Saturday, 2 June 2018

Episode I - XII A Vengeance of Earth (Shard I)

A Blood-soaked Legacy

A Vengeance of Earth
(Shard I)

It took the last two days to reach the highest ridges of the Stvattstromm Mountains. Here was the training ground of the Guardian Knights, located a few dozen miles north of Morrthault City. The air was overwhelmingly thin and cold causing most of the young knights to be gasping for air, even while they remained still and huddled in front of the braziers strewn around the training area. Smoldering embers in metal braziers did little for warmth, bringing only pain in the frost-bitten hands that the knights held over them vainly. Still, it was enough heat to stave off further frostbite.

“Today will be your final exercise of earthen command training.” The loud and gritty voice of the Paladarc resounded and echoed throughout the chilled air. His crimson cape was crusted with ice and snow while he held it close over his arms for what little warmth it might provide. The metal of his armor had iced over, but the runes on his mantle glowed through. “I know you all can command both the defensive arts of earthen armor, and the offensive attacks of earthen shock, but this test is more focused on your abilities to restrain and sustain your force.”

The Paladarc walked in front of the huddled mass of young knights as he looked them up and down. The emotion on his face was incredibly subtle as he took them in and sized them up. The deep snow beneath his feet didn’t seem to phase him at all as he openly stomped forward, taking only the briefest moments to make eye contact with a specific knight and then moving on to the next.

“Chace, step forth if you please.” The Paladarc turned his back to the group, stepping away from them and pointing to the ground beside him. “I want you to come here.”

One of the young knights looked up from the brazier he and a few other knights shared. His green eyes shot up to the Paladarc and then to the other knights around him. He wiped shocks of brown hair from his face, tucking them up under his head-scarves with his cold fingers. He stepped forward and took up a cautious stance next to the Paladarc.

“You are too soft with your abilities. I want you to uproot that large fir up ahead. The one that is dead with little needles left.” The Paladarc turned to stare down at the young knight. “Tear it up in a single thrust.”

“Sir, I…” Chace stumbled over his words for a moment. “It’s over thirty feet tall, sir.”

“Height means nothing, boy. Focus on the earth around the root system beneath the tree. I don’t want you just pulling it from the earth like a sour turnip. I want you to sunder the ground around it and send it flying upward.”


The Paladarc turned his head to stare down at Chace. He didn’t need to say another word. Chace knew his training and that an order from one of the senior commander knights was something to be done immediately, with no choice in the matter, other than how fast it was to be completed.

The young knight focused his energies while the mantle around his neck and chest began to glow a soft green color. He moved his hands in front of him, furling and unfurling his fingers like he was caressing the roots of the tree deep beneath the ground. His eyes rolled into the back of his head for a moment and his eyelids fluttered beneath the ice on his lashes.

The ground beneath the younger knights began to vibrate as groans ushered up from the rocks around the dead tree. The groaning protests from the rock raised in pitch until the constant grinding sounded like prolonged trumpets, out of tune, echoing through the mountains. Small pebbles and stones leaped up from the snow-covered earth, given life from the strain beneath.

The sounds roared to life as the earth around the tree began to shake violently. Sections of the ground collapsed, while small boulders began to jut forth. Chace’s eyes lowered and focused intently on the tree ahead of him. As he lifted his hands up with a hard thrust, the roots of the tree ripped up from the earth in sympathy with his motions.

“Remember, with force.” The Paladarc turned from the tree to his student’s side. “Make it fly, boy.”

Chace curled his fingers into fists and took up a stronger stance with his legs apart. He groaned as the earth before him did and pulled his fists further upward. Ahead the earth burst forth like a geyser of dirt, rock, and dead roots. The tree’s trunk broke free and soared over forty feet into the air. The roots of the tree followed after in a groundswell. Dirt and tiny pebbles began to fall upon the gathered knights who lifted their arms to shield their faces.

“Almost, lad.” The Paladarc slapped a gloved hand upon Chace’s shoulder. “I would have preferred if it was in one piece, though.” The remnants of the tree’s shattered roots fell back into the earthen crater. Immediately after, the dead trunk of the tree impaled itself into the fresh dirt like a massive spear.

Chace relaxed his stance, letting his arms drop to his sides. He looked up to the Paladarc with a confused and whimsical sort of expression. The elder knight gave him another hard pat on the shoulder and then pointed to the huddled young knights behind him. “Go back lad, you’ve proven enough. You still need some work, but you have the basic idea.”

Chace returned to the group and the Paladarc walked back as well. The elder knight crossed his arms behind his back, under his cape, rocking back forth on his boots. He looked the group up and down once again, this time much quicker than before, with pursed lips within his massive beard. He closed his eyes for a moment and gave a long sigh.

“Tyverus.” The Paladarc kept his eyes closed and took a step back with his arms still crossed behind himself. “Step forth. You need work.”

Tyverus didn’t look sheepishly at the other knights around him as Chace had done. He immediately stepped forward and took up stance beside the Paladarc where the other young knight had been. He remained silent with a distant gaze, awaiting the orders of his superior.

“You have raw power in reserve, lad. You’re focused like a knife’s tip, and that’s precisely the problem.” The Paladarc opened his eyes and turned to Tyverus. “You need to learn finesse with the arts of the earth. You seem fine with the rest of the elements, but you’re too hard-focused with this one.”

Tyverus gave a nod and focused his eyes on the ground before him. He continued to remain silent. A bit of his pride was hurt, but he realized that this was the time to learn from any of his mistakes before lives counted on him.

“Those cliffs on the ridge above us. I believe that should be about a hundred feet or so. I want you to shake that cliff thoroughly.” The Paladarc looked from the jutting cliff above the group and then back to Tyverus with a smile on his face. “Shake it hard, lad, without a single rock falling from that face.”

Tyverus’ eyes widened and the Paladarc seemed to smile even wider. He looked up to the snow and rock-strewn cliff beside the group. The cliff-face seemed ancient and brittle. Several errant pieces of scrub had wormed their way through the rocks making it even more fragile-looking. He looked back to the Paladarc with an eyebrow cocked up. “Yes, sir.”

“Then do it, boy. Before the rest of us turn blue from the cold and lack of air.”

Tyverus fixed his eyes on the cliff-face and raised his frozen hands in front of him. He flexed his fingers and began to harmonize with the rocks and earth ahead. A soft glow of green light emanated from his mantle as only a few of the runes within lit up. Snow began to fall away from the cliff’s edge and the tips of scrub began to sway back and forth.

“Don’t massage the cliff, lad. Give it a good shake.”

Trepidation and fear began to gnaw at Tyverus as he continued to focus his energy forth. He always knew he had a hard time properly commanding the earthen element. His training had been rigorous over the years, but there was something about commanding the powers of the earth that made it hard to focus. His instructors always complained that he was too light, or too hard with his powers.

The gnawing worry started with a twinge in his fingers as they began to shake. The rocks above began to groan and a few small pebbles fell to the snow next to the group of young knights. A few of their number looked up from their braziers following the motion of the shuddering rocks above. The rocks that fell away began to grow in size and some of the young knights scurried away to crouch next to farther away braziers.

“I did say not to let a single rock fall, lad.” The Paladarc raised an eyebrow at Tyverus but remained with his arms crossed behind his back. “Despite this, you may continue.”

Tyverus couldn’t stop if he wanted to. As had happened many times before in training, a sense of feedback came from the rocks and entered back into Tyverus’ body. The rocks seemed to sing out to him, and as he tried to shake them, they reached out shaking him back. Flashes of Tyverus’ youth shot through his mind. Glimpses of emotional memories stole away his focus with each flash and he closed his eyes for a few moments.

The first memory was from when his mother died, he was only a few years old, and the sorrow of her loss tore through both him and his father. The next was the memory of when his father had made a mistake in legal proceedings against a corrupt local lord, which led to him being condemned to exile from his hometown. That was the first time he had struck Tyverus in anger when he had found the boy lacking in his studies.

The next memory was the disappointment on his father’s face when he had come to him during his legal studies, asking to become an oracle. His father had screamed into his face and told him that his future had been decided. The only way his father could get back into law was to sell Tyverus to the Guardian Knights. He did so, soon after, and was able to enter into the prestigious halls of Morrthault City with his reputation wiped clean.

The final memory was from when Tyverus had been accepted as a Guardian Knight and received his mantle. Before the rest of his training was to commence, he was given a day’s leave and he took it to return to his father’s home. There he ran into several of the city’s reclaimers stripping his father’s manor down. He asked what had happened and was informed that his father had died from poisoning a few weeks previous.

It was assumed that the same corrupt lord had tracked him down and removed him to make way for several county proclamations that would enhance his trades. Such was the lot of those who lived by law and his father’s bad decisions had cost Tyverus the freedom of his future for nothing. By becoming a Guardian Knight, Tyverus had forsaken any claims to his family’s lands, properties, or ability to fight for his father’s honor against the local lord.

Tyverus remembered standing at his father’s pauper grave that day. He had spent some of his coin on his father’s favorite wine and left it at the grave-site below the cheap stones. He spent hours screaming at his father and pounding the earth that covered his rotted corpse. He wanted to tear up the earth beneath him and shake his father’s body until it fell apart.

With a startle, he opened his eyes and saw the cliff-face before him shaking apart. Boulders and uprooted trees were falling to the ground. In front of him, his hands had turned to shaking fists. The young knights behind him had crowded around three of the most distant braziers.

“Depend upon the powers of your mantle, lad.” The Paladarc hadn’t moved from his original spot and his eyes were trained on the quaking cliff above him. “Calm the energies that course through you and try to reign it back in.”

Tyverus let his head drop to the right and downward. The energy coursing through him felt unnatural and was grating upon his nerves. The pain of his memories continued to gnaw at the back of his mind filling him with sustained rage. Hatred of his father, hatred of the Guardian Knights, hatred of his dead mother, and hatred of this corrupted world. He wanted to reach out with every fiber of his being and shake the entire world-plane into dust.

Three trees fell from the cliffs above, each almost twice the size of the one Chace had sent flying a few minutes previous. Above, a boulder split and showered pebbles upon the ground below. The ground beneath Tyverus began to vibrate in sympathy with the cliffs above.

“Reign it in, lad!” The Paladarc’s voice was commanding but betrayed a cadence of fear. He stepped backward and neared Tyverus. The other young knights looked up from their cold hands to gaze worriedly at Tyverus and their superior. “Let it go and drop the power. You’ve proven enough.”

The words didn’t matter to Tyverus anymore and neither did the other knights around him. The earth reached out to him and was one with his rage. He gave out a howl and opened his fists to grasp at the throat of the world.

Boulders twice the size of a grown man fell to the ground before Tyverus and the Paladarc. The younger knights scrambled and ran away. Trees screamed as they were ripped from the earth and torn to splinters. With a swipe of his left hand, the cliff-side crumbled and fell away. With a swipe of his right, the front of the mountain just mere inches from his feet crumbled down to the valley far below.

Dust and snow erupted up from the rock-slide. The world itself submitted to Tyverus’ focused hate. Miles away the echoing rumbles of other mountains and rock-slides reached his ears. All around the valley below clouds of dirt and snow erupted forth.

For untold moments Tyverus stood there with a cathartic calm and peace washing over him. At his side, the Paladarc remained with a shocked expression on his frost-covered face. Far away the sounds of thunder erupted as a sundered mountain collapsed into a heap of rock.

“I only asked you to shake the cliff, Tyverus.” The Paladarc turned from the devastation to look at him straight in the eye. He lifted one of his gloved hands to put on his shoulder. “You have power with you, lad. You need to learn to temper it.” He let his hand drop away and crossed his arms over his chest while gazing back at the recently widened valley. “No more training when it comes to the element of earth. I don’t think we have enough land left to test you on.”

* * *

Tyverus knew he only had a few moments while the monster below him finished healing. She still had him pressed against the ceiling of the cavern, but she hadn’t yet limited the motion on his limbs. He remembered how she had earlier commanded the elements of her lair; sealing off passageways and causing lances of sharpened earth to bolt out of the ground. It was only a matter of time before she lost interest in him and did so while he was immobilized.

Merithault returned her right hand, upraised towards him while channeling her telekinetic energies. She looked from him to the charred ring around her previously severed wrist. A few worms of ichor protruded from the flesh to dance in the air before knitting themselves back into place. The wound in her chest was almost fully healed. Her ribs and collarbone, visible beneath her strangely clear flesh, were knitting themselves back into place.

Tyverus looked around his spot on the ceiling to the stalactites around him and the glowing crystal light to his right. Several of the jutting pillars of rock were heavy and jagged enough to make lances of his own if he could command them with his energies. He remembered well the training of his youth and how he had a hard time commanding the earth to do as he wished. He could command the powers of earthen armor easily, even a few tricks with metal and stone, but the power to shake the pillars of rock to use as weapons might be more than he could handle at this moment.

Quickly, he closed his eyes and gripped the stone around him tightly with his still functional left hand. He cast his consciousness into the rock above him to feel its depth and composition. The rock sung out to him about itself telling him it was deep and heavy with more rock than ice. There were veins of dense ore above him and many different minerals. The rock was over six-hundred feet thick and beyond that, he could feel the lack of vibrations that signaled seawater.

Tyverus opened his eyes and sunk his fingers into the rock above him. He was resolute now, knowing what he must do. He never really got the hang of limiting his powers over the earth, and now would be the perfect chance to use them. He would bring the entire cavern down on the beast and on himself.

He gave a hard and dry swallow at the proposition of ending his life in a single action so that he might be able to seal away this horror. He felt the beating of his heart and focused intently on what he must do. This was it, his last chance. There was nothing left to live for. After all, the woman he loved was dead and the man he swore to protect was nothing more than a pile of gore below. All that could be done now was to protect the world from this unholy abomination once and for all.

The memories from his life welled up inside of him once again; the rage at his father, the rage at the society he was born to, the rage at not living the life he wanted, and the rage at his mother for choosing the deathly kiss of Olthenna rather than her own son. The rock around him sang with his rage, quaking behind him. He reached out with his will to shake some stalactites the size of warhorses free from their moorings hoping to send them down to the evil witch below.

Merithault turned to look up at him, her eyes glowing once more, the expression on her face was empty as she tried to understand what was about to happen. Slowly her top lip raised into yet another predatory snarl, but this time there was a hint of whimsy to her countenance. It seemed she wanted to see what her prey had up his sleeve.

With a sharp quake, a half dozen stalactites broke free from the ceiling to fall towards Merithault below. Each piece of rock was over twice a person’s height and had sufficient weight to either crush or severely impale the monster. As the rocks fell towards her, Merithault dispatched several with her indigo tendrils of energy and deftly dodged the rest.

“Such paltry tricks.” Merithault got up from a roll to stare back up at Tyverus. “Show me the full extent of your rage, young knight.”

Tyverus reached out and broke off a section of the ceiling right over the corrupted oracle to send several tonnes of earthen debris to fall on her below. She broke up several of the chunks with her tendrils and sent a few of the larger boulders flying away with more of her telekinetic prowess. Several large chunks managed to batter at her and a sharp tip of a stalactite got through to pierce her thigh.

Merithault growled from beneath the heaping stones and broke free of their combined weight with ease. Tyverus felt her anger as she seized onto his limbs tightly with the force of her mind. It soon felt like she was reaching a hand out to choke him from the throat. He gasped hard but quickly refocused his energies once more.

He could no longer breathe, but he could feel his heart beating steadily in his chest. He focused on that sound and the rage boiling up in his veins once more. Above him, he felt the entire ceiling give way as huge splits formed in the rock. Around him, the cavern began to quake with each beat of his heart until whole sections of the cavern began to collapse. He wanted to draw in one last breath of air before he died, but the monster ensured he could not. With one more rumble, he felt the entire weight of the world above give way.

Rocks and shards of ice began to fall past him to the ground below and within a moment he felt himself fall down with them. The monster had been struck by a heavy and jagged rock to the head causing her to lose focus on him with her mind’s grip. The vertigo of the fall was soothing and Tyverus was able to draw one last dusty breath in.

He continued to fall along with the debris from the roof in what felt like an eternal moment. A smile of vindication spread across his lips. As soon as he felt like he could be lost in this moment, he felt the impact of water on his body. As he struck the surface of the water he was impacted by several jagged pieces of rock that knocked off more of his earthen armor. The rush of icy water on his exposed skin and wounds was at first painful and then morbidly refreshing.

The weight of his form drew him several feet down to the bottom of the subterranean river. The impact on the bottom was hollow and light. Tyverus held his breath and curled into a ball to prepare for the full impact of the world collapsing upon him from above.

With any hope, his final moments would come soon. He grasped at the mantle around his neck and chest his left hand, feeling the last bits of the energy inside of it. He could also feel the metal fused to his right hand lightly scrape along the rocky bottom of the river. The cold around him was serene and he hoped that in the hereafter he might be reunited with Isilda’s soul. As long as Merithault the Mad was finally sealed away, perhaps there might be a single ray of hope for this wretched world, after all.

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