The DarknessIn the chill of an autumn evening, the heat of a street lamp, even at a distance, can warm the heart. So Tully is climbing another pole to refill the oil for this fine neighborhood. He wouldn’t be welcome in this neighborhood if he had no chores here, but that thought rarely crossed his mind.
Tonight was different. There was a murderer on the loose and even this neighborhood wasn’t safe since last night.
Tully needed to finish his chores and get home to Mable… to crawl inside… a warm bed. Tully’s thoughts of Mable distracted him, and for an instant lamp oil ran down the post and splash upon the cobbles.
Tully wiped a bit of the oil off with the rag tucked into his belt then waited a moment for the oil to seep into the wick. He may need to adjust the wick, and his job wasn’t done until Mrs. Bartok stepped out her tavern door to see the three lamps well lit.
The lantern hung on Tully’s belt was getting warm against his thigh. He thought of Mable again. Then he reached down with his tinder, popped open his lantern and stole fire.
It wasn’t always easy to transfer the flame from waist to lamp, but tonight there was little wind, so the flame took. Tully sat for a moment and determined that there was no need to adjust the wick, and the job was done.
Tully climbed down the ladder, then hooked the ladder over his back on the special tool pack that Master Ireli had made for the lamp lighters.
Tully strode over to the Golden Harpy and knocked at Mrs. Bartok’s window.
The widow stepped out cautiously, looked left and right, then looked down the street and across to the last lamp then nodded approval.
“Very good.” Was unspoken, but acknowledged nonetheless. That was more or less the same thing she didn’t say every night.
Tully strode off towards the alley that would lead him home to Mable.
Waiting in the darkness of the thin alley was a small shadow, and Tully, slightly blinded by the lamp wicks, didn’t see the shadow until it was too late.
The thin blade drove deep into the young man’s groin right above his hipbone. Blood gush out across the black gloved hand as the blade sliced upwards and cut a sharp path up into the poor man’s broad chest.
Tully was dead before he hit the ground and Mable would stay up late in expectation.
Smiling down into the dirty young face the dark killer rolled the lamp lighter over and pulled the ladder from his back.
This young man had been the perfect victim, silent and frightened; a potent combination. the dark killer had spent a frustrating horrible day, digging rather than killing. But there had been no success, so he was bound to spend another hot day doing the same again tomorrow, so he needed to take someone out.
In the distance, torchlight danced across darkened shop windows. The city guards were making their rounds, so it was time to disappear.
The black cloak, stiffened slightly with blood, whispered as the dark figure drifted back into the shadows then up the ladder and onto the rooftop that would lead him back the room he had rented.
No more being followed by these amateur detectives, as they were beginning to get too close, and he could leave now before he had found The Blade..
The LightLanguin, the Last Elf, woke as morning sunrise filtered through unfamiliar rough-hewn window coverings. He lay for a moment and took inventory of what he might assume.
The room was small and dark, with dark wood beams in the walls and ceiling, and a single table next to a single small bed.
Languin heard slight noises from below his bed. The light slow sweeping and foot dragging of a tired woman trying to get up the previous night’s refuse, and the heavy footsteps of a burdened man. Outside he could hear the impatient ninnies of a heavy draft horse, likely the delivery wagon of whoever was downstairs.
The ceiling started low and angled up steeply overhead, and was roughly plastered. This was a second floor guest room similar to a hundred inns that he had slept in before; though the smell was off.
The smell of death closed in around him, and it took a second to verify that it was the stench of recently spilt blood, and that it rose from Languin’s own black wool and leather cloak in a pile beside the bed.
There was a faint smear of crimson on the heavy blanket, that had kept him warm last night, but there was no other indication that any wrongdoing had happen inside the room.
Languin saw no basin, or pitcher, on the single small table, so he looked to his own saddlebags for a solution. He stripped off his soiled undergarments and examined himself,
There was a slight bruise on the pale skin of his left forearm, indication that “the other guy” had taken a solid blow to that arm in defense, but no other stories could be told by his flesh. His hair was about the same length he remembered, and there were no new tattooes.
In the secret back compartment of his largest saddlebag, acting as padding between the contents of his bag and his stead’s haunches, Languin found his spare undergarments and leggings.
Languin would not use magic here, in fear that there may be an arcane sensitive person nearby, or that even his simplest cantrips might be overheard and misconstrued.
Languin placed his soiled clothing into that hidden pocket, and then pulled on the clean black leggings and tunic. Over that, he layered the thick leather cuirass, gorget, bracers, boots, and greaves. Lastly, he strapped on his baldric, and then checked both swords and the three hidden daggers to make sure that they were still sharp and clean. The blades were surprisingly sharp, but less than clean as expected.
Languin’s cloak went over his shoulder and upon that, he hung his saddlebags. He surveyed the room, hoped that he had gotten everything, and then moved to extricate himself from these unfamiliar surroundings.
As he walked out onto the landing, looking down into the large central great room of an adequate quality guest house, Languin sensed the typical déjà vu, but there was no telling if it was the other guy’s false memories, or his own. He had certainly been in enough of these taverns over the centuries that it was most likely an innocent recollection.
The young girl with the undersized broom, in her early teens, and homely, looked only slightly frightened when Languin made eye contact, but scurried out towards the back when the barkeep acknowledged that he could take care of this.
Languin walked down the steps and towards the innkeeper standing beside his high serving counter. The windows here were cleaner than above, but he still could not see enough to identify where he was.
There was a flicker of fear behind the innkeeper’s downcast eyes, which was also typical in these situations.
Languin tried to see himself through this man’s eyes. A small pale boy with fine features, bright sky blue eyes, a scowled brow, and wrapped in tight black leather, cotton and wool. The same clothes he had worn the day before, but perhaps with this or that strapped differently, and hood thrown back, which was probably the most telling sign, as the other guy probably kept it pulled down tight over his bright silken hair.
The ears were probably the thing that most human’s would be surprised at, but this man didn’t seem all that confused. Perhaps the other guy had chosen not to glamour away his most obvious inhumanity for once.
“My Lord, you leave so soon?”
“Have I already paid you sir?” asked Languin, as bruskly as he could. There was no reason to act mild mannered if he had previously scared the man into submission.
“Of course, My Lord. You paid when you arrived, my full week rate.”
“Do I owe you more for any, unexpected, out of purse expenses?”
Languin considered letting it drop, but there had been a hair’s breadth of pause in the innkeeper’s response.
“There was no, uncalled for, violence here last night?”
“Of course not My Lord.”
Languin could see in the small round eyes that the man wanted no trouble from him.
“You need not be afraid; I will pay for any damages that I have caused.”
The man looked thoroughly bewildered.
“Please allow me to keep you in business; do I owe you any coin for reparation?”
“No sir, you were a quiet guest, there were no complaints.”
Again the man was lying, but Languin understood that it would do no good to probe further. He pulled a gold coin from his purse and dropped it on the table.
“Where may I find my horse?”
The innkeeper was looking at the gold coin with delight and confusion.
Languin, like usual, had dropped a coin before knowing what currency this man would expect. Clearly there were other coins in the purse that might have been better, but gold was gold, so the innkeeper should lose little in the transaction. There were no coins sitting out on the counter with which to compare anyway.
“I will ask Lolly to saddle your beautiful horse and bring him around to the front.”
“Thank you sir.” Said Languin, and the innkeeper backed away bowing slightly, which in a smaller man would have appeared as abject terror.
While the man was away, calling for his daughter, Languin scanned the content of his coin purse. Unfortunately, it held many more coins than one would expect, in fact many more than a purse of this size could possibly hold. The other guy must have added this to their equipment quite recently, and it looked so much like their old purse too.
Languin strode out the doorway onto a wide central boulevard in a largish city. He was in an unfamiliar city, with slight hints of cultures he had known in the past all around him. The sun had colored a blue sky that was typical in color and texture to many others. Even the clouds touched by the early sun seemed familiar, but not unique.
The streets where paved with typical rolled river stones, dark reds and greys, and few cities were wealthy enough to maintain paved roads this well, so that gave some clue, but not enough.
The architecture up and down the street held conflicting clues and so did the clothing of the citizens that walked down its street this early in the morning.
Perhaps Languin could find the other guy’s journal again, though it was often hidden very well.
Languin nodded at what appeared to be a mercenary, or perhaps an off-duty city watch captain, down the street. It seemed likely that he was being kept under observation. Perhaps it was an ideal time to get away from civilization.
The homely girl, Lolly, came around from the side street with Falion, Languin’s beautiful black Vendalin mare. Lolly was quietly leading the horse, but you could see the horse’s tension and pull on the reins. Falion’s trust did not come easily, and she was wisely cautious with her own master, who was of two minds about everything.
Languin strode out slowly to give Falion the chance to recognize him.
The horse stood her ground, but looked ready to bolt given the chance.
Languin took the reins from Lolly, then stepped back to look deep into Falion’s big dark eyes.
After a snort and a bit of head shaking, Falion recognized her true master and the tensions of the last several weeks fell away.
“I have returned dear Falion, “ said Languin, “Thank you for being so patient.”
Languin tied the saddlebags into their proper place, double-checked the saddle and blanket, then stepped up and across onto her broad back.
Lolly watched him as he prepared to ride away, and Languin wondered what she had seen in the last several days. Often kids can be more honest than adults ever can.
“Where did I ride him yesterday young lady?”
Lolly seemed to shrug. “West gate, maybe.”
So Languin headed down the street away from the rising sun.
“How long have I been gone this time, old friend?”
Languin was watching the town around him come to life, and imagined this same scene in a hundred cities over the last several centuries. There was so little unique culture in human cities. It often just blends together so that every skyline looks like every other, and every building, and even every citizen. It wasn’t until you spent a week or two with the peoples that you get some unique stories, superstitions or religions.
This city was walled, but the gates were open and welcoming. Peace time is so nice for Languin, but the other guy was probably miserable.
But there was always intrigue, thought Languin, looking back to verify that he was still being followed. Perhaps he should caught doing something innocuous…
It seemed obvious that Languin could get more answers if he turned himself in and let them question him, but he was waved out of town with an impersonal nod, so his was not the face on bounty posters yet.
Languin often chose to challenge the letter of the law, especially if it conflicted with its own intent.
Outside the city he was fortunate enough to see the city stables and he now had a new clue. The “Golian Stables” seemed clean and well maintained. So was he leaving the city of Golian, which he had never heard of, or was a golian a strange new breed of steed?
The WardrobeLanguin had ridden a full hour before turning off the road and heading up an almost invisible goat path. He waited a few moments on the far side of a small ridge in case his pursuers made the mistake of closing in to quickly..
No one came over the rise after him, so Languin galloped across several fields and into another small wood at the base of a second valley. Falion seemed to seriously enjoy that bit of fast athleticism, as she was tossing her tail and prancing a bit when Languin slowed and began looking around to see if this vale had the things that he would need.
Languin dismounted and lead Falion further into the woods to a small clearing by a beautiful spring fed stream. Falion was as watchful as Languin now, looking at the woods around her with caution and judgment.
Falion brushed against Languin while he unsaddled her and brushed her coat for several minutes before settling down to the task of getting a plan together.
Languin kept everything close, but cleared the leaves and branches from a circle near the center of the oblong clearing. He even had a small broom in the saddle bags to help him with this task, though a sudden, intended breeze rose up as Languin muttered to himself and sent the leaves further from the circle.
Then Languin searched his daypack from out of his saddlebags, and found the small azure blue silk bag that held his real possessions.
Languin reached into the bag and pulled out the miniature mahogany wardrobe that had been gifted to him several centuries ago, by his long dead friend, Paladin Glade.
Setting the wardrobe on the ground as if he was preparing a dollhouse living room Languin began the familiar incantation. The words came from deep inside him, and resonated in the trees around him. This was very old magic, the kind no longer seen on most worlds. A few lines drawn in the moist soil around the wardrobe with Languin’s rapier barely touching the ground and the wardrobe began to grow in size. It continued to grow until it stood in front of the Last Elf at full size, almost seven feet tall.
Languin brushed a slight tinge of sweat from his brow. Had there been a tiny bit more effort required to complete that than the last time? Was there something wrong inside the cabinet?
Languin’s instincts went into hyperactivity. Could the other guy have trapped the box somehow, trying to kill him?
Ridiculous of course, since they share the same body; it would be a strange sort of suicide, but perhaps it was time for those kinds of plots. There had been several very personal assaults on things that Languin loved over the last several “visits” from the other guy.
Just to be safe, Languin kept his favorite throwing dagger “Broelstedt” in hand when he opened the wardrobe door. The silver key turned, and admitted that the box had been locked shut recently. For better or worse, the other guy had locked it again, unnecessary as that might be.
There was the typical rush of air into the box from around Languin’s shoulders. The stale air that wafted out into the fresh air smelled wrong.
The other guy had done the unthinkable. He had put something living in there before closing it last.
Languin was smelled rotting flesh, but better not to assume it was a human being, as the other guy had never been quite that cruel before. So into the box he strode.
“Its larger on the insides.” Said one naïve young boy, several decades ago, when Languin had forgotten to go far enough into the woods to be properly secluded.
True enough, in that all of Languin’s possessions from over six centuries of adventuring were stored in this huge domed space.
Several large glowing spheres hung in the air near the top of the extra-dimensional space brightly lighting this hundred-foot radius closet. It shouldn’t be too hard to find what has gone rotten in here.
Entering into the space Languin surveyed for damages or bad news of any kind. It did not take Languin long to find the body.
A large human fighter in ill-fitting chainmail lay behind crates of old weapons, as if they could have given him cover against evil’s return.
Languin also saw that this idiot had tried to light a fire in here, and burned several wood shelves before realizing that the smoke could not get out, nor could air get in. He may have killed himself without even knowing why.
But, Languin could hear the tattered remnants of a timid heartbeat in the poor man’s chest, and the oxygen now available might accidentally revive the big guy, so…
Languin took a few minutes to find the old litter he had used to drag large stuff in and out of here, and used it as a stretcher to get this guy out into fresh air.
Languin found the old steel manacles, bound the fighter, and worked quickly.
Back in the cabinet, Languin found several animal carcasses, which explained the smell of rot. There was no telling what the other guy had intended, but it had succeeded in putting a bit of concern into Languin since his mind always went to the darkest explanations before the story was exposed.
Falion was a bit skittish now, as if he could sense the next thing that Languin would have to drag out. Languin lead him a bit further from the wardrobe and gave him some sugar in apology.
After the carcasses was removed and dragged further into the woods, some strong incense lit, and several cantrips thrown to cleanse the space of blood and debris, it almost smelled like new, though it had always smelled a bit off anyway, due to old books that could never be completely repaired.
Languin checked on the fighter several times, but kept him dozing with another spell in order to finish what he needed to finish inside the wardrobe.
The other guy must have really hated this fighter to try to kill him so cruelly, so he would be Languin’s friend if possible.
Once Languin had cleansed his clothing and bathed in the creek, he searched the wardrobe for the other guys journal, which was nowhere to be found.
Languin finished the closing incantation and put the tiny wardrobe back in its little azure bag.
With everything now put away Languin went to tend to the poor innocent fighter.
The FighterThe fighter woke more suddenly than Languin had expected, and even manacled and tied to a tree, Languin was having difficulty keeping the fighter from strangling him.
Languin had to resort to one of his nasty, kick in the nuts, escape twists and the fighter was gasping for air.
Then Languin just sat back down, out of reach and calmed his breathing and suggested the same to the fighter non-verbally.
“I’m going to kill you demon!” shouted the berserker.
Languin just sat trying to look concerned and sensitive, which is not his most convincing bluff.
“I’m not him.” Said Languin, several times.
“I will kill you!”
“I’m Languin, not Darklock.”
“I do not care what you call yourself sorcerer.”
anguin had cooked them stew, and he hoped that the smell of sustenance would calm the fighter.
“And what can I call you, please?” asked Languin.
This went on for several long minutes while Languin sipped at his stew occasionally and offered the fighter his bowl between tastes. Then the fighter realized that he was naked, and suddenly he became accusative and tiresome.
A few minutes later, Languin offered the bowl of warm, delicious rabbit stew again, and even made eye contact and sipped a tiny bit of it to prove that it wasn’t poisoned.
The fighter’s hunger began to win out, which was ideal because it was beginning to get dark and there were preparations to be made.
“Back off now. I’ll set it down for you, and here’s your spoon.” Said Languin. “Eat at your own pace, not too fast, and let me tell you a story.”
The fighter was eating his stew now, but still looking daggers through Languin’s sensitive blue eyes.
“There was once a very mischievous little Elf, who angered some very powerful beings, and they cursed him to pass through time with two very distinct and counterproductive personas.
“The good little Elf was called Languin, which had been his original childhood name, and had always tried to be good even when it wasn’t easy or fun.
“The evil bastard Elf chose the name Darklock, and kills, maims, and destroys the lives of almost everyone that gets in his way.
“I suspect that you got in Darklock’s way, right?” Languin asked.
The fighter looked wary and still very hungry so he continued eating.
“Well the little Elf falls asleep in one persona, and awakes sometimes weeks or even months later not knowing what the evil son of a bitch has been up to.
“I woke up this morning, after I don’t know how long, in a strange city that I’ve never even heard of, and am doing the best I can to determine what Darklock has done while I was, gone.”
The fighter shook his head in disbelief and kept eating.
“You are lucky that the other guy, that’s Darklock as I’ve said, forced me to change clothes and check my wardrobe; otherwise you might have died before I had found you.
“Now please tell me what I might call you, and how I can convince you of what I’ve said?”
The fighter drank down the last of his stew and looked across the campfire at Languin. It was only dusk now, but here in the clearing the woods around them were getting dark.
“More?” The fighter held out the bowl, but not as forcefully as he might.
Languin took the bowl cautiously and refilled it from the iron pot, then offered it back to the fighter making eye contact as long as the fighter would hold it.
Naked, the big lug seemed to get frazzled and discourteous when Languin looked him up and down to check his health status. Languin was exceptional at gauging a man’s capacity for doing harm by watching the man’s pulse at the neck or wrist, and suddenly he had thought to look at the other pulse points, like the one on the inner thigh.
“I’ll give you your clothes once you’ve eaten, as I’m sure that you are getting a bit cold there.” Languin made the “mistake” of glancing down as he said that.
“You cannot be trusted.” Said the fighter.
“I can, and you will.”
Languin had cleaned the fighter’s clothing and now brought them out of hiding and prepared to offer them to him, once he had eaten, as directed.
The fighter began eating again.
“I’m still waiting for that name old man.” Said Languin. There was a certain irony to calling human males “old man”, but the fact that Languin looked a bit like a teenage boy meant that the irony was lost on them until they got to know Languin better.
“Glade of Golian.” Answered Glade of Golian.
“So it was the cities name,” muttered the Last Elf, “excellent.”
Glade looked slightly bemused, then added, “and you really are the Elf called Languin?”
That was an odd way to say it.
“No, I mean I’ve heard stories of Languin of Anyalt, the last Elven princeling from the forest kingdoms.”
Languin wanted to free the handsome naked man now and listen to stories all night of this man’s childhood fairy tales, but he reminded himself to be cautious.
“Here are your clothes.” Languin placed the clothes on the edge of blanket that Glade was sitting on. Glade did not try to grab him this time, but did lurch a bit as if he was going to, just to see if Languin was watching. Languin jumped ever so slightly.
Suddenly it occurred to Languin where Glade must have gotten that name and why Darklock would have treated him so cruelly. Suddenly it all came together.
Paladin Glade, Languin’s first and most significant human friendship, had been from the city of Golian. That was five hundred odd years ago. However, when Glade left Languin, to retire after thirty years of adventuring, he must have returned to Golian.
There are no coincidences where Darklock was concerned. There had to be a reason why Darklock had brought them here. There had to be something tied to Glade, that could also be tied somehow to “The Curse”.
The StoryGlade of Golian sat crossed legged by the fire with Languin listening like a real child from across the flames.
Glade was no longer bound, or naked, and they had set up some warning bells in the woods surrounding their camp, with Falion close by.
Languin had several magical defenses setup that Glade was not aware of, but this man’s tie to his namesake, Languin’s oldest and dearest, long departed, Paladin Glade, was bringing Languin’s suspicious nature to an all-time low.
There had been a time, that even Languin could barely remember, when Languin had been a trusting, even naïve, princeling.
“The Great Paladin Glade of Golian, who with his Elven Archer ally Languin of Anyalt, routed the Drow from the Underdark, saved the Dwarves of Mithrildell, and defeated the Dread Dragon Thrax, were the great heroes of the First Age of Golian.
“My mother told me many stories of Glade’s eternal goodness, and many of them included tales of Languin’s tempting mischief.
“My father didn’t approve of her stories, and in fact my father called me Samel until the day he died ten years ago, but my father was a farmer, and I knew early on that I would never make a very good farmer. So my older brother Gilem got the farm. Gilem also got my girlfriend Lily and I went into the army.
“When I returned from my duties defending the borderlands, I got a job in the city watch and told stories of Paladin Glade, and Languin, to my nephews.
“But tonight I should probably tell you that this Darklock fellow is a danger to you and everyone else if he succeeds in find the Blade of Keslach.”
Glade sounded now like he was willing to believe this far-fetched story of a cursed Elf.
Perhaps he even believes that he has stumbled upon the real Languin of Anyalt, for he is making eye contact now, and preparing to tell the real tale.
“A week ago I was assigned the task of following a suspected thief who had been sighted in the market district, possibly looking to rob one of the weapons vendors.
“He was described as a young boy all in black, with too many knives and a penchance for juggling them in people’s faces.
“Though he was sneaky and stayed to the shadows extremely well, several people had died and everything seemed to be pointing to one of two arms dealers as being either involved, or in danger. So we were placed on alert and they were watched.
“Salvator specializes in heavy weapons and historical artifacts, but Martok deals exclusively in daggers and garrotes, and I just knew…
“So I went undercover as Martok’s assistant, Dale, and stayed with him in his home for several days. There were some strange notes dropped asking about a mythic dagger called the “Blade of Keslach”. The notes threatened death to those that could not supply clues to the blades resting place.
“Well Martok had never heard of this blade, but did chose to investigate further, so we went together to the Arcane Library in the Mithril Tower, up in the high district. First time that I was invited into the high district, so I was beside myself. I even sent word to my nephews that I might have stories to tell after my excursion.
“Well we found something. The elders there showed us ancient texts that told of a great battle between two warlords of the first age, one a necromancer of foul evil, a lich named Pithtros and the other a cleric of truth and righteousness named Meloch the Bold.
“Meloch’s swords and spears could not damage Pithros, until during their final battle Azra told him to dip his small silver dagger into his own blood and then strike the lich with it.
“The dagger killed them both but the world was at peace again.
“That sounded like such a strange tale, that I wondered why my mother hadn’t named me Meloch.
“There was mention of a dead city called Hethron, where that battle had taken place, and the elders even found several indications that the ruins of Hethron are just north of modern Golian, in fact very close to my brother’s farm.
“So we returned to Martok’s villa and began plotting a way to use this information to catch this evil assassin, thief.
“But in my arrogance I sent a rider out to warn my brother to come into the city so that I could protect them, but that rider was killed and my brother and his family taken hostage.
“I was sent a note warning me to bring our findings to my brother’s farm, alone. In my arrogance, I believed that I could best this thief who had already killed seven citizens.
“I charged up there and order the thief to give up my family. He never gave me his name, but did cut off my brother’s hand and toss it to me ordering me to give him what he came for.
“Enraged I charged him and he killed my brother before I could even reach him.
“When he grabbed my sister-in-law Lily I fell to my knees and started telling him all that I knew. He listened, but kept believing that I was leaving some part out. I was trying not to tell him about the Hethron ruins so nearby.
“I held out as long as I could, but he could read me too well and began playing like he couldn’t decide who should die first, my nephews, whom I love like my own, or the first girl I loved and lost.
“So he began to strangle my youngest nephew and I grabbed my sword off the floor and attacked him again. He then stopped playing with me and attacked me directly. He used some sort of curse to stop me in my tracks, cut my stomach open then went to slit my nephew’s throat while I was still paralyzed.
“I broke down, begged him to stop and told him about Hethron, and the ruins.
“He killed my nephew just as I broke out of his curse, then I chased him into that strange box, where you found me. He slipped behind me and locked me in there.
“And then you showed up.”
Languin wanted to ask for the story of Glade and the Dread Dragon Thrax, as that was a new one on him, but instead he suggested an early night.
“And should I approach you in the night, feel free to ask me my favorite color.” suggested Languin.
The Dead CityThe following morning Languin sat watching the big fighter sleep. There was something strangely comforting in that big pale broad cheek boned face. There was a bit of the Paladin in this city guardsman.
“What is your favorite color?”
“Good guess.” Said the well-rested fighter. The herbs that Languin had put into that potent stew had done their magic.
“Now you should go check on your family and make sure that they are safe.”
The fact that Glade had not run off in the middle of his story last night was a testament to the curatives that Languin had dosed him with. Suddenly Glade leapt up and attempted to “borrow” Falion.
Falion would have none of that and sidestepped away very gracefully.
“We’ll go together, as I’m heading the same direction.”
Glade had to wait, impatiently while Languin gathered his things and got everything back onto Falion.
Falion had no trouble carrying the two men, perhaps because Languin was so light, or because he knew how important today’s trip was.
Falion cantered for most of the hour it took to return to the farm, but galloped when Glade became impatient and sunk his boots into Falion’s sides.
Languin had not ridden with another rider in several decades, but had not forgotten the danger to one’s family jewels, should one fall forward. But, he was cautious of not getting to familiar with this Glade behind him either.
Though Languin was determined to find the Blade of Keslach, he would have stayed to see Glade’s family reunited, if there hadn’t been city guards there on the farmhouse front porch.
“If I succeed in this trial, then I will return to help you clear everyone’s name.”
“Good luck Languin of Anyalt. Kill him if you can.” And Languin shook the big man’s hand, then rode south towards where the ruins should be.
“So Falion, you know what I’m looking for, don’t you?
“I have to trust that Darklock failed to find The Blade, since I woke up in the tavern.
“I have to believe that he simply didn’t remember the last part of that story. It is strange how some memories from the past are shared and others are divided. Like there is some sort of vengeful deity up there who enjoys screwing with us both. You know who you are Loki.
Languin thought several other curses in his mind, but he kept them to himself, just in case the gods of chaos were listening.
“Hethron, the dead city, home of Pithros the Unjust, and now his tomb.
“Here we should find the Egg of the Protector, and through that the Blade of Keslach. If Darklock had sought the blade indirectly he might have found it, but I suspect that I will be the winner this time.”
Falion approached a level area with a circle of broken pillars around it. There were only three partially pillars standing now, but there would have been eleven when the tomb was young.
“Good boy. You didn’t lead him here when he asked for help, did you?”
Languin slid down off Falion’s broad black shoulders. He snorted into Falion’s wide nostrils and shook his head in thanks.
The tool bag included the good pick still, which was handy otherwise, this might have taken days.
Languin kept his full armor on, even though he knew how exhausting this might be, for he also knew what he might encounter if he succeeded, or if the city guard stumbled along.
The pick glistened in the sun, and even from a distance you could tell that this was no common pick axe. Just setting it down to adjust his gauntlets chunks of earth shot away like sparks.
Languin raised the pick and brought it down again and again around him, each time it struck the ground rock and gravel shot away from the Elf. Large chunks of stone were tossed aside easily as he dug his way into the ground. Only moments had passed and nearly three feet of earth had been turned aside.
From Languin’s best guess he would need to dig at least ten feet down, though it was a matter of how deep most men would ever attempt and then just go a little further.
The pit was getting deeper and wider, as he needed to be able to get out of the pit quickly at some point.
Sweat rolled down his body, inside his armor, chafing and binding, but necessary. Languin wanted to take a break, but knew that at any moment fate could trick him and return Darklock to the fore.
Falion whinnied and Languin stopped to listen. There was no immediate sound, but he climbed to the edge of the pit nonetheless. Better safe than sorry, was a wise motto.
Falion seemed concerned by something on the horizon, back the way they had come, from the farm. But even Languin’s uncanny Elven sight could see nothing. Falion wasn’t showing undue concern, so Languin gulped down some water from his water skin and returned to work.
Languin slid back down into the pit and began again, but Falion immediately whinnied, but this time Languin felt it to. The ground had trembled.
The BirdLanguin’s next strike hit the metal that he was expecting. He began to chip from side to side to clear more of the silver skin that had appeared. This was the Egg of the Protector, which which one must free in order to free the Blade of Keslach.
Darklock must believe that this blade, empowered by good to sacrifice himself in order to slay evil could somehow be turned to kill off just the good within their shared body. That was a reach, but perhaps he just wanted to keep the Blade out of Languin’s hands.
Languin was almost willing to self sacrifice at this point, though he would certainly prefer cheating death yet again. But it was time now to put an end to Darklock’s arrogant malevolence one way or the other.
As he cleared the rock back and exposed the broad round curve of the silver egg he saw the metal buckle sharply. First, there was the bird to deal with.
The silver skin split as Languin leapt up out of the hole he had carved. Smoke and light streamed from the hissing metal as the creature beneath tore his way to freedom. Languin pulled his sword calmly and readied himself with a almost silent chant.
Out of the smoke rose a giant black eagle, silver yolk dripping off its silken wings, and it stretched for the first time in millennia. Languin took this first moment to attack.
With the speed of a black alley cat the little thief struck. The Last Elf jumped back in above the eagle and drove his sword down into the thick muscles of the thirty foot bird’s back.
The bird threw its wings back hard in a spasm, effectively crushing Languin, and then twisted away with the most violent whirlwind of movement. In the flurry Languin was lifted up off the ground still clinging to the sword that was buried hilt deep in the huge feathered flesh.
Trying to establish another hand hold on the bird so that he might pull his blade to make a second strike Languin grabbed a slick silver plume, but when it fell from the bird he lost his hold on the sword as well. He fell from the bird’s side and hit the ground rolling.
Languin was up again running back towards the hole where his pick had fallen.
Languin slid down into the hole, and pulled the pick from the silvery yolk. He turned to head back towards the Eagle, but it was already upon him.
A black and silver talon shot out like lightening to grasp his left leg by the meaty part of his thigh. The eagle dragged Languin into the air, upside down with a powerful single flap of those great wings.
The eagle pulled his talon up towards his beak to tear into Languin properly, but the pick was there to push the beak away. Then the bird dropped back to the ground, slammed Languin into the hard flat ground, and tore further into Languin’s gored thigh.
But Languin slammed the pick into the thin leg bone of the great beast and the talon opened instinctively. Languin skittered across the ground away from the raptor and slammed into one of the remaining pillars..
The eagle hobble with its wings outstretched almost hovering with great slow flaps, and Languin limped in with his pick flashing.
The eagle hesitated and backed away, but Languin leapt towards its breast and it fell over backwards trying to avoid the direct strike of his pick. Instead of the breast, Languin struck at the top of the wounded leg and was dragged forward and then around as the bird try to dance away from the little black demon.
This time Languin’s grip on the smaller feathers of the bird’s nether region was more cautious, and with both hands grabbing feathers, Languin scaled the jerking beast’s thick wounded leg. Suddenly the bird was in flight.
The Last Elf scurried up the raptors leg and up behind its great wings, towards the buried sword. There he pulled and twisted the sword even as the eagle rolled over and over again trying to shake him off.
The sword was buried deep, and couldn’t be budged, but Languin’s punch dagger, from the side of his breast plate slid into hand suddenly and thrust it in deeply at the other side of the raptors backbone.
With both blades Languin twisted and the punch dagger slid in and out so easily the eagle was losing control of both wings at the shoulders.
Falling back to the ground swiftly the eagle hit the ruins without control and rolled. Languin held on by the knives and somewhat protected by the eagle’s own flopping wings..
The bird bounced and screeched and twisted trying to get at the little elf, but Languin continued to tear with the dagger, and now the monster was grounded.
Without warning the last good talon got Languin by his torn thigh and tossed him with one powerful kick against the only remaining stone wall, shattering both it and him.
The raptors dying screams were horrible and piercing, but Languin lay in a broken clump of rock with the heat of the afternoon sun beating down upon him, and his heart slowed once again.
The GladesDarkness was closing in on Languin, trying to dim the warm sunlight, but a flash of light and Paladin Glade was holding the broken Elf by the shoulders and shaking his head.
“Silly Elf, always getting in way over your head.” Said the handsome dark haired avenger. “You can’t just wait for help to arrive?”
Languin tried to slide in a rebuttal, but he couldn’t work his throat suddenly.
“This Darklock character, reminds me of someone I used to have to fight with all the time.
“Foul tempered, spiteful little Elf with no love for anyone but himself.”
“Oh I loved,” thought Languin, “but not so that you would notice.”
And with a knowing smile Glade squeezed his shoulders and faded to daylight.
“You gave me a good scare little Elf.” Said Glade of Golian, holding Languin by his thin shoulders. In his hand was one of Languin’s own healing potions, unstoppered and empty. “You should of asked for help if you knew that you were going to fight a gigantic raptor. I might have talked you out of it, or shot a crossbow from a really good hiding spot.”
“There’s still time, but no, you must go now, I can’t have you involved in this next combat at all.”
Languin was sitting up now and mumbling some secondary cure upon himself, or so it seemed to Glade. There was a frighteningly unethical look to this Elf’s features now. He was driven, perhaps beyond reason, to complete this, quest.
“Seriously, get out of here and don’t look back, Darklock might be here at any moment.”
Though Glade did look back, several times, he did obey, if not to the letter of the law, then to its intent.
Glade stayed hidden.
The BattleLanguin of Anyalt rose to his feet, checked the tender bruise, which a moment ago had been a ten inch tear along the inside of his left thigh, and then retrieved his weapons from the dead raptor.
There was nothing he could do to disguise the tear in his greaves, but he knew that it was now or never. For some reason this had to be done here, now, so Languin slid back down into the pit, dove into the egg, and then climbed back out with a long silver dagger in hand.
The Blade of Keslach was an elegantly simple short silver sword with black blood still encrusted upon its inlaid flat and hilt. The markings were of old gods, like Azra, lost to history, but their markings still held power. Languin had dealt with hundreds of these kinds of relics, and he wasn’t a huge fan.
Languin stood in the center of the ancient city holding the ancient dagger and thinking back on years when his own life had been simple and kind. Tears tinged his eyes, as memories flooded him. His whole life was now billowing forth like the smoke from a doused fire.
This was the blade’s doing, but there was no fighting the onslaught of memories. Languin was trained far better than most to control his mind, to calm, slow and savor thought, but there was nothing to cling to here.
Memories that meant nothing to him were cascading through him. Water rushing fast: so fast that being dashed upon rocks might be preferable.
Now memories that struck closer to home: Rikor, Starsong, Mithris, Glade, and even names who had lost their faces decades ago. The pain of loneliness, isolation, and the feelings of uselessness.
Suddenly he realized that these were new memories for him, but old memories for his other self. His black side was there beside him, within him. And, some of these memories had been missing for more than a century. The last few months flashed past with the constant darkness and light, murder and healing, then silence.
The water stopped flowing, his vision cleared, and before him stood the other guy, silver dagger in hand. Languin breathed in deeply and his opponent smiled cruelly.
“We meet at last, little Elf.” Darklock hissed.
“Yes.” answered Languin.
“Now you intend to stab your own prejudice, pride, and anger to death?”
“If the god’s will allow it.”
“The god’s might enjoy this little diversion, but I doubt that they will help one without helping the other as well. Remember that our curse was thrust upon us, by your need to care too much and play one side over the other, for your ‘friends’.”
“There are god’s who support me, as there are gods who would aid you in death and disorder. Except that I am to stop you now, this has gone on long enough.”
“Oh this will be fun.”
Darklock attempted to strike first with a sharp jab that split the air silently, but Languin slid aside and his own blade deflected the other blade noiselessly.
Keeping in balance was easy, now if he could keep the evil one on the offensive the opening he needed would arise.
Turning swiftly from the failed lunge Darklock pulled the blade back cutting a curve in reverse and pulling Languin’s blade with it. Languin again slid away and this time allowed Darklock to step past him with inertia.
Darklock stepped away but as he stepped in again he mumbled and before Languin could remember what that spell was Darklock’s invisibility had gotten him to the mark.
The silver blade struck deep into Languin’s side, and as it slid gracefully back out Darklock prepared himself for his next lunge.
Languin’s mind was fogged by pain, but he muttered a cantrip of his own and Darklock hesitated to combat the itch that welled up beneath his right arm. He strode back into the combat swiftly, and this time he saw his target in the blood that spilled slowly from the thin gash between Languin’s thin abdominals.
With intense concentration Languin floated on the balls of his feet, and as Darklock lunged again Languin’s dagger danced out and touched the prideful hand rather than the magic blade. Darklock’s hand recoiled from the sharp blade’s bite and the silver sword fell from his grasp and disappeared.
Darklock clutched his hand and smiled. “You cannot do it. You are a good man, and you cannot kill an unarmed man.”
The silver blade twisted in Languin’s hand. He thought about Darklock’s taunt, but he could and would kill Darklock, there was no other way to finish this terrible curse.
Darklock made his move, and now the two little elves in black both grasp the hilt of the Blade of Keslach, and both wounds stung, and as they grappled they became one.
Languin stilled his heart and cursed under his breath. At the last instant Languin of Anyalt had desired so strongly the opportunity to cut evils heart out that he had become evil incarnate.
The curse was broken and the Blade of Keslach was gone back to the realms of chaos where it had been created.
Languin was complete again; his old broken self.
Languin lay quietly wondering where his other healing potion may have gone when both Falion and Glade came to his aid.
Bandages were applied, questions asked, and confusion ensued. All was back to normal.
Perhaps Languin had desired to defeat the purpose of Loki and Chaos, but by attempting to destroy his evil self he had lost site of the simple adage, that the ends never justify the means.
Languin was unfulfilled, but the gods of chaos did laugh.