Truphma Invasion: The Creative Campaign
Prologue: Chromatic Deluge
Scion Feurig surveyed the camps below him, down in the once lush valley of Elodean.
A sad wind blew through the valley, echoing the same melancholic requiem that filled the air. The wind was the voice of the land, mourning her helplessness at resisting the vile disease that had taken root in her womb, an ashen cesspool that drained her of her vigor and vitality.
Overhead, the sky was garbed in chaste pale blue, not a single wisp of cloud clinging to her azure gown. Her suitor, the glorious sun, whose love she had spurned, glared down at the world with a fiery gaze. Instead of feeling the usual warm radiance of the solar sphere, the land was bathed in an intense heat that made Scion miss the chill of winter, which had surrendered governance of the realm to spring.
Muttering arcane syllables, Scion began to bend the air before him, channeling the light into a single focus. With a flicker of thought, the focus was magnified tenfold, producing an enlarged albeit poor image of the encampment below him. Scion then chanted an additional string of verses, enhancing the resolving power of the spell and thus improving the quality of the image.
Scion decided there and then that he would have to properly thank Warlic for teaching him that spell, which was aptly dubbed ‘The Telescope’. On more than several occasions, the spell (whose ability vastly surpassed that of any conventional telescope) became an invaluable asset to him.
Scion studied the encampment with keen eyes, noting the deliberately neat and organized arrangement of the white tents and pavilions, each of equal austerity. The troop who had set up the camps comprised of strange-looking individuals. From head to toe they were ghostly white, wearing simple, alabaster clothing. What troubled Scion was not their visibly achromatic appearance, nor the rusty cleavers that they carried, but the cruel, emotionless countenance that every one of them wore.
As Scion continued his scanning, he couldn’t help but lament at the state of the land. The valley of Elodean, once praised as one of nature’s hidden paradise, had been reduced to a barren wasteland. The few trees that remained were dull and languid; a far cry from the arboreal monarchs that once ruled the valley. Whatever verdure that had once existed was wiped out, in its place a colorless expanse that sickened Scion.
Beauty, elegance, artistry…such things had no place in the utopia envisioned by the Truphma.
The pallid beings were once a mystery to Scion, any knowledge of them having acquired from the lips of innkeepers and wandering heroes. Though accounts varied, it all boiled down to the singular fact that the Truphma were a species bent on expunging all forms of creativity and imagination from the face of Lore.
In the beginning, Scion had thought the notion ridiculous. How can someone remove creativity? When it was gradually explained to him that the Truphma had an uncanny ability to smother one’s creative spark and even assert their banal dominance, Scion became infuriated. Who are they to dictate what should and should not exist in the world?
In addition to his blade and magic, creativity was an instrument of great significance to Scion. When strength and speed failed him, he could always rely on his capacity to think of creative solutions no matter the circumstance. In his battle against Lumina, former High Priestess of the Paladin Order, the redhead had trounced said priestess with not brute strength but a combination of wit and imaginative prowess.
Worse yet, Scion discovered that their unholy influence was futile against certain individuals, particularly children, whose innocent minds often housed the wildest, most capricious of imaginations. When met with such circumstances that their conversion was useless, the Truphma would always resort to the one alternative: Murder.
What utter fools. They cut their lives short by even considering harming one of Lore’s children.
According to several credible sources, Scion also found out that the Truphma had strategically taken advantage of recent events to rally their forces, building and setting up a multitude of encampments which were scattered across the face of Lore, excluding the kingdom of Deren. Matters were vastly exacerbated by the fact that Eukara Vox, Loremaster and Guardian of Imagination, Creativity, Learning and Thinking, was still in the midst of recovering from the previous battles against the Truphma.
Yet the temporary loss of her ladyship had scarcely deterred the heroes of Lore; on the contrary, her incapacitation and fueled them with a boldness and determination to strike back at their despicable foes.
Though Scion was not beholden to Eukara, he was drawn to her cause and mission, to rid Lore of this vile infestation, as well as for the sake of creativity and the children.
If the Truphma persist in their folly, the only thing they will accomplish is the extinction of their pitiful race.
Scion muttered a simple verse, ceasing the Telescope spell. The wind started picking up, and he felt the subtle flow of magic. As he turned around, he was met with a swirling aggregation of…sand, as it would appear. The swirling gradually stabilized, transforming into the shape of a doorway.
A young man suddenly stepped out from the sandy portal, dusting the sand off his tattered clothes. Shimmering blue eyes peeked behind a pair of round spectacles, while a felt hat partially hid his platinum blonde hair. The most distinctive feature about this individual was the array of potions that were slung across his shoulder.
Scion gave him a polite smile as he accosted him, “So good of you to come, Kastio. Once again you have demonstrated your adherence to punctuality.”
The one known as Kastio responded with a curt nod, “You honor me with your words, Lord Scion.”
Scion closed his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose in mild frustration, “Kastio, how many times must I remind you that I hold no lordship. Preclude that title.”
“As you wish, Master Scion.”
Scion started to protest, but then decided against it. Perhaps it was just in Kastio’s nature to display deference to those he deemed his superiors.
Kastio was one of Eukara Vox’s assistants, whom she had assigned to accompany Scion in his mission to eliminate the Truphma camps. Eukara had wanted him to further observe the enemy and record their goings-on. Polite as he was terse, the blonde lad showed a strict devotion to his principles as well as an unwavering loyalty to his mistress.
“Mistress Vox bid me to send you her regards,” said Kastio in a rich baritone. “She also wishes to thank you for joining her cause.”
Scion waved a hand. “Tell her to think nothing of it. She and I share the same ideals, and that is enough for me to render her aid.” Scion stopped to appraise his companion, noting his colorful paraphernalia. “Did you remember to bring the item I asked for?”
“Of course,” answered Kastio without hesitation, reaching out into a pocket for a leather pouch, thereafter handing it to Scion. The redhead offered his thanks as he pocketed the pouch.
“If I may be so bold,” continued Kastio, “How many camps have you successfully dismantled thus far?”
Scion looked upwards as he performed a mental count. “Ten, I believe.”
Kastio was taken aback, his eyes widening in surprise, “Within this week?”
“Within today actually.”
There was a palpable silence, followed by Kastio clearing his throat as he recovered from his shock, “Forgive me, Master Scion, I had not known that you were learned in Spatial Transportation.”
Scion shook his head, a faint smile adorning his face, “You are mistaken, Kastio. A generous friend simply offered to fly me around Lore.” By friend, Scion referred to his undead companion, the dracolich that was once known as the terror of the sky: Vrael Ironfang. The colossal dracolich had greatly aided Scion during the war between the Paladins and the Necromancers, and had expressed a desire to continue serving him after the war.
“But still,” protested Kastio, “Ten camps within a day is a puissant feat; the tales did not lie, you truly are the great Scion Feurig.”
“Oh pish posh,” said Scion as he smiled at Kastio, who wore an expression of awe. “Rumors are like weeds, prone to grow uncontrollably yet bearing no fruit. I have done nothing impressive. The Truphma may have chosen their locations strategically, but the position of their camps is hideously predictable, a testament to their drab, uncreative thinking. Finding the camps and destroying them is simple. The main problem is one that we have yet to overcome. I’m sure that you are aware of it, yes?”
Kastio nodded his head in reply, “The Truphma seem to be able to rapidly replenish their ranks, to the point where they rebuild their camps in the exact same spot.”
“Correct, which is why I have contrived a most devious way to remedy that problem,” said Scion, a hint of mischief coloring his tone.
“Truly? And what might that be, Master Scion?” asked Kastio tentatively.
Scion responded with a wink, “You’ll see. Come with me.”
The two of them walked a few paces north, where they were met with a relatively large pit. The fissure had been dug by Scion an hour ago, its size approximately equivalent to that of a large pond.
“Behold!” exclaimed Scion, his arm spread out in a grandiose fashion.
Kastio adjusted his spectacles as he peered into the pit, no doubt aspiring to discern any trace of magic. After a few seconds, he concluded that there were none. This was a common, non-unique pit.
“This is the solution to our problem?” asked Kastio, failing to hide the skepticism in his voice.
Scion then proceeded to confound the lad with a look of mock horror. “Heavens no! Keep your wits about you, Kastio. I was merely pointing out that this pit is part of the spell that I will be weaving.”
“Oh, I see,” said Kastio, understanding flooding his face. “My sincerest apologies, Master Scion.”
Dear Lorithia, will he not cease his endless flow of courtesy?
“Yes, well…why don’t you repent by jumping off that cliff?”
“Kastio, it was a joke,” said Scion when he realized that the young assistant had taken it seriously. “At any rate, I will need to fully concentrate during the spell, so I’m going to need you to defend me, just in case.”
“As you say then,” replied Kastio, relieved that he was saved from an untimely demise.
Scion turned his attention to his pit as he took a few deep breaths. A faint light gradually began to emanate from him, as an arcane glyph of shining blue flashed into existence beneath him. Like an operating surgeon, his gestures were deliberate and precise, while a stream of verses flowed from his lips.
There was a rumbling in the earth, followed by gushing water that flooded the pit before him to the brim. Scion then knelt down, a hand upon the ground as he drew from the earth the essences of several minerals and ores, mixing it with the water. Green earth, azurite, yellow ochre, umber, titanium white, viridian, cobalt blue, cinnabar…Those would be the pigments.
Next he emptied the contents of the leather pouch Kastio had handed him: Acacia gum, made from the hardened sap of the acacia tree. That would be the binder.
Scion gently made a twirling motion with his hand, and as he did, the mixture in the pit slowly began turning as well, increasing in speed until it became a miniature maelstrom. Scion noted that though there was a plethora of pigments present, the spell had maintained the clarity of the water.
Scion infused the mixture with a continuous stream of thermal energies, wisps of fumes trailing from the pit as the liquid gradually disappeared, undergoing an accelerated evaporation into a gossamer mist of vapor. When he ascertained that all of the mixture had evaporated, Scion willed the vapors to rise up into the air, towards the cloudless sky above.
As the vapors continued their ascent, the air around them suddenly chilled, causing them to cool and then condense, transforming into the puffy, white masses called clouds.
“Amazing,” commented Kastio as he observed the unfolding scene in absolute captivation.
With a grunt of effort, Scion channeled more of his magic, causing more vapors to condense. The lone cumulus, which started out as a meek little cub, rapidly grew into a lion of a cloud as it fed on the neighboring clouds. The sky, which had been a pure expanse of endless blue, was now suffused with a voluminous white conglomeration of clouds.
As Scion continued to expend the reserves of his magic, the clouds suddenly mutated; surging and billowing as it darkened in shade. Like the ominous clouds from the previous war, the dark mass overhead began expanding its territory, snuffing out any trace of blue or white. The cumulonimbus was rapidly swelling, almost saturated with vapor.
Scion decided that the time was now.
By his command, the sky wept; though what fell from the sky were not exactly tears.
“By Lorithia!” exclaimed the young Kastio, his spectacles falling from his face. “It’s raining paint!”
The storm clouds released the pigments in a chromatic deluge, beleaguering the Truphma camps with an unstoppable volley of colorful paint. As Scion and Kastio observed, the valley of Elodean was inundated by colors, the blankness of its landscape now artistically rectified.
The valley was filled with the screams and yells of the bewildered Truphma, who ran around trying to escape from the ‘rain of death’. Despite their supposed logical thinking and calm rationale, they were powerless against the unfaltering onslaught of creativity.
Scion thought it the highest of irony, how something as innocuous and artistic as a rain of paint, something that all children would delight in, would ravage the Truphma and cause them such harm. That is proof enough that they are an unnatural, aberrant blight to Lore.
Scion and Kastio continued to watch for half an hour, as the last of the ignoble Truphma fell and color slowly returned to the valley, albeit in an exceptionally disorderly fashion. Scion was pleased with the results of his spell. The influence of the Truphma was all but extinguished, and the valley would gradually be restored. Additionally, the binder Scion inserted into the mixture would ensure that the paint would remain for a long time, preventing any Truphma to set up a base here.
“Well, Kastio,” said Scion as he stretched his limbs, “Now that we know the spell works, we have a lot of ground to cover for the next few weeks.
“Yes, Master Scion,” said Kastio, who was eager to witness the chromatic deluge once more. “Shall I prepare a portal then?”
Scion shook his head, “No need, I sent Vrael to monitor the Truphma from above earlier on. He should be arriving here soon. Ahh, there he is –”
Scion did not bother stifling his burst of laughter, as Vrael Ironfang, renowned dracolich and Terror of the Sky landed on the ground, his skeletal frame covered in pink paint.
Chapter 1: Deren
The grandeur of Deren laid before him, sprawled in luxurious elegance.
Scion sauntered through the streets, the thrill of returning to the city blossoming in his heart. His skin felt warm against the gentle rays of the sun, as a playful wind danced around him like a graceful ballerina, waltzing on the cobblestone road. The song it sang was a melodious serenade, of dancing kettles and jovial dwarves.
His face broke into a grin as he glanced above, enthralled by the sight of a herd of ovine clouds grazing in a field of calm cerulean. Below, a darker shade of blue swam through the extensive canals, which ran throughout the city, channeling bodies of water. The canals served to irrigate the surrounding wheat farms, which from a distance appeared as a blanket of spun gold. Scion had always held a fondness for the waterways, its lapping waters imbuing him with a sense of serenity.
What’s more, the city of Deren was also clad in a coat of verdure so pronounced that no other city in Lore could lay claim to sharing the same prestige. Trees of various species were carefully cultivated, dotting the city and shading its inhabitants from the occasionally garish light of the sun. From oak to alder, birch to maple, the city was flushed with trees, in spite of the harsh salt winds that blew from the sea. Under the care of a supposed elite team of gardeners and botanists, the plant life in Deren had flourished, casting a natural resplendence upon Deren.
“Isn’t Deren just enthralling, Kastio?” commented Scion as a breeze blew through his crimson hair. “The city just exudes beauty.”
The aforementioned assistant was trailing ponderously behind him, a rather large and bulky backpack strapped across his back. Kastio’s face bore the sheen of gleaming sweat that somehow veiled the exhaustion in his eyes. As he shuffled along, the clinking of his array of glass bottles drew several intrigued gazes.
During a previous conversation, Scion has politely made an inquiry of why Kastio was so insistent on carrying so many glass bottles. The young assistant had explained that before he pledged his services to Eukara Vox, he was apprenticed to Lucretia, the potions master, studying the art of potions brewing in her apothecary. Though he never became nearly as good as his former mentor, he was fond of mixing ingredients and brewing all sorts of potions.
Kastio’s rejoinder contained the vigor and strength of a wheezing old man. “Quite…quite so, Master Scion. But why…why must we fly all the way to Deren of all places…We could have…have replenished our supplies back at Battleon.”
Scion whirled around, critically regarding his junior as he waved a finger in admonishment. “Now, now Kastio, while our duties will always remain, you must also master the ancient art of enjoying life. Look around you, become a sponge and soak the beauty around you. The city of Deren has much to offer, and far be it for us to show ingratitude. Besides, we have exterminated quite a number of Truphma camps. High time we took a little vacation.”
“But the enemy is still at large!” exclaimed Kastio, finally catching his breath. He was unaccustomed to bearing such a heavy load, especially one that was almost the same size as him. “We should be on Battleonia right now; there are no Truphma camps on Deren.”
A twinkle suddenly sparked into existence in Scion’s eyes. “Funny how you’ve brought that up. I don’t suppose you or Lady Vox has any inkling as to why no Truphma has been sighted on Deren soil?”
“None I’m afraid. In light of her injuries, we have done our best to carry out her duties and have launched several investigations. Yet despite all our resources, we have yet to determine the reason behind their absence here. Maybe they are just focused on Battleonia.”
“I see,” remarked Scion, the twinkle dancing in his eyes. “Has it occurred to you that perhaps that’s exactly what they want you to think? Perhaps their forces are here, only in hiding, and they plan to use the chaos in Battleonia to draw everyone’s attention away from Deren. And when the time is right, they will emerge from their hiding and conquer the continent, right under our noses.”
Scion laughed when he saw Kastio’s eyes widen, acutely aware that he had taken it seriously. “Relax Kastio, it was but a joke. Harmless conjecture aside, I believe that King Tralin is fully aware of the situation and has taken suitable precautions.”
“Ahh I see, you have a point there,” said Kastio as his shoulders sagged in relief.
“Now, even if there are no enemies here, I still have a couple of errands to take care of, including retrieving an important object.”
“Oh? Might I ask the nature of the object of which you seek to retrieve?
“A weapon, albeit an unconventional one,” replied Scion as he smoothed out the wrinkles on his navy blue tunic. “As to what type of weapon exactly…you will just have to find out later. Follow me.”
As they made their way around a corner towards the city square, Scion recalled the last time that he had visited Deren. Not since The’Galin departed, that is certain…Countless wars and internal strife have ravaged this land, and yet Deren has endured it all, evolving into one of the most prosperous kingdoms in all of Lore. Oh how I’ve missed this place.
After dismantling dozens and dozens of Truphma camps and depriving them of their resources, Scion and Kastio rode their dracolich companion as he took flight from the Skaerling desert. Vrael had veered southeast, flying over the Great Sea and the Middle Isles, a continent sprawling with ancient trees and uncharted mountains. It was in these lands that the conniving Seekrat orchestrated his schemes, unleashing the terrors of another realm and leaving a portion of the Isles changed indefinitely.
As they traversed the Great Southern Ocean, they were met with a sizable storm that forced them to alight and find shelter on the small island of Neld. Neld was a queer place, filled with foreign plants and strange, shy creatures that kept to the shadows. The island was a mystery to Scion, and whatever Kastio knew of it was acutely limited to whatever he read in books.
The storm had persisted for two days, battering down with an unceasing barrage of rain and buffeting winds. Scion had briefly entertained the notion that perhaps the Truphma were behind the storm, a form of revenge against him. After all, the damages that the Truphma had sustained from his Chromatic Deluges were quite substantial, especially given the fact that they had yet to form a counter-strategy. Nevertheless, Scion dismissed the thought. Draining creativity was their forte, but creating storms were out of their league.
They were eager to leave the island, and as soon as the storm passed, Vrael practically leaped into the sky, flying a straight course towards Deren.
By midday, the sun had reached its peak, its rays obscured by the mass of white clouds around it. As they made their way past a string of merchants selling their wares, they were greeted by the soothing sound of flowing water.
An intricate two-tiered fountain lay before them, its variegated stonework giving it an aura of refinement. In the middle of the fountain stood a sculpture of two intertwining fishes, their scales wrought masterly. Both of their open mouths spouted a stream of pristine water which poured into the pool, creating unending ripples. At the base of the pool were coins from different countries, each carrying a silent wish.
Scion fumbled through his pockets and threw a single bronze coin into the fountain, making a wish as the coin fell in with a soft plop. “Do you know the legend behind this fountain, Kastio?”
Kastio furrowed his brow in puzzlement as he glanced at the fountain which, while beautiful, did not remind him of any fables. “Truth be told, I had not known that there even was a legend behind it.”
Scion startled the young lad with an expression of mock horror, “How could you not?! By all means allow me to recount it to you.” He then proceeded to clear his throat in the most exaggerated fashion.
“Long ago, when humans had yet to roam the land, there were the Amilani, creatures of the sea who had bred with the Elves and thus brought into existence the Water Elves. Within their underwater kingdom, it was said that there were two prominent Amilani who boasted fantastic magical powers. They were revered and celebrated, and all the praise and prestige had gone to their head.”
Scion threw another coin, this one minted from silver.
“As their powers grew, so too did their hubris, until one day they decided that they were entitled the gift of immortality. It was that day that they sealed their fates. The Amilani mages stormed the sacred temple of the Water Lord, desecrating it with the deaths of his priests and communicants. The Amilani then demanded that the Water Lord appear before them and make them immortal.”
With a flourish, Scion threw a third coin of gold, this one creating the largest ripple of all three.
“Instead of smiting them there and then, the Water Lord spoke to them and assented to their request. The Amilani were overjoyed to hear this, never stopping to think that it was a trick. With but a thought, the enraged god turned them both into stone, silencing them forever. The Lord of the Seas then decided to bestow the sculpture to the then King of Deren, who ordered it made into a fountain. For centuries now, the fountain has stood in this very spot, the Amilani having gotten their wish.”
Scion turned towards Kastio, and was surprised to see him scribbling down on a notebook, his hand furiously writing everything Scion had uttered.
“That was an interesting tale, Master Scion,” said Kastio as he finished writing, his notebook tucked away in his pocket. “Thank you for sharing it.”
“You’re welcomed, Kastio. After all of this is over, I suppose you will add that tale to Lady Vox’s library?”
Kastio nodded earnestly, “Indeed. My mistress has often reminded me to record any interesting stories or fables. She is fond of reading any creative work from around the world, and doesn’t want any of them to disappear just because nobody bothered to write them down.”
“I see. That is certainly a noble ideal. Memories may wane and fade, but the words of books and tomes will endure the test of time.”
“Very good Master Scion,” said Kastio as he wrote that down as well.
Has he been doing that all this time?! What a bother, who knows how many profanities I have uttered for the past two weeks? Maybe he will turn it into a book. The Colorful Vocabulary of Scion Feurig.
After a few minutes of respite at the fountain, Scion and Kastio continued their course, weaving through the myriad stalls that flanked the boulevard before them. The fragrant smell of freshly baked bread wafted through the air, mingling with the aroma of a boiling stew chock full of herbs and spices. The scents were so potent that they awakened a ravenous hunger in Scion, who longed to partake of the local delicacies.
Food was aplenty in the stalls of the Derenian market. Fruits of all shapes and sizes bedazzled Scion with their array of bright colors. To his right, a merchant argued with a customer over the price of a cut of deer meat, while another advertised the magical properties of her herbs. Several peddlers walked about, pushing around their carts and wheelbarrows, which were filled to the brim with clams, oysters and scallops. Several housewives were busy about their business, filling their straw baskets with eggs, cheese, ham and other such foods.
Further ahead, another group of merchants purveyed an extensive variety of cloths and fabrics, their cries augmenting the din that already surrounded the market. Tailors were seen as well, their measuring tapes perpetually in their hands as they made countless measurements. In addition to selling fabrics, some of the merchants also sold various kinds of jewels, ranging from the brightest of sapphires to the darkest of onyxes.
A group of children ran past him, their ringing laughter permeating the air and creating a convivial atmosphere. Scion’s keen eyes quickly took note of what all of them held in their hands: A short white stick with a gossamer cloud of spun sugar around it.
And thus, with implacable force, Scion dragged Kastio towards the stall that sold the wonder that was cotton candy. He was pleasantly surprised to discover that the vendor also sold a multitude of other desserts and confectioneries. Bars of sweet caramel and sticky toffees hung below the awning, while large glass bottles contained an assortment of crunchy biscuits. Chocolates of various textures were on display, beside baskets of licorice and colorful gumdrops.
What’s more, customers could also order fresh crepes, drizzled with chocolate syrup and stuffed with honeyed fruits, along with a side of puffy whipped cream. A workstation was attached perpendicularly to the stall, where a pâtissier produced all manner of pastry, his clothes covered in flour. Working with a speed and skill that came with experience, the pâtissier created a range of pastries, from dainty strawberry tarts to elaborately crafted profiterole filled with whipped cream and garnished with powdered sugar.
Adjacent to the dessert stall was another, smaller stall, which served hot drinks. As Scion approached the stall, his nostrils were immediately assaulted by a pungent wave that could only be attributed to that of coffee. The barista was a young girl with raven black hair, a few pimples marring her otherwise perfect face. Customers of the male variety frequented her stall, lingering and oftentimes buying several cups of coffee.
The barista welcomed Scion with an endearing smile, and offered him and Kastio each a free drink. Scion’s eyes widened in delight as he took a sip of his coffee, a harmonious medley of espresso, steamed milk, chocolate syrup and a dash of cinnamon.
In front of the two stalls were several wooden chairs and tables, where patrons could sit while enjoying their desserts. A family of six were seen, the husband and wife struggling to control their rambunctious children. Seated at a smaller table was a handsome young couple, barely touching their food as they stared lovingly into each other’s eyes. At another table was a group of finely dressed women huddled close, no doubt meeting to discuss the daily gossip.
What a glorious sight...who knew heaven could be so easily found?
Scion and Kastio finally left the market as the clock struck three, having restocked their provisions and furnishing Kastio with a new set of clothes. When Kastio asked Scion why he hadn’t purchased any of the sweets, the latter calmly explained that he had bid the vendor to deliver a rather large amount of confectioneries to his estate.
“I can’t carry all of it on my person,” Scion remarked. “Else I would finish everything within the hour.”
After passing the Museum of Lorian Natural and Cultural History, they finally arrived at their destination. A round, concrete building stood before them, painted in shades of blue and orange. A metal roof crowned the building, exquisitely crafted in the shape of a polyhedron, a testament to the crafter’s superb skill. Below the roof hung a large sign, etched with the words Bernard Longsire’s Artificiary.
“What is an artificiary?” asked Kastio, his clothes now soak with sweat.
“A place where artificers work,” replied Scion.
That only served to confuse the blonde assistant even more. “My apologies, Master Scion, but what exactly is an artificer? Is it a blacksmith?”
Scion shook his head. “Crafter would be the more appropriate word, although there are certain connotations which would invalidate even my example. Basically, an artificer is someone who crafts all manner of objects and imbues them with magical properties. A prime example of such an object would be the polychromatic lantern.”
“I see, that is certainly enlightening,” said Kastio as he characteristically whipped out his notebook, a quill appearing out of nowhere.
“It certainly is. At any rate, if you’re done scribbling, let’s head in. I want us to be finished with all our errands by eventide.”
“Very well, Master Scion. I am eager to be rid of this burden as well; the sheer weight of this bag is killing me.”
Scion turned around, feigning incredulity. “Kastio! Why do you persist in tormenting yourself?”
“I...I beg pardon?”
“The rocks,” said Scion as he gesticulated meaningfully. “Do you mean to say that you have yet to remove the rocks that I had placed inside your backpack last night?”
The puzzlement on his face slowly gave way to pure shock. “Excuse me?!” The assistant promptly flung his backpack to the ground, a little army of rocks and stones rolling out of their leather barracks.
For a while, neither one of them spoke, their silence punctuated by the ramblings of a drunkard who milled about the city, asking for a golden goose.
Like a cracking whip, Kastio’s tirade was sharp and unforgiving. “Master Scion. I have a lot of respect for you but this is far too much. For the past two weeks I have had to deal with your antics and childish behavior without complaint or protest. Have you no love for propriety or consideration for others? Do you revel in exhausting the tolerance of others, toying with them with impunity? Why on Lore would you do this to me?”
Scion merely looked at him, his eyes as calm as the ocean, his voice as clear as the sky. “To teach you a lesson. Vigilance is a blade that one must consistently hone. You may not know this, but in the past two weeks alone, thrice did the Truphma attack us in the dead of night, and thrice did I dispatch them. Yet in the midst of battle, you barely stirred, content to sleep through the clangor.
You chose to join me in this dangerous mission, but how can you, when you are so oblivious to the perils around you? I do not ask you to forsake slumber, but to remain vigilant and alert. Those rocks might very well have been explosives planted by the enemy.”
In an instant, the anger that had so consumed Kastio’s being diminished and disappeared, replace with a profound sense of guilt and repentance. “I…I did not know at all…I’m…I am truly sorry, Master Scion.”
The redhead’s features softened as he approached Kastio, a hand placed upon his shoulder. “You are still alive, and that is what matters. One day, I believe you will go on your own adventures, fighting dragons and saving princesses. When that day comes, I might not be there to protect you.” Scion’s eyes bore into Kastio’s pale blue ones. “Never let your guard down. That is the best advice that I can give you now. And perhaps also to stop calling me ‘Master Scion’.”
“I understand…thank you, Ma- Thank you, Scion.”
Scion smiled as he chuckled inwardly. Since when did I become a mentor? Obsidia’s repulsive influence must be rubbing off on me.
“You’re most welcomed, Kastio. Now, what say we head inside?”
With that, the two of them stepped into the artificiary.
Chapter 2: Message at the Artificiary
Kastio’s eye twitched to a staccato rhythm as he stared at Scion.
“A pen,” said Kastio simply.
“Yes, a pen.”
“That’s what you wanted all along. A pen.”
“Yes, a pen. Is this conversation going anywhere?”
“I just want to be absolutely certain.” Kastio cleared his throat of his growing frustration. “We flew all the way from Battleonia, weathered a harrowing storm, just for a pen.”
“Ahh,” said Scion, his eyes winking with mischief. “There is also the matter of what’s hidden inside the pen.”
Scion nodded in affirmation.
“So what does the pen contain?”
As Kastio went to mend whatever was left of his sanity, Scion continued to examine his new possession: A black fountain pen, crafted from chromium. He ran a finger down the length of the pen, admiring the engraved embellishments, which depicted a scene in a forest. The tip of the pen, called the nib, gleamed under the lamp light, its golden point dipped in a special metal known as iridium, which conferred strength and resistance to corrosion. As Scion twirled the pen in his fingers, he couldn’t help but feel at awe at the superb craftsmanship; exquisite and refined, it was a true gentleman’s instrument.
Displayed around him were a multitude of other objects and tools of an extensive variety. Lamps and lanterns of various designs were hung on iron hooks, radiating a spectrum of different colors. One moment they were a sullen red, and then the other they took on a greenish hue; some shone with the vigor of the sun, while others emitted a soft, soothing luminescence.
A large shop window had been built in the front façade of the shop, displaying peculiar mannequins that were engaged in different poses. Made from enchanted wood, the mannequins could take on a person’s appearance and even their clothes, essentially becoming a sculpture of him or her. These were particularly expensive, given the complex runes and mechanisms that they were composed of.
Standing on the ground was a group of clay garden gnomes, an array of jolly expressions carved into their faces. While ordinary garden gnomes served as adorable decorations, these enchanted gnomes were professed to be able to clear weeds, water plants and other such chores, much to the delight of gardeners both amateur and professional.
The most ubiquitous of the objects was the renowned ‘Whimsy Dome’, which was essentially a glass sphere, situated upon an ornate base. Looking closely, one would see that each globe enclosed a miniature scene, be it a frontier village or an aristocrat’s manor. The Whimsy Dome’s most unique feature was its ability to shift the environment within, changing seasons and switching backgrounds. Scion was particularly fond of these.
A man with dark brown locks approached him from behind a counter, its wooden surface glossy and smooth as his hands were rough and worn. His lips curled into a smile as he noted Scion’s admiration of his work, which had taken him a moon’s turn to complete. “I take it that the pen is to your satisfaction?”
Scion glanced at the man, responding to his smile with one of his own. Bernard Longsire was very much different from his brother. While Barrett, the elder brother, towered over people with his stocky build and rippling muscles, the younger sibling was short and slender, his face comely and his smiles ever charming. Even their personalities were polar opposites. With Bernard, you could always expect soft words and polite conversations; Barrett on the other hand would spend most of the time guffawing and slapping you on the back. For all their differences though, the two brothers shared a passion for crafting. While one was a blacksmith in the lands of Darkovia, the other settled in Deren, honing his skills as an artificer.
“Indeed, the sheer amount of detail you put into the engravings alone is staggering. I must say, you’ve outdone yourself this time, Bernard.”
The artificer chuckled softly as he pushed a brown lock of hair aside, “You flatter me, Scion, but I don’t think this was my most detailed work. There was one time when a duke came to me and commissioned me to make him a scepter that could tell the time as well as the weather. He demanded that it be as intricate and as elaborate as possible, and then gave me a twelve day deadline.”
“Really? I don’t suppose that it was meant as a gift for someone?”
Bernard nodded at him knowingly. “You are as astute as ever. I never heard it from his lips, but I soon found out that he had given the scepter to the King as a sign of goodwill. No doubt also to curry His Majesty’s favor.”
“Such is the game of politics,” remarked Scion as he leaned against the counter. “Have you ever seen the King holding your scepter then?”
With a wistful smile, Bernard shook his head slowly. “Would that I had. I’m not surprised though; the King does not strike me as ostentatious.”
“That is true...Whatever happened to your scepter then?” There was a soft chime, and a sideways glance told Scion that two potential customers had entered the shop: two young girls who had the trappings of nobility.
Bernard shrugged in a fluid fashion that only he was capable of. “Only the gods know, but in any case it hardly matters to me. So long as my creations do not fall into the wrong hands and cause misfortune to the innocent, I am content.”
Scion gave the artificer a wry look. “Just how much did you extract from the duke?”
Bernard responded with an uncharacteristic wink. “Just enough to make him learn the ways of humility.”
Scion rolled his eyes, turning sideways to see where his exasperated companion was lurking. As he suspected, Kastio was analyzing a rectangular device of a soft, grey hue. Scion recognized the device as a crystal tome, an ingenious contraption that could somehow ‘store’ the writings from multiple books. At the user’s will, the device would produce the writings of a particular book on a glass display. As such, the crystal tome was a favorite among book lovers.
“Kastio, if you’re done surveying the merchandise, how about I demonstrate to you how the pen really works?”
The assistant turned around and appraised Scion, his face a rigid mask of doubt and wariness as he slowly moved towards the counter.
“I pray that this isn’t one of your jokes, Scion,” said Kastio, his eyes narrowing into thin slits.
Scion held a hand to his chest in mock bewilderment. “Why Kastio, whatever have I done to warrant such hostility? Must you always repay my kindness with skepticism?”
“Scion,” chided Bernard, “must you always plague your companions with your dry wit and raillery? I had thought you better than that.”
“Fine, fine,” the redhead conceded, “I will cease my quips. For now.” He then turned his attention back to Kastio. “In regards to your question, no, this is not a joke. I seem to recall telling you that I came here for a weapon, and I did stay true to my word. This pen is a weapon, and a deadly one at that. Watch.”
From his breast pocket, Scion drew a piece of white fabric and showed it to Kastio. “This was part of the shirt that one of the Truphma wore.”
With a ‘pop’, Scion uncapped the fountain pen, thereafter flourishing it in front of Kastio. There was subtle, almost unnoticeable shimmering in the air, and as Kastio peered closely, he noticed the presence of…threads, that seemed to pulsate with a soft, sapphire shine. Affecting professional showmanship, Scion swung his hand out in a sweeping motion, holding the piece of fabric in front of him. Then, he let go of the fabric, allowing it to fall towards the ground, as gentle as a feather.
There was a sudden vibration, followed immediately by an explosion of sound as the piece of fabric ignited in a burst of blue light, transforming into a haze of ashes. The entire explosion happened so quickly that it took Kastio several moments to register exactly what had transpired.
“That was astounding,” commented Kastio, his voice dashed with genuine surprise. “But how is that possible? Is the pen some kind of wand?”
“Not exactly,” responded Bernard in his mellow tenor.“Allow me to explain. You see, the nib is enchanted so that when the pen is used to draw something in the air, such as a line, a phantom thread is produced, distinguished by its subtle blue glow. Anything that comes into contact with the thread triggers an explosion, as you have just observed.”
“But isn’t that dangerous?” inquired Kastio, “what if a civilian unknowingly walked towards the phantom thread?”
As if expecting the question, Scion grinned as he offered an explanation. “Ordinarily yes, but there is also the matter of the ink. Whenever I flourish the pen, a small amount of ink is ejected from the barrel. The ink is a concoction that renders the phantom lines effective only against the Truphma and anything related to them. So if I were to pass my hand through a phantom thread, no explosion is triggered.”
Slowly but surely, Kastio’s face lighted up as understanding dawned upon him. “I see, so essentially the pen and its function work only against the Truphma?”
“Even so, would it not be a dangerous weapon against anyone else? A person could merely remove the ink cartridge and use the pen against anybody.”
Scion made way as the two girls suddenly walked towards the counter, each carrying a Whimsy Dome in their hands. Bernard immediately assumed a polite smile that he reserved for most of his customers, flashing his perfect white teeth. Opening her purse, one of the girls counted the coins several times before making the payment. Scion keenly noticed that all the while, her gaze never left the artificer, barely masking her infatuation for him. Scion mused that this wasn’t the first Whimsy Dome that she had purchased.
With the soft chiming signaling their departure, Bernard exchanged his smile with a grin as he regarded Scion. “You have found yourself a very shrewd friend, Scion, I approve.” The artificer then turned his head to address Kastio. “You propose a valid point. The pen can indeed turn into a murderous weapon, which is why I have entrusted it to none other than the great Scion Feurig here. If anyone can resist the urge to use the pen for any wrongdoing, it’s him.”
The blonde assistant looked at Bernard with a meaningful look, adjusting his silver-rimmed spectacles as he did. “With all due respect, I fail to see the wisdom in that decision.”
That particular quip elicited a hearty laugh from the artificer, who held his hands across his abdomen, while Scion’s face crinkled into a peevish expression.
“Oh stop laughing, I don’t see how that was very funny.” Evidently, Scion was unaccustomed to role reversals and becoming the subject of a joke.
“Oh but it is,” Bernard remarked in between laughs. “Cheer up Scion, it does one good to laugh at oneself every once in a while.”
Scion glared at the artificer. “Something I’m sure that you’re all too familiar with.”
Ignoring the redhead’s witty jab, Bernard again addressed Kastio, his laughing fit having died down. “All jokes aside, what do you think of the pen, Kastio?”
Shifting his weight, Kastio briefly wondered how best to answer the question. “I think that it’s an ingenious device, and your craftsmanship is undeniable.” He then directed his gaze at Scion. “Though I am a little confused. Of all the weapons you could have had crafted, why a pen? It doesn’t really strike me as a weapon, barring its unique ability.”
Scion then flashed him one of his signature smirks. “Then you obviously have never met Elizabeth and her merry band of ninjas. Almost anything can be made into a weapon; it just takes a little creativity and imagination. And besides, what better way to fight the Truphma than with an enchanted –”
A gentle tug from behind cut his sentence short. Scion turned around and was surprised to see a young boy, probably no older than ten years. He had a head of ruffled brown hair, and a pair of slender arms that were hidden within his ash grey cloak. Though he was garbed in simple, rustic clothes, a pendant holding a bright amethyst hung below his neck.
“Umm…are you Mr. Scion Feurig?” the lad asked in a timorous voice, his hazel eyes filled with uncertainty.
Scion promptly bent down on one knee as he gave the boy a reassuring smile. “Yes I am, and who might you be little one?”
The timid boy averted Scion’s gaze, obviously intimidated by him. “I’m Jarl. Jarl Willows.”
“Well hello then Jarl, what brings you here?”
Jarl briefly fumbled through his pockets, producing a scroll with a wax seal that was devoid of any emblem or crest. “A strange man asked me to give this to you.”
Though he was confused, Scion accepted the scroll. “Thank you then, Jarl. Let me compensate for your trouble with a shiny gold coin, go treat yourself to some ice cream.”
Muttering his thanks, Jarl proceeded to speed out of the door, no doubt questing for the nearest ice cream stall.
“Well that was a bit strange,” said Bernard, who had been busy attending to a customer himself. “Don’t keep us waiting now, open it and read it to us.”
“Yes, yes, no need to be impatient.” Scion removed the empty seal and unfurled the scroll, eager to see what message it contained. The message was a short one, but the very nature of it sent a ghostly chill running down his spine.
“Well? What does it say?”
Instead of saying it aloud, Scion merely passed the scroll to the artificer, who took out a pair of spectacles to peruse it. The normally calm and easygoing expression that had so long adorned his face suddenly melted away, giving way to one of horror and shock.
Scion Feurig, no longer shall we abide your transgressions against the Truphma. In the name of Xov, we will hunt you down, and we will kill you.
Chapter 3: The Hunt
“Where exactly are you going?” asked Kastio as he raced along Scion, who hummed a cheery tune to distract himself from the fury that tore through his mind. He moved northwards from the artificiary, taking a road that was lined with all sorts of street performers plying their individual crafts.
“Hunting for the Truphma, of course,” replied Scion matter-of-factly.
“The Truphma?!” exclaimed Kastio, his voice reaching an unnaturally high pitch. “How do you know they’re nearby? They could very well be leagues away from the city.”
Twilight was rapidly approaching, bringing with it a vibrant cascade of colors that splashed across the sunlit sky. Crowds of people emerged from buildings, no doubt eager to return to their families after a hard day of work. Scion looked at each of them in turn, his piercing eyes burning with his determination to hunt down his foes, as well as the anger that raged within those emerald pools. He could feel the tide of ire that flooded the very fabric of his being, threatening to burst out through the seams.
“Are you….all right, Scion?”
Realizing that his expression must have changed, Scion reassured the young assistant with a wave and a grin. “Very much so, Kastio. I’m merely a tad bit livid that the Truphma have become so audacious that they condescend to send children to do their dirty work.”
Kastio rubbed his chin meaningfully as he finally managed to keep up with Scion, his paraphernalia of glass bottles creating quite the clangor. “I would venture to say that they don’t possess the mental capacity for basic ethics and morality as you and I do. They aren’t exactly human, as you know.”
Scion gestured in assent, taking a shortcut through an alleyway. “In regards to your previous question, you’re right, they could very well have left the city. I’m acting on the hunch that they haven’t, that they wanted to personally make sure I received the message.” His thoughts turned to the amethyst pendant Jarl wore, which he deduced was an amulet that magically allowed the Truphma to observe them all. No wonder I felt a faint magical signal when he entered the shop. The Truphma seem to not want for cunning and guile.
“I see,” said Kastio. “Why do you think it was so important for you to receive the message?”
Scion shrugged as he began moving a little quicker. “Scare tactics maybe? Prior to just now we thought that Deren was free from the Truphma, and perhaps choosing to reveal their presence, rather than waiting to be discovered, was their way of intimidating us. Or at least their attempt to.
Kastio nodded, understanding slowly surfacing upon his countenance. “So now we’re going to pursue them ourselves?”
“Exactly,” answered Scion with a smile.
“Then do you have any idea where they are?”
Scion abruptly stopped in his tracks outside a bakery, prompting Kastio to follow suit. He turned around slightly, regarding the blonde lad with a mask of calm composure, tempered by the mischievous glint of light that danced in his eyes.
“No,” said Scion flatly.
“No, and before we doom ourselves to this eternal cycle of repetition…While I don’t know where they are, all this walking has inspired me to devise a way to find them. Do you still have the scroll on you?”
“No, I mean yes!” Kastio ruffled through his pockets, no doubt digging through the quills and scraps of paper. Without ceremony, he produced the aforementioned scroll and promptly handed it to the redhead, who took it with a flourish.
Though it was of substantial risk, Scion decided to take a gamble and cast a tracking spell, one that required a relevant object to act as a link, allowing the caster to pinpoint the target’s exact location within a specific radius. Scion closed his eyes, muttering each verse with careful precision, his hand clutching the Truphma’s death notice. As he continued weaving the spell, he steadied himself against a nearby wall. There was a sudden explosion of pain as he felt a surging wave of emotions slamming into his mind. He mumbled a curse. The spell functioned by expanding the caster’s mind and allowing him to telepathically locate the target, but to do so, the spell had to scour through any and every other mind that was nearby. Thus Scion had to contend with the collective consciousness of hundreds of minds slamming into his own.
He gritted his teeth, sweat trickling down his brow as he considered ending the spell before it killed him. In a desperate attempt, Scion expended a large portion of his mana to create a mental barrier to shield his mind from the onslaught of thoughts and emotions. Relief poured over him like rain on a hot summer’s day as he wiped the sweat away. Incanting an extra stanza, Scion drew more aggressively from his reserves of mana as he redoubled his efforts. Though he could not be certain, he knew he was getting closer, and his heart couldn’t help but beat faster.
Yet even as he thought he was about to glean the Truphma’s exact position, something seemed to hinder his efforts – a blockade of sorts, preventing him from viewing the location. Though he knew he could very well break through the blockade, Scion couldn’t afford to compromise his concentration, which was already preoccupied with maintaining the spell and the mental barrier. Instead, he modified the spell so that the magic would create a trail leading to the Truphma’s approximate location. Better that than nothing at all.
As he opened his eyes, Scion could perceive a shimmering lavender trail racing in front of him, weaving through the streets like a giant, slithering serpent. It passed through objects and people alike, without rousing anyone’s attention; only Scion himself saw the trail.
“Right,” said Scion as he adjusted his cloak about him. “Follow me and try to keep up. And for goodness’ sake keep it quiet, we want to have the element of surprise, not the element of noisy bottles.”
Ignoring the peevish look he got from Kastio, Scion swiftly strode along the magical trail, vaulting over any crates and carts that barred his way. As he ducked under a shop sign, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that something was terribly amiss. Whatever the Truphma proved to be, they certainly were not reputed to be spellweavers. However they created the scrying amulet or disrupt his spell, Scion suspected that they did not do so alone.
As they ran around a bend, Scion narrowly evaded an enormous marble orb that rolled down the street, while Kastio practically flung himself aside as he gave a yelp of shock. As Scion went to help Kastio up, he saw with surprise that the giant orb was being pushed by a rather muscular dwarf, whose constant grunts reflected the strain that he was under. The orb itself was a galaxy of swirling whites and black, crafted with the utmost of care and unsurprisingly worth a fortune. Scion’s shoulders sagged as he sighed; he knew without a doubt that the dwarf was delivering the orb to one of the various nobles, who would rather spend his riches on petty decorations than putting them into a worthy cause. While the poor and downtrodden struggled to live through the day, the aristocrats showered themselves in extravagance and debauchery.
Nevertheless, he had no time to worry of such matters now. Now was the time to hunt.
Twilight swiftly gave way to dusk, and along the sable horizon, scintillating stars peeked from their hiding spots, eager to roam the night sky in pursuit of all manner of mischief. Scion and Kastio hurried along the labyrinthine trail, their quick footsteps kicking dust into the air.
Eventually, the spell led them to an alleyway, where two stray cats were engaged in a nocturnal duel, before scurrying along at the sight of the two young men, climbing up the walls and disappearing into the night. Scion shivered; though he held no vendetta against the feline creatures, a childhood experience had left him permanently cautious of them.
Scion moved past a clump of garbage and frowned at the stark grey wall that stood before him. A dead end?
A hissing whistle of sound tore through the night as a silver bolt ripped through the flesh on Scion’s arm. A curtain of blood spewed forth from the wound, splattering the wall in macabre crimson as
Scion howled in pain. Beside him, Kastio stood frozen on the spot, his mouth agape in shock. Scion could feel his muscles tighten as rage poured across his being, overwhelming any other emotion. He whirled around, hand outstretched as he readied to incinerate whoever dared loose a bolt on him. The fury within honed his thoughts into a single focus, a single directive, a single blade that negated the need for words; His intent alone was enough to unleash unspeakable horrors on all.
In the darkening light, two figures stood before them, their faces obscured by the shadows. One was garbed in a brown robe of austere design, his feet firmly pressed against each other in a rigid stance. Worn gloves of greyish-black hid his hands, which seemed to be engaged in an endless fit of fidgeting. Despite his subtle efforts, Scion managed to discern the palpable air of magic that gently ebbed from his being, marking him as a wizard. So that’s what happened, he must have shielded their exact location from my spell. Devious.
Standing a few paces in front of the wizard was no man, but a caricature of one. Dressed in naught but ashen white, the Truphma leveled his gaze with Scion, an ivory crossbow in his hand. He walked two steps towards them, his movements slow and deliberate. Lamplight shone on his face, revealing the razor-thin smile that every one of his kind wore at all times, a mirthless grin that evoked horror and dread. Slung over his shoulder was a young boy, eyes closed in unconsciousness, an amethyst pendant dangling down his neck.
All the fire that burned inside him was abruptly snuffed out, replaced by a growing panic over Jarl’s safety. He remembered just how cruel the Truphma were, and what fate they had for every and any children that they managed to capture.
“Ahh…I see that even the great hero bleeds,” said the Truphma in a strangely hollow voice, devoid of any inflection or emotion. “I knew you would come hunting us the moment you saw the message, but alas, it would seem as though the hunter has now become the prey.”
Scion glared defiantly at the Truphma, ignoring the blood trickling down his arm. Though he was loathe to do so, he had to give his foe credit; though it would have been much easier for him to shoot to the left, the Truphma had deliberately fired at Scion’s right shoulder, rendering him almost incapable of using his weapon. “What have you done with Jarl?”
The Truphma tilted his head, glancing at the Derenian child sideways, as if he were nothing but a sack of potatoes. “This one? Nothing at all, I simply asked my friend here to put him under a sleeping spell. Makes it much easier to carry him around. At least, for the time being.” The Truphma’s ghostly smile seemed to grow even more sinister.
“You monster!” snarled Kastio suddenly as he pointed at the Truphma, his voice laced with an uncharacteristic venom. “How could you? He’s but a child! Why must you involve him in all this?”
The Truphma remained silent for a while, his eerie gaze affixed on Kastio as he studied the blonde assistant. “Such gusto coming from Vox’s little servant. I am surprised that you would accuse me of being a monster. You of all people should understand that we are not, seeing as you have been spying on my people for ever so long.” Though his expression stayed placid, Scion could detect a faint flow of reproach emanating from the Truphma.
Kastio shook his head, though in regret or in derision Scion could not tell. “What I understand about your kind is that you are all cruel and insidious creatures who have plagued Lore for far too long. You have hurt my mistress, you have hurt my friends, you have hurt every decent soul that had the misfortune of standing in your path. I despise you.”
The Truphma chuckled, a sound reminiscent of a banshee’s dying wail. “Your hatred is exquisite, Kastio. Reminds me of my own loathing for your children.” His lips slightly twisted, as if repulsed by the word itself. “Ignorant, meddlesome brats with their blasphemous creativity. They are the true monsters, they are the –”
“Heed my words, Truphma,” interjected Scion. “I swear on the Galin himself, if you so even harm a single strand of hair on that boy’s head, I will rend you apart –”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” said the Truphma, a hint of impatience creeping into his voice. “If you were to act rashly, my friends here would not appreciate it.” He gestured to the top of the walls, where six Truphmas, three on each wall, stood with loaded crossbows trained on both Scion and Kastio. “And even if you somehow overcome my crossbowman, which is unlikely considering your injury, there is still my wizardly friend whom you will have to contend with.”
Scion licked his chapped lips as the weight of their predicament sunk in. Fool! How could you let them so easily outmaneuvered you? Since when did the Truphma become so cunning anyways? Gah! If only Jarl wasn’t part of the equation, then I could simply smite the bloody lot of them! I just have to think of a way out of this…let’s see….perhaps that might work. It will have to.”
Noticing that his cloak of Eternal Twilight was soaked with blood, Scion removed it from his shoulder and flung it to Kastio. “Would you be so kind as to fold this? I don’t want the weight of my blood weighing me down, seeing as there’s already a gaping hole in my shoulder.”
Kastio held the bloodied cloak in his hands, sporting a look of confusion and mild irritation, as if questioning why the redhead thought it was a good idea to have him fold his clothes at that moment. Nevertheless, he complied willingly, fingers moving deftly as he handled the cloak of shadows.
Scion muttered a few words, initiating a minor healing spell on his shoulder. He cocked his head, now focusing his attention on the wizard. “You there, why are you a cohort of these vile creatures? Have they somehow bewitched you?”
The wizard stirred, stepping into the light which revealed his features. He stared at Scion blankly, his cold hard eyes tinged with grey, which complimented his head of salt and pepper hair. “What I am is of my own volition. I choose to join the Truphma, simply because we share the same ideals.”
“Share the same ideals?” scoffed Scion with just a hint of incredulity. “Are you even aware what the Truphma seek to do? They intend to wipe out all traces of creativity, to fill the world with naught but stark monotony and tedium. They will spare no one, not even an innocent child. Are you really going to allow that to happen?”
The wizard waved a hand, dismissing Scion’s words as nonsense. “Your words evince your ignorance. There are always casualties in war, and the Truphma pursue a much higher goal than what you presume. They seek to create a world of order and balance, one that is not disrupted by the wildness of creativity. Look around you, countless disasters have arose from failed experiments that mages perform. Their creativity has led them to take risks and undertake dangerous projects. Imagine if that were not so, if the world was governed by an absolute system, if everything followed order. That is why I have joined the ranks of the Truphma, to build a glorious new world.”
The redhead frowned as he folded his arms, letting the wizard’s words to sink in. What troubled him were not the words per se, but that the wizard very much believed what he said, and that he would not stop until his goal was achieved. How could a human even consider aiding the Truphma? Scion briefly wondered what Eukara Vox would think of it if she knew. This is madness! As if we didn’t have enough trouble with them, now they have a wizard on their side. Scion decided there and then that this man would have to die.
“So,” said Scion as he turned to addressed the Truphma. “Both Kastio and I are still alive, so I have to assume that you still want something from us. What is it?”
The Truphma chuckled once more, this time a sound reminding Scion of fingernails scraping across a blackboard. “Very astute, Scion. Rather than shedding blood, we decided to strike a deal with you.”
Scion shifted his weight, shooting the Truphma a wary look. “Go on then.”
“Once we realized that you came to Deren, we knew it was only a matter of time before you found us. Since asking you to join us is out of the question, unlike my friend Adelbrand here, I ask that you keep our presence here a secret from the Derenian Royale. In exchange, we’ll let you keep your lives, and Jarl Williams gets to see another sunrise.”
Scion stared at the Truphma, not sure whether to be enraged or amused. Clearly they were oblivious to the fact that he almost never agreed to deals proposed by the enemy, especially by one whose entire race earned the animosity of almost all Lorians. He calmly reached for the fountain pen in his pocket. With ceremonious fashion, he removed the cap, much to the confusion of everyone present. Scion gave a quick flourish, and all of a sudden there was a rush of swirling lights that engulfed the pen as it instantly transformed into an ornate spear, its golden tip gleaming under the moonlight.
Even without looking, Scion could feel the crossbow-wielding Truphmas stiffen as they prepared to fire at him, fingers inches away from the trigger. In front of him, Adelbrand the wizard did not stir, choosing to quietly observe the unfolding scene, while the Truphma’s lips curled into a frown, his arm growing rigid as he wondered whether or not to draw his own weapon.
Scion stepped forward, pointing his weapon at the Truphma. “You presume too much if you think that I would obey commands from the likes of you.”
“Are you so foolish that you would think that you have a choice? I have the leverage here –”
The Truphma’s stoic countenance abruptly mutated to one of horror as he saw Jarl disappear right before his very eyes, a cloak of shadow enveloping the young boy as it spirited him away. Without wasting time, Scion jerked his spear upwards, releasing a beam of azure light that shot up into the sky, bursting in brilliant flash. Immediately after, the air above Adelbrand and the Truphma was ripped apart as a magical fissure appeared, eddies of sand spreading from the portal as it howled like a miniature sandstorm. There was a slight tremor, followed by the portal disgorging a giant marble orb that sped towards the ground like a comet, crashing down on the redhead’s adversaries in a violent maelstrom of brick and stone.
No sooner had the giant projectile suddenly appear than the Truphmas up on the walls loosed their crossbows, the sound of snapping springs filling the air as a barrage of bolts flew right towards the redhead. Having anticipated such an outcome, Scion made a swift gesture as he released a portion of his mana, halting the bolts in their trajectory as they hovered in the air, mere inches away from his face. With but a flick of a wrist, Scion willed the bolts back to the Truphmas. Thud.Thud.Thud. In almost an instant, every single one of the Truphmas fell to the ground below as the bolts pierced through their chests.
Yet even as Scion thought that the danger had passed, he was abruptly assailed by an unrelenting mental attack that slammed into his mind, causing him to double over in pain. What on Lore?
As he looked up, he saw the bruised and somewhat bloody face of Adelbrand the wizard, his expression contorted in pain and fury as he renewed his telepathic assault. Scion hastily raised a mental barrier, blocking the brunt of his attack. How in blazes did the Truphma get a telepath? Like the crashing ocean waves, Adelbrand’s attacks came in spades, each like a mailed fist pounding on Scion’s mind. He gritted his teeth and closed his eyes as the pain worsened, putting his hands on his temples to maintain his focus. The world around them suddenly melted away in a blur of irrelevance; nothing else mattered to Scion at that moment save defending against this powerful telepath. An excruciating eternity seemed to have passed when only a few minutes lapsed by.
“Unpleasant, isn’t it?” mocked Adelbrand, who now appeared to be utterly at ease, no physical sign suggesting that he was struggling at all. With a malicious grin, he sent a mental Morningstar hurdling towards the already hard-pressed redhead, causing him to stagger with a cry of pain. “I must say I am quite impressed,” remarked the wizard as he stepped closer towards Scion, who felt a hot jab with every step that he took. “I have crushed the minds of countless mages, and none have put up such an obstinate resistance as you are doing now. A pity that I will have to end your life; you pose far too great a threat to the Truphma.”
For the first time in almost ages, Scion felt a rising sense of terror. Never had he faced a telepath in combat, let alone someone of such high caliber as Adelbrand, and whatever he was doing now was purely instinctual, a desperate attempt to protect his mind. Slowly but ever surely, he felt a crushing pressure enveloping his defenses, as if the hand of the Rock Lord was coming down on him. To his utter dismay, no matter how hard he endeavored to rebuild the walls around his mind, they were like butter before a hot knife. He felt his entire body shaking in fear, sweat pouring forth like a flood as blood flowed freely from his wound. Though his entire being fought and raged against the danger before him, deep down, Scion knew that sooner or later, his shields would crack and fail, and his mind would succumb to the cold embrace of death.
There was a moment of silence, followed by the sound of a sharp object burying itself in flesh, a gruesome twist and a gasp of surprise, and then all was still. Scion opened his eyes as he felt the pain vanish from the realm of his mind, in its place a confusion as to what had happened. He stood up with a grunt, his eyes widening in genuine disbelief as he saw what was before him.
Adelbrand laid face down on the ground, a pool of maroon blood spouting from the knife wound on his back. Though he remained motionless, his hand still shook in spasms, giving off an eerie sight. Without a second glance, Scion knew that he was dead. Towering over the telepath’s corpse was a blonde lad, who appeared even younger than he usually was. Specks of blood marred his new clothes, while crimson rivulets trickled down his hands. The very same hands with which he held a rusty knife with an iron grip. The very same hands with which he killed Adelbrand.
Kastio’s face was of a sickly pallor, as if a vampire had drained him of all his blood. Trapped in the grip of fear, Kastio’s body shook violently as his chest continuously heaved, his breaths slow and shallow. A few seconds passed by before he dropped the knife, its ugly blade clinking on the pavement. Then, as if realizing the full extent of his actions, the young assistant who had spent his entire life surrounded by books instead of blood, began to sob uncontrollably, salty tears gushing forth from his azure eyes as he futilely tried to wipe them away.
Oh Kastio…Without hesitation, Scion closed the distance between them in a few strides and wrapped the younger male in his arms. And to think I lectured him this morning, when he just saved my life. Kastio’s sobs grew louder, but the redhead scarcely minded as he rubbed a hand down Kastio’s back, comforting him with soothing words. He knew all too well the sudden surge of emotion one experiences after the first kill, and how many were simply incapable of dealing with it alone. It was never a matter of choice of whether one remained calm or not. Kastio held on tighter as he buried his face in Scion’s chest in an attempt to muffle the sound of his sobbing. “It’s okay Kastio,” cooed Scion. “Everything’s fine now, you did nothing wrong.”
Scion briefly glanced at a corner of the alley, making sure that the unconscious Jarl was still there, enshrouded in the Eternal Twilight. His plan had, for the most part, gone well. Kastio managed to read the instructions on the cloak when he passed it to him, written in his own blood, and his cloak’s secondary ability worked like a charm, spiriting Jarl out of harm’s way. Though if truth be told, when he asked Kastio to prepare to drop something heavy on the Truphma, he hadn’t expected the marble orb. The only real problem was, of course, the telepath.
After a while, the sobbing gradually stopped, and Kastio stepped back, his eyes rimmed with red as he wiped away the remaining tears. “I’m sorry for just now,” said Kastio, choking on the words.
Scion slowly shook his head, putting a hand on his friend's shoulder. “You have hardly any reason to be sorry, Kastio. You performed excellently just now, not to mention you stopped that vile telepath from churning my brain into butter.”
Kastio managed a weak laugh as he gave Scion an appreciative look. He glanced around the surrounding, eyes lingering on Jarl. “So what are we going to do now?”
The readhead turned around and went to pick up the little boy, who weighed no more than…a sack of potatoes. Rolling his eyes at his own dry wit, he walked back towards Kastio, who was visibly trying to compose himself. “We are going back to my estate, where the servants will take care of Jarl here and where you will rest immediately. No ifs, buts or any other outrageous conjunctions.”
The assistant merely nodded, too tired to even argue. “What of the Truphma then?”
Scion groaned as he looked around at the piles of corpses. “I think we’ve done enough for tonight. Let’s leave the garbage disposal to someone more qualified. In regards to the presence of the Truphma…I’ll have my butler draft a letter to the King. No doubt he will have some idea on how to properly approach this problem. In the meantime, I need a long and quiet bubble bath.”
With Jarl safely in his arms, Scion led Kastio back to his estate. As they shuffled away weary, wounded but very much alive, Scion couldn’t help but wonder if there were others like Adelbrand who willingly joined the Truphma. Whatever the case, Scion made a silent vow to hunt them down and to put an end to their schemes.
But first, a bubble bath.
< Message edited by Trainz_07 -- 5/12/2013 10:25:28 >