A note before we continue.
Thank you to everyone who has taken an interest in this little excerpt of my new story.
It is very much appreciated.
On we go!
He looked around this place, this valley inside the mountain, and they looked around at the gravestones.
‘The warlock was here, examining the stones,’ Vindri noted, resting a delicate hand on one of the headstones.
‘Perhaps there’s some significance to this place,’ Gallian mused, then rolled his eyes when everyone looked at him. ‘Yes, yes, fine, even I say stupid, obvious things, sometimes.’
‘We’re inside some kind of valley, filled with gravestones, lit by the light of the moon while we’re inside a mountain, and, if I might be permitted to go on to say something else blindingly obvious – there’s something very strange about all this. Something or someone has created this place. The question is why? Were they drawn to the nascent magical power of this place? Are they servants of the Telerian Prince? Is it the Telerian Prince reborn? Who was that warlock? Is he the creator of this place, or the servant or perhaps an ally of the creator?’
He rattled off the points on his fingers, his words starting to tumble over each other. He lowered his hand, sighing.
‘Regardless, we need to find our way forward.’
The voice suddenly filled the air, reverberating through it, through their bodies. And the voice echoed in their minds, coming from everywhere at once, yet with no discernible source. All at once, they were assailed by images of a giant entombed by a glacier, a red-eyed glare gazing lifelessly from beneath a sheet of blue ice.
You have walked into my realm. I am the key and the gate. Step further into the darkness.
The voice and the imagery faded from their minds, and the Iron Hand looked at each other. Fear danced in the eyes of Lori and Gallian, but Vindri’s lips were drawn into a thin, severe line.
‘Sounds like an invitation.’ Giermund rolled his shoulders, loosening his muscles.
‘Let’s take them up on it,’ Landred grinned.
‘We should examine this place,’ Lori said. ‘There might be something of note here. And I’m sensing something quite strange about these gravestones.’
They made their way through the graveyard then.
Every few paces, Lori bent down and examined the stones. They bore no names upon them, seemingly nothing more than markers. But as she touched each stone, a shiver seemed to course through her.
Landred felt something here as well – his scalp prickled, and his hair stood on end, but the significance of this feeling eluded him. Gallian was frowning. He opened his mouth a few times, seemingly about to elucidate whatever magic this was, but he closed his mouth without a word each time, and each time, his frown seemed to deepen.
Lori examined one more gravestone, then stood up.
‘This place is filled with the memory of a great battle, people who fought against a powerful enemy. A priest lies here,’ she said, pointing at the grave before her. ‘He stood at the very end, watching his people fight to the last. There’s a memory here. A memory of children dying, and skies burning. Slaves never freed, fighting forever. The lost and the broken who will never be saved. Pawns, following a god to annihilation.’
She breathed out, looking weary for a moment.
‘Their memories dance in this place. They feel so close, that I feel the right words could bring them back. Stir them for just a moment.’
Necromancy. The word hung in the air for a moment, unspoken. Not forbidden, exactly, but still taboo. Landred looked around and wondered if this strange feeling – this dense air, this strange claustrophobia, was due to how densely packed the memory of the fallen seemed to be here.
A shadow floated past, light as a feather, and Landred turned to see the other Serpent Sister walk by.
Vindri seemed to drift through this place. She did not glance at the stones, but she moved with a lighter step. She raised a dainty finger and touched the air, and purple ripples materialized in the empty air. A moment later, Percy, the pseudodragon emerged from the ripples, like a fish breaching the surface of a lake.
The miniature dragon chirped, and Vindri looked closer. There were singes of black energy marks upon its body, and its flesh seemed raw. Percy stumbled a little on her arm, and Vindri winced. Then she touched her lips to its little horned head, and the wounds knitted closed.
Percy, now healed, turned a little somersault and landed on her shoulder, squawking softly.
Vindri clicked her tongue, then sighed.
‘There’s an answer here, somewhere. This magic is strange but… recognizable. Like a dream I barely remember.’
‘Is it possible this warlock has the same patron as you?’ Gallian asked.
Vindri shook her head.
‘I’d know immediately. But the magic is different. It feels different. Tastes different. It’s like a sea breeze on a cold day. It’s water and ice and salt.’
Her voice trailed off, her eyes fixed on a point on the horizon, and everyone followed her gaze, to where they saw a pinprick of light at the edge of darkness – like the very tip of the rising sun.
As if noting their attention, the voice they heard before echoed in their minds once again.
A dream, soaked in exile. A child, consumed with greed. A nation, damned by the lust for power.
More images. A king in an underground temple, looking out over an oversized altar from a raised platform. Below, a thousand men and women genuflected before a mighty, bloated monstrous thing, chained to the ground. It seemed both the object of their worship and their prisoner. It thrashed about, its chains rattling, straining to keep the monster bound. Below, the worshippers held votive candles aloft, their light flickering from the king’s vantage point like so many fireflies.
Here they remain, the children of the profane capital, a place of darkness, worshipping a devil as a god.
Their decadence eventually declined, as all things must.
A wild chittering sound filled the air, then, piercing the silence. Shrieks and growls lashed across the graveyard, the promise of violence cracking like a whip in the air,
Lori grimaced, baring her teeth in a surprisingly ugly little snarl that spread across her usually beautiful face.
‘Goblins,’ she said matter-of-factly, quietly nocking an arrow.
‘Where are they coming from?’ Gallian demanded
‘Everywhere,’ Vindri turned a hand to her left, and sent an orb of red and orange fire streaking from her open palm. The light splayed across small, grey and green savage faces, with red eyes and snaggled teeth that jutted over their lips. One widened in fear in the moment before the orbs hit him, and he erupted in pillar of cold fire, his form silhouetted by the infernal light that blasted around him in that instant. A moment later, the light faded, and the charred, blackened corpse of the goblin collapsed to its knees. That little impact caused it to disintegrate into ash – Vindri’s blast seemed particularly powerful.
For a moment the snarling and chittering ceased, as the goblins were temporarily cowed.
All things begin in darkness, and all so end.
It is the same with dreams, hopes and wishes.
Fight to keep it alive. Fight to keep your hearts whole. The world teaches us that strength alone is needed. Strength alone is absolute.
A goblin charged in, larger than the others, screaming as it whirled a bolas above its head, charging straight at Giermund.
Giermund offered the hobgoblin a contemptuous glance before drawing an axe from his belt and embedding it in the feral creature’s chest with a well-aimed throw. The goblin squawked, the leather straps of the bolas wrapping around the creature’s own neck as it collapsed.
Landred leaped into a surging throng of the foul things, his blade flashing in a sudden, dizzying dance between the wretched creatures. The rune-silver sword gleamed with a cold blue light as it smote through the air. The light of the runes flashed brightly, and goblins fell to each fluid movement as suddenly as though they were struck by lightning. Clawed gauntlets and short swords lashed out in bitter response, but they were broken upon a wall of steel – so swift were his guards and ripostes.
Giermund’s attacks bore none of Landred’s grace and fluidity – instead, he cut down the goblins unfortunate to stand before him with the same dutiful and resolute strikes as a woodsman, plying his trade.
Gallian and Lori slowly backed away from the melee attackers – Lori firing arrow after arrow at the goblins, each one finding its mark between their large red eyes.
Gallian had drawn a wand, and bolts of blue light shot out with each flourish. There was no evading them – even those goblins that had the sense to duck behind tombstones found the blue lights twisting about in mid-air to strike them.
Vindri took none of these precautions, simply blasting at anything in sight.
One goblin managed to charge through her offensive, only to find its fangs and claws closing on nothing. Puzzled, it looked to the left and right, then behind to see Vindri, a savage smile on her face, her dark hair lifting around her face, her left eye glowing with red light. She flourished her cloak then, and on it there was a pattern of eyes – eyes that blinked and glared hatefully at the goblin, which froze in terror, for the moment it took for Vindri to send a blast of eldritch energy at it, immolating its head.
But the goblins kept coming – a seemingly endless tide of viciousness.
‘Enough of this!’ Gallian yelled. ‘Everyone! Behind me!’
Landred glanced back at the wizard and saw his fingers working in familiar movements, and his eyes widened.
‘Giermund! Fall back!’
Giermund snarled at the encroaching goblins, then nodded at Landred, grabbing one by the throat and throwing it aside, dashing its skull against a headstone.
Vindri, Giermund and Landred swiftly made their way behind Gallian, even as the wizard finished his spell. A tiny pill of red light materialized at the tip of the wizard’s index finger. The pill slowly travelled across the graveyard, and for a moment, everyone’s eyes were drawn to it. A small red star crawling across a black expanse. There was something primal about it. Something ancient, and nostalgic, recalled in how this tiny, faint light seemed to grope its way through the darkness. It flickered and seemed to go out for a moment.
Then the air burst with sound and heat as the pill suddenly expanded in a massive, fulminant conflagration. The shrieks and snarls were suddenly muted in the sudden roar of fire that vanished almost immediately – the air boomed as with thunder for just a moment, a deafening crash that caused Landred – not quite behind Gallian yet – to stumble to his hands and knees.
Scorched pieces and entire burning corpses of goblins were thrown in every direction – their gaunt forms immolated where they were not blown apart by the force of the fireball’s detonation.
Thick oppressive heat settled on the graveyard, and Giermund coughed, choking on the scent of burning goblin bodies.
A few shrieks still rent the night air – the fireball hadn’t claimed every enemy’s life – but these cries were of panic and terror, and they swiftly melted away as the surviving goblins fled the graveyard.
Lori breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Well done, Gallian. Anyone hurt?’
Landred got to his feet, dusting the loamy soil from his knees, before waving her away, and the others gave similar, assuring signs that they were unhurt.
‘All things seem to end in violence, don’t they,’ came a new voice. The warlock from before stepped from the dust and smoke that permeated the aftermath of the fireball. He drew his sword then – a vicious-looking scimitar, with the non-bladed edge having the touch of gold. The serrated tip of the blade curved wickedly to an ornate hilt, where an beryl crystal gleamed on the pommel. There was a black slit in the middle of the crystal, making it seem rather ominously like the lidless eye of a snake. He leaned on the sword, then cast an easygoing gaze at the Iron Hand, nodding and smiling as though at a private joke.
He was tall – almost as tall as Giermund, and his bare arms were well-muscled. His body was armed in chain-mail, and he carried a round, wooden shield on his back. A red scarf was tied around his neck. He had chiselled features, and his hair had the appearance of having once been cropped short, but which was now growing out and had a certain wind-swept look to it. He was also grey-skinned, and the Iron Hand backed away.
He was a Melechi.
To be continued.
I think a little context here might be necessary:
In Incanta’s setting, the current age has been home to two great civilizations.
An elf-like race with a grey-hued complexion and eyes as black as midnight; it was thought that they were originally a race of elves that grew dominant over their fellows – however, most elves believe that the Melechi are of fiendish descent.
Naturally gifted with magic and blessed with long life, it was thought they could endure everything, even the cataclysmic ages of mist.
When another race of people, the Luatha rose from the earth and joined them, the Melechi initially served as teachers, gentle guides to the younger folk. However, the Melechi eventually changed. As they grew in their knowledge of magic, and came to the art of divination, many seers began to predict the end of their civilization. The Melechi people soon began to see the Luatha not as children, but as usurpers, and they enslaved them – a state that would last centuries.
After some time, the Melechi gave rise to several mutants of their kind, who were larger, physically stronger, longer-lived (functionally immortal to all intents and purposes) and had power never before seen – power to destroy dragons and battle demigods.
These Melechi mutants were elevated in their culture in the later days of their race, and many came to rule over the kingdoms of their people. These mutants came to be known as the Great Tyrants, whose cruelty, warmongering and ruthlessness eventually gave rise to a rebellion amongst the Luatha. After a long and bloody struggle, the Tyrants were overthrown by the leaders of the Luatha, the people who would come to be known as the Archons.
After the Tyrants were overthrown, the Melechi, ravaged by the wars caused by their own leaders, retreated from the mainland of Estoria, sailing westwards, bequeathing their lands to the Luatha, their successors in truth. Their departure became a theme of song for the Luatha, who viewed them with a combination of fear, awe and resentment.
It is thought that there are no more Melechi left on the continent, though unsubstantiated tales of strange figures in the distance are a constant source of fire-side tales. For the Luatha and the elves, the Melechi are worse than any bogey-man.
(That was a little longer than I meant it to be. Which I’ve been saying about Incanta as a whole for months, now. Anyway.)