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Posted by
Zedd
on
Jul 10, 2007

Edited on
Jul 10, 2007


The Pegasus' great, feathered wings finally stopped beating as it came to land in front of a gleaming, white marble building, concealed behind the great walls. The two Key-bearers stared at the building, Karl in awe, Zedd in strange disgust. The Pegasus motioned for them to enter the building. Only the wanderer got a chance to look around the rest of the enclosure, noting that the only other buildings in any way as impressive as the one standing before them were the walls, the others all seeming to be makeshift, hut-like constructions from the rubble of some long-gone fortress. As soon as they had walked through the massive, white temple’s great doors, the pair were ushered through a system of passages so complex even the mystic’s formidable mind could not recall the way they had taken. He had a single pang of regret for not having Geirrek’s magic to guide them through these passages, in case a swift escape was necessary. But the thought soon passed; this was the only use he had found for the summoner.

Eventually, they reached one end of a huge chamber, with grandiose tapestries and ornate, silvered weapons lining the walls. On the other end of the room, from a distance the scarred one estimated to be at least half the massive temple’s length, stood six silver thrones, three on each side of a singular great, golden seat, similar in design to the other six, but much larger and with far more intricate designs. The two armed soldiers who had guided the commoner and the foreigner to this room bade them walk down a great, red carpet in its centre. As the two did this, even the brown-clad one could feel countless eyes watching them from somewhere, as if their every move was being monitored by some great army, camped somewhere behind the white walls which shone so much in the oddly colourless light shed by the many torches in the room. When they had finally come within about ten paces of the thrones, the pair finally saw those who sat in them.

"So," the silver-haired, white-mantled man sitting in the massive, golden throne said, considering the pair as if for the first time, "You have finally come."

As their interview with the White Council progressed, the wanderer found, much to his chagrin, that if a question was directly asked of him, all his rigorous mental discipline came to naught, as the voices which whispered around him answered all inquiries. Even if he cut them off, as he was sometimes able to, they gave an idea of his motives and origins that all present could understand, excepting the dull boy, who was simply confused. Eventually, after each of the councillors had questioned them, the man sitting in the central, golden throne stood.

"So, Karl, you are the son of a simple soldier, out to secure yourself fame, fortune and a place in the world by somehow saving that world with the Blade of Ages, in a way in which you do not even understand yourself." The man rattled off.

"And you, Zedd, are a travelling warrior, once from a mystic sect, the name of which I cannot pronounce, expelled for your fear of death and are seeking a way to survive what you see as the coming apocalypse, and perhaps to prevent it if all goes well." He stated.

"While I see no reason for either of you to be worthy of this greatest of treasures, one of you being entirely unprepared and the other deluded, Time has seen fit to grant you possession of its Key. Therefore, I, Brandubh, High Lord of the White Order, will tell you all we have found about that key."

As the leader of the Order began to outline such things as the Triads of Time and how the fragments of the Key would guide them towards them, the wanderer began to order all this knowledge into his clearing head, thinking that while he did not need the Triad of Mind to complete his own quest, that he would seek it simply to prevent the Summoner from getting it, as the thought of Geirrek weilding the Blade of ages made him shudder inside. And while he felt naked without his many layers of lies and half-truths protecting him, he at least thanked Time that he'd managed to stop the voices before they'd told the second reason he was expelled from his sect; something far more simple, but also far more sinister. He knew the one piece of knowledge that, of all his sect, only the leader was supposed to know. He knew that this apocalypse he'd quested away to stop wasn't a figment of his imagination, like this white-mantled man seemed to think, or a mere legend, as the rest of his old sect had thought. He knew it was a real future event. He knew that it was nigh-unavoidable, and now he also knew that, somehow, Geirrek, himself and Karl were all irreversibly caught up in it..




Posted by
MintMan
on
Jul 26, 2007

Edited on
Aug 2, 2007


Zedd knew, too, that the Order held its own secrets, or at least they tried. The bearer of the mind fragment, however, was too clever. His present condition forbid him from explaining the details at length, but so did the mystic's quiet nature. He sought to use this to his advantage, and to serve his means further.

"You would not tell us all this information..." spoke up and died down the wanderer, "unless you wanted us to get the Blade for you." The White Order could not refute this. No part of the quest he revealed required that he obtain the Blade, yet they mentioned nothing of the other Artifacts.

"Yeah, he's right," blurted out the changing youth. "Ga-" he gulped, "Galatea said somethin' bad was comin'. And the Blade was the only thing that could stop it."

"That is what some of us believe," Brandubh replied with eyes cast low. Contrariwise, a smug expression came over one of the neighboring councillors seated furthest to the left.

"Some of us," the thin, whispy, silver-throned one said with some sarcasm to his voice, "insisted that the time was right, that the Blade was necessary. The revelation of the Key at this moment is no coincidence. At last, the rest of the White Order is seeing it that way. Few were spared for this cause in the beginning. Had the Order committed more completely to this plan, it would be us with the Key -- not you." The slim man sneered at both comrades and company.

"There were other matters to attend to," the annoyed High Lord brushed off, "ones on which this Order was established."

"And those would be?" unexpectedly intelligently posed the peasant.

The white mantled man was taken aback by the boy's sudden speech. "A plot -- a sinister one being worked for longer than any of us or our ancestors have lived."

"What was it?" Karl needed to know. "Who is behind it?"

"It is evil," he again responded. "Does it truly matter? It is the same evil throughout all time. Only its face changes. Presently, we believe the plan is being carried out by a certain lich with which you both are familiar."

"The same lich who was reportedly hiding the map to the Key of Ages, no less," sniped the silver councillor again. He was only acknowledged with a low growl from their golden leader. "Although we cannot be certain, all our augurs indicate that they are summoning some sort infernal entity -- a demon, perhaps."

Zedd dared not speak and reveal anything else; a raised brow was enough for the man now of few words.

"There is no reason for the lich to bring about your apocalypse, Zedd i Randir," dismissed the central figure, who grew angry with the constant disregard displayed for him in this council. "There is nothing to gain from such destruction, especially for a plot of such age. Only an especially evil and especially ignorant force would desire to destroy the world of which it is a part."

"Whatever end they seek, we all agree it can be no good," spoke up the rival councillor. "It may not end the world, but it shall certainly cause it suffering. There are certainly things worse than an apocalypse."

"Why should I?" spoke the cloaked man at short length. "I need not the Blade," he again blurted. "Other Artifacts." The council pieced together his words for themselves. Again, he was right. Only Karl wanted the Blade of Ages, and technically, the youth did not even want it -- Galatea of the White Order did. None of the Order believed Zedd, and despite the information they had told, not once did the council give Zedd a reason why he should help them.

After some contemplation, the white-mantled one spoke. "You have no need for us, Zedd i Randir, but we have no choice but to rely on the ones Time has chosen. Therefore, we propose a trade: all we need from you is to unlock the Triads. The boy can wield the Blade should the need come." The wanderer stood silent and emotionless, waiting for his portion of the deal. "In return, we shall bestow this tome. It not only outlines the locations of each Triad, but all the other treasures as well. It is the last copy which exists in all this world," bragged Brandubh.

"Sir!" a growing voice echoed from the distance. "Sir Brandubh!" the messenger panted when he finally arrived into the vast hall. "The Triad of Soul," he wheezed, "they've found it!"

The white lord looked back to Zedd, who stood still silent and emotionless, locked in a cold stare on the throned one. He raised a scarred brow to the leader he held a growing disdain for.

"You shut up!" responded the leader. "Get these two and their familiars to the grand hall! The Heaven's Herald will sound shortly."


"Isss it ready?" besought the dark master.

"Not yet," informed Edric from behind his simple, metallic facade. "Our workers are more accustomed to working with flesh. It would be easier if the dwarves-"

"The dwarvesss are the bessst fightersss we have," the lich retaliated. "Guarding the Triadsss isss our highessst priority. Make due with what you have; we cannot be ssstopped. It isss almossst time for our ultimate goal." His hollow eyes rolled to a rippling pool of fetid water. The dark dragon and his rider appeared on the wavering surface. "Ssso, he hasss found the Triad," angrily hissed the skeletal sorcerer, "the Triad of Sssoul." It lifted its decrepit finger from off the pages of the open book before it. "Quite a feat, consssidering that thisss tome isss the only map to it. However he found it, he shall not leave with it." The deathly mage turned to his lieutenant, who remained at the edge of the grim gateway. "Prepare an army and ssset the portal. And if at all possssible, bring back his eyesss. I may have ussse for them."


Entropy glided up the steep, unclimbable rock face of an unforgiving peak. It was at the top the two would find their prize, but first, they found a dwarf -- one of the lich's mercenaries. Geirrek leapt off to the frozen ground, spear in hand and gauntlet forward. The wyrm took the rear, ready to fight but more importantly rest off the journey. The earthkin brandished a new toy, a heavy sledge. The Terrible Summoner did not wish to discover what it was capable of. He weighed making the first move, but could find little choices in the deeply creviced terrain. The darkalf just stood, motionless, with hammer in one hand and adorned shield in the other.

"What is that in its shield?" the familiar let out in a low rumble, easily peering through the red evening sky with its draconic senses. Geirrek focused his burning gaze, but by the time he could recognize the ever-staring eye of the lich's, there was no time to act. The chaotic maelstrom which heralded the undead legion tore through the chilled air. A vile stench crept across the mountaintop as the dilapidated and hastily constructed troop poured forth; the first Triad was by no means the most important, and neither were the troops selected to defend it. Before closing, the dwarf grinned an awkward, rounded smile and disappeared into the gateway, leaving the two surrounded by shambling masses of decaying flesh.

"This shouldn't be hard," the apothecary affirmed. "That Triad is as good as ours." He turned half his cursed stare back to the drake with a slight smirk. "Can you believe it? This is all almost over."

"Vile fiends!" a gallant voice boomed across the snow-laden peak. The sorcerer shifted slightly to see around his pet and spy an immaculately armored envoy with the White Order's standard. "Fear not, wayward soul! The White Order is protecting this land from all evil and misdeeds that may befall it. I, Jhardohl the Brave, have been charged with the heavenly duty of procuring this location from all offenders who may seek the Triad!" It went on like this, but Geirrek and Entropy gave him little heed.

"Does this joker think he's protecting us?" the spearman asked his pet loud enough to be heard over the white one's ramblings.

"The lich's army can't even get the Triad without the Key. Does this guy even know what's goin' on?" the hellish denizen returned.

"Come forth and smite this evi-ow!" the herald finally stopped when his leg were taken out from beneath him.

"Why didn't I think of that?" The pair looked to their original foes, one now less its deadly dagger. "Been a while since we've had a real good fight. I think I might actually enjoy this."

"You would."

Both sides were poised to strike. Simultaneously, all were ready to lunge into the fray, but something else came forward instead -- the echo of a horn. Geirrek's eyes went wide when he considered what this could mean, and turning back to the fallen knight, his worst fears were confirmed. The Heaven's Herald was at the half-unconscious, half-envoy's lips. A blinding white appeared in the music before him; when it vanished, the strongest and bravest of the White Order remained, joined by Zedd, Karl, and Brandubh himself, who only saw it fit to join in on such an important task.

"Ent', we need outta here, now," demanded the dragon's keeper. It concurred, but the pair were already under siege by the enemy apparitions who were not so distracted by the oncoming forces. The drake beat its wings only to find foes, not the air. The sorcerer frantically expended his entire magical arsenal in a vain attempt to free them both as quickly as possible.

"Fear not, Geirrek of the Northernlands," announced the shining leader, donned in his fighting best. "Where you have struggled, the White Order shall triumph. Behold our unmatched power!" With a commanding fist forward, the priests and magi took the forward rank. A pristine glow came from their eyes and surrounded their hands. Despite the apothecary's shouts of protest, they let loose their banishing force. A wave of white light bathed the mountaintop, vanishing almost anything it touched that moved. Zedd raised his carved eye from behind his sleeve once the brightness died down, only to see nothing remain on the icy peak. Brandubh was obviously pleased, despite doing nothing himself.

"Where's Geirrek?" is all Zedd needed to say, for once, and it more than took the joy from the wide mantled man's mostly hidden face. He doffed his great helm and searched across the rocks, but could not find the one with the Key he so desperately needed. The head of the White Order did not understand. The spell was not meant to target the living; it was specifically meant to harm the undead and spirits. Quick whispers informed the wanderer as to his former ally's location. In an instant, Zedd was gone; he bothered not to tell the Order where the spearman lay let alone that he was even leaving them.

A far ways across the mountain, behind boulders and crags, Geirrek had been thrown by the force of the White Order's assault. His tunic was in tatters, and his treasured Artificer's Gauntlet strangely was not present. Zedd approached the unconscious body closer, secure only because the summoner was in this state.

"Zedd," Dai-Sho called for his attention once again. "Over here." Zedd rose once more to find his pet, and when he did, the weasel was poised over a body, just like his keeper. This was not Entropy's, however; it, too, was Geirrek. He lacked the hood or tunic, but the gauntlet more than identified him. The mystic drew his blades in the confusion. He did not know which one he should suspect, if not both.

One began to stir, and it rose to find a sharp scythe poking his chest. His eyes opened to meet the beady black dots of the Kamaitachi staring down at him.

"I think you should see this!" it quickly called its master. With a single sword still pointing to the fallen one, Zedd advanced closer to the conscious Geirrek, seeing nothing spectacular as Dai-Sho had noted.

"What is going on?" mumbled the hoodless man. "What happened to me?" He turned to Zedd as he heard the approaching footfall; he locked the swordman's cautious stare with his own -- his plain, dull, brown stare.

"The runes," whispered Zedd. Without a moment's hesitation, he frenzied about like his pet and drove both edges down. The image of Geirrek caught both blades on his unprotected hands. Blood steadily streamed out as he pushed against the keen swords and won, bridging up from the icy rock and back to a stance. The thing refused to relinquish hold of weapons; it drove the points back to the wanderer's throat. Before his blood was loosed, Zedd blinked behind the ghastly visage, abandoning his blades for his staff. Despite all his uncanny speed, the unknown enemy was still able to catch the attack and twist the mystic's arms into a firm hold. An uncharacteristic, menacing cackle came from out it before it opened its eyes -- its bright, blue, beaming eyes. The cursed stare rolled about the terrain as though searching for something.

One arm shot behind itself to catch Geirrek's precise spear. With the grasp loosened, Zedd freed himself, but dared not to take on whatever stood before him.

"What is it?" the mystic uncharacteristically screamed his demand.

"Did I forget to tell you I was possessed?" muttered the apothecary, still delirious from the White Order's attack. "Seems like an obvious conversation starter." Before Zedd could attempt to refute this claim in his truncated way, the demon launched itself in its host's direction, but flew over him. It tore apart the seemingly arbitrary space it struck, thrusting its arm into seemingly no place and retrieving an impossible object from the void. "Oh, right, it also has the Key fragment. Did I forget to mention that, too? Ya'd think with all the stunnin' conversations we've had, these things woulda come up before."

The White Order had been drawn by all the commotion and marched over in formation. The sight of them sent the spirit into a rage. The Triad unfolded over its arm, forming prismatic armor. From its new gauntlet, it bombarded the holy forces with its increased spellpower. The gales it sent rubbled the crevices the silver soldiers used for protection. Again, the magicians were ordered up front, despite not having time to recharge from their first attack. Their divine force lashed out again, but this time only fizzled against the maniacally laughing force before them.

"Anything else?" the cloaked and angry ally asked. He received his answer when the dwindling daylight was blocked by two wide, dark wings rising up from behind them. The dragon's eyes were seething with an ominous, black energy. Zedd cast a despondent look to the apothecary, who could only give a half-hearted shrug in response. The demon took to his scaly steed and sped away; a heavy, brazen hand held the mystic from following.

"And where do ya think you're goin', Blinky?" posed Geirrek. "That thing has both a Key fragment and a Triad thanks to these clowns," he explaining, motioning his unclad head to the scrambled ranks of the Order, "and since it doesn't seem to mind the downsides, it is gettin' nothin' but power from them."

"The runes," Zedd restated, untensing at last from his state of readiness. "The Cauldron?"

"Yeah, it's got 'em both," Geirrek groaned in a low voice, shaking his unclad head. "Can't use either, tho'." The mystic raised a curious brow, ever doubtful of the Northman. "It tried as soon as it had the chance. Can't, for whatever reason. I never saw that comin'. Should buy me some time before it finds another way, or just a way to use the Cauldron."

"The Cauldron?" started up a perceptive member of the Order. "You mean the Dark Cauldron?" Soldiers began to file around the apothecary. Geirrek soon found himself surrounded by arms, all trained on him but hesitant to strike.

"The Dark Summoning," Brandubh declared, approaching yet keeping safe behind a line of soldiers, "could very well be our worst fears of what the prophecy foretold would come." His regal gaze went across to the swordman, whose head peeked over a waiting guard, whose brow still had not lowered and still served a purpose. With an annoyed grunt, the leader continued, "What reason could this vile thing have to bring about the apocalypse?"

"It," stammered the arriving youth, who easily pushed his way in front of the gold-clad captain as no one wanted near his growing deformity, "it's true, isn't it? This guy's pure evil." The burning, unblinking stare the captive sent back, although no longer cursed, chilled the onlookers just as much and seemed to confirm Karl's story. "He's the one I told you about, Brandubh -- he's the one that murdered Galatea." All weapons raised.

"Not him," Zedd whispered a roar. "What was in him." The captors and peasant were bewildered.

"Must we repeat ourselves like this? I was freakin' possessed!"

"No. Your face, your familiar," retorted the mystic. "Something else." The wanderer knew the terrible one had a secret, one the traveler had been unable to discover. For once, the swordman was willing to give Geirrek the benefit of the doubt and consider that something else was responsible for his less amicable actions.

"Screw this!" exclaimed the trapped man. "Cool and collected and talkin' things out may work for you, Zedd, but unfortunately, these idiots had to play hero and fulfill their own li'l doomsday prophecy." He pounded his brazen glove against his chest, staring down the only one who seemed to be even remotely on his side. "Actions scream volumes over words, such as actions which prevent any interference like this from happening again." Without so much as even looking back, Geirrek's free hand produced the flintlock and fired. The round soared over the wall of guards and through their leader's neck without any time for retaliation. All arms fell against the magical barrier which he had already raised around himself. Some continued the futile fight against the magician; others came to Brandubh's aid with just as much success.

"You," began Zedd, pausing even before the rapt of knowledge overcame him, "are evil?" There was no reason these words should have surprised the wanderer.

"Evil? Why? Many more shall die far slower, in all likelihood. Oh, quite the opposite. If anything, I did him a favor, especially considering what I wanted to do to him," he explained while retrieving something from a compartment in his armored mitt, which continued to shield him. "I'm doin' what I've always done -- what needs to be done. I'm just tryin' to stop it before it ends the world."

"What is... 'it'?" Zedd shortly questioned, unable to reach the murderer any other way than with words. Before the apothecary could speak his lies, the swordman quickly added, "Not a demon." Geirrek was surprised by this, but maintained his answer. This did not sate the wanderer. Zedd then decided to abuse his own personal curse to get the answers himself; his mouth fell open, his eyes disappeared into his head, and he spewed forth a whirlwind of knowledge. The words at first jumbled together, revealing facts of little meaning or those he had already known. Never had he used this power for so long. His violently shaking body betrayed his ill-prepared state. Finally, he became deaf to all but a few voices.

"Dark is the dragon, darker is the curse, but darkest is the soul which knows both."

Zedd caught himself on the ice-covered ground, heavily heaving as he regained control of himself. "It's you," he managed to utter beyond the rushing winds that still roared on his words. "Nothing but part of you."

"Everybody's got a dark side," Geirrek explained, tumbling his retrieved treasure in his hands. "That ugly corner of the soul where all the anger and hate resides. And I had a lot of hate. Oh, I've known so much evil. I fed the hatred, I used it, but I controlled it."

"The Cauldron," the mystic whispered. It all made sense. The others in the Four had their own unique way to be discovered; Dark Cauldron, however, was ubiquitous. It had destroyed the world once, and its dark design was imprinted upon creation, where it waited to be discovered again.

"Revenge was all I wanted," the terrible one almost laughed off, showing similarities to his splinter self. "I had no idea what I unlocked. I just knew it would make them all suffer. I wanted it so badly that a li'l thing like a cataclysm meant nothing. I could control it, tho'. I would never use the summon the Cauldron like that. But the urge, oh, you can't control that.

"You guys can say that the Dark Cauldron once destroyed creation, but look around you. There seems to be a whole lot of it around. The world, perhaps, but creation? Looks like the job didn't quite get finished the first time. And it so desperately wanted to finish it." The summoner lowered his head but kept his plain gaze forward. "The only thing that kept me from destroying the world was me. The hatred was there, but so was the restraint.

"Now, there is nothing. Now, your friends who still haven't learned that they can't break my barrier with pikes have freed the fragment of my soul which contained my hatred, my curse, my Key, my Nidhogg, all my magic, and none of my control," Geirrek nearly rambled, then lifted his recently procured jewel to the dusk sky. "It can't summon the Cauldron for whatever reason, and I won't wonder why. I'll just try to stop it before it does." Darkness crept through the air as a shape began to take form within his magic wall. "Try not to get in the way with whatever it is you're after, Zedd. You've made things bad enough as it is."

The spinning, shadowy mass slowly grew eyes and what could only be assumed to be legs. A billowing, watery mane wavered atop the small creature. Before, the apothecary knew not which piece of his soul the curse had attached. He could not risk his own familiars' corruption, and he never suspected Entropy, his oldest familiar. Now, Geirrek was simply without his summoning magics; he had no way to retrieve his other monsters. Fortunately, the terrible one retained most of his items and the powers they possessed. When the little Hrimfaxi was finally fully formed, it looked up to its master, brandishing a firearm instead of a polearm, and looked out to the mob of soldiers who still tirelessly struck at his barrier.

"So," Night Child squeaked with some bewilderment, "can I go back in the crystal?" A dead glare was sent back to his reluctantly growing pet. The enchanted shield fell, and the pair charged up into the night sky, carried on an icy chariot of silver. A volley of arrows fell short of the swift steed and former summoner.

Karl wandered over from the fallen leader to where Zedd stood, staring into the vast blank sky.

"Well, how we gonna stop him?" posed the peasant meekly, obviously afraid to disturb the mystic.

"I understand," Zedd echoed, but not in reply. He turned his scarred face to his young ally. "We do nothing to stop Geirrek," all his voices joined in unison. "He is not our primary concern nor should he be the White Order's; another hunter lie in wait, poised to take its quarry."

The youth was dumbfounded by the wanderer's sudden return to wordiness and only stood there, darting his eyes about and scratching the growing spike. "Um, so then... what?"

Zedd closed his eyes and tried to channel the voices once more, but could not recapture that arcane knowledge which had flooded his mind earlier. The gift of the mind fragment had prophesied; the apocalypse he feared was coming, whether or not it could be stopped.

However, while the Terrible Summoner would be involved, he would not be the cause -- knowledge which only troubled the cloaked one more. There was something else, a force which superseded the darkest magic




Posted by
MadGoblin
on
Aug 4, 2007


"Brandubh!" lamented the now leaderless army. With no present enemy, they were free to mourn the Order's loss. Many were upset by the event, more only feigned sadness. A brave few remained stoic, masking joy. Some saw this as a needed change, such as the man who never agreed with the deceased, Lavomir. He had warned of the oncoming peril and saw this end as fitting if not deserved.While the rest of the battalion were distracted, the rebellious councilor slunk his way over to the bearers of the Key.

"Flee, now," whispered Lavomir to the mystic. "Tears will not be shed for this man long." As he spoke, parchment passed between them. "Leave us behind before we delay you any more." With a glance at the gift, the scarred man slipped back through the crowd, dragging the youth and familiars with him.

"Hey," the peasant tried to protest, "what's going on-" A hand swiftly covered his mouth as the foreigner sped faster to the mountain's edge. Karl's changed eyes bulged as he struggled to free himself from the hold, but the two were soon off of firm footing. A ring of wind surrounded them all as Dai-Sho tried to keep them from falling too fast. Still, the hand was over the carrier of Body's mouth, keeping him from screaming. They fell into the swirling mists below that were cast aside by the ridden whirlwind. As it parted, it revealed a surface hidden in the clouds that softly accepted the jumpers onto its white down.

"Is... is this snow?" wondered Karl as he patted the landing with his gnarled hand.

"Hold on," commanded a deafening voice, booming despite attempting a whisper. It then came to the lad, far later than Zedd had realized, who already secured himself and laid out flat. They were sitting on feathers. The great white bird released its talons from the cliff face as its enormous wings stretched out wider than the peak itself. The Roc had taken to the air. Its wings stayed still, opened wide. It merely glided down the mountain's height, a short jump compared to its size. The massive claws touched down to the ground at the summit's base, tearing deep ravines into the earth. Its beak plowed through as well, creating a path somewhat closer for its passengers to disembark from.

Karl and Boris stumbled along the ground, still startled from their flight. Each wore a pallid face; however, it was difficult to discern if this was due to their fright or their Key. The swordsman and his pet were less fazed by the event.

"How... how can you... you..." stammered the boy.

"I had escaped two collapsing citadels in a single day," a chorus of voices answered without needing the finished question. "One of which resided within the heavens."

"I was... actually gonna ask about why you jumped off a cliff," the teetering youth belched, "but that... sorta explains it." The Mind Bearer was careless for the commentary and focused more on the pages he was given. "Whaddaya got there?"

"The wisest one in the White Order bestowed it upon me," explained Zedd's voices. "It is the recorded location of the remaining Triads." The sheets were shuffled through as their text was examined. "Additionally, he included various pages pertaining to other artifacts of time, presumably as a measure of good fate."

"Well, I guess we should hurry. Gimme the one tellin' about the Triad of Body." The keen eyes of the wanderer lifted to the peasant. "What? I can read! ... maps."

"Recover all of the Triads your heart desires," retorted the barrage of speakers as some torn texts were tossed at the lad. "They are of no importance to me. I have goals of my own to accomplish. These few temporal relics should serve well to initiate my collection." With his face still buried in a page, he marched off.

"Zedd? Zedd?!" shouted the ailing commoner as he stooped to recover the dropped sheets. "Where are you going? You... you can't just leave. We have a mission!" The caped one marched off, his pace consistent throughout the boy's cries until, abruptly, he began to approach. More perplexing than the reason was that his back remained turned. In reversed steps, Zedd returned to where he was when he last spoke to Karl. "See? I knew you were a good guy. You couldn't just leave-"

"What is the day?" interrupted the traveller.

"It... wha-what?"

"What is this day?" His face was stern, more weathered and worn than it was just moments ago. His gaze fell upon Karl's arm. "Far enough, it would appear. It is a shame that I may not take it all back."

"W-what are you talking about?" demanded the puzzled youth. "Are you alright? You just walked away for a moment."

"It was a moment to you, yes, as it was to all others," gravely spoke the chorus. "But I, I have gone beyond now and walked through a world that cannot be allowed." The lad scratched his head, unknowingly knocking out several of his loosely clasped hairs.

"I dunno," he said. "Down there looks about the same as here." Zedd was too tired to explain anything. It would all be lost on the simple boy.

What had been a matter of seconds was days to Zedd. He had left the worries of this chase to find what he desired. It was never found. Rather, only destruction and terror. Even when he chose to ignore the problem, it hunted him down. He was part of this ordeal whether he wanted to be or not. It was not his choice to get the Triad. It was destiny, and he had to fulfill that.

To his fortune, the first artifact he uncovered was the Retraced Steps, an enchanted pair of boots that allowed one to walk back through their own timeline. Had he been able, he would have gone back before any of this occurred, but such was the flaw to the relic. The exact path needed to be retaken.

"Return to me the page detailing the Triad of Mind's location," requested the mystic. "The Blade of Ages... We must procure the Triads if any of us is to have a chance." The lad looked between the two sheets, uncertain which was requested. The proper document was snatched from his hands as the swordsman rubbed his temples.

"So we're gonna get mind first?" enthusiastically stated the youth.

"Nay, time is not so kind to us," told the wanderer. "Both Triads must be secured with haste for our sake and that of the this world."

"We're... we're splitting up?" worried the peasant. "Is that wise?" Zedd sighed deeply as his eyes again drew to the youth's arm.

"It is a risk we will have to take."

Time was taken to explain the Triad of Body's page and location. Once Karl was certain of what needed done, the two took to their separate paths. The boy rode atop Boris to the nearby swamplands while Zedd and Dai-Sho sped in the opposite direction. Each was roughly a day's journey away. There were regrets about his decision. He knew it was necessary but did not like lying to the child about it. They were not split to procure both Triads faster. They were split to secure at least one of the Triads. They could not all be allowed to be in the hands of the enemy. The mystic had walked many paths with the Steps, and the outcome was always the same. There was no hope for the boy. This way, at least he had a chance to succeed. It was the only answer, after all, as it was the only one he gave. The enemy could not be allowed to obtain the Blade.


It was a long trip, a fact not helped with Boris' pace. Its hooves plodded through the deepening mud. It had been up to its knees for a while and now neared reaching its belly. The lad stayed vigilant on his mount, scanning the horizon for any sign of wrong doers. He knew he was getting close and his danger would only grow.

"So," deeply began his ride, "how you holding up?"

"I'm fine, Boris, really," assured its keeper. "Why do you keep asking?" He lifted up as it shrugged.

In truth, he was not alright or anywhere where near it. His familiar saw this, plainly. The swaying locks that gave Karl his boyish charm were all nearly gone. The innocent, round face had hardened from both experiences and in shape. His chin and cheeks were now thick and broad, expanding the lower bounds of his face. His joints had turned large and knobby, some jutting out enough to stretch the skin. Eventually, they would break through.

The dark veins that coursed through his body had taken shape, revealing a bizarre pattern near completion across his skin. That which was not touched had turned from its original pale to a ruddy tan with a tint of blue. The initial mark burned into his flesh blended in with its current surroundings, recognizable only as the focal point of the odd transformation.

These changes were not unknown to the commoner. He knew that his beast was a reflection of himself. Even if at a lesser extent, the changes it was going through worried the keeper. The changes it underwent were unrecognized for so long due to its coat of fur. Only recently had it begun to shed, uncovering the twisted works beneath. Wading through the mire only served to clean off more of its hide, leaving the familiar nearly unidentifiable.

"What was that?" asked the serf. In panic, he produced his weapon, long since kept away. His beast remained silent and still, scanning the surroundings with its master. It was fetid pools as far as they could see. Occasional trees rose up from the marsh, most branchless and rotting. What few had limbs sported more fungus than leaves. Despite the lack of foliage, a dark haze hung in the area. The only noise to pierce the eerie serenity was the croak of frogs.

"Hey." The youth gave out a shout and wildly swung his tool in the direction of the greeting as one arm cowardicely covered his face. The rate at which he brandished his ax gradually slowed as he realized no harm was befalling him. "You do that," it croaked in response.

"Raph? Flop Hop?" returned the ridden, "Wwwhat're you doin' here?"

"Those old stuffy jerks left us at their place," the coney adorably lied from atop its levitating comrade. The pair had fled and hidden from anyone in the White Order who never even knew they were there. "We figured someone would have to seek the Triad eventually and thought we'd wait for you here." That part was true.

"You knew where it was? But how?" wondered the youth, holding up his given page. "This was the only recording of where-" The bunny interrupted with a deep, gagging cough. Out of its mouth came a thick, old book. "You... have a book, too? But there's was the only one!"

"Only one?" squeaked the Al-Mi'raj. "That was the same line we got. That means we killed that guy for nothing."

"What?!" The horned rabbit answered with a cute wink and smile. "Oh-ho. You!"

"Dodged that one," mentally communicated the Strong Toad. "Lucky."

"Lucky they're dumb," added the rabbit maliciously, still posing as sweet outwardly. "Speaking of luck, it should be easier to work these suckers without Mr. Wordy second guessing us."

"We got his," reminded the shelled amphibian. "Didn't need him. Not anymore."


"But this has been my task, my mission," roared the infuriated lieutenant. "I should be the one to complete it."

"There isss no need to wassste your effortsss," grumbled the lich, annoyed with the tone he received. His empty eyes gazed into the scrying pool. "The ssscout showsss that only one hasss come, the blundering child. It isss not of any concccern to me. It will fall easily. The Sssvartalf shall be more than formidable. It isss the one bearing the ssscar that worriesss me. What troopsss were ssspared for the Triad of Body are being sssplit. Your... 'recommended' improvementsss... shall join you. I want you to head immediately to sssecure the Mind Triad."

"Let the dwarves handle it," shouted the masked general. "The three and that contraption should be-"

"Not what I want," finished the wizard. "Do asss you are told. They mussst not get the Triadsss and they power they offer." Enraged, Edric stormed down the halls to his destination, the portal room. The hallways cleared at his approach.

"Quit being ssso worried, massster," soothed one snake.

"He hasss given you the greater tasssk," suggested the second head.

"He wants me out of the way," corrected the masked man. "I am alive; therefore, I am a liability. He wants everything to be like that puppet, that replacement that I helped create. He wants to be able to control everything. That is why he wants me to face that... foreigner."

"You think the outsssider posssesss a risssk?" queried half of the Amphisbaena.

"I think I've become expendable," admitted the lancer. "I use to have to fight to get the tough jobs, but they were too risky. He needed me then. Now, what does he care if I'm dead? He'd be better off."

"Then," posed the second serpent, "what are you to do?"

"Whatever it takes," solemnly swore the general, "to ensure he doesn't need me ever again. I'm tired of this all, and I'll do anything to ensure that I never have to fret over it again." He arrived at the portal chamber and was saluted by the operator. "I need you to do me a favor, soldier. I need you to fake an error with the portal. I want you to switch me and the dwarf..."


"So, how much of the Triad have you guys completed," anxiously wondered the hare as they ventured closer to their goal, "or is this gonna be your first?"

"Er, our first," uneasily stated the youth, "but the second gotten."

"... What?"

"Well, Geirrek's evil side took the Soul one-"

"... What?" Before any sound answers could be offered, the dim setting grew darker as a grim miasma took over the scene.

"Hey... I know this," frowned the youth. "It's one of those zombie portals!"

"Yyyep," agreed his familiar.

"That means there's a whole horde of the dead just waiting for us down there." He squinted off into the distance, trying to see through the black fog at their enemy.

"Yyyep," repeated the pet. Karl dismounted. "Wwwhat are you doin'?"

"Taking cover," told the peasant as he dropped down to his shoulders in the mire. "I'd suggest you two do the same." They quickly followed the advice. Taking his familiar by the neck, he turned it around so that the known enemy was faced by its rear.

There are several sources of power. Dragons pull up fire from their throat. Several guardians of the underworld tap the raw, dark energies of their home. Others summon the might of divinity. Boris' might came from within, deep within, for it was a Bonnacon. The foe never needed to be met, their forces never known. So long as they occupied a two acre field behind the beast, they were subject to an acrid, burning, and humiliating assault from the rear. What little of the scene was living no longer did. Trees fell over, the waters fumed, and the hanging mists were blown away. Flesh, living or dead, could not stand the putrid nature of the attack.

"I sure hope you won't need me doin' that again any time soon," whimpered the beast as its tail lowered back down. "I'm aaall out."

"Is it safe?" questioned the toad, emerging its head. Its mellow temperament faded upon re-entering the air. "Whoa! Guess not."

"Oh my- Ah! Ah!" cried out the hare. "That's just horrible. Ah!"

"Oh, it's not that bad," dismissed the accustomed serf. "C'mon, now. We have a task to complete."

"No, that's... that's okay. We'll stay here and... keep a look out. You go ahead." The last time Flop Hop volunteered to be left behind, it was for its own safety. This situation was little different.

The boy and Bonnacon waded through the swamp, their steps dodging bones and weapons floating in the mess. Each one had been stripped clean of any flesh and ligament. There was nothing left to hold them together. In the middle of the created clearing, courtesy of Boris, there stood a massive trunk built of intertwining branches. It sharply contrasted with the wood formerly found in the area. Thick and sturdy, it survived the onslaught that laid waste to the land. That changed when Karl drew nearer.

The twisted parts began to unfold, slowly opening layer after layer. Within the center, stored in a sparse pocket, beat a mysterious piece of flesh. Blue blood coursed throughout its external veins as its sustained itself. Upon being exposed, the tendrils on it reached out, beckoning the Key Bearer. Reluctantly, the commoner knew exactly what it reached for and genuinely desired having received another part of the Key.

Cringing, his marked arm was extended forward, and the outstretched tentacles took hold of it. The pulsing flesh pulled itself onto the arm and crawled to the origin of the scarring, the base of the Key. It burrowed into the prepared flesh, making itself one with the Bearer. Karl clenched his teeth and looked away from the image. He was unable to take the pain let alone the excruciating sight. The pressure grew as he felt it merge with him and tighten his arm, but something seemed not right about the ordeal. Something seemed foreign

The lad turned to find a heavy metal mitt holding his limb to the opened stump. The masked man who held him down brandished a large cleaver in the other arm, raised to strike. His armor was complete, covering his full body with no skin exposed. It showed two layers of filth, one from hiding in wait and another from the beast. There was no accommodations made for a nose on the face plate, as there was no nose, preventing the foul odor from affecting him, if he could even smell.

The boy struggled to free himself but, even if at full strength, he would be no match. His bull tried to assist, but the expended familiar was sent away with a heavy boot. Terror consumed the child as he knew what was about to happen, and terror grew to confusion as he beheld his attacker. He had never seen the stranger before, yet a sixth sense said otherwise.

"P-papa?" The faceless metal turned to face the serf. Bald, marked, and growing spikes, there was nothing to be familiar about the victim, but the same rang true. Edric knew; however, he also knew what must be done. For him, for his family.

"No."

The faceless man entered the lich's chambers, wiping his hands clean. A slow applause greeted him as he approached the undead master.

"Well done, well done," lauded the corpse. "Even defying my will, you ssserve me well. Not only wasss the final pieccce sssecured, but you alssso managed to take one of the Triad. Sssuch wasss never intended. The warrior shall be mossst powerful now."

"I failed you once before," informed the lieutenant, ignoring the praise, "and I always repay my debts in full. Always."

"I am glad for it," hissed the sorcerer, "asss I am that your life wasss not taken at your firssst fault."

"As am I," somberly agreed the general. "Sir, if I may, I would like to request leave of service." The warlock piqued at the inquiry. "I have served you well these last few days. You now possess your ultimate soldier, and the Svartalf have the Iron Golem fully operational. If you would allow, I would desire some time off to rest and ... recover from being exploded."

"Isss that it?" doubtfully questioned the mage. "Do not lie to sssomeone who knowsss all manners of deccception."

"It is a debt, sir," he confessed. "I always repay them, and I am in grave debt to this individual."

"Very well, I shall allow it," granted the immortal wizard. "I believe our plansss shall fare fine without you." Bowwing, Edric took his leave






* * This story contains splintered plotines. You may want to look over alternate possibilities to what you just read. * *

**** This story is still being written. You, too, can contribute to it by writing the next installment. ****


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