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The Nine Crimson Stones

by Michael Mayr 6 months ago in Fantasy
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Who was able to resist both Lilith’s and Sammael’s temptations and channel the most holy of power?

This was then…

Ezokarrian longed to rest. The march in the wilderness had been hard. The cultists had been determined, and their losses had been heavy. Dozens of his warriors had fallen to the witch-cult and their twisted minions. Oh, they had defeated them, put them to the sword all right, but they were a determined foe, to say the least. Determined, and... disturbing.

The other wizard had mentioned to his master that these were the non-magical descendants of the coven and their patron. But Ezokarrian found that hard to believe. Most appeared to be normal, but even they had an aura of wrong about them. But it was the others that would haunt his sleep. Deformed in so many heinous ways.

So now he was tired and longed to rest. But he could not show weakness in front of his warriors. His? No, that was not quite right. He was the captain of the wizard’s house guard. A great honor to serve such a great house as this. But they were NOT his men, but his lord’s...just like he was oathbound to his lord’s house. Like his fathers before him and his sons and daughters after him. These men were oathbound too.

“Gather your weapons. We will continue our advance soon.” Ezokarrian raised his voice as he regarded the ancient sword in his right hand. Named Vime-De-A-Ne in the ancient tongue of the high archons. Forged on the mount of Heaven itself, the blade was of soulforged blue-tinged silver and when it caught the sunlight one could see the fine etchings of archon wings on the blade. The cross-guards and pommel were of the finest white gold and affixed at the apex of the pommel was a great glowing gem called Alonusahi'De-Madariatza that shone with the glory of the Mount. The sword was anathema to the servants of woe, and to those beings from the vilest of outré dimensions. And Ezokarrian had wielded it in his Master’s service for more than two decades, and before that his father had wielded it in the service of their master’s house. Despite the memories it brought him – for he had taken many lives with it – the sword gladdened his soul, and its light banished his fatigue.

He sheathed the blade and went to speak with his master. After about a hundred yards he approached the perimeter formed by the other wizard’s clockwork guards. A dozen metallic warriors, each in excess of six feet tall and weighing at least 500 pounds armed with exotic halberds. Ezokarrian suspected these halberds were heavily enchanted with killing magics. As Ezokarrian approached, two of the clockwork warriors “recognized” him and stepped aside with a whirring of cogs and gears, to let him pass.

His master’s ally, the great wizard Xin, was known for his vast wealth and large clockwork armies, preferring them over mortal soldiers. Xin was also known for his many eccentricities, his radical theories on magic and his support of barbaric and non-human cultures and his ‘what they can teach us’ theories. It was Xin who was speaking as he stepped up to the group.

“I told you. I told everyone! But only you would listen to me! This, this vile...cult. This cult and the coven that leads them. They are a threat to the Empire! And I am telling you, that which they have called forth into the world. I have researched Him. And I tell you, he has fallen. One of the First Ones and he has fallen! And they have brought him here! We are all in grave danger.” Xin was middle-aged, or at least appeared to be middle aged. His pate was shaved bald, and he had a long black ponytail, pulled tight from the back of his skull. He was paler than most azlanti, and gauntly thin. He had many multi-colored stones fixed directly into his flesh. As well as numerous others that spun around his head like moons around the world. Ioun stones, that's what they were called, Ezokarrian reminded himself. Xin was clad in the finest of blue satin robes. Many people found him ‘energetic’ to say the least. However, Ezokarrian found him to be manic. Manic and supremely arrogant.

“And you were correct my friend. The cult is a danger. But calm yourself, Xin. We need our wits about us if our incantation of binding is to succeed.” Ezokarrian’s master calmly replied. Ezokarrian’s master was radically different in appearance and certainly temperament from Xin. He was tall, and muscular. With long dark brown hair and a close-cropped brown beard. He was tanned and handsome. But what stood out about him were his eyes. His eyes were solid glowing orbs of blue, showing neither iris nor white, let alone pupil. Ezokarrian knew this to be from a permanent magic of some sort. And Ezokarrian had always found this disconcerting as he never knew if his master were looking at him or not. Ezokarrian’s master was clad not in robes, but in well-made traveler’s garb. A drab green tunic, and brown trousers with worn, yet high quality boots. At his side he carried a cane, the wood was of a fine polished maple and it sported a silver dragon’s head. Ezokarrian knew this was no simple walking stick, but an enchanted weapon of great potency.

Surrounding the two arch-wizards were several apprentices, each was a potent worker of the arcane arts in their own right to be sure. But their skills, power and knowledge paled before Xin, and Ezokarrian’s master. One such apprentice, a beautiful young woman with long dark-purple hair and bright green eyes, wearing maroon robes that clung to her ample curves, regarded Ezokarrian. He grew uncomfortable under her scrutiny and he looked away. She smiled at his discomfort.

Luckily, he was rescued by his master.

“Ah, Captain Ezokarrian. Very good. Please join us.” Ezokarrian’s master said with warmth and enthusiasm.

Ezokarrian briskly stepped up to the two arch-wizards and bowed, first to his master: “My lord” and then to Xin: “Lord Wizard”. He then gave his report to his master: “The men are rested and ready to go at your command my Lord. The wounded are being tended by the surgeons and the dead have been collected.”

“How many did we lose?” His master asked.

“Fifty-one slain and nearly twice as many wounded. Some severely.” He answered with a tone of sorrow in his voice.

Xin stepped forward and asked: “Tell me captain, what do you think of our enemies?”

Ezokarrian paused before answering: “they are...unnatural, for lack of a better term. There is an unwholesome quality about them, Lord”.

“Yes, you are right warrior. They are unnatural indeed. They are an abomination. That is why we must eradicate them before they spread even further. While I am sorry about your losses, I truly am. We must make any sacrifice to stop them, since now they have brought their father to this world.” Xin stated his tone rising.

“Father?” Ezokarrian queried.

Before the wizard Xin could answer, Ezokarrian’s master stepped forward, “Xin. Let us let the captain of my house troops see to his men. There will be much blood to spill – and to shed, soon.” As he motioned Ezokarrian to leave with a nod of his head.

……………………………….

The troops moved out at the following dawn and it was nearly noon when the cultists attacked, chaotic waves of maniacal men, women and even some children. Most were covered in ritual scarring and tattoos, some were shorn bald, others had their hair dyed in fantastic and unnatural colors. Most were clad in rough spun brown monk’s robes – while others were completely naked. All were armed: axes, spears and clubs seemed to be their favored weapons – at least in the first wave.

Ezokarrian organized his troops in three great phalanxes of heavy armored spearmen with archers to the rear. The spearmen’s heavy shields set to receive the mostly human wave. As the cultist rabble approached at their breakneck pace, he shouted a command: “Archers! Loose!” his sub-commanders echoed his orders and a hundred archers fired a volley of deadly shafts over the phalanxes’ heads. An instant later, dozens of cultists lay dead and dying.

“Second volley!” Ezokarrian ordered. Again, arrows filled the sky and again cultists screamed and died. However, their brethren scrambled over the dead and dying, grinding them into the gore-soaked mud.

“By the gods. They are more bloodthirsty than orcs.” Ezokarrian heard one of his officer’s say. He only shook his head and screamed out: “Third and fourth volley in rapid succession! And then archers, retreat and prepare for further orders”.

For a third and fourth time a volley of arrows shot out, and by the time the last arrow flew well over three hundred cultists - men, women and children - lay on the blood-sodden earth.

“Phalanxes! Prepare to execute a bull’s horns formation!” He commanded. When the remaining cultists hit the center phalanx, it gave ground, drawing more cultists too it, then suddenly the “right” and “left” phalanx advanced and turned inward. Catching the hapless cultists in the middle. It would take time, but there would be only one conclusion: a slaughter.

Ezokarrian shook his head again. Why would they waste their lives this way? Why? Unless...Ezokarrian scanned the trees to either side of the clearing that served as the battlefield. With a start he realized. Ezokarrian turned to a sub-commander and shouted: “Have half the archers fire into the trees on the west and the other half fire into the trees on the east!”

“Lord-captain?” The confused officer asked.

“Do it! Do it now!” Ezokarrian roared.

An instant later the shafts flew and screams again filled the air. However, these sounded both less and more than human...as many of the trees changed into more humanoid forms.

Illusions! Damn them. Ezokarrian thought to himself. “Archers! Fire at will! Spare no shafts!” He commanded.

Ezokarrian turned to the officer again: “have the east and west phalanx split in half, with half aiming in until the filth in the middle is finished. Then have the central phalanx reinforce them as they deal with the new threats.”

“As you command Lord-captain!” The officer ran to obey.

Ezokarrian turned to his reserve, this was not a formation, but a group of less than fifty close-quarter warriors reinforced by 20 of Lord Xin’s clockwork soldiers. Scrappers all, they were armed with a motley assortment of weapons: swords, axes and flails being the most common. These men were not just soldiers, but killers. And Ezokarrian was glad to have them at his side.

……………………………….

The second wave of the cult’s armies were upon them. Unlike those before them, many of these cultists had the stigma of mutation: mismatched eyes, vestigial wings, hunchbacks or club feet. All excluded an aura of wrongness.

They broke up on them like an unclean flood of deformed flesh. All the cultists were armed. Unlike the first wave, they carried high quality and well forged weapons, swords, axes and strange clawed gauntlets. Also, unlike the first wave, all were clad in blood-red robes.

“Divide! Half with ten clockworks to the east!” Ezokarrian screamed. “The rest to the west!” he commanded the group of killers.

Ezokarrian drew Vime-De-A-Ne and listened to the heavenly choir in his mind. A figure walked up on his right flank. Clad in midnight blue banded mail, complete with a skull-faced helm, and a round shield bearing the orange rage filled face of a snarling demon. This warrior was armed with a finely crafted sword of obsidian-black steel – a large single-edged battle blade in the eastern style, carved with runes in Aquan, Auran and Ignan invoking the Elemental lords Imix and Cryonax both of whom claimed descent from an enigmatic being known as The Elder Elemental Eye. The backside of the blade had nine rings: three golden rings forged by azer weapon-smiths on the Plane of Fire, three silver rings forged in the City of Glass on the Plane of Water and three final rings forged of a fine white metal mined from the sky islands of a Djinni pasha on the Plane of Air. If the blade had a name, Ezokarrian did not know it.

This warrior was Roshnauth. An adventurer and mercenary, and Ezokarrian’s closest companion. Ezokarrian glanced at his friend and could see the glowing green eyes of his fiendish heritage. Roshnauth nodded to him with a simple “Lord-captain”.

Roshnauth was a cambion, an actual demon, the son of an incubus and a human slave. Rescued from the abyss itself as a child by Ezokarrian’s master. Roshnauth was a tall, heavily muscled humanoid. With dark red skin, cloven hooves, black horns and glowing green eyes. He was a deadly warrior and had fought at Ezokarrian’s side for two decades.

“Prepare yourself my friend.” Ezokarrian replied back.

“Oh, lord-captain. I am always prepared for this kind of thing.” He replied with a smile in his voice. An instant later he spoke an unintelligible word and his sword exploded with the noise of water being poured on hot coals and billowed steam as arctic ice mixed with burning flame.

……………………………….

Ezokarrian’s Master and Xin watched the battle from a hillside through a magical censor. “I know their sacrifice pains you, my friend. But it is not in vain, I assure you. This will be the diversion we need to strike at the Coven.” Xin said gravely.

Before Ezokarrian’s Master could answer there was a sound behind them and they both turned to see a gateway open to a realm of beautiful blue sky and pastoral forests. A gateway to the enlightened realm of Nirvana.

“Our allies have arrived.” Ezokarrian’s Master stated simply.

The first entrant was their leader, and he was a mighty figure indeed, a muscular, nine-foot-tall lion-headed man. He had golden-white fur, a regal mane of dark red hair, and golden, penetrating eyes. He was clad in exquisite red and blue robes and radiated an almost visible aura of power. This was Talisid, called the Celestial Lion across the Great Beyond. A king amongst the Agathions of Nirvana.

Following him was a lithe, muscular wolf, fully ten-feet-long and covered with neatly groomed black fur. The “wolf” regarded them with glowing topaz orbs that radiated both power and intelligence. Ezokarrian’s Master knew this was Kharash, known to some as Talisid’s shadow. And this was no mere wolf, but a celestial paragon in his own right, the Lord of the Lupinals. And one of the council of agathion leaders known simply as the “The Companions”.

The final figure through the gate was the most awe-inspiring, a bipedal bear with thick snow-white fur, eyes like shards of blue ice, and massive paws. She stood the height of three tall warriors, and was clad in gold and purple robes of the finest thread. This was Bharrai, matriarch of the ursinals and a wizardess of great power and renown.

Xin and Ezokarrian’s Master approached the trio of celestial paragons. Talisid greeted them with a smile and a nod: “Greetings friends and allies”. His voice was a deep bass rumble.

Ezokarrian’s Master responded: “well met, Lord Lion. It is good to have you with us at this time.”

“Remember, Lord Wizard. We must limit our involvement. Lest He detect our hand in this affair. Also, our mere presence could bring scrutiny from darker realms.” The towering Bharrai answered, her voice reminiscent of a kindly grandmother.

Ezokarrian’s Master nodded to her and replied “understood Mother Bear”. Addressing her in one of her more common titles with true warmth in his voice, for he had studied magic and extraplanar lore under her for a time at her snowbound lodge in Nirvana, and he remembered his time there fondly.

Xin stepped forward and interrupted them with obvious impatience in his voice: “did you bring them?”

“Ah, Xin, always the eager one, aren’t you?” Talisid said with obvious amusement. He then turned to Bharrai and simply nodded. At this Bharrai spread her arms and thirteen objects appeared floating in the air. Each was an intricate ironwork mask. Crafted from cold-forged iron and bearing silver traceries. It could be said that each was a work of the craftsman's art, but these masks filled Ezokarrian’s Master with dread. For he knew the reason they were forged – to bind and disrupt the powers of any practitioner of the arcane arts.

“These will bind the individual members of the coven. Once they are bound, we can then use the sympathetic connection they have to Him to complete the binding.” Bharrai explained.

“How certain are you that this ritual of binding will be successful Mother Bear?” Ezokarrian’s Master inquired.

“I am not certain. It may not be fully effective…” Bharrai began.

“Not fully effective?” Xin interrupted. “So, it may not work? Do you realize what is at stake here?”

“Calm yourself Lord Wizard. The ritual is ancient, and quite frankly we have never used it before. However, to defeat such as He outright? I do not think we could do this.” Talisid calmly explained.

Before Xin could respond Ezokarrian’s Master placed a placating hand on his arm. “Peace Xin. We are all friends here. We share the same goals, to stop Him.”

That seemed to calm the volatile wizard. “Agreed. And I apologize my friends. You are helping us. I am just concerned.” Xin answered in an apologetic tone.

“As are we all, Xin. As are we all.” Talisid assured him.

……………………………….

The cultist tide hit them like a tidal wave, the archers emptied their quivers and still the cultists came crawling over their own dead and dying, grinding the corpses of the first wave into the blood sodden earth.

While most struck the mass of troops, some of the human wave wrapped around to strike Ezokarrian’s reserves. The clockworks divided as ordered and led the defense, reaping a bloody harvest of cultist’s lives. But they were like islands of resistance in a flood, and many cultists surged around them. Ezokarrian and his band of killers were soon face to face with their foes.

A pair of small figures, maybe five feet in height and a hundred pounds or so, dressed in scarlet cloaks, and horrific masks attacked Ezokarrian from either side – each was armed with a pair of clawed gauntlets. Ezokarrian realized with a shock that his assailants were young maidens, barely more than girls! They flanked Ezokarrian and the one to his right struck at him – knowing this was just a feint, he struck out to his left but the “maiden” advancing on him from that flank flipped away with amazing speed and grace. Ezokarrian’s blade cutting through a piece of her red robe. Just then the original maiden was upon him but her clawed gauntlets failed to find purchase on his mail. Damnation! Ezokarrian cursed to himself, I fell for a wolf-pack ruse like a novice!

Roshnauth was confronted by a group of five red-robed cultists, each was armed, two with the matched pair of clawed-gauntlets favored by the cult. One with twin short swords, another with a mace and shield and the last with a large two-handed hammer. As they rapidly advanced on him, he presented his orange demon-faced shield before him and the mouth opened with a massive roar! A cone of devastating sound tore into the five hapless fanatics. All fell to the ground – some rolling around and grabbing their heads in agony. Roshnauth watched for a moment as one of Xin’s clockwork soldiers dispassionately dispatched the wounded cultists before he turned in search of new foes and noticed Ezokarrian’s troubles.

Ezokarrian tried to dislodge the maiden from his back to no avail. “Get off me you damned harpy!” He shouted. Suddenly he was splattered with gore on the left side of his face as she fell from his back. The second maiden screeched in rage as Ezokarrian chanced a look over his left shoulder and saw his assailant’s headless corpse twitching on the ground and Roshnauth standing behind her.

The other maiden gave another cry as she launched herself with unnatural quickness at Roshnauth. Unfortunately for her, Roshnauth was ready and batted her aside with his shield and followed up with a downward chop of his steaming ebony blade, which split her from the top of her head into her sternum. She twitched horribly several times before Roshnauth used his shield to push her from his blade.

Roshnauth nodded to Ezokarrian and said: “I have always had a way with the ladies”.

……………………………….

The battle was over, the field was littered with the dead and dying. Mostly the varied cultists, but many of Ezokarrian’s troops – too many.

They are routed...more like destroyed. I noticed none fleeing or escaping. Why? Why would they throw away their lives the way they did? Except for the illusions they threw themselves at us without tactics. Without rhyme. Without reason. Ezokarrian thought to himself.

“Is it over? Already?” Roshnauth remarked.

“It was too long for my taste…” Ezokarrian replied. He grimaced from the stink of the battlefield. The stink of death, of blood and fear. The reek of voided bodies and a stink that he could not identify. The stink of corruption?

Just then there was a disturbance behind him and Ezokarrian quickly turned around. His master stood there. Both Ezokarrian and Roshnauth bent at the waist as did all those present.

“My lord.” Ezokarrian said in greeting.

“Ezokarrian. Roshnauth. Greetings and congratulations to you on a battle both well and hard fought.” Ezokarrian’s Master said.

“Thank you, my lord. However, our losses were heavy. And, well, the enemy...the enemy did not fight in a way that made sense.” Ezokarrian replied.

“Be that as it may Ezokarrian. I need you. You and Roshnauth. You will come with me.” Informed them.

“Lord? But the house troops…” Ezokarrian began.

“Can be seen too by subordinates. I need both of you for the next chapter of this.” Ezokarrian’s Master interrupted and turned to Roshnauth. “Make it so, and then return.” Roshnauth rushed to comply.

“I will explain all to you when we arrive, rest assured I want you both at my side for this Ezokarrian.” His Master admitted.

Roshnauth returned and then the wizard said: “let us be off” as he teleported them away.

……………………………….

Talisid stood alone except for Kharash while a dozen members of the Leoninus Host, his personal guardians, were arrayed for battle. He turned his head to see Grandmother Bear speaking with the wizard Xin. Talisid did not care for this human, he was too excitable. Oh, Talisid did not doubt that he was brilliant in his art. It was just that he preferred the other human wizard. That one had a level head on his shoulders. Talisid tried to recall the human mage’s name...and was surprised when he realized he could not. Or even his face. How odd...Talisid thought to himself.

Just then the subject of his vexation arrived with two other individuals, a human and... a demon? The warrior in blue enameled banded mail with a shield had the aura of a demon...yet, he did not radiate evil. Odd again... Talisid thought to himself. He then turned to the human, and he stared open-mouthed. There was a quality to this man. A quality he could not identify. An inner strength, a nobility he had rarely seen in a mortal. Both warriors were fresh from the battlefield as their blood-stained armor attested.

Talisid then stepped forward and announced “Now that we are all here. Shall we begin?”

……………………………….

Lilith sat at the head of the great rectangular table across from the empty seat of their often-absent lord. Which was how it should be. For Lilith was the first woman. Crafted from the same clay as Adam the first man by the Creator. She had been expelled from Eden because she had refused to be a mere servant and brood cow to Adam. She had decided to make her own way. And make her own way she certainly had.

Also at the great table were her twelve “coven sisters”, in truth all were descended from her, daughters, grand-daughters or farther removed. This was a council of war, as the manic wizard Xin led his forces against them. “Tell me what do we know about this man Xin?” Lilith asked the coven.

It was Naamah, the eldest sister who answered: “He leads a great house of the Azlanti and is considered a mighty wizard. And is extremely wealthy. He has a fairly large house army; however, it is entirely made up of clockworks and other constructs. He is also not well regarded by his fellow wizards. Despite his wealth and power.”

“But the cult has engaged a mostly human force?” Lilith questioned “are these mercenaries?” She demanded.

Again, it was Naamah who replied: “No Mother. Apparently, he has made an alliance with another great mage house. These are the warriors our troops now battle.”

“And? What do we know about this other house?” Lilith demanded.

After a long pregnant pause Naamah finally replied: “Virtually nothing.”

“Nothing? How is that even possible? Witches of your caliber! You should be able to scry everything about this other mage.” Lilith stated her ire obviously rising.

“That is the thing Mother. Our greatest divinations have failed. They return almost nothing. There is more. Even conjured fiends can tell us almost nothing.” Naamah stated gravely.

Lilith thought for a moment, can it be possible? A ritual of obscuration? Permanent? That would make this mage potent indeed.

She pondered this at the table with her sisters when suddenly several gateways opened around the table and before the sisters could react a dozen large, heavily armored leonine humanoids leapt through followed by metallic clockwork brutes armed with halberds and a motley collection of figures lead by two armored warriors brandishing battle-blades. Finally, this entourage was followed by a final leonine humanoid whose very presence drew attention, along with a large sinuous wolf and a massive bear-like female in resplendent robes.

“Guardians! To us!” Screamed one of the Elder Sisters and from the halls lumbered their flesh-warped battle-slaves.

The first of the leonine warriors began grabbing the witches and proceeded to trap them in manacles. “Remember! We need them alive!” Shouted the Bear-woman.

Xin advanced in between two of his clockwork warriors and aimed at the Elder Sister next to Lilith and while pointing his right index finger shouted in draconic “Stun!” She swooned and fell face forward.

The first of the flesh-warped reached the fray. It was a hideous creature to behold, fully 12’ tall, it’s once human origins were readily apparent, but it was...twisted. At first glance the thing (for thing it was, neither male nor female at least not in any conventional way) seemed flabby, soft, and grossly obese. However, it moved with a speed and nimbleness that defied its bloated form. Its right “hand” was not a hand at all, but a huge, twisted ball of bone that sported actual spikes that resembled the fangs of some viscous predatory beast – a spiked mace of iron-hard bone. It was hairless, and the grayish-white of a plucked chicken carcass. Worse of all was its face: A twisted fang-filled mouth, no nose, and dark lusterless eyes – a doll’s eyes. And the thing stank. A rancid combination of unwashed bodies and sour milk.

The freakish brute swung its arm-mace full strength into the first of Xin’s clockworks and when it connected, the brute’s terrible might was apparent, crushing the 500-pound construct straight to the floor. A second and third blow quickly followed, rendering the clockwork warrior smashed and broken.

Close behind the first, a second freakish brute emerged, this one was of a similar nauseating hue, but was sleeker of form. It had three arms, two – its primary – ended in oversized scorpion-like pincers, the third which grew below its left pincer-arm ended in a surprisingly normal humanoid hand gripping a brutal, spiked club. Its face was even more of a nightmare, with two overly large eyes, and two mouths – one fang-filled and the other drooling an acidic spittle. Its smell was no improvement on its fellow.

This horror literally jumped over the first row of combatants and landed on one of Xin’s apprentices, a young plain-looking man in simple yet elegant robes, the brute crushed him to the ground with such speed and force that he was only able to give out a quick yelp-like cry which was overshadowed by the horrible crunching sound of multiple bones breaking. The flesh-warped creature then reached out with a scorpion claw and grabbed a second apprentice, a shyly pretty young woman of obvious mixed elven and human heritage and caught her around the waist. The claw dug into her and she bravely cast a spell peppering the brute on its face and chest with varicolored bolts of force.

Ezokarrian charged at the beast with Vime-De-A-Ne in a two-handed grip, Roshnauth was a few steps behind him with his black-blade trailing steam. Ezokarrian’s blow caught the mutant in its right hip, causing purplish ichor to fountain from the wound. The brute screeched in pain, a hissing, steam whistle roar. It dropped the wounded apprentice to the ground and reached for Ezokarrian with both clawed limbs, the apprentice tried to crawl away, leaving a bloody trail behind her. However, the three-armed brute purposely crushed her with its massive left foot. “Bastard!” Ezokarrian snarled at the freakish brute in rage for the woman’s murder as he batted aside a pincer-arm with his battle blade. The flesh-warp swung its war-club from its third hand at Ezokarrian, but being single minded did not count on Roshnauth bringing his demon-faced shield to bear blocking the blow and then countering with a strike of his own which lopped the creature’s hand off at the wrist. The brute gave off another steam whistle roar, even louder than the first one and turned his attention fully to Roshnauth. This proved to be a fatal mistake as that left it open to Ezokarrian, who thrust Vime-De-A-Ne upward into its under-jaw, through its skull and finally into its small brain. The flesh-warped brute’s eyes rolled up into its head as it made a horrific mewling sound and its pincers still reached for Roshnauth. As Roshnauth screamed at the beast: “C’mon! C’mon you bastard! That’s it, let it go!” As the brute finally fell forward, Roshnauth taunted it one last time: “You're no daisy! You're no daisy at all!” A savage mirth is his glowing green orbs. “Poor soul, you were just too high strung.” Roshnauth said quietly as he stared down at the freakish corpse.

Just then Ezokarrian’s Master shouted “Spread out!” in a commanding tone. Both Ezokarrian and Roshnauth looked up to see the first flesh-warped mutant jumping through the air toward them! Both warriors, seasoned veterans reacted quickly and jumped away from each other as a sickly green ray struck the brute where its throat met collar bone and the upper third of its body was blasted away. The headless – and armless – corpse of the flesh-warp stood motionless for an instant and then fell forward and burst into dust as it hit the floor.

Both Ezokarrian and Roshnauth looked back at their lord and as he flew behind them, taking stock of his grim work and assessing the rest of the conflict. Xin’s clockworks had brought down several other flesh-warped creatures, but that had been costly, as only two of the six constructs that Xin had with him were on their feet. Talisid, and the leonals had captured all but one of the witches in their enchanted shackles. However, this one was their leader.

Lilith raged internally, curse me for a fool! How did we fall for this! The truth was it was her incredible arrogance, something that had dogged her for her entire immortal existence. Lilith sent out a mental scream to the coven’s lord: my lord! We are under attack and sorely pressed! After which she reached into one of her most subtle and potent powers: her sexuality. Lilith, as the first woman, could project an aura of womanliness, appearing as both a wanton seductive temptress, and a loving mother. She did so now. The effect was near instantaneous, a one-way telepathic outpouring. The humans were struck the hardest, visions of lust, acceptance and love flooded their minds...but even the agathion were subject to this attack. For attack it was, it was a subtle assault, but an assault nonetheless, which left all of her opponents reeling.

Lilith advanced slowly walking with her arms spread “Yes, I am here, I am here for you. I am yours, but you must help me. Release my daughters”.

Ezokarrian’s mind filled with images of feminine beauty, of love, of wanton sexuality...of his sisters, of his long dead mother...this, this is not right...this...this is obscene...no! He looked down at Roshnauth who was on his knees with his arms covering his head – what does he see? Ezokarrian asked himself. Born to a woman in the abyss, a woman who did not survive his birth? This is not right…he looked around and saw his master, and Xin, the remaining apprentices and even their celestial allies in a stupor, a trance of sorts...this is wrong...

Lilith advanced directly in front of Ezokarrian with a beautiful smile on her face “yes, release my daughters, protect us from those who would harm us!” She said out loud, but said to herself: This one’s will is strong. No matter. I just need to stall them until He comes, and then there will be a reckoning!

Ezokarrian looked at the beautiful woman in front of him, with long flame red hair, emerald eyes, skin like milk. The woman of his dreams. She then transformed into his mother. Her kind smile, dark hair and large dark brown eyes. However, Ezokarrian felt the same lust for both women. “No!” he screamed and stepped forward, thrusting his forehead into his “mother’s” face.

The head-butt caught Lilith completely by surprise. Smashing her nose and mouth and knocking her to the cold, stone floor. The spell was broken instantly and all were brought back to their senses.

Ezokarrian looked at the woman on the floor, she had the same flame-red tresses as the woman in his “dream”, but she had two sets of horns, one curving and ram-like and the other straight like antelope antlers. Her skin was the same milky-white but the eyes were not a mesmerizing shade of green but black-on-black voids, no iris, no whites, just a deep ebon.

It was Talisid who reacted first, pointing his right index finger at Lilith and she was suddenly bound in a set of magical silver shackles. He stepped forward and clapped Ezokarrian on the back “Well done warrior! You have saved the day.” Talisid then turned to the group “Someone gag that bitch!” When it was done Talisid continued: “Grandmother Bear will stay with you, the rest of us agathions must return to Nirvana. Every moment we delay is another moment we could attract unwanted attention.”

Xin looked like he was about to object until Ezokarrian’s Master stepped forward and put a hand on his shoulder and addressed Talisid: “we understand Lord Lion and we are beyond grateful for your aid.” Talisid nodded to the wizard and behind him a gateway opened. The Leoninus Host followed by Kharash and Talisid exited this reality.

Bharrai stepped forward and took command, “Quickly my friends, we must begin the ritual as soon as possible.” The remaining apprentices and the two wizards moved to comply.

Roshnauth looked about and then turned to Ezokarrian and asked: “What do we do I wonder?”

“Keep watch along with those two” Ezokarrian pointed at the two remaining clockwork warriors. “And hope that for once everything goes to plan.”

……………………………….

All thirteen witches were bound into their respective chairs, Lilith and the elder sisters – truly the most dangerous of the coven – were already fully bound, with the brutal masks attached to the flesh of their face. Xin’s remaining apprentices were trying to bind the last four junior witches.

“You must hurry” Bharrai admonished them. “All of his brides must be fully bound and helpless before the ritual can commence.”

Then it happened...He arrived.

It was a good moment before anyone noticed He was there. It was as if a god had silently appeared. Fully twelve feet tall and with a physique that put even Talisid to shame, He was clad in a simple white linen kilt and sandals, his flesh was the color of bronze, and he had shoulder length ebony hair, dark as a starless night. However, what commanded an observer’s attention the most were his wings - three-pairs of wings, the center pair were the black-plumage of a raven and the bottom and top pairs were dove-white. He also had a halo of fire with eyes to match, a burning orange that glowed with what could only be described as a malevolent radiance.

Ezokarrian glanced up and said in shock: “By the gods!” just prior to the angelic figure bringing his hands together in a mighty clap. It struck like a titan’s hammer, a wave of kinetic energy that knocked over everything in the room. Ezokarrian, Roshnauth, Xin’s apprentices, Xin’s clockwork guardians, and the thirteen witches bound in their chairs, the table, Xin, Ezokarrian’s Master and even Bharrai.

The table had slammed directly into Bharrai, Xin and Ezokarrian’s Master and all three were stunned. Several of Xin’s apprentices were also on the floor and unmoving. This allowed the four not fully bound witches to free themselves.

The Angel looked upon them and commanded: “Flee!” and they responded by using teleportation magic to leave the coven’s chambers.

“No!” Bharrai screamed as she worked desperately to untangle herself from the table.

It was Xin’s clockwork guardians who recovered first, but as they rose the Angel touched each one on the forehead and intoned: “Soulless mockeries, begone!” and the two constructs rapidly collapsed into piles of rust.

Ezokarrian grabbed Vime-De-A-Ne in a two-handed grip and charged the Angel. However, his foe was far faster and spun upon him grabbing Ezokarrian by the face with his clawed left hand. “Son of Adam, do you believe that your Heaven-forged blade could harm me? Do you not know me? For I am Sammael the Venom of GOD himself!” The Angel roared.

Ezokarrian was held fast but tried to struggle from Sammael’s grip.

“Ah, your spirit is very, very strong son of Adam. But let us see how strong?” Sammael mocked as he stared deep into Ezokarrian’s eyes with his own burning orbs.

Trapped under the table Ezokarrian’s Master screamed a warning: “No! Ezokarrian do not look into his eyes! Pull away!”

But it was too late…

Ezokarrian found himself upon a featureless gray plain. He was naked and unarmed. The air was cool but pleasant.

“Ezokarrian turn and see me.” A powerful voice commanded.

Ezokarrian did as he was bid and Sammael was there before him. “Your will is strong Ezokarrian. As is your sense of duty and loyalty. You withstood the temptations of Lilith. And that is no small thing.” Sammael stated. “But here in this mental plane of existence I will show you the truth.”

“The truth?” Ezokarrian asked, confused.

“Yes. I was there when I AM, father to us both created Adam and Lilith. I know his reasons. Since your creation the fate of man is that of mere maggots. Equal as parasites and moving through the multiverse without eyes. A day of reckoning is approaching, when mankind's fate is to burn. To burn as a sacrifice. But I am here to change all that. Along with Lilith and the rest of my brides to create a new race. Join with us Ezokarrian. Add your strength, your willpower and your blood to the new race of man. A race that are the sons of Sammael, not the sons of Adam. The daughters of Lilith and not the daughters of Eve.” At this a flood of images overwhelmed Ezokarrian.

Ezokarrian’s Master watched in horror as his vassal twitched in the Angel’s grip and Ezokarrian’s dark hair and beard turned to white before their eyes.

Bharrai sent a powerful telepathic message across the dimensions: Talisid! HE is here! We are undone! We need your aid!

Roshnauth regained his wits and again he spoke an archaic word and his blade exploded into steam as volcanic flame mixed with arctic ice. Then Roshnauth screamed as he struck out at the Angel, the blade chopped into the Angel’s left arm causing him to drop Ezokarrian to the ground.

Sammael roared with an ear-splitting scream: “Filth! You dare strike at me! At me! I am Sammael! I am GOD’S executioner! I am the Angel of Death! You, demon, are an abomination! DIE!” Sammael pointed at Roshnauth with his injured left arm and the cambion exploded with a dirty yellow fire and with a fading, echoing scream he was erased from existence. The only thing marking his passage was the black steaming sword that clattered to the floor. “Curious” Sammael mused aloud as he stared at the blade.

Ezokarrian’s Master hastily cast a spell, firing a small blue orb at Sammael – a favorite of his – enhanced to strike at maximum effect the orb unfortunately missed the Angel and struck the wall behind him. “Damnation!” Ezokarrian’s Master screamed.

Next to him still on the ground, Xin pelted Sammael with a volley of vari-colored bolts of magical force. Enhanced with his own personal energies and also enhanced to maximum effectiveness, this caused the Angel to hiss in pain.

Bharrai also cast out at Sammael with a sickly green ray of unmaking, unfortunately, like the orb of force the ray missed its target disintegrating a large section of wall.

Sammael brought his right arm down in a sharp motion and in his hand appeared a wicked looking mace. Covered in razor sharp blades rather than spikes. And his left hand erupted into flames as he advanced upon the trio of wizards his eyes and halo ablaze with hatred and wrath.

What happened next happened so fast the three wizards would have trouble recalling it after the fact. A burst of light heralded Ezokarrian’s sword bursting from Sammael’s chest glowing with a righteous nimbus of power. Sammael screamed in pain as he fell forward to his knees, the halo dimmed and the mace fell from his hand to the floor.

Standing behind him was Ezokarrian. Except Ezokarrian radiated the same righteous power as his blade. His eyes were solid golden orbs of light and all in the room had difficulty looking upon him. He then spoke in an otherworldly, echoing voice that was not his own: “SAMMAEL. ONCE KNOWN AS THE VENOM OF GOD. I NAME THEE THE FATHER OF ABOMINATIONS. I NAME THEE TRAITOR TO THE DIVINE PLAN. I NAME THEE FALLEN!” And with that proclamation Ezokarrian pulled his sword from Sammael’s back and the fallen angel wailed as he transformed: the two pairs of white-feathered wings upon his back became the same ebony color of their sisters, as a pair of bull-like horns burst from his brow. Sammael fell upon his face and lay unmoving. And Ezokarrian collapsed mercifully unconscious.

As this transpired, unnoticed by all, several gates opened to Nirvana and Talisid and a hastily assembled strike team of agathion warriors exited in time to witness this event. “By the light…” was all Talisid could mutter.

------------------------------------------------

The Fallen Angel was in the same position and barely breathing and Ezokarrian had not regained consciousness.

They had picked up the table and nine-remaining witches bound in the grim masks. Only two of Xin’s apprentices had survived the impact – the beautiful woman who had flirted with Ezokarrian and a handsome young azlanti nobleman who favored illusion magic. With the aid of the agathions they were able to complete the preparations of the ritual.

As the work quickly continued Ezokarrian’s Master stood holding Roshnauth’s ebony, nine-ringed sword in his hands and looked down at Ezokarrian’s prostrate form. Bharrai walked to him with a look of concern on her ursine face. Ezokarrian’s Master spoke without turning to her: “two decades ago, I battled a demonic sorcerer. An incubus who used his own children as an energy source. I took the only survivor, an abused, starved demon-child back to my sanctum. I watched him grow and turn his back on his demonic nature. Today I have watched him utterly destroyed.” Bharrai heard the sorrow in his voice.

He turned to her then and continued: “that and I fail to understand what we witnessed here today. What was the power that Ezokarrian somehow channeled?” A touch of awe in his voice.

It was Talisid who answered: “your guard-captain was touched by the truly divine. That which is above even we Empyreal Lords, maybe even above the gods themselves.”

“Will he ever recover?” Ezokarrian’s Master asked.

“Yes. I believe so. He will recover. But he will not be the same. He will be both more and maybe less than he was before. '' Talisid responded.

“How do you mean?” Ezokarrian’s Master asked, confused.

“No one, mortal or immortal, could be touched by such a thing and remain unchanged.” Bharrai stated.

Just then Xin walked over obviously flustered. “How can we proceed? Four of the coven are gone! Without them we cannot do the binding!” He yelled.

Bharrai thought for a moment before responding: “no Xin. That is not entirely true. We can do the binding ritual. It could be flawed, imperfect even. But it can be done.” She explained.

“Imperfect? Explain” Ezokarrian’s Master asked.

“The ritual is sympathetic magic. The coven members are all connected by blood to either Sammael or Lilith – or both. That means those that are connected to him – like the remaining witches that escaped or their descendants may be able to break the binding.” Bharrai explained.

“But...but that is no good!” Xin sputtered.

“What choice do we have Xin? Really, what choice?” Ezokarrian’s Master stated.

“We can do it and we must.” Talisid interrupted.

“Very well. Let us begin.” Xin stated.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The ritual was long, arduous and complex. Lilith and the other eight captured witches from the coven were seated at their respective spots at the long table and screamed and wailed as Bharrai, Xin and Ezokarrian’s Master intoned the torturous incantation.

After ten minutes they screamed one final time and their scream was echoed by Sammael as he disappeared and reappeared at the empty head of the long table opposite from Lilith’s seat. As their wail ended there was a great flash of light and all nine witches had turned into crystalline statues, forever captured in an open-mouthed scream. The table and chairs had likewise transformed into a crystalline substance and as for Sammael he was transformed into a rune-carved pillar of salt.

Also, at the last utterance of the incantation, Ezokarrian awoke and stood up. At first this was not noticed by the rest of the assembled crew. But eventually Talisid turned his head and saw him standing there. “Warrior! You rejoin us.” And everyone else turned to look. Ezokarrian’s Master quickly walked to his guard captain but stopped when he looked his vassal in the face, for not only had Ezokarrian’s hair and beard turned white but his once hazel eyes were now yellow. Yellow and glowing with energy.

“Ezokarrian are you well?” He asked. However, before Ezokarrian could respond, Xin interrupted.

“Friends. This is unexpected, you should see this.” Xin said gravely.

The assembled group approached the nine crystalline witches – in the screaming mouth of each was a large blood-red gem.

Ezokarrian’s Master reached into the mouth of Lilith and nearly screamed when his fingers touched it. “It is dark and vile!”

Bharrai looked upon it. “By the light!” She exclaimed. “It is her soul! Her very soul, distilled from her transformed physicality.” She said, disgust and awe warring equally in her tone.

“How is such a thing as this even possible?” Xin asked.

“As I told you friend wizard, the ritual is ancient. And I pieced it together from fragmentary notes. That and having only nine of the thirteen members of the Coven. There were bound to be unforeseen complications” Bharrai explained.

“So, what does that mean?” Ezokarrian’s Master.

“It means that the ritual has flaws. With the four missing witches and these nine ‘soul gems’ it can be reversed and Sammael can be set free.” Bharrai replied.

“Then we destroy these nine gems. Problem solved.” Xin stated matter of factly.

“Not even with a soul as dark as Lilith's would I support such an action as annihilation Lord Wizard”. Talisid spoke up, “Besides, I believe that if these gems are destroyed their souls would be freed, only to be reborn somewhere and some-when else.”

“Then we hunt down the four remaining witches. We capture them, bring them here and complete this ritual or barring that we will be forced to deal with them in other ways.” Xin said grimly and Ezokarrian’s Master nodded in agreement.

“The other eight witches now entombed here are all descended from Lilith herself as are the four witches who escaped. The ritual is based on sympathetic magic drawing on the bloodlines of Lilith and Sammael. Anyone who is descended from either and who had all the nine souls could undo it.” Bharrai explained.

“As ancient as Lilith is, we know that she has had numerous children over the millennia. I could not begin to fathom how many descendants she must have – not to mention the possibility of Sammael.” Mused Xin.

“So, we must protect these nine soul-stones. They must be taken from here, and kept separate. Away from each other” Ezokarrian’s Master proposed.

“Mayhaps we can secure them in the various fortresses of Nir-” Bharrai began before Talisid interrupted her.

“No.” Was all Talisid said. But he said with such authority that all eyes turned to him with the exception of Ezokarrian, who still appeared to be dazed.

“I can feel their power and their...darkness…” Talisid explained “and Grandmother Bear, you can too. This is no experiment. Those vile things would attract the forces of woe.” He stopped.

“But Lord Lion…” Xin began.

“No. I am sorry Lord Wizard. We have aided you in this thing, but even we being here on the Prime is dangerous. Our enemies are literally legion. I do not wish to attract their attention to this matter. The final disposition on these stones will be a mortal matter.” Talisid announced.

“Lord Talisid is indeed correct. These stones are not only nexuses of darkness, but of incredible power. I fear that it would take someone of truly remarkable mettle to resist them.” Bharrai said.

Talisid turned his noble lion’s head and extended his right arm and said: “fortunately we know someone of such mettle. Who was able to resist both Lilith’s and Sammael’s temptations and channel the most holy of power?” All eyes turned to Ezokarrian.

……………………………………………………………………………………………….

After much discussion and debate it was decided that between Bharrai, Xin and Ezokarrian’s Master that they would hide the Coven’s Chamber by creating a separate demi-plane, out of phase with the rest of this reality.

After this was done then Xin and Ezokarrian’s Master - both of who were extremely wealthy – would finance a secret order to hide and protect the stones. Ezokarrian would be the head of this secret order.

Weeks after the last ritual Ezokarrian had recovered – at least physically – he felt stronger and more energetic than he had felt even as a young man. However, the memories of the events were a jumbled tangle in his mind. In his dreams – nightmares really – he saw fragmented images of the “truth” Sammael had shown him. But of the moments when he had apparently channeled great power and smote the Angel? Of that he remembered nothing. He heard someone approaching and turned to see his master.

“My Lord”. Ezokarrian said with a half-bow at his waist.

“No, my friend. I am your lord no longer.” The handsome wizard stated.

Ezokarrian looked up quickly. “I don’t...understand…”

“I release you from the service of my house, Ezokarrian. With honor. Your destiny lies elsewhere my friend. But remember, you will have Xin’s and my support...and always my friendship.” The wizard said as he turned away.

“Oh Ezokarrian, I almost forgot.” and he held out his right hand and Roshnauth’s black-bladed sword appeared in it. “He was a brave warrior”. The wizard said with great solemnity and a crack in his voice.

Ezokarrian stared at the sword for a moment before taking it. As he looked into his former master’s eyes – his golden stare meeting the wizard’s solid blue orbs – and replied with forlorn sadness: “he was my brother”.

Fantasy

About the author

Michael Mayr

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