Post by LiquidChicagoTed on Nov 20, 2018 22:49:56 GMT
Prologue: Sand and Stars
A blinding, white light was the last thing he saw with his eyes. Then darkness, nothing but darkness and agony, as his silent screams filled the black void around him. But between the screams, his thoughts raced on, as he realized the situation he was in, as he realized where he had been banished to.
Limbo, the place between the spheres...
Limbo, the place between the spheres...
"So you did it at last, brother mine... Undoubtedly a safe prison and so very much unlike you, dooming someone to eternal unrest and agony. Any ordinary mortal would grow mad in this place. Then again, your sycophants call me mad already. And we both know, I am neither ordinary, nor mortal. It seems there is a small detail you missed, brother mine... a detail that will lead to your undoing. Not today, not tomorrow, but maybe in four hundred years or in a thousand... we will meet again..."
“When in the Nine Rivers, an ancient dragon bar a soulstone and a soulstone bar an ancient dragon linger...”
- The Al'Anfanian prophecies, Verse II: Of Dragons and Emperors, Fifth Sentence
“Let it be known that Liscom Ghosipar and every single one of his associates, the so-called “Borbaradians” are hereby banned from the halls of the Al'Achami, the city of Fasar and the Brotherhood of the Knowing. They are lawless, without the protection of the black guild and may never step foot within the lands of Tulamidiya again. As long as I remain your leader, the venom of borbaradianism shall not be allowed to take root within our proud halls. This shall be the first and last warning to all those who sympathize with Liscom's teachings. Future infringements will receive punishments more severe than the ones I issue hereby”
- Thomeg Atherion, spectability of the Academy of Mental Domination, Fasar, the year 995 BF
“I will be the first to admit, this is a problem, but not one we cannot work around. Atherion is a fool to get in our way, but I know what to do. His time will come, when the master returns at last. Let them laugh today, let them mock us and revel in their shallow victory, but know they will suffer each humiliation tenfold in time. Today, we go into hiding, but we will not give up. This I promise to you, my faithful student, we will succeed. Borbarad will return”
- Liscom the Fasarian in a private talk with his student, Sulman al'Venish
“When the dragon loses his soulstone, word shall spread of HIS coming power and HIS servant dies, yet cannot die...”
- The Oracles of Fasar, Verse I, First Sentence
The Gorian Desert
The year 1009 after Bosparan's Fall
There was one thing Liscom would never get used to in this bleak and outlandish place he had fled to. He was used to heat, hailing from the desert city of Fasar and in comparison, this place was almost chilly, especially at night. He was used to noise, albeit the ethereal howling of the wind that constantly swept red dust over his valley was quite something else when compared to the chatter of the city he lived in for all his life. And he was used to darkness, growing up in the shadows of the Al'Achami, where he had spent his miserable childhood.
No, what he truly would never get used to was the air itself. The Gorian desert was a place beyond nature, twisted by the Mage War, warped beyond healing by Rohal's spell. Few had visited this place, even fewer had studied it in the way Liscom had done. He wondered, would they still worship Rohal? Would they still call him wise, if only they could see what he did to the Gor, all just to banish his own brother to a fate worse than death?
Liscom sighed, as he looked over his valley. Perhaps the only place in the entire desert plateau that was spared from Rohal's wrath, by virtue of being located in a valley, a crater, surrounded by his, natural walls from all sides. The relentless red dust swept over the valley, blocking out the sun on all but the brightest of days, but there was just enough life left to form an oasis amid the nightmare. Sparse vegetation, sturdy trees and bushes who survived the extreme climate of the arcane desert. Animals, small, shy, but determined as life itself.
But the air... he took a deep breath and frowned. It was dry, so terribly dry. He suppressed the heavy cough that had been plaguing him for a while now, as he turned to the statue atop the tower. Of course, it wasn't his tower, he was just occupying it. The true owner of the tower, the valley and the entire Gorian desert was the one who was depicted there, the one he would give it all for. Borbarad...
“Master...”, Liscom mumbled, as he knelt down. The statue was made out of black stone, polished to the point where the man saw his own reflection in it, the pale, handsome face, the beard covering his chin, but also the first signs of ageing. He sighed. Slowly, but steadily, he, the most devoted of Borbard's servants, was running out of time. And that caused him to grow desperate.
“I don't know if you can hear me...”, he continued, in a weak, hoarsy voice. “But I must speak regardless...” He paused, blinking a few particles of red dust from his eyes. It stung even after he removed it. “We have almost done it”, he then said, his hand moving to the bag on his belt. Reaching into it, a slight smile stole its way onto his face. “I have the soulstone. The workers have mined the Mindorium. Urdo and Sulman have prepared the sacrifice. We are many, oh master, who await your return”
He frowned, as he heard the panting from below him, where the winding stairway led along the side of Borbarad's tower and refrained from showing the statue what he had in his bag. Instead, he just silently looked at the sharp features, cast into black stone. Even after centuries out here, subjected to the unnatural wind and the spheric howling, the master's face was untouched by the elements. The very image of a Sorcerer Lord. Proud he looked, stern and strong. There was something soothing in his appearance, as it should be. There was no one else Liscom would ever accept above him, but that one, he would give him everything he had.
And he saw himself in Borbarad's features, the pale, ageing face, the dark beard that covered his lower jaw. A mere mortal and yet, he was proud of what he had accomplished. Born to poor parents who worked themselves into an early grave, Liscom had seen too much death even before he had grown into a man. Back then, he had already known how unfair their death had been. His father had been strong and hard-working. His mother had been intelligent. And yet, they both died, just because they were born in the gutter, while high above them, useless men and women sat in their palace without ever doing a day's work.
Liscom had been ready to die with them. And yet, he did not and the reason behind that was what he saw as the greatest injustice of them all. What had saved him from sharing his parents' fate was simply the fact that he was born different. Born a mage. In another life, he would have been the greatest mage of his time. In this, where Liscom Ghosipar was merely a poor orphan, it was enough to at least pull him from the streets, to allow him to study at the Al'Achami in the heart of Fasar. His powers had given him a chance and though it saved his life, there were days where he despised himself for it. What right did he have to survive, when so many who were just like him had never been given the chance?
That was what Borbarad had been preaching. A chance for everyone, not just those who were lucky, not just those who were born rich, but for the people Liscom himself had cared for his entire life. Those down on their luck, the poor in the gutter. Maybe Borbarad's world would not make them kings all of a sudden. Liscom was not naïve enough to believe that all of them would make it. But the freedom he offered came by offering equal opportunities. Magic for all of them, no matter if they were born with it or not and freedom to find their own path. Freedom from the tyranny of Alveran, as even the gods would have to earn their worship. To all as they deserve...
Liscom's enraptured smile narrowed as the panting had reached the top of the staircase. He could see the stocky figure behind him, a good three feet shorter and with a long, bushy beard, as dark as his eyes. It was rare for an anvil dwarf to follow the teachings of Borbarad, but Kurun, for all his flaws, had been exceptionally loyal. His servitude had left both, himself and Liscom stronger. “Master...”, he gasped and Liscom noticed that he was armed with his short battleaxe and clad in chainmail. “Master, we have a problem”
“Speak, Kurun”, he replied impatiently, as his servant gulped. Briefly, he realized he had interrupted Liscom during his morning prayers and he lowered his gaze. “It's the group that followed Sulman and Urdo from Khunchom”, he revealed. “They are here and they are more than we thought. The guards are dead, the... the workers are free and Sulman was injured”
The last actually caused Liscom to tense up. “Is he...”, he began, but Kurun cut him off. “He's alive, master, though he had to flee”, he revealed and Liscom's glare softened a bit. “Good”, he sighed. “And Urdo?” Kurun glanced over his shoulder. “Downstairs”, he said. “He prepares for the attack, but... Master, I don't think we stand a chance against the intruders. Perhaps we should avoid a fight. Flee, like Sulman did, so that we can continue the fight another day”
The mage sighed. Then, he gently shook his head. “My dear servant, we will do no such thing”, he spoke. “And Sulman did not flee, he merely followed my orders” The dwarf raised a bushy eyebrow. “You ordered him to flee?”, he asked, to which Liscom smirked. Slowly, he walked past Kurun and towards the winding staircase that led down into the depths of the tower.
The dwarf followed his master faithfully, as Liscom glanced down the stairs and out of the narrow windows. He could barely see in the twilight that reigned beneath the red skies of the Gorian desert, especially as it had to be night by now, but he knew, somewhere down there were those who tried to stop him. They weren't the first, they wouldn't be the last. Liscom had overcome adversity through strength. He had gained freedom through sheer will. He would not leave this world until Borbarad would return at last.
Urdo of Gisholm awaited them below. He was a short man, just a little over a foot taller than Kurun, with dirty blonde hair and a patchy beard. His chest, clad in green leather, raised quickly under his breathing and his blue eyes darted restlessly from Liscom to Kurun. The mage could clearly see the red in the man's eyes, just one of several indicators that Urdo had, in fact, sold his soul. Liscom felt a strong dislike towards demon cultists, opportunists who had nothing in mind but power. True, there could be legitimate reasons to enter a pact with one of the Archdemons, but those examples were rare. Urdo was a kinslayer and traitor, a man who murdered his own brother to gain brief and meaningless control over an impoverished barony. The only thing that kept him in line was the fact that he was also a coward, simply too afraid of Liscom's arcane power.
“Master”, he mumbled, barely lowering his gaze, his voice a nervous whisper. He was tensed up, more on the edge than usual and it was not just because of the demon he had sworn himself to. Lolgramoth, the Seeder of Strife, the Archdemon of betrayal. Restless like his master, Urdo was fast, faster than any human could ever hope to be on their own. Of course, he was a necessary evil, a force Liscom could not simply disregard, especially not that his allies were dwindling.
“How is the situation downstairs, Urdo?”, he asked and the demon cultists sighed. “Guards all dead”, he said and he spoke uncomfortably fast. “Barricaded doors, but they have a mage. Bet they'll get through soon” As if to prove him right, Liscom heard something heavy slamming against the entrance of his tower below.
“Killed one of them”, Urdo continued. “Guards got another one. Leaves six” He glanced at the scimitar in his hand. “You think we can take them?” Liscom nodded, a confident smile on his face. “Follow me”, he said, as he slowly walked through the hallway. Kurun was right behind him, while Urdo nervously shuffled after them.
The room they entered was Liscom's study. It was a surprisingly spacious room, with a high ceiling and a window overlooking the valley. Walking past the sturdy desk, Liscom glanced right out of this window and in the red twilight, he saw them, just about to enter his tower. Six figures, as Urdo had claimed. The darkness hid their features, but if they overwhelmed the guards down in the mines, then they were undoubtedly a threat.
“Barricade the door”, he hissed. “They'll break through, but any bit of strength they waste trying to get to us helps” Always obedient, Kurun went to work, while Urdo remained standing, his arms crossed. Liscom narrowed his eyes. “Didn't you hear?”, he hissed. “I gave you an order” This time, Urdo dared to nod. “Then what?”, he asked. “Should have followed Sulman. We stay, we die”
Liscom raised an eyebrow and Urdo seemed to realize it. “Got a plan?”, he asked, to which the mage merely nodded. “Come closer”, he spoke and the man did just that, as Liscom reached the the bag dangling from his belt. This time, he removed what he had been carrying in there and instantly, Urdo's eyes widened.
In his hand, Liscom held a red stone, just barely small enough to be held with one hand. A faint glimmer was coming from it and as a mage, he could feel the power radiating from it. Urdo was not a mage, but he was not stupid either. He recognized a dragon's soulstone when he saw one. “How did you...?”, he started, speaking slower than usual.
“By using the dragon's greatest weakness”, he spoke. “His pride was his undoing” He shrugged. “Now there's a dragon bar a soulstone somewhere in these lands, his powers, yes, even his memory stripped from him, trapped in a mortal form, as harmless as a rat”, he explained. “And we are one step closer to free the master from his prison” He narrowed his eyes. “If only there would be more time”
“We'll buy you time, master!”, Kurun growled, having finished barricading the door. To do so, he had toppled a small bookshelf, its priceless contents now spilled on the floor. Liscom frowned at this, but he said nothing. The bookshelf was sturdy and it would hold against profane weaponry. As such, he merely gave him a nod. Urdo hurried to rush next to the dwarf and together, they awaited what would come.
Liscom firmly grabbed the soulstone with his left hand. It was warm to the touch and its powers flew through him. Other mages would become arrogant, with such a weapon at their disposal. Liscom knew better though. And instead of relying solely on a soulstone that wasn't his, he reached for the slender staff that was leaning in the corner.
As tall as him, it was a single piece, made from dark oak and carefully crafted by the best woodcarvers in Fasar. The round top was painted red, with a black letter engraved in it, the B of the Zhayad alphabet. He felt the spells he had woven into his staff and they resonated with the soulstone in his other hand. A slight smile formed on his face. Six experienced fighters against three. The odds were against them, but Liscom the Fasarian had defied the odds for all his life.
“Master, are we going to die?”, Kurun asked, nervousness swinging in his gruff, dwarven voice and briefly, Liscom's expression softened. “We will not”, he promised him. “For we are Borbarad's chosen. The world will be a better place once he returns and we will not leave it until we saw his promise come true” This seemed to calm the dwarf a bit and he gave his master a nod. Then, he turned to the door and the trio prepared for what was about to happen.
They didn't have to wait for long, as footsteps were audible in the hallway beyond the door. “He has to be in here”, a male voice growled and someone tried to open it. “Locked”, the man growled and Liscom narrowed his eyes. He stood behind his desk, while Urdo and Kurun were closer to the door. The dwarf tightened the grip around his axe, while the cultist twirled his scimitar through thin air, as if he was fighting an invisible opponent. His speed was downright dizzying and Liscom forced himself to look at something else.
Just a moment later, the door began to shiver. Liscom raised an eyebrow, as he recognized the magic. An object spell, taught only in a few selected grey academies. Or, of course, the academies of the black guild. And just then, the entirety of the door melted, first at the top, all the way down to the bottom, like hot wax. The new gap revealed six figures on the hallway behind.
The mage who had cast the spell was a tall, lanky man, clad in a wide, black robe. His hair was cut short and his skin, though slightly tanned in the fashion of the Tulamids, was pale with exhaustion. Behind him, there stood a tall, blonde warrior with a braided beard, flanked by a slender, dark-haired woman with the flat nose and the slightly almond-shaped eyes that were so typical to the Maraskanians. The blonde man held an axe, almost as large as Kurun, while the woman held a single-edged sword with both hands.
With wordless glares, they entered the room, revealing the other three. A beautiful elf woman stood there, armed with a spear, her red hair tied into a high braid and the look on her feline eyes pure spite. She and a hooded Novadi flanked the last of the six who had come to challenge Liscom Ghosipar in his home. He was stocky, not exactly fat, but definitely more on the heavy side, with a thick neck and a pale, fleshy face. His blonde hair was tied into a thin braid and the look on his face was insultingly neutral compared to the glares of his companions. Of course, that could only mean that he was more used to the unfortunate sights his companions had seen down in the mines. Clearly no stranger to combat, but definitely not an experienced warrior...
“Liscom the Fasarian!”, he snarled with an authoritative and unpleasant voice. “We have you outnumbered and outmatched. Your guards are dead and if you resist, we will cut you down as well. Surrender now and you and your companions will be brought into custody” He placed his hand on the hilt of the broadsword that dangled from his belt. On the other side, behind his back, Liscom spotted the hilt of a small crossbow, one of those that were becoming more popular in the western lands.
“Brave words”, Liscom admitted. “Brazen even” His generous smile narrowed until his lips formed a thin line. “And yet you are the intruder, Ser. You come into my home, you kill my guards and damage my property”, he added and his voice lowered with displeasure. “The least you can tell me is your name and the reason why you braved the dangers of the Gorian desert”
His request was a civilized one and he hoped to get the man to talk. In looks, speech and manners, he came from the Middenrealm and this was Liscom's luck. The woman from Maraskan or the blonde giant of a man would have likely attacked first, forcing him to improvise. Indeed, the calm, polite way of speaking visibly threw the man off. What had he expected? A babbling villain? Liscom was neither, though he knew his enemies liked to slander his name in such a name.
“Agent Delian of Plainsbridge”, the man finally introduced himself. “Middenrealm Intelligence” This actually surprised Liscom. He knew he had enemies who were still looking for him. Atherion's thugs, maybe the Banray. But Middenrealm Intelligence? He tilted his head and Delian drew his sword. “We have been hired to investigate the disappearance of several people between Samra and Khunchom”, the agent continued. “Your men barely did the effort to hide their trails”
Liscom threw a glare at Urdo, who sharply inhaled some air. “So, you found what you've been looking for, Agent Delian”, he said. “A smart man would have taken the workers and brought them back to their families. And yet you stormed my home and... melted my door” A quick, cocky grin flashed over the face of the maraskanian woman. “The maji blew up your front door as well”, she said and in doing so, she had revealed a bit too much. So, their mage actually was exhausted. Those were big spells and Liscom doubted the young man was particularly powerful, else he wouldn't have even joined this ill-fated rescue mission.
“We found what we were looking for, yes”, Delian confirmed. “We freed your slaves. Now we're here to bring justice to the ones who mistreated them” Liscom raised an eyebrow, then shook his head. “I never mistreated anyone”, he claimed. “What you saw down there was the work of the Al'Anfanians. Reliable mercenaries, skilled and properly ruthless. I just fear they have an irrational hatred of this land and its people ever since that unfortunate war happened”
“They beat people”, the blonde man spat. “They murdered people. People you told them to abduct. People you forced to work in your mines” He seemed ready to charge, but Delian, the fool, held him back. Of course, that was proper Middenrealm Intelligence. This man was not a hero, who would charge in head first. He was a spy, but not like in one of the romanticized stories Liscom had grown up with. No, if he had to compare Delian of Plainsbridge to an animal, it would be a cockroach. A particularly nosy cockroach, who broke into his home, to meddle with work that had long since been in the making.
Liscom felt no joy, having to admit that the accusation was true. But what he was preparing for was more important than the fates of a few. Borbarad's vision, for a better world. “This is about money, isn't it?”, Delian growled. “We found that arcane ore down in the mines. Mindorium, more than I've ever seen in my life. Must have taken you years to get all this. Who is your buyer, Fasarian?”
This time, the mage had to smirk about Delian's error. “There is no buyer”, he revealed freely. “I require it for myself, for a ritual” Neither the spy, nor most of his companions had an idea of how massive the implication was. At most, the mage showed a hint of concern, even if he was likely not good enough to fully grasp what Liscom was hinting at. Complex summoning often required Mindorium, the stronger the summoned entity, the more was needed of the ore, whose natural magical capacities made it highly sought after. Liscom's mine, safely hidden in the outlandish Gorian desert, it was perhaps the richest Mindorium mine in Aventuria. And the Mindorium he had gathered, it would be enough to summon a small army of horned demons.
“Well, there will be no ritual”, Delian stated. “Whatever demon you seek to unleash, it won’t happen. Now order your men to stand down!” His arrogance caused to get on Liscom’s nerves, but while he kept him talking, he studied the enemy mage. Wordlessly, he casted a simple analyzing spell over the other man. He recognized the arcane aura, vividly saw the sigil on the man’s left hand. A black mage, not trained in Fasar, but in Mirham, in the southern jungles. One of Savertine’s stundents.
“What I seek to unleash is no demon”, Liscom growled and with a look of concern, the elf woman gave the spy an urgent stare. “Give the order, Delian”, she whispered and Liscom smirked, as he saw Delian hesitating. He had gained the man’s curiosity and the ire of the rest. They failed to notice how Urdo’s free hand slowly wandered to the throwing knife tucked behind his belt.
“I seek to... no, I will free Borbarad”, Liscom explained and only the mage realized what this mean. He gasped, nearly jumping back in sudden fear. “You are Borbaradians!”, he exclaimed and Liscom nodded. “What is that?”, Delian asked and Liscom was all too eager to reply, while silently readying the soulstone. If the mage recognized what it was, he did not show it. “We follow the teachings of Borbarad”, he explained. “To simplify it, what we look for is equality. To each the chance they truly deserve, everyone according to their potential. A world without injustice, where heritage and worldly riches no longer determine who comes out on top” He smiled, a kind, charming smile. “A world where everyone can be free, if they are strong enough to take it”
They were the words his mentor had once spoken to him, many years ago, and they had resonated with the young Liscom, the orphan boy who saw the truth in them. Yet not everyone would agree, he knew this just as well. Delian of Plainsbridge was Middenrealm Intelligence through and through. He was so used to subservience, he didn’t even see the yoke he was chained to.
As such, it was no surprise that the agent shook his head. “Sounds like it’s not worth the price”, he said. “Liscom Ghosipar, you and your companions are under arrest. Surrender now and answer to the crimes your men commited down in the mines” With this, he finally drew his sword and Liscom knew, the talk was over. “It is a shame”, he admitted. “You all seem promising. You would have made it far in Borbarad’s world. But I cannot tolerate what you did today” And just a second later, Urdo threw his knife, faster than any of them would have thought.
The weapon did not, as Liscom had thought, hit the agent, but instead, it cut deeply into the huge, blonde man’s shoulder. As he stumbled back, bellowing in pain, Delian and his companions made their move. The Novadi, himself armed with a scimitar, stormed towards Urdo, who was readily expecting him. Meanwhile, the elf raised her spear towards Liscom, while the woman from Maraskan attacked Kurun. Delian himself supported the blonde warrior, while the mage...
“Pathetic”, Liscom spoke, as he moved his staff in the way of the tiny ball of fire his opponent was able to conjure. An Ignifaxius was not a very subtle spell, nor particularly complex and countering it with a Spellshield was one of the first things he had learned during his studies. The spell fizzled out the moment it reached his staff. At once, Liscom returned the favour, firing a cone of arcane fire towards the mage, past Kurun and Urdo, who were each holding off their own opponents.
As expected, the mage had protected himself, but his shield was weak and not enough to negate the spell entirely. Liscom’s Ignifaxius broke through it, weakened but still active, knocking the mage back, face first, and igniting the sleeves of his robe. A wide grin formed on his face, as he pointed the staff at his downed opponent, who frantically tried to prevent the fire from engulfing him. Yet before he was able to finish him, his eyes widened. The staff twirled to the side, as he knocked away the elf woman’s spear. She had thrown it at him and just a second later and she would have impaled him.
With this, she pulled out two long knives, storming at him immediately, while the downed mage prepared another spell. Liscom rolled his eyes. It was time to end this. And before the other mage was finished casting what would undoubtedly keep him busy at least, the soulstone flared up in his hand. The other mage had no time to scream, as Liscom called upon the dragon’s stolen power. Instantly, scalding hot fire engulfed his enemy, killing him in an instant. The stench of charred flesh was almost nauseating and the elf, with her delicate senses, staggered back in horror.
Delian of Plainsbridge just stared at the burning corpse that had been his companion, horror on his face and the realization that coming here had been a mistake. The blonde warrior though, despite his injuries, recovered quickly and he joined the Novadi in fighting against Urdo. What previously seemed a simple fight turned into a desperate struggle to survive, as Urdo, despite his speed, had to give it all to dodge the spinning axe of his new opponent, while keeping the skilled Novadi at bay.
Liscom allowed himself a brief, smug smile, yet it died down in an instant as he saw the woman from Maraskan landing a hit on Kurun. Her sword failed to damage the chainmail, yet the tip of it found the unprotected neck of the dwarf, drawing blood and knocking Kurun to the side, where he staggered on all fours. She wasted no time with charging at Liscom, before the mage could ready the powers of the carbuncle once more.
But he didn’t need them either way, did he? He was Borbarad’s chosen, but more than that, he was a mind mage, trained at the Academy of Mental Domination. As such, he readied the next spell he had spoken into his staff earlier today. The Imperavi was a complex spell and mastering it often took years. But when necessary, those years were more than worth it. His spell overcame her weak mental defences, shattering her will in an instant, as she stopped, just two feet away from him and almost in reach for her weapon. She stared at him, wide-eyed and with fear, completely aware of what was going to happen.
“Kill the elf”, Liscom ordered calmly and clearly against her will, she turned around, raising the sword and pointing it at the elf, who had just regained her determination, after witnessing the gruesome fate of the mage. Determination turned to horror, as she realized that her companion was unable to resist Liscom's order. The Maraskanian raised her sword and only barely did the stunned elf manage to parry.
Delian of Plainsbridge used this moment to charge at Liscom. However, before the mage even had to react, the faithful Kurun intervened. Still crouched on the ground, he reached for the naked flesh of Delian's ankle, but not just to hold him back. “Agony...”, Kurun growled. It was more than a word. It was a spell, a borbaradian spell that did exactly what it said. Cast with Kurun's own blood, it worked immediately. Delian's eyes widened, as the sword dropped from his hand. A helpless shriek came out of his throat, as he went onto his knees.
A second scream mixed itself into Delian's agonizing shrieks, as Urdo, faster than any human should be, spun his blade around, ripping the Novadi's throat out. He grinned widely at the bloodshed and instantly began to shower the blonde warrior with a multitude of blows. Though his opponent held against it bravely, he
“Don't!”, the elf said, as she parried another strike, but it was to no avail. The woman from Maraskan was no longer in control of her actions, focussed solely on Liscom's one order. And yet, the elf was a good fighter, able to parry with the feline grace that came so natural to her species. She raised her sword, parrying, dodging, evading and Liscom knew, she was about to make a terrible mistake, as he took a moment to breathe. Two of his opponents were dead and the rest was under control. He had the power of the soulstone at his disposal, if that was even necessary. It seemed, he would be able to continue his duty after all.
Just in this moment, the elf made the mistake he expected. It was common for those who fought against victims of domination magic to assume their opponents had a fragment of willpower left while under the effects of the spell. This was not the case and among the things that were gone was the basic survival instinct. In an attempt to force her friend back, the elf took a weak strike towards her opponent. However, the Maraskanian made no attempt to parry or dodge and what was meant to give the elf some space instead led to her friend getting stabbed in the chest.
With a sigh, Liscom removed the spell from the woman, who collapsed in an instant. Coughing blood, it was clear that the elf had mortally injured her, if only by accident. She reacted as expected, falling to her knees and letting go of her weapons, as she stared at her dying friend in horror. And Liscom the Fasarian knew what to do next. Faster than one would have expected from a bookish mage, he rushed towards the horrified elf, who wasn't even looking at him, yanking her away from her dead friend. Holding her close, as a human shield, he pressed the soulstone against her throat and she gasped at the heat it emitted.
Delian of Plainsbridge meanwhile had to witness this scene, incapacitated with pain. However, the sight of the elf in peril triggered some admirable strength in him, as he kicked back, hitting Kurun straight in the face. The dwarf let go and just like that, the spell was broken. Exhausted from the agony, it took him a moment to regain his footing. He was pale and sweaty, likely close to passing out and yet, he held on. Quickly reaching for his sword, he pointed it right at Liscom. “Let go of her!”, he snarled.
Just as he had said this, the blonde warrior, who was bleeding from several small cuts by now, managed to land a surprising hit on Urdo. He tossed the smaller man back, who fell heavily. Raising his axe, he roared in triump, ready to finish him and yet, Liscom was calm. He knew of Urdo's true strength. In one moment, he was lying on the ground. In the next, driven by a demonic restlessness, the cultist jumped up, his figure blurring for a moment. Then, his sword pierced the huge man's belly, deeper and deeper, all the way to the hilt.
With a wicked grin, Urdo removed the sword from his surprised opponent's intestines, taking a step to the side, as the blonde warrior sank to the ground. Liscom could tell, the elf had her eyes closed and he could feel her squirm in fear beneath his grip. “You were saying, Agent Delian?”, he asked, as Delian of Plainsbridge sighed. “I believe you just gave me an order”
“Let her go”, Delian repeated defiantly, the glare in his eyes unbroken. “If you spare her, we can negotiate a deal. Middenrealm Intelligence will leave you alone” Liscom raised an eyebrow. Maybe the agent believed his words to be true, but sooner or later, his report would reach the right person. Sooner or later, someone would realize what Liscom was trying to do and what it meant for the rotten world they have grown so accustomed to. And then they would hunt him down.
“I have a better idea”, he spoke. “Put down your weapon. I will spare both of you, if you work off your debt down in the mines” He smiled. “After all, you and your companions have caused significant damage to...” Just in this moment, a sharp pain flared through Liscom's left hand, the one holding the soulstone. A distraction! Delian had distracted him by talking and the elf had used this moment to ram her sharp canine teeth deep into the flesh of his hand.
Yanking her head back, she took a piece of flesh with her. Pain flared through his hand, the forearm and the entire left side of his body and Liscom groaned with anger. Before he was able to react, that blasted elf witch had grabbed the soulstone, throwing it over to Delian, who caught it with one hand. And then, it all happened quick, way too quick for Liscom.
Out of a reflex, he pushed the elf away from him, while Kurun jumped up, trying to attack Delian. The agent held the soulstone between them. He was not a mage, but the power within the stone only needed to be freed, not necessarily controlled. Liscom felt the heat on his skin, as Delian unleashed the dragon's fire. The flame engulfed Kurun, hotter than anything Liscom had ever deemed possible.
And in return, he himself used the same moment to push his staff into the elf's face, just as she spun around to attack him. “Kulminatio!”, he growled and a flash of lightning hit her right between her tilted eyes. It was enough to kill an ogre, let alone a slender elf and the force of the spell pushed her through the entire room, sending her face first into the molten remnants of the door, where her smoking corpse remained.
For a moment, Delian and Liscom just stared at each other. Kurun, burnt to ashes, the elf, a charred, electrocuted husk. The agent regained his strength quickly, as he pointed the soulstone at Liscom, who had expected this move. In the hands of a somewhat trained mage, it was a terrifying weapon. Thankfully, Delian was no mage, which limited the power of the stone quite notably. As such, while it was a severe blow, Liscom managed to weave his Spellshield faster than Delian's attack. The force destroyed the shield, but all that was left of it was some hot air that blew into Liscom's face.
“Urdo!”, he barked and his remaining servant acted quickly. Jumping towards Delian, he did, however, not expect the agent's immediate reaction. Shifting the soulstone into the cultist's direction, he unleashed a cone of fire from it that would have given Urdo the same fate Kurun just suffered. It was, once more, the pact with Lolgramoth that saved Urdo's life. The Archdemon looked after his follower once more and his form blurred, only to reappear near the door a second later.
Shock was visible on Urdo's face and finally, cowardice won over obedience, as he used his talents the way they had always been meant to. As Delian aimed the soulstone at him once more, Urdo just turned around and ran, out of the door, down the hallway and undoubtedly out of the tower. Liscom growled with displeasure, as his last servant simply abandoned him.
Not wasting a moment, Delian instead unleashed the soulstone once more. The fire hit the second of Liscom's arcane shields, the two spells obliterating each other. For a very brief moment, the mage glared with anger. He could not hold this up for much longer. “Now, Agent Delian...”, he said. “Say, what if I reconsider your offer?”
“Too late!”, Delian growled, as once more, a cone of flame left the soulstone. It was raw, downright painful to look at, like a child playing with a loaded siege weapon. And yet, that didn't make it any less deadly. Without a third Spellshield, Liscom had to act quickly, as he used his staff to knock the arcane fire to the side. The flames missed him just barely and he felt the painful heat on his skin, as the dreadful fire instead blasted through the window behind him, shattering it completely in the process.
Instead of looking as desperate as he felt in this very moment, Liscom managed a confident smile. This couldn't be the end. He was the master's chosen. He was the herald of Borbarad's coming, the one who would usher in the new world. Everything he had done, all he had sacrificed. He was so close. It couldn't be in vain. He narrowed his eyes as he stared at the charred corpse of Kurun. It mustn't be the end...
“I can do this the whole day”, he claimed. All he needed was to distract Delian for a second, so that he could cast his teleport spell. It wouldn't bring him far, just far enough to escape. Just far enough to reunite with Urdo and to start anew. The agent could have this victory for now, as long as Liscom would make it out of her. He focussed carefully onto the soulstone, the way it moved within Delian's hand, the way it shimmered, so that he would get ready to parry its next move.
“You are not a mage, Agent Delian”, he continued. “You could never understand the power you are meddling with right now. I have studied it, I have been trained in it for all my life. You cannot count on magic to save you now!” He smiled confidently and only too late did he notice that Delian shared the expression. “Who said I was counting on magic?”, he replied.
Liscom realized what he was hinting at and frantically, he tried to raise a profane shield, a protection against common attacks, something as common as, say, the narrow crossbow bolt Delian fired from the small, one-handed crossbow. While Liscom had focussed onto the soulstone and its devastating powers, the agent had carefully reached for the crossbow at his belt, firing from the hip, with the aim of a trained marksman.
For once, Liscom was not fast enough. The bolt entered his head through the left eye, destroying it and cracking the skull beneath, digging deep into him. Strangely enough, there was no pain involved, as Liscom let go of his staff. He staggered backwards, his mouth opening and closing, like a suffocating fish, as his thoughts raced through his mind, incapable of fully realizing what had just happened, how the Middenrealm cockroach had outplayed him.
His hand reached for the window behind him, but, ah yes, it had been broken... Instead, his hand managed to grip a large shard of glass. It felt numb, as it sliced through his flesh, though it stopped his fall. With one wide eye, he stared at Delian of Plainsbridge, who slowly approached him. The expression on the agent's face was no longer neutral. Instead, there was pain on it, pain for the loss of his companions. But now it was Liscom who regretted picking this fight.
He tried to say something, but the only noise that left his throat was a muttered growl. This couldn't be... he was the herald of Borbarad's coming! It was his fate to survive. He was not meant to die here! But he said nothing like this. Instead, he merely gasped, as the shard of glass he was clinging to sliced through his hand and the force that held him back was no more. Stumbling backwards, he walked right through the open window of Borbarad's tower.
As he fell, he saw Delian of Plainsbridge, staring down at him, still clinging onto the soulstone. He saw Borbarad's tower and he knew, he would never be able to bring back its original master. Failure... Liscom realized that in the end, he was nothing more. And yet, as he continued his fall, as his life left him, the last thing he saw was the winds, sweeping away the red sand of the Gor just for a moment, long enough for him to see the stars of the midnight-blue sky above. It was in this moment that Liscom Ghosipar realized one important thing, the hidden truth that had evaded him for so long. And he smiled, for he died with the knowledge that all of this was merely the beginning.
End of Prologue – Sand and Stars