A History of Blade and Light, p.1Joseph Turkot
A HISTORY OF BLADE AND LIGHT
DARKIN: SHORT STORIES COLLECTION
Copyright © 2013 by Joseph Turkot
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THE BATTLE OF RISLIND PLATEAU
THE GREAT PLAIN APPEARED CALM UNDER THE WANING SUN. A copper shadow swept over jade hills before finally washing out into a smothering pink gloom, and all the remaining men of Flaer Swordhand’s party stood gazing into the horizon as if transfixed. The sun finished its descent and died behind the distant Angelyn range; Flaer turned to his battered fellowship yet he spoke not. He glared east, whence Vesleathren had ravaged them.
He knew Vesleathren would cycle back. He held his sword, the Brigun Autilus, high; those who stood alongside him felt reassured that such legendary strength had yet to be thwarted by evil. The company of warriors stood fast atop the great Rislind Plateau that jutted mightily above the Vashnod plain.
A great darkness swept toward them from the Solun desert in the south. Flaer regained his composure and looked around at his fallen comrades. He gripped tightly the Brigun Autilus as shadow overtook the range, and all about was gloom: no stars, nor lights of any kind, lit the firmament. A song began to echo from the foothills in the east, meandering eerily from Rislind. Flaer returned his gaze to those men still alive at his side. At length, he spoke:
“Vesleathren has not slain our valor, nor has he bared our true hardihood. We must raise our mettle together; we must, or die plague-ridden upon this hill. Though he assails us outright from the shadow, we will vanquish his sad form this night,” he rallied his men. The staggering squadron assembled itself. Swords were drawn with renewed vigor as the troop cried a battle cheer into the starless black.
“For there is light still upon Rislind!” Flaer roared. The men at his side erupted at the sight of his sword: the Brigun Autilus lit, enflamed in red and white light, and suddenly the eastern path to the foothills assumed shape again from the formless black. The cascading aura issued from his sword brighter than it ever had before, illuminating the forest surrounding the Rislind mountains.
The men stood still as a figure appeared deep in the distance, several leagues away, and charged toward the party in terrible haste. As it closed on them, Flaer recognized the vision to be Delfog, Fire Wyvern of the North Country; Vesleathren the Black Mage was its banshee rider.
“Slow, black mage! Leave—Go hither and yon, whence you came, so that you may repent for your aged master’s sins, lest your loyalty burns so that you meet tonight your former blade forged anew!” Flaer warned. His voice drove across the plateau as thunder. He raised the burning Brigun Autilus against its maker.
At that instant, Flaer’s men readied their swords to meet the approaching dragon. The red wyvern weaved in and out of sight, but Flaer’s light stayed true; the black mage could find no stealth among the shadows. The wyvern descended to meet the earth and stood still on the ground, gazing west toward its enemies, the last band of six. Vesleathren sat, robed in black atop his beast; the Song of Evil grew louder, increased by the dragon itself. At once, two men beside Flaer stood as if petrified, frozen and unblinking. A curse of melody had rent their bodies spoiled.
“Heed not that siren—black mana plays in those notes! Know that Molto, greatest Vapour of Darkin, seeks to aid us still, might we stand long enough together to witness his return,” Flaer claimed, and Ehmarn the Strong responded with doubt:
“Molto is dead. I saw his demise upon the Solun; there he decays.”
“No Ehmarn—your eyes mislead you. Vapoury deceives those who know not its nature. Believe my prophecy—else run quick to Delfog so that he may slay you sooner,” Flaer commanded. Suddenly the Brigun Autilus shone fully, and Delfog’s song stopped abruptly, as the dragon cowered from the sun-bright blade that bored away the darkness.
“We charge on my word,” Flaer said.
“But he’s still terribly far, and we’ve not the strength for it,” replied Nulbus Ferlwar, warrior bandit of the Hemlin-Auk country.
“Mind your strength not, Nulbus. Stay my rear—On! To death and destruction!” Flaer yelled, charging forth. His three yet unfrozen allies blitzed forward, trailing him; the gap slowly closed between the last warriors and Vesleathren. The dragon glared, stoned inside the glare of the Brigun Autilus, but Vesleathren made no move to leave his beast. The men following Flaer thought it strange that the mage did not dismount:
“He sits still,” grunted Ehmarn as he caught up to Flaer.
“He conjures something, look!” shouted Ganfell Ferlwar, son of Nulbus Ferlwar, fourth amongst their rank.
“What is it?” Ehmarn spat. The party came to a halt twenty yards from Vesleathren. The mage gathered an enormous swirling energy from the sky, and though there were no stars, each of them saw a terrifying sight writhe in the darkness: Vesleathren drew command of the black clouds shrouding the road, drew them in; he wove them into a wind-driven spiral, then unleashed its fury in the direction of the warriors. Though Delfog stood stoned before the light, Vesleathren began to summon another great spell of evil. Even Flaer could not guess its design.
“Cover!” Ehmarn erupted, but Flaer opposed him:
“Stand fast! He cannot sight us,” he replied, raising his sword over his shoulders, focusing its intensity into a beam centered upon the black mage. The light around Vesleathren dissolved into his swirling jet mass, harvested to grow his spiral. Soon, wind gusted westward at impossible speed, pushing the men back. The white light of hope dimmed further, and finally receded back into the Brigun Autilus; the sword had been defeated.
“He stops your light? Do not let him!” Nulbus urged, but Flaer could do nothing against the black might. Gradually, all light left the plateau—the men stood as in their graves.
“Drop it!” Ehmarn commanded to Flaer, as demonic energy began to flash within the sword’s metal, but Flaer stood stubborn, and soon the energy ripped around the Brigun Autilus; Flaer let out a tortured cry of anguish as thunder sounded; his sword sparked, flying from his hands. He crashed to the ground and was slow to regain his feet. He teetered, dizzy from the immense blast.
“Delfog!” cried Ganfell, but it was too late: flames streamed from the wyvern’s mouth, consuming Ganfell, son of Nulbus. His body a flailing statue, fire-lit, was the only light upon the land, and soon he crumpled to the ground; at that moment, Nulbus wailed loudly. Legend tells that even Vesleathren shuddered at the cry of Ganfell as he sat atop Delfog. Nulbus fell to his knees. He wept openly at the death of his son. As if in response to the anguish of his enemies, Vesleathren dismounted Delfog and laughed openly at Nulbus’s sorrow.
“Evil clot! Come—laugh again—my blade will tear the meat from your neck ere the noise travels,” roared Nulbus. In a rage, he ran forth to meet Vesleathren, even as Flaer tried to restrain him. There was nothing the others could do before Nulbus sprinted at Vesleathren in godly haste and blind rage. They watched his hoary blade Silver Fang find Vesleathren’s neck only to shatter with the blow. Vesleathren laughed again. He quickly gripped Nulbus’s neck and lifted him high into the air:
“Watch now my mercy, as I let you meet your son once more,” Vesleathren said dryly. Delfog turned to Nulbus and opened its jaws. With the speed of a demon, Flaer recovered the Brigun Autilus from the ground by the smoldering ruin of Ganfell, and being with it again, he mustered all his spe
Ehmarn quickly followed. They reached the dragon as it bit into the torso of Nulbus, who screamed uselessly; Flaer and Ehmarn both raised their swords, poised to strike the dragon together and counter its death blow ere it could slay Nulbus, yet Vesleathren interfered: he conjured from his dark well of mana, gesturing his hands at them both, releasing a crippling wind that sent them hurtling west as swiftly as they had run forward.
In desperation, Flaer regained his feet with great haste as Ehmarn lay lifeless on the ground. As he rose, a vision stabbed his gut: Delfog’s fangs mutilated Nulbus, twisting him in half at the waist; and thus forever was the line of Ferlwar ended, and again on Darkin would there never walk a descendent of Nulbus, though legend later came to tell of his line’s bravery. For many seasons after did the deeds of Nulbus and Ganfell pass into song.
Flaer tried to compose himself, aghast and raw from the horror of Vesleathren’s wrath, which had disabled all who might have stood with him against evil. He faced the great wizard alone. Vesleathren made no move, nor did Delfog. Flaer raised his sword:
“Think clearly, friend. You ought not struggle here and now, as father wishes you intact. Should I bring you back damaged, I don’t know what he might do,” Vesleathren said.
“You prod me to nothing but a will to bury you,” Flaer
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