Thursday, December 10, 2009

Paladin-Part 16

James paused to look back at the moon-lit plume of smoke arising from the bonfire built to burn the corpse of his slain comrade. The whereabouts of Cavil remained wholly unknown, and--despite the aggravation he caused--James acutely felt regret in not being able to go after his missing man. He knew that the mission was dangerous, that the enemy would not hesitate to exploit weakness or incompetence, and combined that meant that he knew that he had to push on no matter the costs incurred.

Long after dark, when the men made camp for the night, James and Thomas sat at the center near a well-concealed fire. Thomas took the weapon of the huntress Jaja out of the blanket wherein he kept it, removed it from the blanket and rested the weapon in his lap. Long, like the shaft of a bow, but open at one end; the other end flatted out somewhat, as if it were a misshapen and undersized boat oar, with steel or iron mechanisms embedded into the flat cylindrical shaft-like weapon.

"This was the woman's weapon?" James said, "It seems to be a relic of the world before the Azure Flames. I wonder if it's the same weapon that our fathers' faced?"

Thomas nodded. "I think that it is, James." he said, as he opened a slide on the weapon's shaft and removed a projectile, "According to what divinations I've used, this is a rather ordinary weapon that our grandfathers probably used in war, and I think even they thought of this particular weapon as old when they were young."

Just then, Torquil joined them at the campfire, but Thomas noticed that Torquil's eyes showed that another usurped their companion's form and slowly slipped a free hand for his materials pouch.

"No need." Torquil said, "You are expected. You've been told that aid can be had out here, by one of my brothers, were you not?"

James turned to Thomas, who in turn shut out all distractions and focused his will upon the entity speaking through Torquil's body. The young wizard drew forth his talisman and glanced at it briefly.

"We were." Thomas said, and he signaled James to relax, "Who are you, and what brings you here?"

"You may call me 'Sybil', youths, and I am here because your actions--as well as those of the One and the Eight--had effects that you ought to know, effects that will inevitably force a change in your actions. Let me start with that weapon; it is a firearm, a weapon that uses a chemical reaction to produce a controlled explosion which is then channeled down the barrel--that is the purpose of the open-ended shaft--in order to shoot a projectile called a 'bullet' at the target. This specific form of firearm is a rifle, one modified for precision accuracy, and I see that you retrieved it from a slain enemy."

"True." James said, starting at Torquil's body while listening to an obviously older--and apparently female--entity's voice, "We have no such weapons, save for the pneumatic devices at the border holds."

"I intend to use this weapon to trace the path back to our enemy's center of power. Is that not wise, Sybil?" Thomas said.

Torquil betrayed no emotion or intention, yet Sybil spoke: "It is, but your time is short. Already the fair one, having the means, returns the abomination known as 'the Pale One' back from oblivion. Soon the huntress shall return, and their magician will use the very theorems of magic that you seek to exploit to track you down and see you all slain."

Thomas sat stunned, but James shook off the shock swiftly.

"They have the power to resurrect the dead?" James said, "All of them, or just this fair...oh, I know now which one you speak of; again, just that man or do more of the enemy possess the power?"

Thomas, now recovered, tuned out the others and began a low, quiet intoning as he began the seeking magics.

"We know that only two of them can do such things, both differently, though they are under orders to train others by the master of the cult. The one called 'Nim' can do so only for one individual, and that magic requires the use of a spell ahead of time to capture the soul of the one so enchanted; it lasts a limited time. The other one needs some piece of the corpse, and so can revive the dead at any time. It should be no surprise that both are reluctant to teach their secret techniques, lest they be killed by fearful or jealous rivals."

Just then, a thought came to James. The power to raise the dead seemed so out of place for a cult dedicated to the trafficking with demons and all things infernal, and this other ability seemed more in keeping with the cult's form of magic, which further perplexed the young warrior- a confusion that Sybil noticed.

"The fair one is 'Dezikon', youth, and though often arrogant and self-important he is less inclined than his fellows towards the cruelty and brutality so commonplace in the cult's culture. Your doubt as to his fit is well-deserved."

Thomas, again displaying prodigious mastery of the arcane arts, emerged from his state of intense concentration with some sweat upon his brow.

"I have the exact location of both the cult's center of power as well as where the barbarians gather for celebration or preparation of the whole nation. What, dare I say, should I do with this weapon now?"

James didn't hesitate: "Cleanse it and cast it away."

Sybil then intervened and took the rifle away. "I will handle it. Worry not about your companion; I shall not risk his life. I will return him to you unharmed, and he shall be guided back to you at the best possible time."

Another thought occurred James then: "What of our brother, Cavil?"

"Another of my brothers is now with him. He cannot be of any service to this cause, so we shall ensure his return to the White Tower- and he shall be ready to serve on his return."

James then turned to Thomas, and directed Sybil-in-Torquil closer.

"It is no accident that this Dezikon's powers display themselves in the same way as the great display of might from the One and the Eight against the cult. They are of the same source, and it cannot help but to influence this fair man's mind and soul; if we are to succeed, he must become our ally and turn against the cult."

Thomas sat astonished at the leap of logic, but Sybil smiled.

"You are ready, youth." Sybil said, and then Torquil left the camp with the rifle.

"I hope you're right, James." Thomas said, "Or you will end up killing us all."

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