Friday, June 25, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-4

Keela of the Knife

Far from the front lines stood a walled palisade—the core camp of the Army of the Light—and within that camp stood a second palisade wherein a great pavilion mounted by banners bearing the symbol of the Hospital Universal resided. Inside laid the sick, the wounded and the dying- all attended by the women of the hospital, whose men were often the very men in need of their care. First amongst them was a daughter of the Sea Princes, Keela, said to bring life to the dead by her radiant beauty alone. Yet she was not first amongst the women purely due to the quality of her feminine form, but instead due to her mastery of arts and sciences that few from the Wood People or the Solar Nation then held. While other women knew well the means to ease pain, staunch wounds and comfort the afflicted only Keela could truly heal them.

At the Sack of the Black Tower there arose a crisis in the hospital. Men flooded from the front, too wounded to fight on, and a staggering number of those first from the fight fell dead before their wounds could be properly cleaned and dressed. More horrific was that not long thereafter, often as the women dragged the corpses away, they would revive and attack- now corpse-slaves of the Necromancer Lord. Keela the Sea Princess, also Keela Sun-Spear by that time, raced from point to point with a hacking knife and cut down the turned corpses with one hand while lighting them aflame with a lit torch in the other.

The corpses burst into sickly flames, consuming themselves with supernatural speed, and all within the hospital knew that some sorcery had slipped past their defenses to strike at this vulnerable point. The remaining men, now knowing what fate befell them in death, fought all the harder to hold to life and the women bent their own minds and wills to aid them as best they could- but all knew that time was not their ally. Keela has to act, and fast.

Grabbing two younger women, she went with bade them mark the remaining men in order of severity of condition. As more wounded came, they marked those also and directed those arrivals into waiting positions. Grabbing two more, Keela took those worst off into a space politely termed “The Altar of Mercurial Mercy.” Here Keela had a man lay atop a flat, altar-like stone and bade her women to strip off what clothes barred her hands from the wounds while she produced an array of knives and put a wick to a candle. Then she had her women strap the man down.

Donning garb more suitable for a blacksmith or a butcher, Keela took up her tools to seek out which malady threatened them so. That man succumbed, was cut down and burned. So did the next, and the next, and the next after that. Finally, after a fifth failure she detected the villain’s weapon- a shard of some sort of bone that moved as if alive, a shard the size of a splinter of wood.

“If I could but put the sun itself into the body, I might yet see it and cut it out before it kills a sixth man!” Keela said, frustrated, as the flames consumed that fifth doomed man. As she went out to get the seventh man, she stood out of the pavilion and looked up to the sun—now rising to midday—and again spoke: “If I could see into a body as clear as I can see across the waves on a clear day like this, then I might yet save these men!”

Behind her, the women led the seventh man into the operating tent. As she eyed them at the corner of her perception, she felt an intense searing sensation on her brow- at the very point where Ilker kissed her when she joined the Army years before. As it subsided, she prepared to operate on this man and now she paused for she could indeed see into his body. Skin and sinew, blood and bone, tendons and muscles- all obfuscation now fled her sight and that allowed her to see the invading agent of the Necromancer Lord with the clarity given by a bright, cloudless sky at midday.

Now she quickly found the thing, and just as quickly caught it and cut it out. Keela called for a vial, which quickly came and just as quickly she deposited the shard into it and sealed it utterly. Then she cleaned her patient, dressed him and sent him out to recover. The next man came, and she saved him also. More came, and more she saved. As the day grew on, more came with more shards imbedded but she saved them also. Word of her miraculous cutting and curing came to the ears first of the other women, and then the men as they learned of Keela’s victory from the women that loved them. The knife that cuts had proven itself to be the knife that cures.

Exhausted, Keela ended the day on her feet as the last man—carried by his fellows—came to her table. Handsome Zebulon, hands red with blood—most of it not his own—once more, had at last come again to the hospital. Carried by his fellow warriors, his flesh marred by cuts and bruises great and small, she knew this to be a terrible task but took up that well-used knife one last time that day. She cut one, then another, then a third, fourth, fifth, sixth—more, more, more, more—of those damned Life-Stealing Shards out of his fine form. Fiercely did he hold to life, more so than most for he too felt Ilker’s Kiss, even if his eyes had closed with the blow that shunted him to unconsciousness, but with a score of these shards afflicting him even he came too close to death—and then undeath—to discount the peril.

Long after the sun set, after twilight faded, after night’s shroud enveloped the land once more did Keela finish her work. The shards cut and culled, the cuts cleaned and dressed, the body purified and the soul satisfied- all this Keela did before she let go her responsibilities and rested, climbing atop the table to be beside blessed Zebulon, where she put her arms about him and sheltered him from all harm.
Soon thereafter, they married.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-3

The Sack of the Black Tower

Great and Holy Ilker, his brilliant blond hair streaked with shimmering white, stood before the army with the rising sun of morning at his back. Already he wore the glimmering golden plate that had become iconic, the Panoply of Heaven’s Glory, and his blade of war—Heaven’s Radiant Sword—drawn. The men at his command, the armies of the Solar Nation as well as those of the Wood Brothers, the Sons of Ken and the Sea Princes, had assembled before the small hill that he’d taken for his command post. As he’d decreed, they appeared in good order with their arms polished and in good repair.

“Zebulon!” Ilker bellowed, “We are ready?”

“Ready, master.” Zebulon replied, and he turned to the army before them, “Men of the Solar Nation, friends of the Wood Brothers, mighty Sons of Ken and honorable allies of the Sea Princes, Great and Holy Ilker now speaks!”

“Glory to Holy Ilker!” they cried out, “Glory to the Spear of the Sun Forever!”

“And the tip of that spear I shall be once more, fellow free men of the world!” Ilker said, “A spear that you, my people—my friends, my allies, my brothers in arms—shall wield against the very tower yonder!”

Ilker gripped his sword, pointing to the Dark Tower of the Necromancer Lord behind them.

“Our great struggle has, at last, led to the very edge of this vile hold. We’ve sacrificed many of our brothers to see this day, many of whom died as heroes—as martyrs, blessed and sanctified—to see us through to this place at this time! Yet it is not over, for now comes the worst of it, my brothers. No, now we shall see the terrible, hideous strength of the Necromancer Lord first-hand for this is no more a struggle suitable for subtlety. As no monster is more dangerous than when backed into its lair, so is it that no villain more blatant than when the righteous heroes of the world finally tear down his walls and invade his sanctum. There is no doubt that the Necromancer Lord and his remaining minions have yet to exhaust their foul and demonic powers.”

Ilker now moved down the hill, walking into the array army. “Yet long have we come to know their ways, their deceits, their fatal frauds and more. No my brothers, no more whispered words to weaken wills. Now, now that we have this inhuman ally of all that would enslave and consume Mankind backed into its stronghold of power, we must be prepared to witness the fullest extent of his horrible and all-destroying power used to its most ruthless extent.”

Ilker continued to move through the army. “Monsters heretofore unseen by Man’s eyes shall be cut loose to wreak havoc upon our host. Fanatics, free of any need to survive, shall throw themselves at us uncaring so long as they slay more of us than we do them. All that die today you may be certain to need to slay at least twice, if not more so, for we are in the heart of the enemy’s domain and it is heavy with its power.
Steel your heart, brothers, for fear is the enemy’s ally.”

The white-and-gold steed for which Ilker is justly know—Heaven’s Charger—appeared before Ilker as he emerged from the midst of the army. Mounting it with ease, he took up the Great Banner of the Sun and held it high. Turning again to the men that followed him to the proverbial gates of Hell, he smiled.

“On this day, the Black Tower shall fall! Follow me, my brothers! Follow me, for freedom eternal and liberty ever-after!”

“Glory Forever for Ilker Heaven’s Spear!” the army said, as one, and they followed.

Zebulon Red-Hand, himself mounted on his own charger, rode to meet his master as they approached the edge of the Black Tower’s defenses.

“Master, all is prepared. The Circle is ready and the Square is prepared.”

“Excellent. Take your men and maneuver into position. We’re counting on you, old friend.”

“Master, when have I let you down?” Zebulon said, laughing.

Ilker smiled, and then he too laughed. Dismissing his former student with a gesture, Ilker continued his march upon the gates of the Black Tower. As they approached, the gates opened and a great and vast, vile army of the dead and abominations of the flesh arrayed itself. Some poured out of the gates, and some pulled themselves out of the ground. As they closed the distance, some noticed in the ranks seemingly mortal men amongst them- thralls and sycophants, surely, for by this time naught but the blackest of hearts and meanest of souls would dare think that service to a Lord of Darkness be a wise decision.

No parley. With a wave of his arm, Ilker led the charge against the monstrous army. The men followed, and the Army of the Sun smashed into the Army of Death and Decay before the latter was finished, its impact throwing the foul foe into disarray. Now the rising sun rose well into the sky, and its rays broke through the gloom surrounding the Black Tower, clearing away the obscuring darkness for the full light of a summer’s day. This further hindered the Necromancer Lord’s forces, but Ilker knew that his foe did not care; Ilker knew that the army wasn’t the hammer to smash he and his brothers to death, but instead the anvil to fix them in place for the hammer to fall upon and strike good and true.

The Army of the Sun, hardened and disciplined, kept its order and ripped apart their foes at the gates. Ilker led from the front, banner in one hand while fighting in the other, loyal followers on his flanks. Riding in formation, they crashed through and through, wheeled around and charged again- and did so repeatedly. This kept the Necromancer Lord’s minions from forming a cohesive front, allowing his own men to defeat and destroy in detail, and do so swiftly.

Then Ilker felt the pull of poisoned, polluted power pooling at the apex of the Black Tower. This he knew to be the precursor to some horrific blasphemy against the lawful order of Creation. Time now became precious to him, for he did not know his enemy’s specific intent- only that some work of sorcery soon would spew forth upon the land outside the gates, and he wanted no part of that for himself or his men.

This is the very sign that his own magical men awaited, and the Circle unleashed its power upon the Black Tower. A scintillating screw of ritual wrought wholly to end evil endeavors of supernatural sorts soared through the sky and struck the gathering power at the apex of the Black Tower. Violence of light and color exploded as the powers positive and poisonous contacted and combusted. What magical means meant for intervention most malevolent that the Necromancer Lord desired got destroyed instead, but that is not all that Ilker’s allies cast down. The scourging shield that sheltered the Tower also shattered and crashed, and that is the other sign that Ilker’s allies awaited.

Zebulon, now in position with his riders and raiders, rode riotous upon the Black Tower’s gates, but from another position ill-conceived for proper security. They quickly overwhelmed the defenders and gained the walls. Rushing along the parapets, they cleared the walls from their breach point to the gates before Ilker and the army. They had to hurry, as already the Necromancer Lord reinforced his very vulnerable position by awakening hidden minions under the earth inside the gates and sending those dead against Zebulon and his men. They hurried with twice-slaying those living that they encountered, as they did with their own slain.

Zebulon gained the gates before his old master, and threw them open. Ilker and the Army flew inside the Black Tower’s courtyard and swept aside the onrushing horde of risen corpses and flimsy flesh constructs in an onrushing tidal wave of blood, steel, will and passion. The defenders held for naught, and soon the outer wall of the Tower fell before the might of the Army’s artificers and alchemists. Inside the Black Tower they broke, and within uncounted moments Zebulon joined a steady flow of men struck down by one of the Tower’s many defenses. Rushed out of the battle, he ended his day of battle before the hospital under the keen eyes of the woman known as Keela Steady-Hands.

Ilker did sack the tower, and cast down the Necromancer Lord, but Zebulon did not see that and neither did Keela. Their time in that struggle concluded away from the front, away from Ilker, away from the ever-present pressure to be warriors or healers and instead find time for the very things that Ilker waged war to make possible.

But that is another story.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-2

Eldest and Youngest Son of the Sun

The midday sun beamed down, reflecting off the polished stone of the castle to illuminate the internal chambers wherein the royal couple sat in repose. Just then, a lady knocked on the chamber door and entered.

“My king, my queen- the boy Zacharion.”

The boy, now bathed and attired in clothes more pleasing to his hosts, emerged from behind his minder. He thanked the lady with a carefree embrace, and then her masters sent her out to fetch food and drink for them.

Turning to his hosts, Zacharion said “What do you wish to know?”

Again sitting, Zebulon waived to a third chair and bid the boy to sit down. “Tell us in whole how our common master passed.”

The boy did sit, and then after a pause he began: “I knew for some days that Master Ilker was not feeling well. Yet, with difficulty, he kept up his work around the cabin. In addition to training me, he also began having me dig into the earth in a space that he marked out and then drag a great stone from nearby to it. In the final few days his breathing became very difficult, and I had to take over his work as he could not complete it anymore. It was then that I realized that he was dying.”

“What did he say to you?” Keela said, her eyes showing what her voice and posture did not, “He sent you here not just to give us things that we left with him long before your birth and tell us that Ilker died.”

Zacharion nodded. “The night before, after he refused supper, he had me help him walk to the hole that I dug for him. He said to me ‘I die this night, after a long life. I had many allies, many enemies, many friends- but no family but what I made. I told you much of myself, as I saw myself, but soon you must leave this place because only you can tell the world that I am at last gone from this place.’ I felt sad, but also at peace. I felt a presence greater than us calming me, as if to assure me that—thought this must end—there is yet a place for me in this world, even if I must journey to assume it.”

White-haired Zebulon and Ever-Fair Keela gave each other knowing looks.

“That was when he said ‘You shall take my horse and go into the world to tell all of my allies and friends that my time in this life is done. I insist that you personally visit each and every one of my former students and allies, and let them tell you of their time with me. When you come to know the truth of my life, then you may come home to claim what I bequeath to you.”

His hosts did not respond in words; their looks were enough.

“I do not know what that is either.” Zacharion said with a shrug.

The elder couple smiled. “To the end, still the same Ilker.”

“I was a young man when I met Ilker.” Zebulon said, “Not much older than you, and with no fortune but what I made for myself as I was the youngest son of a nobleman and had neither land nor any other consideration made for me by my father. My elder brothers were not fond of me, and my father could not find a place for me elsewhere because that was when the Brilliant Empire fractured into warring factions and my father’s old friends had lost their influence in the world.”

"This was the time of the Creeping Night.” Keela said, “The ones then called ‘The People of the Moon’ moved into the world, bringing whole nations into thralldom, using corrupted houses and the men of those lines as vessels for their schemes before they could openly walk amongst us. It was a time of whispered plots, of madness hiding as meanness, and of tongues slick with poison for hearts and minds used.”

“With trouble comes opportunity, for those fearless or foolish enough to risk it, and I was both.” Zebulon said, “Already Ilker had some acclaim as a leader of skill and cunning, thwarting incursions by cult-lead degenerates and bandits, as well as a man of virtue and steel. I asked my father to meet with him, and he did come, but not for my father’s sake- instead, for mine. He heard of the distress that we knew, as times strained our house’s ability to hold us all together, and Ilker took pity upon us. Ilker took pains to test me, and when he found that I had solid skills as a warrior as well as potential for leadership, Ilker struck a pact with my father. My family since then had been faithful to him.”

“Master said that you were one of his best.” Zacharion said, “He often praised your courage and heart, and held your skills in high regard, even if the two of you disagreed on matters of philosophy.”

“I still remember his disappointment when I told him that I accepted the crown. ‘A man like you must be free to the whole world!’ he said, ‘Yet you would chain yourself to a single state, and be thereafter ruled by the interests of that crown instead of all the nations in common. ‘ I felt the sting of his disapproval keenly, but Master Ilker was always far beyond the world in his view of things, though I am proud that my reign has made possible a greater quality in the Solar Nation than ever been seen.”

“I remember him not being so approving of me either, at first.” Keela said.

“An opinion that changed after you saved my life during the Sack of the Black Tower.”

“Yours chiefly, but one of many I saved during that war.” Keela said, turning to the boy, “That was when I became ‘Keela of the Knife’, as I had to cut out so many Life-Stealing Shards from the bodies of so many men- or cut down those so far gone that I could not save them.”

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Legacy of the Hero: The Last Meets the First-1

The Boy Arrives at Court

White-haired Zebulon greeted his court, his eyes heavy with care betraying a night bereft of rest and ever-fair Keela confirming it by letting her worry show on her face. The courtiers, their ladies and the attendants—in turn—showed by their uncanny silence and hesitation that they perceived their king’s distress. Wordless, yet clearly said, did those present tell each other that ill-tidings had reached their ears and dread anticipation had seized their hearts.

The doors to the court burst open, and a herald raced into the room. Running to the center, where the gold-inlaid relief of the sun sat at the foot of the dais before self-crowned Zebulon and his long-beloved wife, he stopped and looked up at the foreign-born sovereign.

“Your Majesty! My queen! Most honorable lords of Solland! A rider is at the gates,” the herald said, “a rider astride the white-gold steed of Great and Holy Ilker. He bears Ilker’s kiss on his forehead, my king, and asks for an audience.”

Weary white-haired Zebulon arose, sending all to their knees, and he went before the youthful herald. With the same firm hands that made him king, Zebulon grasped the youth by the shoulders.

“Look at me, boy.” Zebulon said, as a strong king should, “Look at my eyes and tell me, if you know it, what name this child answers to.”

The youth did as commanded, albeit in a hesitating manner, and he too told aging Zebulon that what he witnessed distressed him.

“My king,” spoke the herald, his distress clear in his voice, “the boy calls himself ‘Zacharion’.”

Zebulon pulls the herald to his feat. “Go to the gate and bring this word: ‘Zacharion shall be led straight to this very room, steed and all, and none shall impede his passing.’” With a wave, he dismissed the youth, who ran with all strength and speed out to do as commanded.

Once away, he put his eyes about his court, and with a simple gesture bade them arise.

“You heard as I have, surely, the whispers in the night: ‘The sun has set!’ Ilker, a living legend, hero to nations great and small and friend to all that embrace the warmth of life and wisdom of light that comes from the very center of our existence.”

Zebulon now indicated by hand the very sun symbol upon which he stood.

“So great was Ilker’s devotion that he eschewed all honors and took no titles. Though many nations wished him to be their king, he would take no crown. Though many realms begged him to be a father to their nation, he would favor none. ‘Yet are not all the nations of world deserving?’ he would say, and then depart from them to hasten to the aid of another. Many travelled with him, and many learned from him—I being the first to do so—and by his hand we learned and mastered wisdom that was once lost. We were the Rays of the Sun, bringing the light and life of the sun to the world in ways that he would not—could not—do himself.”

In unison, the court proclaimed: “Glory forever to Holy Ilker!”

“Yet, as Ilker was born a man, it was inevitable that a day would come when he would die like a man. That day, I knew in my mind, would soon come, but in my heart I did not wish it so. Yet now, I am unable to ignore that truth no longer. Nor shall any of the Solar nation.”

Again, the court proclaimed: “Glory forever to Holy Ilker!”

Now arose the radiant queen Keela, still beautiful long past the fading of youth, as she saw her husband be unable to hold back tears no longer. She flit down to his side and kissed away those tears, uncaring of what the court thought of either her or her husband as they always have.

“My husband, I ask that you hold a while longer. Let the child Zacharion report, and then we may grieve and honor Holy Ilker properly.”

Then down from the crowd came Adran, a powerful nobleman. “Majesty, why accord a boy an audience so easily? You assume that this is Ilker’s apprentice. Are not others able to make a horse seem to be Holy Ilker’s white-gold steed? Are not others able to mimic Ilker’s Kiss? Were you not, just this past year, almost slain in pursuit of the villains that stole the future of your house?”

“Indeed, Lord Adran, that was quite an affair and you still have not satisfied our doubts as to your involvement, but I shall answer you plainly: I know of Zacharion, as Holy Ilker speaks to those that once walked the world with him, and he resided near to this very citadel- we met often—and that is enough.”

Just then the doors again opened, and this time the herald led a white-gold horse of great stature. In contrast, the boy astride it seemed ragged and unkept, yet keen eyes saw clearly the mark of the sun in the flesh of the child’s forehead. “Ilker’s Kiss!” they murmured as the boy passed, and then in the sun on the floor man and horse stopped. The herald bent his knee.

“My king, I present the boy Zacharion.”

The white-haired king took the reins from his man and bid him leave, which the youth did and took up his place near the dais. Petting the horse gently, Zebulon saw that his former master’s horse still knew him from his own youth decades ago, and the aging king smiled.

“You are Zebulon, King of Solland?” the boy said, “Zebulon Red-Hand, Fire of the Sun?”

The old king chuckled. “I have not heard that name in a long, long time. Yes, young Zacharion, I am all of those men- and more.”

Zacharion turned to Keela. “And you are Queen Keela? Keela Steady-Hands? Keela Life-Keeper? Keela Sun-Spear?”

She too smiled. “Yes, I am. Keela of the Dawn, for I bring forth new hope—and renewed life—with each day.”

“I am Zacharion.” the boy said, “My master, Ilker, is dead. He passed peacefully, in his sleep, and is no more. This news I am charged to bring to all of the nations and all of the peoples who knew and loved him.”

Zacharion then pulled out a satchel, and from it he drew first an icon a dawning sun and gave it to Zebulon. Then he pulled forth a second icon, of a healer laying one hand on the chest of a fallen man while holding upward a knife, and handed it to Keela. They embraced and wept.

As one, the court again proclaimed: “Glory forever to Holy Ilker!”

Then a pause, a moment before Zebulon regained his composure and said, “The sun has set!”

In unison, the court responded: “The sun shall rise again!”

But, none present—save Zacharion—could avoid thinking the same thing: “Whose sun?”