–The Age of Death,
The Seventh World, Post Exodus 565–
His robe had at one time been white, a garment of silk caressing his flesh. Now, covered in the stains of his enemies' foul blood it dragged at his heels, threatening to trip him with every step. Moving awkwardly in order to avoid such a fall, he approached the arched portal leading him out of the tower and into the rain. His blue eyes misted over as he paused at the threshold, remembering the allies and friends desecrated by the Plague. He took a moment before continuing out into the night, his thoughts not only on his allies but on the legends as well.
The legends . . . I never believed.
Surviving the horrors of the day had blessed him with a newfound faith. The Ancients knew this day would come, but Dertois never imagined it would come to pass, certainly not during his reign.
Three whole days . . .
For three whole days the defenders lined the Red Wall, destroying all that moved within the circle of earth and stone. Lock Core was thought to be impregnable, built by the Ancients themselves knowing that one day the Plague would come for them.
Darkness and rain washed over his form as Dertois left the chamber and stepped outside. Immediately he was drenched, his robe soiled and clinging to his flesh. Below him streaks of fire arced into the night, while distant shouts mingled with the wind screeching past his ears. He felt a momentary chill as a gust of wind lashed out at him, then his skin was covered in a bluish light and he felt nothing at all.
Beneath the flickering aura he gazed out over the ground below, to the red wall of Lock Core, where the rain cascaded on armored defenders desperate to empty their quivers into the pool of darkness before them. The dark . . . a field of shadows hidden beneath the night and the great Red Wall. He shifted his gaze there, into the shadows, and through eyes of blue fire he saw a landscape of soulless beings howling for the defenders' flesh. And beyond them . . . a black gash rent the sky -- the Rift.
He watched it pulsing, hovering in the air and was filled with loathing. How he despised it, the gateway through worlds known as the Black Door, a tear in the fabric of space through which his ancestors had used to flee the Plague. Created to bind the universe into one world, all that it now conveyed was the end of all life, a horde of monstrosities which, despite the combined efforts of the Triad, continued to spill from the dark portal without end.
There is no end . . . Dertois thought, appalled by the sight before him, the truth of Adros' words finally sinking in – according to the Elf Prince, the Plague once hunted the living, devouring world after world. Nothing could withstand them . . . not Adros himself, or even the Gods. Eventually the living worlds were no more. Those who survived were forced to wander the Forsaken Worlds, until Adros found them and gave them hope, and a home – the Seventh World.
It was a living world, a planet lush with life and blessed with one amazing feature -- greeting their arrival, everywhere the Ancients looked, sheer walls of red granite arose before them, a natural barrier to the evils lurking within the Black Door. Homeless and weary, their spirits soared at the sight and together the races declared that they would no longer flee but make their last stand atop those heights. From that moment on, they quickly set to work perfecting what nature had made, filling any of the gaps with piles of earth encased in stone. Thus, Lock Core was created, a gigantic wall that was still very much a mountain.
Generations later, the Ancients' descendants continued to add to their creation, strengthening Lock Core with towers, internal causeways, and multileveled walls. It wasn't until the memory of the Ancients and the Plague faded into myth that the Triad were at last satisfied and finally able to live in peace within their new found home-world.
But the Elf Prince also warned them that they would never truly be safe; that the Plague would find them once more – it always did. Now, untried and blanketed by the dust of ages, the Red Wall was Dertois ward. It became his fortune to face the awakening Rift and to finally test the toil of generations.
I will not fail.
'Our efforts are wasted on all fronts, my Lord. Even our brethren of the Magi blood fall, assassinated by beings unheard of in the legends.'
The voice of his advisor, LeCynic penetrated his mind, disrupting his thoughts. The young mage had proven his worth time and again in the last three days. Always his greatest pupil, LeCynic's recent display of power was surprising and often frightening to Dertois. He had always known the young mage would surpass him, but he never suspected it would occur so suddenly.
As for his reports, Dertois knew the truth of them all too well. He had faced one of the beings himself, surviving the encounter only by drawing on every last bit of strength he possessed. Though he lived, he was certain that the creature did as well, and that it hunted him still, watching and waiting from within the darkness.
'We must do something before all is lost.' His advisor's voice continued in his mind, his words accompanied by a wave of urgency.
We must do something . . . He didn't need the man to tell him that. But what could they possibly do?
"Over five hundred years have passed, and nothing."
He crossed the balcony, his frustration and power amplifying his voice so that he could be heard as the wind and screams mounted below.
"No wars to be fought. No world to defend. We deluded ourselves into thinking we were at peace. Safe within our ancestral wall."
Water trickled down his wrist, winding its way through the contours of his flesh, washing away the blood of his enemies. Gritting his teeth, Dertois squeezed the iron railing, his skin growing pale from the exertion. He stood on the balcony, his eyes narrow slits peering into the darkness before him.
"Now . . ."
Though hundreds of yards distant and enshrouded in the night he could clearly see the dark portal festering in the land, spewing forth the Plague upon the Seventh World. A crack of thunder heralded the arrival of yet another new being -- a behemoth of bone. Illuminated by a lightning flare it emerged, shredding its nearby allies with hooked claws and fangs. Its lust for flesh so great that even the undead fell victim to its hunger. The being crouched down, pausing to pluck a morsel from the horde of walking dead. With its mouth full of rotten flesh it continued on, unsatisfied and eager to feel warm blood on its tongue.
". . .the Rift stirs, and through the dark portal pours every last minion of the Forsaken Worlds." His voice hissed through gritted teeth, while below him the monstrous being lumbered forward, crushing the undead beneath its feet.
"The wall will hold, my Lord," the words came from behind and were spoken slowly, rumbling from the speaker's throat as though drawn from the bottom of some distant cavernous depth.
"Aye, but can we, Drau'd?" Dertois replied to his longtime friend and ally, the boulder dwarf, Drau'd. Leaving deep indents within the iron from where his hands had been, he released the railing. "I do not doubt that the creation of your kin will remain standing until the end of all time. But what of us, Drau'd? How will we fare once the Red Wall is overrun?"
Dertois could feel the dwarf's lungs sucking the air from the room as he prepared to speak.
"We cannot escape death, Dertois. The Ancients knew this. We adhere to the pact. Fight until we die. That is how it will end, in victory or in death."
"Aye, I say what better way to die then in battle," Ebboron, Lord of the Rock Dwarves declared. "We've taken the gift of our forefathers for granted and I dare say we've grown weak because of it. The Rift has been quiet far too long in my opinion. It's time we become the great warriors our ancestors meant us to be."
Regaining his composure, Dertois turned, facing into the chamber. The representatives of the races had come together in the uppermost level of Lock Core's northern tower, a room which had been utilized by the Ancients as a sentry post, a place for the Triad to keep a constant eye on the Rift. The light in the chamber was dim, illuminated by only three candles arrayed at three points of the compass, north, east and west. To Dertois' back were the south, the darkness, and the Rift. It was within this chamber that the inhabitants of the Seventh World had seen the Rift come alive, and now it was there that they met to discuss the ways in which they would avoid their annihilation.
The sentry chamber itself was round, topped with a domed ceiling that had once been layered with silver, but had long since been stripped of the precious ore, revealing a framework of copper and rotting wood beneath. The walls were comprised of thick interlocking stones, smaller, yet similar to those that made up the main wall of Lock Core. They were reddish in hue and often riddled with cracks. All of the stones were identical in shape -- large four foot blocks interlocked by a complex system of tongue and grooves chiseled on their surfaces. Tiles covered the floor, their faces worn smooth and white through the ages. In the center of the room a staircase of rusted iron spiraled down through the tower's lower levels which were seven stories of shooting galleries -- walls dissected with arrow slits.
The lights in the chamber flickered, causing shadows to dance on the faces of Dertois' companions as they looked toward him with expressions mixed with courage and dread. Including Dertois, there were four humans, two dwarves, and one elf. Together, they were all that remained of the Council of the Seventh World and the representatives of the Triad of Races.
If the elves had a leader, it would be Solo Ki -- the last of the pure-blooded elves, the true descendants of Adros. As such, he was ancient, even for an immortal, perhaps the last being in existence to have witnessed the Forsaken Worlds. Dertois could only guess at his age, though others swore that he existed long before the coming of the Plague, in the days when the worlds were one. He stared at Dertois, his white pupils surrounded in gray poking out from beneath his hood as he patiently awaited Dertois' next words.
Other than that small portion of his face, the rest of his body was fully concealed, hidden within the folds of a tattered and dust covered cape. In his hand was a long wooden staff that resembled a knotted and twisted piece of driftwood colored with a mixture of black and red. The wood itself was so smooth and polished that the candle light gleamed off of it as though it were steel. To the casual observer, it appeared to be nothing more than a walking staff, but Dertois knew it to be the most powerful weapon in all of the Seventh World. The Graelic. The weapon which Adros himself had used to lead the races in their battle to enter the Rift. Passed down to him through the line of Adros, the Graelic was made even fiercer when wielded in the skillful hands of Solo Ki.
Dertois was comforted by the appearance of the Elf Lord and thankful that he had come to join in their battle. It was well known that Solo Ki had made a home of the outlands, shunning the city of Lock Core in favor of wandering the uncharted wilderness beyond the Gorian Range. Some people went as far as to say that Solo Ki had abandoned the Seventh World altogether.
Even though the cloth rippled in the wind, Dertois could still detect the contour of the elf's slender body, particularly where the cloth rested on his shoulders, hugging them like flesh being stretched over bone. In order to meet the gaze of Dertois, Solo Ki had to dip his head.
Drau'd and Ebboron, the dwarves, stood side by side, a strange pairing of boulder and rock. Drau'd towered over Ebboron. Actually, Drau'd towered over everyone in the room, even the wiry Solo Ki. Standing near nine feet tall and thick as two men, the boulder dwarf seemed to fill the entire chamber with his bulky frame, while the diminutive rock dwarf Ebboron appeared in danger of being squashed should Drau'd decide to move.
As for the human representatives; there was Dertois' young advisor, LeCynic, Hitt'rille Lady Protector and commander of Lock Core's northern garrison and of course the beautiful raven haired High Mage Nicola. Lastly there was Dertois himself, Ruler of the Kingdom of Humanity, Keeper of the Wall, and Supreme Protector of the Seventh World -- a string of titles so long that when called to utter them they filled his mouth like puke. There was some comfort in the knowledge that soon this burden would no longer be his. Even if he survived this battle it had become overwhelmingly obvious that Dertois was ill equipped for the title. No doubt the Order would deem LeCynic to be more than an adequate replacement.
'My Lord. The enemy seems focused on overcoming the northern front. We need to act now.'
Steeling his nerves, he looked toward LeCynic who was calmly leaning against the wall, arms crossed, his hands hidden within his white robe which somehow remained immaculate, despite the chaos of the last three days. The robe seemed suddenly ill-fitting on the young mage.
We must do something.
"Amass our forces along the northern wall. Reinforce it with our forces from the east and western fronts leaving only a contingent army upon those walls. Should the undead attempt to overrun our flanks, have our southern forces ready to rush to their aid."
Nodding at his words, the Lady Protector Hitt'rille spun to relay the orders to her officers waiting in the room below. Draped over her shoulders was an olive green mantle which signified her rank. Having recently pulled it from the corpse of her former commander the garment appeared scarlet being saturated with the man's blood. She quickly descended the ladder and could be heard by the rest of the Council barking orders to those below.
Dertois' body faintly glowed while slivers of light began crawling from his flesh, like worms creeping from moistened earth. Turning to Nicola he said, "Gather all the mages, it is time we rejoin the battlefront."
Her watery light blue eyes lowered to the floor as she softly replied, "Aye, my lord."
"Aaarrr . . ." wobbling forward, Drau'd's roar seemed to shake the room. "So that all may live!"
His heart sank to see the battle lust filling the eyes of the normally gentle giant.
"Aye, so that all may live . . ." Dertois replied, his fists transformed into balls of fire hanging at his sides. ". . . we shall fight, from this world to the next."
Outside, the rain and the undead army continued to pound the wall of Lock Core.
“I warned you it was so,” Solo Ki whispered into his ear.
He opened his mouth. Even gave some sort of reply. But whatever words he said were suddenly lost.
The darkness came, and the sound of the earth screaming tore his voice away.
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish