A Message to the Past
Is the future your choice to make?
Daemonic ichor had sprayed the walls, the floor and Zavar’s gold and azure armor, as well as his violet-hued crystalline arm. The dismembered bleeding devil-corpses were piled high. However, it had not been a one-sided battle. The mangled and desecrated forms of Zavar’s bannermen were intermixed amongst the daemonic dead. And besides Zavar himself, only his second-in-command, Azadak, still lived. And Azadak was gravely injured, as a burning hellforged blade had pierced his right lung. Even now Azadak sat with his back propped against the chamber wall, and Zavar heard an ominous whistle with each labored breath that Azadak drew.
The “chamber” was actually a room in a “pocket-dimension” - a vault, or perhaps even a prison, for dangerous artifacts and weapons from a long extinct elder civilization, a race whose magic, and lust for power had outpaced its wisdom. This elder race had destroyed themselves - or at least that is what the planar sages had all said, though Zavar certainly had his doubts.
The vault had a variety of terrain, but mostly resembled vast underground chambers of worked stone. Such was the case with the chamber that Zavar currently battled in, it offered only two means of entrance and exit, a 20’ wide and 15’ high hallway to the “north” - as if any such mundane directions as north had any true meaning in a place like this - and a gently ascending 20’ wide, 15’ high staircase, which seem to lead into a bright light to the “south”. The “east” wall of the chamber, which was fully 30’ high and 50’ wide, was dominated by a mural. This mural was a true masterpiece and depicted three figures - a muscular male figure in the center, with a curvaceous female figure to either side of him - floating in the sky, with their faces to the viewer, in front of a massive floating black pyramid. The three figures were faceless, hairless and unclothed. They also seemed to be beings made of golden light. All three figures had the arms held up in a gesture of welcome - if there was some sort of significance to the mural, then Zavar could not discern it. Opposite of the mural-wall, the “west” wall seemed to be a great mirror of some sort, however the reflections were muted and distorted, as if the mirror had failed to reflect them properly.
And like any vault or prison, this vault had its guards. Legions of infernal beings from a hellish realm in the Multiverse opposed them at every turn. Undoubtedly, these beings had been bound here by conjurerors of great skill.
Zavar had chosen to hold the line with his bannermen here, at this choke point, while Marius and the others went into the heart of the vault, seeking the weapon that legends claimed was here, the Oculas Madriax. And held the line they had, four waves had crashed upon them, and four waves had broken. But now, Zavar stood alone. The next group of daemons came rushing toward Zavar on their awkward - yet ground eating - cloven-hoofed gaits. Each was a large, muscular semi-reptilian humanoid, with mottled-rust red and olive green hides. Clad in studded leather jacks, and welding copper-bladed saw-toothed glaives. Their diabolic origin was further confirmed by their horned heads, yet their most distinctive feature were the “wormy” stinger-tipped tendrils that framed their hideous faces like long, filthy, writhing beards.
These daemons were obviously well trained and experienced veterans of infernal wars, as they came at him as a unit, attempting to make full use of the reach their polearms gave them.
However, Zavar was no novice. A veteran of centuries of warfare, he awaited their charge. In his right hand he held his sword, not an elegant fencing blade, or one of the swords that heroes and kings wielded during fanciful tales. It was a single-edged killing sword, a peasant's blade, a messer, but wrought by a master swordsmith. Named Metzgerklinge, it was crafted of the finest steel and highly enchanted, inscribed with glowing blue runes and glyphs invoking the various ephemeral powers of righteous war.
Zavar’s left arm was crafted of pinkish-purple crystal - his flesh and blood limb had been lost centuries ago - he made a fist, and with an errant thought his fingers merged and his hand formed a heavily flanged mace.
Using his mace-hand, Zavar deflected the first daemon’s glaive and powered his way in between two hell-warriors. Zavar swung Metzgerklinge, now trailing colorless witch-fire, in a brutal horizontal cut, the blade sliced through the fiend’s “flesh-beard” and into the throat beyond, spraying foul yellow ichor from the mortal wound. The daemon dropped its glaive and fell to its knees, this caused its fellows behind it to halt in their charge, and entangle with each other and the dying fiend who had now pitched face forward.
Zavar knew the disarray would last mere moments, so he took advantage of it. Swinging his mace-hand into the face of the next daemon-warrior, he followed up with several more devastating chops and slashes of Metzgerklinge, leaving a half-dozen more infernal corpses bleeding on the floor. The remaining fiends withdrew - not a rout, but an organized withdrawal. Zavar flicked the infernal ichor from his shimmering blade.
The reason for their withdrawal quickly became apparent. Two gargoyle-like horrors advanced upon Zavar. Both were muscular, reddish-brown winged monstrosities standing a full nine feet in height, bristling with terrible spines and a crown of horns. The one on Zavar’s left was armed with a barbed russet red chain, the end of which ended in a massive spiked-ball, and the fiend spun almost lazily. While the one on the right wielded a battle axe with a bright metallic steaming green blade.
However it was the third figure who stood back a full twenty feet behind the two gargoyles that commanded Zavar’s full attention. Another even more massive gargoyle-like beast, fully twelve feet in height, and deep scarlet in hue. This creature was a nightmare in the flesh. With a set of polished curving horns, a pair of foot-long fangs and wings with a full twenty-foot span. It was clad in polished armor of a brass-like sheen, and about it’s neck hung a necklace of human skulls. However, what struck Zavar the most was the fiend’s jet-black void-like eyes. Which seemed to have the power to bore into him.
The great daemon raised its arms in a gesture and the two “lesser” gargoyle-like creatures charged forward, the chain-wielder, using the longer reach of its weapon, swung its chain at Zavar. Zavar caught it on his crystalline arm, on which the chain entangled, and using his great, magically enhanced strength, Zavar pulled forward, catching the brute by surprise. Before it could react, Zavar chopped down with his blade, lopping off the fiend’s right hand just past the wrist. The fiend screeched out a pain and rage filled roar, and dropped the chain from its remaining hand, and quickly pointed that hand at Zavar. It was Zavar’s turn to be caught by surprise as the now one-handed brute blasted him with a coruscating bolt of magical lightning. Zavar gritted his teeth from the pain as the lightning tore over him and blew him back into the wall. He landed next to Azadak, and he looked over into his friend and retainer’s eyes and saw no light reflected there, he realized Azadak had succumbed to his wounds.
The axe-wielding fiend continued his charge at Zavar - changing direction when the other brute’s lightning had pushed Zavar away - roaring aloud and raising his green-bladed axe for a killing blow. Zavar raised his crystalline limb, and it reconfigured itself back in to a hand, and channeled his grief and rage at Azadak’s death into a scintillating reddish-purple ray of eldritch power that caught the roaring axe-wielder through its open mouth and destroying its head in a burst of violet light and yellowish vapor.
Upon the maiming and death of his vassals, the great fiend sprang into action and was upon Zavar as he painfully tried to rise. The daemon stabbed forward with a long black-bladed dagger, which had materialized in its grip as it flew forward, and impaled Zavar just under his ribcage and slightly to the right of his sternum. The great beast lifted Zavar up from the ground as Metzgerklinge fell from his nerveless fingers and clattered to the floor. Zavar’s helm, loosened in the earlier impact, also fell to the ground revealing Zavar’s face. His sweat-slicked shaven scalp was heavily scarred and tattooed with various symbols in the script of the higher realms. And Zavar's eyes were dark brown and haunted, having witnessed far too much in four centuries of life.
And then, time seemed to slow, as something to his left caught his attention, it was the great mirror-wall. Unlike before, it now reflected an image perfectly. But that image was of a young Zavar - barely twenty - and it was as if young Zavar watched this scene unfold through a great window. As his end loomed, Zavar addressed his younger self. “Soon...soon will come the time that you will have to choose. You can choose to be a normal man, to marry, to raise a family...and to die in bed. Or you can choose to become me...a servant of Fate, a defender of humanity. I have experienced much. Much glory, much magic. But also much sadness. Much pain...and so much loss…Depending how you choose, I may not even exist…but that is your choice to make.” And with that the image in the mirror-wall faded.
Time resumed its normal flow and Zavar turned his attention back to the great fiend and spit his blood at it. “Do your worst hellspawn!” He shouted as he weakly tried to raise his crystalline arm, and the daemon grabbed it with his clawed right hand, making ready to tear it from his body. Zavar prepared to die.
Just then an incredibly bright blast of light filled the vast chamber. Zavar was blinded and felt himself hit the stone floor and nearly swooned. He roared in pain as he blindly grasped the brute’s black blade with his crystalline arm and pulled it from his chest.
Shaking his head to clear his vision, Zavar looked up to see a large golden armored man wielding a great two-handed warhammer standing to his right. Arrakees, the Just Arbiter! “Arrakees…” Zavar croaked painfully.
“Peace mighty Zavar. I am here to aid you!” Arrakees announced.
“Marius...and the others?” Zavar asked. As he looked up he saw the great daemon, it appeared that Arrakees’ blinding strike had broken its left wing and arm. However, the beast was rising and Zavar could make out more enemies...many more...including a strange insect-like centaur humanoid, massively tall and mottled in a dirty ivory and pristine white, striped with the blue of a frozen corpse approaching them.
“Only the Blessed Lady and Marius remain...there were other potent guardians defending...it. Golems of great size, and bound elementals. However, we were able to overcome them but at great cost. The Blessed Lady and Marius are right behind me.” Arrakees quickly explained.
“And the Oculas Madriax?” Zavar asked as he reached for his blade and tried to stand.
“Aye we were successful! We have it - though there were...complications. However friend Zavar those are tales for another time. First we will deal with the issue at hand!” And with that Arrakees slammed the handle of his mighty hammer onto the ground. A rumbling nova of golden light expanded from him until it briefly filled the chamber. When it dissipated, the room was filled with several dozen ethereal warriors, all of them clad in glowing golden and azure battle plate. Armor very similar to Zavar’s own. It was then that Zavar realized these were the souls of his own slain bannermen! Zavar looked over where Azadak’s corpse lay and saw a spectral figure standing by it looking down at the fallen warrior - it was Azadak’s own ghost! The spirit saluted Zavar and spoke in an unearthly voice: My Lord. It is our honor to serve you this one last time. Before it joined the other spectral warriors in forming a battle line.
Zavar tried to rise - to join them. However, Arrakees grabbed his arm. “No! No, Zavar. You are gravely wounded. You must stand down and we must leave this place.”
“But my men!” Zavar began to object.
“They are already dead! Their shades will be here for a very limited time. And they will buy us our escape. We have the weapon we came for. It has been a most costly day and as you know, we still have other enemies to fight! We must leave! Do not let their last service to you be in vain!” Arrakees admonished him.
With that two other figures came down the stairs. The first was a beautiful golden haired woman clad in silver armor, with a pair of pristine white-feathered wings - an angelic warrior-queen. The Blessed Lady. And she nearly carried a man in a vivid blue cloak. Marius the World-Walker. Marius seemed to be in distress, and it was then that Zavar noticed a glowing orb in the center of Marius’ forehead. “By the Lords of Light! Marius?”
“That is the complication.” Arrakees said before shouting an invocation that opened a doorway back to the world. “Quickly! I can hold this for only so long!”
The Blessed Lady carried Marius through the doorway and Zavar turned toward the battle. Azadak saluted his master one last time: Farewell Zavar my friend and mentor! We will meet again one day. And Arrakees half-carried Zavar through the doorway as it closed behind them.
Zavar tied back his long dark hair with a leather strap. His shield was battered and almost useless, but he still had his father’s sword - a messer really, considered by many to be but an oversized knife. But he did not care, it had served him well. He had become separated from the others during the battle with the skeletons. Just thinking about the walking dead made his stomach clench with dread - the dead walk! He had heard the tales, they all had. But too see it? That was a different story.
It was dark in these tunnels, but he was afraid to call out. But he saw a light ahead and he made his way to it. The light ended in a large chamber. To Zavar’s eyes it was a temple? But what sort of temple would be here in this place? At the center there was no altar but a pool of water, a large font? The light radiated from here. Zavar felt compelled to approach the font, he could not help himself.
Zavar stared into the water and it began to change...to form an image...a vast chamber...a battle…a warrior clad in golden and blue plate armor with a purple crystal arm...battling horrific demons...the warrior was impaled and hefted into the air by a monster! A red gargoyle of vast size! Then the warrior turned his face toward Zavar...his face, wizened, battered, tattooed, bald...my own face! Zavar realized it with a start.
As his end loomed, the elder Zavar addressed his younger self. “Soon...soon will come the time that you will have to choose. You can choose to be a normal man, to marry, to raise a family...and to die in bed. Or you can choose to become me...a servant of Fate, a defender of humanity. I have experienced much. Much glory, much magic. But also much sadness. Much pain...and so much loss…Depending how you choose, I may not even exist…but that is your choice to make.” And with that the image of the elder Zavar in the font faded.
Zavar stood there ice cold. His heart beat like a hammer in his chest. “It can't be real...it’s just a trick…” He whispered to himself. Then he was broken from his trance-like state when he heard his name. “Zavar! Thank the light we found you!” Zavar turned to see Marius and the others.
“Are you alright?” Marius asked.
“Yes...let's get the hell out of here.” Zavar said and turned to his friends after giving the font one last glance. And already his memory was fading...like something from a dream.