Member No.: 419
Joined: 21-March 09
Rain poured from the sullen blackened skies down onto the armor of General Kadir Emberblade and his troops. Spears jutted through the mass like dead limbless trees. Water glimmered in a sinister way in the torchlight as it flowed over shields and breastplates. The tattered remains of the Acrenian standards fluttered in the wind that began to whisper then sigh as the coming storm gained its momentum. Nearby, the sounds of combat rang clear in the shifting air. Tilting his head back, the General’s jet-black eyes, flecked fiery-orange, peered upward, and for a moment saw not the clouds but the past, the events leading up to this moment….
Many believe the war began almost thirty years ago when it was discovered the Emperor had been orchestrating the past five months of orc raids on the southern settlements. Others say it began 470 years ago with the mysterious events leading to the Emperor’s sudden rise to power. Still others (mostly crazed old adventurers slipping into senility in their retirement and crackpot conspiracy theorists and seers who had snapped after one too many nightmare visions) claimed the war had been waging, subtly at times and outrageously at others, for a little over a millennium.
Rumors whispered of prominent figures all across Acren suddenly being removed from their positions for various reasons, including strange illnesses, early retirements, coincidental accidents, and odd disappearances, and being replaced by new faces no one recognized. Eventually, the rumors had changed, for the previous ones had been proved truths although investigating for foul play was quietly shunned, and now the whispers were of faces that hardly seemed to change except for the names attached to them. Senators, mayors, chieftains, treasurers, generals, and councilors, all came with new names over the years, but an uncomfortably large number seemed too familiar despite their new names.
However, the rumors, being just that, weren’t enough to prove a war in most of the peoples’ eyes. The whispers and suspicions raised tensions between rival races, there was no doubt about that, but no one was willing to make any move yet. Then, the Emperor made his way to the throne. Emperor Blask, a tall slender man with pale skin and waist-length black hair who was once described as “a devil’s cousin, twice removed,” became the ruler of Acren seemingly overnight. Another series of strange resignations left the path to the throne wide open and he took a vice-like grip on the position and has held it for nearly half a millennium. If the circumstances leading to his rise of power weren’t enough to incite a war, the new ruler’s actions and lengthy reign certainly were.
Now, the final battle was upon them. Numerous skirmishes had ensued over the years and many lives had been lost. The continent itself, usually peaceful and whole, was split into factions, each struggling for a foothold in this new world developing before their eyes. The General’s army had marched and fought for nearly two years to reach this point. They had picked up stragglers from other battalions and the General allowed anyone able to bear arms to join his ranks, but since they set off their numbers had dwindled severely. Their confidence was high, however, and their will to end this dreadful bloodbath of a war was strong. This was the end, and they were going to see it through.
Kadir sighed like an old man who has nostalgically looked back on his life and then turned forward to see many more years ahead. He closed his eyes and let his head drop and left it bowed for a moment as he silently prayed to the Gods. When he finished his request for one last victory, he raised his head and turned to face his troops. They stood just beneath the crest of a scorched hill that was slowly covering in mud as the rain fell harder, clattering as it slapped against steel. Shields were only half raised or resting on the ground and leaning against their owner’s legs. Swords stood buried in the earth or remained sheathed. Armor pieces sported dents and innumerable scratches; some had even been torn and broken in places. Many of the soldiers wore bandages, hung arms in slings, and a few even hobbled on crutches. They were battered and bruised and exhausted, but the General could see the determination in their eyes. They were ready to go home, to end this chaos, to be done with fighting. Kadir only hoped they would get their wish.
“My friends,” The General cried loudly as thunder rumbled above them, “This is it. This is the end!”
He reached over his shoulder and grasped the handle of his greatsword with a clawed hand and lifted it high into the air as his troops roared and screamed. The weapon was nearly as long as his whole body and one edge curved to a deadly point. Instead of a guard, the handle merged with a wolf’s head hilt that spewed the huge blade from its mouth. The troops grabbed their own weapons and raised them up to shine brightly for an instant as lightning flashed nearby. Banners waved wildly as they were shook by their carriers and as the wind suddenly grabbed and yanked and pulled them around their poles.
The General let his blade drop to his shoulder, turned and stepped until he breasted the now muddy hill. The soldiers marched to stand with him, staring down at the fortress before them. Around the main building was a high thick six-sided wall, easily thirty feet tall and fifteen feet thick. The corner nearest the General and his troops and much of the wall to their left had been destroyed several weeks earlier in an attempted artillery barrage; said artillery had been annihilated by the Emperor’s own forces after they had managed to fire only two trebuchet. Makeshift scaffolding had been erected around the edges of the gap, showing the Emperor had been attempting to repair the damage. Ladders were already set against the remaining walls and Acrenian soldiers were swarming the battlements. Imperial troops raced to destroy the ladders and defend the fortress from the so-called ‘invaders.’ The building itself had once been a grand palace with high glowing towers and beautiful colored-glass windows. Now its windows were shattered and covered by statues and wooden boards. Only one tower remained standing and several large holes marred its beauty. The entire place seemed to have acquired a dark filthy feel.
General Kadir couldn’t help but grimace slightly at the sight. A low growl rolled up his throat and through his bared fangs. He gripped the handle of his weapon and pointed it towards the fortress and let out an animalistic roar and charged down the hill. His soldiers gave their own battle cries and followed their leader into their final battle. The General’s shoulder length fiery red hair trailed behind him as he ran and his similarly colored platemail glinted in firelight. He sprinted at one relatively empty ladder and began climbing.
“This way!” Kadir called over his shoulder to his own force.
He momentarily replaced his blade on its hook on the back of his armor and climbed over the battlements and dropped onto the solid stone wall top. An enemy soldier rushed him with a double-bladed axe and he simply sidestepped the attack, grabbed the soldier’s axepole as he stumbled past and gave it a tug. The Imperial soldier ran headlong into the battlements and collapsed with his own axeblade buried in his face. Kadir was already moving along the wall and down the stairs, sword in hand again. Two more Imperial soldiers rushed him through the thronging forces and he quickly drew his sword back with both hands to swing it horizontally and cut both soldiers’ chests open, cleaving their rib cages in half.
The General continued to fight and cut his way through the enemy while his troops followed swiftly in his wake. It took him several minutes to reach the castle gates, which had been barricaded shut as well, and were guarded by several foot soldiers. Without hesitating, Kadir rushed the nearest soldier, beheading him before he knew what was happening. Emberblade then turned and cut down two more soldiers before the others attacked him. One soldier took a swing at his head, but the General ducked and kicked his attacker in the gut. Two more soldiers swung their blades down in an attempt to dispatch Kadir, but he rolled away and leapt up to kill the Imperial farthest away with incredible speed and agility. He spun and stabbed another in the chest then simply ripped his blade through the man’s impaled body to slash another’s throat. One soldier landed a lucky blow and slammed the edge of his blade against Kadir’s open chest. There was a clang of metal on metal as the soldier’s blade stopped dead against the General’s armor, barely making a scratch on it. Looking up, the soldier saw the General smirk dangerously, revealing his dagger-like fangs before he was grabbed by the throat and shoved into his remaining comrades.
“Hold this entrance,” Kadir called to his troops now arriving at the gates, “I will deal with the Emperor.”
With a few quick solid blows, the Acrenian made a hole in the barricade and slipped through. Inside, the sounds of battle seemed to quiet almost immediately. There were no soldiers in sight. Kadir thought this odd, but decided it better not to question his good fortune. He could have dealt with any soldiers that came his way, but dealing with none meant he could end this war sooner. His heavy footsteps echoed slightly in the empty hall behind the gates before it dissipated as he entered a narrower corridor and made his way deeper into the castle. Turning a corner he saw several archers firing volleys down onto his allies below. He snarled and called out to them. One looked up from the thin slot she had been firing through just in time to see the General hurl his greatsword at her. She was impaled before she could react, knocked a few feet back by the force of the blow, and collided with the archer behind her. The blade stabbed into his stomach, killing him as well. They were still falling when Kadir sprinted past them and punched the archer behind them in the chest, smashing his armor in and killing him instantly. Moving too fast for any human to follow, he spun around the dead man while he was still in the air and backhanded the next archer hard enough to break his neck. The last he grabbed by the throat and lifted her up over his head. Then, seemingly all at once to the General, the dead archers fell to the ground, the looks of shock and pain permanently frozen onto their faces.
The woman’s terrified eyes stared into Kadir’s wild and angry ones as she struggled to breathe. His bloodlust was on the rise and he was determined to kill Emperor Blask. Nothing would stand in his way.
“Where is he?” Kadir said dangerously, his voice carrying a strange growling undertone with each word.
“Wh-Where…is…wh-who?” The woman struggled to get her words out, but Kadir never loosened his grip. In fact, he tightened it after she spoke.
“The Emperor. Where is Blask?”
Unable to speak now, she simply pointed a shaky finger further down the hall. Kadir glanced down the corridor then almost killed the woman, but stopped and decided she would be his guide. Releasing his grip, she fell to her knees, wheezing and coughing, while he retrieved his sword from the dead soldiers. The woman tried to flee as he approached her again, but he grabbed her by the back of her leather jerkin and yanked her to her feet.
“Walk,” he ordered. She half stumbled, half fell forward as Kadir pushed her ahead. “You’re going to guide me to Blask, or so help me.” He gently rested the deadly point of his weapon on her soft throat and she whimpered quietly and yelped slightly as a misstep made her dip a little and the point gave her a small cut.
They walked for several minutes, through twisting and turning corridors, up spiraling staircases and across a large hall or two, every so often stopping to defeat the handful of soldiers guarding the area. Kadir made the entire trip without a scratch, and killed everyone he met. Finally, the woman led him to a huge ornate wooden door, the only area that looked to be properly cared for in the entire castle. The unique-looking General shoved the woman aside. She stumbled and fell to her knees then looked back, afraid to move lest she irritate her captor.
“You can go. I don’t need you anymore.”
The woman hesitated a moment longer then hurried to her feet and sprinted down a side passage, eager to be away from this vicious man. Kadir simply eyed the door for several seconds as if searching for a weak point, then shouldered his sword and, with a single powerful kick, knocked the doors wide open. Inside, he could see nothing but a fire burning excitedly on the far side of the room, illuminating part of the chamber with its warm touch. The clean marble floor reflected the firelight and the tall mirrors on either side of the fireplace mimicked it. As his eyes quickly adjusted to the gloom, the General saw the granite walls, inset with thick marble pillars, were spotless, unmarred by the war outside. An enormous window in the far left wall had been covered by heavy black curtains. The rest of the chamber was empty except for a high backed throne across from the window. Its golden arms and legs shone brightly in the firelight and contrasted with the dark velvet padding.
Sitting on this throne was a shady man whose hair was darker than the shadows he hid in and whose skin was so pallid it rivaled the moon’s color. His leather jerkin was burned with strange runes and the metal plates attached to his leggings by cords bore the symbol of a pure white diamond-shaped star with a small blackened star at its center, the Emperor’s insignia. His eyes, though nearly as black as his locks, seemed to glow in the dark as they watched the Acrenian General step slowly into the room. He leaned back on the throne in a relaxed position with his head resting on a balled fist of an arm he had propped on the arm of the throne. Resting in its sheath at the man’s side was a long scimitar.
Kadir strode into the room until he was even with Emperor Blask and his throne. When he was, the General stopped and turned to face Blask. The two simply stared into the other’s eyes, sizing each other up. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, Blask sighed. Moving almost lazily, he grabbed his weapon and rose to his feet. He bared his scimitar by holding the handle in one hand and pulling off its sheath with the other in one swift movement, then tossed the sheath aside. The Emperor twirled the blade as he took a few leisurely steps toward Kadir, his eyes watching the floor. He stopped the blade by putting its point to the marble floor with an echoing sound when he was about ten feet from the General. When he spoke, his voice was deep and echoing, an ocean of voices emanating from a single mouth.
“I’m surprised it took you so long. A creature like you and a general with your reputation; I expected you to try to kill me at the beginning,” Blask’s eyes suddenly flicked to meet Kadir’s again, “What made you wait?”
Kadir shrugged lightly and glared into the dark orbs in his enemy’s head. “I guess I didn’t think you would make it this far. I counted on someone acting to stop you sooner. It seems the old saying turned out to be true, though.” He lifted his own sword with one hand and lowered its edge to the floor.
“Oh? And what saying is that?” Blask twisted his scimitar so the edge faced Kadir, who smiled and did the same.
“If you want something done right,” Emberblade replied and tensed his muscles, “do it yourself!”
He suddenly grabbed the handle of his greatsword in both hands, stepped and attacked with an upward slash as Blask swiftly followed suit. They locked blades for a moment then, stepped apart before meeting again in a burst of sparks as steel slammed and ground against steel. The two battled fiercely in this way, with incredible ferocity and inhuman speed and strength, for minutes? Hours? Days? Again and again they struck; again and again their faces came within an inch of each other; again and again they pushed away only to rush once more. They used all their skill to fight, beating against each other with their respective blades.
Blask lashed out at Kadir’s face, seeking to blind him, but the General shifted his weight and narrowly avoided the attack, watching the point of the Emperor’s scimitar sailing just beyond his fiery eyes. Emberblade retaliated by feigning a stab at Blask’s gut before suddenly slashing down at his leg. Moving as but a blur, the Emperor deflected the attack and countered with a twist of his blade that brought it dangerously close to Kadir’s heart, but the Acrenian leaned back to dodge the sword and flicked his own blade point upward, just missing cutting Blask’s throat. Pivoting quickly to gain a better stance, Kadir parried a stab from his enemy and finished the same movement with a sideways slash that left a hair-thin scratch across the belly of Blask’s jerkin. Blask, who had jolted back as if he’d been punched to avoid the cutting edge of Kadir’s weapon, immediately stepped back to regain his balance and swung his scimitar up then, stepped forward again and slashed down at an angle, all so smoothly it appeared to be in the same movement. Kadir sidestepped the attack then swung his greatsword at Blask’s neck, but was stopped by the Emperor’s sword which seemed to appear out of thin air to block the other blade. Once again, their swords and eyes locked and they pushed against each other for the upper hand.
“Your skills have improved since we last met,” Blask panted.
“As have yours,” Kadir grunted in answer, “Your speed especially seems to have increased greatly since that day.”
With a burst of sparks they leapt apart and landed several feet from each other. Now, they began circling around the center of the room. The firelight cast vicious shadows on them as they slowly revolved.
“So, it’s true then,” the General growled, “I heard you had been consuming souls, but I didn’t think you would stoop to such devilry. All this just to face me?”
Blask threw back his head and laughed mirthlessly. He dropped his gaze to meet Kadir's again and several dark locks fell across his face, granting it a more menacing image. “No. I didn’t do it to face you. I did to kill you, and to rule a land that I watched suffer too much in my youth. Now, I cannot die and I will soon return the great land of Acren to its highest glory and magnificence.” His abyss-colored eyes seemed to glow even brighter. “Now, I cannot die,” he repeated, “I can finally take your soul, as well!”
He grinned wildly and rushed. He was too fast for an ordinary human to follow, but Kadir’s practiced eyes tracked Blask with ease. At the last possible moment, he pivoted and watched Blask charge past him. He slashed down, expecting to catch the Emperor across his shyly protected back before he stepped out of reach, but was surprised to see Blask stop and turn sharply to suddenly face him again. He continued his downward attack, trying to kill Blask before the Emperor wounded him, but Blask swiftly brought up his own blade and stabbed into Kadir’s armored side while Emberblade’s greatsword cleaved several inches into Blask’s shoulder.
Kadir gave a loud snarl as the scimitar pierced his armor and drove into his side, but Blask gave hardly a sigh at his own wound. Blood oozed rapidly from both gashes and spilled onto the marble floor to pool around their feet. Blask reached up and grabbed Kadir’s sword by the blade and removed it from his shoulder with his bare hand. Then, he quickly brushed the weapon aside and removed his own blade from Kadir’s side and kicked him in the gut. The force of the blow sent Kadir soaring several feet through the air to land sprawled on his back, greatsword miraculously remaining in hand.
“I told you,” Blask uttered dangerously as his wound began to heal before Kadir’s very eyes. “I cannot die. You, on the other hand, can.”
The General propped himself up on his huge blade and slowly stood. His own wound was healing, too, emitting a strange steam as it closed and repaired. He faced the Emperor with his mouth locked in an angry snarl. A subtle growl rolled from his throat as he settled into a battle ready stance and replied, “You underestimate me, Blask. Don’t you remember my powers? Let me refresh your memory!”
A flash of light momentarily blinded the Emperor and a strange sound like a flag flapping in the wind struck his ear and suddenly the reason for Kadir’s second name was revealed: bright orange and red flames burned fiercely all along the length of his greatsword. A gust of wind blustered throughout the room, seeming to come from the General himself as a fiery aura shimmered into view around his whole body. His reddish hair waved about his head in the wind. His body tensed in preparation for a final charge.
Blask barked another mirthless chuckle and cried, “You cannot kill me, old friend. Nothing can stop me! My souls grant me more power than even a half-breed like you could gather.”
“You’re a fool, Blask. Death comes for all, even for you. And today you shall see its face!”
With those words, the General rushed with blinding speed. He thrust his greatsword and impaled the Emperor on its blade, the flames quickly setting the rest of his body ablaze. As the blade passed through his body, Blask’s eyes took on a strange glimmer. They seemed to be locked on something only he could see. Kadir would never know what his ancient opponent saw in that moment. He would never lay eyes on that sight for many lifetimes. But the vision was one all beings witness eventually. It is inevitable.
What Blask saw was exactly what Kadir promised he would: the face of Death itself. Just as Kadir’s flaming sword pierced his heart, the Emperor’s world suddenly seemed to slow then stop entirely. Behind the General the air shimmered for several moments then the space literally cracked. It started small, only a few inches long, but grew quickly until it spider-webbed nearly twenty feet up and at least half as wide to create innumerable jagged edged panels of space. Then, without as single sound, the panels shattered into fine pieces, leaving a void of blackness in their place. The blackness seeped into the chamber slowly in dark slender tendrils, accompanied by a biting cold.
Suddenly, an enormous pure white curving scythe blade appeared vertically through Blask’s chest. It never made a sound, and he never saw it swing. He simply noticed it and looked down at his chest to see it there. Looking back up, he stared straight into a face as pale as the blade in his chest, yet as dark as night's deepest shadow. It had no eyes, but at the same time it had many. It had no mouth or nose, yet had many. It was a face of flesh and blood, but a livid skull all at once.
Next, he noticed the hands. Equally as light and dark and strange as the face, they were skin and muscle, and naught but bone simultaneously. They gripped a tendril of that emptiness, which seemed both nonexistent and solid altogether, both firmly and lightly, with intense focus and strength and no effort or weight. The hands both grasped and released the shaft of void that was connected to the pure white scythe blade in his chest, but at the same time the darkness itself seemed hold the blade.
Silence and stillness pressed in all around Blask for what seemed over an eternity, and then several things happened all at once. A thousand screams pierced the frozen air. The massive blade left his chest as unnoticeably as it entered. All the souls he had consumed over the millennia burst from a black void-like hole in his chest in a wild torrent of transparent limbs, bodies, and faces. Everything else began to move again, and Kadir’s greatsword plunged through his body. In the last seconds of his life, Blask noticed a single soul impaled on the giant scythe blade that now appeared to be propped against a shoulder of that emptiness that was both there and a hallucination. That soul, he realized just before the blackness consumed him, was his own soul.
After Blask’s death, Kadir made his way back outside the castle. His battle with his old apprentice had taken longer than he thought, and most of the Emperor’s troops had either surrendered and been captured, or were dead. A few small groups stubbornly refused to yield, but they fell quickly under the strength of the Acrenian forces. Overhead, lances of sunlight burst through the heavy clouds to illuminate the bloodied battlefield. Heavy casualties plagued both sides, but the rebels had won in the end. Kadir’s own soldiers had not left their post. Many of them had been slain preventing the enemy from following their leader. As he had when this battle began, the General tilted his head back to gaze at the sky. And as he had then, again he saw the past. This time, though, it was a different past, feeling of joy and happiness and shining with smiles and echoing laughter. This day, however, it had all come to an end.