by, 6-24-12 at 7:20 AM (381 Views)
The Island (words 2889)
They called him Reaver. Reaver the undead hunter, Reaver the lich slayer. If only they knew the truth of the matter...
Their mission was simple, destroy Ramathica, before he, it, became unstoppable. Fail, and none would escape a scourge of life while the abomination built its army of undead to conquer all the realms. A few stood in his way, Reaver amongst them, as always with Cronos the dreadwolf at his side.
The beast lay unmoving on the keel’s flat base, his intent eyes fixed on his master waiting for acknowledgement or command. Both stood ready for the hunt, to win the prize that Reaver had spent years searching for.
Waves bobbed under Gerby’s keel while the waves lapped at its sides. He had sailed them close to the shores of the lich’s island and still his oars set a steady rhythm against the receding water. Less than a couple of hundred yards away, the beach beckoned them even closer. Sandy dunes stood bordered by forests that appeared empty, but Cronos told them otherwise. His ears pricked up, his fiery eyes fixed on the shadows where Reaver knew the undead gathered.
‘A little longer,’ Reaver said, drawing the dreadwolf’s ears. ‘We are going a different way but there will still be plenty for you to drag down.’
Cronos tilted his head, listening to his words. He was only a few years old, rescued as a pup about to be drowned for being what he was, but already he stood as tall as most men.
‘Does he talk back?’ Gerby asked with laughter in his voice and mocking in his eyes.
Reaver glared at the toothless thief. ‘He says you talk too much and you row too slowly.’
Gerby fell silent, and pulled the oars a little quicker.
A single mountain rose out of the sea, crowned by a fortress silhouetted in the rising dawn. The walls loomed silent and oppressing far above, its tower gazed far into the endless sea, daring the world to tread this island’s shores. That was their destination, a place of horrors and nightmare, and Reaver knew his task within, would not be easy.
The road to the gates remained impassable, guarded by thousands of Ramathica’s lesser minions, all of them creatures of bone and dark magic. They lacked intelligence, freewill, were created simply to kill and guard this place. Ramathica left them one choice, to travel ancient paths known only to pirate-thieves and smugglers, to the few who survived and escaped his rise here.
The shore gave way to desolate cliffs capped by skeletal trees. Gerby rowed on, passed miles of crag and jagged rock. This place was bigger than it seemed. Gerby slowed, ceased his rowing and gazed out from the bow, searching for something. He pointed. ‘There,’ he said.
Reaver’s eyes followed his arm to the cliff-face. Just as Gerby had promised was the crack, a fissure that cut straight to the heart of the mountain island.
‘At the end of it,’ Gerby said, ‘is a staircase that leads to the catacombs, then on, into the castle.’ He paused, his eyes on Reaver. ‘Do you really want to go there alone?’
‘I am not going alone,’ he said and shifted to ready his equipment.
Gerby rowed on, his eyes on the crack as he guided his boat between the pillars.
The steady splash and pull of his oars were the only sounds against the towering rock face. Above, the minions gathered. Reaver heard them move to the unmistakable clack of bone and click of teeth. He felt their gaze move parallel with their passing, and knew they pondered a way down to them.
Silence. The beat of rowing ceased. The keel slowed to a drift against the lapping water. Reaver glanced up, saw Gerby frozen, his body trembling, his face pale where he stared to the cliffs above. Reaver’s gaze followed his eyes...
Two rows of Ramathica ’s dead minions stared at them, hundreds, thousands in rank along the cliff tops. ‘They cannot reach us,’ Reaver said. ‘Gerby, keep rowing.’
The thief did not move, frozen in his fear, he could not move.
Reaver stood and stepped towards him ready to take the oars. He froze mid-clamber as Cronos growled to the wind. The dreadwolf circled to his side, unsettled by the smell of the enemy.
‘We don’t have much time,’ Reaver said as he grasped the oars and began to row. He had no choice now, they had to go on.
The sudden lunge of the boat broke Gerby from his frozen horror. Panic streaked across his face, and he shifted to stop Reaver. Cronos growled, threatened, stalked towards him. Gerby settled back, sat unmoving against the boat’s edge in sullen silence. The dreadwolf eased back and sank to his haunches. Gerby sat ignored by Reaver, watched by Cronos. He made no sound, offered no movement.
The water ended in a cavern torn into the granite of the mountain. The keel bumped to a stop. They could go no further this way. Reaver stood, unloaded his bags and jumped from Gerby’s boat onto solid rock. Cronos followed, patrolled the area for signs of enemy while Reaver armed himself. He hung his mace in the baldric across his back, thrust daggers into his belt, swung his pack to his shoulders, and readied his shield to battle.
He faced their path and lifted his visor for the first time on this trip if only to see better through the shadows. A staircase rose against the cliff face to a cave cut into the rock. Somewhere, the steady drip of water off stalactites hit shallow pools, and from the boat, Gerby whimpered in his fear. Reaver glanced at him, wondering if he believed the thief’s bragging tales of glories unimagined held within the fortress above. He doubted them now, seeing him trembling there. He proffered a hand nonetheless. Gerby shook his head, sank back further into the wood as if he tried to meld his body with the boat.
‘We are going on. You can stay, if you wish, or leave, but you will be alone in doing so.’
Gerby breathed deep, calmed his fears, and jumped to the oars, his answer given.
‘Less funny now, you spineless mule...’ Reaver mumbled as the thief abandoned them to their fate and rowed his way back towards the open sea, faster than he had in bringing them here. One more, who feared his presence... it did not matter.
Reaver glanced to Cronos at his side. The giant black dreadwolf stared ahead, his nose sniffing the air, he snarled at something unseen and Reaver frowned to the stairs above. ‘We’ll get climbing then,’ he said and moved to the first step.
His boot sank into the surface cushioned with decades of slime and seaweed growth. He stepped up, cautious against the danger of sliding through it. Cronos jumped ahead and raced on, his footing hindered by nothing.
* * * * *
Darkness... nothing but, lurked ahead filled with the snarls and growls of Cronos. Bones clattered into silence until all he heard were the breathless snorts of his best and only friend at rest. Already, it seemed, Cronos had found and ravaged the enemy.
Reaver leapt forward, his mace in hand eager to join the fight and smash the receptacles from anything that remained...
He slid to a halt. Cronos lay there in wait for him, head on paws, his fiery eyes locked on the shadows for his arrival. He looked more like the pup, and less the dreadwolf he was. His head perked up, no doubt, at the scent of his master’s approach and wagged his tail proud of himself. Reaver settled his mace back at his hip.
He walked forward through the shattered remains of skull and bone scattered around. The dreadwolf had left him with nothing to fight, nothing to defeat, still Reaver thought disappointed, it made up for time. He knelt, sank his hands into his fur, and buried his face for just a moment, remembering the day they had found each other. Few creatures understood him for what he was and even fewer accepted him. The dreadwolf did, without question, it did not matter to him.
Reaver pulled back and gazed into those fiery eyes. They had no time for training or praise. ‘Lead on,’ he whispered and stood as the dreadwolf turned, caught a scent and headed off.
Reaver ran after him and followed the beast through the catacombs. They passed empty alcoves of long dead lords who ruled in better times, without doubt, Ramathica had added those bones to his army.
They surfaced in the castle, in a corridor that led away in both directions. To their right, a wide staircase led to towering doors, the entrance to the great hall and the seat of Ramathica. Cronos circled, clearly agitated, at the base of the stairway. He was eager for the fight beyond.
Reaver drew his mace, slammed down his visor and settled his shield on his left. He stepped forward to climb the stairs with stealth and caution.
The doors flung inward. The creak of wood, the screech of hinge, echoed through the corridors of this desolate place. For all their stealth, Ramathica knew they were here. There was no turning back now, no avoiding the battle to come.
He stepped forward and into the great hall with Cronos stalking silently at his side, his head low to the hunt, his eyes on the enemy lich, his snout inches from Reaver’s shoulder.
This place had been magnificent once. Golden pillars towered on either side, faded tapestries hung from the walls, carvings of great beasts guarded the doorways and in every shadowed corner lurked the minions of Ramathica’s army. The skeletal guards waited, and watched, let them pass unhindered.
Ahead, Ramathica sat unmoving on his throne of bones. Dead eyes glowed with the green luminescence of magic, fleshless mandibles curled into a scowling grin, disconcerting to even the most experienced of knights, but to Reaver, he felt nothing less than he always had. The lich’s skeletal hands grasped an ebony staff laid across his knees, one end adorned with the crystalline essence of his soul. That was his goal, the phylactery, the source of his soul and power, more than that it was the vessel of his life. To truly kill the lich that had to be destroyed.
Ramathica tilted his head in study. ‘Ah, Reaver. I have been waiting,’ he said, his high-pitched voice echoing through the hall. ‘I knew one would come, I did not expect it to be you.’
‘I was never what you expected.’
‘True, but you are still so young, Reaver. You have much to learn.’
Ramathica spread wide his arms, let his robes settle to the arms of his throne. He tilted his staff upright on his left and glared at the warrior below his dais. Reaver felt those dead eyes burn through his soul, he felt them search him for doubt and weakness where he strove to show none. Ramathica clicked his teeth, a command to the minions at the edges.
Joints creaked, ancient armour screeched. They moved from the alcoves, from the shadows, from places unseen. Their weapons rose in simultaneous movement, all of them, swords, maces, shields, crude and rust stained in age, they poised, waited to attack.
Reaver glanced over them, all skeletal undead, lifeless creatures of bone and dark magic. Blades were useless against them, but maces, now they were another matter entirely. He poised his stance, readied his shield, drew back his mace.
The first shrieked in, sword high, aimed for his head. Reaver spun to avoid, swung and struck hard and true. Splintered bone lurched into the air mingled with the green wisps of dissipating magic. The minion collapsed to a pile of bone and armour, its essence released. He moved to the next, swung to the crack of bone, his actions honed by years of hunting and fighting these things.
Behind, Cronos pounced snarling to the attack. His jaws clamped tight around a minion’s skull. He tore it cracking from the shoulders and crushed it between his canines. He shook the shards from his mouth and stalked to the next, pounced again... ripped the essence from another.
Reaver spun, saw his chance, a break in the attack and charged through to Ramathica’s dais. The enemy lich rose from his throne, spread wide his arms in a visage of terror. Reaver slid to a halt as Ramathica’s voice rang to a shrieking laugh. He was entertained at least. ‘I see that you have not yet fully embraced yourself. Become what you were made to be’
‘You could be strong, invincible, an army at your will.’
‘And horror at every turn.’ Reaver circled the dais, his eyes locked on the enemy. He removed his helm, threw it to one side, and stared at the demon before him. ‘I did not ask nor wish for this.’ Reaver tilted his head. Instinct shifted his stance ready to fight. ‘I came to stop you, to destroy you, all of you. That is the choice that I made.’ He lunged. The lich sidestepped out of range. His mace found only air.
‘You cannot cleanse the entire world of us.’
‘I will find a way, destroy, restore, undo...’
‘Undo?’ Ramathica burst into laughter, raised his demonic grin to the ceiling. ‘It cannot be undone. You will not find what you seek.’
‘Then every one of you will fall until I do.’ He raised his mace two handed, dragged it down through the air with a roar of fury, determination.
Ramathica blocked, spun to a low strike. Reaver dodged back, and swung to hit. They launched into a parry of staff, mace, and shield as Reaver forced the lich back against the wall. He swung for a final strike and again their weapons struck. He did not pull back but drove his mace on, wrestled strength against an enemy’s fury.
The crystal flared, a blinding flash seared his vision. Ramathica pushed him back and he hurtled from the dais. The crack of a whip echoed overhead. Pain burned deep through his face, reeled him round. Again it struck, forced him to his knees.
Cronos snarled and growled. He pounced to the defence of his master. The whip cracked, the dreadwolf yelped, the lich erupted in laughter.
He dared a glance through his recovering vision. Cronos limped and circled, his front leg bleeding with the strike. He settled to his side, fiery eyes on the lich.
‘Reaver, Reaver, Reaver.’ The lich coiled his whip, a weapon of pure energy oscillating bright against the shadows. ‘You must accept your fate.’
‘And lose all that is left of me?’
Ramathica struck out. The whip crashed against his shield, dragged a black scorch across the polished metal. Reaver stepped back. Ramathica stepped forward.
‘If you do not, you will spend eternity in torment.’
‘You do not know what torment is.’
The whip cracked. Reaver evaded, stepped back, and again Ramathica stepped forward.
‘All this, for what? To live forever? It is not worth it, it never was.’
In the silence, came the simultaneous clack and footfall of his dead army approaching. Those numbers, they could not fight.
Ramathica laughed. ‘It is over, Reaver. You have failed.’
Defiance, no. He raised his mace, roared forward to a charge...
Ramathica launched himself from the dais. The whip dissipated and he poised his staff to strike. It clashed against Reaver’s shield, threw him off balance, to the power of another strike.
Cronos exploded to the attack. He pounced to the lich’s rear, snarled for a skull he could not grip. That was Reaver’s chance. He charged forward, grasped the staff and wrestled it from his grasp. Ramathica shrieked to fury, desperation as Reaver backed away.
He had once chance. He threw down the staff. The lich broke free, hurtled towards him. He raised his mace and brought it down on the crystal with all his strength. It flashed, cracked, shattered to a million pieces. A swirling mass of dark power rose in the air dragging the shards within its heart. It grew, built in strength to a thunderstorm without light.
Ramathica’s screech filled the hall, a terrible scream of a thousand souls lost to hell, the rage of his own pulled from its undying bonds. His fleshless fingers clawed at his face, bone cracked, imploded. The vortex flashed, and vanished to silence.
Ramathica fell lifeless to the floor. The luminescent green of his eyes faded to nothing. It was over, the lich was dead. In the corridor outside, he saw the bones of Ramathica’s army. His power had died with him, there were no more minions left to fight.
He wandered to the throne and sat as master of his castle. Skeletal hands grasped the shaft of a mace, its head the crystalline heart of his soul encased in steel, indestructible, unharnessable, invincible. Cronos followed, curled his body around his feet, content to sleep.
Purloign, Tegumentia, Dermia, and now Ramathica...
They called him Reaver, lord of the island, master of dreadwolves. He was Reaver, the lich slayer and they should have known when they first imbued his curse that vengeance would come to them all...