Legacies of the Fallen
Legacies of the Fallen
by Jasson Knight
-: Breathe :-
08 November, 11980BC The Tundra, North of Black Harbor
The man once known as Magus stirred and awakened just as the first breath of the Black Wind whispered between the boulders. It settled heavily over him; weighty, mordant, and cold, the familiar sense of dread filling him like the first lungful of air inhaled from a freshly reopened tomb. He lifted his head slowly, scarlet eyes blazing as he scanned the surrounding area suspiciously from within the voluminous hood of his black, woolen cloak.
Dawn had yet to break and only the crisp pinpricks of starlight marred the blackness of the late autumn night. A dusting of rime had settled upon his shoulders and hood, glistening faintly in the darkness. He slowly straightened and gripped the shaft of his Doom Sickle, moving his back away from the boulder and the comfortable depression his body had warmed over the night. No longer sheltered, the cold bit into his joints and the first - almost electric - twinges of pain ran up each of his vertebra as the full brunt of the piercing wind caught him full in the back.
In the shadows and quiet of early morning, the tundra was an otherworldly landscape of boulders and vitreous black rock that the force of Lavos' emergence had melted to slag. No plants grew upon them and it would be nearly five centuries before any would. The bitter wind rippled through the frost covered tundra grasses like ocean waves and whispered through the stunted plants still clinging to life before the onslaught of winter. Only the wind and the far-away bellows of innocuous and herbivoric Lesser Beasts reverberated across the plain.
The former prince stepped backwards until he was once again sheltered by the rock and leaned back into his comfortable indentation. He half- closed his eyes and rested as best he could as his heart pounded within his chest as the Black Wind gained strength.
Sleep never came easy to Janus. Even when he did sleep, it was ephemeral and seldom deep. It was a result of more than forty years worth of experience and his scars told the dark stories of those said experiences. Instead, he frequently utilized an enchantment he had learned ages ago. With it, he could arrest his body in a limbo where he had no need for the requisites of the living. He was neither entirely alive nor dead, but merely existing in a state of pseudo-vampirism. Even then, he was still wary of attack.
He had selected his camp site strategically because of this. Utilizing the tightly packed boulders he could restrict any approach to only from above or from the east. In order to exploit the former an enemy would need to be capable of flight and there were precious few left that could. Out of all the flighted beasts that existed during the reign of Zeal, only the nearly extinct Gargoyles that had once inhabited the Mountain of Woe remained.
At his feet, a groan escaped his son, Thalin. The younger wizard slept reclined against the boulder, huddled deep into the ample folds of his own cloak, head lightly resting against the haft of his inverted scythe. Its head rested against Thalin's hip and the shaft braced securely in the hollow of his crossed arms. Faint, incoherent protests escaped Thalin's wan lips as he shivered in his sleep as placid dreams were perverted into inhuman nightmares. He too was sensitive to the Black Wind, he always had been.
Thalin had come to him nearly eighteen years ago, tossed into the voids between space and time to eventually land in his path. At first he had rejected the child, discarded him into the care of others while he searched for his beloved sister. Against his very nature, he eventually came to more or less accept the boy. Perhaps, in a way, Janus had eventually come to see a part of his sister and possibly even himself in the little boy. He was as lost in time as he was, afterall. Thalin's version of Zeal was extinct, a lost dimension vanished under the merciless crush of reality. In fact, his entire time stream had ceased to exist in a horrible instant and he had grown up with a man not technically his father. The only way he remembered his former home was as a hazy "once upon a time" in a when that would never happen.
Then his slight body shuddered unexpectedly as though in a fit; once, twice, and then awoke with the final twitch. Thalin inhaled so harshly that he hissed as he lurched to his feet, knocking over his scythe as he whipped round in futile search of his otherworldly assailant. Magus turned as he swayed unsteadily and gripped his bicep firmly to steady him, listening to the hitch in his breath. After some time Thalin breathed deeply, shrugged from his grasp, and slipped around the massive rock to relieve himself. The sorcerer sighed and gestured towards the fallen weapon; it shuddered for a split second and then leapt to meet his grasp.
The weapon was formerly his, an elegant scythe named Hurricane that had served him well during his quest to defeat Lavos. It belonged to his son at the present and bore evidence of this in the form of subtle embellishments. The old weapon was well-made and impeccably balanced; it would serve him well for many years to come. Scythes had fast become Janus' favorite as a youth, and thus, he wasn't surprised when his son followed suit. With the mass primarily located at the head, it was simple to initiate the scythe's movement and then allow gravity and momentum to guide the blade through to a devastating attack. However, there was the troublesome issue that neither his adversary or he himself always knew where the head was going to end up. That was why he preferred weapons of enchanted or elemental design overall, like Hurricane, and metal shafts to wooden for the purpose of parrying or blocking. Enchanted scythes were more predictable and safer, so the wielder could concentrate on slashing or rotational movements and not concern himself with where that razor sharp cutting edge was in relation to his body.
Thalin returned a few minutes later, his pale eyes still apprehensively scanning their surroundings. Janus withdrew a small packet of rations from his pack and handed them to the younger man. They needed to break camp immediately and continue their journey north to Meriddea. It was never a good to sense the death omen in a expedition like this and even worse to remain in one place once it was sensed. He didn't know the cause or subject of the Black Wind, but he had been sensing it more and more in the recent past. Something was imminent, that much he knew. He ordinarily would not have been overly concerned. Black Harbor housed the survivors of the royal guard as well as some defected troops from the remnants of Dalton's private army. They had the equipment and the training to be an effectual defense against most anything in this era that could threaten the town and anyone who lived within its walls. Although, from his experience, it was only effective if they were actually present. With the bulk of the Black Guard sent off after something or another for the interim, the town was too vulnerable for Magus' liking. Meriddea was too small and remote to appear on most maps and was primarily a fishing village with a few enclaves of reclusive scholars. Hopefully its seclusion would serve as defense enough until he better knew the nature of the threat.
"Are you ready?" Magus asked, stepping up into the air. He drifted backwards a few feet as he slung the carrying strap for his Doom Sickle over his shoulders.
With a nod, Thalin took a rapid pair of steps and shed the constraints of gravity as well, bending his right leg somewhat to help balance himself against the weight of his own scythe.
Within moments they were skimming the first diaphanous layer of forming ice clouds and quickly gaining altitude. Far beneath them, the boulder-strewn tundra scrolled placidly onward in darkened hues of green, black, and gray that was occasionally spotted with tiny, riotous specks of yellow that shown brightly even in the darkness. Daybreak arrived in hues of red and gold over the eastern horizon as they were passing over the crags that marked the beginnings of the Fjords of Dun Teoddry. On the opposite horizon, amid the softening hues of violet, indigo, and cobalt, a knifes' edge of inky darkness marred the heavens at the point where the sea met the sky.
"- Red in the morning. . ." Thalin's voice sounded rough and out of breath when he broke the silence they had enjoyed for so long during a brief rest. He shivered and pulled his cloak tighter around himself as they rose and fell with the air currents.
Magus nodded in solemn agreement and gestured forward silently.
They altered their direction to fly high over the coast to trace the path their comrade's would travel, but their pace and altitude gradually dwindled as the younger Zealian continued to tire. As dawn progressed, the sky brightened until it burned as though it had been painted with blood and fire. The flicker of lighting dancing upon the growing clouds raging on the horizon was enough to give Thalin a momentary second wind and they resumed their previous velocity. Within a half hour, the ever-increasing wind had quickly stolen his energy and slowed them once again as they were forced to battle their way onward. Visibility decreased in the noontime hours as the sky began to fill with clouds blown off the main storm. By then the entire western horizon had filled with heavy billows and the vivid filaments of lightning had become visible even at lower elevations. The Black Wind persisted throughout the day, neither escalating nor diminishing. It sat there, festering somewhere behind their eyes like an infected wound.
As the sun was setting and the violet twilight gloom washed across the earth, Magus began to inspect the ground for a suitable place to make camp for the night to wait out the storm. It was then he spotted the prone figure on a sea-polished slab of lava rock, his arms outstretched as though he were a specimen on a dissection tray. Dark robes traced with silver draped about his body, frozen to the stones by a pool of his own blood. The swirl of Black Wind surrounding him told of his imminent demise.
Without much thought, the Janus descended rapidly in a billow of cloak, knees bent to absorb the landing, and dropped lightly at the man's side. Thalin followed swiftly, but landed several yards away and skidded to a sloppy halt.
Janus had adopted the habit of examining any corpses he found or interrogating newly discovered survivors for information regarding the last days of Zeal and Schala's fate years before. Nevertheless, the gravity of the man's visible wounds prompted Magus to immediately reconsider his decision. The man's left leg appeared to be the primary the source of all blood, though there were many others of the same horrific nature. Yellow fragments of bloody bone protruded through the side of his heavy woolen leggings and dark rivulets half frozen to the material oozed leisurely downward to join the icy, crimson slick. His was torn down to his ribs, the bloody, yellowed flesh hanging from the wound through a rent in the fabric like melted wax, and his gloves had been ripped away by something, the tips of his fingers down to the second knuckle were the unnatural pasty color that indicated frostbite. There were other wounds too, abnormal ones, as though he had been flung against something unyielding like a toy thrown by a petulant child. He traced his eyes down the man's fine robes colored a deep, marine blue with embroidery depicting ocean waves and felt himself grow pallid. The repulsive stench of Lavos' energies still pervaded every pore of the dying man's body. Swallowing, he tugged the glove from his right hand, and used his index finger to probe under the high, tight collar to find the man's pulse. Satisfied that he was still alive and abruptly seized by an almost scientific and morbid curiosity, he began to gingerly feel around the man's head for the mask's fasteners.
"Is... he alive?" Thalin asked softly, clutching his cloak tight to his body with his free hand as he lightly stepped from rock to rock, his scythe bobbing as he walked. He had taken time to remove Hurricane from its sling on his back and to remove its sheath. The wind ripped at the cuffs of his heavy, dark, woolen trousers and the hem of his cloak, while whipping the delicate, silver and quartz crystal ornaments of his boot chains.
"Yes." The wizard gave up on his attempt to remove the mask for the moment and frowned deeply at the man's garb as he put pressure on the ruined leg via magic. With a brief, arcane word, he affixed his gravity altering spell so it would retain the pressure for him. He felt disturbed and slightly frightened, the emotions of the ten year old child he had once been rising unbidden from that secret place deep with him. All those who had worn those robes in Zeal had been killed over well over twenty years ago. If he had not traveled the corridors of time, he would have considered the fellow Zealian's presence an utter impossibility.
Thalin shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot as he solemnly regarded both men. He opened his mouth to comment and then clamped his lips back together as he then thought better of it. "Umm... Father?"
"Yes, these designs are Zealian." Magus confirmed loudly as he rose to his feet and regarded the fallen sorcerer as he slipped his worn leather glove back on. His mind made up, he shrugged off the shoulder straps of his heavy pack. "He's a Tidal Lord - from the construction of the Undersea Palace."
"Actually. . . I was going to say. . . We should find shelter quickly." He gestured with the point at the top edge of his scythe's head. The leading edge of the storm was closing on them with breathtaking swiftness and while he had been examining the man, the clouds had spread rapidly to fill most of the visible sky. As if to punctuate his statement further, a roll of thunder echoed in the distance as the wind ominously died.
It was enough to jolt Magus out of his thoughts and into far swifter action. He lowered his hand to the point where the mask met the heavy, insulated hood and snapped his fingers. A gout of dazzling sapphire flame blossomed from his finger tips and looped through the seam, melting the connection between them. He carelessly tossed the mask away, drew his dagger, and began to cut away portions of the man's robe to probe his more grievous wounds. His son knelt beside him, opened his father's discarded pack, and removed a Full Tonic, several rolls of bandages, and salve from their medical kit.
His father had always been pale, but he looked almost ashen as he worked on the man. Given what he knew of the Tidal Lords and their fates, it was little wonder why his father looked so pasty. He glowered up as a small swarm of biting, dragonfly-like insects began to form, attracted by the scent of blood. He snapped his fingers as his father had done moments prior, thrust his hand upward at the first cloud of descending insects, and reduced them to ashes with a burst of golden fire. "I hope wherever Lazuli is - she's smiling." Thalin muttered dryly as he watched his father tear a large strip from the lining of his cloak to fashion a tourniquet to stanch the bleeding in the man's mangled left leg.
Magus wasn't about to confirm or dismiss the statement, instead wrapping the length of cloth around the man's leg and tied the scabbard for his dagger into it. The wizard slowly spun the wooden sheath, tightening it until it cut off the blood supply to the leg. "Secure it." He grunted, nodding towards the second strip he had torn from his cloak. The younger man obeyed, deftly wrapped the second strip around the leg before tying a sturdy knot around the free end of the scabbard.
"Janus, Soren - They're about to begin."
Eight year old Janus of Zeal sullenly looked up at his sister from the corner where he played with his new kitten, Alfador. From the corner on the opposite side of the room his cousin, ten year old Soren Vishal jerked his head up with a cry of joy, jumped to his feet, and dashed to the balcony. The constant, deep thrum of the Blackbird's engines pulsed louder as they began to circle the construction site.
Sullenly, he climbed to his feet and picked up the tiny animal. He intensely disliked children his own age, but he reserved a special spot of hatred of in his heart for his cousin. He loathed him with an almost unbridled passion and yet, for some reason, he gravitated towards him. He consistently managed to be injured by or held responsible for something his cousin did or instigated. And yet, for some inane reason he still ultimately followed him around each and every time he visited. It was plainly clear that the feeling was mutual, based on the frequent torment Soren dispensed upon him. They had fought earlier, until they had inadvertently aggravated the Queen and had been separated and soundly punished.
"Janus," Melchoir turned from his spot at the rail, his voice gentle but possessing a paternal quality that continually served to infuriate the little prince. "Put Alfador into his basket. It's far too cold for him."
From his position standing on a stool beside the guru, Soren was making rude faces at him, insinuating that he thought his younger cousin was mentally lacking. Janus glared spitefully at both of them and stomped over to the blanket lined basket to do as he was told.
"Take a nap, Alfador." Janus muttered to the kitten, who mewed in protest as he fastened the woven lid shut. He then turned to join the others at the balcony overlooking the endless, frozen sea.
Schala was waiting for him, a gentle, adoring smile lighting her features as she stood wreathed in the half-light of the eternal blizzard. She held her arm out to him, beckoning him to come to him. As he arrived, she laid her hand on his shoulder and guided to her far side, as far away from his hateful cousin as physically possible.
The winds were harsh, whipping his hair wildly and tearing at the hem of his tabard and trousers. Schala draped the corner of her cloak around his shoulders to help block more of the cold from him and then winced as a gust caught her in the face. Melchoir tugged his hat lower onto his head and wiggled his mouth as flecks of spray caught in his mustache. From the stool beside him, Soren seemed oblivious to the cold and the wind that whipped the strands of his dark blue hair wildly about his head.
Janus glared at him, peevishly wondering why his taller cousin was allowed to use the stool while he was forced to ineptly stare through the spindles of the railing.
A roll of thunder brought his gaze back to the sea as the first stage of construction began.
Like tiny insects, a great ring of Zealian sorcerers floated above the ocean far below them. As one, they called upon their powers over sea and air, pushing and prodding at the dark water below them. Supposedly, they would push the seas back and hold them there to expose solid ground.
At first the seas resisted; whitecaps rearing high like outraged white stallions and striking at them with spray that turned instantly to diamond dust. It churned and roared as it swirled as they plunged a massive wall of energy downward until it struck the ocean floor with a faint, yet audible boom.
Thunder clapped raucously as they gestured sharply to their right. Janus clapped his hands to his injured ears as the wall began to spin. Unable to resist any further, the water too began to spin. As the speed increased, a dimple formed in the center and began to creep deeper.
The Tidal Lords of Zeal reacted instantly, descending slowly as they forced water that formed the sides of the huge whirlpool beyond their magical wall. Janus grew bored and retreated back into the plush comfort of the chamber to play with his cat.
Night fell and the winds increased, violently lashing them with ice and snow only to eerily die as dawn rose. However, their goal was eventually realized and the sea floor bloomed beneath their feet.
It was then the Black Wind struck with a suddenly Janus had never felt before. A strange surge of energy shot from the center of the void and struck the Blackbird. Energy arced its way up the metal and stood the hairs on the back of his neck on end. Schala gave a short, shrill gasp, and clapped her hand to her mouth as she stepped backwards. Terrified for his sister, Janus pushed Alfador from his lap and ran to her.
From far below, screamed orders echoed amid the swirling snowflakes. With a strength Janus didn't know his sister possessed, Schala gripped his arm so tightly he gasped in pain and moved swiftly backwards into the room.
"Melchoir," Janus didn't know how Schala's voice could remain so calm as the Black Wind screamed in their minds. She reflexively brushed an errant lock of her azure hair behind her right ear in a semblance of normalcy, "Get them out of there: Now!"
As though in a dream, he watched Melchoir move to leave, but then seized Soren around the waist as the boy pitched over the rail to retch violently. The guru yanked him away before he was finished, flinging him inside before bolting doors, and then running from the room. In morbid fascination, Janus watched the drops of vomit scatter in slow motion across the fine, burgundy threads of the carpet. Outside, he could hear Melchoir shouting commands to the crew.
But it was too late. As quickly as it had begun, the Black Wind vanished. Leaving only death in its wake.
The comforting, orange light of the fire filled the cavern against the harsh darkness of the tempest raging outside. The murmur of flames washing over the driftwood was almost completely drowned out by the crash and hiss of lightning and the roar of the wind but the sheltering bubble of light and warmth compensated for that to an extent. Thalin rocked back on the balls of his feet and then stiffly moved to a seated position, the remnants of his fire spell still flickering and smoking against his palms. He was wet and chilled so thoroughly that he wasn't entirely sure he would ever be warm again. In spite of this, the delicious warmth of the fire that radiated through his boots was quickly edging to the side of pain, forcing him to slide backwards further.
A profound fatigue settled upon him as he calmed and his shoulder slowly began to throb from the weight of his scythe. He was drained in all ways that he could think of and it was rapidly turning his mood sour - not that he could ever be considered a cheerful person. In addition, the Black Wind persisted even now and hung subtly on the air like the remnants of a lady's perfume. There was still a slight bit surrounding the man, but the bulk of what they were feeling was originating from somewhere more distant. He shook his head in an effort to clear his thoughts before turning them elsewhere as he scrutinized his father over the increasing tongues of flame.
Janus had fallen silent after they had set the tourniquet and had not spoken since. It wasn't atypical for him, by any means. He sat facing the fire and his liquid, crimson eyes bottomless and burning with the reflection of the flames, his face both severe and impassive all at once. Thalin was well used to his father's usual icy detachment, but this went far beyond his normal moods. He knew without being told what laid beyond those eyes and how to interpret the deep furrows that had formed at the corners of his eyes, down his forehead, and around his mouth. Magus' thoughts had turned back and inward, traveling through the ghosts of his memories. He wandered the dead halls of Zeal or perhaps his castle in the Middle Ages, or conceivably even the rivers of time itself - searching for only who-knew-what.
"Who the hell is he?" He was taken aback as the question unexpectedly tumbled from his lips. He held his breath nervously, watching his father's face for signs of emotion.
Janus raised his head slowly, his burning eyes meeting Thalin's own. He emotionlessly gazed at his son until the younger man turned away. His hushed voice was uneven and menacing against the noise of the raging storm, "As of this moment, none of your business."
The young sorcerer gaped, then sighed and shook his head. He discontentedly pulled his cloak tighter around his frame and retreated into the plush, shadowy creases of velvet and wool. He was reminded yet again that this man was still very much a stranger to him; a dark, foreboding man who the residents of Black Harbor still reverently addressed as the Prophet. Thalin licked his lips, his tongue pensively halting on a deep crack that tasted sharply of copper. He had never been shy a day in his life, but as always he found himself too cowed to address his own father.
He glanced at the man they had found and examined him with half-lidded eyes. In the strobe-like flicker of lighting, his sunken features stood out far too sharply. He looked like a corpse: his face possessed a deathly pallor to it, his lips tinged with blue, and his eyes sunken deep into his skull. Vivid scarlet still languidly oozed in various spots of his body and the odor of bodily fluids was strong upon the air with the subtle smell of delicate, aromatic plants beneath. Thalin's eyes settled upon the man's matted, bloody, and tangled mane of blue hair. It would be the source of the perfumes, the color produced from Zealian Royal Indigo and the fragrances of the summer harvests of lavender, sweet grass, and chamomile. His father had said he was a Tidal Lord from the construction of the Undersea Palace. Both were nebulous concepts to Thalin, since he knew them as nothing but dark stories meant to frighten disobedient children.
"Rest." Magus rose to his feet, walking past his son to recline against the wall near the path to the exit. "I'll take first watch."
Thalin watched him over his shoulder for a few moments before rising to collect his bed roll and blanket from his pack. A November storm, an unknown stranger, the Black Wind, and an uncommunicative wizard for a father - at the very least he could never declare his life dull.