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Thread: Aftermath

  1. #11

    Part II: The Blessed Soldier

    Through the years Namlas had forgotten much of the days before the blessing. And for the most part, he was glad things were this way because those days of old—had one asked him—were best forgotten. But memories had always been his worst enemies; he couldn't control what he remembers any more than he could control what he forgets. And some nights such as this past one, enough threads of the convoluted sea of thoughts that was the his collective memory randomly weaved together into a pattern—one that caught the attention his wandering subconscious. Though he fought during his waking moments to forget that part of his life, he was powerless to steer the destiny of his dreams during slumber. And it was in that unrestrained theater of the mind, he was once again a captive audience of these vignettes of his former life.

    There were those who were content with simpler lives. Namlas knew them well, as he lived among them for the longest time. They were the fortunate ones, he often thought with much contempt, for they were at least born with limited ambitions to match their limited means. They did not yearn for—and even if they did they would find distractions that steered them away soon enough—anything that were beyond the immediate sphere of their daily lives at Issnur Isles. And this place, he thought, a remote farming community far south of the island, was the perfect backdrop for such sedentary lives. These lives has no place for exploration of distant lands, of untapped riches, of forbidden knowledge, and of the potentials of life itself. While the quiet isles had a tranquility about them that relaxed the mind and may even be a place of rest others sought, it became monotonous almost as soon as one was old enough to know what monotony was. And Namlas had learned of that feeling long ago.

    Up until that first fateful night, Namlas was excited perhaps once or twice per year when the primary harvesting season finally arrived. After rotating, the secondary crops did not demand as much attention as did the main stable, so he had the free time—and the means now that he sold his harvest—to travel a bit north to the bustling Kamadan to savor a bit of the exciting sights and sounds of the capital city of Istan. He enjoyed the various festivities and, most of all, the people, he met at the capital: the merchants with their enticing goods, the tales told by travelers to and from lands afar, and most of all the enchanting women. He typically spent—or squandered according to his family—most of his golds earned during the year by indulging in juniberry gin and imported rice wine and encircling himself with wealthy diners and travelers with tall tails of explorations and conquests and lifestyles that he couldn't afford. As he saw it, he worked hard all year tending to crops with nothing more to show for than the rough hands that resulted from labor and a few platinums. If he didn't reward himself this way, he would have wasted his life. At times he wished he would drink himself to the Mists, for at least that would have been some adventure.

    The other reason to take these leaves to Kamadan, of course, was to escape the increasing vexing smothering from his family. Initially, the wife's and child's overzealous and misplaced concerns for his well being were minor annoyances at worst. Ever since they found out about the Sunspears' rejection of his enlistment application seasons ago, their constant consolation became patronizing and only reminded him of his failures, his inadequacy, and his ultimate inferiority.

    “Sub-average mental constitution and questionable virtues,” he remembered the Sunspear evaluator telling him. He wasn't bright, he knew. But he wasn't an idiot. He could wield the scythe better than anyone he knew. He was a hard worker, but if there was an easy way, he was smart enough to take it. He knew the intricacies of the weather and wind condition that foretold the coming rainfall in the days ahead, which was more than what he could say for these Sunspears. And yet they turned down his application over some irrelevant questionnaires. For a group of overrated security guards, they lionized themselves beyond reason and had grown too arrogant for his taste.

    So once again Namlas was enjoying himself with his newly found friends from Vabbi over some spirits. He was significantly disoriented by the alcohol, but he reveled in the experience. The world around him spun more than usual, and he could hardly stand without wobbling. The unpredictable glee flirted with his senses. He felt like he was the king of the world. He would bellow out incoherent declarations of love for his fellow men and receive likewise from others around him similarly intoxicated. They would then collapse onto the ground in laughter as he rolled over on his back and followed the swirling stars in the night sky above Kamadan with his eyes. He remembered how he used to do that with his wife when they were younger and didn't have to go to bed early in order to rise early the next day to work on to the farm or to tend to the child's needs.

    “You like to travel and see the world?” asked one of his newly found friends as he drank from his cup. He was a cheerful enough fellow. Sufficiently intoxicated, he let down that worn head wrap that he normally wore to rest on his shoulder during the cool night, revealing a middle-aged man with a full set of beard. Signs of gray in his hair and beard were consistent with the developing wrinkles around his eyes as he smiled. “I belong to a band of traveling men. We don't have tests for our members to pass before we would welcome them,” he said as if he had read Namlas's mind. Or perhaps he just paid attention earlier during their conversation. Collapsing onto his back and looking up at the same night sky as Namlas was studying, he tilted the cup to quaff down the rest of the gin. Of course, the liquor then spilled over and rolled down the side of his face onto the ground, a few drops seeped into his beard.

    “All we need is someone that handles his own and help out others when needed,” he continued after tossing the now empty cup aside. “When we get loot, we share.”

    “Sounds better than all the pious brotherhoods I've heard so far.” Namlas grunted, followed by a bitter laugh.

    And on that fateful night, Namlas joined the local band of the Corsair.

    The following months were just as intoxicating for Namlas as the gin that night. He worked initially mostly as a deckhand on one of the ships. They took him to various ports and shorelines of Istan and Kourna on their raids. As time went on, with some sporadic training, he learned to wield the scythe as a weapon instead of a farming instrument. He was now in control of his life and destiny, he felt, as opposed to being controlled by a patch of crops and the expectations of those around him. He went places and explored the furthest reaches of the island, places that he had not heard of before. And for once, he commanded the respect and instilled fear in others. For once, he was at the other end. He wondered why he didn't do this sooner.

    The loot enriched him handsomely in the forms of new and luxurious clothings, precious rubies and gemstones, as well as the intangible luxuries that had so far been out of reach for him: respect and admiration. Not because they were of his family and done out of obligation but because of his achievements. He felt good arriving to towns in rich garments to be greeted by eager merchants showing him the latest and best stock on hand, and he felt good about no longer having to worry if the next merchant in the next town offered the same item at a lower price. He could buy what he wanted at a whim and know that he still had more platinums left. He loved living the lifestyles of the wealthy, and for once he could afford to. And occasionally, he thought of the family back in Issnur.

    As time passed, he also got to participate in raids. He was eager to do so because the share of the loot was significantly larger. He was also uneasy about the actual operation initially. He felt his sweat and pounding heart and his hand squeezing on the handle of his scythe as he rushed on shore when they made landfall. It was his third raid, he remembered, when he first took a life. He reminded himself that it was unintentional whenever he recalled the event. As expected, not all were quick to relinquish their gold to the demands of the Corsairs. This one villager was a proud man, Namlas could tell. He was probably a local leader, as he seemed like he was the head of a group of men of similar size wielding makeshift weapons—homemade spears and clubs. The typical response was intimidation to try to break the men's wills, perhaps inflicting some pain to make an example of a few of them. But the thing with chaotic close quarter conflicts with sharp blades is that one never really had total control on the situation. In the course of the fight, Namlas swung the scythe one bit too heavily onto the villager's spear as he held it up to block the attack. The blade split the handle of the spear easily enough, and it went further down to slice through the thin cloth, skin, bone, and split the man's chest and heart. It was a cool night, but Namlas felt as if he was being burned at the stake. The man went silent and fell on his stomach. As he thought back, Namlas was thankful the fallen man's face was buried in the dirt. He wouldn't want to stare into the man's eyes. The other villagers saw their leader fall and, instead of cowering and giving in to the Corsairs' demand, were fueled with blind rage and lust for vengeance. At the same time, the other Corsairs also joined Namlas in fighting off the attacking villagers. It was lucky that they did, for Namlas had been frozen in place, staring at the man's body and the widening pool of blood around it. Being mostly fishermen and dock workers, of course, the villagers did not last long. And the ground was soon covered by the villagers' bloodied bodies. Namlas remembered seeing the reflected moon that night from the puddle of blood. It was dark, but he could make out the red tint from the dark liquid. He approached it and then saw in the reflection not his own face but a dark silhouette of his head under the head wrap, safe a slit from which his eyes peered out of. He wasn't sure if he saw himself or one of the other Corsairs.

    Things had gotten easier with time. The initial hesitation was replaced by an almost professional form of apathy. The rules were simple: announce the demand for platinum to the villagers. The villagers were to give them what was demanded or they would take the loot by force any way. If they had to kill or maim to get what they wanted, so it was. They were to leave women and children alone unless they got in the way. Other than a few conflicts every now and then, things in general went well. The platinums kept coming, and the town merchants were ever happy to see Namlas. Every now and then he continued to think about his family back in Issnur. But he knew they would be doing fine. Nothing bad would happen there. Nothing ever happened there.
    Last edited by Qin Li; 15-01-2009 at 01:40.

  2. #12
    Once again Qin, very nice and very interesting.

    "Mysts" made me chuckle. Ah, nostalgia of a great game series.

  3. #13

    Ai yah

    Quote Originally Posted by Konig Des Todes View Post
    Once again Qin, very nice and very interesting.
    Thank you. Wasn't sure the writing would be able to carry a new character. Varesh was relatively easy since most readers, if not all, should already be familiar with her.

    Quote Originally Posted by Konig Des Todes View Post
    "Mysts" made me chuckle. Ah, nostalgia of a great game series.
    Ai yah! Mists! Mists! I also spotted some other typos. Edit here I go....

  4. #14

    New Tide

    If anything, life with the Corsairs was fast. The cycle of looting and extravagant spending opened up worlds to Namlas, offering experiences and feelings he had only before then dreamed of. And he rode that intoxicating wave to travel far from the Istani shores that had previously confined him and saw wonders in distant lands such as the Vabbian kingdom and, on a few occasions, even the exotic Canthan empire across the vast oceans. For a time, he thought he would live that way forever, because he was young, and there were plenty of time.

    And then, as if finally slowly gaining consciousness from a long slumber, he gradually found life lacking. It happened so slowly he didn't notice it until he finally realized one day that he did not, in fact, feel like frequenting the merchants in Kodash Bazaar, that Vabbian bastion of happiness that he once loved but now no longer felt for. Nowadays, things weren't as interesting any more. The drinks didn't have that intoxicating effect they had as before. The fancy clothings weren't as exquisite as he hoped. The smiles were shallow, and the fruits were sour.

    As impossible as it may have sounded to him at one time, this life of his had lost its luster. Even his own reflection off of a mirror no longer pleased him. He remembered trying to articulate, if only to himself, what exactly changed or went missing. Perhaps he was bored. He wondered if there were some frontiers left that he had not yet seen or explored. While he knew that there were more to the world than the places he had seen, he also knew that they would most likely be the same. The people may dress differently, speak in different languages, and dine and drink differently, but people were people; they could be intimidated or bought just as easily, and they all bled just as easily. And so he knew enough about people that very few aspects of their behavior—even when framed and shaped by different customs in different lands—would surprise him. Failing to come up with any answers for the longest time, his search had gotten more desperate, leading him to directions that he had not cared for previously.

    Namlas had not whole-heartedly devote himself to any of the gods that his peers worshiped. At times it was convenient to placate those around him by worshiping whomever or whatever they did, but each time his heart was elsewhere. Everyone had their way of escaping the daily drudgery, he supposed. Some found comfort in gods. He found his the straight forward and sure way: by buying them with platinum. But because of these new feelings he had, lately he started to contemplate more about gods and such things. And just as if these gods themselves had heard his curiosity calling, that fateful day was not far off.

    He always liked being around water, so he did most of his thinking in the presence of the calm sea. One day, he remembered, he was tightening the wrappings on his scythe on a pier. He found over the years that the activity soothed his mind and was conducive to various inspirations. He would walk off on his own and either worked on his gear or weapon. Most in the group knew him enough to not bother him during this time. After all, they also had their own affairs to attend to. This day, however, he was approached by his friend Lucky.

    Other than Lucky, Namlas had not really confided in anyone in the group. Somehow he found it difficult to trust men who looted villages for a living. But Lucky, that perpetually optimistic fellow, had always brought him at ease. Lucky was the reason, after all, he joined the Corsairs. He and about two drums of gin, he mused.

    “Quiet times lately,” he started.

    “Yes. That it has been.” Lucky sat down next to him, being careful to stay clear of the scythe's blade.

    Namlas stopped and looked at his friend, as if studying him for the very first time. He aged well, Namlas thought. The black in his hair had all but replaced by gray. Together with the creases on his forehead and around his eyes, he had the look of a wise man well beyond his years. However, his infectious smile had stayed with him, just as he remembered of his friend so long along during that night they first got drunk together under the Istani moon in Kamadan. Lucky was one of the elders, or as close to one as the Corsairs will ever get. Feeble old men made terrible pirates, and although he seldom went on campaigns nowadays, preferring to stay back and man the boats and working out logistics, making the most of his experience, Lucky nevertheless enjoyed the respect from all within the group. After all, a good number of them were recruited by Lucky, just as Namlas was. And most of them had learned much from him. There were many ambitious younger men who rose to more senior commanding roles in the group, and they all were careful and respectful when conversing with Lucky. So while not a leader in any strict sense, Lucky's suggestions, when he did provide them, were never questioned by anyone.

    “All is about to change,” continued Lucky.

    Namlas looked and saw those eyes of his, the same ones he had learned to read over the years. “Another campaign?” he asked as he continued with his scythe. Might as well, he thought. Maybe the exercise would help snap him out of this pensive trap that he found himself in.

    “Well,” Lucky turned to Namlas, as if to be sure he got the attention. “I just heard that there has been a concerted effort with the Kournans to hire all the Corsairs—every known group.” Shaking his head as if he was still in a state of disbelief, “And for what? To loot the Istani shores!”

    Why would they be interested in working with the Corsairs? And when did the Corsairs start working for Kourna—or anyone? As far as Namlas knew, there were no love between the Kournan authorities and the Corsairs, for the Corsairs raided Kournan villages just as much as Istani ones. He was actually surprised that by now the Kournans didn't partner with the Sunspears to eradicate them. All of the Corsairs? That was even more unusual. The different Corsairs groups typically lived and operated separately from the others, each content to man their own turfs. For all his time spent with the Corsairs, Namlas had never heard or seen the groups worked together on anything. He wasn't even sure it was possible, but if Lucky was correct, Kourna had managed to do it. Still, he wasn't comfortable at the thought of working for Kourna.

    “How do you feel about all this? Are we going along with it?”

    “The younger ones are impressed by the platinums, of course.” Namlas knew his friend enough to detect the trepidation under that smile. “It'll be nice to relive some of those glory days,” continued Lucky. Namlas wasn't entirely sure whom Lucky was trying to convince at this point.

    “I am not that young man you recruited so many years ago, my friend.” Namlas put down his scythe and reached for his friend's shoulder. “I am not entirely sure those glory days can return to us. They seem to drift further and further away by the years.”

    He noticed the wrinkles around Lucky's eyes. They were apparent whenever he smiled, but this time they were especially prominent. As if interrupting his own thought, Lucky perked up. “Namlas, you are much too young to talk that way.” Conscientious of himself, he reached for and lifted some of his gray hair that he had let grow down to his chest. “Talk to me when you have enough of these.”

  5. #15

    Blessed

    It was quite a sight for Namlas: more Corsairs than he had ever seen in his life so far, gathered on the tranquil shores of the Mehtani Keys. All the faces he had never seen before, looking at each other initially with equal bewilderment and suspicion, suggested to him that this was a new experience for everyone. Looking around, he finally recognized a few faces. He probably had met them before in towns trading with merchants. After making eye contact, they nodded to one another. Namlas felt a strange sense of belonging that had so far seemed foreign to him. Not knowing entirely how to reconcile the feeling, he instead decided to focus on the meeting and sought out Lucky to get the status of the gathering.

    Lucky himself wasn't privy to all the details of the meeting either. He knew that the group was invited—or ordered, depending on how one looked at it—to travel to the southeast corner of the island chain and join the rest of the Corsairs for an announcement from a Kournan representative. After what seemed like a whole morning of waiting, the various members got impatient and started to walk around to talk with the others while Lucky remained behind to go over some maps.

    Walking along the shore, Namlas found it strange that he wasn't able to relax as he normally would in such a setting. Part of him was unusually anxious about what was to take place. Could this arrangement with the Kournans be a bad deal, he asked himself. What if they were betrayed or fell into a trap? What better way to eliminate all Corsairs by gathering all of them at one remote place for slaughter? The more he thought about the possibilities, the more uneasy he got. He felt he should talk to Lucky. But he didn't want to sound like a baby crying for reassurance. After all, he could be an elder himself. What would the others think after seeing him act like a worrisome woman? Perhaps just some pointless chat, then. Perhaps that would at least take his mind off the matter, he thought to himself as he walked back to the group towards Lucky.

    The walk back initially seemed uneventful enough. He remembered noticing the gentle waves caressing the sandy beach and how his step left a trail of prints along the sand. The waves would soon cover and slowly erase them in good time. It was at that time, that moment that he frequently visited in his memories, when it started.

    It felt like a cloth being torn in haste, he later recalled. Of all the feelings at the time, he remembered the heat, the fire, the burning. It was as if his arm ignited and burst into flames, before his body felt the same. It was a novel sensation, if not a painful one. Up until then he had experienced merely bludgeon strikes and wounds. He had heard of magical spells, so he recognized it soon enough. But he really did not expect to be hit by one of them. Not at a tranquil place like this.

    “Surrender, Corsairs!” An almost melodic shout came from behind him, as if some goddess had sung to him. “You are surrounded!”

    He remembered trying to steady himself and to get up, blinded by the unusually bright sand that day, as if reflecting the sun a bit more than they normally do. Disoriented by that initial strike, Namlas lost the grip of his scythe as he fell. As he reached for the scythe and to get up, out of the corner of his eyes he saw behind him a descending wave of white soldiers, some of whom he thought he saw flexing magnificent golden translucent wings as wide as six men across either side. With the sun rays peering from behind them half blinding him, it was as if these men had directly came down from the heavens above. He almost forgot to breath.

    At that moment, he finally knew what all those superstitious men in the past talked about. He understood those non-sensible ramblings of religious men. It was at that moment he saw and realized a world beyond his own. Soon enough he would know that these were simply Sunspears charging at them with the sun behind. In time, everything could be explained away. One could say that was the fiery spell that hit him, the sun, the old age, the state of his mind, if one were to analytically go and dissect each little bit that contributed to that moment. And one would eventually find all the explanations that were anything but mystical. However, despite many years since then, whenever he would think back to that moment, he would remember it as a moment where he was blessed with an open door, or rather an open mind, to a world beyond this—one that he had been seeking throughout his life but never found.

    He took hold of his scythe and stood up, facing the incoming white warriors. He didn't wield the scythe for defense or ready it for strike; he just held it in his left hand, letting it weigh on him, for he really didn't know what else to do with it. His mind was focused on—and mesmerized—by the vision before him. He found it difficult to move, even if he wanted to.

    Then, from behind him and around him, he saw men charging toward the vision. They were not standing still like he was; they were charging in with arms and shields, yelling for solidarity. Soon the vision was started to be blocked out by the backs of the Corsairs that had rushed on to battle. He heard the clashing of swords, spears, scythes, blades. He heard the cries of pain and death ahead. He wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. He was comforted by the thought that he finally had found what he was seeking. But of all possible things, it had to be in a form of Sunspears charging at and attacking him.

    After he felt as if he were stuck in that confused state forever, he now saw more men rushing from behind around him toward the Sunspears. Only these were no longer in rags that the Corsairs wore; these were in full military armor. He turned around and saw a small band of men emerging from behind a rock formation. These were the Kournan troops that were to meet with them. But they obviously recognized the situation and decided the join in the fight. All but a few of them.

    A handful of figures remained behind, and upon seeing him, a figure in a relatively less armored robe gave some instructions to a soldier by his side. Namlas was then escorted back to the figure by two faceless soldiers behind battle masks.

    “Why are you not fighting alongside your brothers?” queried the Dervish. It was a female, he noticed. Her voice was coarse and authoritative. Namlas stumbled on the answer. For he wasn't sure himself why he hesitated. Had he felt the need, he knew he would charge in, if not leading the offensive at the Sunspears. However, at the moment he felt at a loss of ideas why he stayed behind. The thought of explaining his vision was quickly mentally dismissed just by the absurdity of it.

    The Dervish looked at him intently for moment and then spoke, “You look like you just witnessed—some mystical apparition, perhaps, something spiritual in nature? I know of such looks on a man. I usually can detect it. That single moment when his worldly confines open up for expansion beyond his comprehension. Is this how you feel?”

    “They—they came down from the heavens,” stuttered Namlas. “As if they were agents of the gods themselves. It—felt wrong fighting them.” Namlas wasn't sure if that was the reason for his hesitation. He wished there were more time to work things out. He wished everything would just stop for a while for him to understand. Just for a while.

    But things never went his way, Namlas realized whenever he thought back at that moment. As soon as he found something of value—anything that would better his life, there would be something terrible to negate it. And of all the worst luck in all the worlds, it was a loose spear—probably one meant for another poor chap—that somehow missed the intended target and flew out of the battle areas, across span if emptiness, all the way to where Namlas was. Where his heart was.

    It pierced his clothing easily enough. And by the time he knelt down looking at the tip protruding out of his chest, covered with the bright redness of his fresh blood, he didn't feel anything any more. Not physically, anyway. At that moment he briefly did renew his resentment for the Sunspears, that group of privileged bullies that had been a thorn is his eyes. Over the years he thought he had outgrown them, that he had found a life away from their shadows. And only now had he found something that was more than what he had known—something that he had sought after his whole life, curse the gods that it had to come in the form of these arrogant Sunspears.

    The Dervish knelt down and looked into Namlas's eyes. She looked at the spear that pierced his heart and the blood that was tapped out of it. She then raised her hand to steady him by the shoulder. “Fear not, man. This is not the end of all things.” Her eyes were so understanding. He looked at her face more closely and found one that was as old and weathered as his. Only hers was not weary and sad but was full of confidence. “As you pass over, you will be transformed.” He wasn't sure if she was telling him of the future or if she was commanding him what to do. Her forceful voice made that distinction difficult. “Your physical form will be different, but do not worry about such things. You will be one step closer to what you seek.” He started to suffocate and felt dizzy. He needed air, and his body reacted by causing him to cough, as if to take in more air. He now laid on his back. He couldn't see the spear tip anymore. It must have dematerialized now that it had done its job, he thought. Just then he briefly regretted never to figure out how those spear spells worked. He regretted leaving so many things undone. So many things unsaid. He thought about the family that he had forgotten over the years.

    The Dervish knelt down to stare at him, momentarily blocking out the sun. His last clear sights were a dark silhouette around which were the sun rays that warped around the form. He remembered once as young boy he had witnessed something similar when the moon briefly blocked out the sun. The lights had also warped around the moon trying to escape.

    Her voice snapped him back to the present. “I can sense potentials, and I see one in you. I will grant a favor onto you for you to live beyond this. Remember when you cross to the other side: seek out Abaddon, your new god.”

    With that, she sat up but stayed in her kneeling position and started to incant some indistinct words, as if casting some spell. He couldn't move and simply laid there and observe and listen. He felt his body struggling for more air, coughing up more blood that oozed down the side of his mouth. The sky started to grow dark. In the twilight he saw the Dervish before him finished chanting and rose.

    One of the soldiers leaned over to the Dervish and said, “Time to go, General Kahyet.” As the whole world before him grew dark, he saw the Dervish nodding and walking out of his waning view.

  6. #16
    Fast update, didn't even get time to read the"New Tide" part :x

    Once I find the time and train of thought to read all that, I shall. -I may need to start printing these stories out x)-

  7. #17

    Conscription

    What darkness is this? Could the so-called Mists, where the dead are destined, be nothing more than an emptiness duller than life? What cruel arrangement of things to have gone through a meaningless life only to then be confined to an eternity of darkness and loneliness! But before Namlas had enough time to ponder this darkness more, he felt his whole being shaken to the last shred of his soul.

    “What is it you seek? What mysteries plague you?”

    Although he had time to realize that he was in fact formless at the moment, Namlas's senses had a way to overlook this fact and told him that an unrelenting grip had taken hold of his body. And it was squeezing him with a ferocity he had not experienced his entire life. It was difficult to even think to himself under the circumstances, let alone answering the thundering voice.

    And what did Namlas want? What did he seek to achieve? He had had plenty of time to ponder this during his last few years in life, and still he had not come to any understanding of himself any more than the first day he started questioning himself this.

    Just as he thought his bones, if he had them, would crack and give way, the grip on him tightened yet some more, in a way that would be impossible. This was not merely pain on the flesh; this was pain on his whole being. Strange that he had not thought of himself breathing until now that he was suffocating.

    “I—I don't know what I want,” he struggled above the pain to let out a whisper with all his might.

    “Then you are wasting time. I shall crush your soul.”

    “I just want to know—if there were—more to the world,” Namlas fought the pain to utter those dying words. Dying—he thought to himself. Had he not been in such excruciating pain he'd let out a bitter laugh. He knew that he died on that day on the silky beach. How ironic it was that he had died to yet die again now. “I thought I had found it when—when they took my life.”

    “You are weaker than most that came before me. Many stronger and more virtuous had sought Ascension of me. What conceit you have to believe it is for you to achieve.”

    Namlas felt the grip loosening on him. Had he still been in his body he would attribute the feeling as blood rushing back into various extremities of his body. But he saw and felt nothing. He had no body that he could recognize.

    Ascension? Now that he was more able to think, his thoughts raced through his mind. He had never heard of such a thing. He briefly thought back to his life where he tried to see more, felt more, and be more than what he had and was. Perhaps it was some kind of ascension that he was seeking, only he didn't know such a thing existed. He knew he wanted to rise above his sheltered, mediocre, and ignorant existence. And when he went away from his roots he felt the materialistic world was also lacking, so he wanted to rise above that to something more: enlightenment. And not only of the mind by the body and soul. To leave that world of aimless self indulgence to one of purpose and devotion. From loneliness to completeness. From flawed existence to perfection. To Ascend. Yes! He was seeking Ascension.

    “Now that you understand, we may proceed,” spoke the thundering voice once again. To Namlas, it wasn't as painful any more. Whatever it was, Namlas thought, it figured out how brittle and weak he was and adjusted accordingly. Putting his bruised ego aside, he paid attention to the voice as it continued.

    “I am not interested in strength, honor, or virtue. I have no use for these constructs of men because they have no place here. I do see potentials in souls, however undeveloped they are.”

    Potentials. The trait that Namlas had been praised for his early life. Potentials that raised the hopes and expectations of those around him, and potentials that he had squandered and let deteriorate to the disappointment of the many around him. What use were potentials when they had no chance to develop to maturity? They were more a burden to him than anything else. Having these potentials caused his life to no longer be his own but that of all those that had put their hopes and dreams on him. He was not to live his life as he wished but was simply a means to realize the wishes of others. But now he was freed to pursue his potentials the way he wanted. He was no longer a servant of others' expectations but his own will.

    He was free, and he now knew. He understood now. It was as if his whole life of confusion and ignorant helplessness had simply been cleansed and purified. He now understood his past and himself beyond a level that he had not even realized was possible. He had transcended his own mind's limitations, it seemed. Ages of experience could not offer him the understanding he had just gathered in these few moments. What god of immense wisdom stood before him? What power!

    “You are confused, Namlas,” the voice gentler now. And the pain was all but gone. “You have the fire but not the knowledge to harness the heat. I can help you achieve what you seek and beyond. In turn, what will you do for me?”

    “Anything you want.”

    “So be it. You will take the form of my soldiers. Find your place in my army. Serve me well, Namlas. We will speak again.”

    “Are you—“

    “You know in your heart many matters, for I have given you part of my domain. Secrets that have been denied to you in life are now made clear to you, but you are to share this knowledge with no one. Go now. Follow your new destiny.”

    “Yes, Lord Abaddon. I will serve you with the last shred of my soul.”

    ---

    “Rise, soldier! Incoming hostility!”

    Out of the darkness came a vision of a reddish sea peppered with soft clusters of dark grayish mass. Namlas recognize the sky soon enough, however, as his mind quickly adjusted to the present. He knew the procedure well. This was not the first time he was woken up by a battle about the take place. Instinctively he reached to his left to pick up his battle scythe while his right hand pushed his body up from the ground as he shifted his weight now only his legs. He was in no time standing in a defensive stance with his scythe, ready for battle.

    It was customary to take rotations of sleep and guard duty. Because of the small size of the group, almost everyone was at one time either guarding or sleeping. Free time was rare to non-existent. To make matters worse, unfortunately there were many times when it was necessary to break one's slumber to face incoming enemies. This unrelenting pattern of stress took its toll on the group, as they were not a small group to begin with. Ever since the loss of Abaddon's presence, the legion of some two hundred had fought off waves and waves of other forces of various breeds, each time taking casualties that reduced the group more. Time had eluded Namlas as how long they have been keeping this up. With only thirty seven remaining, he didn't know how long they had left in this world.

    “Two groups coming in slowly from the east and northeast. Movements suggest rogue Tormented. Adjust your weapons and spells accordingly!” The leader of the group continued giving out instructions to the rest of the group waking up from their slumbers.

    Namlas was ahead of the commander in that regard. He focused his concentration and prepared his defensive skills. Lingering thoughts still hovered in the back of his mind the dreams he just woke up from, he considered how he was now different than his undisciplined old self. Instead of relying on raw strength and tricky moves to overpower his enemies, he now knew the deadly precision of scythe mastery and how to begin tuning his senses to magical enchantments and mystical properties that picked up where the physical limitations ended. Admittedly, he was new to magical spells since he had no experience with them before. But because of the blessing, he was now a faster learner than any time in his previous life that he remembered.

    “The northeast direction needs more support on the front line,” yelled the commander, “who can serve?”

    “I can,” Namlas said without hesitation as he walked to the front, past the others readying themselves. They all knew him well from previous battles. A few stepped out of his way as he continued to make his way up front to meet the commander.

    “Namlas, you have command of the flank,” nodded the leader as Namlas approached.

    Namlas returned the gesture and immediately surveyed the area before him, assessing the landscape. The land was mainly gentle slopes with minimal shrubbery, offering high visibility. They had the higher ground against the impending Tormented that were seen creeping up slowly, leaving behind them a trail of dust. The leader was wise to pick this spot to camp. However, judging from the dust trails, the incoming Tormented groups easily outnumbered the small group they had. Something bothered Namlas as he studied the dust trails. Given the position of the dark masses coming toward them, there were few trails that seemed out of place. Namlas struggled to interpret the signals but didn't come up with anything that made sense. It was as if there were invisible armies following behind and around them. Shadows! Could they be legions of those invisible and deadly wraiths? Shadows were known to be autonomous and held no allegiances with anything other than themselves, but could those be working for the Tormented demons? As the black masses moved closer, there wasn't much time to ponder this.

    Namlas looked over to the leader who, meeting his eyes, nodded understandingly back at him. Standing his scythe on its end with his left hand, Namlas then took the opportunity to clench his fist and salute the leader. His name was Ju Ang, probably some general from Cantha of the old world. He did not start out as the leader of the legion, but as more and more losses mounted, he was the most experienced of the group and therefore had taken on the role until he falls. As they stared at each other momentarily, there were nothing more to say; they each knew what the other was thinking. This may be the last time they saw each other still standing.

    “Bowmasters, ready for concentrated assault on the middle flank!” Namlas turned and yelled out behind him. “As before, volley your shots to skip past the front line. Let us worry about those Blades. Sorcerers, do not waste your energy on the front or middle lines. Spot out the spawners in the rear and eliminate them at your first opportunity. Then help us burn the remaining melee forces. Clerics, until I give the signal, do not enchant us in the front. Use bursts of short healings to keep us alive long enough.” Namlas knew the danger of prolonged enchantments in the face of Soul Tormentors and Heralds. Until he was sure they were all eliminated, he did not want to risk any of his valuable soldiers.

    Without a chance to ready oneself, it seemed, the approaching Tormented were within reach. A rain of arrows, most of which were glowing either with poisonous trails or flames, led the assault. Namlas and the others charged up to confront the incoming attackers. As expected, incoming was a group of a considerable size. He had assessed his own flank from before and estimated that they were outnumbered roughly five-to-one. There would be heavy casualties. Timing was crucial. He did not have time to waste, so he started with a spell to help him work the front faster.

    Heart of Fury

    A surge of heat emanated from his body towards the limbs. If he had the time he imagined his body was glowing brighter than usual at this point. He felt energized, his senses amplified momentarily, and he was able to survey the incoming mob easily: moderate front line, heavy casters in the mid line, and the usual stock of spawners already starting their Call to the Torment spells.

    Unfortunately, there were five or seven Heralds waiting to shatter any enchantments they spotted, and it would not be long until one of them noticed him. Might as make it count, he thought as he rushed into the front line melees and casted another enchantment spell.

    Dust Cloak

    A strong gust materialized and enveloped the Namlas, lifting the red earth to briefly suspend the particles in the air, only to then quickly slam into the melees. Blades, Namlas noted to himself. Not too smart, but very resilient to damage and heavy on brute force. If those Heralds were so slow to notice him, he may need to strip the enchantments himself or risk bearing the onslaught from the now sufficiently agitated Blades before him.

    Strange that the Heralds were so restrained, Namlas thought as he traded blows with the Blades. He expected them to have shattered his enchantments two times over by now. It was unlike them to have known his strategy. It was as if they learned tactics. Or ….

    An acute pain across the back disrupted his thought. He knew the sensation well. What followed would be some heavy bleeding. If the Heralds were hesitant, there must be a reason. He wasn't ready to risk getting caught off guard by them yet. But he needed to halt the unrelenting Blades for a while.

    Twin Moon Sweep

    With swift precision, his scythe swung below the facial carapace of the Blade before him, tearing away the outer skeleton to let the blood splatter about. Then just as swiftly Namlas followed the momentum and spun around with the blade to cut again at the same spot, decapitating the demon. Immediately he felt a surge of healing take over him as the pain on his back diminished to a curious tingling. The red dust that was suspended in the air suddenly whipped outward and stung the eyes of the remaining Blades around him, blinding them temporarily.

    Just then Namlas felt the air sucked out of him. He lost balance for a moment but regained his standing soon enough. His body cooled as he felt the fire escaping his body abruptly, as if they were sucked out of him. At the same time, he saw the Blades around him all lit up by flames bursting on their exoskeletons. Some Herald finally decided to strip his enchantment. He had planned for this, and now he would take full advantage of the Blades blinded and burning.

    As long as he was careful, he was able to avoid the disorganized swings made by the blinded and burning Blades around him. In contrast, he was able to inflict precise strategic wounds to them. In a short time, he was able to eliminate seven or so Blades and finally broke through to reach the outer ring of casters. He swung his scythe wide to cripple the evading foes. This was a race against time to disable the enchantment shattering Heralds.

    Harrier's Grasp

    He was on his way of clearing out a path through the casters when Namlas began feeling pain in his body. His movements were also turning sluggish, and his visions were blurred. His footing was unstable, as if he couldn't anchor his body to swing his scythe any more. Hexes, he realized. Instinctively he stopped his assault and looked back. What were the Clerics waiting for?

    What he saw sent a chill up his body: most of his own team had fallen, with one or two Executioners fighting just to stay alive. A wave must have breached the front lines, Namlas concluded. He was too distracted by the Heralds and failed to hold the line. He sped up as fast as he could to rejoin his group, but his movement was still impeded, and he barely covered any ground. With his own casters gone, he had no choice but to helplessly watch as his last warriors succumbed to the overwhelming demons surrounding them.

    At last, he was all alone. He held onto his scythe and concentrated. He had died before, so he wasn't afraid. He only felt—cheated—as he always did. Now that he was blessed to be more than he ever was, he felt a great sense of injustice was once again about to be done to him by robbing of his opportunity to fulfill his potentials. Where was Abaddon? How could he abandon his followers this way? But this was no time for such indulgences, he thought. He was not going to make it easy for these demons to take him. He would take at least fifteen of these maggots down before letting himself be taken.

  8. #18

    Convergence

    Eighteen at the last count. That would have to do, Namlas sighed to himself as his body began to succumb to pain and exhaustion. He knew most of what he felt was the result of hexes and curses put on him. Without a clergy, however, he wasn't able to do much about it. Each swing of the scythe was becoming increasingly difficult to execute, and the critters were blocking and dodging very effectively. For the time being, at least he was able to maintain a bubble around him where the demons wouldn't dare to enter lest they be sliced by his scythe. So for the most part, they were just waiting for him to wear down before advancing further.

    Just when he started wondering how long he could sustain this, Namlas felt a blunt jolt from the rear of the head, followed shortly by an acute spike of pain. Just then another spike of pain registered from his right shoulder. He looked down and saw an arrow tip protruding out of his upper right arm. Streaks of white fluid gushed out and rolled down his arm and fingers to his scythe and finally made a small puddle on the ground below. He still was not used to seeing blood this color. A lifetime of shedding red blood was difficult to get over. The arrow was precise; it pierced his arm at a strategic location such that he no longer could swing the scythe effectively. Grunting, he used whatever strength he had to press the scythe handle down onto his knee, effectively breaking the handle in half, leaving a makeshift pick in his left hand. The pain to his shoulder was significant but still manageable. He worked with picks before. This one was a bit shorter and out of balance, but it would have to do. So he started to swing the new pick with his left hand, but each swing sliced through nothing but air. Another jolt from the right, then left. Then he felt the ground hit his face. The gravel scratched the flesh on his right cheek, giving a peculiar sensation. He was half numb now, so he wasn't sure if it was pain. As he looked up, he saw one of the demons approached with a hammer raised, ready to strike down. His own body was unresponsive at this point. It was as if it had a mind of its own and decided that, this time, it was not going to raise itself up only to take more punishment. There was only so much sheer will could command of the flesh. He wasn't sure if he could even roll over to avoid the hammer landing.

    Then, a peculiar shaped diamond appeared above him. The demons around him were equally distracted and were looking up at it as well. The one with the hammer paused and looked up at it, slightly confused. Without warning, the diamond then shot out lightning bolts striking everything but Namlas. The demons recoiled in pain, but were slow to move. Their exoskeletons took on a frosty appearance, as if they were freezing. And just as suddenly, a cloud of black smoke formed beside him. Instinctively he tried to fan the smoke away with his left arm. “Stay down, soldier,” a voice from within the smoke spoke to him into his right ear. It was a raspy voice, typical of a Margonite. However, his blurred vision could not discern the usual glow of a Margonite body. And the black smoke didn't help.

    “Rest and heal,” the voice continued. “Help is here.”

    His body immediately felt a tingling sensation all over, as if he were slowly immersed into a river of cool water. His pain receded, his breathing restored, and his strength slowly returned. His vision, of course, also got clearer as time went on.

    His fuzzy vision saw chaos around him as the demons were fighting with what could best be described as amorphous distortions of emptiness. He rolled his head from side to side to watch the battle around him. He wanted to get up, but he felt a firm palm on his chest, as if holding him down. He couldn't tell what was holding him down, however. It looked like nothing was there, and yet he felt the resistance to his body trying to get up. Helpless, he looked around more and saw what looked like the Shadow creatures that he worried about before. Somehow the Tormented demons had attracted the attention of these deadly wraiths, and the two groups where brawling around him. The Shadows attacked everything, he remembered what others told him before. Sooner or later, they would turn to him, he knew. But what about this Shadow next to him now, the one telling him to rest and heal. “Help is here”? The Shadows were helping him? As he smoke slowly dissipated, he turned to look at the Shadow and saw a glow staring back down at him. Yes. Shadows had glowing eyes, he remembered the stories told by others that traveled far beyond Elona. He had never seen one up close, and he didn't know they spoke human languages, let alone Elonian.

    And as his vision returned, Namlas saw that the Shadows slowly clearing out the demons. More and more Tormented fell, with their carcasses laid everywhere he could see from where he laid. Slowly, there were less and less motions of battle. The Tormented shrieked less and less as their numbers fell. With a loud cry, the last demon fell not far from him. The hand on his chest was removed, and he felt something helping him to get up, although he couldn't quite make out what it looked like.

    The Shadows didn't bother inspecting the corpses lying around. Instead, they all gathered around Namlas and stared at him. Their bodies had an outline where he could spot some warping of the background behind them, but these creatures were otherwise transparent. Two purplish glows stood where he expected the eyes may be. To the left he saw, to the best that his eyes could discern, one of the Shadows lowering its hand that was pointing at him earlier. At which point the tingling on his body stopped. His pain stopped, and his left hand once again got its grip back on the broken scythe.

    “Your healing is done,” explained the Shadow next to him. “Stay, for the Prophet wishes to speak with you.” Then it turned around and, his glowing eyes no longer visible, effectively disappeared into thin air. There was a fuzzy aura that outlined its silhouette as it walked slowly away from him. Soon the only trace of it was the small footprints on the ground.

  9. #19
    Enjoyed it very much.
    Please continue

  10. #20

    The Leader

    It was still a little disconcerting for Namlas to don his new armor, realizing that he essentially was draping over his body the twisted remains of a Shadow, crushed to a pulp and then infused in a leather lattice. “Specifically, it's called a Vaettir,” he remembered one of the fellow soldiers explaining to him. “And not just any Vaettir, either; it's the ones that come as smiting monks. Somehow the Prophet found a way to make use of their flesh to turn our armor invisible.”

    Namlas remained a little troubled by this new leader that he now served under. She was a very capable military strategist, to be sure. And he shared the same admiration everyone had for her. For all the time that he had followed her—which felt so far back now that he had forgotten exactly how many days had passed since she first offered him a place in her army—he witnessed conflict after conflict how the army under her command had consistently emerged victorious. And perhaps the most impressive part of it was so few, to the point of nearly non-existent, casualties he had actually saw. To compare the battle statistics of this army against any other one that he had seen before would easily qualify this to be an invincible force. She seemed to know which battles to fight and which ones to avoid, and when she fought, she knew the strategies to use for each circumstance: in the dark, in the plains, in tight caverns, high ground and low. Over time Namlas himself would even catch himself feeling a trace of pride when his own instincts had matched hers after surveying the battle field.

    So command-wise, he admired her just as the others do. There would be no one else, save the lord Abaddon himself, that he would rather serve under. What did trouble him about her was what he could only describe as a certain pragmatic ruthlessness, a cold efficiency, about her. Over time they had come across other Margonites that had lost their ways. He had yet figure out how she determined which ones to offer a place in her army and which ones she would dispose of without even a trace of hesitation. He had asked her about this once when he found an opportunity to speak with her.

    “You are new, so I will explain this to you once,” he remembered her answer, such as it was. “I have been blessed with powers few others even have a capacity to comprehend.” She looked away and towards the massive of seemingly nothingness before them, save the contortions of the horizon due to the overlapping light bending from the invisible armors. “This army around you put its loyalty and trust in me and by extension in Abaddon. These soldiers pledge their lives at my command as I expect you to.” She then approached him up close, and only then did he fully appreciated how tall she really was. “Understand this,” her eyes flared as she looked down on his. “I do not explain myself to anyone.”

    “Understood.” He knelt. “I serve Abaddon unquestionably.”

    And that moment he remembered clearly, as it was an unusual perception he had: she paused there motionless with her mouth slightly parted. But only for a brief moment. She apparently soon gathered her thoughts and continued, though now in a more casual tone.

    “Just now you remind me of someone--“ her voice once again trailed off along with her thoughts. And just as soon she was firmly back. “You are a good soldier, Namlas. Your bravery inspires many. Know that I am honored by your service. Do not question my methods again.”

    “Yes. Prophet. Forgive me.”

    “No offense taken, Namlas.” She extended her hand. “Rise, soldier. Do not kneel so easily to anyone but your lord.” Seeing his slight confusion, she explained as she took his palm to help him up. “I do not ask for worship; That we all give to Abaddon. I do expect the obedience and loyalty from one who serves under my command.”

    “And you have them, Prophet.”

    And he never asked her about it again.

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