Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Paladin-Part 23

At long last, the White Tower warriors arrived at the foot of Silvertop Mountain. The Cult of Kogone did not react in time to their arrival, and so the White Tower warriors seized the initiative and assault their enemy's fortress and font of power. Meanwhile Torquil and Dezikon, already inside, swiftly slew the sentries that barred the gates to ensure easy access to their brothers.

"Follow me." Dezikon said, "I know the way."

James nodded, and lead Dezikon did. Through hidden passages and concealed caverns the party traveled, striking at ill-prepared cultists and slaying them before alarms went out, in a calculated plan of aggressive ambushes. At last, a patrol investigating a post gone silent did raise an alarm, but by then they were far too late. Resistance went from nothing to pathetic, and the ambushes escalated in frequency and brutality, but even with Thomas masking their presence they could not remain undetected for long.

Soon the patrols increased in number and strength, adding demons to their numbers of a variety of types and potency, and the assault turned into a game of cat and mouse- of hit and fade. The demons did not help the cultists; Dezikon's divine power smote them utterly, and the others sunk their steel deep into the cultists' flesh without much effort. This only enraged the remaining cultists, but again it availed them not- mightier demons still fell before Dezikon's divine might, and still their mortal managers met fates fitting for fools.

Hours passed as the band rampaged within the mountain fortress with impunity, slaying all opposition before them, until they had swept, cleared and sanctified the majority of the enemy's domain. Only the center, wherein the ritual room and the font of the cult's power resides, remained.

Within lay two figures. One, the master of the cult, lay slumped on the floor- and, by his posture, quite dead. The other, standing over his former master, is the new master of the Cult of Kogone: Nim the Warlock.

Neither side paused for pleasantries. Nim cast down a handful of pebble-sized things from his hands, and erupting out of the ground where they fell came forth an army of demons and infernal rockmen; they, in turn, ripped a hole in the fabric of reality to allow Nim's patron to show himself- Kogone himself.

But already the battle ardor seized the White Tower warriors and they crashed as one into their supernatural foes. With holy fire, utter-cold frost and magma-like fire at their backs the warriors cleaved a path of ruin that none could resist; the army of demons and rockmen shattered, sundered and crumbled. Just then, as they neared the hated foes all of them felt within them the presence of beings of such puissance and stature infuse their flesh.

Nim, not a fool, disappeared in a flash and quit his master. Kogone meant to follow, but an unseen force seized his supernatural form and held it just fast and long enough to slam shut the portal from Hell from which he emerged. Trapped, he turned to the body of young men and saw each possessed the glowing eyes that revealed to him the energizing of form that fleshless spirits leave to those with the sight to see it.

"Your end is now." the Archmage said, through James.

"Though we disagree," Sybil said, through Torquil, "on this we are as one."

Kogone tried to move, but found his form frozen. The other youths, staring intently at him, had some unknown power that held him down. Thomas's spell successfully cut his speech off, silencing him. Only Dezikon remained, and he suddenly burst forth into a gigantic form of raw angelic glory. Wordlessly, he unleashed a divine storm of holy fury and struck Kogone dead in a single cleaving blow with his sword.

"Nim remains." Dezikon said.

"We foresee his own fate." Mentor said, speaking through Thomas, "But before that time, we foresee much growth and development for the People of the Tower. Return with us, blessed one, and share your gifts with our people."

Without hesitation: "I would be honored."

And back at the summit of the White Tower, stoic David wept a tear of joy. Thus did the People of the White Tower come to prove their worth to the Creator, ensuring the survival of a renewed Mankind.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Paladin-Part 22

James, Thomas, the Hamilton twins and the rest of the host of warriors from the White Tower stood ready and prepared as they saw the mutant barbarian horde and their brutal masters--the Champions of Kogone--come out of the dense forest and into the clearing. The misshapen, bestial mockeries of men hooted and howled as they spread themselves into a rough line of men approximately forming a great shield wall. At the center of this line stood the great green-skinned monstrosity known as Red, reincarnated in new flesh, again wielding his signature arms and wearing his iconic armor. In the rear, atop a thing that might've been a flightless bird, is Jaja.

"Nim is not here." Thomas said to James, "Torquil is in danger."

"I suspect that, even if our enemies don't know our plan, they still suspect some sort of treachery. Nim is either the means to stop it, or the agent of it. Either way, we can do nothing for our man nor against our foe. It's up to them. We have to focus on what is before us."

Just then, behind him, a runner came to James.

"Sir! Permission to remove the enemy's primary asset."

James glanced over at a concealed man, armed with a bow, and nodded. Then he turned to Thomas, who already knew what question James had on his mind.

"Yes, I've done what I can for him. As my attention shall be occupied elsewhere, it is all I am able to do. The rest relies on you and him."

"A fact of which I am painfully aware."

James turned to the runner and whispered into his ear. The man then swiftly ran down to the men about the palisade and repeated instructions to each man there. All of them took note of Jaja's position and shifted their stance such that they made the most of the cover offered by the palisade.

Red, now atop some thing that might've been a bear or other canine once, rode up and down the line stoking the fires of fury within the barbarian horde at his command; in that same time, Thomas noted that Jaja slipped away towards the right flank and again dipped into the woods. Without anyone noticing, he fixed a mark to the woman hidden to all sight but those versed in magic; without Nim around, again he could dominate the field.

The mutant horde, as one, raised their arms to the sky and bellowed a warcry that put the men of the White Tower ill at ease. Then the horde charged forward, headless of all that clear ground between the break in the treeline and the crude hill-fort where the men made their stand. Archers behind the palisade, and hidden from sight from without, fired flaming arrows high into the air in volley after volley; some struck home, but most hit the ground instead- and sparking the open ground to burst into flame.

Immediately after the walls of flame erupted, Thomas ascended the one tower at the center of the fort. Eyeing groups of barbarians splintering away from the broken charge, he brought down one frozen icestorm after another upon them. Fixed in place just long enough, scores of mutants died a horrific and ignoble death through inhaling flames. Some, rallied by Red, negotiated their way through the fires and the flames to near the palisade; again, archers winnowed away at this already reduced group, but not nearly enough slumped into the soot-suffused dirt with shafts sunk into their deformed breasts and through their degenerate hearts.

Just then, the magical mark blinked into Thomas's view; Jaja appeared his view, with her lethal longarm leveled at his head. With a mightly clap of his hands, Thomas put forth a prepared countermeasure; a palm-sized icicle manifested into his hand, a hand that threw that icicle towards Jaja's position and landed so far that clearly magic assisted the youth's throw. Where it struck, it melted and out from the mouse-sized drop erupted a massive form of water that assumed a vaguely man-like form; malice in its eyes, it rushed the girlish gunfighter while firing a hose-like cascade of water at her.

The water monster channeled Jaja towards her fellow and his remaining henchman, but it was not easy. Swift on her feet, and supremely proficient with her weapon, Jaja's resistance took its toll upon Thomas' summon subordinate. Yet, knowing well what ill end would befall her if it fixed her, she saved her skin and yet lost her battle; she fell victim to the trap and ended up pressed against the palisade- as soon as she got into range, the assigned archer fixed upon her and shot away her swiftness with arrows skewering her legs and pinning her arms; she fled to the safety of her kind. The men, wielding spears and stabbing swords, held their foes in place thereafter as James looked to Thomas to finish the battle.

"Now, Thomas!" James said, "Call down the hammer!"

Atop the tower, Thomas again held forth his hands. This time, he called down a great and terrible blizzard. His magical minion soaked them all with watery blasts, taking away what warmth they had; his spell froze the foes and chilled them so swiftly that, again, they froze solid within moments. Resistance stopped. Thomas looked towards the sky.

"Lord of Winter, I renew the ancient pact. Take their essence as our gift."

The frozen forms shattered, the shards shot into the sky and seemed to dissipate as drops of rain on the wind.

Within the mage's mind, Thomas heard the answer: "I am pleased. I acknowledge our bond, mortal, and I shall answer your calls once more."

An hour passed. The flames died down, then went out. Smoldering around them lay a flame-scoured clearing occasionally soaked by supernatural means. No casualties, this time, and a lasting victory over the Cult after many inconclusive ones.

"It worked?" James said.

"He accepted their essence. None of them shall return to life. This is good, for we shall need the aid of the Lord of Winter when we make the final push."

"Why didn't you say so before?"

"I was not certain as to how the Cult of Kogone preserved its members until recently, and that realization is what got me thinking of the ancients our ancestors once knew and made pacts with."

"Dangerous, isn't it?"

"Forces of nature aren't anywhere near demons from beyond the natural world."

"You're certain about this?"

"No, but it's the best option we have."

James sighed. He knew the truth, but he didn't have to like it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Paladin-Part 21

Working through Torquil, the renegade elder called "Sybil" bore through the mind of the Champion of Kogone known as "Dezikon". Her will drilled through his meager shield of ego and delusion, swiftly seizing his mind from him and taking it up as if it were her own. Possessing his body, Sybil paralyzed Dezikon and silenced his voice; still as death and so quiet as to seem so, it seemed as if the young scout flayed Dezikon with his mind and slew him. To outside observers, this seemed to be simple murder.

Dezikon, at that moment, fervently wished that were so- and not be trapped with some incorporeal madwoman in his mind. Yet he was, and Sybil showed no mercy whatsoever to the youth. Relentlessly she scoured his memories, dregged up painful pasts and forced him to fully repeat the excruciating experiences that conditioned him into becoming who and what he is now. Silently screaming, Dezikon's pain quickly and completely destroyed his resistance.

"What do you want of me?" he thought.

Coldly, clearly and concisely came Sybil's summary: "Dezikon, you must do what your powers demand of you--what the cult fears from you--and destroy Kogone!"

Dezikon did not respond, but Sybil sensed what he thought.

"Yes, you, by unleashing the golden light invested in you. That divine power slays the infernal wherever they meet, and you possess such power that your master fears you turning upon him. Why else does he dispatch you to slay his demonic minions?"

The youth, reluctantly, saw the truth. Slayer of errant demons, healer of warriors, blessing warbands, fearless leader of armies and so much more. Healing and protecting the cult's warriors and other members, but rarely dispatched to fight in his own right- what did Kogone and the others fear?

Just then, a dark and foul presence spread itself into Dezikon's mind, and Sybil met this enemy mind-to-mind, will-to-will and knew that this was one the cult's Grand Hierophant himself- the one that spoke for Kogone when that worthy was not present.

"MINE!" he thought, assault Sybil in a fury-fueled flaying attack upon Sybil. Thrown on the defense, Sybil deflected each lash of the psychic scourge until she felt his fury ebb- and then she thrust forth her own attack. With a puissance no infernalist could ever match, Sybil's psychic spear-like slam sliced through the Hierophant's ego-based defenses and struck something substantial.

"No." Sybil thought, still cold, "This youth's bondage I now sunder, his will I restore and his purpose I return. Too long did you slave him to your master's will by your abuse and lies."

Just then, Dezikon remembered. He remembered everything- everything! His ire stoked, his long-suppressed rage arosed, Dezikon turned upon his tormentor. In a brilliant golden flash Dezikon focused his will and cut down the Hierophant, and now shattered the Hierophant fled from Dezikon's mind.

Unfazed, Sybil turned her attention to the youth and thought "Now do you see?"

"Yes." Dezikon thought, "What more must I do?"

"Learn." Sybil thought, and she flooded Dezikon's mind with lore and lessons long overdue. A seeming lifetime later, Sybil withdrew from his mind and Dezikon regained control of himself. Standing, he turned to Torquil.

"She told you what to expect, yes?"

Torquil nodded.

"Then let it be done."

Torquil produced a small, fragile thing from the folds of his clothes. He shattered it against the ground with a flash and a puff of smoke.

"The others are now informed." Torquil said, and he turned to his subordinate, "Run for the others; they will need assistance. We have it from here."

The subordinate departed without a word, leaving only the scout and the spiritual warrior, who--knowing what needs to be done--turned back towards Silvertop Mountain and went to their grim work.

Distantly, Thomas perceived just beyond sight a pop of arcane power. The mage turned to James and smiled. James nodded, turned to a man below and signaled the alarm; the makeshift drums sounded the alert and the men readied themselves at the now-finished palisades. The warriors of the White Tower stood ready, knowing that all they need do now is hold the line.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Paladin-Part 20

The warriors of the White Tower turned directly for Silvertop Mountain and marches on it for days. On the first night, James ordered that each man set five campfires. Two nights later, James reduced this to four campfires. Four nights later, only three per man. Three days pass, and it's reduced to two. Two days, to one. The very next day, as the men reach another site to camp, James ordered each man to share a campfire. At that time, at last, all of the men understood clearly what their commander intended to do- and at that time they all looked to the mage Thomas.

For these two-and-some weeks, Thomas spent much of his day focusing upon unseen things; at times, he had to be led lest his intense concentration be disrupted by this or that thing he otherwise would've tripped over. In the evenings, when the tax upon his mind eased, Thomas would speak with James; the men noticed these reports, but did not hear any details. However, as the orders regarding the fires became clear in their intent, so has their mage's behavior. While the specifics eluded them, they did discern that Thomas had to be dealing in some form of illusion or anti-divination magic.

Within the steep cliffs of Silvertop Mountain, the remaining leadership of the Cult of Kogone watched the progress of the White Tower's warriors. Suspected a ruse, they sent forth invisible minions summoned from the void beyond the world and sent them to spy upon the hated foes. These minions saw and heard squabbling and dissension, and they whispered into the ears of the warriors to encourage such rebellion. They flew back to the masters of the cult and confirmed that desertion ran rampant; those fires decreased as the numbers dwindled, but the leader stubbornly led on- and that the time to strike was nigh.

On that same night, Thomas nodded to James a signal that the latter awaited. Torquil took two men with him and slipped away from the camp in silence in the night, and in the morning James briefed the others as to the plan. The ruse amused the men, and with enthusiasm they lept into the role of fanatical and expendable dupes. Knowing now that their enemy's champions, backed by the mutant barbarian hordes that they dominate, would once more take the field and come for them, they found renewed energy to march and to work.

James picked a location high atop a hill, with a large and mostly flat grassy clearing surrounding it and the treeline well outside even the range of any other relics of the Old World. Knowing the speed of his swiftest foes, he ordered that the men dig in and build earthworks; this would be where the steel and stone of the men of the White Tower would again exhibit their strength. With Thomas advising, James directed the digging of ditches and erecting of palisades; meanwhile, the cult's best are on their way- again, in a disorganized fashion.

While Nim, Red and a ressurected Jaja lead an army of barbarians forth to meet James and the men of the White Tower the other remaining champion of the cult--Dezikon--has not kept pace. It is this man that Torquil and his two men tracked down, laid in wait and ambushed once he appeared alone.

Dezikon, clad in golden gleaming plate armor, was no weakling. His brilliant might supplemented his martial prowess perfectly. Sword and shield in hand, Dezikon made himself truly terrible against his attackers. He burned his attackers with golden fire, smote them with divine power and soaked stroke after stroke struck upon him; it was not until Torquil drew Dezikon off the latter's line with a flashy feint that the melee ended. The scout struck Dezikon in a critical gap in his helm with the butt of his blade, stunning the man long enough for he and his remaining comrade to grapple Dezikon down and drag him aside. So constrained, they subdued their man.

Then, once away, the two ensured their third's honorable death before they awakened captive Dezikon. Then, and only then, did a hidden forth appear- and then, only to Dezikon.

"I am Sybil, deluded youth, and now I shall reveal the truth hidden from you by your false friends."

At that moment, the demon Kogone knew agony.