Legends Of The Genemage: The Eternal Sovereign, Chapter One

Mathus let out a triumphant shout as he thrust his sword deep into his opponent’s chest. A wicked grin crossed his face as Mathus watched the fire in his opponent’s eyes slip away, leaving behind only the cold stare of death. Mathus pulled his sword back with a grunt, kicked his opponent’s dead body to the ground, and turned to face the crowd of people watching him. Slowly, Mathus moved his gaze to each member of the crowd, judging each person’s reaction, before raising his sword above his head and shouting his victory to the heavens. The crowd around Mathus burst out in cheers, filling his heart with pride. As the crowd continued to cheer, a young woman broke free and ran up to Mathus, circling her arms around him in a tight embrace. Mathus reached down, picked the young woman up into his arms, and gave her a deep, passionate kiss, causing the crowd to cheer even louder. Mathus stood proudly, his arm around the waist of the young woman, soaking in the cheers of his adoring fans when he began to feel a tapping sensation on his arm. Mathus looked down at the young lady standing near him who seemed to be saying something to him, though her voice could not be heard over the din of the crowd. Mathus leaned down closer to the woman, and tried to focus on her voice, but was surprised to find the woman saying his name repeatedly in what sounded like a distinctly masculine voice. The shock of hearing such a beautiful woman speak in a male voice, that also sounded rather familiar, was enough to shake Mathus out of his dream state, and pull him back to the real world. Mathus groaned as the crowd of cheering people melted away into the pale grey stone walls of the dungeon Mathus guarded in his real life.

“Mathus,” Merrick growled, poking Mathus in the arm repeatedly. “Wake up man. It’s time for dinner. Come on! Wake up already.”

“Yeah,” Mathus moaned, sitting up in his hard, wooden chair. “I’m awake. I’m awake.”

“Good,” Merrick growled again. “Tired of listening to you snoring anyway.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Mathus growled back. “You aren’t exactly a silent sleeper either you know.”

“Whatever man,” Merrick said gruffly. “Wipe the drool off your face and get ready to eat.”

“Fine,” Mathus grunted. “You know, you woke me up from a really good dream.”

“Oh, boo hoo,” Merrick said with a laugh. “Did you get the girl this time at least?”

“Yeah,” Mathus replied with an air of pride, and then quickly lowered his head in dejection. “Well, almost. I had the girl, but you woke me up before anything good could happen.”

“Aw, I’m sorry pal,” Merrick said, trying as hard as he could to hold back his laughter.

“Are you boys done arguing now,” A woman’s voice said abruptly.

Mathus looked to the direction that the female voice originated to see a short woman pushing a cart towards him. The woman stood approximately three feet, eight inches tall, with broad shoulders, and short arms and legs, the woman was a member of the dwarven race, and was therefore considered a lower class in society.  As a result of her class, one of the few jobs she would be considered qualified for was a food servant.

“Evening Zigg” Mathus said, smiling at the woman. “What’s on the menu for tonight?”

“Only the best for my boys,” Zigg said, placing a plate of food on the wooden table in front of Mathus. “Boiled meat and potatoes. I know it’s your favorite.”

“Yeah,” Mathus said, pawing at the meat in front of him with a look of distaste on his face. “My absolute favorite. I hope you have plenty of salt to go with it.”

“Oh,” Zigg said with a hint of glee as she pulled a flask out from under a napkin. “I’ve got something much better than salt. I brought you boys a little something to get you through the night. I know how boring guard duty in a dungeon must be. So, I brought you a bit of spirits to keep you guys in a good mood.”

“You are the best Zigg,” Mathus said with a wide grin, his mood instantly improving. “I think I might be in love with you.”

“Oh stop,” Zigg said, blushing from the attention. “You know how I feel about you boys. Now, eat, drink, be as merry as you can in a dump like this. I’m going to feed the prisoners, and then I’ll be back to clean up after you boys.”

“Hey Zigg,” Merrick said with a salacious grin. “When are you gonna be on this menu?”

“Man, don’t do that,” Mathus scolded.  “Don’t be such a gross pig.”

“Come on,” Merrick laughed. “Live a little, will ya? I’m just havin’ some fun with our girl Zigg. She knows I’m just kidding around.”

“It’s okay Matty,” Zigg said. “I know he’s just kidding. Besides, the truth is that ol’ Merrick here couldn’t handle all of this on his best day.”

“Well played Zigg,’ Merrick said with a laugh. “You got me good on that one.”

Zigg shook her head and then turned to walk down a long hallway of barred doors to bring food to the prisoners being held in the dungeon. Mathus and Merrick, still laughing, focused on the meals in front of them, and the bourbon Zigg had snuck in for them.

“All kidding aside,” Merrick said through a mouthful of food, “what do you think? Would you?”

“Would I what?” Mathus asked, eying Merrick warily.

“Would you ever…you know…with Zigg?”

“What are you talking about,” Mathus asked, not sure he wanted to hear the answer.

“Do it,” Merrick blurted out. “With Zigg? You know, would you fuck her?”

Mathus shook his head and let out a long sigh before attempting to answer Merrick’s question. “First of all, crossbreeding with a member of the dwarven race is against the law, with rather severe punishment attached. Second of all, you should not be talking like that about Zigg. She is always good to us, and you should not be treating her that way. If someone heard you say things like that, if she heard you say things like that, you could be in really big trouble. Then again, you are a pig, so I really can’t say I am surprised to hear garbage like that come out of your mouth.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Merrick said, waving his hand as if to swat away an annoying fly. “Illegal, blah, blah, blah. I’m a pig, blah, blah, blah. Whatever. Come on man, just answer the question.”

Mathus let out another sigh and opened his mouth to answer Merrick when he realized that his mouth had become incredibly dry. Mathus stuck his tongue out to lick his dry lips, but noticed that his tongue had begun to swell in his mouth. Mathus attempted to swallow, but noticed that his throat felt like it had begun to tighten as well. Mathus looked up at Merrick, and noticed immediately that his vision had become blurred to the point that he could not focus on anything. A sudden pain in his chest caused Mathus to lurch forward and fall out of his chair onto the floor. Mathus began writing on the floor, clawing at his throat and chest as his lungs began to burn as if they had been lit on fire inside him. The last thing Mathus saw through his blurred vision, was the image of Merrick lying on the floor across from him, foam pouring out of his mouth as his body convulsed in the throes of death. Mathus’ vision continued to blur until all he could see were blobs of color, which then morphed into blobs of black and grays before turning into complete darkness. Soon after that, Mathus slipped into unconsciousness, as his heart seized completely.

Zigg walked up to the two guards lying dead on the floor, and gave each one a quick kick to check for movement.  Satisfied that both men were dead, Zigg then walked to the dungeon entrance, and pulled open the large, wooden door with a loud grunt.  On the other side of the door, a male dwarf dressed in a black cloak waited, a look of impatience on his gruff face.

“Did the poison work,” the male dwarf asked abruptly.

“Yes Grann,” Zigg replied. “Just like promised. I enjoyed watching those bastards choke on their own tongues.”

“Easy Zigg,” Grann said. “Don’t get overexcited. This is a rescue mission. We are not here for revenge.”

“I know,” Zigg sighed. “But, you don’t know how those guards used to treat me. It was gross. It was……”

Zigg paused, choking back tears as she stared down at the dead guards. Grann walked up to Zigg, and give her a strong embrace.

“I know Zigg,” Grann whispered. “They treat us like animals. Or worse. But that’s why we have been searching for him for so long. He can help us heal. He can help us get a better life.”

“You really still believe in him after everything that happened Grann?”

“I never stopped,” Gran replied. “You never knew him like I did, but I would gladly give my life for him. That’s why I never stopped searching for him. Now, let’s go get him.”

Zigg nodded her head, and led Grann down the long, dark hallway of dungeon cells. As the two dwarves passed by the dead guards, Zigg gave one guard another swift kick, and then quickly grabbed a ring of keys from his belt. As they walked down the hallway, the horrid odor of death and decay assaulted Grann’s nose, causing him to choke back the urge to vomit. Grann shook his head in disgust at the squalid conditions of each cell he passed.

“Even the worst criminal does not deserve to be treated like this,” Grann whispered in disgust.

“I have to walk these halls every day delivering barely edible slop to these prisoners,” Zigg said. “I have seen the worst treatment you can possibly imagine down here. I have seen things that no one should be forced to witness. This place is far worse than you can imagine.”

Grann solemnly shook his head as he followed Zigg to the final cell at the end of the hallway. Once there, Grann turned back to keep watch as Zigg fumbled with the stolen key ring. Once she found the correct key, Zigg unlocked the heavy wooden cell door. Grann walked up to the door, leaned against it, and let out a grunt as he shoved the door open to reveal one lone prisoner in the cell behind it. The prisoner appeared to be an old man, frail and emaciated, with long, scraggly hair that seemed to be swallowing his gaunt face. Grann choked from the odor wafting out from the prisoner’s soiled clothing, and he had to again fight back the urge to vomit.

“Are you sure this is the right guy,” Zigg asked, failing to hide her doubt.

“I don’t know,” Grann replied, his voice muffled beneath his hand as it attempted to block the foul odor in the cell. “It’s hard to tell. He looks so…different.”

“Yes, well, twelve years of prison will do that to a guy I suppose,” Zigg said. “Especially when they are treated so horribly.”

Grann walked up to the prisoner, leaned as close as he could stomach, and stared into the man’s lifeless eyes.

“Nothing,” Grann said, waving his hand in front of the prisoner’s eyes. “His eyes are wide open, but his mind seems to be somewhere else entirely.”

“I’m not surprised,” Zigg said sadly. “His mind has probably shut down to escape the horror of this place. We may not be able to get him back. If that is even him at all. I knew this was a bad plan! I have been saying that from the beginning.”

“Woman, please be quiet,” Grann snapped. “I don’t need your negativity right now. It’s not helping at all.”

“I’m sorry Grann,” Zigg said. “But you have to admit that this is not good. We still don’t even know if this is the right guy or not.”

Grann held up his index finger, signaling Zigg to pause for a minute, then turned back to the prisoner. Taking a deep breath and holding it, Grann reached down, grabbed the prisoner’s shirt, and roughly tore it open to reveal a large, grotesque scar on his chest.

“What is that,” Zigg asked, horrified by the sight.

“That my dear,” Grann replied feeling his confidence grow, “is the evidence I needed to see. That my dear is the proof that this is the man we are looking for. That my dear is my long lost friend and our former leader.  That is the man known as Aerron The Immortal.”

“So,” Zigg said, pausing to study the sickly, repugnant prisoner before her, “this miserable wretch is the great general that led our people into the Doomed Rebellion against the Sovereign? Seriously?”

Grann let out a loud sigh that was a mix of frustration and great amusement at his comrade. “Yes. This is our brilliant leader. We have found him at last. We can rescue him from this vile place and he will bring our armies down upon the head of the Sovereign once again!”

“Which we will probably lose again,” Zigg said quietly.

Grann shot an angry glance at Zigg, then let out another deep sigh. “Yes, well, we have to do something. We can’t continue living as servants to the humans. That’s no kind of life for any of us.”

“You don’t have to tell me that,” Zigg stated. “I have been serving slop to prisoners in this cursed dungeon for the last year! No one knows more about the pains of servitude than me, I assure you.”

Grann walked over to Zigg, gave her a kiss on the cheek, and then embraced her. “I’m sorry my love. I meant no disrespect. I know you have suffered here. As I know you have also seen suffering here that no loving soul should be forced to witness. That’s why I know you understand how important it is that we take Aerron out of this damned place.”

“I get it,” Zigg said. “I know how important this is to you. I truly do. So, let’s get him out of here then. We can figure out the rest after that.”

Grann removed a leather harness he had been wearing under his cloak, handed it to Zigg, and then reached down to pull Aerron away from the wall. The moment Aerron felt Grann touch him, he seemed to instantly snap to life, letting out a guttural moan. Grann grabbed Aerron’s head in his hands and forced the decrepit prisoner to focus on his face.

“Aerron, my old friend,” Grann said, staring into the wild eyes of the prisoner. “It’s me, Grann.  Focus on me, my friend.  Focus! I’m not here to hurt you. We are here to rescue from this place.”

Grann was relieved to see a hint of recognition fill his friend’s eyes, and he felt tears well up in his own eyes even as his mouth formed a jubilant smile. Grann then slid Aerron away from the cold stone wall he had been propped up against, and signaled for Zigg to bring the harness over. Zigg quickly complied, moving behind Aerron and sliding the harness around him. Grann watched anxiously as Zigg tightened three buckles around Aerron’s chest and arms, then nodded his head at Zigg. Zigg then grabbed onto Aerron with one arm, holding him up in a sitting position, while Grann moved behind him. Zigg helped Grann put the harness back on with her other hand as she leaned Aerron forward.  Once the harness was back on Grann, Zigg helped him tighten four more buckles around his chest and torso. When both Zigg and Grann were satisfied that the harness was secure around both men, Grann began dragging Aerron out of the cell with Zigg walking ahead of them. The pair exited down down the dungeon hallway, past the poisoned guards, and proceeded to drag Aerron’s frail body up a small flight of stairs and out into the cool night air outside. Zigg and Grann paused once they reached the outer courtyard of the dungeon, and began inspecting the area around them through the moonlit darkness. Grann could hear the raspy hiss of Aerron’s breath as he took in the fresh air for the first time in possibly years, and his heart began to fill with hope.

“Kierick,” Grann called out, his voice nothing more than a loud whisper. “Where are you?”

“I’m here,” a deep voice called back. “behind this shed.”

Grann chuckled as he and Zigg moved towards the shed near one of the massive stone walls surrounding the courtyard of the prison. As they approached, a tall man, approximately nine feet in height with a robust build and shoulders almost as wide as he was tall, stood up, towering over both of the dwarves as well as the shed he had been attempting to hide behind.

“What are you doing Kierick,” Grann asked with a laugh.

“Trying to hide,” Kierick replied. “It’s not easy for us big guys to find good hiding spots you know. Luckily it is dark out, so that makes it a little better.  I did run into a couple of guards though.  Don’t worry, I took care of them.”

“Sure, sure,” Grann said, his laughter increasing. “Good job my friend.”

“Is that him,” Kierick asked, pointing his meaty finger in the direction of the passenger on Grann’s back.

“Is that him,” Grann repeated, his tone laced with mockery. “You know, just because you ogres have the reputation of being stupid, doesn’t mean you have to prove it right.”

“Watch it, runt,” Kierick bellowed. “Or I will squash you like a tiny little bug.”

“Will you two keep it down,” Zigg hissed. “We are trying to avoid alerting anyone that we are here.”

“Relax Zigg,” Grann said, waving a hand towards the female dwarf. “We are just fooling around. But, she’s right Kierick, we need to keep quiet and get out of here as quickly as we can.”

“No problem,” Kierick whispered as quietly as his deep voice would allow. “I’m ready. Let’s get loaded up and go.”

Kierick knelt down beside the dwarves, and Gran and Zigg worked together to pull Aerron out of Grann’s harness, and slide him into a large basket attached to Kierick’s back. Once Aerron was secured in the basket, Gran and Zigg then climbed in. When all three passengers were safely tucked away in the basket, Kierick rose to his feet and left the courtyard as quickly and quietly as he could. The dungeon that Aerron had been locked away in had been located in a remote, wooded area, a factor which facilitated the group’s escape. Once Kierick had brought the group deep into the forest surrounding the dungeon, they all breathed a deep sigh of relief.

“By the sake of the ancients, we made it,” Grann said unable to hold back the tears that streamed down his face. “It’s so good to see my old friend again!”

“Old is right,” Zigg said, casting a disapproving glance towards Aerron’s feeble form. “He doesn’t look like he has much life left in him. I hope he was worth all the trouble it took finding him and getting him out of that prison.”

“Have some faith woman,” Grann barked. “If not in Aerron, then at least in me. Is that so much to ask?”

“No my love,” Zigg replied, letting out a long sigh. “I do have faith in you. I always have. That’s why I went along with this plan. If you say that Aerron will help our people fight back against the Sovereign, then I believe you. And I will stay by your side no matter what barriers we face.”

“Thank you, my love,” Grann said, placing his hand on Zigg’s cheek. “That is all I ask for.”

“So then,” Zigg said, her demeanor perking up. “What is our next step?”

“Ah yes,” Grann replied, clasping his hands together excitedly. “Kierick, take us to the Healer!”

The Gods Wager-Part One

The Proposition

Ozmos took a deep breath, steeling his nerves as he soared towards the temple of the First Gods on the back of his colossal falcon.  Though it was Ozmos himself that had demanded an audience with the First Gods, he was mindful of the fact that the pantheon greatly outnumbered him.  Ozmos was also painfully aware that he, having no other gods in his pantheon to rely on, could only ask his faithful to give him the strength needed to confront the First Gods.  As his falcon swooped down towards the ancient temple, Ozmos leapt off the great bird, flipped through the air three times, then landed at the foot of the temple in a crouching position.  Ozmos turned his fierce gaze to the entrance of the temple before slowly rising into a strong, warrior stance.  As he stood there, staring defiantly at the temple, a small figure scuttled out of the shadows of the entrance-way.  As the figure entered the sunlight, Ozmos could see that the figure was nothing more than a short, thin, elderly man that seemed to be in danger of being swallowed up by the thick cloak he wore.

“Ozmos,” the man wheezed loudly, “Son of the Holy Father, Protector of the Unwashed, Defier of the First Gods-“

“I think you’ve covered enough of my titles,” Ozmos barked.  Let’s just get on with it.

“Very well,” the old man said, smiling wryly.  “If you would follow me then.”

Ozmos let out a frustrated sigh before following the old man into the darkened entrance of the Temple of the First Gods.  As his eyes adjusted to the interior light provided by several flaming torches along the wall of a barren hallway he was being led down, Ozmos found his nerves settling by his surging fortitude.  Moments later, the old man led Ozmos through a doorway into a large antechamber.  In the center of the chamber, a large pit of fire burned, sending dancing shadows across the walls and ceiling.  On the opposite side of the  chamber, a robust, middle-aged man with long hair and a strong beard sat on a throne atop a large dais glaring down at Ozmos.  Seated next to the man was a woman of great beauty, her face an expression of soothing calmness that eased the remaining nerves of Ozmos.  Before the dais, a young man in full armor stood, his arms crossed in an expression of defiance as he to glared at Ozmos.

“Dekus,” Ozmos said, bowing his head to show respect to the gods before him.  “I am honored that you would agree to meet with me.”

“Honored,” The bearded god Dekus barked angrily.  “The only reason I agreed to this meeting is to see with my own eyes the petulant child that would dare to request an audience with the father of all the gods.”

“You are the father of all the First Gods,” Ozmos stated bluntly.  “But, you are not my father.  I am not one of your god children.  You would be wise to remember that.”

“You would dare,” Dekus roared.  “You are nothing to me, the First of the First Gods!  You are but a juvenile to me!  A false god trying to claim what belongs to me and my First!”

“I may be a new god,” Ozmos declared calmly, “But I am a god, make no mistake.  My followers give me just as much power as your followers give you, and my the size of my flock increases constantly.  Even as I speak to you now, I gain more followers.  Soon, my congregation might even outnumber yours.  A new dawn is rising, Dekus.  The faiths of man are ever-changing, and you of the First Gods cannot hope to remain relevant in the face of such evolution.  I represent the progress of man from the darkness of the First Gods to the light of the one, true god.  You cannot hope to halt such progress forever.”

“We do not have to stand for such disrespectful boasting father,” the young man in armor shouted.  “Let me face this heathen usurper in combat and I will prove who is the better god.”

“Calm yourself son,” the woman in the throne beside Dekus chided.  “There will be no combat in this sacred temple.  And husband, you let your temper get the better of you again.  Please, allow me to handle this situation.”

Dekus glared at his wife briefly before finding his anger melt before her soothing eyes.  “You are right my love, as always.  Please, speak for me.  I trust your judgement in this matter.”

“Thank you my husband,” the woman said, smiling and placing her hand on the cheek of Dekus.  After a moment, the woman turned her attention to Ozmos, who stood tall and defiant before the First Gods.  “Do you know who I am?”

“Of course my lady,” Ozmos replied, bowing his head slightly.  “You are Ielis, wife to Dekus and mother of the First Gods.  I am honored to speak with you.”

“You come before us speaking of honor,” Ielis affirmed, “but then you proceed to inform us that we are antiquated and obsolete.  It seems you are the god of contradictions, if not the god of good judgement.”

Ozmos let out a long sigh, then lowered his head before speaking again.  “I must beg your forgiveness I’m afraid.  It was not my intention to insult you, your husband, or any of the First Gods.  Nor was it my desire to be the cause of confrontation.  I am not a warrior like your son, Atul, the God of War.  I am a god who spreads the tenets of peace, the words of love, the code of brotherhood.  I have not come to your temple, your home, to attack or threaten you.  I have come only to show you the truth of the world outside this temple.”

“And what truth might that be,” Ielis inquired dubiously.

“A simple truth,” Ozmos replied.  “One that should be obvious to those not blinded by pride or arrogance.  As I have stated, I am new to the role of god.  Once, I was but a mere mortal man elevated to the position of god by those who believed in me and placed their faith in me.  Being that I was once mortal, my followers see me as one of their own.  A god who cares more about the people of the world than about his own power.  I am here to warn you that my followers are growing at an exponential level, converting even those who once followed the First Gods.  As I said, this is the path of progress, and I fear that the First Gods are in danger of being wiped from existence by such progress.”

“And so, you have come to our domain out of concern for our existence?  You are telling us that you are acutally concerned about those that you are usurping?”

“I am not trying to usurp the First Gods, my Lady.  If I had my choice, I would gladly share my faithful with the First Gods.  I am afraid,  however, that such a thing is not possible.  It is the will of the people that the order of the First Gods fade from existence, leaving only myself as the one true God of the people.”

“This is preposterous,” Dekus bellowed, springing up from his throne and waving an angry fist at Ozmos.  “You claim that you are no warrior, yet you are clearly here to challenge us!  And yet, you are but a single, solitary god, challenging a pantheon of many.  Why should we care what you have to say to us?  What could you possibly have to challenge us with?”

“Again Old Father,” Ozmos replied calmly, “I am not here to attack you.  I am here to inform you.  Your days of godhood are waning.  Soon, you will fade away as your faithful are all converted to following me.  Your existence will be forgotten, and you will be nothing more than stories parents tell their children to bore them to sleep at night.”

Dekus glared at Ozmos for a long moment before finally letting out a loud, boisterous laugh.  “I have to admire your fearlessness Ozmos.  I question whether it is courage or foolhardiness that motivates you to challenge we the First Gods, who have ruled the heavens for thousands of years.  You say you are here to warn us of our impending demise, so tell me then, what do you propose.  What is the true reason for your visit here?”

“Despite what you might think,” Ozmos replied, “I do not actually wish to see you or your pantheon destroyed or eliminated.  That is not my way.  I am actually here to make you an offer.  Your reign as gods will be over soon, but your legacy can live on if you choose to join me and my gospel.  I will canonized as the first of my saints.  It is an honor I bestow on only the holiest of my flock.  You will be remembered always as my disciples, immortilzed in scripture for all time.”

Dekus stared coldly at Ozmos, his eyes narrowing thoughtfully as he rubbed his bearded chin.  Dekus then took a deep breath, exhaling it slowly.

“I have an alternate offer,” Dekus said at last.  “A true test of the validity of your statements.  If you are so certain that your flock is stronger than mine, then I propose a wager.  A true test of the faith of our followers.  I propose that we each choose a champion among our faithful to represent us.  These champions will face each other with their faith in their hearts and we shall see whose is stronger.  We each give our champion a set of weapons and armor that is strengthened by their faith and see who’s faith prevails.”

“An interesting proposition,” Ozmos responded, nodding his head thoughtfully.  “And what will be the stakes to such a wager?”

“If you win,” Dekus answered, “then I, and all the First Gods, will agree to your offer.  We will relinquish our godhood and agree to become these saints that you speak of without any further resistance or complaint.”

“And if you should somehow happen to defeat me?”

“Then you will give up your godhood, tell your followers that you are a fraud, and return to your existence as a mere mortal.  I will even allow you to become a legend among our followers.  I will create a parable about you, the man who challenged the First Gods and lost.  Your story will forever be a moral for all to learn from.  How do you respond to my proposition Ozmos?”

Ozmos turned his glance towards the fire pit in the center of the room as he pondered the offer presented by the Old Father.  Weighing his confidence in his faithful against the risk of losing such a wager, Ozmos came to the conclusion that there could only be one possible outcome for his beloved flock of followers.

“Yes Old Father,” Ozmos answered slowly.  “I have as much faith in my followers as they have in me.  The terms you have put forth are acceptable.  I agree to your wager.”

“Excellent,” Dekus replied with a laugh.  “Then let it be so.  Let us now go and find our champions and make our preparations.”

“As you wish,” Ozmos said, bowing respectfully towards the First Gods.  “Shall we reconvene once all is ready to witness the challenge?”

“Indeed we shall,” Dekus replied cheerfully.  “I look forward to the contest.  I must thank you Ozmos.”

“Thank me for what?”

“Existence has been a bit mundane for me of late,” Ozmos stated.  “You have brought a touch of excitement into my life.  No matter the inevitable outcome of our game here, I am at least grateful for this experience.”

“I am happy to breathe some new life in your ancient existence,” Ozmos said casually as he walked out of the antechamber.

On Blackened Wings

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You Burn

Rand could not hold back his joyous laughter as he soared through the air on his newly acquired wings.  As the cool wind gently nipped at his face, Rand felt the troubles and concerns of his life slip away into nothingness.  At that moment, all Rand cared about was the feeling of unparalleled freedom he felt soaring among the clouds.  Rand had never dreamed that flying high in the sky could feel so truly amazing, and he found himself wishing that he never had to touch the ground again.  As Rand began to feel more comfortable with his newly acquired wings, he began to test himself by attempting to mimic the actions of the birds that he had witnessed in the sky.  Rand pulled his wings close to his sides, and launched into  a free-fall towards the ground below.  Seconds before reaching the ground, Rand opened his wings again, catching the air perfectly to halt his fall and send him back up towards the sky, spinning and laughing as he rose.  Once he reached a high enough altitude, Rand dove towards the ground again.  Instead of rising back to the sky, Rand this time opened his wings further to allow himself to soar low to the ground.  Rand let out a triumphant shout as he watched the ground below him speed past.

As he soared along, close to the ground, Rand suddenly noticed a strange creature crawling on the ground ahead of him.  As he got closer, Rand noticed that the creature was actually a man.  Rand recognized the man immediately as he flew over him, and the joy in his heart was instantly consumed by pure hatred.  Rand adjusted his flight to bring himself back into the sky, and he circled around to get another view of the Seraph below him.

“How do you still live.” Rand shouted to the Seraph too far below him to hear.  “How is it possible?  I told the elders we should have killed you!”

Rand continued to circle the Seraph below him like a vulture waiting to feast, cursing the gods for sparing the creature’s life.  Letting anger take control, Rand dropped into another dive, aimed directly at the Seraph below.  Rand felt his blood boiling in his veins as he soared towards his target, and his mind began to focus on getting his revenge.  In a matter of seconds, Rand reached the Seraph, but was soaring too fast.  Unable to control himself, Rand crashed into the Seraph and rolled several feet before coming to a halt.  Rand moaned as he felt the pain of several broken ribs and a fractured jaw.  As Rand tried to get back to his feet, he heard another moan from the nearby Seraph.

“How,” Rand hissed, spitting out blood.  “How do you still live?”

Rand tried to stand but found that he had sprained his ankle as well, forcing him to drop back to the ground.  Rand fought back tears caused by a mix of pain and frustration as he looked over to the Seraph lying broken several feet away from him.  The Seraph began to attempt to move again, and Rand found his mind filling with hatred and anger once again.

“Die, damn you,” Rand shouted.  “Why won’t you just die?”

The Seraph responded to Rand’s question by coughing up blood, drove Rand past his breaking point.  With a scream of anger mixed with intense pain, Rand rose to his feet, ignoring his injuries, and hobbled over to the Seraph.  Letting out an anguished cry, Rand grabbed the Seraph and mustered all the strength he had left to launch himself back into the sky.  Though it was a great struggle, Rand lifted the Seraph high into the air, leaving the ground far below him.  Once he rose as high as he felt he could go, Rand released his grip on the Seraph, letting his son’s killer fall.  Rand began to fly in a circular pattern, watching intently as the Seraph dropped to the ground.  An eternity later, the Seraph crashed into the ground violently, leaving a bloody splatter around his body.

Rand felt a sense of relief as he stared at the lifeless body of his son’s murderer lying on the ground below him, and the tears began to flow from his eyes.  Moments later, Rand’s relief was turned to horror as he felt a burning sensation on his back.  In his peripheral vision, Rand could see flames coming from behind him.  Before Rand could realize what had happened, his wings had caught fire and burned up, leaving a mass of charred skin on his back.  Rand let out another pain filled scream as his once glorious wings burned off, leaving him charred and falling back to the earth.  Despite the agony of losing his wings, all Rand could focus on was his family as he fell to his death.  A brief moment later, Rand’s body crashed into the ground bringing his life to a painful end.

“I’m sorry Waryn,” a white-winged Seraph named Gabras announced.  “Your son did not survive the fall.”

“My son,” Waryn whispered as he knelt  over his son’s lifeless body.  “What did those animals do to you?”

” I can’t explain what happened here,” The Gabras stated.  “It seems that Ezkel’s wings have been chopped off his body, and his death seems to have been caused by the fall from that.  But, I can’t possibly imagine how that is possible.  We may never know the true story of how your son was slain.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Waryn stated coldly.  “All that matters is that my son lies dead in the dirt like some common beast.  Wrap up his body so that we can take him back home and give him a proper ritual.”

“Of course Waryn,” Gabras said, then turned his attention to the burnt and broken body of the Devlin lying nearby.  “And what of this beast?”

“Leave it,” Waryn snapped.  “I know that creature is somehow responsible for the death of my son.  Leave it lying in the dirt for the other beasts to feed on.  That is a fitting end for that creature.”

Waryn let his tears flow as he and Gabras wrapped Ezkel’s body in a large cloth.  The two Seraph then launched into the sky, carrying Ezkel’s body back to his home for a proper burial.

On Blackened Wings: Part Three

cooltext1595959836Written by Derrick Nadeau

Part Three

You Suffer

Rand studied the damage done to his village as he walked back to his farm from the town square.  Looking at all the destruction and pain caused by the Seraph attack, Rand found it difficult to agree with the sentence the village elders had decided on.  Rand had argued his point that the Seraph he had captured should be put to death immediately, but the elders would not allow such violence in their village.  Instead, the elders decided that the captured Seraph would be stripped of his wings and released outside the village to find his own way home, or die trying.  Rand found himself hoping for the death of the Seraph, a fitting end to the monster that took his son’s life, but also prayed to the gods that the death would be long and painful.  Rand took a deep breath, attempting to push down his anger and hatred to think with a clear mind, but the attempt was made futile the moment he once again saw the captured Seraph pinned to the side of his farmhouse.  Rand walked up to the Seraph, ignoring the questions from his wife and youngest son regarding the decision of the elders.

“I want to kill you,” Rand spat at the Seraph.  “Right here, right now, I want to kill you to avenge the son that you took from me.”

The Seraph, weakened by loss of blood and dehydration, began to cough violently until flecks of blood began to form on his lips.  Rand grabbed a nearby bucket of cold water and dumped it on the head of the Seraph.  The Seraph then began to struggle violently, attempting to pull his wings free from the crossbow bolts that held them firm to the farmhouse wall, while also attempting to break the rope that Rand had used to tie his hands together.

“You are too weak to break free now monster,” Rand shouted.

“Then kill me,” the Seraph hissed, barely able to speak.  “Kill me and take your revenge!”

Rand grabbed an ax that had been leaning against the wall nearby, charged towards the Seraph, lifted the ax to strike a fatal blow, then paused.

“I cannot,” Rand said, his arm shaking as he held the ax up.  “I am not allowed to kill you.  The elders have decided that you shall live.”

The Seraph began to laugh at that moment.  A weak, raspy laugh that could only be heard by Rand.

“Weak,” the Seraph hissed as he laughed.

“Say that again,” Rand said through gritted teeth.

“I will say it again, and again,” the Seraph continued, his voice becoming louder though still hoarse.  “You are weak!  Weak little animals!  That is why we hunt you.  The gods made you for the sole purpose of being prey for the mighty Seraph.  You are fooling yourselves if you think otherwise.”

“We are not animals,” Rand shouted,  “Look around you!  We have built ourselves a civilization here.  We are peaceful farming community.  We have never harmed your people.  We have given you no cause to slaughter us year after year.”

“The gods give us cause,” the Seraph said.  “You can pretend you are civilized all you like, but you always have been, and always will be animals put here for the Seraph to hunt and kill.  That is all you will ever be.”

“How can you say such things,” Rand asked.  “How can you look me in the eye and say such things to me.”

“Look you in the eye,” the Seraph asked in return.  “I look you in the eye and it only confirms my beliefs.  Look at yourself animal.  See yourself as we see you.  With your yellow eyes that glow red at night.  The horns that protrude out of the tops of your beastly heads.  Horns that point to the sky as if you are constantly praying to the gods.  It is my people that have been given the blessing of the gods.  My people who have been given wings so that we may soar in the heavens with the gods while you filthy animals work in the dirt where you belong.”

“Stop calling us animals,” Rand shouted, finding it harder to hold back his urge to kill the Seraph.

“Why would I,” the Seraph asked smugly.  “You are proving my point.  Look at how angry you are.  I can see your pathetic, animal emotions fighting to take control of you.  I can see it in your beastly face.  The faces of my people are beautiful, hand carved by the gods themselves.  While your faces are ugly and hairy.  Your noses are flat like the swine you tend to in your pens there.  Even your feet bear hooves, just like the feet of your pigs.”

“Stop now,” Rand shouted.  “Or I swear I will kill you no matter what the elder’s decision!”

“Then do it animal,” the Seraph shouted.  “Prove me right!  Show this world what an animal you still are.  Through aside your facade of civility and give in to your true nature.  Become the sad little beast I know you to be!”

Rand lifted the ax as high as he could, let out a blood-curdling scream, and sent the ax down with all the strength he had into the flesh of the Seraph.  As the Seraph let out his own agonized scream, Rand’s wife let out a gasp of shock as she grabbed her young son and turned his innocent eyes away from the brutal scene.  A spatter of blood smacked Rand in the face, and he felt a twinge of satisfaction as he again bit into the Seraph’s flesh with his ax.  Rand’s wife tried to cover her son’s ears with her hands to protect the child from the screams of agony mixed with the aggressive growl of her husband.  Rand’s wife closed her own eyes and listened to the sickening thud of the ax finding its target again and again until finally, the screaming died down to moaning.  Rand’s wife took a deep breath, slowly opened her eyes, then turned to see what her husband had done.

“It is done,” Rand said, spitting on the broken, wingless Seraph lying on the ground before him.  Rand looked up at his wife and son, who were staring back at him with expressions of pure shock, then quickly moved his gaze to the black wings still bolted to the farmhouse.  the wings twitched slightly, and Rand was pleased to see blood dripping down from the areas that  he had chopped away from the back of the Seraph.  As he stared at the wings, Rand heard the sounds of his fellow villagers approaching behind him.

“You have kept your word,” Delphon, one of the village elders announced as he approached Rand and the broken Seraph lying before him.

“I have,” Rand said back.  “I would not defy the wishes of the elders.  I thank you for at least allowing me the honor of carrying out the monster’s sentence.”

“I know you do not agree with our decision Rand,” Rigus, another elder spoke up.  “But, I hope in time you will come to understand it.  We cannot allow ourselves to become like them.  We cannot allow violence to become our way.”

“I do understand,” Rand said.  “Deep down, I know that we must be the animals these monsters think we are.  It is just hard to deal with the murder of my son.”

“We do hope this has brought some sort of closure for you,” Rigus said.  “Perhaps you will see that justice has been done for your son’s death.”

“Perhaps,” Rand whispered to himself, then cleared his throat before addressing the villager.  “Let’s get these wounds cauterized so we can get this monster out of our village for good then.”

“I brought a nice, hot iron for just that purpose,” Hark, the village blacksmith announced as he approached the broken Seraph.

Rand felt another twinge of satisfaction as he watched the blacksmith use his hot iron to cauterize the open wounds left in the Seraph’s back by the removal of his wings.  Rand allowed himself to find pleasure in the pain filled screams of the monster that had taken his son from him.  Though the elder’s had not allowed Rand to seek his vengeance in the death of the monster, taking the wings of the Seraph proved to be a favorable alternative.  Rand closed his eyes and pictured his son’s face, then let out a long sigh that helped him release some of his pain into the heavens.

“You are with the gods now my son,” Rand whispered as he looked to the sky with tears in his eyes.  “Though my heart is heavy, I take comfort knowing you are looking down on us.  You will always be loved here.”

On Blackened Wings: Part Two

cooltext1595959836

Written by Derrick Nadeau

Part Two

You Hunt

Rand wiped sweat off his brow as he stared up towards the sun standing high in the noon time sky.  Taking a swig of water from his flask, Rand stared at the field around him.  The year had been good for farming, and the crops had yielded a bountiful harvest.  Rand looked over to his eldest son, Emrik, harvesting tomatoes nearby and smiled proudly.  Rand looked back to his farmhouse and saw his youngest son, Donno, tending to the pigs in their pen with his mother, and his smile grew prouder.  Rand’s favorite time of year was quickly approaching, the end of harvest when the air would start becoming cooler and the leaves would change, and he was anxious to spend that time taking his sons out to the forest to hunt for wild game.  Though his people had been farmers for generations, planting crops and raising livestock, Rand had decided to rekindle the old traditions of hunting game in the fall and winter to sustain his family during the harder periods of cold and snow.  Rand had even used his skills as a tinkerer to upgrade his hunting weapons, such as turning a simple bow and arrow into a crossbow to improve his chances.  Rand had tried to share his inventions with his entire village, but was denied by his village elders.  The elders had decided that farming provided all the food needed by the village, and the old traditions of hunting wild animals for food no longer needed to be used for sustenance.  Rand shook his head and let out a chuckle as he thought about the arguments he had tried to use to convince the elders that hunting would add to the food supply in the harsh winters, and help everyone survive.  The elders quickly dismissed Rand’s claims, telling him that the farmlands yielded plenty of food for the entire village.  Though they had determined that hunting did not need to be used as an alternate food source, they would not deny anyone that chose to hunt on their own.  Rand had taught his sons to hunt, building crossbows for both, as well as a few of his closest friends.

Rand’s thoughts were interrupted suddenly by the sound of a bell ringing loudly at the edge of the village.  The bell was an alarm warning the village of an approaching attack by the mortal enemy of Rand’s village, the Seraph.  The Seraph, a race of winged hunters and warriors, believed themselves superior to Rand’s race, the Devlin.  With their horned heads and hoofed feet, the Devlin were treated as nothing more than mere animals by the Seraph  to be hunted and killed in a yearly ritual dedicated to the Gods.  The fact that the Devlin were merely farmers also led to the Seraph seeing them as weak pacifists that deserved to be hunted.

“Emrik,” Rand shouted to his son, “That’s the alarm!  The Seraph are coming!  Get to the house, now!”

Emrik responded immediately, dropping his basket of tomatoes and running full speed towards the farmhouse.  Rand followed closely behind, but could not match his son’s speed.  Emrik reached the farmhouse, paused, and turned to make sure his father was not too far behind.  Emrik was relieved to see that his father was only a couple of steps behind him, and he turned his gaze up to the sky.  Emrik could see the silhouettes of several Seraph hunters in the sunlight, and his heart filled with dread.

“They’re coming father,” Emrik shouted, pointing to the sky.  “Hurry!”

Rand reached the doorway of his house, breathing heavily, and turned to look in the direction his son was pointing in time to see the Seraph diving towards Rand’s village, their spears hungry for blood.

“Get in the house,” Rand hissed through heavy breaths.

“But father,” Emrik protested.

“Go,” Rand shouted.  “Make sure your mother and brother are safe!”

As Emrik ran to find his mother and brother, Rand looked to his tool shed several yards away from the house and calculated his chances of making it to the shed safely. The crossbows Rand and his sons used to hunt were stored in that shed, and he knew that he would need the weapons to keep his family safe from the sky hunters.  Rand took a deep breath, cursed his fortune, and ran at full speed towards the shed.  With his focus centered on the shed in front of him, Rand did not see the Seraph bearing down on him.  Rand let out an agonized shout as the Seraph swooped down and knocked Rand to the ground.  Rand rolled over, holding his now aching ribs, to see the Seraph, a young hunter with black wings, circling back to attack again.

“Father,” Rand heard Emrik shout as he ran out to help his father.

“No son,” Rand shouted back.  “Stay in the house!  Don’t worry about me!”

Rand watched in horror as the black winged Seraph swooped down again, this time aiming for his son.  Rand struggled to get to his feet as his son was knocked to the ground by the Seraph.  Rand fought the urge to run to his son’s side, knowing that he would not be able to protect his son without a weapon.  As tears filled his eyes, Rand turned and ran to the shed, the sound of Seraph wings taunting him from the air.  As Rand approached the shed, he put his head down and ran into the door of the shed.  Using his momentum coupled with the hard bone of the horns on his head, Ran was able to easily break through the locked door of the shed in one single attempt.  Once inside the shed, Rand grabbed his crossbow and a quiver of bolts,  and quickly loaded a bolt into the crossbow.  Rand rushed out of the shed to see his son lying on the ground with the black winged Seraph standing over him.  Before Rand could react, the Seraph stabbed his spear into Emrik’s chest, piercing the young Devlin’s heart.

Rand let out a blood curdling scream as he watched the spear pierce his son’s chest several more times.  Acting on pure impulse, Rand lifted his crossbow, aimed it at the black winged Seraph, and released a bolt.  The bolt soared through the air and found its mark, piercing through the right arm of the Seraph.  The Seraph let out a cry of pain as he grabbed on to the bolt protruding from his arm.  The Seraph turned to face Rand, raising his wings to take flight.  Rand had quickly loaded another bolt into his crossbow, and he rushed to fire it at the Seraph.  The second bolt found its way to the Seraph’s wing, boring into the thin, feather covered flesh, and sending the Seraph careening backwards towards Rand’s nearby farmhouse.  The Seraph screamed as the bolt found purchase in the wall of the farmhouse, trapping him against the wall.  Rand, having once again loaded his crossbow, fired another bolt into the Seraph’s other wing, preventing the creature from escaping.

Once Rand had determined that the Seraph was securely trapped against the wall of his farmhouse, he ran to his son’s side and cradled the boy in his arms.  With the sounds of the Seraph struggling to free himself echoing through the air, Rand stared down at his son with tear filled eyes.  Rand watched helplessly as the god of death stole his son’s life away, offering a prayer for the safe travel of his son’s soul to the heavens.  Once the life had fully slipped away from Emrik, Rand closed his son’s eyes and kissed him on the forehead.

Rand grabbed his crossbow, then focused his hate filled gaze on the captured Seraph.

“You took my son from me you bastard,” Rand shouted as he loaded another bolt into his crossbow.

The Seraph did not reply, but instead focused solely on the bolts holding his wings to the wall of the farmhouse.

“My son,” Rand shouted, aiming the crossbow at the Seraph’s head and walking towards the hunter.  “My eldest son!  You took his life!  You stole my son from me!”

The Seraph turned his focus to the crossbow aimed at his head, his eyes growing wide, but still did not respond.

“Do you not feel a bit of remorse,” Rand asked, still shouting.  “What kind of horrible creature are you?  You murdered my son!  For what purpose?  To appease your cruel gods?  How many sons of my people have been taken by your hunters?  And now look at you.  Trapped here by my bolts.  Your wings useless to you now.  I should just put another bolt in your head and finish you!  Or perhaps through your heart as you did to my son!”

“Please,” the Seraph cried out at last.  “Please don’t kill me!”

“So you can speak,” Rand said.  “And those are the words you choose to say to me?  To beg for your life?  You did not even give my son time to beg for his.”

“Please,” The Seraph said again as Rand pushed the head of the crossbow bolt into the his chest.

“Beg all you want monster,” Rand spat.  “You killed my son.  There is no reason for me to spare your life.”

“Perhaps there is,” A voice said from behind Rand.

Rand turned to see several of his fellow villagers approaching his farmhouse, including the elders.  Rand turned back to the Seraph and once again pointed his crossbow at his head.

“He killed my son,” Rand said, addressing the approaching villagers.  “He deserves nothing less than death.”

“Our village has lost many sons this day,” One elder said.  “And we will lose many more when the hunters return in the next few days.  And yet, you have done something that has never been done before Rand.  You have captured one of the hunter’s own sons.  We understand your need for justice in your son’s death Rand.  But, perhaps there is a better way.  A way that will show the Seraph that we will no longer sit by and allow them to take our people from us.”

Rand took a deep breath, glared back at the captured Seraph, then lowered his crossbow reluctantly.

“Tell me your plan,” Rand finally said after a long pause.  “Convince me why I should not just kill him outright.”

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