Sunday, April 13, 2008


"I am disappointed."

The voice followed him as Vertrius soared across the dark gray sky on dragon back, lightning crashing down all around him. His moon-white mount was unafraid of the raging tempest, roaring defiantly each time the clouds above sent arcs of brilliant death to shatter the land below.

"I did what I said I'd do, my lord." Vertrius was inwardly cringing, knowing damned well he had left the job unfinished. Still, one did not admit defeat to the Lord of Whispers. Ever. Doing so was tantamount to asking for execution. "I said I would bring them low for you and I have. Send an army of your rotting minions to finish them off and they will trouble you no more."

"I will take your impudent advice into consideration." It had been impudent but Vertrius also knew the only way to survive long in Vecna's service was to always maintain strength of personality. Will was the only thing that separated lieutenants from lackeys.

And where the Maimed One was concerned, lackeys generally forfeited their pulse upon demotion to that state.

"But the fact remains that you were given a second chance at your life under very strict rules. Rules that you have now broken, have you not?"

Vecna's mental 'voice' was preternaturally quiet and calm, almost sibilant. That was the most disconcerting thing about dealing with the Eye and the Hand - he never lost his temper. Even when he was tearing someone's soul apart, he remained relaxed, almost jovial with the tormented and with anyone unfortunate enough to bear witness.

"Forgive me but I do not see how this is the case, my lord." It was a bold move, calling Vecna on a matter of nuance, but the alternative was getting ripped to shreds by the godstorm all around him. He was fully aware of the knife's edge and how deeply it would cut if it descended. "I acted fully within my bounds."

For a moment, the clouds held their deadly, electrical breath. The storm grew quiet, so much so that Vertrius could not help but wonder if they were, in fact, inhaling to expel a torrent of lightning so massive that there would naught left of him when it was through. Even his ashes would be destroyed, he and his dragon blasted into fine vapor before his next heartbeat.

"Explain how you come to this... conclusion." The god's tone was unmistakable even in its placidity. He had one chance to make his case and if it failed to convince, his moment's imagining would become bitter, brutal reality.

He took a deep breath before continuing, a technically futile act since the entire conversation was taking place in his mind. He would be heard, judged and quite possibly convicted within the court of thought. If found wanting, he would be executed without a single word ever being spoken, a fitting fate for a minion of the Lord of Whispers, he supposed. At least his beloved mount would never know the doom that befell her. She would fly on, ignorant of his failing her until the lightning ended them both.

"Your contract with me stipulates that I be your instrument in dealing with the Elementals, using my special knowledge of their skills and weaknesses to ensure that they do not interfere with your plans." That was the first part of his argument, a simple stating of the facts. As the dragon beneath him started its descent toward their current lair amid the violent peaks below, he steadied his nerves and moved on to the particulars.

"I agreed to strike at them in that regard at any time and place of your choosing, my lord. Is that not correct?" He had to watch his tone. Too apologetic and he would sound weak. Too haughty and he would earn the Lich Lord's wrath out of spite. There had to be a balance, strong while remaining deferential.

"You are correct, but what is your point? They yet live. You failed to slay any of them and one in particular was never even harmed."

Vertrius took another deep breath as his mount navigated the dangerous mountain gap that led to their roost, an abandoned fortress that had once housed giants and their titanic hunting rocs. This next argument would make or break him; if he was to win his survival, this was where it would happen.

"With all due respect, my lord, you are incorrect." Then quickly, before Vecna could take offense, "May I explain?"

"You had best do so extremely well."

"I simply mean to say, my lord, that the Lady Faile may have been left untouched by my weapons but she is far from unharmed. In her case, I am her weakness. She is as disabled at this moment as the rest. I was brought back to serve your interests and so I believe I have."

The pause gave him reason to hope.

"Yet none of them are dead. You failed in your attack."

"Not so, my lord. I humbly submit that you never actually said I had to kill them." Vertrius waited for that point to sink in. Vecna was a very lawful being in his way; the fact that death had never been stipulated might carry some wait. Even so, it was best to make a stronger argument. "Further, I would like to note that what could be a better service than to weaken them and leave them vulnerable? In sparing them, have I not saved the pleasure of the kill for you?"

Another pause, this one lasting long enough for his beautiful white dragoness to land and fold her wings. Nearby, he could see his other companion, the massive red that served him as steed and her as mate. The crimson dragon was winging towards them, obviously glad to see them both alive.

"You are as eloquent as you are cunning. I have chosen well in you, Vertrius d'Urathym." The sky above the aged stone castle thundered once more in warning. "I shall spare you for now but in the future, I expect the edge of your sword, not its flat."

"Am I clear?"

Vertrius bowed to the churning black heavens. "Of course, sir. I am only watching out for your best interests." Before he could say anything else, his attention was caught by the frantic snarls of the red and the concerned trilling of his white. They were obviously upset about something and, in his partial understanding of their tongue, he could make out that it has something to do with the rookery below.

Racing after them, his conversation with Lord Vecna momentarily forgotten, he reached the huge basalt chamber where his mated pair of dragons had placed their small clutch of eggs. There, where the nest of coins and jewels had been gathered, a strange dark shape was hunched with one long tentacle around each of the five smooth, leathern orbs. A shadowy barrier flickered over the nesting site, a hemisphere of powerful black magic that crackled ominously.

Vertrius shouted for the panicked dragons to get away from the sphere, stopping them just short of making what he feared would be instantly fatal contact. "My lord?!" he questioned angrily. "Is this your doing?"

The answer came almost sweetly, a gentle echo in his mind. "Of course. You desired the eggs remain safe and so I sent a keeper to watch over them. As long as we can avoid any more surprise interpretations of my orders, I assure they they will remain so."

Vertrius felt his stomach lurch as Vecna recalled his own words to him. "After all, I am only watching out for your best interests..."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Razor's Edge

One stroke and the bow was gone, flung many yards away.

A second stroke shattered the arrow, leaving Faile holding only a sparking, splintered haft of once-magical wood.

A third forced her backwards to avoid being cut, making her stumble and fall to the ground, her wings forgotten in the rush of sheer panic.

"Please... please don't do this."

He looked down at her, his contempt and hatred burning through his mind like a dark fire, urging him to finish what he started. No turning back now. Two hands on the hilt of his hellishly enchanted blade, he raised Vyldravendis for the killing stroke.

As the shadow of the runeblade fell across her, the Lady of Air wept. "Please..."

His lips, barely visible in the shadows of his black iron helm, curled in a vicious scowl. "Begging for your life?"

Faile forced herself to look up into his merciless gaze. "No," she whispered, one hand reaching out to touch his chest. "I'm begging for yours."

There was silence.

Utter silence.

And then he lowered his blade, turned away without a word, and walked away.

Faile's tears did not stop until long after the man in black armor had long since disappeared into the storm clouds of the night...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Cold Revenge

This battle was not like the last.

There was no hesitation, no holding back on the part of the white haired warrior mage. His spells hissed between his hand and his victims, smashing down the Lord of Oceans and Lady Darkness before they could even turn to react. Azure fell, shuddering and insensate as the magic ripped a terrible price in water from his fey form. Beside him, Nyx writhed in pain as a light as bright as gazing into the sun itself raged around her.

Corundar was the first to clear steel. "Damn it, Vertrius! Your quarrel is with me!" He charged across the broken field towards the pearlescent dragon and her deadly rider. "Leave them out of this!"

Vertrius murmured another spell, one that made his ancient blade shimmer from hilt to tip. "Fool," he spat as he leaped down to meet the juggernaut in battle. "This is no longer about you." He raised his blade to intercept Corundar's, an obvious challenge to the big man's strength. 'Pit your strength against mine,' his pose seemed to taunt.

And at the last possible second, he pivoted low, ducked the world-shattering strike and darted past Corundar with a blurring slash across the Master of Mountain's lower chest. Metal and blood sprayed around the edge of his flashing steel and as Vertrius came to a halt ten feet behind the massive titan, Corundar fell. First to his knees. Then to his face, bleeding out as the passwall energies continued to erode him from within.

This left only three. All women. All with a reason not to fight him.

Even as his blade dripped onto the ground, Vertrius saw them rise to defend themselves. Faile took to the air, bow in hand but no arrow nocked. Akasha was instantly wreathed in her armor, her faceplate conveniently covering her sorrowing eyes. And Byrne...

The Lady of Fire half-hearted raised her blazing axe. "You don't have to do this, Vertrius." Shifting one foot behind her in a passable defensive stance, she brought up her red crystal armor, its plates moving intimately over her form. "We wronged you. We know that. Let us try to help you."

Vertrius shook his head and passed one hand over a white gem-inlaid bracer on one arm. "Far too late for that, Byrne. I am quite familiar with the Elementals' help." In a flash of whirling crystal, ornate armor the color of pearls and moonstones appeared around him, concealing him entire. "I have found a new source of assistance, thank you. One that will actually keep his word to me."

It was Akasha that spoke next, her voice dark with derision. "Vecna? You are fool enough to trust Vecna?!"

Vertrius took two steps forward, a vicious set of pale crystal blades emerging over his empty left fist. "I never said a word about trust." He looked right into the slits where Akasha's eyes blinked away an eladrin's tears. "I have learned not to trust words, no matter their source."

"Enough talk then!" Byrne roared forth, igniting herself in a comet's fury and hurling herself at Vertrius. He could see that every part of her attack was wrong. This was not a charge, it was suicide. This woman wanted to end herself in a pyre of glory, making it look like she was giving her life to save her friends. If she killed him while she died, all the better.

He had other plans.

With a flare of moonlight, his wings emerged. Thin membranes of motile pearl, they flexed once and then took him backwards into the air. She chased after him, silently calling forth her own powers of flight. Gravity released its hold on her and she began to rise towards her foe, all her focus on a single exchange of blows. If both fell, the rest could live. Akasha could heal the others and they would survive. All it would cost is the life she no longer wanted...

...and that of the child within her.

Byrne's eyes widened. The baby! She... she couldn't do this! Not the baby; it did not deserve to die for her sin. No.


Having already raced forward almost to melee reach with the hovering Vertrius, she shook her head in horror and flew backwards as fast as flames would take her.

And a moment later, she was engulfed in the bitter, absolute cold of a dragon's deadly breath! Byrne fell from the air, hitting the ground heavily, frozen and encrusted with ice. Unmoving. Armor shattering away. Cold and still...

Akasha flew back as well, shock echoing from her glowing mask of light. "You'll... you'll kill us all."

Vertrius brought up his new sword, a hard won prize wrested from dead hands on a distant world. Looking down its jagged edge at the Lady of Life, he nodded. "And they say you're don't pay attention," he murmured in mocking condescension.

His words and the sight of Byrne's motionless body spurred the Bright Lady into a frenzy of action. Spells, one after the other, surrounded her and began flaring across the dark sky between them. A dozen bolts of healing light, anathema to the undead horror she now faced, streaked from her divine hands, each one strong enough to fell even the strongest of vampires.

As they neared his raised sword, light turned to shadow. Dark power coursed through him, the life energy changed by the magic of his weapon into killing necromancy. To his unliving body, they were the essence of existence itself. Flying straight at Akasha, sword poised for a killing blow, he darted left, blurred right, and suddenly came at her from behind! His lethal edge stopped a foot from her throat, sparking angrily against the curved blade of her own weapon.

"You forget, Vertrius," she told him coolly. "My chakram can block any single weapon, even yours."

Without a word, Vertrius' hair emerged like a living wave from beneath his helmet. A braid on either side lashed forward, diamond and adamantine points like the tails of wyverns hissing at their ends. Both drove deep into either side of Akasha's neck, each injecting a horrific toxin made from vampire blood and lich bone! She jerked once as he answered back, tone just as cold.

"Vyldravendis isn't my only new weapon, Lady Lost." His leg came up, foot turned as he kicked her away. His braid-blades tore free, trailing blood and ichor as Akasha plummeted to earth, light failing as she fell.

His wings flapped once more, keeping him aloft. Slowly he turned, eyes cast to the thin grey clouds and the woman who remained there. "Please," Faile asked with a trembling voice. She had an arrow in her hand but seemed frozen, unable to bring it to her bowstring.

"Please don't do this."