The Myth of the Courtship of Wisdom

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Legend has it that once there were three deities who were the cradle to the nature of humanity: Memory, Passion and Reason.

Reason, the youngest of the three, was muse to the weavings of logic. She was garbed in the calm composure of her temperament, and her thinking was measured and refined. Poised and pragmatic, she was slow to action, yet immovable in her decisions once made. Her control and confidence was the mark of her near flawless beauty, with features both angular and perfect.

Passion embodied the surrender to emotion and impulse. Bold, daring, and charismatic, his wild abandon to instinct was what afforded him his smouldering appeal. His handsome features were carved from the primal forces of desire, and fervour with fire was ensconced in his heart as it flowed and trembled through the powerful limbs of his body. And to look upon him was to enraptured by ecstasy and elation.

Memory was the eldest, and most reserved of the three. She was the mother to mystery, and the shepherdess of secrets. In her eyes lay a timeless allure that seduced with the gentle promise of reminiscence. Yet, her mood was mercurial and in her lay harboured the contradictions of all man. She appeared clothed in both an enduring vulnerability, and resolute strength. And to look upon her was to experience the longing for what was lost… but not forgotten.

One fateful day, news reached the three of a formidable presence venturing close to the borders of their realm. Memory felt hesitant, but eager to seek out this soul. She knew this to be Wisdom: the patron of all sages; the envy and bane of philosophers; and the idol of wanderers who quest for purposes they alone know. She shared this knowledge, with both her brother and sister. It was with great zeal that Passion wished to quest to the border to meet this Wisdom, his curiosity burning with white hot intensity as to a renown that challenged his own. Reason was drawn to investigate the unknown faculties of thought held by another, bemused by the sudden presence of Wisdom near their lands.

Long had the three sought worthy lovers within their realm, but their search for companionship did not reward them their coveted pursuits. For Memory found no soul of present thought or craft to be as powerful as past remembrance; Passion could find no equal to satiate the cravings of the heart, the flesh, and the spirit; and Reason could find no challenge to her wit among the tedious flights of fancy held by man or immortal. They would thus seek out this Wisdom. Surely the folktales, the fables, the fantasies and the falsehoods were testament to some eminent value of his being. If all tales held true, each one thought, then such reverence embodied would surely be worthy of their affection and admiration.

Each knowing of the intents of the other, and confident in their self-made prophecies at being chosen as his or her spouse, the three quested to find Wisdom. They were mindful however, of the dangers in treading far from their home – as uncertainty hung as a mist over the lands that lay beyond.

They journeyed along the rough-hewn trek of road that stretched across the vast landscape. Amidst the quiet sound of their footfalls, the three heard only their own thoughts taking shape among the ruminations which surmised the possibilities of meeting Wisdom. Many a tale reached the ear of those who sought out his divinity. Wisdom: the bearer of a spellbinding beauty; of a knowledge that surmounted to the wealth accrued across countless lifetimes; and of a standing unmatched by either kings or gods. For Passion, the thrill of desire was fuelling his pursuit. He had heard of Wisdom’s great power in snaring the heart, and his many talents at satiating the unbridled needs of his many lovers. Reason was envious of the possession of great intellect, believing that Wisdom might share many of the divine secrets over which all man started and ended wars, and thus unlock her pursuit to unrivaled knowledge. Memory sought to regain the joys lost in the traces of the past, longing to experience yet again the sensorial pleasures of fond remembrances.

The journey was however arduous, and the dangers preceded in the warnings they held took its shape. Along the road, each came to confront a near insurmountable challenge, of which their fellowship remained ignorant. Reason endured the whispers of shapeless and deluded voices that grew to banshee howls echoing through her mind. Passion was battered by the assualt of invisible beasts that clawed at flesh and spirit, unable to tame or drive them off as they continued to renew their attack. Memory was stricken with great illness which worsened along the way, an ailment of which she bore no knowledge of cure nor of nature. With Reason driven mad, Passion at the brink of exhaustion, and Memory afflicted and unwell, the journey brought them to a fog-dimmed crossroads past which no prediction could be made. And at their arrival, the troubling forms of their nightmares and neuroses ceased… and faded to the nether.

Huddled beneath the signpost was a greyclad hermit, aged and withered by the touch of many seasons. At the behest of Reason, the grizzled figure announced himself as the herald to Wisdom. Relieved, the three were revived by their individual pursuits. The ancient one stated that Wisdom would present himself only to those who were deemed worthy. Visitors to the crossroads were required to present with a gift to the herald, of which the value of the giver would be weighed and determined. Then, they need choose the road along which Wisdom would eventually be found. The road to the right curved back to the safety of their realm, but was untroubled by the dangers that befell them on their way. The left lead to uncharted borders, where pleasure untold rewarded the brave. The road that winded straight held the certainties of the future, forever quelling the questions that plagued all of mankind.

After careful thinking and judgement, Reason presented a tome that held her own valued theories on life, knowledge untarnished by the stain of emotion, and pure in its premise. “For” , she thought, “surely if left impoverished by fate, a man such as this would benefit from my intellect to improve his own fortune”. She would take the road ahead, believing that Wisdom would surely (like herself) seek to extinguish all traces of doubt by seeking the certainties of the future.

Passion regarded the hermit, believing that a man such as he could not possibly have known the joys of the flesh for many years, and offered his own body as a vessel to impart the gift of lust for a single night. And through such sensations, he would reinvoke the fiery yearning of desire that would likely have dimmed for the old herald in the passing of years. He would venture to the left, where pleasures awaited the courageous, “For surely Wisdom would choose to be rewarded by the pleasures that lie in store for those who have overcome their inhibitions and hesitations.”

For Memory, the herald evoked great pity in his hunched and tired appearance. She would touch his mind, and draw from his temple the thought of his childhood, if only to awaken the traces of simple youth and carefree joy that only a child could possess in their innocence. Memory would then take the path winding right, and to the home from which she came (and to which Wisdom was likely headed), “For what greater pursuit is there than the return to the comforts of one’s hearth where one feels safe and reassured. Or whats more… to be welcomed as a guest to such lodgings.”

At once the haggard appearance of the herald melted away, revealing a beautiful titan in the prime of his youth, but with ancient eyes that held the light of a thousand suns. And as one, the siblings realised that they had found Wisdom.

The transformed magus regarded each deity in turn, but not one received the look of affection they had so hoped to win.

“You have come this far, but erred in your pursuit. Though your gifts hold great value, they are exhaustible and offer nothing of enduring value. You judged me on the mark of my appearance, and so from pity your reasons for genorosity were informed. And from misdirected judgement, you would seek me out on roads I would not travel.”

Reason lanced Wisdom with a cold anger in return, tactically informing of the perfect and unflawed nature of her gift, “a gift that is free from the limitations of mortal faults, and woven from the clear and refined logic that remains the untapped potential of all men.”

Wisdom acknowledged her, “Indeed, your gift was valuable. Practical and lost to most men in the face of hardship. But it was given in the pride of its seeming tautology – moulded from your own perception. The fortune of a man is not always bound by their stock of cold logic. The whispers you had endured on your journey was also the growing seed of your impatience, greedingly asserting its claim in your mind to the knowledge of another merely for its possession, but not for its joy in having. For that, your reasons for seeking me were not pure of intent. And for what purpose would I, Wisdom, seek to travel to where doubt is erased and the mysteries of the future forgotten? For in doubt grows knowledgeable pursuit, and in such pursuit lies the very joy of the shape a future can assume. A future rife with a thousand variations to the lessons needed in shaping our soul. “

“What of I?”, exclaimed Passion curiously, with confidence draped upon his broad frame and a complacent grin teasingly playing at the corners of his mouth. “Surely I offered you all that I was, not refraining any part of myself. Truly, it is only in such enigmatic and open gestures that the purity of intent can be read. I have hidden nothing, and given you everything”

“You allure is undeniable, and your surrender to the pull of your emotions allows you a vibrant life. You have truly offered everything, and refrained from withholding anything.” “But,” Wisdom continued, “it is your lust that will be your undoing. For, as you have seen, the beasts on the road were none but those you have uncaged within yourself. Left unattended, your untrained wants and whiles will have the better of you to the point of exhaustion. And leave behind a vessel empty of the fire that burned so fervently once before. Your gift was given out of vanity, and not of any true desire to rekindle the fire in another. And who are you to judge the flame that burns in comparison to your own? For even the most withered soul has once known the intimacies of their own bodies, and memory of such joys still linger in their flesh. They seek not the charity of your lust, but the shape of your heart. But that is not what you could offer. What is more, your chosen path is that of the hedonist, and not of the martyr who deserves the rewards of their sacrifice. For no soul enjoys the nurture of only success, but pain is the maiden to pleasure that is needed to cultivate growth. “

Memory felt beckoned forward, to offer reply, “It is certain then, that what I offer you is of satisfaction. For it is unpresumtious, and seeks not to outline the shape of your future, but guide you to the familiar comforts of what is known until you are ready to reassume your destined path. ”

Wisdom ruefully drew his gaze toward her in address, “For even though truth is held in what you say, you estimate too much of what is to be savoured from the past. Indeed there lies a comfort in reminiscence, but so does stagnation. What you offer will only rekindle the simple joys for the briefest spell, only to fall once again into something that will remain desired. For it is already past. What you the offer in truth is joy that would not outlast the sorrows that is to follow once the bearer of such thoughts return to the present. And it was this very sorrow that sickened your soul, and left you without remedy on your journey to find me. For fear of such feelings, you would seek to take the road back to a place that left you ignorant of the lessons that lay beyond, and that would avoid the mists of uncertainty from clouding your vision – a vision that has been narrowed by the decadent comforts of what is familiar.”

At this, the protest of all three assualted Wisdom in his humble demeanour. And in their anger, all wished to speak, but no one to listen. “Why then, did we need venture through the unknown fogs that only obscured our judgement! Why not be met on the grounds that were known to us, and thus would have given us clarity and controlled judgement?!”, lamented Memory.

“And what would you have of us, as gifts for your hand?! What are your desires to be met, that would buy passage to your approval, if not the gifts that are informed by our very essence?”, shouted Passion.

“And what road then would you have us take, if none would lead to you? Why present the choice, if the outcome has no bearing?!”, Reason protested.

Wisdom answered each in turn. To Memory he said, “Knowledge does not seek the learner, for it is the learner that seeks it out instead. How could I thus travel to meet you at the place from which you came, when the place where you are now yet leaves you unready for my reception. For I can only be found through uncertainty and never in the place where I am idly awaited.” To Passion he said, “I cannot be gifted by the turmoil of emotions that rages through your veins. It is raw and chaotic, and lacks sensible discernment. What you singularly give is not of enduring value. Instead, I sought a gift reconciled from the aptitudes of each – presented as parts to a whole, but not infallible as divided entities. For what you each offer compensates for the lack of the other, and had you assumed such a humble contribution, you would have gifted me with an understanding of the mindful regard you bear of your strengths, but also a humble acknowledgement you afford your weaknesses. “

Lastly, Reason he addressed, “You ask me which road there was to take, when the choices seemed limited? But choices presented does not enforce decisions to be made in their favour. Your very logic blinds you to the fact that I was already awaiting you, and thus needed not be found. I needed you to look past your ambitions to see that which was always open for you to discover.”

So it came to be, that Reason, Passion and Memory saw in the eyes of Wisdom not the perpetuity of infathomable knowledge, but their quixotic and selfish ventures reflected back. They saw not only their inherent power, but in that reflection, their own shortcomings. In they eyes of Wisdom, each saw reflected a truth that lay deep within…

And upon that reflection, a percipience opened itself to each of the travellers. Reason regarded Passion, and now sought to learn of the exaltation that new knowledge can awaken. Passion looked to Memory, to sought a guide to his impulse and informed judgement through lessons in the treasury of the past. And Memory now turned to the logic held by Reason, for the clear mind could escape the reservations held against the unknown. Especially when slipping too far in the comforts of what was already well kept in mind. For so was the nature of the future – uncertain: reason could not predict it; passion alone could not navigate it; and memory could not escape it. And it was this of which Wisdom bred enlightenment, the truth of character that we willfully force our attentions to evade…

And before unseen, but no longer hidden, Truth steeped forth to greet the company: bare, unabashed, unashamed and iridescent; blindfolded to grandiosity, vanity and past faults. And it was Truth that Wisdom saw fit to leave in the company of the three, having seen realization dawn on his suitors. And it would come to be, that Reason, Memory and Passion instead courted Truth, and was relieved of their entitled claim to the eternal companionship of Wisdom. For Truth would remind them ever of their ways, should they find such ways be lost. Furthermore, should the counsel of Truth not find ground to be voiced… then Truth would return to Wisdom, and yearn to be courted again. At the side of Wisdom, Truth would always await those who would seek Wisdom’s prudent counsel.

For Wisdom did not seek the idle, but was instead sought out itself. Wisdom could not be gifted, but imparted gifts to the seeker. Nor could Wisdom be found on any single road, but instead at its head before a road is chosen. And Wisdom could never be courted, for it was already married to Truth. But it was also part of Truth, as Truth was part of Wisdom. To find Wisdom, was to find Truth. For the two were in perfect union, divided only for the understanding of those who needed guidance. For in wisdom lay truth, and in truth there lay wisdom

- A Short Story by the Wallflower - 

Greetings from a Quiet Bloomer

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The beauty of ‘being’ should not be brushed aside…

Wallflower
/ˈwɔːlflaʊə/

noun

An introverted soul with the magical disposition to see, to listen, and to quietly understand the kaleidoscopic vibrancy of the world in which they have taken root. A silent specimen inclined to bloom in the light of rare company and when the scent of the moment is right.


… One afternoon…

… As I rarely plucked one of the books from among my garden of good but untouched reads… I finally started on the page-turner that was Susan Cain’s riveting homage to the value of all introverts: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. I was but a few pages into the introduction, when I came across the line that convinced me that the book would be a resonating account of my world view:

Now that you’re an adult … you’re told that you’re ‘in your head too much’, a phrase that is often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Of course, there is another word for such people: thinkers.

Heard that?…………………………………………

That was the sound of my mind being blown…………. (I am sure you have some cartoon audio file tucked away somewhere in your greymatter for the right effect)

Simple… Yet profound enough to reignite a vestige of memory that I thought I had worked hard to displace, having regarded it as a criticism once upon a time.

“In your head too much…”

Well, that was a simple truth, as much as I might try to deny it. What is a reserved little boy to do after all, in a big bold world that provides more than its share of overstimulation. Those words were a reminiscent hammer blow that echoed across the memory of countless tedious lectures, parties passed in a blur, the long and laborious longevity of the voices of chatty Cathys and talakative Toms… and enough experiences with awkward silences to add another thesis topic to my repertoire.

But, is being in your head (even if “too much”) truly a bad thing?

Well dears, damned be the day when I allow anyone the authority to permit me my self-allocated playtime within the little flower patch of fantasies that I call my inner world…

It is too darn magical!

And once you adopt that pretty little penchant of expressing these enchantments of your inner life in a few well-chosen words, the talent really starts to make love to you! (Honey, you should really start taking your breakfast and coffee with a side of the Oxford Dictionary) Lesson #1: never underestimate the power of a descent vocabulary (It is one of those raging little quotes out there that remain unclaimed in credit, but adopted in its truth…) It breathes life into an idea.

So, there I was… Reading that piece in Cain’s novel, with nebulous sparks of recognition whizzing around the fort of my most reserved perceptions of self. And dazed as clear understanding dawned on me yet again of how much I valued being a quiet idealist, a dreamer… a thinker (as the book had so generously labelled me with merit). There really was something to this quiet revolution.

And then, we had been called adults as well (sigh). I am still exuding a daily effort to completely dissociate from that little assigned life-role (well… the effort in trying has been noble at least…) Oh, I am thriving! Responsibility: we don’t know her! (That is a lie… We definitely know her. She is a bitch that comes screaming just as loudly as Karma at our slightest misstep with Freedom. So be sure to invite her along to the party every now and then. She likes her playtime as well)

So in an era filled with generations accustomed to the buzz of free speech, being the ‘silent’ type often becomes a challenging position to assume. For within the crossfire of entitled opinions and the need to be heard… I have often felt that few come to actually listen. Society has become a pretty vocal zest pool of impulsive opinion. So the drama!

Don’t get me wrong…We need the brave camaraderie of more outspoken spirits out there in the world to spark the discussion, and remedy the world with a dose of honesty that has also been denied its place. But the situation becomes a bit muddy, and the flow of conversation murky, when a view that is shared is not set out to dry and see the sunshine for awhile. Or, if it does not pass through at least a couple of filters. God forbid, it seems as though the candid one-liners out there just call for the suspenseful panning of a camera to make the moment centre stage to some reality show! Reality does not call for cant or slush dears. Lesson #2: it is not always your circus; your tongue may be the whip that cracks at the wrong beast…

So I have rather come to see myself as an observer to the ways and whiles of the people that happen across my life. Gentleman that I try to be, I have felt inclined to allow both the misgivings and epiphanies of others with great courtesy and empathy. These experiences are then planted in my collection of stories, all nurtured and enlivened in the greenhouse that is my memory.

It makes of one a raconteur (what a beautiful word… I have been teasing the idea of taking French because of it). One comes to revel in the capacity for riveting storytelling. And in that beautiful scape of memory and the million filters it passes through as time lapses, a humility is beckoned forth among the bemused thoughts of considering how beautiful a narrative may be despite its outcome. What can we truly be but humble beasts running through the wilderness of a life where uncertainty is the only certainty… and where the winds of change can do such glorious things if we let the breeze take us on those flights of fancy. At the end, our opinions just seem to become more measured, more mindful… and heavens, less extra!

Poetically put, but what am I trying to say here?

Well…

Firstly, I am inclined to reserve all judgement. (That is a Nick Caraway quote right there… anyone give The Great Gatsby a read?) The judgement? Oh it is certainly present. I flirt with it in the backdrop and whisper dirty little things to it… but it remains within the harlem of my thoughts.

Secondly, the purpose was to introduce the ways of the wallflower. A beautiful little collection of hallmarks and habits that allow a holistic perception of the feels of the moment. Having cultivated the humble silence of quiet experience – and perhaps with a little moondust in my backpocket to sprinkle a dull situation with a bit of magic – life has become quite a breathtaking bouquet of opportunities in which memories are to be made and in which ‘thinkers‘ are applauded for their reserved voices. That is, until the moment sprouts with a need for it to be heard!

As I see it: gone are the days where the wallflower is a shy little sideshow… Instead, these mystical beings are the seasonal signs of sound sayings, who tweak the necessary cadences of their thoughts so that it may find its way to the assailed ears of loud society.

And perhaps this is what this blog is all about…. Thoughts and tales fully bloomed to become the centerpiece of attention for you, as the reader, for the briefest of time while frolicking in your own little pocket of reality.

A kindred spirit and soul sister parted ways with me after one of those spiffingly splendid sagacious sessions of sharing wild philosophies and philanthropic fantasies over a 420… and with these darling words: “love and light” . How magnificent is such a goodbye?… To leave with someone not only the whimsy of what was the teasing traces of your company, but to wish upon them the necessary truths and hopes revealed in the light, and the million beautiful variations of a diverse feeling such as love….

So I have adjusted my petals dearies, and turned my face to the sun, and allowed the beauty of ‘being’ and quiet contemplation to water my opinions with forbearance and sound judgement… for only then does the fragrant freedom of experience open its beauty to our enjoyment, and a love informed by self knowledge and understanding of life make itself available.

Thus, love and light fellow bloomers.

And welcome, to the inner sanctum of a wizard of words…

Treasure

A storm brews inside you; a great tempest that seeks to tear you away from who you truly are…

He stood on the outcropping of rock, overlooking the vast field. He had not planned on coming here. In fact, he had tried to resist it. But the irresistible pull of energy that pervaded the plain had urged his steps to come here and look upon the vast army that moved his way.

You must not pay it any heed, young one. You must not listen to whispers within the wind…

Dressed in cloak and cowl, he stood there as his midnight blue garments billowed in the breeze. All he could feel was the wind. Both outside, and within. No sorrow. No hesitation. No fear. Only the tempest

You must not follow where it blows you… It will tempt you. It will make you lose yourself in a kaleidoscopic blur...

He was alone, save for the voices of ghosts that now echoed in his mind. Alone he stood; a sentry standing firm on the edge of an assault. They were coming closer now. Dust roiled in the wake of the damned as they pushed forward in their unholy crusade through the sweeping field… and he was in their way. He was in the way of a force thousands-strong that blighted the earth as their numbers swallowed the landscape.

You have always owned a rebel heart. Distant calls will merge into tribal cacophonies as they call you… beckon you… but you cannot give yourself away to that power

But he did give of himself, all of himself… He harkened to the call that compelled him here, and he had come willingly. Alone; to stand against this scourge that surged forward without rest, without restraint, without remorse… and without its reckoning. He would serve it…

You are needed in this broken world, young sorcerer. A resonance to the tone of the world is a sound that most would mute for the sake of their own ignorance…

He was listening. He was paying attention, but the world was not telling him… to wait…

you must resist the power

No. He would not.

He raised his hands. He could see them now – scores of undead horrors and demonic servants. Legions of evil, barrelling down towards him. Burning a path to the innocents who lived in the kingdom at his back. But they would not pass… he would not let them. Not this time…

…let silence be your teacher… for in that silence lies your peace…

He had no much use for talking. Not now. Only action. His cloak fell away from clawed gauntlets, through which arcane power veined to glow on the edge of his fingertips… The air trembled, as runic symbols seared themselves into it, burning intensely as it spread forth in front of him…

…Serenity serves to steady the thoughts that soldier on through a mind at war…

There would be war… but it was no longer in his mind. He had resolved himself to kill those demons off long ago. The mage anchored his stance, and gripped hold of the power coursing through him… In the line of the charging army, the runes had expanded across the field and had starting ripping up the earth over which they hovered. The ground was shaken with a steady magical thrum that was swallowing the sound of the relentless approach of the army…

Do not lose yourself to that power. Whatever you do, resist it, and treasure the deeper force within you…

That deeper force he had found long ago. It whispered to him, through the layers of power that he had subdued; through the layers of power he now had to acknowledge to grasp that true force that lay inside him… and made him who he was.

…wield it, and let it be the woe of your enemies…

Oh… he was planning to. Lightning cracked through the irises of his eyes, crackling in wild and uninhibited power. It flowed through him, rocking his solid stance and making the very wind around him pick up in strong gusts. The land moaned as magic rocked its foundations. The reach of it stretched for leagues in front of the twilight army, erecting a violent barrier of chaotic energy that threatened to tear anything in its path asunder.

you must control it...

No. But he was about to unleash it…

As the voice of his old keeper was deafened by the dim of magic filling the air, Tystnad released the pulsing barrier of arcane energy that had erected itself in front of him and the army on the other side. The magic crashed forward, breaking the bedrock and shattering the soil… until the shockwave unleashed havoc within the ranks of the dead…

And for the first time in a century, demons started to fall…

Inktober #21

Tread

” — So… you bring ill tidings from abroad, I hear.”

His sonorous voice sounded irritable beneath that gruff tone. Without much patience for introductions, the king had marched in, decked out in full armour as he addressed Blackblade. The dragon was made to stand in the middle of the throne hall, fully surrounded by the imperious display of power. The room dwarfed any who stood in the shadow of its colossal archways, columns and balconies. Even if Blackblade had been in his true form, his wings may have barely touched the edges of that hall. He was never one to feel small, even when he was a human. But the king seemed to be the only one who could truly fill the castle’s hall with his presence.

“These tidings –” He paused, feeling odd; the dragon warrior did not quite know what to do with his voice there. He felt like a legion could be placed in the space that seperated him from the king. Fortunately, any noise seemed to emit a resonant boom as it bounced around in that gigantic hall. He cleared his throat, and tried again, “Ahem. These tidings appeared to have enroached upon the land all by itself, your majesty.” That felt better. A baseline volume would do just fine.

“The king has no time to play coy, maverick! You will answer his majesty directly! He has no time for your detour of words.” The councilman – a mage, by Blackblade’s suspicion – seemed to spit his words out with a special kind of vehemence.

Blackblade looked at the man, feeling a slight pang of annoyance. The little runt had done everything in his power to counter this audience with the warrior king. Blackblade had spent weeks in the capital, trying to secure a chance to speak with the monarch without much success, and had a strong suspicion that the sweet words whispered to agents in the dark had significanty decreased his chances of doing so sooner. It had taken everything from him to not erupt into his full gargantuan form, and to simply crash through the domed ceiling overhead to land right in front of the throne itself. Luckily, his years of remaining dormant in his human guise had evidently assuaged his draconian temper as a result. He calmly responded, “Pardon, my king. I had hoped we could speak alone…”

“This is preposterous! The king does not simply take private council with some… some… oversized hermit who waddled up to the castle gates claiming to be have key information on the happenings in the eastern kingdoms!” Turning to his liege, the erratic mage continued his rant, “My king, I do not trust this man; claiming to be a simple traveller that had witnessed horrors unbeknownst to even our agents at the borders. Look at him! This brute could not possibly have seen the hardships of a long and arduous journey. The barbarian looks strong enough to pull half our guard down by simply the might of his own hands! You cannot offer your ear to this ruse sire. You must—“

“Calm yourself councilman! By the gods… you wail louder than that banshee of a court girl that left my chambers but two nights ago!”

Despite his apparent nonchalance, Blackblade bit back a chuckle. He had to give it to the high strung little wizard. He was persistent. And not completely in the wrong. Blackblade may have been dressed in simple garments, but they hung over a soldier’s body. Thick muscle pushed against the simple fabric making it very evident that he had indeed not been left to the scant provisions of the wilderness. Aside from that, he was tall, dark-haired, with intense steely blue eyes hooded by thick brows that probably made him seem imposing. In fact, the king was the only man in the room that possibly came close to matching him in size and stature. He must have seemed intimidating. And with a beard that mayhaps needed a slight trim, perhaps he did look like an oversized hermit. He was curious however, as to this apparent waddle in his gait… That was a fact that longed to be revised.

“My king, I implore you… We cannot allow the fabricated lies of this man to undo the delicate peace of the city. We must —“

The king, having long since seated himself on the throne, stood up suddenly, raising a hand before his thundering voice shook the hall. “WE… must not overstep itself to usurp the judgement that I will be making! You, will now leave us. I, will hear this man, as he shares his tale, and then decide how much of it is fabrication. Now go!”

The captain of the guard, an honourable man by all accounts – including Blackblade’s own – interjected then. “With due respect, sire. It is not safe to simply be left alone with this stranger. Even if– ”

“Then station your guard outside those doors, captain. Should our guest feel the need to push his luck, I am sure that he will bite your steel before he even thinks that he’ll be tasting victory. That is… if he can parry the blows that I will rain down on him first…”

Well, his confidence sure wasn’t lacking… The dragon warrior had to give a faint smile at that. He wondered how that rematch would go…

“Of course, your majesty.” With a single wave of his hand, the captain dismissed the guards, marching from the room in organised tandem. Last to leave was the council mage, who spared Blackblade one venomous glare before the doors to the throne hall closed, sending a deep echo through the domed hall as it shut.

The king slowly turned to regard him then. Walking down from the dais steps, he apprached the dragon warrior with much less of the regal slump he reserved for others who stood before him, as Blackblade did now.

“You tread dangerously by coming here, Halvadere.” Standing closer, the king had lowered his voice to negate the echo within the room. “For a dragon, I thought you’d be less conspicuous in the way you hide yourself. These damn wizards can smell an imposter a league away. But you are as damn stubborn as I remember! Subtlety has never been your strength.”

“Neither yours, old friend. Does the whole court know who warms your bed after battle?”

“Ah, but his wit has not been blunted…” The king was more sarcastic than playful. “Perhaps my councilman was right in thinking you were coy to come here… with your arrogant sense of familiarity. Stepping out as if from distant memory, like no time has passed at all. After years of irreverent quiet… To hell with you!” He was angry, that was certain. But tired. In all his fury, he was tired. Blackblade – the dragon known as Halvadere – looked upon his friend, weary from inner battles. A weariness that he had likely kept reserved when in the company of anyone else… save now for him. The dragon regarded his friend with empathy. Reserving himself to set the humour shared between old friends aside… he spoke more seriously, yet softly…

“Belatore… hell may be exactly where we are all headed, if we do not acknowledge the severity of the situation…”

“Damn your dismal predictions, dragon! I know of the movements in the east… reports have flooded in on that… that massacre…. If not for the attacks on other fronts, I would have long since rallied a strikeforce to beat those complacent fiends to the ground…”

“My friend, neither you, nor your most powerful cadre of imperial mages, could retailiate against those forces alone. Even if you had a horde of your skilled footmen at your back. Dark forces have risen again. Forces have stirred that have not done so in a century… and I am afraid they have not awoken from years of slumber to simply raze border outposts to the ground…

Looking down at his sabatons, the king closed his eyes and sighed deeply. Weary from the weight of his crown – a rule that Blackblade doubted anyone would wish to wrestle away from him – king Belatore lifted his head, and with softer eyes regarded the dragon warrior. His friend. “Tell me then….”

Inktober #20

Sling

Norgrund held his breath as he hid behind the hillrigde that looked down into the swooping valley. The sky was a dimming blue as the sun was being drawn to west, ready to offer its final sigh. Though, he wondered if the day was holding its breath, for fear of dappling the land in darkness while a nightmare roamed across it.

In these strange parts, the spirit walker was grateful for his attentiveness as a warrior, while wading through the foreign land. His journey had been blissfully free of any misfortune, but it had not dimmed his senses to the imminent dangers that could present itself at any given moment. But this new enemy had taken him unawares. If not for the glint of black hide that showed up between the high blades of grass, he would have likely walked right into his end.

This was not a situation that Norgrund often faced; if ever. As a spirit walker, his attunement to the earth was like an intuitive perception of the world, allowing him to perceive danger leagues away before even facing it. His connection with the land was that powerful. Yet, ever since the mountain, he felt a sickness seeping into the soil. Uncertain as to what he would encounter, he decided to sever his connection until the foreboding in the pit of his stomach subsided. He thought that the malingering ailment of the spirit would dissipate as he ventured beyong the mountainside that was ravaged by that spell; yet, it never did. In fact, something far more corrupting had replaced the tension that the glacial graveyard of his troubled kinfolk had created.

And now, looking at the beast in the field, he could perhaps fathom why…

He did not need his shamanistic gifts to tell him that the being was a sisister presence. He knew it by the silence that permeated the valley, as if the thing was siphoning the very life from the surrounding field. Nothing moved, nothing stirred, only the long grass through which it slowly waded…

Norgrund wondered if he could take the beast in combat. Contemplating the thought, his fingers had grazed the the grip of his longaxe more than once. But revealing himself now would be a fool’s game… He was unsure of his enemy, and about its dimensions and strength. And if the long grass had hidden it so effectively, he would be at a tactical disadvantage if it decided to use the grass sea to its advantage. So he lay there, in wait. Until he heard a branch snap from behind among the trees.

Fighting the impulse to snap his head around for fear that the sudden movement would attract the attention of his unwanted stalker, Norgrund took a deep inner breath to steel his nerves. Not sensing that he was yet being charged, he looked around and down the steep slope on his side of the hill.

Along the foot, another jet black figure had emerged among the trees. This time, Norgrund got a good look at the enemy he was up against. Though twisted and unnatural, it was a foe that clearly drew strength from its speed and stamina. And from the blade-like appendages that acted as its forelimbs, he knew that in addition, it was built for the kill. The large warrior warily regarded his yet unaware adversary. Even if he did engage in melee – even if he won – the creature would by force of its sheer dexterity alone likely inflict him with grievous wounds that would make his journey insufferable. But the double-barreled danger he was in sought attention to another foe that was roaming the valley, and would likely charge their direction at the moment that steel clashed with claw.

Demons, they were demons. He knew by the stench of sulphur that now filled the air; by the unholy silence that preceded their presence; by the dread that filled him even in his prime – the dread he had not felt since stories once told by his grandmother many years ago.

One thing was certain: he was cornered.

His tight grip around the weapon loosened, and the blood rushed back to his fingers. With the same hand, he reached within a fold of his belt bag, drawing forth the unlikeliest of weapons. A weapon he had not used since he was an impressionable boy, taken by those very same stories of his grandmother, and believing he could stymie the forces of evil all alone.

The sling, now dwarfed by the size of his hand, still felt familiar as it rested in his palm. The twisted cords of hemp and its leather pouch had been preserved well throughout the years. And even if it had been too worn out at times because of constant use, he had simply repaired it. Many times. He believed that luck clinged to the weapon, after many years of its trusted service. But perhaps, it had just been the familiarity that he felt in having it on his person that truly gave him comfort.

And right now, that old familiarity and reliability filled him with a sense of small relief, as he fought to beat down the rising tension of the moment. He hoped that the small weapon would serve him well once more…

Drawing a stone from within his sack, he quietly positioned himself in a more upright position, to free his arm and shoulder for more mobility. He felt sweat bead on his forehead as he strained to move with the least amount of noise. Tension had cramped his upper body, but in coming into a crouch he had loosened his muscles. He took a couple of needed breaths. Placing the stone in the pouch, he braced himself for his dire, daring and foolish attempt at subterfuge.

The fiend was moving within clear line of view now. He doubted if it had noticed him, but it would not be long before he would be rousted from his higher ground of defence, and perhaps blindsided by the other beast in the field. Sweeping the area for a target, Norgrund looked to a cluster of trees in the distance. Coiling his muscles for the chain of reaction about to ensue, he whipped the sling backward with a deft and strong movement of his wrist, and then flung it across the clearing.

As the projectile ricocheted against the tree bole and sent forth a a resounding echo, Norgrund surged down the hill and into the forest… just as the ground exploded where the demon had stood as it bolted in the opposite direction toward the sound that had acted as the spirit walker’s diversion…

And but a few seconds after, as he had run the other way, the claws of the second beast from the vallymouth tore up his hiding spot – following the other terror with the same inhuman speed to bring and end to non-existent prey…

Inktober #19

Misfit

The ring of fire crackled with ferocious intensity as the flames reached ever higher to lick the night sky. Lit from below, the charge of dark faces looked even more maniacal as they hungrily surged through the raging magical inferno that had claimed many of their endless numbers. But not nearly enough…

They advanced in waves…

Bolt after bolt of magical energy flew from his hands. Every impact with its intended target set off a brilliant flash of light that illimunated the surroundings, revealing the neverending thrum of dark bodies rushing forward. His brow was slick with the sweat of exertion, as he tapped yet deeper within himself for the willpower to stand his ground against the impossible odds.

But they didn’t stop…

Waving his right hand in a wide arc, he sent forth a dozen golden lances of pure energy to impale a cluster of demons, sending them backward with the force of impact. Another wave of magic rolled forward to vanquish a wall of fiends that was gaining ground. All the while, he strained to keep a forcefield erected to hold the terrors at bay as they tried to strike at his flanks. They were relentless…

Three demons took the place for every one that fell; his body grew more weary with every spell he cast; and as the battle continued, the village he defended threatened ever more to be overrun.

Through the smoke of sorcerous flames, and covered in the ashes of the enemy, he drew his blade as even more approached. With skill as adept as his arcane mastery, his sword cut a swathe of ruin through the ranks of abominations.

A savage cry ripped itself from his throat. He used his anger as a weapon – harnessing it, channeling it – and allowed it to fuel every volley of battle magic that he hurled at the damned in desperation. The hordes suffered great loss as he decimated them. Until… his attacks became weaker, shrinking to a smaller area of effect with every strike. Scores of them filled the spaces where the sorcery once touched. And steadily, he felt his legs give way beneath his exhausted frame.

And then they blurred past him…

One by one, nightmare upon nightmare, the devils jumped his magical barriers, and raced on toward the panic-stricken village. As he fought on, standing alone against the dark tide, he could but only watch as the spawn of hell ran past his guard. He could only listen, as the heart-wrenching screams filled the night in a deadening crescendo. The sound washed over his mind in its desperate plight as the demons eradicated the village, leaving nothing but death and destruction in their wake…

The screams…those horrible, hopeless screams… becoming louder… and louder —

He bolted upright, awaking from the nightmare. Cold sweat clung to him as his body trembled at the soul-scarring images that vividly flooded his memory. He gasped for breath between the racking sobs, his eyes flooded by welling tears that came of their own accord. “I couln’t …protect them… I-“

Beaten, broken, and burdened by his memories, the guilt-ridden mage mulled over the pain of old wounds. And elsewhere within the building, another soul was wrestling with his past… among the motley assemblage of misfits who graced the inn as its patrons…

Inktober #18

Ornament

The light flickered…

…and his eyes opened…

…to the green-yellowish glow of the lantern burning from above.

The small flame held nothing of the comforting warmth of the soft suffused light one would expect. Instead, its sickly hue only made the dark room more unsettling. With only the single lantern to cast shadows upon the walls, its felt unnerving to stare at a single spot for too long. Too much of that space was left consumed by the gloom; and too little of it was left illuminated. It was as though something sinister was about to creep out from those patches of shadow. And so, draped against the wall like some gruesome decorative rug, with his splayed limbs held fast in the air as if by invisible string, the thief was left to his own imaginations as to what goes bump in the dark.

The silence stretched on for minutes, perhaps hours. He felt disoriented in that eerie room, knowing not the extent of the menace he was facing or how long it intended to keep him. Unwilling to find out, he willed his body to move.

Not a single muscle twitched…

He tried once again, mentally straining as he attempted to retake ownership of his own vessel. To no avail… It was as if the connection between his mind and body were severed; as if he was trapped in this unresponsive sack of flesh. Yet, he could move his eyes, which wildly darted round the room. A mere taunting relief.

He knew his heart was beating at a rapid pace, but to all outward appearances he displayed none of the panic that gripped him from within. Though, a fine sheen of sweat did cover his skin as he sought to wrestle control back from whatever kept him in this state of catatonia.

He sensed it then, before he felt it. A presence, to his side. Hot, putrid breath crawled over his skin, making the hairs of his neck stand on end and flooding his mind with terror. A cracked and throaty chuckle wheezed in his ear, and as far as he could see within his periphery, a mouth bared in a wide and inhumane grin became visible in the gloom. For a moment he could feel that face moving closer, its rank breath more potent, its mouth opened wider… licking its chops–

And then a rush of air as it dashed away into another dark corner, draped once again by the darkness. Only this time, the man heard the strange sounds emanating from the shadows… raspy breath, paired with a wild scraping and banging… as if it was looking for something. It stepped into the light then. A tall, spindly figure. Large hands with spidery fingers reached up to touch the lantern, and the poisonous light burned brighter – illuminating the macabre little playroom of the wicked fiend that now stood in his direct line of sight.

He was not sure if the creature was the shade of night, or simply blotted out by the light that shone from the front. But around them, the room revealed its grisly contents. Other figures hanged suspended as if chained to sconces in the wall, yet no such tethers were visible to reveal what kept their arms in the air. Discarded in strewn and misshapen heaps, their possessions piled as if to display the diverse collection of bodies. Without turning his head, he was unable to witness the extent of the twisted scene; however, his eyes were squarely focused on the hunched figure, that seemed to busy himself on the surface of a large obsidian slab.

As if sensing it was being watched, the creature straightened its back with sharp creaks and the snap of tight, rigid muscle. It cocked its head only slightly, and turned it only barely to the side, enough to reveal the glint of tainted yellow eyes.

The thief wish he could run. Intead he was frozen. Numbed and bound in place to play mere audience to this game of torment. And as he watched, the dark fiend raised what appeared to be a looking glass. It held the object over his shoulder, with the reflective side turned to capture the image of the prisoner. The thief did not know how, but his frame had grown gaunt and withered during his short captivity. And as he saw his tiny hanging figure reflected in the glass, the image surged in closer… closer… closer still–

–until his sight was met with his own stare, horrifically morphing into a skeletal face with dephless eyes that tore at his mind. It swallowed his conscious until the yellow-green world momentarily subsided and blackened into nothingness… only to have him look once more at his own suspended figure on the wall as the fog in his mind dissipated.

But this time, the scene had changed. It was subtle differences at first: his matted hair that now suddenly sloped to a a different side of his face; the strange shift in the way that light fell from before; and then, the odd sensation of feeling as though he could move again. And then… there was the faint glassy chime that echoed around him, as if someone’s touch was grazing the edge of a glass to create a lingering echo.

Something broke into his field of vision then. So swept up was he by the his own body hanging limp from the wall, that he had not noticed that right in front of him, was a small clay figure, carved in his exact likeless. He knew not how it could be possible. It was standing on the gleaming black surface of the obsidian table, the table that but a moment ago had been across the room from him. How was he here? And why did his essence feel bound and beckoned to the clay particles of that figurine?

His hand met a cold glass surface as it stretched to reach outward… And with a sickening pain, he realised, that he was inside the looking glass – the reflection, staring back at the shell of a man being reflected… along with the clay conduit to which he was bound.

The thought had not run cold, before he saw yet another thing out of place. Peering from the outside corner of the mirror, was the grotesque glinting eye and face of the puppeteer, who had trapped the thief’s spirit to the looking glass to join its ghastly array of lost souls and disembodied ornaments.

Inktober #17

Wild

The horde of marauders pummeled their way through the conifers, knocking down clumps of snow from the shivering crowns. The spruces shuddered with their passing, there where the forest stood witness to a growing army that seemed unwavering and determined in their ascent up the mountain. It was not hard for the great owl to spot the string of warriors as they snaked up past the mountainfoot. Despite the trembling trees, their campsite downhill had seen a swathe of felled forest that fed their consuming crusade. Circling overhead, the bird descended past the treetops to land on one of the needle-like branches. And there it perched, watching…

With their boots crunching hard through the snow, the beasts fared little in the concealment of their travel. With its large eyes, the owl surveyed the scene of warriors, its gaze darting from one fur skinned raider to the next. Crude, yet powerful weaponry clanked with its clamorous chorus as they marched. The tribal symbols of many clans were scattered on those iron bolted hardwood shields, and strapped against broad backs that were turned to the eyes that followed them. And there, with a distinct battleaxe cutting furrows in the snowbank, one of the chieftans moved more slowly to prod on his lagging tribesman in that guttural tongue.

“…There you are...”

With her minds-eye returning from the great owl’s vision, the ranger jumped from the rockledge she had crouched on. She dashed along the rockface, with knee-high doeskin moccasins barely breaking the snowpack as she nimbly sprinted between the whitedusted shrubery. With some druidic skill at her disposal, she was more than capable of tracking her prey while leagues away. She relied on the vigilant eyes of nature to guide her. As she cut the corner to reach the steep cliff that looked down on the mountainfoot, she was met by the sight of the horde winding their way up the mountain.

Her black hair snapped wildly in the air that was compressed through the mountain pass. She reached back, and draw her hood over her dark head for fear of being spotted against the snow. Not fear, caution, she reminded herself. Dressed in grayish white, she melded perfectly with her surroundings. Yet, even while fully camouflaged, she doubted such stealth was necessary. The brutes hardly expected anyone to attack whilst their numbers had grown to the size it did. And why would they? Their concern was all but minimal, with their unrivaled strength on this side of the mountain. They had no inkling of what lurked in the wilds…

But on the other side… well. Whatever horror some of their scouts must have run into, one thing remained clear: The beasts could be killed. And in bulk. It made her wonder if this migration of force was tactful, or a mere ploy of vengeance.

It hardly mattered to her. The ranger crouched down once again, unstrapping the recurve bow from her back, and in the same fluid motion knocking an arrow to the string. Her keen eyes waded through the lumbering masses of limbs, pelts and weapons as the warriors climbed up the steep rise. It only took her a moment – being lead by those cues sighted through the owl’s eyes – to spot the chieftain. Their leader was a thickset veteran, standing straight as he looked on at his warriors – an imposing figure who commanded the loyalty of his tribesmen just by his very presence. Scars attested to the conquest of many battles, and his stern face was calm and poised with a simmering bloodlust that he more than had control over. But for all his latent power, and despite the impenetrable fortitude of his command, a well-placed arrow between the eyes would see him fall just as easily as the trees they had butchered to the ground. Or the people of that village…

Raising the armed bow to her chest, she pulled back the arrow; ready to fire. And as she awaited a clear shot, she caught sights of shifting pale figures on the outer edges of the cliffs and hidden in the higher branches of the trees…

Smiling silently to herself, the ranger released her arrow, as her sisters surrounded the forest to rain down nature’s retribution on the enemy…

Inktober #16

Legend

There was little for a girl to do on the winding road to the Capital, even if she was in the company of a band of travelling gypsies. Musicians, performers, artists and soothsayers – wandering free folk that went were the magic drew them. Surely someone could dazzle the imaginative young mind of a merchant’s daughter. Yet, neither their art, nor their stories were left to beguile her in all its carefree whimsy. For all the song and merriment that usually coloured their passing, the gypsies had been fairly quiet on the last leg of their journey.

Toying with his collection of enchanted trinkets and baubles, the young girl had asked her father why the melodies of minstrels no longer swayed betwixt their painted carts and wagons. The merchant never answered. He merely stared ahead, listening to the muffled fall of horses hooves on the beaten dirt track. But he need not have offered response. She was sure she knew. The distant rumble of a roar a few days past had all but hushed the company of itinerant traders; who then reserved their worry for campfire whispers and crystal gazings on which she had easily dropped eaves.

But the girl did not mind. Instead, she skipped along the birches of passing groves, only to dash back as the caravan got too far ahead. She picked wildflowers and dandelions, found pretty stones among babbling brooks, and if her feet eventually got tired, she would lay on the back of one of their wagons to cast her eyes upward…

Idly drifting amid that white fluff of summer’s breath, her young mind moulded shapes from the clouds that dotted the roof of the world. So many tales were to be told amid the sky, as whispy destriers dashed across the blue prairie, or stags and does grazed through white meadows. Her soaring imagination took her through the many images she had encountered along their trek, until myth and magic added to the whimsical arsenal of the pearly cloud canvas. She saw griffins, great giants, and the charge of valiant knights…

And lost amid those swirling forms, distinct and still so faint, she imagined she saw the figures of two boys. Or perhaps they were young men, she was not sure. They were poised as if to run – to run off on some wild and exciting adventure – hand-in-hand. And as the epic possibilities of that scene gripped her, she caught herself humming the tune she had heard…

…a fortnight ago.

In one of the markets, on one of those nights, as lantern light suffused the square and cobblestones in its warm and surreptitious glow, a bard had played his poems to the gathered company of vagabonds. She had remembered the sad melody, the rise and fall of its resting timbres, and the words that regaled the legend – that tragically beautiful tale of two tenacious wanderers…

And soon she heard herself singing; singing softly amid the crunching cartwheels and footfalls of the caravan…

As the stars settled down in its blue dappled light
The moondust lad met the boy draped  in night.
Without thought, without cause, by mysterious laws
Their celestial eyes did so meet in that pause.

I heard, I heard, for what fate had to show...
The moment those hearts had seen their shared woe.

And there, oh there, in the fold of his cloak,
The moondust lad drew his heart he had broke.
And then, and then, the boy draped in Knight,
Took both heart, and his hand, holding each of them tight.

He unfolded great wings... that shifted their stars
Their sorrow, their songs, their blight and their scars...

And as those stars all fell down, in their faded white light
The moondust lad left, with his boy draped in night.

Hitting a rock, the rattling wagon shook the girl from her soft reverie, to sit upright, steady herself, and softly sigh. So nearly it was that she had lulled herself to sleep there, in the breadth of that ballad that young minds barely understood.

As the merchant’s daughter looked down at pebbles shooting across the track, taken by old legends and the ballad of a bard, a column of cloud was parted by a great black wing, gliding silently overhead; unnoticed by the downcast eyes of wayward folk and gypsies alike.

Inktober #15

Overgrown

For anyone who ventured close to the murky edges of the Dreadwood, a deadening feeling often presaged their passage into its dusk-shrouded treeline. Despite its torpefying effects, it beckoned unwitting travellers forward, inward, and then devoured them, never to be seen again. As more souls were lost to its insatiable hunger, the trade routes that had winded through the dense trees had changed their course. Yet, a dark allure still lingered, strong enough to draw closer those within its reach. And so many a traveller found themselves glancing back, and feeling a strange compulsion to enter through its borders…

If an unlucky venturer were to be seduced by its numbing pull, then they would walk into a shadow that hung heavy and thick in the cloying air. The wrestling boughs and strangled twigs of the overhead trees consumed the light that tried to pass its knotted canopy. Smaller trees had tried futilely to break through the matted branches, only to be dragged down by the forest creepers that coiled around the trunk. Those smaller boles were left with nothing but a sparse amount of darkened leaves, and fungi that populated its bark.

Deep within that smothering place, a hush fell over one of the deeper clusters of trees as a lone Blight soundlessly made it’s way amid twisted roots and bramble. It crept forward unnervingly, aimless yet deliberate in its movement beneath the thick canopy that buried the forest in a perpetual twilight. Contrasting starkly with the shadowy surroundings, the hide of the pale creature made it seem almost wraith-like as it walked with smooth and gliding motions over the detritus and gnarled roots of the forest floor. Its face was smooth and blank, save for the dark slits of its nose and the deathless pits of its eyes. But ever so slightly a faint jagged line cracked across the space where its mouth would have been, stretching all the way to the back of its head. It attached to a corrugated neck that ended in broad skeletal shoulders with the bone protruding against its spectral skin.

It had an emaciated look to its frame, as skin tightened over a large ribcage and narrow abdomen. From its grotesque body burst forth long and spiderery limbs covered in knotted muscle. One large hand swung idly by its side, long fingers tapering of into pointed ends akin to garled branches. The other hand… was cluthed around the neck of a figure, being dragged across the dead leaves and snapping twigs that bedded the forest floor…

The dragging of its limp body was all sound that cracked the stifling silence. Perhaps, upon closer look, lurking eyes that had dared ventured this deep would have seen the figure as it was carried with a slovenly disregard. As roots rose up to hook on the sparse clothing that still remained – causing the momentary pause in the step of the beast – the still scene would reveal to the onlooker the strange state of the body’s weathered form. What remained of the hapless figure was overgrown by black moss, with tattered beards of lichen hanging from it in grayish-green webs. To anyone watching, the unfortunate soul seemed to have met his end in the woods months ago.

But a closer look of its face, would reveal a pale-grey cast and terror-stricken expression that had not been touched by the hand of decay. If the onlooker were to bite back their horror at the horrific sight, enough to allow the dawn of reason, then they would have wondered at the strange end of the unfortunate traveller…

But no such idle audience was left to witness such things, save for the lone assassin that held her breath among the dark thicket, frozen in place by the fear of the unknown walkers that scourged this forsaken forest.

As the pale Blight dragged him, for a purpose or an end unknown to any mortal soul, she wondered if he had been frightened to his death… or if it was truly the corrupted land that had yet claimed another victim for its overgrown garden of the damned…

Inktober #14

Ash

Smoke… and silence.

The knight was not exactly sure what he noticed first as his eyes cracked open through the layer of grime, but the world was an ethereal grey of smoke and silence. The type of silence, that felt thick and suffocating amid that dense veil that clung to the air.

He was beginning to re-establish an orientation to his surroundings. As wispy tendrils dispersed and coalesced, churning wildly in every corner of his periphery, it felt like it was weighing him down and keeping him pressed to the stony gravel. Small bits of stone dug sharply into his back, piercing a million nerve endings that sent his spine into a neural catastrophe. Well, the armor was split open, that was certain. There was no other explanation for feeling the small shards of rock against his back. Damn that monster… by some unholy strength the claws of that beast had cracked his chestguard completely open.

He felt himself wince as the sensation shot through his neck and tensed his shoulders. It was a slow flashfire that made its way down the rest of his body – sprawled out over a rocky surface that seemed to stretch endlessly to all sides. The pain protruded through every muscle – a cellular calamity that was befalling his entire body. Even if all feeling did return eventually, he felt as though he had nothing in the way of energy to expend in twitching a single limb. So, he just lay there, succumbing to the soft sound of soil shifting silently in the light morning breeze.

Ash swirled overhead amid all the smoke; feathery flakes suspended and pierced by the cold light of dawn. It was tragically beautiful… the way the soft hues of a new day had to surrender to the roiling abyss of dense grey that threatened to swallow any last drop of light. Perhaps he wanted that delay… so that he could just waste away and wallow in that eerie peace that seemed to be so fleeting of late.

He discarded the thought. His mind was far too well trained for the idle moments of the void. Needless to say, that as soon as traces of memory started to trickle into his present stream of thought, his mind was actively reaching for a recollection. And as the images came flashing back, he bolted into a sitting position, biting back the pain. The others…what had happened to the others?!

The falling ash and rolling smoke all but obscured his vision. But one thing became evident as more of his focus returned… the sheer devestation. The landscape was all but incinerated. The fires had long ceased to burn, but the heat still rose in waves from all around. He had rolled into a small ravine at the foot of a hillside, but the rise into what had once been rolling grasslands dotted with groves was all but charred to bleak ruination. The very trees were but burnt skeletal memories of the destruction that had come upon this land so suddenly. They had been ambushed…all of them. Him and his bretheren…his sisters. He remembered now. But where were the rest?

He stood up then, bracing against the shooting agony. But he had to know… he had to find them.

They were a small retinue of nine warriors. Knights, one and all. Yet, their cause was their only liege lord, with loyalty devoted to one another. As consequence, they had a particular proclivity for drawing attention as a band of dark crusaders. And with form-fitting plated armour doused in obsidian black, rumours of their party had become terrifying tales reserved for idle minds. As an act of tactics, they had allowed it, these wild whispers that circulated amongst a terrified populace and the villainous underground of cutthroats and bandits. It kept their true purpose hidden, which was routing out dark and cultist organisations that were more than mere foolish mortals caught in paltry parlour tricks. Real enemies were hidden among an unsuspecting people, and if not for their covert interventions, terrible fates would have long befallen the quiet homesteads of a land at peace. By being labeled as the Black Crusade, they had inadvertently come across a perfect alibi without giving it much further thought. They could continue unperturbed in the purge of malevolent forces…

But a new force had come upon them. In the space of a few yards from where they had traveled, the tree-line had all but shattered in the wake of horrendous faceless creatures that moved with unnatural speed. The fiends had barreled toward them, and would have cut them down were they truly the makeshift company of famed black marauders that those wild tales had claimed them to be. But they weren’t. And though caught off guard, their lighning quick reflexes had quickly brought them into formation to counter the attack. Magically imbued blades met the slash of razor appendages, as their small retinue dispersed in swift and evasive attacks, hacking at the flanks of the new menace. But as he himself had leapt to launch an aerial attack on one of the demonic monstrosities, he knew that they were all taken aback by the horrors that they had not seen in nearly a century.

And then, above all possibility, something worse had come… and the sky had rained fire. An all consuming inferno that devoured all in flame.

He now stood in the aftermath of that attack; the scorched earth a testament to the dread of ancient evils that had awoken in the world. And as he waded through the dark waste, blackened roots and grass blades crackling at the touch, he came across the lone figure of the first he had seen of his party. The sight of the figure made him stumble, and snapping himself from his reverie of disbelief, he felt himself run to the distant smoke-shrouded figure. As he approached, he felt his knees buckling as he was gripped by an ineffable despair…

Laying against an outcropping of rock, was the contorted body of their leader, petrified to display the malicious torture of whatever horror he had faced alone in his final moments. If not for his helm, he would have been unrecognisable due to the dense layers of ash that had settled on his heavy armour. Fallen and forlorn, it was hard to believe that their leader had once seemed so invincible. Rising from where he had crumpled, the knight edged closer, for a moment gripped by disbelief. But perhaps he was still alive. Perhaps he–

The thought all but perished as his gauntled hand rested to touch their leader’s shoulder, only to have it cave in, and crumble. To the knight’s horror, their once proud commander – a stalwart warrior who had seen the darkness of centuries wax and wane – fell into a broken charred mass, leaving nothing but the shadowy imprint of his form against the rockface.

As the knight stared at the black ashes of their commander, now intermingled with the ashes of the very earth, he felt old energies coursing through his veins. Suddenly, his own pain was dwarfed by the grief; a grief so fierce that it burned away at his wards. Powerful magic awoke and melted away at the spellwork of his disguise. And then his true form erupted… Tormented by his loss, the suppressed energies of his ancient powers overtook him along with a great and vengeful anger.

A draconian roar broke loose from his throat and echoed across the burnt wasteland, making the earth tremble with its rage and anguish…

…arousing one of the faceless fiends that had been edging closer to another one of the black-clad figures lying motionless in the brush…

Inktober #13

Dragon

The capital was a sprawling metropolis of rising spires that pierced the sky, and ornate domes carved in the depictions of a thriving nation. The city was not only a cultural epicentre, but a bastion of power, with nearly as many watchtowers, garrisons, and barracks spread over its rises as the halls, the temples and the dwellings of its many citizens. They had said it was impenetrable; history had proven it could be laid under siege. Rival kingdoms had come and broken their armies against its walls. Others had managed to penetrate its outer defences, only to find a storm of steel ready to cut them down on the inside. And beyond its sizable militia, an arcane presence meaningfully bolstered its defences.

Unlike many such cities, where a strong faith militant presence normally dominated the call of warfare, the Crown had affiliated itself more strongly with the mage guild based within its walls. Though the machinations of magic-wielders were near constantly brought under scrutiny, the cadre of imperial mages who operated within those walls had little interest in the political agendas of its council and its king – at least with regards to the expanse of the kingdom’s power. Neither would they dare to contest it. The king himself was a reputable sorcerer, or so it was claimed. Few had seen him engage in the complexities of formidable spell work, but his martial tactics sparked many suspicions. Proving himself a warrior king, the ruler of the capital city was often at the frontline of battle, leaving the seat of the throne cold due to his militant command.

He was more at ease as a knight than a ruler. However, it did not make him shirk his duties of governance. But it was his feats on the battlefield that were near legendary, as he charged his enemies with a zealous fervour that drove his own soldiers with greater devotion. But his acts while in the fray of such fights had proven unfathomable at times, especailly when the odds was stacked against his forces. He would be found, cutting down his foes in ruthless succession, whilst the bulk of his vanguard had already fallen. It was therefore believed that he used his powers to gain the upperhand.

Blackblade was not unfamiliar with the tactic. Magic in melee offered an effective edge while clashing steel with the enemy. It could easily turn the tide of a fight. But the enchantment was only as effective as the warrior. A slash could come down harder, a thrust could be more powerful… but skill still needed to direct the blade. And the king was a daunting opponent even without the aid of magic. Perhaps that was what made him so fearfully respected. Perhaps, that is why the former mercenary had come to this place… Blackblade believed that in the frontline of battle, one saw the world differently… more honestly. Perhaps the warrior made monarch would understand…

But Blackblade wondered how the news of new enemies on the horizon would test the mettle of the veteran king, for the discovery had even given him pause. For as ancient as he himself was, he had not been prepared to face the foe he did in the the gully town. The dark energies that had laid its traps in that place had nearly cost him his own life as he had tried to save the perverted sellsword that was inevitably lured to his doom.

The scream still echoed in his mind, as did the develish presence that had shown itself before attempting to devour him as well. If he was bound by the mere mortal confines of magic use, then perhaps he would have perished. But he had drawn on more ancient magicks to drive the terror away… for the moment. Yet, in so doing, he had exposed himself. What he truly was…

Exhausted, Blackblade had crawled back on the cobblestones to the inn where he had found a bed. His magical essence spent, and not fully recovered from the inebriation of the night’s revelry, he had fallen on the bed to descend into oblibvion. An early hour had seen him awake before the sun had risen to break through the blanket of mist that covered the town. He had not been fully recuperated, but he felt his strength restored enough to make the journey he intended. Besides, there was no more time to waste. He had sheathed his longsword, a blade kissed by midnight – the trusty weapon that had given him his name – and with no other possession to his person, he had left the dusky town while still under the cover of darkness.

On the outskirts, the uttering of an old spell had crossed his lips. A spell that he had not used of nearly a century. He had felt the rush of ancient power then; flooding him, changing him. As the spell rippled across his body, his powerful muscles tightened, and expanded. He could feel the girth of his body grow, and his form lengthening. Titanic energies surged through powerful limbs which made the forest floor tremble as they landed. Huge claws had dug into the ground, and steadied him as large leathery wings spanned from his back to ecplise the first light of dawn that had broken through the trees. A large reptillian tale coiled and pounded on the earth, and sent dry forest leaves in a gale-like frenzy through the clearing. Still shrouded by the now-receding night, scales of obsidian black made him near indistinct from the shadows, until luminous eyes pierced the dark from within a gigantic horned head. The great dragon eased himself within his natural form; a form that now felt so unfamilar to him since his years of hiding.

Rising his crowned head, Blackblade unfurled his wings and with one powerful beat and a thrust from his hind legs, the great beast had entered into the air. In the rolling cloudbanks that shrouded the sky, he had concealed the ascent of his mighty draconian form while his wings rode the natural air currents to procure a soundless flight. In that great expanse of open sky, he felt the old joys of this soaring freedom returning. His unfettered flight had carried him for leagues with a monumental velocity, his black body slicing through the air like it was made of so much silk.

The flight had taken him but a few hours, bringing him to the precipice of a cliff that faced the flank of the large city. As he had approached, seeing the rising buildings in the distance, he had circled about to find a route of flight that would evade the eyes of the city guard. The sun had risen then, making his dark scales glisten with a brilliant lustre. A great black leviathan would have not gone unnoticed by early risers who had lived within the farmsteads he had passed, but he hoped that for the most part their word would be taken as the accounts of madmen.

And now, he stood there in his mortal form, stripped of his mercenary attire. His tall, broad frame was donned by nothing but simple garments and a grey cloak, which concealed the longsword he had strapped to his back. The dragon warrior wondered what his journey into the mysterious underbelly of the city would yield, as he set off to find aid to stand against the burgeoning shadow.

The time of hiding was long past. Disguises could no longer keep him hidden from the looming darkness that seemed to have awoken in the world. The power he had felt in the gully town was not some unlucky encounter, but a herald to the horrors that was upon them. If old magic had stirred to infringe upon the tenuous peace that had settled over this land in the past 100 years, then more ancient magicks still were about to rise in opposition.

And if history attested to anything, it was that the dawning of a dragon never lagged to meet the rise of powers that the younger races could only begin to understand…

Inktober #12

Snow

The feathery flakes hung suspended in the air; the sixfold symmetry of the tiny crystals flawlessly intact, despite the raging blizzard that eternally ravaged the mountainside. But even eternity could be frozen, it seemed. Eternity could be trapped in time as a disquieting scene of cold and unfathomable terror – a terror preserved on the face of a warrior who had awoken to a glacial nightmare.

But what the spirit walker, Norgrund, saw was not only terror; he saw pain. Pain that was visible by the bulging veins that cracked over the warrior’s neck and face – as though he had strained against its excruciating touch. It was a pain seen by the flaying frost that had raptured his skin as it tightened and froze him from the inside out… It was a pain caught in bloodshot, glassy eyes that stared bleakly with futile desperation as the spell had dealt its fury. And yet… that same spell had lingered. It saturated the air, holding the chilling scene of the frozen encampment in place.

The spirit walker was no stranger to the tragedies that clung to this life. The tragedies that are recounted by fallen warriors in battle; or by the futile resistance to the elements; or even the natural course of mortality, and the timely visitation of death. But he had never seen anything like this…

Tents and makeshift hovels stood askew as the frost had taken them, with jagged icicles protruding through hides and canvases as the small and temporary settlement had been turned into a permanent burial ground.

Norgrund looked back upon the frozen figure in front of him. He had no idea if the warrior was dead. The spell, as much as it had frozen the large band of marauders, had also held the course of nature at bay. None of the cold bodies showed any sign of decomposition. It was as if the frost had affected them unnaturally. It had invaded them, devoured and ruined their hulking frames from within, instead of slowly taking them as the dreaded winter was inclined to do. The very ice had pushed the warrior’s jaws open, and had burst from his mouth in icy fractals that had left it ajar by the deadly force of its exit.

The very sight was an affront to nature; an insult to the cycle of all things. It was magic. And Norgrund knew that only an exceptionally powerful mage could be capable of such devestation. The time-warped mountainside was a testament to the sorcerer’s work. Not even the wind picked up to stir the horrific scene.

The feel of the place made the spirit walker uncomfortable. The magic had long since served its purpose, but it remained as a warning – a haunted memory of the consequences of crossing the likes of a spellcaster.

He had been unsure at first as to the cause, but as he had ventured through the broken camp – past the ice pierced abodes of sleeping warriors; past the snuffed out fire of drunken sentries; and past the bent bars of a metal prison that was once meant to keep something in – he had known.

He had known as he had found the footprints leading from the cage, winding straight through the icy graves erected by vengeful magic. Nothing but the snow remained to pay homage to the harbinger of this horror.

Perhaps, they had deserved it...

Norgrund was not unfamiliar with the brutality of his people. They were ruthless in battle. Each warrior was a powerhouse of raw fury; possessing a strength tenfold the amount of the steelclad knights that graced the kingdoms of the low-lying lands. But they were not monsters by repute… At least, they had not been. They prided themselves in the honour of the fight. They valued the code of just battle. They fought with unmatched fury, but never with cruel bloodlust.

But scores of them had become turncloaks. Once proud warriors had now forsaken all that their noble heritage once bestowed on them, and had become nothing but decadent raiders, dragging destruction in their wake. And from scout reports, their terrorization of local settlements had proven to all their ilk how far many of their own had fallen.

But retribution had come in the form of a cold fury, and nothing but silent snows and sleeping souls now stood vigil to this place. Yes, perhaps they did deserve this. For all they had wrought.

But the snow had revealed more than just the tracks of a runaway mage. Heavy boots had trodded through here, after the storm. No doubt, these had been another band of the same horde, who had come across the icy slaughter of their bretheren. And from the erratic trails that cut through the encampment, he knew that they had given chase… Yet another party who was about to underestimate the talents of a spellcaster.

Norgrund wondered if the mage knew of the avenging spirit of his people; a spirit of such fiery zeal and resolve that a reckoning was inevitable. They would follow him, bite at the sorcerer’s heels… until they overrun him, and made the mage pay for his daring to challenge the might of conceited warlords. But the spirit walker was unsure whether the ghosts of their comrades would be avenged. Those ghosts were certainly gone from this place. He could tell. And it unsettled him even more; all this silence. For all the death that seemed evident to the eye, the dead themselves were all but absent in spirit. The mage was powerful, for doing something like this: suspending time, nature, decay, and even the spirit world like so many snowflakes. He wondered if, once again, the marauders would underestimate the mage’s retaliatory prowess.

Perhaps they’ll deserve that as well.

But perhaps, not all had deserved this

The snows yet bore witness to another who had paid audience to the dangerous display of sorcery. A frail figure, now frozen, hunched over the cagefloor in what must have been its last agonising moments. He could only imagine what fear must have overcome him – a fear that that could outplay the ruthless treatment of his slavers. A fear the figure probably itself could not fathom, as a fate of frost had furiously engulfed him, procuring the same tragic end as was fated to the souls he had likely seen claimed from without the bars that had halted his escape. Norgrund wondered what was worse for the hapless soul: the thrall’s masters, or the stranger who shared his cell and had unleashed an arctic agony.

Perhaps he did not deserve this. But perhaps… it had been his only mercy…

With no glance to be spared for the memories of glacial ghosts, the spirit walker turned around, and cast his eyes to the unswept tracks that traversed the deep snow.

And so he walked. He walked until he could hear the spirits again…to places where their cries were no longer muffled by magic… To the places where the blizzard again covered the tracks…

Inktober #11

Pattern

She hissed under her breath as she lifted the dry leaves with the edge of her blade. In pursuit, even a noise as faint as this would have compromised her position. But no soul ever ventured this close to the edge of the woods. Or so she had believed…

But as the faded ring lay there under the leaf litter, its inner band stained dark with dried blood, she knew that these forests had received an unfortunate visitor. Instinct – a pure inherent drive – was screaming at her to turn around. To walk away and never look back. But there were only two such rings in the world, and the other belonged to her.

The seal bore the mark of two snakes coiling around the hilt of a dagger; the two serpents mirrored one another in their menacing postures, poised to strike. Gilded scales and fangs made the small figures near lifelike in their immaculate detail. It was as much alike to any seal she had ever seen, marking the trade of an assassin, as it was unique. Guilds were often identifiable by a symbol that exuded lethality. But in the choosing of a twin set of serpents, they had deliberately marked their exclusivity as a pairing instead of an organised covert association.

Years ago, as their paths had crossed – two rebel agents of stealth who had broken their oaths – the idea had begun as a mere joke. Their swift confrontation at an inn, which nearly ended in both of them drawing daggers to strike a fatal blow, had turned into a diffusion of instinctive assumptions long enough to realise that both of them had gone rogue. They had talked then, at length, and through the night. They amused one another with the trangressions they both held to their name. They even admitted to the skill of the other.

As silent as a sleeping viper… That is how he had described her. But what started as a running jest proved itself true on many occasions after that fateful night. Their respective guilds had sent many to try and silence them – many who had been silenced instead. And true to the appellation attached to her, she had long perfected the practice of striking with lighting and deadly force.

He on the other hand, though nearly as quick with a blade, had talents more suited to prolonged melee engagement. Using his blade as an extension of himself, he would manoeuvre his strikes to hook onto his target and draw them into a deadly chokehold often ending in strangulation. His superiors had dubbed him ‘The Python’, but she (as many of his equals) had come to know him as Deathlocke. Aptly named, as the targets of his ambush tactics hardly ever escaped that hold with their last breath.

Soon enough, they discovered that while fighting alone, no strike was swift enough, nor any amount of strength expendable on a single target alone. Their pursuers had advanced in succession – the most ruthless agents of their former guilds, armed to the teeth for the sole purpose to end him and her. But cutting off the head of two snakes was more difficult than one…

The ring was a seal of their covenant: a mutually beneficial partnership that melded their skillsets in a perfect lethal unity. More than that, it proved to be a clever form of communication. When seperated – perhaps because of the gain yielded from their respective operations – the seal would mark their missives sent over the course of weeks apart. It was a secure method of procuring intelligence, and it misdirected unwanted eyes from their split and secret skirmishes. But as the passage of a month grew silent, she became restless with the thoughts of their exposure. But it paled in comparison to the unrest that she felt by being burdened with the discovery of his very visible trail… a trail she had followed effortlessly to find him…

What alarmed her, was his clear pattern of movement during the weeks spent apart. It had been nothing of note at first; clues that only she could pick up, and hints that only she could follow. But as she had tracked him on a trail that would have grown cold for any unfamiliar to the telltale signs, the same trail bacame a searing beacon that would have led her, or anyone, to the suspicious waypoints of his strange wayward journey. Patterns were perilous for an assassin. He knew this. Perhaps that knowledge was responsible for the daunting unease that ceaselessly grew in the pit of her stomach.

His behaviours had become erratic, as attested by innkeeps, hermits and sleazy barkeeps. His movements had been slow, as evidenced by the sequence of nights he had spent in a single space. But perhape most disturbing, was witness accounts of a deranged, decrepit and haggard appearance, along with other descriptions. Descriptions so unlikely, yet so tangent to the truth, that she could hardltly deny that it was in fact truly him they were speaking of. The pattern was drawn: a clear and repetitive accumulation of trail lines that undeniably solidified the lunacy of his campaign – a campaign down open roads no assassin ventured.

He had made himself vulnerable – A snake that had slithered into the open…

And then the trail went cold… until, by chance, it didn’t. It now lead her to the edge of the woods looming over her. She stood there, desperately trying to beat down the belief that ‘The Python’s’ head had not been stepped on. Madness. It was madness. Why would she follow? Why would she trace the trail of damnation…? A sense of foreboding made her clench the dagger hilt at her side with white-knuckled caution. There was something wrong about this place. A small talent at magic had made her an excellent witch hunter, and she used that skill now to feel at the oppressive force rolling from dense clusters of trees in the distance. Standing where she did, amid the first shadowy boles that waited in herald to unwary travellers, it almost felt as if the very air was being siphoned from her lungs. The chest constricting powers rolled over her, dulled her senses, and instilled her with a sense of dread.

This was before she even stepped over the threshold of the wood itself…

But enter she must. Something yet deeper compelled her to step into the dark fray that stretched before her. Deeper than her own hesitation, instinct, or training. She looked down at the ring with the twin serpent insignia, and closed her hand tightly around it to feel the seal imprint itself on the inside of her palm. The viper, after all, was not the python. Perhaps her strike would be laced with enough venom to keep the unfriendly forces of this place at bay. She breathed deeply.

Cloaking herself with the night, she found momentary solace in her abilities to move unseen. But as she ventured deeper into the forested mausoleum, she wondered what happened when The Night pulled back that cloak in the domain where it already reigned…

Inktober #10

Swing

The sun beamed down lazily to straddle her outstretched figure; its rays warm and seductive as it made her sigh in soft ecstasy, dappling her skin with its incandescent glow. The touch of broken light felt almost teasing as it shone through the orange blossoms, whose fragrance lured her to savour the sweet taste of Spring. She lay there on the kline, surrounded by the decadent indulgences of nature; making love to the cool breeze that caressed the silky garment that embraced her perfect form. Around her, the infinite garden of her atrium stretched to all sides – her own pleasure house – sending her in moaning raptures as the day’s beckoning beauty had it’s way with her.

She felt her supple lips curve into a smile… The delights of deities were intoxicating. If not careful, the most abstemious of divine beings could be lured to reckless desire in the surrender to their heightened senses. But not her. No. Her domain of divine regency was not of the sorts to be affected by her abandon to pleasure. Impartiality, detachment, non-alignment; these were the themes that permeated her immortal governance. And her personality reflected this. Her favour was not a token to be won. Her powers were not a boon to be used for the blessed. She did not intervene in the shape of mortal lives. Yet, the course of all lives were shaped by her vigilance. Which reminded her…

With a heavy sigh, Fate gracefully arose, and with the same fluid motion floated toward the marble dias that stood in the centre of her garden. In the middle of the raised platform, a plinth stood, bearing the weight of a large sand pendulum. The concave bowl reflected her flawless beauty. Both it, and the opulent frame from which the tapered bob was suspended shone with a lustrous light that was reflected from the sun. The celestial piece was in perpetual motion, the bob ever swinging to and fro from its cable. Unfixed in its swing around the vertical, the tip continually shifted its plane as it followed the rotating geometry of a cosmic pattern that kept all in balance.

The goddess lazily waved her elegant hand. On the floor of the device, sand shimmered into existence to spread evenly over the concave surface, for the moment obscuring her brilliant visage. Drawn through the sand, was the patterns left by the endless oscillation – the paths of mortal lives made visible. And as the pendulum swung, the line within its plane of motion glimmered in a golden hue. Right above it, the cable passed through ethereal images that recounted the unfolding destinies of so many lives. The spectral figures shifted in and out of existence as the tales of their world were being told in scintillating flashes. And there… It seems as if the convergence of forces were underfoot.

Fate edged closer to the platform in delight, leaning in to watch the delicious display of destinies intertwining. She saw a gladiator who longed to break free from his captors, in way of the unholy charge orchestrated by a necromancer. In another image, she saw the strange movements of mountain raiders that upset the workings of an astute and clever witch. She may have been neutral for a goddess, but she found a distinct enjoyment in the world-altering course that mortal affairs could take. Especially, if it bred chaos…

Fate, after all, was as much composed of discord as it was of order. Her powers held sway over the vast dichotomy presented by worldy conundrums and the nature of young races.

She gleefully regarded the events that were unfolding, feeling a smirk play on her mouth as many curious motives came to fruition. But then her sly smile all but vanished as soon as it had appeared. She noticed the strange flicker of a plane line as it was lit up by the passing pendulum. The swinging point emitted a slight vibration, as if straining against the course of its motion. The line cast in the sand seemed to burn with a searing intensity then, holding the pendulum locked in a single back and forth directional sway that defied its destined preordained course of motion. So, we have a meddler… With a wave, she called forth the image of the soul who was defiantly altering the scheme by which the world worked.

For millenia, the goddess was never given pause by the likes of men. Their needs and desires had seemed fairly simple, uncomplicated, and perhaps even tedious. A predictability defined their actions, and she had long since grown accustomed to paying less attention to such trivialities. Until now… The churning images played havoc on her ability to distinguish any detail. Yet, she noticed a shadowy form that phased in and out of sight – a hooded figure, from whom emanated a power she had not sensed before. A mage whose motives were changing the course of fate itself.

The brazen soul tempts much by his deeds, she thought as she watched the pendulum swing back and forth. Perhaps it was time she intervened. It had been so long since a deity had to reposition the the pivot by which destiny dangled…

Inktober #9

You may want to read The Myth of the Courtship of Wisdom – a wider realm of lore that fits in with the interlinked pieces posted during Inktober.

Frail

Blackblade stumbled out of the tavern into the cool night air. The mercenary’s mind was hazy with the heady brews that the barkeep had been serving, and as he sagged against the doorpost, he knew he had too much to drink. Supporting himself, he shoved his broad frame upright and looked around; vision blurred by both his intoxication and his weariness.

His companion was nowhere to be found. For a large and garish drunk, Bovar managed to slip out very silently from all the merriment. It was but a moment ago that the sellsword had seen his companion sporting a maiden on his lap after winning a drinking match. In that time, Blackblade had been left to entertain their young and lanky new recruit who, after helping himself to the wine, gave himself over to maudlin poetry and teary-eyed odes to the great entertainment of tipsy onlookers. As the absence of deep and mirthful laughter had become noticable, he looked over to the far table to find his companion missing.

Normally, the mercenary would not have cared much for the movements of the whoreson, but they were paid handsomely in advance to lend their steel for the skirmish the following day. At the very least, he needed to make sure they could be all accounted for. They would deal with the bottle-ache they were doubtlessly to experience in other ways…

Scrambling through his foggy mind, he muttered a spell under his breath. Though less effective in his state of stupor, his vision managed to pierce the thick veil of the night to find the former banditlord stumbling about a block down on the street that passed the tavern. Was he… following someone? A couple of tens of paces in front of the laggard, a small figure was running – a child? Could it be? At this hour? It was not until the small shape turned, and his focused eyes caught the glimpse of a youthful face, that he was certain. But a girl, a mere bantling, being chased by a lumbering drunk… She seemed completely oblivious to being pursued, as she skipped along with her wild disheveled hair, humming a tune with a broken melody. That was odd. And just faintly, he could make out the front of her dress–

The spell wore off then. Blast. He cursed silently, but then set off after the toper. Taken by the drink himself, he was far less effective at wielding his magic. Perhaps a timely reminder of how far he was astray… He kept his sorcery hidden from his company. Mercenaries weren’t known to use magic. Besides, any mage who was found wreaking havoc on the frontlines of a battle whilst not forming part of militant arcane guilds were likely to be put down. But as to his own fate… Other powers would stand judge to his transgressions. Powers far older than the councils of mortal wizards were watching where he would surface next. He was perhaps grateful that his own inebriated state did not upset the delicate matrix of the enchantment that kept his mortal guise intact.

Bovar sickened him. For all that the former banditlord was worth as a fighter, he more than defiled with his distasteful pasttimes. Blackblade had heard much about his companion as he was inducted into the company all those months back. Among the whispers, was the rumour long sustained that the man had indulged in foul perversions. Blackblade never found this to be true. Which was a boon for Bovar. Blackblade kept to himself for the most part, playing the part of the complacent soldier for the sake of his solitude. But he would not allow the wretch to entertain such deranged desires tonight…

Up ahead, as he was trailing Bovar, the girl seemed to run ahead at a swifter pace. In fact, she was dashing now, toward what seemed to be the mouth of a dark alleyway, only to abruptly stop and turn around. This time, she was looking directly at Bovar. The lurching old warrior, pausing for but a moment, gave an amused chuckle, before he followed with a brisker, albeit clumsy, step. Shrouded by the shadow of the alleymouth, there was something disturbing about the way the girl just stood there with a blank expression. Patiently watching…

“Bovar!” His voice was too gruff and cracked by the copious amounts of ale. The low pitch of his shout hardly seemed to capture the attention of the warrior as he blundered onward to the alleymouth. And as the former banditlord was about to reach it, the eerie youth darted into the shadow… with Bovar following in tow.

Damn it! The fog of his mind dissipated to the slightest degree to allow a surge of force to be placed in his step. He had a strong inkling that his reading of the scenario was not nearly as accurate as he had anticipated. Bovar was indeed engaged in the atrocities of his sick perversity, but Blackblade was starting to believe that his perceptions of who was assuming the role of the victim was grossly misinterpreted. He cursed himself for his own nearsightedness in drinking as much as he did. His keen senses felt blunt tonight, but it was sharp enough to just barely cut through the illusionary spellwork that was woven around the girl. He had not sensed the sorcery at first, but the way she had stared without a flicker of emotion had prodded his instinct to inspect what he sensed to be a trap.

And then there was the dress: a pale, grey garment that seemed simple by all accounts, save for the dark stain that blotted the front of it…

“Bovar!” His shout, now louder, felt hollow as it echoed in the street. It sounded wrong, muffled; as if it was being smothered to a breathless sigh that broke against the dank cold stones of the nearby dwellings. Unease gripped him as he charged forward; unease at the thick layers of dark magic that saturated itself in the very air. How did he not feel this sooner?!

He crumpled to the cobblestones as a suffocating pressure weighed down on him, halting his advances. Had he been more in control, he would have countered its effects. But the dark energies seeped into his muscles, dragging him down, leaving him numb, and preventing him from going any further…

A bloodcurdling scream split the deafening silence…

It was a sound of primal terror, agonisingly stretched out into a stifled suffering that hauntingly lingered… until a nothingness filled the void that had been carved into the night by pure terror.

He hardly noticed the receding pressure of the dark force as it lifted and made him stumble to regain his balance. His back was slick with the cold sweat that had formed during the ordeal, and his head was still heavy with the laden energies that hovered about him. But he regained enough of himself to sense he was not alone… Something was watching him. As he turned, he saw the dim crepuscular glow of small eyes casting poisonous looks at him from the darkness. The eyes of a child, or the abomination taking the guise of it. It was a deliberate mockery of its power, a feigned ploy – to take the form of so frail and innocent a thing…

But as he stared into the abysmal cast of that small face, with feral hair falling over a bloodstained blouse… he wondered if frailty was not better defined by the scream of not so innocent men…

Inktober #8

Enchanted

” …the properties of the stone. Have you tested it before?” asked the mage, as he carefully turned the precious mineral in his hand.

“Oh no, no. Certainly not. That would besmirch the quality and consequently affect its value…” Answered like a true swindler.

Did the man really believe the scripts he was selling to potential buyers? The mage wondered if anyone in this sordid little market town had a scrap of honesty as he marveled at the iridescent purple sheen of the rock crystal.

He was certain it was genuine though. He had only ever seen stones such as these on rare occasion, enough to solidify its authenticity and to know what flaws to look out for. It was a rarity among collectors, seers, and spiritualists alike. He was just surprised to find it among the trinkets and oddities of an eccentric wizard-merchant who hardly knew the value of his own items. Besides, if the man had known the true purposes for which the stone could be used, his answer would have been different. Any power that lay stored beneath its shining surface would increase its value (at least magically), not mark it down. Wizards were many things… but their greed for more magic was a trademark of their craft. Any working spell was, in part, only as good as the amount of magic channeled behind it. And such artifacts had unique potential in storing large amounts of such power. “I’ll take it. Tell me the price.”

“The item is priced in gold..”

“Good. How mu–“

“But for those who dabble in the arcane, a spell shall be their price…”, said the merchant, cunningly flashing a smile.

Of course, the mage thought indignantly. After all, it was not as if the trader had a lack of gold; his teeth were a fine display of his personal riches.

The merchant handed him a blank piece of exquisite parchment. Casting a look at the trader, the mage took the piece from him as he heavily sighed. The greed of wizards, he thought, it will be the end of me… With a swift flick of his hand, a flurry of small coruscating symbols flashed into existence. Mid-air, the runes unscrambled themselves, and landed on the parchment to sear into its rich surface in gold script. As the mage finished his incantation, he handed the spell back to the trader who was more than pleased by the whimsical display. He eagerly grabbed at his due payment, immediately stowing it among the folds in his own robe. “A pleasure…”, he exclaimed slowly, gesturing with a false courtesy at the strike of a bargain.

The mage only responded with a disinterested look, nodded in acknowledgement, and retrieved his gloves from among his cloak to be on his way. But he felt the merchant-trader study him.

“Ah, I see the wintery mountain peaks did not wholly favour your passage, did it stranger?”

The mage hesitantly paused for the briefest moment, and then he looked up to regard the man bemusedly. How did he know wh— But before he finished the thought, the merchant’s eyes playfully motioned to the mage’s hands; his fingers still bore traces of the frostbite that had not completely healed. Damn it. Had the savage curs on the peak not intervened his trek, he would have traveled through the mountain passages unperturbed. But the encounter – and subsequent capture – had left him incapacitated to the extent that he could not ward himself against the baleful blizzards that raged so high up. “Er… yes. Well. The cold indeed offers its cruel condolences for the unprepared.”

“That she does,” the man said overexcitedly, “and she drives giants down the mountainside to terrorize women and their babes as well…”

What?! That was impossible. He knew his expresssion must have not hidden his surprise. Whatever look had crossed his face was an open invitation for the trader; who then leaned closer as his voiced lowered to an eerie whisper to continue his tale.

“I heard that an entire band of those brutish warmongers came down, lead by their own warchief… they had bored down in a rage, ravaging the village at the mountainfoot and dragging sleeping folk from their homes. Word is that they were looking for someone… or something. But then again, few had survived the massacre to tell… So who knows what is heading from the east when only a deadman’s whispers travel…” He sounded almost gleeful in recounting the news, ending off in a chuckle that chilled the mage to his core. In fact, had he been any less taken aback, he may have dealt a small retributive reply to the trader’s disregard for the dead. But his thoughts were stolen to the memory of the mountain encampment… and to the devastating spell he left drifting there in his departure… Where frost faced off with fire…

He knew not how long he stood there, haunted by his own thoughts and the harrowing information he had just come across; however, his attention snapped back to find the merchant in trade with another poor fool who would be unsuspecting of fickle deals and foibles. At least, he thought, the paltry wizard would be left with a sound piece of wisdom in that ‘spell’ he intended on using. The summoning of symbols had been nothing more than a ruse on his own part to make the writing on the parchment appear more magical. In fact, the very symbols were nothing more than stylised letters that conveyed an old saying he had once heard. His amusement at his magical deception was shortlived though, as his mind returned once more to the news of marauding mountain tribes.

There were more of them. He never knew that others were hiding away between the ragged snowclad peaks, bent om avenging their kin. But how could he? He was taken, mind and all, by the surge of power that had surmounted his conscious efforts to control it. Blinded by his own rage…

Pulling his hooded cowl over his head, he ventured on. As he walked, he again studied the crystal in his hand. The spell needed to be cast tonight, he knew. The enchantment would be simple, but effective in concealing his emerging power. And with its properties of infinitely absorbing magical energies, he knew he could keep himself in check. He needed to… the consequences of his cold vengeance on the encampment of barbaric warriors had sent their tribesman on a rutheless rampage through rivertowns. Despite that, disturbing news had reached him from other fronts. Nightmarish armies on the border in liege with a necromancer; a strange menace in the swamplands that was luring innocents to unknown fates; forests filled with ferocious, feral sounds that had not stirred for centuries… and even the sea was awake with terrors that traversed its tides.

Strange forces were at play in the world… And he felt that he was moving toward the centrepoint of their convergence. Whatever fate was in store for him, he needed to feign the force of his own hand… for now…

As the many ponderings plagued his mind, his thoughts also wandered idly to the mysterious old crone he noticed fumbling through the collections of the wizard-merchant. He recalled the way she had attentively listened to the troubling tidings of the trifling trickster; only to rush away at a speed that betrayed her disguise…

Inktober #7