Friday, August 30, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-09

Ken figured that The Necromancer would have a presence on the surface waiting for him, and he was right. As he approached the old mine, he saw many patrolling undead marching in close order. These pickets patrolled in concentric circles, starting a mile out, and alternating in direction. The sheer size of the undead presence told Ken that his taunt made its mark, and the more life-like behavior told him that one of those more dangerous minions likely monitored this presence so the big man didn’t need to do it all himself.

Ken sat in a tree, downwind, and watched. Stealth seemed the obvious approach; sneak in, get the leader, the cohesion collapses and then create plenty of chaos to inhibit recovery before moving on to the next phase. However, Ken didn’t want to seek out his target; instead, he wanted the target to come to him. That’s why Ken drew the sword and dropped down on the patrol passing beneath him, reducing it to blue-flamed ash piles within seconds. He ambushed patrol after patrol, destroying each in turn, and soon knowing that there was a gaping hole in the outer defenses that could not be ignored.

As Ken expected, the remaining security patrols flooded down his way, but they did not arrive in any manner that could contain him. He went from one to the next, his laughter getting louder as more of then burned to ash before him, and none of The Necromancer’s undead thralls could so much as get a touch on Ken. He kept on cutting them down and burning them to ash, knowing that soon his target had to appear to salvage the situation. By the time that one could see ash piles all about for a few hundred yards, Ken’s expectation got fulfilled.

The leader, arriving with a bodyguard of a score of corpse-men, was indeed life-like as Ken expected. So was his bodyguard, and all of them armed with crude clubs—likely debris picked up from around the mine’s entrance—that showed them as being a more significant threat. Yet, once they saw Ken and the sword in his hands, they showed fear. That fear meant hesitation, and hesitation gave Ken an opening so Ken attacked.

This was not Ken’s first time fighting the life-like legionnaires of The Necromancer, as he’d been part of a raid upon the Necropolis itself some years before and encountered such minions then, so he had a firm idea of what to expect from them. Before they could regain composure, Ken already struck down a quarter of their number. Even then, and with supernatural will imposing itself upon them to attack, they still could not wholly commit. This sliver of a difference was all that Ken needed to put them all down.

Ken soon had the leader at his mercy. Armless, legless, backed up against a tree- helpless now against a foe stronger than expected. Ken took off the leader’s head and said “You can’t stop me, Necromancer.”

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-08

When the sun rose, and Ken awoke, he saw the “gift” still lay cradled in his arms: a sword, firm in its scabbard, just like out of the stained-glass windows of Old World temples. He got to his feet, and after he stretched himself out of his lingering slumber he took up that scabbard and drew that sword. In a tongue dead millennia before the Old World’s destruction, a tongue that Ken knew from studies done in his life before now, he read the inscription put into the sword’s cross-guard: “Cast in the Name of God, Ye Not Guilty.”

“An executioner’s sword.” Ken said, and it became clear now what Gabriel thought of him: a slayer, sanctioned by powers beyond mortal comprehension, of those deemed beyond redemption. As he examined the sword, he noticed another inscription—in an even more obscure tongue—on the blade itself. Ken eyed that inscription with great care, and then held the blade as far away from himself as he could before speaking that word. The blade erupted in flames, blue-white flames just like those that he saw destroy the Old World, and now Ken comprehended the matter fully: to destroy Wendigo utterly, he be consumed by the uttermost fire of Creation itself.

Ken extinguished the flames by a repeated utterance, and then put away the sword. Ken broke camp, such as it was, and then made his way back to the open pit mine. Unlike last time, Ken ambushed the patrols instead of evading them. He destroyed them faster than the leaders could react, and then he moved inward and cleaved his way through the corpse-laborers mindlessly hacking away with rusted pics. Then, when the leaders finally reacted he cleaved his way through the ad-hoc militia of dead men and made his way to those leaders- or, rather, leader. The other two he previously saw were not there.

Without effort he hacked apart that leader—first arms, then legs—and then beheaded the now-limbless corpse-man. He picked up the severed dead head and stared into its lifeless eyes.

“I’m in your digs, gankin’ your mans, and I’m gonna get your treasure. You think you can stop me? Come at me, bro.”

Then he tossed the head aloft and carved it in half before it hit the ground. If that didn’t get The Necromancer’s attention, then Ken had no idea what would. To be certain, Ken scoured that open site and destroyed every last undead thing that he found. He burned what he destroyed, incinerating them and reducing them to ash. Once satisfied that he utterly destroyed The Necromancer’s presence at this old open-pit mine, he walked away from the scourged site and let his senses guide him to the next site- and the one that he knows will be more dangerous to handle: the old underground mine that formerly was a historical preservation site during the waning days of the Old World.

Ken felt a malevolent presence. This was the place; now’s the time.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-07

“The Creator—God, if you prefer—intended for what you call ‘The Azure Flames’ (how poetic!) to be much less destructive than what it was. However, there are plenty of those who defy him-“

“Like you?”

“Oh no, monkey-boy, not at all.” Gabriel said, “While I don’t know why your kind has his favor, and I still think that you’re not worthy of that favor, I am still loyal and do as I am told.”

“This ought to be good.” Ken said, and he bit into another piece.

“As I said, God has his enemies. Your kind has words for them, and those monkeys that they swayed to their cause. These enemies are of my kind, and so work differently from what your minds can comprehend.”

“Fallen angels and demons,” Ken said, “and their human cultists, right?”

“You’ve been paying attention! Good monkey.” Gabriel said, and patted Ken on the head, “The other entities—the spirits that some of your kind deal with—are lesser than my kind, to put this into a context that monkey-brains can comprehend, so we are talking about the primal powers of Creation.”

Ken didn’t hear, smell or taste any lies from Gabriel, yet.

“The enemy had two groups of cultists, spread across a great many subsets. One was a rather ordinary group of power-obsessed individuals who loved like monkeys often love this world, the sort you so often slaughtered in great numbers in your old life. The other group, the older one, trafficked with—and congressed with—the enemy regularly for the sort of power that monkeys can otherwise only steal by guile or raw will.”

Ken nodded, watching Gabriel pace around him as he often stalked prey.

“The monkeys got out of hand, and when their big attempt to steal the power unleashed at God’s hands when—against my expectations—a critical mass of you monkeys actually proved to be as good as expected and thus proved yourselves ready for the next step that cascaded into ‘The Azure Flames’. What you’re seeing now is the cleaning of that great mess.”

“Interesting.” Ken said, “Let me guess: The Necromancer is meant to clean out the humans not sufficiently up to standards, and then I’m here to clean him out when he’s done?”

Gabriel clapped, slowly. “Very good! You’re one clever monkey, but that’s not quite all of it. Far beyond this place, and this time, there are others who have vital roles to play. Some of them will be villains, as your kind sees things, and some will be heroes. All I can say for you, specifically, is that you’ll never do your job by yourself; it’s too big and will take too long.”

Ken mulled over those words. “I thought so. Now, about Wendigo in particular.”

“Ah, yes.” Gabriel said, “The moment at hand. You reflect him. This is no accident, monkey. Yet he is beyond your might, and outside the plan.”

Gabriel dropped a blanket before Ken.

“Use this. Do your job.”

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-06

Ken culled another zombie from The Necromancer’s uncounted horde of undead thralls, sneaking in under cover of darkness and ambushing a sentry lurching about its patrol of a dig site. After he dragged the lifeless corpse away, and then began consuming it, Ken also mulled over a plan. Ken knew that The Necromancer, whatever else that villain was, was not a fool; it was wise to presume that The Necromancer would be wary of Ken intervening.

Ken chewed on the flesh of his meal. Even now, The Necromancer’s presence—through his horde—felt palpable to him. That presence, if it focused itself upon Wendigo, would be more than he could handle. Somehow, Ken must separate his target from his enemy and keep them apart long enough to put Wendigo down for good. Then there was that ally of his enemy, the one whose very presence radiated power beyond mortal means, and yet did not seem so dissonant as his enemy.

What of this thing that allied itself to The Necromancer? Would he—it—intervene? If it did, what would it do and how would it do that? Why did it look like a young Christopher Walken from some Old World horror film? Ken tossed the now-meatless bone aside, and heard it hit something other than a tree, rock or dirt- and then felt that same eerie presence.

“You’re a curious monkey.”

Ken leapt to his feet. Out from the darkness he saw a man-like figure appear—approach—him.

“Would you prefer a more familiar form?”

The figure changed its shape, appearing as that now-dead actor, and now Ken remembered.

“Gabriel.” Ken said, “That is your name, isn’t it?”

“In your tongue, so that’s good enough.” Gabriel said.

Ken took in a deep breath, drawing in through his nose and exhaling through his mouth, flexing himself without thinking as if he prepared for a fight. He smelled stale incense barely masking a rot off of Gabriel.

“Your kind calls mine ‘angels’.” Gabriel said, “Yes, the monkey I look like mimicked me well, and I must say that inspiring your kind can be quite entertaining. The story, however, I made up.”

“You’re not here to chat over dinner.” Ken said.

“True.” Gabriel said, “I’m here because I caught your little trick the other day. The ‘see-through-another’s-eyes’ trick that you did I found very interesting. I had to know what new monkey came up with this stuff. I’ve been following you now for weeks.”

Ken gave Gabriel a disbelieving look.

“Time doesn’t work the same way for us as it does for you.”

“So,” Ken said as he assessed Gabriel’s body language, “if you’re watching me, then why talk to me now?”

“Because you’re about to do something rash and stupid, and—as much as I’d love to watch you do your monkey-thing and fail spectacularly—I have my orders.”

“Which are?”

“There’s more to what’s going on than you’ve figured out—that you could ever figure out—on your own.”

"Tell me."

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Treasure of the Iron Range-05

Ken’s mind returned from the past. Still before him stood the water spirit, still shaped as a man, and still holding Ken’s head in its hands.

“I’ve known stories of other giants, from other places, in days like those.” Ken said, “This is one of that race?”

The spirit nodded. “Wendigo slumbers fitfully. Unable to exact its revenge as it wished, only now and again does it remind the world that it exists when a shade possesses a man.”

Nephilim.” Ken said, “The spawn of angels and women, forbidden by God.”

“Yes. That is the word from across the seas for that race.”

“And thus Wendigo is an old and powerful demon.”

Again, the spirit nodded. “We also know that word.”

Ken looked at the spirit before him with a discerning eye and a disdainful scowl.

“I find it interesting that this demon and I share so many salient qualities.” Ken said.

“Predators are more alike than different.” The spirit turned away and faded into the lake.

“I see.” Ken said, “Farewell.”

Ken walked away from the edge of the water and sat against a tree. Ken calmed his body, and then his mind. He slowed his breathing, making it steady in its pace and deep in its action—breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out—and once more banished the noisome distractions of the world. As his mind calmed, Ken reviewed what he knew: The Necromancer sought to unearth a long-dead ancient demon, one originally of a race spawned in a time before the Old World’s reckoning of Man’s past, slain before Civilization reached these shores, and banished shortly thereafter into a prison made of its own grave. It was an insatiable monster, craving manflesh without thought or sentiment, a beast with naught by animal cunning in its life. It was no less a monster in death, and being dead it fell into the reach of The Necromancer.

Ken recalled that he knew of many survivors, holding out as far as they can from what both Ken and his fellow survivors now called The Necropolis—the seat of The Necromancer’s power, where the dead are legion—and that these survivors now formed the core around which new communities now formed, communities that opposed The Necromancer. He recalled thwarting undead hunting squads, seeking survivors to slay and assimilate into the undead horde. Having a powerful demon, once more clad in flesh, dedicated to this task would be a risk that The Necromancer would be willing to take even if its hunger proved to turn against that villain should undead flesh serve well enough as food.

Ken remembered the powerful presence by The Necromancer when he examined the memories of the zombie thrall, and then saw that The Necromancer relied on this ally to be the safeguard against any threat of Wendigo turning against The Necromancer. If Wendigo could be brought to heel using this ally’s power, then it could be effectively used by The Necromancer. Wendigo must be destroyed.