Zalfron’s Tale 03: The Forsaken Savior

The Stone of Krynor sent Saint and Creaton to a place in time and space where neither would have the advantage. This place was Castletown, the capital of the Antaran kingdom which sat in a hilly corner of the continent Midabbim beneath the Delian sun. A war had been waged on Midabbim for almost two hundred years between the Thaians, the Dravish, and the Antarans. The earth elves of the Antaran hills were a people of peace who had been reluctant to join the conflict but had been unable to tolerate the Dravish exploitation of the Ramlans (a minority that had once been one of Antara’s greatest allies). By the time Saint and Creaton arrived, Ramla had been liberated and the Antarans had retreated from the forefront, content merely to defend what land they held.

The aristocracy of Antara, who ruled the twelve greatest cities, had surrendered their military power so that even if they wished to go on the offensive they could not. Instead, a group of vigilante patriots defended their ancient state through a policy that would come to shape the Trinity Nations’ military: Samurai. The greatest twelve combatants in the kingdom of Antara vowed to protect their emperor and the aristocracy and what remained of the Antaran military was split amongst them. These defenders of state, the Antaran Samurai, would protect Antara at all costs. They were defenders, not offenders, and as long as a war threatened foreign lands the Samurai rarely batted an eye.

Thus, in the Delian year of 3765, approximately two hundred years after the war began, Saint and Creaton appeared in Castletown where the mass destruction, collateral damage of the epic duel, in the royal city attracted the Antaran Samurai. Before Saint could defeat his opponent, Creaton used the dark magic of a banshee to flee and left Saint to face the wrath of the Samurai alone. Three of these defenders took Saint down, Belisarius of Paulter, Silverius of Palmora, and Vigili of Emor. He was tossed into the dungeons of Castletown and the Mystak Blade, who’s transport led to many a casualty, was hidden away. The rest of the Samurai convened to discuss what to do. They were less worried about their captive than the one that had been fighting him, for this was not the first time Antara had met Creaton Live. In fact, the last time he appeared in Delia, less than a century ago, the wearer of the Black Crown had died. His return, or resurrection as the Dravish saw it, did not bode well for Antara. As the Antarans panicked and the Dravish celebrated, and Saint sat locked away.

If you had to pick one dungeon in which to be jailed, between the three dimensions: Earth, Solaris, and Delia, most would choose the prison beneath Castletown. Ran by the peace loving Antarans, each prisoner was fed, supplied a cot, allowed fair access to a defecation hole, and permitted the use of clean running water up to three times a day. There was a group of villains that, if given the option, would have prefered to avoid this accomadating oubliette: mancers, specifically necromancers and shadowmancers. Being opposed to killing of any kind – Antarans didn’t even kill plants, they were scavengers! They used magic to draw the nutrients from deceased beings, beasts, and brush into a tasteless substance called mana – the necromancers and shadowmancers were forbidden to use their dark arts. The necromancers’ noses were cut off – leaving them unable to sense and, therefore, manipulate bone – and shadowmancers’ eyes were plucked out and sealed shut – rendering them unable to store shadow.

Fortunately, with their energy storage system – their flesh – still intact, the consumption of unharvested-bone left in mana provided necromancers just enough to survive. Unfortunately, without their crow eyes, the shadowmancers could not store shadows. They lived on the edge of death, weak and frail, limping and crawling. What shadows they gained from the mana could not be stored so they had to ration out their supply, swallowing crumbs all through out the day. They clung together in a heap in the corner of the prison, nibbling mana and exchanging their own shadows between one another as they slowly withered away. Few lasted longer than a month. They called themselves the Sharemen.

Their pitiful state intrigued Saint and he befriended them. Having shared so much of their energy, the group seemed to share a single consciousness. It was as if their souls had compiled into one. With their supernatural state – though some historians claim it was moreso delusions brought on by their depravation – came a supernatural sense: foresight. For as long as the prisonguards could remember, the Sharemen prophesized that a messiah would come and release them from their bondage. They hoped Saint would be this savior, for few in the prison prior to his arrival had felt the need to acknowledge the Sharemen’s existence, so from his first act of kindness they begged him to become a shadowmancer. Saint was reluctant, after all, he had nearly became a necromancer due to Creaton’s trickery in his rebellious campaign through Solaris. But there was no other way out. So, in the darkest corner of the Castletown dungeon, Saint converted to shadowmancy, donned the crow eye, consumed the Sharemen’s shadows – for it took the final life-energy of many souls to fuel the following spell – then teleported himself out of the dungeon, out of Castletown, and into the rolling hills of Antara.

 

– – –

 

“Saint’s a shadowmancer!”

“Hush! Yer gonna wake em up!” Zalfron urged, glancing around the room before addressing Joe’s shock, “But yea, hae was a shadahmancer.”

“But he’s the Emperor of the Trinity Nations!” Joe crowed. He was so offended by this great leader’s hypocracy that he was unable to heed his elven friend’s advice, “How can he condemn a type of magic he himself uses?”

“Now you jus calm down, don’t go insultin the Emperor! Specially when ya ain’t aven gotta clue whatcha talkin bout.” Zalfron defended, “Hae plucked that ah raht out soon as hae returned to Solaris, had to replace it with an enertomb jus to kaep from buhcomin lahk the Sharemen.”

“I still think its messed up! Didn’t his friendship with the Sharemen show him that not all mancers are bad?”

“Now come on Joe. Ain’t they got politics on Earth? Hae maybae Emperor but this ain’t no dictatorship!” Zalfron’s voice rose as he forgot his prior reprisal, “The Trinity Nations is ruled by thrae votes: one from Saint, one from the monarchs, and one from the dahnastaes.”

“Well did Saint vote for or against mancy?” Joe asked.

Zalfron stroked his chin, “Ya know, ah’m not sure. Ah bet that one of them would know, should ah wake em?”

“No!” Joe yelped, as if afraid Grandfather would reprimand them for their late night whispering, “I’ll ask later! You can keep going.”

“Cool,” Zalfron nodded, “so, Saint escaped…”

 

– – –

 

Most, though not all, of the Sharemen were of Saint’s mother’s kind, electric elves, hailing from the west, Thaia. Thus, as Saint fled from Castletown he headed west towards the Sulareemian Mountains – a winding isthmus between Antara and Thaia. However, their escape from Castletown did not go unnoticed. The Antaran Samurai were hot on their trail and finally closed in on the escapee near the ruins of an ancient city known as Niek-Rebas.

The dilapidated town had once thrived under a young Thaian Empire. Legend was, as the Sharemen told Saint, that this was the birth place of Delian necromancy. The dark art grew and matured among the villagers in the eleventh century. The powerful families of the city, rich from trade, grew jealous and a violent feud broke out. Instead of drawing blood from one another, they sent the townsfolk, their tenants and employees, to fight for them. Soon after the bloodshed began, the villagers turned on the rich, slaying the women, men, and children and chasing those who fled to a tower, the funeral pillar, in the center of town. Locking themselves in, the villagers cursed the cowering royalty, made sure the aristocrats could not escape the tower, then left the city to fester.

Even Thaians, loving encouragers of dark arts, feared the place and the Sharemen were almost unwilling to suggest Saint use it to escape the Samurai. The Sharemen would not have considered it an option if their peculiar gift had not called them to the city. They knew not why nor what but that something was waiting for Saint in Niek-Rebas, something that Saint would need for the coming battles. Saint took refuge in the ruins and found it anything but abandoned. It seemed that any living creature who ventured into the city had been tainted by the haunted aura and transformed into hideous, blood thirsty versions of their original selves. At first, Saint fought the creatures but for each he stilled more came and finally he was backed into an abandoned waterworks where the adventure only became more terrifying.

Saint had noticed the monsters all seemed to be spawning in the center of town where the mighty black tower loomed. With the Samurai waiting for him on the outskirts, he saw no other option but to push forward – towards the tower – to face what spawned these abominable foes.

 

– – –

 

“Couldn’t he just teleport away?”

“Sure,” Zalfron chuckled, but as his snicker petered out and Joe’s silence continued, the elf realized Joe didn’t know any better, “Oh no, Joe, it takes a ton of energay to teleport.”

“But he did it before?”

“Yea, and it took half the Sharemen out of existence!” Zalfron exclaimed, “Ah maen, it takes lahk a dozen lahves worth of energay to pull of teleportation. Hae had no choice in the dungeon…and ah suppose hae coulda done it all the same in Nake-Raibas, but hae’d be lahble to lose what was left of the Sharemen – his onlay hope of survahvin in this alaen world.”

“Ah,” Joe nodded, “that makes sense.”

“Yea, anyways…”

 

– – –

 

He deciphered the labrynth of pipes until he came out beneath the dark monolith. It was there, in the tower, that Saint found the master of the curse that plagued the town – a thing known as a Nachzehrer. Like the Sharemen, this being was not one but many souls melted together over the years by a forsaken magic forged by haunted hearts. Having locked themselves in the tower, the royal family slowly devoured the graves that filled the funeral pillar (this sort of structure, a vertical graveyard, is common in Thaian culture). This feuled their curse. The energies of what they consumed within the tower grew and spread from the base of the great column, corrupting any creatures unlucky enough to wander near. Even as Saint faced the fiend, he could feel the pressure of the curse calling to him. Still, Saint pitied the Nachzehrer. Even as it sought to kill him, it begged him to put it out of its misery. So he did. Though, in the fight, Saint nearly succumbed to the Nachzehrer’s vulgar strength after his own sword, not the Mystak Blade but one he’d aquired on the road, was knocked out a window. At the last second, a blade appeared in his hand. This was what the Sharemen had foreseen. Without the Mystak Blade, Saint had relied on his new found mancy to be his fulcrum but, once again reunited with a legendary blade – made as much by magic as by metal – he could fight to his fullest. Not to mention, this was no normal blade, this was the Suikii.

The Nachzehrer slain, the curse of Niek-Rebas was lifted. It was as if dawn had broken and the Delian sun, for the first time in centuries, shone again upon the forgotten city streets. Immediately, the Samurai knew. They descended upon the city just as Saint’s new weapon delivered him to safety, out of the city and across the mountains.

Saint appeared outside the tent of an old, grumpy Knome. The Knome told Saint the story of how he had gotten there. As it turned out, he, like Saint, was from Solaris but had been dragged into Delia by a, unlike Saint, friend. Unfortunately, the associate, a dragon hunter, had been hauled off and arrested by the Dravish and left the poor Knome to wander the alien world alone. All this was more interesting to Saint than to the Sharemen, who listened from within Saint’s sacrificed eye, but the next part of the Knomes tale attracted the dead Thaians’ attention. The supposedly reincarnated Creaton was now hailed as Warlord of the Dravish and had taken over the leadership of their military campaign. The Knome believed that Creaton sought to take Thaia’s capital, Korana, in order to retrieve the Delian twin of the Stone of Kyrnor, Sari’s Stone. Using this stone, Creaton would have the Knome’s friend create a portal that could send him back into Solaris where he could continue to feed the chaos left in the wake of Saint’s rebellion. While the Sharemen could careless about this foreign world, they feared the fall of their homeland’s capitol. Before Creaton and Saint arrived, both Thaia and Drave had been losing interest in their seemingly endless battles but with this new leader, this new drive, the Sharemen feared Thaia might truly succumb. The Sharemen and Saint agreed they must travel on to Thaia to stop Creaton before it was too late and they now knew exactly where they needed to go. According to Grandfather, the northern city of Canaamah, which had been under Dravish rule for over a hundred years, would be the likely starting point of the new campaign.

 

– – –

 

“Grandfather?” Joe croaked, “You mean the old Knome was Grandfather?”

“Well duh!” Zalfron said. His blue eyes rolled over Joe as if the question was yet another pointless outburst serving only to disrupt his thought process. He attempted a quick explanation, “Whenever you haer about the Suikah, you can bae sure that old Knome ain’t far bahind.”

“Yea but…” Joe sensed Zalfron’s impatience, “…with all this talk of us going to see the Emperor, you’d think he would have mentioned this.”

“Huh?” The boredom left his voice as he sat up, suddenly intrigued.

“You know,” Joe continued, “with all the questions I ask him, you would think he would mention how he was around Saint during his rise to power?”

“You met Grandfather?!” Zalfron exclaimed.

What? For a minute, Joe was struck dumb. He watched Zalfron with eyes narrowed in befuddlement.

Just as Zalfron hadn’t recognized the Knome, he didn’t recognize the look of flabbergasted awe across Joe’s face. He asked, “Was hae maen?”

“You’ve met him too!”

“No ah haven’t-”

“He’s right there!” Joe jabbed his index finger towards the sleeping Knome’s cot.

“That old hag?” Zalfron yelped, “Hae never said hae was-”

“Yes he did! Half a million times!” Joe cried.

“Well…” Zalfron slumped back down in bed, “Ah’ll have to ask him tomorrow…hae was prolly just pullin yer arm…you know how they lah…”

“He…” Joe stopped himself with a deep breath that he loudly exhaled. This is why alcohol shouldn’t be legal for thirteen year olds. Shaking his head, Joe told Zalfron to continue, “So what happens next?”

 

– – –

 

Saint, with the spirits of the Sharemen held in his eye, continued with Grandfather west and made it as far as Stormpass – the most eastward city of Thaia. They didn’t last a week within the city before the Antaran Samurai caught up to them. It appeared the Samurai had no intention of taking him prisoner a second time, they seemed immune to the Antaran moral code, and Saint might’ve met his match in a duel against six of the Samurai if the others hadn’t shown up and saved him. At first glance, the only one of the second half Saint recognized was the minotaur, his adopted father, Theseus Icespear. Yet, under closer inspection, Saint realized he was staring at his Solarian companions: Shirahama Kemplor, Vali Kou, Takia Eninac, and, his true love, Eir Ipativy. The reason he hadn’t recognized them was because they had endeared quite a bit of change since he’d last seen them, approximately one hundred years of change.

Few understand the mechanisms of the Voidstone and the same goes for its dust, such Sari’s Stone and the Stone of Krynor. Though Saint’s friends struck the stone after he and Creaton, they came to Delia one hundred years prior. Arriving on Midabbim at a time when Antara had been actively involved in the war, they helped Antara fight their way into Ramla then alongside Thaia against Dravish aggression. Meanwhile, the aristocracy of Antara developped the samurai-system and nominated the five to be among the original dozen. The Solarins agreed and and retained such positions even as they grew old and wary, almost forgetting the reason why they arrived in Delia to begin with.

It was not a happy reunion. Even if they had found each other as allies, tears would’ve still been shed, for, or so it seemed, his friends had lived out the majority of their lives without him. Now those who had been his peers were close to death while Saint still had his prime ahead of him. Most painfully of all, the love of his life, Eir Ipativy, was now an old woman, barren and lacking of the beauty she had once possessed.

After this lackluster reunion, he conceded to their demands and was toted back to Castletown to once again be imprisoned – though his friends kept the Antarans from plucking out his eyes – and in the dark alcoves of that dungeon he mourned, not for himself, but for the loss of those who had become his closest friends. After he was captured, Stormpass fell to the Dravish and Grandfather was taken. The old Knome found that his friend, the Dragon Slayer, had been traded to the Antarans. The Antarans had learned that the Dragon Slayer knew dangerous information about Sari’s Stone and did not want the Dravish to possess such knowledge. What the Dravish didn’t tell them was that, even after years of torture, the Dragon Slayer refused to cooperate and most likely would’ve continued to refuse until his death. Under Antaran control, the Dragon Slayer was no more compliant. Frustrated, the Antarans cast him into the dungeons of Castletown where Saint would meet and befriend him.

As Saint and the Dragon Slayer begged the Suikii for help, Saint’s friends in the Samurai argued with their comrades for Saint to be released. Only Saint could weild the Mystak Blade and the only one left in Delia they believed strong enough to beat Creaton was Saint. If Creaton was not defeated, his friends warned, the Dravish would not be stopped.

 

– – –

 

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask, does Mystakle mean something other than mystical?” Joe’s question was met with silence which he translated to be confusion, so he elaborated, “Why do yall call the Mystak Blade the Mystak Blade…and the Mystakle Samurai the Mystakle Samurai?”

“Way back when, the elves of Thorakle and Sentrakle spoke what we call Ancient Elven and some folks still do. It didn’t catch on lahk Etihwy did, so the language kahnda dahd out…though some of the more upper class electric elves still spaek it.” Zalfron shrugged, “Ah sure as hell ain’t fluent but ah know that the ‘akle’ kahnda maens land – lahk ‘loe’ maens land in Knomish.”

“That’s why there was Thorakle and Sentrakle,” Joe pondered deeper, “Sentrakle for Sentry, Thorakle for…”

“For Thor Ipativy. And Mystakle was their word for everaywhere else. It meant something lahk ‘of the great land’. They called this world Mystakle Planet.”

“Instead of Solaris?” Joe asked.

“Yup, not the Sentry and Ipativy at laest.”

“I haven’t heard that once!” As soon as the words left Joe’s lips, he frowned. I have heard that, yet he couldn’t recall where or when or if it had even been in Solaris that the term had come up, “Mystakle Planet…”

“After the First Void War, Creaton and the Tadloe way of doin thangs rahplaced the old ways. Alotta electic elven culture stuck but it turned out the world preferred to call itself Solaris.”

“So why’d Saint call them the Mystakle Samurai?” Joe paused, then added, “Have there been samurai around before everyone started calling it Solaris?”

“Nope, they’re definitelay somethin new – Saint came up with it after saeing how it worked in Delia – but ah ain’t never thought about whah hae called em ‘Mystakle’…maybae it was cause Tenchi Kou held the Mystak Blade…but ah don’t thank that’s raelly whah…” Zalfron paused a little, thinking before adding, “At the tahm, ah thought it was waerd, saeing as a lotta the folks from Sentrakle and Thorakle, the only folks who raelly used that term much anymore, weren’t to awfullay fond of the Trinitay Nations, but now that yah mention it, maybae that’s whah?”

“I know Iceload wasn’t in the Trinity Nations at this time, but I kind of assumed the Sentry and Ipativy were a part of the families, or tribes, or whatever.”

“Wae Sentry are, but not the Ipativy – not yet, that is – mah folks were trahna win em over. Even before Assload and the TN got to fahtin, most everybody new it was comin. Saint and Talloome – you remember Talloome, raht?”

“Yea, the King of Iceload, the guy who got played by Shalis and the Order.”

“Yup yup! Talloome and Saint were not too fond of aech other. Majority of the Assloadic saemed a lot more loyal to Talloome than to any dahnastic politicians. Thank Saint mahta been trahna lessen the tension.”

“Huh, so the Samurai were named the Mystakle Samurai just to make Iceload happy.” Joe chuckled, “And it didn’t even work!”

“Ah was jus speculatin,” Zalfron warned, “don’t take mah guess to bae the word of God, now.”

“Well it makes sense.” Joe stated, “Wanna finish the story?”

“Sure!” Zalfron cleared his throat, “Alraht, so, Saint and the Dragon Slayer were still in the dungeon beneath Castletown…”

 

– – –

 

As the Antaran Samurai continued to argue over what to do with Saint, Saint and the Dragon Slayer began to gather a following among the forsaken of Castletown. Many of the prisoners had been around for Saint’s first incarceration and those that hadn’t had heard tale of his escape. Believing he would do it again, there wasn’t a prisoner in the dungeon that didn’t attempt to get on his good side. Saint didn’t flee from the attention. He began to teach a strand of Christianity, Mystakle Christianity – not Thoran Christianity which the Bishopry had practiced, but that of the Sentry, the Kou, and the spirits of Manaloe, the one fixated on treating each other with love rather than on getting into Heaven – which he had spun to fit well with his ambitions. He taught that violence was evil but, sometimes, good men must take on the position of the sinful, of the evil, in order to make the world a better place (a concept nearly identical to the premise of the Antaran Samurai). Thaia was crumbling and soon Antara would follow. Saint taught the prisoners that they could redeem themselves by adorning the ways of war and defeating the Dravish. They, already the sinful, would accept their evil ways to combat evil abroad so that the righteous, peaceful people of Antara might be spared (Saint hadn’t come up with this on the fly, he’d heard it from his friends in the Samurai before his return to the lower intestines of Castletown – he merely adopted it for his own situation). With these words, Saint began to draw many of the prison guards to his side and gained enough trust from the jailers that he began to baptize his followers in the ways of shadowmancy – as a sign of commitment. The jailers snuck extra mana to Saint’s disciples in order to keep them healthy as Saint taught them to fight.

Above the dungeons, the politics of Antara began to lean in Saint’s favor. Emperor Maurice Constantine was in a constant power struggle against his mother and the old aristocrats who had worked for his father. The elders, many of whom remembered the brutality of past battles against the Dravish, sought to preserve their peaceful ways and to avoid war at all costs. Whether or not Maurice disagreed, he was at odds with the old folk, whatever he did they opposed and whatever they did he opposed. Thus, he became a fan of the idea that Theseus and Saint’s other friends in the Antaran Samurai proposed: release Saint and unleash him, with the aid of the Samurai, against the vulgar Dravish. Maurice had the power to free Saint, but this move would be unpopular among many of the people of Antara, half of which sided with his mother. Without popular support, the aristocracy might gain the courage to attempt a coup. What finally encouraged Maurice to act was the return of the Erifs to the war (these were a people from a continent north of Midabbim). Erif, with Dravish help, captured Sularamoh, an Antaran port that held thousands of Thaian refugees. Now the fear of Dravish invasion became very real. Of the eleven remaining Samurai, three more joined Theseus’ side leaving only three opposed and giving Maurice the leverage to free Saint without the fear of assassination.

Saint rose from the dungeons and, despite the aristocracy’s complaints, took the prisoners with him. Word spread that Maurice had set free the entire population of the Castletown dungeon and it seemed that his decision would, after all, be the end of him. The citizens amassed around the walls of Castletown, ready to storm the gates and revoke their oaths of passivity. Then, Saint appeared atop the wall and gave a speech. He said what he had said to the prisoners. He condemned violence but said, “We, the defilers of civilization, should not be forgiven for our sinful ways nor should we be pitied by you, the peaceful and righteous, but send us north against the wicked who threaten these tranquil, fruitful hills! Let our evil poison the enemy and let us redeem ourselves in the only way we know how!”

Needless to say, the people saw reason in Saint’s plee. Saint named his followers after those that had originally lifted him from the darkness of the dungeons: the Sharemen, and made plans with the Samurai. Saint, the Sharemen, and his friends among the Samurai would high jack a Dravish airship and travel to the capital of Gira. There they would wreck the Giran airport so that the rest of the Samurai could safely sail in with troops, not having to risk being shot down. Saint would find Creaton and kill him then he and the Samurai would take the Dravish capital. With Drave beheaded, they would continue the fight inflicting as much damage as possible until acquiring a surrender, which would include, as motivation for their enemy’s compliance, the return of their capital. They would have to move fast, for soon the resistence in Thaia would be wiped out and all of Drave and Erif’s attention would be focused on Antara.

 

– – –

 

“Wasn’t that the Samurai’s job?”

“Huh?”

“Since Antarans didn’t believe in violence, they appointed the Samurai to be their guardians.” Joe said, “They were the ones supposed to defend Antara and bear the sin of what that defense might include.”

“Yea, but sae the problem was the Samurah were defenders. If they waited until Drave and Erif attacked them, then they would face far worse odds. If they attacked whahl the two empahrs were distracted by the war with Thaia, they’d have better odds – they’d have a hope.”

“And it took Saint to convince them?” Joe cried, “They’re useless!”

“Eh, more waek than useless.” Zalfron critiqued, “Alotta historians blamed the Antaran Samurai for the failure to stand up and face the Dravish before the Erifs returned to the fray. Saint defended them bah explaining that whahl the Samurai were excellent fahters, the numbers of their troops were few – far to few to invade Dravish lands.”

“And yet they just agreed to do so with Saint!” Joe exclaimed, “This can’t end well.”

“Oh, it won’t…”

 

– – –

 

Saint and the Sharemen sailed to the independent city-state of Roymoorass which sat on an island floating between the peninsula of Sularamoh and the Dravish coast. The Roymoorassians had never been conquered, though attempts had been made, and by this time in Delia’s history their island’s sovereignty was respected by all Midabbimians. What made the island peculiar was the matriarchal government in which only woman could vote and hold power. Many of the men fled the island as they grew older which left the nation sexually-lopsided. As native men emigrated, foreign men immigrated, lured in by the legendary beauty of the inhabitants and the prestigious sex trade. Roymoorass was a regular stop for militant airships departing from Drave on their way to Sularamoh or Thaia and offered Saint and his comrades a neutral spot to intercept a Dravish ship.

There was but one hiccup in their journey: Saint’s lover’s heart. He fell in love with the youngest of the queen’s daughters, Mariluke, after meeting her in a brothel. The poor romantic got a free trial and believed her affection to be far more than a mere advertisement which led him to ask her to run away with him, bring her lady warriors, and pick up arms against the Dravish. Little did Saint know that such a proposal was an insult to Roymoorassians, they saw it as an attempt to rob a woman of her rightful power by tricking her to succumb to the patriarchy of the outside world. In short, Saint, the Samurai, and the Sharemen had to leave in a hurry as Mariluke and her crew of elite prostitutes chased them from the island. Stealing half a dozen Dravish airships they sailed on to the great desert city of Gira.

The Giran Airport sat on a floating island above the capital. It, like the airships, was powered with massive, refillable enertombs programed with elaborate enchantments. The plan was simple – aim the ships at the airport’s center and hop into escape vessels before the wreck. Their crash caused quite a bit of damage, but still the airport didn’t fall. Thus, Saint and his companions had to turn around and fight their way into the center, destroy the hovering devices themselves, then escape before they went down with the sky-island. Many Sharemen died or were captured, as was one of Saint’s closest friends: Vali Kou. The explosion severed a fourth of the city and Saint and his team regrouped in the rubble they had made. The plan was to wait until the Antaran Samuria arrived with their armies, within the week, but the Samurai never came. Instead, they were forced to watch from their hiding place among the wreckage as their friend was executed. Creaton said she would be spared if the terrorists made themselves known but even as the blade was put to Vali’s neck, she begged for Saint not to surrender until Creaton was dead and gone. Betrayed by Antara, it would be only a matter of time before they were discovered. So, Saint, the Dragon Slayer, his friends in the Samurai, and the Sharemen fled into the treacherous mountains, which only the bravest Dravish dared traverse, known as Calkoniya.

 

– – –

 

“Where the hell were the Samurai?” Joe demanded.

“Remember Marahluke?” Zalfron asked.

“The prostitute?”

“The princess prostitute,” Zalfron corrected, “well, shae was so mad at Saint that shae told her momma and her momma told Craeton. When Craeton heard that a blond headed, brown ahd shadahmancer had stolen his ships hae raelahzed that Saint would soon bae on his doorstep and decahded to forget Thaia, at laest for a little whahl, and attack Antara to force the Samurai to pick betwaen offense and defense.”

“So the rest of the Samurai stayed in Antara to fight off the Dravish!” Joe exclaimed.

Zalfron nodded, “Laevin Saint and half the Samurai to dah.”

“Couldn’t he have fought his way to Creaton though? I mean, after all he’s gone through, he probably could’ve done it.”

“Hell yea,” Zalfron agreed, “Ah thank hae could have…but his friends? Ah maen, his buddies from Solaris could probably handle it but the prisoners that looked up to him lahk hae was a prophet? Ah bet a buncha them woulda dahd…if not all.”

“Man,” Joe muttered, “that’s a tough decision. So what happens in the mountains?”

 

– – –

 

The desert mountains belted the Dravish peninsula creating a nearly impenetrable barrier between Drave and Ramla split only by the Starsee Road. According to legend, only a handful of adventurers foolish enough to stray from the road ever escaped the treacherous peaks. Supposedly, the Starsee Road was originally a series of spirals because the builders constantly lost direction and went in circles. One mountain looked like the next, basically barren aside from scattered brush and a bit of desert bunnies, and a seemingly supernatural force bamboozled any technological or magical directional devices. Once lost within the mountains, if you didn’t fall to your death or succumb to the cave dwelling dragons, then dehydration or starvation would eventually claim you. What few water sources existed were jealously guarded by the carnivorous Calkoniyans and as far as food, it was dry leaves or rodents. The name of the mountain range made no attempt to mislead, Calkoniya was Dravish for Mountains of Death.

Saint, Eir, Theseus, Shirahama, Takia, the Dragon Slayer, and the Sharemen had exchanged one danger for another. They spent the first week wandering in circles. It wasn’t until the third week that they began to accept that there would be no escape. By then, half the Sharemen had died. A dozen had fallen to their deaths and another dozen had been dragged away by the sneaky Calkoniyan dragons. Others had died of poison after consuming berries from the wrong plant. One night after a month in the mountains, the group holed up in a cave where they found a natural spring. Unfortunately, once the Delian sun set the original inhabitants of the cave returned – a family of dragons. They defeated the reptiles, though not without casualties, then made the mistake of eating their defeated enemies. The entire group became horribly sick and by the time the wretched food poisoning passed, only a quarter of the group that entered the mountains remained. Fortunately for those that had managed to survive, they had a cave with water and, as they soon learned, a form of mold that clung to the walls which provided enough food to live on. The only problem was that, aside from three of the Samurai and the Dragon Slayer, they were shadowmancers and while the mold could fill their stomachs, the tiny fungi did not supply enough shadows to satisfy their eyes. One by one, the Sharemen died off and those left consumed the dead in order to last just a little while longer.

After three monthes of subsistence, it seemed that, even if they survived, Calkoniya would be their home forever. Then, they caught sight of earth elves marching through the mountains far below their damp shelter. At first, they believed they were Antarans but, under closer inspection, they realized it was the Erifs. They managed to catch one of the scouts and drag him back to the cave. From him they learned that Antara had surrendered to Drave and Erif and that the party of earth elves was lead by the Erifs’ warlord king, Notreac, who sought to find the remains of Saint and his team, who were presumed dead.

 

– – –

 

Notreac? Sucking on his tongue, Joe mulled over the name. It sounded familiar but he couldn’t quite coin where he’d encountered it. Probably heard it in passing. Satisfied, he tuned out the curiousity and continued to listen.

 

– – –

 

Notreac was after the Mystak Blade. At first, Saint and his crew mocked the scout because they believed Notreac would suffer the same fate as they. The scout assured them this was not the case. This was their third attempt to find the sword, each time they returned home without difficulty. The continent of Erif, north of Midabbim, was nothing but mountains. They had developed ways to navigate that worked just aswell when applied in Calkoniya. Hearing this, Saint decided to follow Notreac and his war party until led out of the mountains. He would find Creaton, one way or another, and he would have his revenge.

 

– – –

 

“They didn’t attack the Erifs to use their shadows?” Joe asked, “They could have kept a few alive as guides!”

“Trust mae,” Zalfron sighed, “thas what they wanted to do, but the voice of the original Sharemen told Saint not to.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, they told him the Prophecy. Ya know, the one that Saint resahted in the Foretellin?”

“What’s that got to do with sparing the Erifs?”

“The Prophecy wae know from the Foretellin, and the one the Delians know too, is just a tidbit of the original Prophecy told to Saint bah the Sharemen.”

“Why? Did he censor it?”

“Nope, hae forgot the whole thang but recognahzed it when the riddle was carved on the floor of the Cathaedral bah a rogue lahtnang bolt.”

“Hmm,” Joe frowned, “but aren’t the Sharemen still in Saint’s eye?”

“Nope!” Zalfron said again, “Hae plucked it out remember.”

“Then I geuss we’re lucky there was that lightning bolt.”

“Wait,” Zalfron frowned, “actually, hae did kaep the ah…”

“See!”

“Yea but…” Zalfron’s words dwindled until he admitted with a shrug, “farak, yer raht.”

Joe was puzzled. There’s no way I’m the first person to realize this. Maybe this is just one of those things that’s slipped Zalfron’s mind. So he asked, “Has no one pointed that out before?”

“Most folks don’t know hae kept it…” Zalfron muttered, still preoccupied with trying to sort out the novel point Joe’d just made, “Ah onlay know cause my sister told mae after shae met him.”

“So then Saint was lying at the Foretelling?!”

“The Emperor would never lah to us!” Zalfron exclaimed, “Buhsahds, aeven if hae did, that’s not raelly a lah…” the elf shrugged off the uncomfortable revelation, “…more so just not the full truth.”

“Seems like Saint’s as bad as Ekaf…” Joe muttered.

“Who’s Ekaf?” Zalfron asked.

“You don’t know him.” And if you did, you’d probably have forgotten who he was. “So what happens next?”

 

– – –

 

Though they now had a way out, Saint and his companions were still in a dire situation. Once on the move, they’d lost their source of water and were forced to hunt and gather whatever they could wherever and whenever they came to a stop. Only five of Saint’s Sharemen were still alive by the time they reached the edge of the mountains. All they had to do was wait for the Erifs to march out of sight, then they could leave Calkoniya, but Saint and the five remaining shadowmancers had run dry of shadow. As they made camp that last night, the shadowmancers knew they wouldn’t see another sunrise. Without telling the others, Saint decided to kill himself so that they could live (despite his body being so weak that his own shadows would be barely enough to save his loyal disciples). The Mystak Blade was against his throat when the Dragon Slayer came running, it seemed his sacrifice would be unnecessary. Shirahama Kemplor and Takia Eninac had beaten him to the punch. Bleeding out, Shirahama was still alive when Saint arrived. He told Saint not to be sad, that he had already lived longer than he ever believed he would, and that the worlds, Delia and Solaris, needed Saint more than he. He made Saint vow to never kill again but died before Saint could bring himself to promise. For there was still one soul he was intent on sending to the sun.

Saint, Theseus Icespear, Eir Ipativy, the Dragon Slayer, and the five last Sharemen left the mountains after burying their friends. They snuck back into Gira the same way they’d left and wasted no time. They made it straight for the palace. While they had wandered the mountains, Creaton and his prisoner, Grandfather, had labored to create a portal in Gira. Grandfather stalled as best he could but, eventually, succumbed to the pains of torture and conceded. However, he did his best to have the portal open to one of the most treacherous places he could imagine in Solaris: within Mount Ahsik in the Black Mountains of Darkloe. It just so happened that the day the construction of the portal was complete, was the day that Saint and his companions found Creaton.

Three of the Sharemen met their fate whilst invading the palace. Thus only six: two Sharemen, the Dragon Slayer, Theseus, Eir, and Saint, made it to the chamber in which the portal stood. While Saint fought Creaton, the others slayed the guards then held the doors. Unfortunately, Notreac was within the palace. He, like Creaton, was a banshee and when he heard of the commotion he used his dark magic to teleport within the chamber. Notreac appeared, killed the last two Sharemen, then lobbed the head off Eir Ipativy to provide the distraction needed so that Creaton could slip by Saint and through the magical doorway. Saint could not restrain his fury. He turned on Notreac with the same rage that had propelled him after Creaton killed his father. Even as the Dragon Slayer and Theseus pleaded for him to stop, he could not. Despite what the Sharemen had warned and despite what Shirahama had asked of him, Saint intended to kill Notreac and he would have had the warlord not fled, breaking out a window and flying away.

Now Saint turned to the Portal of Mount Ahsik through which he pursued Creaton back into Solaris. In the belly of Mount Ahsik, surrounded by lava, Saint fought Creaton as his companions destroyed the portal. As they fought, Creaton told Saint the story of how he himself had first come upon power – how his love had been stolen from him and how he had been denied revenge, how he and Saint were so very similar. It was these words that finally broke through the fog of hatred that had entangled Saint’s mind for so long. Inside that mountain of fire, Saint swore never to kill again and, using the creative magic of the Mystak Blade, his shadowmancy, and the magma that surrounded them, Saint locked Creaton in a pillar of fire and let it harden to rock.

 

– – –

 

“And then…” Zalfron yawned so broadly his jaw popped, “and then hae went to slaep.”

“But what happens next?” Joe was intent on getting an epilogue, “You said he left Solaris in chaos, so what’s he do? How’s he become Emperor?”

“Well, ya know how the moon dragon hatched but didn’t come down? Yea, hae came down after Saint left. So, the first thang Saint had to do was dael with that.” Zalfron rolled over so that he no longer faced Joe. Tucking himself into the blanket like it were a cocoon, he continued to speak but softer and with sloppier breaks between words, “But Saint cain’t kill so hesends the Dragon Slayerto-illitbuh…”

“Zalfron!”

“But the Dragon Slayer cain’tandfoofum…”

“Zalfron!”

“Anbanabumbamudda…”

There would be no more intelligible words from the elf until he got his sleep. Groaning, Joe rolled onto his belly and smothered his face in his pillow. Incredible how much Saint changed from how he was in Radderock to when he left Delia. I wonder how much I’ll change…Joe thought about the crumpled body draped across the stairs…or how much I already have. The image wouldn’t go away. It sickened his stomach. His body got cold but sweaty and he clamped a hand over his lips. With all the fighting, Joe had forgotten about all the beer they had consumed and the alien dinner with portions enough for a weeks worth of food. His bloated stomach, mixed with alcohol, guilt, and shock became a nauseous concoction that, for some reason, had taken a while to culminate. Bounding from the cot, Joe ran to the window and frantically grappled with the latch just managing to swing the pane open as the contents of his stomach soared out of his mouth. Clutching the window sill, Joe let his head fall limp as another convulsion projected bile down on the city streets. The fit lasted only a few seconds, but still he remained at the frame.

I killed a man. He forced himself to accept it. Still, a voice in his mind attempted to justify his actions. It was life or death, him or me. Come on, Saint’s the savior of this world and he killed hundreds! But the loudest voice in his head remained strong. That doesn’t make it right. Taking the weight off his arms, Joe stood back up and closed the window. You’re the savior now, Joe, he told himself as he marched back to his bed, don’t let this conflict change what you know is right.

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