leaving the sorcerer a burned out husk. Barely able to move. In Sulail it had manifested itself in a slight tremble at first. Then he noticed his once black hair paling at the temples. Now though, he looked emaciated, his once fine purple robes hanging on his gaunt frame.
Sulail eyed the talisman despondently, for twenty years he had searched for it. His dream, his goal, his key. And now he had it. He had victory. Empty, hollow, victory. With a faint gesture of magic, the sorcerer made the talisman spin in mid-air. The flames of the nearby fire reflected in the polished curves and facets of the talisman. With a frown, he grasped it from the air, holding it close to his chest and stared into the fire. “What am I missing?” He muttered, running his fingers through his shoulder length gray hair. “Why won’t it work?”
Beneath him, his makeshift throne trembled slightly, drawing a smile. The enslaved barbarians that stood frozen kneeling in place could do nothing without his leave. Their flesh would tear from their bones from the strain of the sorcerer’s weight and they could not even twitch a finger or cry out their suffering. With a gesture, flames erupted from their mouths, consuming them from within. As the flames turned their flesh to ash, they licked harmlessly around his robes and skin. In a moment, only the skeletons remained, still held in place by his magic.
“Much better.” He murmured quietly, his eyes never leaving the talisman floating before him. With a resigned sigh, he let the talisman fall into his open hand and sprawled across the macabre throne he had created. Perhaps sleep would bring the answers he sought.
High up on the mountains, Gredion knelt before the cairn of his ancestors, head bowed reverently in prayer. He knew that as long as his peoples spirits cried out in vengeance he would not be allowed to join his ancestors in hallowed rest. As he began the slow chant of awakening, he drew the stone knife across his flesh, slowly carving the intricate runes of protection. When he was finished, blood ran in rivers down his arms and chest. Eyes closed he lay the knife to one side and let his shoulders slump. His chants still echoing across the clearing. Reaching slowly forward he picked up the ceremonial bowl and looked into it, the blackish liquid casting his haggard reflection. Black lotus, bloodroot, mandrake, powdered dragon’s tooth and the blood of a traitor. Only once in his life had this foul concoction ever been made, but the last time it had been made, the need for it had been thankfully eliminated before the chosen had imbibed it.
“Ancestors give me strength.” He whispered, raising the bowl over his head. “Protect your chosen so that he may bring retribution upon those who would kill and enslave your children with foul trickery. Open my eyes so that I may see through all illusions. Guide my hand so that my blows strike true. Lend strength to my arm so that I may crush my foes. Protect my mind from the foul sorcery that would steal my will. Protect my body from all harm so that I may destroy those who bring darkness to our home.”
Raising the bowl to his lips he drank the foul liquid in three gulps. “I give my life, so that my people may live.” He gasped, wincing in pain as the concoction burned as it slid down his throat.
Gredion screamed in agony as the fire raced through out his body. As he fell backwards, it worked its way through his system. Writhing in agony he choked and clawed at the ground, his fingers leaving bloody trails. His wounds bubbled with vicious ichors then slowly sealed closed, leaving blackened scars that pulsed with every heartbeat. Rolling slowly to his knees, Gredion gasped for breath and crawled towards the cairn. The runes on the stone glowing with an eldritch light as he drew closer. Placing both hands on the ancient stone, they sank through the surface as if it were thick mud, disappearing up to his elbows. His hands closed on something smooth and cold. With a low growl he pulled the object from the stone and held it aloft. A massive double-bladed battle-axe, wickedly sharp gleamed dully in the moonlight. It had been forged when his ancestors had first learned to work metal, when they ran with wolves in the night. It had been hammered without fire, cold forged from a single dark piece of iron. It was proof against all forms of magic, the cold iron axe could not be diverted by any enchanted means. The stronger the magic, the more easily it cut. Only a single rune had been chiseled onto the surface of its blades. Death. When he opened his eyes, they were as black as night. Rising to his feet, Gredion shouldered the heavy blade and turned to face the plains before him. A brilliant beacon of light illuminated his vision where there had only been darkness before. The power of the elixir showing him where his quarry lay.
Sulail stirred restlessly as his minions carried him across the frozen wastes. Though his body slept, his mind was awake and alert. It was becoming easier for him to stay in this state. He had only risen twice in the past month. Both times to lay waste to the rabble that infested this region blocking his way. With his power growing, he found it easier to bind more and more people to his will. The last village had been the easiest. With a dozen warriors charging him, he had merely to raise his eyes and utter a single word: “Kneel.”
And the entire village had fallen to its knees, swayed by his indomitable will. He had discovered that with the talisman’s power, he could halt the physical deterioration of his body while he slept. With his minions guarding his physical form, he had been spending more and more time in the shadow realm. He could feel himself gaining control of the talisman, bending its power to his will. Last night the talisman had begun to glow with a strange warm light. ‘What does it mean?’ He wondered silently. Looking into the shadows with magic he could make out a darkness gathering behind him, something his magic couldn’t discern. He could feel the emptiness of it though. A void with determined intent. An unfathomable storm that followed him across the tundra. And it was growing closer.
Gredion raced tirelessly across the frozen ground. He had neither slept nor ate since he had performed the ritual. It would sustain him until he had accomplished his purpose. Then the poisons and strain would overwhelm him and he would join his ancestors. He could feel himself drawing closer to the sorcerer. He had passed two more villages of his people. The first had been reduced to ashes, the second though had been worse. Everything had been left as it lay, untouched. No signs of violence or bodies remained. Only a wide swath of tracks leading away. Both times he had slowed only enough to take in the grim sights. To lend strength to his rage and resolve to his will. Soon. It would be soon.
Shadowy forms appeared before him in the waning light. Barely slowing his stride he smashed through them, knocking them aside like brush. The flat of his axe splattering the skull of one unfortunate who managed to raise a weapon against him.
More shapes rose all around him. Gredion slowed then halted, gripping his axe in both hands. He recognized them now, they were people. His people. Not his tribe, but the villagers and warriors from the last village. Some of them he had known when he was younger. Gredion bowed his head, sickened at what he was about to do. He could tell by the way they moved and the distant gaze in their eyes that their will was not their own.
“Ancestors forgive me.” He whispered as they drew closer, raising swords and spears as they formed a ring around him. “Come to me!” He shouted, raising his axe overhead. “Let me release you from your bonds!” With a war cry he dove forward into the pack, sweeping a wide arc with his axe. He cut them down effortlessly. His strength and speed unbeatable. They fell in twos and threes, cleaved aside by his furious assault. The blood of his people was splattered across the plains, the dead and dying laying in crumpled heaps at his feet. Still they came. Now it was no longer warriors though. Women, children, the young and the old staggered towards him. Spears and sticks in their hands, helplessly driven forward by a will that was not their own. Gredion grunted as slaughtered them without mercy. With each swing his axe seemed to grow heavier, each death seemed to drain more strength from his arms.
“What is this?” Gredion gasped, the axe falling from his fingers. He knew no magic could touch him. Not while the ritual lasted. Drawing his strength he fought with his bare hands, punching and kicking with fury. A club glanced his head sending him to his knees as the mob swarmed over him. Punching and clawing he fought his way to his feet, gasping for breath. He could feel his strength draining from him. “This is not possible.” He gasped as he staggered back. Then it hit him. The ritual was failing. Not because his time was up, but because he was not fulfilling his purpose. His strength would only last while he was hunting the sorcerer. The people he had slaughtered, though their will was not their own, were not his enemy. Every one of their deaths by his hand had stolen a little more of his strength. ‘I have to get away.’ Gredion thought as he turned. He knew he must not fail in this, or all his people would die. As he took a step, a sharp pain exploded in his back. Falling to his knees, he could only look down numbly as a steel spearhead sprang from his chest. Crawling forward on his hands and knees, Gredion gasped for air as he tried to get to his feet. “I… will… not… fail…” He gasped, choking on blood. Summoning his strength he pushed himself to his feet, then his world went black.
Sulail grinned as the darkness flickered, then dissipated. Now he could turn his attention back to the matter at hand. The sorcerer turned his attention back to the talisman. Even here, in the shadow realm, between worlds, its flawless beauty could not be diminished. The strange rippling light that pulsed from within was growing stronger. Sulail knew now that he was close to unlocking the secrets of the arcane relic. Soon he would be its master and all its power and secrets would be his to control. With spectral fingers he traced the delicately carved runes and facets.
“It will not be long now… my precious gem. All that you are will be mine to-“ His words trailed off as the light surged brightly for a moment then dimmed.
“What is-“ Sulail gasped in pain as the world jerked around him. Something was wrong. Before he could sort out the new sensation, he felt a bright star of pain explode from deep within him. Screaming, the sorcerer was drawn forcibly back into his body.
Gredion jerked back in surprise as the emaciated sorcerer’s eyes snapped open and he let out an unearthly wail. When he had come upon the body, he had thought the sorcerer dead.
The barbarian had smashed through the remaining minions surrounding the sorcerer while the sorcerer himself had simply sat where he lay, not even twitching when Gredion had placed his knee on the sorcerers chest. Only when he had placed his hand on the talisman, had the sorcerer reacted.
Sulail gaped in disbelief as the barbarian pulled the chain tightly around the sorcerer’s neck. “You should be dead.” He gasped as his fingers closed around the spear point still sticking from the savage’s chest. Sulail could clearly see the shattered haft of the spear over the barbarians shoulder. Panicking, Sulail drew upon his magic, sending roiling flame billowing from his fingertips.
Gredion grinned as the fires washed over him, granting him greater strength. With a savage cry he drove his fist into the Sorcerer’s gut, driving his fist upwards.
Sulail gasped in pain as the magic drained away from him in a haze of pain. He screamed in agony as the savages fist tore through skin and flesh, working its way up into his chest. He felt rough fingers close around his heart and clamp down in an iron like grip. Sulail gasped as his life fled from his body. As the darkness claimed him, a revelation came to him. He now understood the significance of the talisman.
Gredion grinned ferally as he felt the sorcerers beating heart. With all his might he pulled his arm back, treating the sorcerer’s still beating heart from his body and crushed it in his fist. Staggering weakly back, he watched with grim satisfaction as green and black flames erupted from the sorcerer’s still twitching body.
Casting his eyes skyward, Gredion felt his strength draining away. Closing his eyes he lay back. He could hear the voices of his ancestors calling him. Bidding him to take his place of honor.
Gredion’s eyes opened slowly. He could feel nothing.
“Rise, and take your place.” A dry voice rasped.
Against his will, the barbarian felt his body move, coming awkwardly to his feet. Within his body, his soul was screaming in defiance. Turning slowly, Gredion faced the voice that was calling him.
Grinning, as only he could, Sulail the lich raised a blackened, bony hand and gestured towards his new servant. The talisman sat darkly against his ribcage, blackened by the flames that had claimed his flesh. All the power of the talisman was now his. Dark flames blazed in the lich’s eye sockets as the enslaved barbarian plodded towards him. “Now and forever you are mine.”
By: Jason Haley