Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hearts Asunder

Corundar barely had time to raise his sword before the knight was on him. Vaulting down from his armored saddle, the dark warrior was a streak of steel and shadows, ending in a tremendous impact that managed the impossible...

The Lord of Earth was disarmed and knocked off his feet, crashing to the ground as his balance failed under the power of the lightning-fast assault.

Even Azure was caught off-guard by this. The Elementals all paused, stunned for a second by the unthinkable occurring. Even during the battle with their "father" Urathyme, the big man has never been knocked down. He'd suffered enough damage during that final conflict to slaughter an army but he'd remained standing through it all.

Now he was down, the look of shock on his face quickly during into something else inconceivable.

Corundar was losing his temper. The strongest of them all, Corundar was also the most stoic. Azure was, as his monastic training would suggest, the calmest of the Elementals, but Corundar was truly a rock among them. He never grew angry. He never raised his voice. He never lost his focus during battle.

Until now, that is. Roaring in frustration, his right hand became a terrifying fist while his left pushed him to his feet. He came up swinging...

...at nothing. The dark warrior was there over him as Corundar started his attack, but his blow never landed. The armored fell-knight seemed to vanish just as the strike would have connected, a blow that could shatter a castle wall achieved nothing but a minor clap of thunder as the air behind it rushed back in to fill the void.

Then he felt a sting of pain across his shoulders, a flare of heat that told him instantly his armor had been slashed open. Blood flowed from the shallow wound running all the way across his back as he turned in a rapid combat pivot to punch again.

And again, struck nothing. The knight simply wasn't there. Azure hurled an ice bolt as the enemy vanished, also to no avail. Then he and Byrne both had to deal with the knight's powerful mount; fire was his bane and if its breath were to catch him unawares, Azure could actually be slain by such an attack.

Fortunately, Byrne was there, shielding him from the flaming torrent with her impervious body. Fire meant nothing more than welcome warmth to her. Glaring up at the dragon through its fiery barrage, she lifted her axe and threw it with all her might. Its gleaming edge cut the spray of burning breath, arching end over end into the roof of its mouth. The dragon screamed in pain and lashed backwards, taking to the air as caustic blood geysered from its open mouth.

The blood was almost more dangerous than the dragon's blood. Byrne was immune to fire but not to acid, especially the intense ichor raining down over the battlefield. Only Corundar could ignore the deadly storm; the others were badly burned as they scrambled to find what shelter remained in the ruined keep.

Azure concentrated, using his inner power to shrug off the acid's damage. His body renewed itself, a painful but potent technique honed to perfection through years of mental training. He was nowhere hear as effective a healer as Akasha, but he could mend his own body very well when he needed to do so. Pressing his hands together as the agony of his seared flesh subsided, he formed a stack of wickedly sharp shuriken forged from pure ice. As soon as the knight reappeared, he would be ready.

The weapons were created not a moment too soon. As Corundar charged across the rent courtyard to retrieve his lost blade, a flicker in the air made him stop short. That combat reflex saved him from having his throat slashed open; the dark warrior's sword whistled through the air where his neck would have been.

The Lord of Earth open stopped for a moment. The instant the sword strike passed, he was charging again. This time his punch made contact and the armored knight launched into the air in a high, painful-sounding arch of bent metal and hammered flesh.

Akasha took the opportunity to dash across the battlefield to Byrne's side. Azure could heal himself, but the Lady of Fire could not. She was at the mercy of the acid, rolling on the ground in a vain attempt to rub off the vicious fluid before it ate through to her bones. Akasha caught her friend in her gentle but deceptively strong arms and whispered a calming word into her melting ear. "I'm here... I'll take care of you..."

A pulse of light surrounded them as Akasha called forth come of her most powerful healing magic. Byrne's wounds and the Lady of Radiance's own both vanished under its restorative powers. As the light passed through them, they were cleansed of the acid and their injuries became naught but a painful memory.

Then, as Azure was lining up for another ice assault on the still-hurtling figure, a strange thing occurred. An arc of power leaped out of Akasha's healing sphere and raced through the air. It slammed into the body of the dark warrior, healing him instantly. Staying as placid as possible despite this distressing turn of events, the sea elven monk continued his attack.

A swarm of icy stars darted between Azure and the knight as he landed gracefully on the distant stone. The enemy raised his sword in a mock salute, its hilt gem flashing a brilliant cerulean blue a split second before the shuriken hit.

Each one shattered harmlessly off an invisible barrier. So did the ice lance Azure fired next. And another. And another. Nothing the monk through was having any effect; the warrior seemed impervious to his powers. Grimly, Azure stopped using cold attacks and drew his katana. Steel might succeed where elemental magic was failing.

Corundar apparently had the same idea. He had his sword back now, gripped tightly in his massive hands. Howling now in a nearly incomprehensible voice of frenzy, the Lord of Earth raised his blade high overhead and charged again. Using his power to landrun, he was incredibly fast; the momentum of his next strike would surely be enough to cleave his target in half!

Assuming it ever connected, which it did not. Again, a second before the mighty blow could tear the knight in half, its intended victim disappeared. Another roar from Corundar echoed through the ramparts, making their crumbling stones tremble and shake.

"Damn it, Cor! Get ahold of yourself before you bury us all!" Ironically, it was Byrne who was trying to calm him down. Well acquainted with berserker rage, she knew that what it offered in power it also cost in precision. This knight was too nimble, too fast to get taken down by brute force. "Don't make me smack you again!"

Akasha was still on her knees, staring at her hands with a dumbfounded, almost pained expression. "He... he took my magic. I healed us, and he forced me to heal him too. How...?" She shuddered, a feeling of utter magical violation passing through her body.

In the air above all this, the dragon and Lady Nyx were shadow dancing. Her faint, eerie laughter rang out through the night sky. The dragon was being deadly serious, but it was obvious she was just enjoying the battle. She was enjoying the chance to stretch her wings of darkness once again.

Reeling from its latest wound, the scaled beast clutched its pierced chest with one taloned hand and breathed forth another cone of fire. The momentary blaze cast everything on the ground below in deepest shade, causing Corundar's shadow to loom like an continuous wave of black from one side of the courtyard to the other.

Azure blinked at what he saw in that instant. The wave was actually mostly continuous. There was a small gap in the shadow, a part of the ground that didn't darken with the rest. "So that's it," he murmured to himself. "Invisibility."

He moved so swiftly, the shadow hasn't completely disappeared yet. He threw Wavecrest in a powerful, two handed pitch at the gap, smiling softly as it struck something no one could see. Its enchanted edge bit deep, raking through adamantine and cutting the wearer within. A short, stifled cry of pain was the monk's quietly appreciated reward.

Blood fell from apparently empty air, leaking from an unseen wound. Now leaving a trail, the knight ran for the nearest wall. "Corundar!" Azure called out, pointing at the droplets.

"I see 'em!" The big man was getting himself back under control; Byrne's words had pierced his haze of wrath. Bearing aloft Terrasunder again, he ran as fast as his powers could take him. The crimson path led the Lord of Earth straight to a gap in the castle's bulwark. The knight had obviously slipped through it; Corundar just charged straight through.

An explosion of rock and metal marked his passage. Unfortunately, while he was completely unharmed by smashing through the wall, he was not immune to the effects of its immediate collapse. Tons of fortification came crashing down, burying the Lord of Earth and concealing that entire side of the cliff in a spread cloud of mortar and dust.

Byrne looked at the scene, smacking her face into her open hand. "Big... stupid..."

High overhead, Nyx suddenly veered to the side in pain. A slash appeared across her body, her onyx armor cleft by an invisible blade. As she plunged earthward, her ability to control her wings somehow broken, the knight appeared on the back of his mount. Wounded by not slain, the pair shimmering away just as they'd done before.

Azure sighed, walking from his safe perch under a tower overhang to where the Lord of Earth would be needing some help. He wasn't worried about Corundar's safety; the huge warlord had lived through much worse. Byrne joined him at the edge of the avalanche as Nyx floated safely to the ground. Her wings weren't working, but her magic was still effective. Once again, feather fall was a mage's best friend.

"He teleported." The Lady of Darkness said flatly, her boots touching down.

"We saw." Byrne started hefting stones out of the massive pile. "Cor's under here."

"I saw." Nyx cast a spell to start moving the earth in much larger volumes. It would be a slow process, but together they could get their friend out of his latest disaster. With Azure making ice slides to get the debris moved away from the site as it was dug up, Corundar would be all right. Embarrassed and frustrated to be sure, but all right.

Meanwhile, Akasha was oblivious to all of this. She hadn't seen a thing since the healing, hadn't known a single moment since her spell had been taken from her so viciously. It was an intimate, hostile sensation, the touch of someone powerful enough to simply force her will to do as it pleased.

But that wasn't why she was shaking. The violation was horrible, but it was not why she was staring into the sky blankly, her mind a dozen dimensions away. Guilt, betrayal, pain, and sorrow echoed through her whisper, a word none of the others heard as it fell from her lips...

"Vertrius."

2 comments:

Erisraven said...

Gods. We knew that was coming.

Rosa said...

Oh, God. Just...god. That'll destroy Akasha. :(