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Forged in Hell, Tempered in Blood

Discussion in 'Creativity Surge' started by Shura, Jun 17, 2002.

  1. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] (In Yoda voice) "Yes! Yes! To master Frostmage you listen!"
  2. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Vinafron hunched behind an overturned table, gripping it tightly. His knuckles were white with anticipation. Who was this stranger that had dared to challenge the notorious Zakkan so?

    Shura barely moved but the scythe stopped a hair’s breadth away from his face, parried by his wakizashi. Zakkan’s eyes widened slightly in astonishment before he did a backwards somersault, barely avoiding an arc of flashing black steel that would have cut him into two.

    Zakkan landed lightly on the balls of his feet, scythe upraised. He looked upon Shura with newfound respect and caution. The swordsman now held his black katana in one hand and his white wakizashi in the other. He raised his left hand and beckoned with a finger.

    “ Scared already?” Shura mocked him. “ Perhaps you are only capable of tormenting helpless women.” A twisted grin formed on Zakkan’s face.

    “ Your death will be painful.”

    “ It will be many years after yours, fool.” Zakkan snarled and rushed forward again with his scythe, the curved blade a streaking blur that cut the air repeatedly with ominous sounds. Shura brought his two swords into an intricate twirl, intercepting Zakkan’s slashes neatly. His feet shuffled in complete synchronization with his arms and body as he performed his deadly dance. Sparks flew as the three weapons rang upon each other continuously, sounding like the continual screech of steel upon steel, so fast were the blows exchanged.

    Zakkan’s skill with his odd weapon was magnificent as well. His furious offense left Shura with little opportunity to riposte. He drove the swordsman back, a fraction of an inch at a time, but inexorably. Sweat beaded the faces of the two combatants.

    Feather looked upon the battle with awe. He had thought that he was finally catching up with Shura but the scene of whirring blades proved him wrong indeed.

    Arkados nodded to himself, grinning in satisfaction. Whatever had plagued Shura’s soul, it did little to affect his skill. The swordsman had become faster, stronger and more deadly since the battle against Gathra Deuas. Once, he had beaten Shura on a regular basis during their sparring matches. Now, Shura had left him far, far behind in terms of swordsmanship.

    “ You’re better than you look, easterner!” Zakkan snarled at Shura through the wall of flashing steel that separated them. Shura did not bother to respond. He knocked aside Zakkan’s scythe with his wakizashi and the huge weapon went predictably up to the man’s shoulders in readiness for an overhead strike. Crossing his blades, Shura caught the scythe between them by its haft and dashed forwards, crouching low as he did so, pushing the scythe high. A startled expression formed on Zakkan’s face as he found Shura within the reach of his weapon.

    The swordsman unhooked his wakizashi from its cinch with the scythe and his katana and brought it to bear. A silent snarl of desperation came forth from Zakkan’s lips.

    “ It ends.” Shura stabbed forward with his wakizashi just as Zakkan leapt back, yanking on his scythe like a billhook. Shura snapped his head sideways as the curved blade came streaking past his shoulders. He felt pain blossom in a red searing line as his left cheek was sliced open by the passage of the scythe.

    Zakkan tumbled backwards, clutching his right thigh. There was blood on the surface of Shura’s white wakizashi. If he had leapt a moment later, Shura would have rammed the short, curved sword into his groin. The swordsman brought a hand to his cheek. It came away, covered in blood. He shrugged and advanced on the prone form of Zakkan.

    “ Well done.” Shura spun his swords easily in his hands. “ Now get up so that we can finish this.” Using the pole of his scythe as a staff, Zakkan got to his feet and balanced his weight on his one good leg.

    “ I shall eat the hearts of your loved ones!” Zakkan promised. He brought his scythe to his side, gripping it in both hands and started chanting in a strange unintelligible language. A fraction of a second was all it took for Shura to recognize the situation.

    “ Shura! Spell caster!” Arkados barked. The swordsman did not need the warning. He had already taken three steps forward with his katana bearing straight for Zakkan’s heart before the first word had left Arkados’s mouth.

    Red runes appeared down the length of the scythe’s blade and Zakkan smiled in triumph. Swift as Shura was, Zakkan was swifter. Swinging the scythe around his body, Zakkan brought the weapon in a great sweeping arc.

    “ Savorus Corpus!” He screamed, releasing the energy pent up inside his scythe. Three white, wraith-like forms howled as they streaked from the blade. They had the faces of young women, though their expressions were tortured and anguished. Shura ran right into the wraiths and the ghostly women thrust their cold, dead hands into his soul. A searing cold filled the swordsman as the wraiths drained his life force. Shura fell to his knees, gasping. He could see his own flesh turning blue as the wraiths feasted.

    Zakkan laughed at his apparent victory and started hobbling over to stand in front of Shura. Raising his scythe, he was prepared to give the swordsman a death stroke but he froze as Shura gritted his teeth and fixed his steely gaze upon Zakkan.

    “ Necromancer!” Shura spat. “ I shall not be defeated by such foulness!” A glow suffused the swordsman’s exposed flesh as he drew upon his life force and let it surge strongly into the wraiths. The ghostly women seemed to become more substantial and their faces lost their anguished expressions. With a single moan that might have meant gratitude, they faded away from the world of the living. When Jo-annia lay close to death from an attack by a vampire, the swordsman had saved her by channeling his own life force directly into her, replacing what had been taken. Zakkan’s face paled in horror.

    “ NO!” He screamed. “ CARLINE! MAGDA! FEURLA!” Those could only be the names of the wraiths. “ YOU BELONG TO ME! YOUR DEATHS BELONG TO ME!”

    “ They are free, now.” Shura’s face was pale and cold sweat ran down his face but he still retained his grip on his swords. He struggled to his feet weakly.

    “ Do you have any idea how much trouble it was to bind them?” Zakkan’s gaze fell upon the cringing slave. “ Now I shall have to visit even worse torment on her to replace them!”

    “ Death comes for you, necromancer!” Shura raised his swords. “ Perhaps your own soul will find a fitting home in your fell blade!”

    Zakkan adopted a battle stance but he stopped moving when he felt cold steel down the side of his neck. Somehow, Arkados had made his way behind him and now had his rapier at his throat.

    “ This has gone on long enough.” He said firmly. “ It ends now!”

    “ Yes.” A sibilant voice hissed in response. “ It ends now!” Arkados and Shura snapped their gazes around in surprise. Feather and Oal nearly jumped in shock as they spotted the speaker.

    A woman, clad in what seemed to be only bandages wound around the curves of her body, held Arkados’s rapier in a vice-like grip with one hand. Her eyes were wholly red and her complexion was a deep green in color. How she came to be suddenly standing before Shura, Zakkan and Arkados was a complete mystery.

    The woman yanked Zakkan away from Arkados easily, manhandling the tall and muscular necromancer with surprising strength. Arkados twisted his rapier in an attempt to free his blade but it broke in the woman’s grip. In the fraction of a moment that it took for him to gape at his sword, the woman raised a hand and blasted Arkados off his feet with a surge of invisible energy.

    Shura lunged forward only to be given the same treatment as his friend. The woman launched him across the tavern to land heavily onto a table, which shattered under his weight.

    “ Sylurae!” Zakkan barked. “ What…?” The woman cut him off with a sudden jerk of her hand. Feather, who had drawn his sword, was flung against a tavern wall. Oal cried out in concern and knelt beside the elf.

    “ The call has gone out for the Children of Travesty to convene.” Sylurae said evenly. Her voice was little more than a hiss. “ You have been summoned and you shall heed the summons. Now, we must depart!” Releasing Zakkan, she brought both hands to her chest, pressing her palms together. The two vanished in a flash of light.

    Arkados struggled to his feet, swearing vehemently. A moment’s lack of concentration and the green-skinned woman had gotten the best of him. He would like to see her try that again when he had his full powers at call.

    “ Arkados! Are ye alright?” Oal called out to him. Feather was standing as well. The elf had hardly been bruised. Arkados nodded reassuringly to them.

    “ Who was that…?” Feather began. He let the question drop, though. It had been a most curious day indeed. Arkados was more concerned. The name the green skinned woman had mentioned filled him with dread and uncertainty.

    A woman’s cry caught their attention. Shura was still lying on his back. A pool of blood had formed below his body. The slave that Zakkan had purchased was pressing a makeshift bandage torn from her gown to his side.

    “ Shura! Can you get up and walk?” Feather asked him anxiously. The swordsman nodded, his face stiff with agony. He got to his feet without much effort, pushing away the slave’s offer of help.

    “ We must get him back to the Wave Jackal!” Oal said.

    “ I can walk by myself, Yagyu.” Shura fended off Feather’s supporting arms. “ Do something about her.” He pointed at the slave. Feather turned to face her, easing as much of his anxiety as he could from his face.

    “ What is your name?” He asked in the language of the east. After a moment of startled surprise at Feather being able to communicate with her, she bowed hastily.

    “ Hitomi, Samurai-sama.” Her voice became uncertain as a distasteful expression formed on Feather’s face. The elf did not consider himself a samurai. “ I thank you for protecting me from that man.”

    “ I am not a samurai, Hitomi.” Feather said patiently. “ My name is Feather and you should be thanking Shura. He fought off Zakkan while I stood by and did nothing.” Hitomi bowed to the black-clad swordsman. Her expression became only more uncertain as she looked upon Shura’s stern, unyielding and scarred features.

    “ Does she have anywhere to go?” Oal asked Feather who translated the question. Hitomi shook her head, worry evident on her face. The homeless and friendless seldom survived anywhere for long, unless they were powerful. “ She can come with us, then! Let’s go, before Shura here bleeds to death!”

    “ Follow us, girl.” Shura said to Hitomi. She nodded, putting her trust in her savior. She did not have much choice, anyway.

    “ Oi, Arkados! Are ye coming or not?” Oal yelled. Arkados gave a start from being jolted from his thoughts.

    “ Yes, yes. We had better go, had we not?”


    “ Calohan! Did you see that?” Vinafron was practically hopping from foot to foot in delight. “ This has to be the most exciting day of my life! Sorcerers and warriors and damsels in distress!” The aged steward sighed, telling himself that the lord was already too old to be put down with a sharp rap of the knuckles upon the head.

    “ These people are dangerous, my lord. You would do well to keep away from them.” He said. “ That one-eyed woman is the pirate known as Oal. She has quite a reputation on the open seas.”

    “ Pirates!” The delighted way the lord said that word made Calohan slap a hand over his eyes.


    Shura’s wound had broken open. It was not serious, despite the copious loss of blood. Aldamus stitched the flesh together; muttering furiously under his breath while Oal, Feather and Arkados talked things over in a cabin aboard the Wave Jackal.

    “ The Children of Travesty.” Feather began. “ That woman mentioned it just before she vanished.” Shura caught a slight flicker in Arkados’s eyes and he leaned forward, the stitches straining dangerously, ignoring Aldamus’s angry admonitions.

    “ You know something.” Arkados was silent for a moment, deep in thought, before he spoke.
    “ Yes.” Something in his expression told Shura that what he knew could not be easily divulged. “ I have some knowledge of the Children of Travesty.”

    “ Do tell.” Oal hugged her knees to her chest, sitting atop a short stool in the cabin.

    “ A couple of decades ago, a sorcerer performed a great summoning.” Arkados began. “ Drawing his power from a few dozen sacrificed children, he opened a massive gateway between this realm and the planes of hell. He called to the demons and the demons came.”

    “ Before that, the sorcerer had wandered all over Gryloas, approaching women from all walks of life. Some were willing, some were not but all of them were present at the summoning. The summoned demons took the women and filled them with their seed before departing, having been promised a glorious return and welcoming by their offspring.”

    “ The sorcerer then left the women to raise their children. He assured them that one day he would gather the demon children and lead them to a great destiny. He called them the Children of Travesty.”

    “ By the gods! How many of these abominations are there?” Aldamus exclaimed. Arkados gave him a dangerous stare.

    “ There could be more than a hundred Children of Travesty. It is apparent that Zakkan and that woman, Sylurae are two of them.” Arkados pointed out.

    “ Krugar!” Shura exclaimed suddenly. “ There was a slight similarity in the smell of their blood!”

    “ It is well that he is dead, then.” Arkados nodded. “ Sylurae has said that it was time for the Children of Travesty to convene. Whatever plans the sorcerer has, it seems that he is ready to embark upon them.”

    Oal and Feather looked at each other with worry. They could not imagine the devastation a hundred individuals like Zakkan and Krugar could wreak upon Gryloas.

    “ What are we to do, then?” Aldamus asked. “ How can we hunt down each and every one of them?” Shura looked at him wryly. The doctor resembled his cousin in some ways, even though he denied it.

    “ Nothin’!” Oal declared. “ I ain’t gonna risk the Wave Jackal in a profitless venture!” Feather seemed uneasy but it was evident that he would abide by Oal’s decision.

    “ We cannot let such monsters loose in the world…” Aldamus began but Shura cut him off.
    “ Let the paladins handle it.” His tone was mocking. The doctor glared at him for a while, his jaw clenched before storming from the cabin and slamming the door shut behind him. Oal and Feather stared after him in amazement. Aldamus might grumble sometimes but he had never flared up like that.

    “ And don’t ye go chasing Zakkan!” Oal wagged a finger at Shura. “ Or ye can swim with yer gold to the Empire of Blades!”

    “ I have no desire to kill him. Do not worry.” The swordsman said. Oal relaxed and looked at Hitomi, who had been sitting quietly in a corner listening to the conversation with a look of blank incomprehension upon her face.

    “ What do we do about her?” She mused aloud. “ Well, I guess I can do with another pair of hands! She can help with the cooking and Aldamus’s work!” Feather hid a smile. Beneath her gruff exterior, Oal was a kind-hearted person who could never turn away a lost waif. Feather translated Oal’s declaration to Hitomi. Her face lit up with joy and relief.

    “ She’s sleeping in yer cabin, though!” Oal pointed a finger at Shura. Taken aback, the swordsman gaped at her for a moment.
    “ What?” He protested. Arkados bit back a chuckle. Shura had never been very comfortable in the company of women. “ Why?”

    “ Cos’ ye can speak her language and teach her ours! The crew won’t dare to touch her if they think she’s somehow involved with ye!” Oal reasoned.

    “ She can sleep in Feather’s cabin!” He shot back. Oal gave him an incredulous look and slipped a possessive arm along the elf’s waist. Arkados actually laughed lowly this time as Feather’s face turned red.

    “ Perish the thought!” Oal said. She got up and half-dragged Feather with her, the elf looking sheepish. “ It’s final then!” Feather shrugged resignedly to Shura as he was led away. The swordsman sighed and turned to look at his newest roommate. Hitomi gave him an uncertain smile, ignorant of all that had occurred.

    And Arkados, shoulders heaving with muffled chuckles, silently made his way out as well.


    The small chapel was dark, its windows boarded up. Cobwebs hung in every corner and the air was thick with the musty scent of age. Rows of broken benches lined the length of the chapel. Once, in a time long past, simple and ignorant folk sang hymns of praise to the Celestial Knight, selling their souls as surely as if they had made blood pacts with demons.

    Reality unfolded, a mere rippling in the dim light from holes in the window boards to any observer and two figures materialized. Zakkan fell to his knee clutching his wounded thigh. He glared up at his companion, the green-skinned woman Sylurae angrily.

    “ You should not have intervened!” He snarled. The woman ignored him and started walking towards the altar. For a moment, Zakkan let his gaze float on the sway of her hips as she moved but he banished the thought instantly. As terrible a being as he was, Sylurae was far more powerful.

    Sylurae bowed before the altar and to Zakkan’s surprise, the shadows there seemed to unfold, revealing a figure clad in a black, cowled robe.

    “ I have brought him back, True Father.” She said, her tone full of respect. A chill went down Zakkan’s spine as she identified the man. He fell to his knees, trembling with fear and awe.

    “ True Father! Zakkan greets you!” He gushed, cold sweat running down his face. His thigh bled freely but he gave it little heed.

    “ Yes, yes…I am glad to see you as well, my child.” The True Father spoke in a deep, strong voice. There was a terrible tenderness behind his words. Walking forward, he placed a skeletal hand on Zakkan’s head fondly. The man who had murdered countless others flinched from his touch, though he tried to hide it behind an uneasy smile.

    “ I have let you lead your life the way you want for many years, Zakkan. Now, the time has come for you to throw your lot in with me.” The True Father said. “ Will you do so…my child?”

    Zakkan nodded fervently and he sensed a smile being formed within the darkness of the True Father’s cowl. From behind the True Father, a motley group of individuals stepped forward from the darkness.

    “ Behold my children, our numbers have increased!” The True Father raised his hands as he made his proclamation.


    “ The cabin bed is slept in, but clean…reasonably.” Shura said in a flat voice. “ I can rest on the floor.” Hitomi looked curiously at the swordsman.

    “ You are injured. You should be the one taking the bed.” This time, it was Shura’s turn to cast an uncertain look upon her. She might have been hysterical from terror in Zakkan’s hands but there was a quiet strength in her. The increasing number of willful individuals appearing in his life was irritating to the swordsman and he could not hold back a bothered sigh.

    “ Do as you wish then.” He responded, trying to keep a snarl out of his voice. “ I shall still be sleeping on the floor.” A sudden smile appeared on Hitomi’s face and she covered her mouth in an attempt to hide her humor.

    “ And what purpose will that serve?” She studied Shura’s stubborn expression for a moment and it seemed to the swordsman that her amusement deepened. “ Very well. I shall take the bed then.” Hitomi nodded before Shura could come up with a stinging retort. Shura scowled but he nodded as well and leaned against the corner of the cabin.

    “ You are younger than you look.” Hitomi said suddenly, after an awkward moment of silence. “ How old are you, twenty three? You behave and speak like a grumpy old man so much so that it’s difficult to tell.” Shura brushed aside a lock of white hair from his face self-consciously. Since the battle with Katherine, his hair had become a haphazard patch of black and white.

    “ Does it matter how old I am,” Shura snapped. “ Girl?” Hitomi could not have been more than three years from fifteen, barely a child. She laughed lowly this time, much to his consternation.

    “ I am seventeen, Shura-sama.” Hitomi told him. Shura frowned at the respectful suffix that she had added after his name. It was the tone of a servant to a master. In the feudal society of the Empire of Blades, servility has been deeply ingrained into the lives of the peasants. Since Hitomi was neither a samurai nor an elf, it was certain that she was a peasant.

    “ This is Gryloas, girl. The ways of our homeland are not followed here. Address me as Shura, or do not address me at all. There are no castes, nor honor here. Power and wealth belong to the strong and cunning, regardless of their birth. If you wish to survive, you had better get used to this war-torn land.”

    “ No honor? Feather is an honorable warrior, though he has taken a foreign name.” Hitomi mused. “ And no swordsman has ever claimed a lack of honor before.” She frowned in distaste for a moment. “ At least none of those swaggering fools that plague my home village. Silly boys, all of them!” Shura gave a grim smile at that.

    “ Yes, the Yagyu certainly has a deeply ingrained sense of honor. It will serve him well in the days to come.” Hitomi’s expression was downcast, Shura noted. Perhaps it was the mention of her village that had brought about a sudden bout of homesickness.

    “ Father would need someone to mend his sails and little Gonosuke always wanted me to carry him on my back for a walk in the afternoon. The house needed perpetual cleaning and mother takes great pride in keeping it spick and span…”
    “ Your village…where is it?” Shura asked.

    “ It’s off the coast in the region of Kantai, Shura.”

    “ This ship is headed to the Empire of Blades.” The swordsman replied. “ If it is on my way, I shall bring you back to your village.” He raised a warning finger at Hitomi’s sudden surge in spirits, though. “ The journey shall be long. Oal has business of her own to tend to and this ship shall only head there when it is ready.”

    “ Thank you, I…!” Hitomi halted in mid-sentence with a great yawn. She looked abashed at that but found nothing disapproving in Shura’s flat stare. It was evident that she had been through much.

    “ Sleep if you will. I shall try to teach you the language of Gryloas tomorrow: I can not be at hand to act as your translator all the time.” Shura propped his two swords within easy reach and tucked his legs into his cloak. To Hitomi, the swordsman looked like a patch of darkness upon the floor. The failing light made him look even more so.

    “ Sweet dreams, Shura.” She said. The swordsman snarled as she lay down, closed her eyes and fell asleep within moments. Someone else used to talk to him in that tone and it brought back painful memories. Still, his last thought before sleep took him was beyond his bitterness.

    “ Jo-annia. Are her days well…?”

    Dreams of home awaited Hitomi in her slumber and nightmares greeted Shura in his.


    Feather stood at the bow of the Wave Jackal, holding his sword before him. The elf was stripped to the waist and the wind dried his sweat as soon as it emerged. He had been practicing the few basic forms and stances that Shura had taught him over the weeks. His muscles no longer ached during his prolonged training sessions. To his astonishment, Feather realized that he was now a far more accomplished swordsman than his father, despite the fact that all he had learnt and practiced so far were the basic strikes a novice was taught in his first lesson.

    His contemplations were so deep that when Oal traced a finger over the tattoos on his back, he almost jumped in shock. He turned to face her but the pirate wrapped her arms around his waist tightly, resting her cheek on his back.

    “ You are becoming more like him by the day.” She said in a low voice. Feather shook his head curiously. Oal’s rough accent vanished when the two were alone and when she forgot herself. “ Shura is a man alone, his challenge against the world is a solitary one. His obsession with his craft makes him so!”

    “ He has Arkados as a trusted friend.” Feather pointed out, puzzled by this strange conversation.

    “ They treat each other as respected equals. The sorcerer is as individualistic as Shura, though he does not show it as much.” Oal tightened her grip around the elf. “ I fear for you. You learn from Shura too quickly and absorb his ways too fast.”

    “ He is teaching me swordsmanship! A student has to learn from his sensei!” Feather protested.

    “ I have heard from eastern merchants about the undying warrior called Shura and how he stays immortal by passing down his name to his student who does likewise when the time comes.” Oal said softly. “ Would you change your name a third time?” Feather was speechless for a while. Did the swordsman really seek to make him the sixteenth incarnation of Shura? He loosened Oal’s grip and sheathed his sword. Turning around, he returned her embrace.

    “ No. Whatever happens, I shall still be Feather.” The elf said. “ After all, it’s the name you gave me, right? Not Yagyu, not Shura, but Feather.” Oal smiled and pulled his face down to hers.

    Standing aside unnoticed, Aldamus nodded his head in approval and walked away.


    Krugar stood before the cowled figure, his unease evident in the twitching of his limbs and the cold sweat that rolled down his face.

    “ My child…” The True Father said. “ I trust that your life has been well?” The Blood Hound nodded slowly. The men that he had posted outside his tent were now piles of rotting flesh.

    “ Your will, True Father.” Krugar sank to his knees, his face to the ground. It was easier than looking into the inky blackness of his cowl.
    The True Father smiled and ruffled the Blood Hound’s coarse hair as if he was a favored and well-behaved child.
  3. The Kilted Crusader

    The Kilted Crusader The Famous Last words "Hey guys, watch THIS!" Veteran

    Sep 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    This keeps getting better, write more please :)
  4. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] I second that, it gets better and better...
  5. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    I'm going for overseas army training for the next month or so, folks...so I'll leave you with this...more next time...


    The repairs on the Wave Jackal had begun in earnest. Professional workers from the Ship Builders Guild in Plaelu applied their masterful skill to the battered ship. Oal’s gold was well spent indeed.

    Hitomi was a bright student and Shura was a superb teacher. She had learned a few phrases and acquired a basic grasp of the vocabulary and alphabet of the language of Gryloas within the short span of two days. The crewmen took turns watching the ship and wandering around in Plaelu. Seasoned sailors all, they watched their gold carefully and traveled in small groups. None of Oal’s men were robbed in Plaelu’s rough and depraved streets.

    Arkados wandered the streets of Plaelu, delighting in the utter decadence of its populace. With a pouch that contained seemingly endless gold, he sampled every vice the city had to offer. In the gambling dens, he won and lost at the games with the same easy smile and visiting one tavern after another, he bought drinks for all those present. Oal regarded his errant spending with a resigned shake of her head. After all, it was his wealth and he was more than popular with everyone aboard the Wave Jackal.

    After a round of tavern hopping, Arkados left by the front door. Drunken bellows of farewell and appreciation followed him. Smiling, he turned and waved, only to have a short, rotund man stumble into him from behind. Arkados frowned slightly at his clumsiness, though he was unwilling to let such a minor incident spoil his apparent good mood. He gallantly pulled the man to his feet, flourishing his cape grandly.

    “ It’s too fine a night to be tasting the sawdust on the floor, my friend!” He said. The man looked up at him with bloodshot eyes. He had long, twirling moustaches and was dressed in the fine clothes of a noble. The smell of strong drink was on his breath but he seemed lucid enough.

    “ You are right!” He declared, pointing a stubby finger into the air dramatically. “ Let me buy you a drink, then in recompense for my blunder!” Arkados laughed.

    “ Why not?” The other patrons stared at the well-dressed pair for they were gesturing theatrically before the doorway. With a few rapid clumps of polished leather boot heels upon a wooden floor, they swept right up to the counter where the bartender gave them curious looks.

    “ Feytarian Red!” The short man and Arkados said together, each flipping a gold coin onto the counter. “ Until that runs out!” Arkados raised his eyebrows in amazement. The two had said exactly the same thing at the same time. The man laughed loudly at that.

    “ Your taste in wine is good, but I thought I was to be the one buying the drinks?”
    “ Ah, gold spent for drink is gold well spent regardless of who it belongs to!” Arkados said. He was a bit drunk. The man shrugged.
    “ I am Vinafron’de Garleon, and I intend to be as drunk as I can be this night!” Arkados knew the name, though it was a bit of a surprise to see the lord of this city come drinking in a cheap tavern like this.

    “ And I am Arkados Von Mere, with the same goal in mind!” Arkados identified himself as a noble, though of an unheard of family. The bartender placed their drinks on the counter and Vinafron snatched his up.

    “ To a few hours away from the responsibilities of our blood, Lord Von Mere!” Vinafron drained his glass. Arkados gaped at that awesome feat. Feytarian Red was a strong drink. He managed a large mouthful, though.

    “ You sound like a heavily burdened man, Lord Garleon.” Arkados said. Vinafron wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

    “ My work is taxing, but I can still find time for a drink.” He agreed. “ Piles and piles of documents and forms for me to go through and sign and countless meetings with guild leaders and merchant heads one after another.”

    “ That can get a man down, surely.” Arkados was now sipping his wine. Vinafron waved that notion away.

    “ It’s my job, Lord Von Mere. I refuse to let it pull me down.” Despite his intoxicated state, the words came clear and strong from his mouth. Arkados nodded to himself, impressed by the lord’s stoic sense of responsibility to his city and people. Vinafron walked a veritable razor’s edge, playing the countless factions that had interests in the city off each other. The demands of more powerful warlords had turned Plaelu into a realm where people would rather seek dreams in the multitude of herbs and weeds for sale and solace in the endless wine that flowed from the trade. Plaelu teetered on the edge of destruction. Vinafron kept it from falling over the edge through unmatched diplomatic and governing skills.

    Much later, the two of them stumbled out into a dark alleyway. Arkados was only slightly groggy, having kept a close eye on the amount of wine that he had imbibed, but Vinafron was roaring drunk. He sang raucous songs at the top of his voice as he groped at the filthy building walls to keep upright. A skinny courtesan leaned out from her alcove and gave them a hopeful smile but there was as much desperation and fear in her smile as allure. Arkados smiled back and flipped her a coin before dragging Vinafron past her.

    “ The Celestial Knight bless ye, good sir!” She called. Arkados laughed loudly at that. He approached a pair of litter bearers squatting beside a drain and bade them take Vinafron back to his mansion. The laborers gaped in amazement at the three gold coins Arkados offered them and agreed fervently.

    “ Let’s have another drink…!” Vinafron muttered. Arkados smiled and patted his shoulder fondly.

    “ Some other time.” The litter bearers started off, bearing the lord of Plaelu away. Arkados sighed and sat down upon the rickety wooden bench of a roadside stall that sold pastries as snacks for people traveling the streets at night. Waving his hat as a fan, he attempted to shake off the effects of his drinking. A hand proffering a mug of steaming, hot tea filled his vision.

    “ This will help you get over the wine.” A female voice with a hissing undertone said. Arkados glanced sideways and looked upon Sylurae. She had covered herself in a dusty gray cloak but her red eyes gleamed brightly from the darkness of her hood.

    “ My thanks.” Arkados accepted the mug and sipped the bitter beverage carefully. After a few moments, he found that his vision was slightly clearer. He laid the mug down on the counter behind him with a satisfied sigh.

    “ What brings you here, I wonder?” He said, thinking absently of how Shura would act if he were here. The swordsman would have stabbed Sylurae twice and cut open her throat by now. Arkados winced at that.

    “ The time has come.” She said. “ The True Father wishes your presence.”

    “ And if I don’t wish to go?”

    “ Then you shall die.” The answer was given matter-of-factly. Arkados laughed lowly at that.

    “ By your hand?” He asked. Sylurae shook her head.

    “ I shall kill none of my kind.” The Child of Travesty said. “ Only the True Father has the power of life and death over us. I bring only a warning.”

    “ I am no longer one of you.” Arkados replied. “ I have broken my curse. My father lies dead by my hand and his powers are mine!” Sylurae reached out a hand and touched his face. Arkados fought back an urge to flinch.

    “ So free…yet so much fear.” A drop of cold sweat rolled down his cheek onto her hand as Sylurae spoke. “ Freedom is somewhat overrated.” Arkados smiled tightly and tilted her chin upwards gently with his right hand.

    “ So beautiful…yet a slave.” He shot back. Sylurae did flinch at that. She removed her hand and leaned away from Arkados.

    “ The True Father shall see you soon. You can be sure of that.” She stood up and walked away, fading into the crowd. Arkados wiped a silk sleeve across his forehead. It came away damp with sweat.

    “ You heard everything?” He said. Shura walked out from the shadows behind him. The swordsman nodded grimly.

    “ You must not stay here any longer. Return to your throne and crush the True Father if he seeks you there.”

    “ No. I have broken my curse. No one shall dictate the course of my life.” An eager gleam came into Shura’s dark eyes. Arkados smiled at that.

    “ You had better hope that the True Father can be cut by cold steel, then.” Shura adjusted his swords upon his belt.


    “ No, Hitomi, that’s not how ye pronounce it!” Oal patiently explained. The two young women sat upon the deck of the Wave Jackal. Feather, sewing a net nearby, grinned. Oal’s seaman accent was only confusing the eastern girl. The sun fell warmly on the craftsmen that busied themselves with the repairs. Hitomi spotted Shura emerging onto the deck and her face lit up. The swordsman had spent the entire night staring at one of Oal’s maps and frowning.

    “ Ohai…good morning, Shura!” She called out. The swordsman flicked his gaze to her for a moment and then walked past.

    “ Begin on the alphabetical assignment that I have laid out for you in the cabin.” He said. Hitomi groaned. Feather put aside his work and picked up his sword as Shura walked towards him.

    “ I am ready for today’s lesson, Shura.” The elf declared. Shura nodded.

    “ Put aside your sword, then. Today’s lesson is theoretical.” Feather was baffled but he complied readily. “ Sit down if you wish.” Shura sat down on a barrel and after a moment’s hesitation Feather did so as well.

    “ Today, I shall begin with the basics of Harmony.” An excited look came into Feather’s eyes but the elf stoically remained seated. “ Firstly, name me the elements of the sword.”

    “ Fire for swiftness and overwhelming aggression, wind for feinting and false strikes, earth for an all encompassing defense and water for adapting to each situation.” Feather replied automatically.

    “ Correct. Which element do you favor most?” The elf thought about that for a moment and he answered.

    “ I favor Fire.” Shura nodded at the answer. Feather was very fast, even for an elf. He did not lack in aggression either. “ Yet in the course of my training, I have utilized the other elements as well. I have not neglected my defense and have performed feints that took even you some time to react to. When pushed into unexpected situations, I reacted accordingly.”

    “ You have shown great improvement indeed.” The swordsman agreed. “ Many samurai would be hard pressed to match blades with you. Yet, you still follow the same basic concepts as them. Know that the work of Kuroi Itezeru goes beyond such boundaries.”

    “ The Blade of Harmony…” Feather breathed.

    “ All five elements must be considered if one wishes to learn the Blade of Harmony. Block as you strike! Feint as you block! Adapt as you feint!” Shura said. “ Harmony is found in oneness and nowhere else.” He got up. “ Think on this. When you can find oneness in the blade, I shall teach you further.”

    “ How did you manage to solve this riddle so fast, Shura?” Feather asked, frowning in consternation.

    “ Where the Blade of Harmony is of all elements, the Shura Sword is of none.” A grim smile appeared unexpectedly on the swordsman’s face. “ I merely looked at things in an inverse manner.”


    The moonlight glinted off the foul, greasy water of Plaelu’s harbor, forming grotesque shadows upon the face of Arkados. The king of Gryloas looked upon the hull of the Wave Jackal. The repairs were almost done. Oal could up anchor and be off before the end of the week.

    “ I thought brooding was my exclusive domain.” Shura walked forward to stand beside Arkados. The swordsman held a corked bottle in one hand. He handed it to Arkados.

    “ Feytarian Red.” The king said, quirking his eyebrows. “ I thought you did not drink.”

    “ I don’t. It’s for you.” The swordsman told him. “ It might help to take your thoughts of the coming battle.” Arkados noted the eagerness in Shura’s voice and a slight frown came over his features.

    “ This will not be like the old days, you know.” He said absently. “ We’re no longer the reckless youths that we were.” Arkados ran a hand through his hair worryingly. “An entire kingdom rests on my shoulders. I fear to fight a battle that might not be easily won.” Shura blinked once, and then shook his head slowly.

    “ That thought had not occurred to me.” He admitted. “ I have little to lose no matter the outcome of any battle. Death comes for us all. I fear it not!”

    But you do, old friend, you do. You fear it even more than me, thought Arkados. He refrained from commenting, though.

    “ The crew of the Wave Jackal might be dragged into this whole affair as well. You do not care if Oal or Feather gets hurt in a struggle that is not theirs?”

    “ If they are unable to protect themselves, such is their fate.” Shura’s response pained Arkados. The swordsman had been the most humane of the quintet that had been Ander, Kalvairn, Katherine and the two of them during their adventuring days. To see his fall was to be reminded of the agony of existence upon this wretched world. Nothing was incorruptible. Arkados took comfort in the fact that Shura had not really meant that last statement; so good he was at reading meanings from the tones and inflections of a person’s voice.

    “ To some extent, Shura, Kalvairn and I always looked upon you as a standard of some sort.” He said. Shura gave him a puzzled look and Arkados shook his head, laughing heartily.

    “ What am I standing here babbling for? Let us finish this affair with the Children once and for all!” The two old comrades in arms walked into the darkness of the night.


    Shura and Arkados stood upon a stony plain, a low plateau amidst the rocky landscape that surrounded Plaelu. A bolt of lighting tore the night sky and Arkados raised his head to the heavens. Clouds were fast blotting out the moon. It would rain soon.
    “ You knew we would seek you out.” Sylurae’s hissing voice said. She emerged from the shadows to stand before them. There was no surprise on Shura or Arkados’s faces. “ What we did not expect was for you to bring the confrontation out here where the people of Plaelu would not be affected.”
    “ You like pointless slaughter as little as I.” Arkados said. Sylurae’s red glowing eyes narrowed in a frown.
    “ Cease likening the two of us!” There was a tone of anger in her voice this time. “ You are a traitor, and the True Father’s justice shall be visited upon you!”
    “ Amazing. You’re actually flustered, Sylurae.” Zakkan stepped into view. “ I would never have thought any man could do that to you.” Sylurae hissed at him and the necromancer flinched slightly. He turned his gaze to Shura, though.
    “ No one’s going to get between you and my blade this time!” He pointed at the swordsman. Shura’s only response was a cold grin as he drew his blades. His eyes did widen in surprise, though, as a huge hulking form leapt onto the plateau and landed with a heavy crash.
    “ You’re dead, Shura, dead!” Krugar was frothing at the mouth as he gave voice to his hatred.
    “ Putting down a rabid dog was never an easy task.” The swordsman glared at his opponents contemptuously. “ This time I intend to finish the job.”
    “ Shura.” Arkados swept his gaze around the edges of the plateau. A motley band had gathered there. They fixed their stares upon the figures atop the plateau. The swordsman nodded. He had not noticed their approach as well. Some powerful sorcery must have brought them here.
    “ All of my children are eager to bring you back into line, Arkados Blackmire, but these few seemed to be the most keen.” The True Father’s form materialized between Zakkan and Krugar.
    “ I have broken your curse!” Arkados raised his voice in defiance. “ I owe you nothing now! Leave me be!” The True Father’s response was a low chuckle and an amused shake of his head within the shadows of his cowl.
    “ Alas, that cannot be, wayward child. Your very right to existence belongs to me, like all your brethren here.” He said. “ Your mother, Rayelline Blackmire, knew full well the price you would have to pay when she agreed to my venture!”
    “ I shall pay you nothing.” A sneer appeared on Arkados’s face. He raised his right hand and pointed his thumb downwards. “ I killed my father. Perhaps I shall repeat the feat by killing you as well, seeing how much you like to claim paternity over others!”
    “ Perhaps a lesson in filial piety is required.” The True Father’s voice did not change but menace now radiated from his form. Krugar, Zakkan and Sylurae stepped forward.
    “ Kill them all, Shura!” Arkados said. The swordsman grinned. His curved blades spun lazily in his hands.
    “ Gladly. Leave them to me.” The True Father raised his hands and spoke a single, unintelligible syllable. The ground below Arkados shook and broke free, rising into the air. The swordsman’s confidence turned into horrified surprise as his friend hurtled upwards. He caught a glimpse of Arkados’s confident smirk before he vanished from sight.
    Having completed his first spell, the True Father started to ascend into the skies as well. Apparently, the battle between the two would take place somewhere else. Shura snapped his gaze down to regard his three opponents. Sylurae had thrown aside her cloak and Zakkan held his scythe in his hands. Krugar, however, was empty handed. He flexed the great muscles of his arms, as if to remind Shura that the fact was inconsequential.
    Sylurae struck first, a look of concentration coming over her face as she shot out an outstretched palm. Shura leapt to the side, turning over once in the air and landing lightly on the balls of his feet. The place where he was standing erupted into a shower of stones.
    “ The powers of the mind are visible to me.” The swordsman informed her. “ You had better not try that again.” From somewhere within the white strips of cloth that wrapped her body, Sylurae produced a whip.
    “ Die, assassin!” Krugar thundered forward, snapping his body like a whip to send a devastating punch towards Shura’s body. Shura’s eyes narrowed as he noticed a dull brass bracelet set upon Krugar’s massive wrist. He sidestepped the punch neatly and sent his wakizashi into a horizontal sweep. The short curved blade trailed sparks as it screeched along seemingly empty air.
    “ Wha…?” Krugar babbled, before Shura rammed the hilt of his katana into his left temple, sending the Blood Hound staggering backwards, clutching his head in agony.
    “ A triple-bladed claw upon your wrist, enchanted for invisibility. Fooling me twice with such a weapon is impossible!” Shura bit off his speech to intercept Zakkan’s flashing scythe with his wakizashi. The necromancer surged ahead, full of aggression as he struck again and again. Shura gave ground freely, making no move to riposte as he parried the scythe again and again. Zakkan brought his scythe up with both hands and drove it downwards. Shura raised his crossed swords to intercept.
    “ Ha!” Zakkan cried. “ That will not work this time!” His triumphant cry turned into one of surprise as the swordsman stepped out of the scythe’s path, letting the curved blade bounce painfully off the stone, before slamming a black katana onto the scythe, trapping it between the sword and ground. Shura’s heel flattened Zakkan’s nose with a loud crunch and blood spurted from the necromancer’s face. The swordsman drew back his wakizashi to finish him off but he caught a streak of silver in his peripheral vision. Shura leapt backwards, curling into a flip. Sylurae’s whip lashed the place where Shura was standing a fraction of a moment ago. A long, clean slice was visible on the stone after she snapped her whip away.
    Krugar bellowed his bestial war cry again and lurched forwards, his arms reaching to grasp Shura in a rib-crushing bear hug but Sylurae’s streaking whip made him stumble backwards.
    “ You fools!” She hissed. “ We must work together!” Sylurae turned to regard Shura with new respect in her eyes. “ How can a mere human be so powerful?”

    High above, soaring over the clouds, Arkados glared angrily into the shadows of the True Father’s cowl.

    “ I have the power of an Archfiend at my call. Your sorcery is no match for me!” He said. The True Father laughed mockingly.

    “ Is that so, little fiendling?” He spread his arms. “ Hurl your power at me and see just how puny you are!” Arkados did not need hesitate. Black lighting arched from his fingertips towards the True Father. They skewed aside just before they reached him, though and the True Father broke out once more into mocking laughter. Arkados’s eyes widened in disbelief.

    “ No!” The denial was forced harshly from his lips. He reached forward again and this time, streaks of flame burst forth, engulfing the True Father in a blazing inferno. When the fire died down, the True Father was unscathed, waving the smoke away from his cowl lazily with one hand.

    “ I think,” The True Father raised the hand that he had been using to fan himself. “ That it is my turn.” His index finger jabbed at the sky and a bolt of silvery energy arced from the heavens to crash into Arkados. The son of an Archfiend screamed in agony as his cape and shirt were burnt away by the power of the True Father.

    Arkados recovered quickly, though. Stretching his arms out to either side, he brought forth a swirl of madness in each palm. Shrieking faces twisted within the dark orbs that floated upon his hands. With a defiant cry, he bid the summoned spirits attack the True Father. Eldritch fangs sprouted from the insane faces as they soared towards his opponent but they dissipated before they even got close. Cold sweat rolled down Arkados’s face as he realized the power of the opponent he faced.

    “ Are you done with your foolish displays yet, child?” The True Father said. “ Show me your true power!”

    Arching his back, Arkados drew upon all his infernal reserves. Black, bat-like wings sprouted from his back and his eyes glowed red with power. The glove around his left hand burst, revealing a twisted, skeletal claw that had been Arkados’s deformity from birth. The very air seemed to tremble at the presence of an Archfiend.

    “ Manifesting your true form so far away from the place of your Awakening must be taxing indeed.” The True Father said. Arkados put his baleful gaze upon him.

    “ Obliteration!” Deformed claw and right hand formed a cone and a rift appeared in the fabric of reality. Arkados had opened a minuscule tear between the material plane and the infernal one. From the tear, he conjured forth pure hellfire, a ghastly black, liquid-like flame that enveloped the True Father’s form. The True Father trashed in agony as the hellfire burned into his very soul. Arkados laughed in triumph, his powerful voice shaking the air.

    “ Die, you bastard, die!” He roared in glee. His exultation was cut off however, as the hellfire suddenly vanished. The True Father hung in the air, bereft of his cloak, his true from revealed.

    Shimmering blue hair caught the wind, fanning the perfect face it framed. Golden eyes looked upon the now cowering form of Arkados.
    “ You see, you simply can not defeat me.” The True Father said. Two pairs of silver, feathery wings sprouted from his back, spanning ten feet to either side of the True Father. “ Now, it is time for you to obey!”

    The True Father spread his arms and the heavens flashed suddenly with a radiant flare.

    A smoking, solitary form fell from the sky, plunging into the clouds.


    The stone cracked apart beneath the terrific impact of Krugar’s fist. Shards of rock flew into the air, raking at Shura’s flesh. The swordsman winced and tried to move backwards but Zakkan’s scythe sliced a shallow gash across his shoulder. If he had not tumbled into a roll quick enough, the blade would have cut off his head. Sylurae’s whip tore through the air an Shura had to push off the ground into a leap from his roll to avoid it. Caught in midair, there was no way the swordsman could avoid Krugar’s other fist. He braced the blunt edges of his swords against his body as an impromptu shield and called upon the techniques of the Third Sphere.

    “ Shield of Clouds!” He intoned mentally, exhaling white steam as he focused his ki. Krugar’s fist crashed into his swords and sent him flying wildly into the air. “ Anchor of Stone!” The swordsman dropped abruptly from the arc of flight straight to the ground. Sylurae’s whip cut the air where he had been hanging. Zakkan rushed forward, swinging his weapon in a sideways slash. Shura’s swords intercepted it, tapping and slapping the scythe repeatedly, redirecting the force of the blow. Zakkan was pulled off balance and the scythe’s keen blade arced towards Krugar. The Blood Hound hastily blocked the scythe with his invisible claw. A swift tap of a black katana against the haft of the scythe entangled it with the claw.

    “ Kiaai!” Shura bellowed as he leapt into the air, his blades arcing towards Sylurae. She raised her open palm and directed a burst of energy towards the swordsman, seeking to knock him out of the sky. Blue flame ran down Shura’s swords as he focused his mental energy upon them. They tore through Sylurae’s invisible projectile and she had to leap sideways hastily to avoid the crossing slashes of Shura’s blades.

    Sylurae rolled once and got to her feet just as Zakkan and Krugar un-entangled their weapons. Shura turned to face them, bringing his swords up to readiness.

    “ Amazing! You are a worthy opponent indeed!” Sylurae congratulated the swordsman. Zakkan and Krugar exchanged dark looks. The two of them had both tasted defeat under Shura’s blades before.

    “ More than worthy to kill the three of you!” Shura charged forwards, his blades leading. Sylurae snapped her whip in a long sideways arc, seeking to cut the swordsman in half. Shura dove over it, landing on the hilt guards of his swords, before pushing off again into a somersault. His feet drove into Zakkan’s chest before the necromancer could bring his scythe to bear. The swordsman ruthlessly trod him into the ground, before lifting his head to regard Krugar. Krugar roared and lunged forward, arms outstretched and Shura kicked off from Zakkan’s chest to meet him. Letting go of his swords in mid air, Shura placed both hands on Krugar’s forehead.

    “ Ki strike!” He shouted. The terrific impact blew Krugar backwards. Blood streamed from his mouth, nose and ears. His eyes rolled upwards in their sockets.

    “ Urghh…die…” Reaching out with his left hand, Krugar sought to throttle the swordsman. Catching his katana again, Shura sent his will into the black blade, causing it to light up with blue flame. He hacked off Krugar’s arm at the wrist. The Blood Hound gave an incoherent gurgle before he collapsed. Zakkan crawled to his feet, only to have Shura swing his katana about and crash its hilt guard into his face. The sound of breaking bone was crisp in the air.

    Leaving the necromancer reeling in agony, Shura kicked upwards with and hooked the hilt of his wakizashi with his foot. A twist of his waist sent the weapon hurtling towards Sylurae. She hit it out of the air with a flick of her whip. The wakizashi was promptly followed by Shura’s black katana. Sylurae deflected it as well. Two more thrown daggers had her reeling off balance. She snapped her head aside to avoid one and barely managed to block the other with the handle of her whip. By then, Shura had closed the distance between them.

    The swordsman’s fist drove into the small of her stomach, forcing the air from the lungs. As she sagged downwards, Shura lifted his right foot high and crashed his heel into the back of her head. The ground rushed up to meet her face with a painful crunch. Blinking the agony from her eyes, Sylurae saw that the swordsman had pinned her head to the ground with his foot and was now drawing another dagger from a shoulder sheath. He flipped the blade into a reverse grip and brought it down between her shoulder blades to sever her spine.

    Before the weapon could strike home, though, a bolt of energy tore through the night and blasted Shura off her. Sitting up quickly, Sylurae saw the swordsman tumble off into a smoking heap. She turned and nearly gasped in relief as she spotted the cloaked form of the True Father, holding the comatose form of Arkados by the waist of his breeches in one hand. The burn marks and wounds upon Arkados tugged at her but she paid such emotions little heed now.

    “ I see that he has been giving you trouble, my children.” Sylurae nodded weakly. She did not trust herself to speak at the moment.

    “ Arkados!” Amazingly, Shura stood up again, clutching his chest in agony. His eyes were fixed upon the unconscious form of his friend. A glance told him that his katana had fallen near him and he scooped it up swiftly. With a snarl of rage, Shura charged at the True Father, gripping his katana with both hands. “ Release him!” He brought the black blade down onto the True Father’s head. The True Father caught the sword between his index and middle finger.

    “ You are nothing, lackey of Arkados Blackmire.” He said coldly. “ Like a worm. No, even less.” Dropping Arkados onto the ground, he swept his hand across horizontally, slicing Shura’s belly open. The swordsman gasped and sank to the ground, trying to hold his innards in. The True Father pointed downwards and the ground erupted, flinging Shura into the air. The swordsman had time for a single grunt of agony before he landed with a heavy crash. A pool of blood was no forming in the mini-crater that had been created by the impact of Shura’s body. The True Father waved to the rest of the Children.

    “ Gather your brethren. We shall depart now.” His cowl dipped down towards Arkados. “ We have what we came for.”


    Some time after a senseless Krugar and a groaning Zakkan have been carried away, rain fell onto the battle-scarred plateau. A half-gloved hand burst through the loose stone that had been a grave for Shura, quivering with agony. The swordsman pulled himself out, despite the pain. A belly wound was fatal, but it took hours to die from one. That coupled with the fact that both his legs were broken meant a dismal future for Shura. His eyes shone with anger and determination though.

    “ Damn it…Arkados…I’m going to break you free…hang on, you hear me…?” Shura raised his voice in a defiant shout. “ Hang on!”
  6. The Kilted Crusader

    The Kilted Crusader The Famous Last words "Hey guys, watch THIS!" Veteran

    Sep 18, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Once again, brilliant stuff. Keep it going
  7. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Holy crap that was brilliant! Brilliant I say, Brilliant!
  8. Gothmog

    Gothmog Man, a curious beast indeed! ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

    Jun 30, 2002
    Likes Received:
    Oh man is this story great :eek: :eek: :eek:
    wish i could write such a thing ;)

    Where is the prelude then?? Havent read it yet and i NEED to :)
  9. Rolsuk Fryulee Gems: 13/31
    Latest gem: Ziose

    Apr 12, 2002
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] Great work I don't post here often, but this was worth it. :thumb: :wave:
  10. Erebus Gems: 16/31
    Latest gem: Shandon

    Oct 22, 2002
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] That was excellent. Best work in Creativity surge ever. :eek:
  11. Frostmage Gems: 11/31
    Latest gem: Bloodstone


    May 28, 2002
    Likes Received:
    I agree. I think it's time for the next part, don't you? :)
  12. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:
    Sorry for the delay, folks...but it was rather hard to write this next part...


    The swordsman sat up abruptly. His body was lathered in sweat. Looking around, he found himself in a well-furnished and tidy room. A sturdy wooden table dominated the center of the room and a couple of high stools were arranged neatly against the wall.

    Shura clutched at his temples with his left hand, trying desperately to sort out his bearings. The soft sunlight glinted off a piece of metal encircling the middle finger of his upraised hand and he stared at it curiously. He had tore the ring of Krugar’s severed hand and put it on. As to what drove him to do so, he had no idea. Looking down upon his body, the swordsman found that his grievous stomach wound had healed completely, along with his shattered legs. His old scars still remained, though. The ring was evidently capable of bestowing a healing or regenerating effect upon its wearer, which explains why Krugar was still alive after Shura had stabbed him in the heart.

    “ One question solved, yet another remains…” Shura muttered softly to himself. How did he get to this room? The battle with the Children of Travesty had taken place upon a plateau a long walk away from the outskirts of Plaelu. The door to the room opened with a slight creak and Shura found himself facing a man in his fifties standing in the doorway. There was a pot of tea upon the tray he carried. Dressed in a neat and somber gray robe and possessed of a stern dignity in his mannerisms, the old gentleman looked impressive despite his age.

    “ My name is Calohan, sir. Steward to Lord Vinafron of Plaelu.” He set the tray down on the table. “ Please help yourself to the tea. Now that you are awake, I’m sure the Lord will want to see you shortly.” Shura nodded and dragging over one of the stools from the side of the wall, sat down at the table and poured himself a cup of tea. The steward bowed slightly and walked from the room, leaving Shura to his musings.

    Shura did not have to wait long. The portly figure of Lord Vinafron soon appeared and he inclined his head politely in Shura’s direction. The swordsman returned the courtesy.

    “ What is your name, sir?” Vinafron asked.

    “ Shura.” The swordsman downed his cup of tea and set it aside.

    “ You were the one who fought off Zakkan, were you not?” Shura’s eyes widened slightly at the question. He nodded.

    “ Ah, your swordsmanship is most impressive indeed! How would you like to work for me?” The lord offered. Shura shook his head firmly, declining the offer.

    “ I am not interested. How did I get here?” Calohan frowned at his casual refusal but Shura paid him no heed. Vinafron sighed regretfully.

    “ Calohan spotted you lying unconscious beside the road as my carriage drove past. We recognized you immediately and brought you back.” Vinafron said. “ We did not see any injuries despite the fact that you were totally unaware of the world.” Shura frowned thoughtfully and fingered his new ring. The enchantment upon it must be powerful indeed. He clenched that fist and brought it up to his face. Fresh resolve filled him.

    “ My thanks.” He said curtly. “ I must be going now.” Vinafron nodded reluctantly but he gestured for Calohan to see the swordsman out.
    The steward led Shura down a long carpeted corridor. The walls were decorated tapestries. One of them caught Shura’s attention. It depicted a warrior clad in a suit of dark armor wielding a fiery sword and facing off against a host of armored men. A small grotesque demon perched on the shoulders of each man the warrior was fighting.

    “ The Black Knight, Sir Rynnstrum, paladin of the Celestial Church.” Calohan explained, noticing the curious look on Shura’s face. “ According to history, he was the one who hunted down each and every one of his brethren that had turned their backs on their faith.” Shura looked carefully at the features of Sir Rynnstrum. The Black Knight’s features were twisted in grief and sorrow as he fought and slew his former brothers.

    “ It was said that he donned black armor so as to make it seem like his former brothers were slain by an evil warrior, taking all their guilt upon his shoulders.” The steward went on.

    “ Let He Who Has Turned His Face From The Lord Feel His Wrath…” Shura translated the archaic runes upon the pommel of Sir Rynnstrum’s sword. “ What happened to him?”

    “ When his task was over and he had brought back the heads of his brothers to the High Deacon, Sir Rynnstrum left and wandered away. It was said that he was so overcome by grief that he sat down upon a stone and cried until death claimed him.” Calohan cleared his throat abruptly. “ Why the sudden interest?” Shura frowned thoughtfully, racking his thoughts. He had heard the legend of Sir Rynnstrum before, though his recollections were dim.

    “ His remains were buried in a tomb constructed by a handful of grateful peasants. Alas, the final resting place of such a mighty warrior was to be a crude pile of stones.”

    “ What became of his sword?” Shura asked. “ Did the ‘grateful’ peasants sell it for ale?” Calohan shook his head.

    “ No one could grip the sword of Sir Rynnstrum besides the man himself. The peasants probably buried it with him.” Shura’s eyes narrowed.

    “ Do you know where his tomb is?” He asked. Calohan regarded him with a look of surprise.

    “ You wish to seek out the Black Knight’s sword? You don’t look like a paladin to me, mister Shura, if you will forgive my saying so.”

    “ I am not.”

    “ It is a holy weapon, sir! For a non-believer to lay hands on it is sacrilege!” The steward pointed out. Shura laughed. It was a laugh filled with spite and arrogance.

    “ Man,” He thrust out a clenched fist before his face. “ Is greater than any god. That is my belief! I shall desecrate the holiest of places to achieve my goals!”

    “ I see. Sir Rynnstrum’s remains lie in the Pinepeak forest next to one of the small villages a few miles west of Plaelu. Lord Vinafron was so fascinated by the fact that his tomb lay so close at one point that he bought this tapestry.” Calohan’s tone was even and impassive. His face showed none of his thoughts. Before long, the two of them reached the main door of Vinafron’s manor and the steward held it open for Shura. The swordsman strode away without a further word.


    “ What do you think of him, Calohan?” Vinafron asked his steward as he entered the lord’s study. The lord was working at a pile of documents.
    “ A dangerous man, my lord.” Came the answer.
    “ As dangerous as Zakkan?”

    “ Even more so, I’m afraid. Do not make an enemy of him, my lord.” Calohan warned. “ There is a bitterness in him so strong that it has twisted his way of thinking slightly.”

    “ I still think that he will be a valuable asset, Calohan.” Vinafron said. Calohan inclined his head slightly in agreement.

    “ Perhaps we shall meet him again.”


    Oal greeted the news of Arkados’s capture and the fact that he was a Child of Travesty with considerable shock. Still, she was more than ready to lend her aid in his rescue. The crew of the Wave Jackal shared her resolve: Arkados was a popular and well-liked person.

    “ No one messes with one of us and gets away with it!” Oal had declared. A motley collection of raised voices spoke of her crew’s agreement. Despite himself, Shura felt a sudden surge of gratitude towards the pirates. He bowed his head slightly in shame for the mocking and condescending way in which he had treated them. “ We’ll get him back, don’t ye worry, Shura!”

    “ You will be well-rewarded for your assistance, this I promise you.” Shura assured them but Oal waved away that notion dismissively.

    “ Where are they taking Arkados to? If we do not know the answer to that question, there can be no chase, Shura. I’m sure ye know that, right?” Oal pointed out. The swordsman swore in frustration and pounded a clenched fist into his other hand. His head perked up suddenly as a thought struck him.

    “ The Blood Hounds! They must be near Plaelu!” He exclaimed. “ There is no hiding an army of several thousand scum! If we can find the Blood Hounds, we can find the bastards that took Arkados!”

    “ Ye don’t expect us to fight the Blood Hounds, do ye?” Oal asked uneasily. Shura shook his head.

    “ They must be on the move now. With your ship, we can pursue them via the rivers! We can move faster on water than they can on land!” Shura explained. His expression turned grim. “ Once we catch them, leave the fighting to me. I have a debt of pain to repay!”

    “ From what you say, Shura, we are up against someone beyond even your abilities. Even if we catch them, how are you going to rescue Arkados?” Feather asked, his brow creased with worry.

    “ I know the nature of my opponent. I shall be better prepared when I face him next! ” The swordsman said grimly. He lowered his voice. “ The stink of Celestial scum is familiar to me!”

    “ One of the lads told me that there were rumors of a band of fighting men riding west, cap’n.” Thibos chipped in. “ Me guess is that they’re the Blood Hounds mister Shura here is talking about. They’re led by a giant of a man, or so they say.”

    “ Up anchor and down sails, lads!” Oal bellowed at the top of her voice. She swept her gaze from Feather to Thibos. “ First Mate? Thibos? Yer stations, please.”

    “ Aye, cap’n!” Thibos bustled off. Feather smiled and walked briskly to his duties.

    Shura stood amidst the flurry of activity that was sweeping the deck of the Wave Jackal, deep in his thoughts. His hands were tightly clenched on the hilts of his swords and he had bared his teeth in a snarl, though he did not know it.


    Heavy chains engraved with arcane symbols bound his arms tightly to his sides. Every muscle screamed with pain as Arkados gradually became aware of the world once more. As the reality of his situation set in, anxiety rose in his chest. He flexed vainly against his bindings, to no avail. Trying to call upon his infernal powers met with failure as well. As long as the chains remained upon him, Arkados Blackmire, son of the Archfiend Gathra Deuas, was nothing more than a man in captivity.

    The cool, detached calm and sharp analytical vision that had won him thousands of battles soon set in, however. Even without his unholy might, the king of Gryloas was still a tactician and warlord extraordinaire. He scanned his surroundings swiftly. He appeared to be in the back of a wagon, one that was on the move, guessing by the bumpiness and the clatter of hooves and wooden wheels on stone and dirt.

    “ Damn it!” Arkados swore softly. “ If I am here, what has happened to Shura?” He was not very worried about the swordsman, however. Shura had been known to survive almost anything. His predicament was the more pressing issue now. Anger and frustration surged as he recalled how easily the True Father had subdued him.

    An Angel! And a far more powerful one than the War Angel he had defeated before. He had never suspected that of the sinister True Father. Why would such a being bring about the Children of Travesty?

    The wagon ground to a halt with a crack of the driver’s whip and a whinny of horses. The flap that covered the back of the wagon was pushed aside and the hooded and sinister figure of the True Father stepped in, climbing a wooden set of stairs hurriedly placed there by a Blood Hound.

    “ The prodigal child has awakened.” His strong clear voice held a touch of mockery. Arkados struggled to his feet, forcing a confident grin onto his face. It was not an easy feat, with his arms bound by heavy chains.

    “ You are the room service? I’ve certainly stayed at better inns than this before, I’m sure.”

    The True Father flicked a hand and Arkados was blasted back by the sheer force of his will. He hit the back of the wagon hard and bounced off to land heavily on his chest. The impact drove the air from his lungs and he was left gasping breathlessly for a few moments.

    “ I shall not stand for such disrespect, child.” The True Father raised a finger and Arkados was lifted into the air. His feet did not touch the floor of the wagon.

    “ What do you want with me?” Arkados forced the words out through gritted teeth.

    “ It is within my power to break the restrictions upon your access to your infernal powers, child. We now travel to the capital of Gryloas to do so.” The answer befuddled even Arkados, master of intrigue and enigmas.

    “ Why?” The True Father laughed at the question. He lowered his finger and allowed Arkados to sink to a weary crouch.

    “ Once, a being of an ancient and unaligned evil scribed a mighty spell. When cast, it would cause the infernal, celestial and material planes to merge as one for a short period of time. I found the scroll which it was scribed upon on the skeletal remains of a demon.” The True Father’s voice lost its even tone and took on an eager, almost desperate one as he went on. “ The demon was not powerful enough to cast the spell, though he ranked high among the Dukes and Fell Counts of the Infernal. After much study, it occurred to me that both an angel and demon were required to speak the final incantation of the spell.”

    “ Who could have scribed such a spell?” Despite himself, Arkados was fascinated.

    “ The Anarchist, an ancient being of Chaos, destroyed by my former Lord, the Heavenly King, father of the Celestial Knight so blindly worshipped by the foolish mortals of this world eons ago!” The True Father’s hands clenched into claws as he spoke of the deity that claimed to be the one true god and creator of the world. His shadowed cowl swept down to face Arkados. “ You shall aid me in the casting, child.”

    “ What do you hope to achieve by linking the three planes for a short time?” The True Father’s golden eyes gleamed maniacally from within the depths of his cowl.

    “ Revenge! Vengeance upon my Lord for casting me out!” He swept an outstretched arm horizontally across his chest, swiping at air as if to indicate the world around him. “ Vengeance for this foul creation He claims is his doing! Vengeance upon the heavens!” The True Father calmed rapidly though, like a madman recovering from an insane rant.

    “ The fathers of the Children have an agreement with me. They shall bring their fell armies and crush the Citadel of Holiness upon the completion of my spell. The infernal forces shall take my former brethren unawares and angel blood shall flow in rivers!”

    “ You are insane!” Arkados proclaimed. “ You would bring about Armageddon? The resulting battle would destroy all three realms! Then it shall be darkness and madness forever!” The wisdom of Gathra Deuas told him that. “ There is no way you shall have my assistance!”

    “ When I grant you your true strength, I shall bind it my will. You have little say upon the matter of your assistance, foolish child.”

    “ Then why explain it to me?”

    “ Of all the Children, you are the only one who has managed to inherit your father’s might. I had thought that I would find a kindred spirit in such an extraordinary individual. Alas, I am sadly mistaken.” The True Father turned his back on Arkados. “ Your fate is sealed. Fight it not.” He pulled open the flap of the wagon and left, leaving Arkados to ponder his words.


    When the flap opened again, Arkados squinted at the figure that entered. It was Sylurae, her slim outline clear against the sunlight that streamed into the slight opening. She held a water skin in one of her hands. Wordlessly, she strode up to him and removed the wooden stopper of the skin. Before Arkados could say anything, she placed the opening of the water skin to his lips.

    “ Drink.” Sylurae instructed. “ We are still human in some aspects.” Arkados shrugged and complied. When he had drunk his fill, he leaned back and Sylurae replaced the stopper.

    “ It might not be nectar, but it is surely served by the fairest of ladies.” Arkados said airily. Sylurae’s backhand blow sent him reeling. He crashed heavily to the floor of the wagon and could not suppress a muffled groan. Sylurae’s slim frame belied her great strength. Arkados could not help checking with his tongue for missing teeth after the bright spots that danced before his eyes faded somewhat.

    “ Why do you mock me so?” She said to his puzzled expression. Arkados blinked in incomprehension for a moment before understanding dawned upon him. Her red, dilated eyes swept self-consciously over her green skin for the barest of moments before returning to an angry gaze focused on him.

    “ I mock you not.” He said, wincing at the stiffness of his jaw. A cut on his lower lip trailed blood slowly. Sylurae stiffened at the answer, as if doubting the truthfulness of it. Producing a silk handkerchief from the pockets of the short coat that she wore, she soaked it with water from the water skin. Hoisting Arkados into a sitting position, she dabbed gently at the cut on his lip for a few moments.

    The king of Gryloas underwent her ministrations patiently until she got to her feet abruptly and walked over to the entrance of the wagon.

    “ We shall reach Gryloas in three weeks.” She said, looking back over her shoulder at Arkados. When he nodded wordlessly, Sylurae’s expression softened.

    “ My apologies.”

    She left.


    The Wave Jackal sped along the river ways with ease, despite the fact that it was a ship built for the open seas. The trail left by the Blood Hounds was easy to see. From the railings of the Wave Jackal, the burnt and despoiled villages along the banks were visible. The grisly sight of young children impaled upon stakes sickened even the hardened pirates. Around them, flies buzzed about the broken and abused corpses of their elders.

    “ What monsters are these?” Oal demanded when she saw yet another atrocity. A garden fence was strewn with human innards and the heads of an entire family lined the fence. Excrement had been smeared over their faces.

    “ They are human.” Shura said, a grim look on his face. “ Humans are far more evil than orcs.”

    On the third day of travel, when it seemed as if they would soon catch the Blood Hounds, Shura requested Oal to let down her anchor and loan him a small boat to go ashore. The Pinepeak forest was in sight. The pirate obliged him readily, though she wondered at his motives. Shura did not enlighten her. He told her to wait for him for two days and if he had not returned by then, to sail away with her wealth and forget all about the Blood Hounds and Arkados.

    Oal did not grant him that condition and Shura had no choice but to shrug and clamber into the boat and make for shore.

    The swordsman came across yet another sacked village less than a hundred strides from his landing. A child lay dead at his feet, hacked into half by a blow from an axe. To his left, the naked corpse of a young woman lay on her back, her throat slit after her killer had finished with her. The blood was dry and the stench of carrion was strong. Shura strode through the carnage, his face impassive, and entered the Pinepeak forest, following a trail that presumably led to the village’s graveyard.

    The sun had set by the time he reached the burial mounds. A damp chill rose from the earth and sank into his bones, despite his thick cloak. He lit a torch and walked from gravestone to gravestone, searching for the final resting place of Sir Rynnstrum. He found it soon enough. The Black Knight’s tomb was but a crude pile of rocks piled over a shallow grave. The epitaph etched into his headstone was a crude ‘ He was brave’ written by a barely legitimate peasant.

    Shura thrust his torch into the damp earth and took the shovel he had loaned from Thibos in both hands. After levering the stones away, the swordsman began to exhume the body of the Black Knight. He soon uncovered a battered skeleton clad in rusted armor. Atop its chest lay a sword sheathed in a plain scabbard.

    “ Syn Vinac! Repentance!” Shura cried the name of the sword. The legend of the Black Knight was a well-known one. He scooped up the sword by the scabbard and flung aside his shovel. “ I shall slay that bastard with this!” He proclaimed triumphantly.

    He gripped the sword by its hilt with his right hand and it burst into flame. Searing agony convulsed his hand as burns appeared on his flesh. Repentance fell from his grasp and the tip of its scabbard sank a few inches into the ground so that it stood upright. Snarling in pain, Shura seized the sword again, only to meet with similar results. This time, his forearm was seared to the bone. The stench of charred flesh wafted to the swordsman’s nostrils but the burns were healing even as he watched, thanks to Krugar’s ring.

    “ I shall not be denied!” He reached for the sword once more and the prickling of the hairs at the back of his neck stopped him. He glanced sideways and saw a wraith-like figure standing next to him. It was the ghostly form of a huge man clad in ebony mail, his expression morose. Shura leapt sideways with an alarmed snarl. He drew his wakizashi with his left hand.

    “ Do not think me helpless, spirit!” The swordsman said. The wraith turned its head to regard him. When it spoke, its voice was ethereal and filled with sorrow.

    “ Thou art not of the faith. Thou canst not wield a weapon blessed by the Lord.”

    “ No one tells me what I can not do!” Shura gritted his teeth and took the sword by the hilt once more. The flesh of his right arm cracked and split apart but he did not release the sword this time. He drew it and raised it into the air, letting the torchlight glint off its flawlessly polished surface. The edges were keen and a crimson radiance ran up and down the length of the blade. Krugar’s ring kept him from death but the agony was incredible. Shura forced himself to pick up the scabbard calmly and sheath the sword. He tucked it into the back of his belt.

    Surprisingly, there was a slight smile on the wraith’s lips as it watched the swordsman pick up his shovel and retrieve his torch.

    “ Thou couldst have been a paladin.” It said in its ghostly voice. Shura snarled angrily at the wraith.

    “ You insult me, spirit, but I have no wish to pick fights with the dead! Return to your haunting!” He snapped. With a whirl of his black cloak, Shura turned and walked from the graveyard, heading towards the despoiled village. Behind him, hollow eyes stared blankly at his passing.


    Shura glared angrily at the maps atop the table in his cabin. His gloved fist slammed heavily onto the wooden surface, making Hitomi jump in fright. She turned around from her sweeping of the floor.

    “ Is something the matter?” The girl asked. Taking a deep breath, Shura fought down his apprehension and regained his composure. It was not an easy task. He shook his head and fixed his gaze on the maps again.

    The Blood Hounds seemed to be heading for the capital of Gryloas, though their purpose for doing so remained a mystery to him. The royal army would be waiting there for them, not to mention the Blackguard and the Ravagers. Led by the vicious and brilliant Katherine Blackmire, whose skills in warfare were second to none but her brother, Krugar’s army of scum would be utterly crushed.

    The presence of the True Father might tip the odds, but Shura could not envision a single being, no matter how powerful, being able to overcome the full military might of Gryloas. The swordsman took it for granted that the Blood Hounds would be put to an end if they clashed with Katherine’s army. Brushing aside a few loose strands of hair from his face, he swore silently under his breath.

    What concerned him most was the fact that the Blood Hounds would be passing through the city of Terun on their way to Gryloas. They would do to Terun what they had done to every settlement they came across. The swordsman could not allow that.

    The door to his cabin opened and Oal walked in followed closely by Feather. She flicked her glance to the pile of maps, then up to Shura’s face, noting the obvious worry on his usually cold and steely features.

    “ Hey there, we’re sure to catch ‘em!” The pirate declared. “ Don’t run yerself ragged!” She noticed the new presence of a sword wrapped in a bundle of rags lying in a corner. That had been what Shura brought back since his trip onshore.

    “ Here, look here.” Shura pointed a spot on the map. Oal obliged him and leaned closer. “ How long do you think we will take to get there?” The pirate swiftly did some calculations in her head.

    “ In a week, maybe.” She looked at Shura’s face again. Apprehension and a touch of dread were evident. Oal wondered what could move the swordsman so?

    “ If you were to overtake the Blood Hounds and travel at full speed with your sails unfurled all the way?” The pirate raised her eyebrows quizzically at that but her response was swift.

    “ Four days.” She said. “ But I thought ye wanted a chase.” Shura inhaled deeply, seeking to still his trembling hands. After a moment, he started speaking again.

    “ The plan has changed. Set me down here,” He jabbed the spot where he had indicated before. “ And take your ship all the way to the capital. There, seek out the Warmistress Millene Tchykosvy and give her a letter of introduction that I shall soon be writing for you. She will know what to do.”

    The Warmistress was a close friend of Katherine and a loyal General under Arkados’s rule. She knew of Shura, the shadow of Arkados and the part that the swordsman had played in the succession wars that wracked the country of Gryloas.

    Oal studied the map a moment longer before she gave a gasp of surprise.

    “ That’ll put ye directly in the path of the Hound filth!” She exclaimed. “ Do ye intend to take em all on by yerself?”

    “ Yes.” Shura’s expression hardened. Oal was reminded of the night they first met. The swordsman had slaughtered a few dozen guardsmen and danced atop their bodies laughing maniacally all the while. “ I shall kill them until my blades are stained forever red and build a mountain of corpses!”

    Oal and Feather exchanged uneasy glances.

    “ You cannot rescue Arkados this way, Shura.” The elf explained patiently, afraid that the path of Slaughter had taken Shura once more, urging him to slake his immense bloodlust.

    “ Millene Tchykosvy will see that the army of Gryloas is brought to bear against the Blood Hounds. I have but to hold them back until that happens.” Shura said. “ With the Blood Hounds out of the way, she can easily bring about Arkados’s rescue.”

    “ Why would a General of Gryloas go out her way to rescue Arkados?” Feather was puzzled. Shura laughed at the question.

    “ Perhaps it is time to tell you, clueless ones. Arkados’s full name is Arkados Blackmire, the hero and king of Gryloas!” The swordsman had a cynical grin on his face. “ Of course she would go out of her way to rescue him!” Oal and Feather were similarly stunned. They had not known that their well-liked friend was the king! There would be legends sung about the deeds of Arkados and his mark on the history of the west would be an extremely significant one indeed! The possibility of the Wave Jackal and her crew being included in it was an unnerving one to the pirate.

    “ Oh, why me?” Oal moaned. “ I’m just a humble robber of ships. What have I done to deserve this?”

    “ You did not pay me when I helped you murder Galboras and his cronies violently, remember? This is poetic justice most fitting.” Shura quipped.


    The wagon ride was jarring but Arkados easily diverted his attention from the discomfort by chattering happily away to Sylurae, who had taken to riding with him. The Child of Travesty listened intently to his rambling, her red eyes unblinking. Occasionally, she would interject a comment or question or two as Arkados recounted his adventuring days.

    “ Your friend Ander seems to be a complete idiot.” Sylurae said. Arkados laughed, his voice hardly audible in the din of the crashing wagon wheels.

    “ He was always rather intellectually challenged.” He agreed. “ But he had the biggest heart when it came to his friends. It is difficult to find someone as capable of complete loyalty as Ander Lolias in this world, I would say.”

    Sylurae’s face fell when she had to inform Arkados of Shura’s death at the hands of the True Father. A glimmer of worry flashed across his eyes but he quickly calmed himself.

    “ I’ll believe that he is dead when I see his body, Sylurae. Shura is not meant for dying, I think. Not for a long, long time…”

    “ But I saw him crushed and buried within a pit formed by the impact of his own body against stone! No human could have survived that!” Sylurae’s protest was incredulous. Arkados shook his head.

    “ His time has not come.” The king of Gryloas said firmly. “ There are forces and events that are beyond even the True Father’s scope. Shura’s part in them is not yet done.”

    “ Your speech is cryptic and unconvincing, Arkados.” Sylurae muttered. Arkados laughed once more.

    “ We have spoken enough of myself.” He declared, bringing his gaze to Sylurae’s face. “ Please, tell me about yourself. How did you come to serve the True Father? What hold does he have on you?” Sylurae could not meet Arkados’s stare and she lowered her gaze.

    “ I shall hear no words of disrespect against him, I warn you.” The words were spoken angrily but her demeanor was unsure. Arkados moved to speak again but he stopped when Sylurae took a deep breath.

    “ I lived with my mother until the age of six. She was just a poor, simple woman who did not understand what had been done to her so that she could bear me, but she loved me as best as she could.” She began tentatively, looking hard at the expression on Arkados’s face. When all she could see was rapt attention on his features, she went on.

    “ We dwelled in one of the remote villages far to the south, near the swamps. The village elder was a kindly old man who fed my mother and me despite the fact that all the other villagers shunned us.” Sylurae lifted her forearm, letting the slash of sunlight coming from between the flaps of the wagon canopy play upon her green skin. “ Raiders rode in one day, though, foraging for food to sustain themselves. They must have been one of the countless bands of mercenaries that plagued the land during the succession wars of Gryloas. The entire village was put to the sword.”

    “ During the carnage, my mother recovered her senses, it seemed. Her voice took on a briskness and a sharpness of tone and her eyes gleamed with intelligence and shrewd cunning. Leading me by the hand, we evaded the raiders by hiding in the long swamp grass and we made our way to a larger settlement, almost a city, but a pathetic one compared to the likes of Plaelu.” Pain filled her red, dilated eyes as she recounted her tale. “ There, mother worked to feed us both. She plied her trade as a whore to the foul swamp men of the south. Every night she would come back bruised and limping from their abuse but a packet of food would be in her hands and we would eat and talk happily till the next morning.”

    “ This is a terrible world indeed.” Arkados muttered.

    “ I remember that when dawn was coming, I would start crying and begging her not to leave. She would hold me and sing softly until I fell asleep and she would be gone when I woke up.” She looked into Arkados’s eyes and their gazes locked for a moment. “ Are you familiar with the Church of the Celestial Knight?”

    “ Ha! I would be!” Arkados said. “ They have been trying to kill me for years!”

    “ There was such a church in the city, a run down chapel run by a crazed, miserable priest called Jiem. He would rant at the locals, telling them to repent their sins and follow his worship when he was full of drink. I remember the altar boy; a frightened child who cringed at Jiem’s every move. It was common knowledge that the vile priest abused him in every way. Once, he caught sight of my mother and I walking down a street at a time when he was particularly drunk. He called us demons and attacked us with his rusty spiked mace. My mother easily evaded his assault with me in tow but the priest held onto his malice through his drink. We woke up one night to find our door spiked shut and a roaring blaze consuming the thatch.”

    “ We managed to dig our way out under the walls of our dwelling, but mother was severely burnt. She died right before me, once she was assured that I was beyond the reach of the fire. Jiem had a posse of followers with him waiting outside, mostly superstitious and frightened swamp men. He was quick to set them upon me. They hacked mother’s corpse apart and had a much crueler fate in store for me when He appeared…”

    “ The True Father?” Arkados was about to ask but he remained silent, thinking the answer to be obvious.

    “ He destroyed Jiem and his lackeys and led me by the hand away from the scene of carnage. The city that my mother and I lived in found the flayed and crucified corpses of the priest and those who followed him the next day.”

    “ ‘Justice, child. We shall bring justice into an existence so cruel and flawed, child. Walk beside me and I shall create a world in which such atrocities will never occur!’ He said to me.” Sylurae smiled sadly, pushing aside her long pale hair from her face. “ Under His tutelage, I quickly found that I had a penchant for battle and the ability to access and manifest the powers of the mind.”

    “ It must have been a difficult path to walk.” Sylurae cast an intense gaze upon Arkados when he uttered those words and unexpectedly another smile lit her face, a radiant one that was utterly devoid of the sorrow and fear that had been a perpetual overcast on her soul. The son of Gathra Deuas, king of Gryloas and the legendary warlord and founder of the Blackguards was suddenly short of breath despite himself.

    “ Yes, but look at where it has brought me!” She said. The two locked gazes for a long while before the wagon ground to a halt, the harsh voices of the Blood Hounds stealing the moment from them. Sylurae might have blushed then, but it was hidden underneath her strange complexion. She hurriedly looked away and headed towards the entrance flap of the wagon.


    “ What is the matter, Krugar? Why have we stopped?” The True Father’s voice, soft and calm, terrified the gigantic leader of the Blood Hounds. He had recovered from his battle with Shura. The True Father had healed the wounds in his head and had replaced his left hand, bringing the flesh, blood and bone into creation from sheer magical energy.

    “ My forward scouts have not returned, True Father. I find it imprudent to advance before they do. The royal army of Gryloas holds sway in this region and it might not be wise to let them know of our presence any sooner than necessary.” He said, cringing at the possible wrath of his master.

    The True Father nodded slightly, waving his hand dismissively.

    “ Caution is always commendable, my child. Do as you will. Some rest would not be out of place in any case.” Krugar bowed deeply, resisting the urge to wipe away the cold sweat running down his cheeks and strode away, issuing terse instructions to his evil minions. A black-cloaked figure fell into stride beside him.

    “ He is still alive.” Zakkan’s voice, cold with hate, was thin and strong. “ I know he is! I shall kill him!”

    “ The True Father has destroyed him.” Krugar said cautiously, noting the insane obsession in the necromancer’s eyes.

    “ No! His life is mine to take! No other!” Zakkan spat venomously. “ I shall flay his soul from his flesh and torment him for eternity! I shall…” The words died away as the pair saw Sylurae standing a short distance away, studying the pair with an unreadable expression.

    “ Letting your own goals supersede that of the True Father shall mean death.” She warned. Krugar kept his mouth shut, wanting no argument with the dangerous woman but Zakkan sneered.

    “ Sylurae, aloof and untouchable warrior maiden of the True Father, his most loyal servant, until now, that is.” A leering grin spread across Zakkan’s face as he ran his eyes up and down Sylurae’s body. “ The traitor fascinates you, does he not? As much as your appearance,” He swept an open palm in the air to indicate the tone of her skin. “ Sickens and fascinates him at the same time. An exotic and rare creature you are indeed, Sylurae, so ready to throw yourself at the first man that does not show revulsion at the sight of you openly.”

    Sylurae hissed, baring her teeth in a grimace of hatred. Krugar stepped back uneasily although he would take Zakkan’s side if the whole incident came to blows. The necromancer’s leer did not lessen, though now he held his arms wide, ready to produce his scythe from his cloak.

    “ Enough of this.” A fourth presence imposed itself on the confrontation. “ The True Father’s vision should be all that matters to us.”

    “ Carnexos.” Sylurae identified the man. “ What do you want?”

    The Child of Travesty known as Carnexos inclined his bald head, upon which was tattooed a strange blue symbol towards Sylurae. His tall and bony frame was wrapped from neck to toe in black leather, as if he was afraid to let a single bit of skin be exposed to the world. His long, misshapen hands hung far beneath his kneecaps.

    “ I wish to check on your scouting party, Krugar.” His tone was cold but polite. The leader of the Blood Hounds nodded, a curious expression on his face.

    “ I shall not object, though I am curious as to why you would do such a thing.” Krugar agreed. “ Do you know something I do not?” Carnexos’s looked into the distance, his filmy blue eyes fixed upon something far away.

    “ I do not know anything more than you, Krugar.” He said absently. “ I only sense Chaos before us. Chaos more ancient and evil than anything we have ever seen, even if it is but a fragment of its complete self.”


    “ Ye’re getting off here?” Oal asked. Shura checked his equipment once more. He had three daggers, one in a shoulder sheath and the other two strapped to his thighs. His black and white swords hung easily by his waist and he had a quiver full of arrows and a longbow slung on his back, a recent purchase from a hunting shop in Plaelu. The hilt of Syn Vinac, the paladin’s sword, jutted from the back of his cloak. As long as he did not attempt to wield the sword, Syn Vinac did no harm to the swordsman.

    “ Yes.” He turned to regard the pirate. “ Make sure you hasten to Gryloas and deliver the letter.” The Wave Jackal had overtaken Krugar’s column two days ago, sailing down the river ways with strong winds filling her sails. Shura was to alight at a point a day’s walk from the city of Terun, where he would make his stand against the Blood Hounds.

    The swordsman had regarded all the despoiled settlements that they had come across with little more than a quirked eyebrow. Why, then, was he so determined to protect Terun? What was in that city that was so dear to the swordsman?

    With a slight hop, Shura stood on the railing of the ship. He turned and looked at Oal once more. The pirate could not help but shiver under his dreadful gaze. Shura was even more frightening than Zakkan at times.

    “ If you fail me, I shall hunt you down.” His promise was one spoken in tones of cold steel. “ And when I hunt you down, your death shall be a most long and unpleasant one.” Oal merely nodded, her mouth suddenly dry with fear. She could not keep herself from rubbing her arms, feeling the goose-bumps on her skin.

    Bunching the muscles of his leg, Shura leapt off the railing, calling upon his mastery of the Third Sphere and his natural agility to clear the distance between the ship and the bank of the river. He landed lightly on the balls of his feet, making hardly an impression at all on the soft mud of the river bank.

    “ Shura!” The swordsman heard Feather’s voice. He spun around to see the elf leap off the railing as well. Feather spun once in the air and landed in the water a few strides away from Shura with a great splash. He struggled to his feet and waded towards the swordsman.

    “ What are you doing, Yagyu?” Shura demanded. Feather grinned. Behind him, Oal looked upon the elf with a worried yet resigned expression.

    “ I’m going with you!” The answer made Shura groan inwardly. Feather gestured towards Oal. “ I’ve already spoken to them about this. The Wave Jackal can cope without me for a few days.” The swordsman glared at Feather for a few moments before he finally nodded and turned back to his intended path.

    “ Very well. Do not slow me down, Yagyu.” Shura started walking and Feather had to scramble to the bank and break into a slow run to catch up.

    Aboard the Wave Jackal, Oal watched her lover walk off with a heavy heart. She was reluctant to let Feather risk his life in a struggle that had little in stake for them but the elf had developed new loyalties and commitments since the time Shura appeared in their lives.

    “ I am afraid.” Oal let the uncertain words pass her lips softly, surprised to find sudden tears brimming in her remaining eye.


    “ Go to Terun. Warn its citizenry of the coming peril.” Shura instructed. The swordsman and the elf were atop a ridge. In the far distance, a great dust cloud was visible only to Shura’s focused vision and Feather’s keen elf eyesight. “ Try to get as many of them to evacuate as possible.” Feather nodded slowly, understanding the significance of his role, despite the fact that he would be left out of the initial fighting. It would be a full week before Oal could reach the capital and even more time than that before reinforcements could be sent. Doubts nagged the elf, though.

    “ Why are you doing this for this particular city, Shura?” Feather asked. Shura glanced sideways at the elf and it seemed and there was a sudden wistfulness in his eyes that passed in a fraction of a moment. The steely and impassive mask of composure fell across his face again.

    “ That is no concern of yours, Yagyu. Do as you are told or walk away. The choice is yours.”

    “ I shall warn the people of Terun.” Feather said hurriedly. He looked at the great dust cloud again, squinting. “ And what of you? What are your plans?”

    “ I shall construct a battlefield suitable to me and build a great mound of bodies.” Shura swept his gaze across the surrounding terrain. There was a narrow pass through the ridge of highland and a small patch of woods before that. Beyond the pass, patches of thick and greasy soil in which clumps of ferns grew flanked the road.

    “ You are confident of killing several thousand armed warriors by yourself?” Feather asked incredulously. Shura laughed harshly once and shook his head.

    “ I seek to buy time for the people of Terun to evacuate, or for reinforcements from the royal army to arrive.” The swordsman leaned forward suddenly, peering at the road. “ The enemy comes. A scouting party.”

    “ Fifteen men on horseback.” Feather said, counting their foes. The Blood Hounds were armed with notched axes and heavy swords. Each of them wore a short cloak of dog fur. Anticipation of the delights the sacking of Terun would bring drew wide, inane grins across their savage faces.

    “ Come! We must kill them all!” Shura ran nimbly down the ledge. Feather followed him.

    As the Blood Hounds drew closer, Shura stepped right into their path, unlimbering the longbow slung across his back. He drew an arrow from his quiver and pulled the bowstring back. The swordsman was not particularly skilled with the bow but he had learnt the basics of the weapon. He loosed his shaft and it was suddenly protruding from a Blood Hound’s chest. The man gasped once as blood filled his lungs and toppled from his horse. A second shaft followed Shura’s arrow, fired by Feather. The elf was more proficient by far. Another Blood Hound found an arrow between his eyes.

    Alarmed shouts rose into the air as the Blood Hounds spotted the archers. Six of them spurred their horses into a pounding gallop, waving their weapons in the air as they sought to close the distance necessary for Shura and Feather to use their bows. Shura tossed his bow aside while Feather loosed another arrow, felling one more Blood Hound.

    Two riders bore down on Shura but the swordsman drew his blades and leaped high into the air, avoiding the downward swings of their weapons. With crossing backhands, Shura hacked apart their spines as they passed him.

    Feather dropped his bow and drew his sword as a Blood Hound thundered towards him, axe upraised. Sliding forward, the elf went under the downswing of the weapon and cut open the man at the waist. Blood spurted from the hideous wound and he toppled from his mount. His companion, following closely behind him was caught off balance at the sight of Feather crouching suddenly before him, balanced perfectly on the balls of his feet. The elf leapt upwards, impaling the Blood Hound in the throat before he had time to bring his weapon to bear. The force of the blow tore him from his saddle and Feather hit the ground with his sword embedded deeply in the Blood Hound’s throat. He turned around just in time to see Shura slice another Blood Hound’s face off with a sweep of his black katana.

    Seeing their companions so easily dispatched, the remaining members of the scouting party were not so eager to charge forwards. Their mounts paced aimlessly as they lingered in indecision. Shura was not one to allow them much thinking time, though. He dashed forwards, swords held out to either side of his body. A hasty cry of alarm from the closest Blood Hound had them scrambling to bring their weapons to the ready. Shura hacked off his head as he passed, barely slowing.

    Feather followed Shura’s charge; stepping swiftly to the side and doing a complete sideways flip to bring him into a flanking position. Kicking off from an upraised rock, Feather rammed his sword into the back of a Blood Hound that sought to flee. Another of the mercenaries turned around and delivered a hasty backhand with his sword but Feather slid his weapon free and swept it across his throat once in a fluid motion. The elf back-flipped off his perch atop the first Blood Hound’s mount and landed on his feet as the blood spurted from the wounds of his victims.

    Another mercenary found himself flying into the air, nearly cut in half by Shura’s powerful slash and the last remaining Blood Hound did indeed turn to flee, wheeling his mount around and spurring it to an insane gallop. Holding his wakizashi hilt in his teeth, Shura drew a dagger and pulled back his arm for a throw but his eyes narrowed at the sight of yet another rider heading towards them.

    The newcomer reached the fleeing Blood Hound before Shura could hurl his weapon and swung a clenched fist across his chest. He made no contact with the Blood Hound at all. Yet the man’s head still flew from his shoulders.

    “ Shura!” Feather cried in warning to the swordsman as the newcomer bore down on him, his arms held out and his palms wide open. Shura hurled his dagger as the rider galloped past him, leaping forward and twisting his body awkwardly. The swordsman rolled on the ground once to lessen the impact and regained his feet, holding both his swords in his hands. The newcomer leapt off his dying mount, a dagger embedded to the hilt behind the left ear of the horse, and landed in a crouch, his back towards Shura. He was a baldheaded man, his whole body covered wholly in leather except for his face. As he stood up, his long hands reached far beneath his knees when fully extended.

    “ Excellent. None have been able to avoid the Web of Severance without due warning before.” He said, bringing his deformed hands across his chest. Feather noticed a new slice in Shura’s tattered black cloak and clean furrows in the ground where he stood a moment ago and blinked. What weapon was he using?

    “ Who are you?” Shura demanded, falling into his customary battle-stance.

    “ I am Carnexos, a Child of Travesty.” He turned to face Shura and the Child’s filmy blue eyes that should have been incapable of sight unnerved the swordsman. “ You stand against the wishes of the True Father, Chaos. But it is an honor to fight you indeed.”

    Shura’s eyes narrowed at the man’s curious speech. Why had Carnexos called him ‘Chaos’?

    A sudden smile split Carnexos’s face, a smile that should have too wide for a human face, a smile that revealed more teeth than it should have. It was a smile of delight for the Child, for he reveled in battle.

    “ Go, Yagyu! Go now!” Shura bellowed. Feather hesitated for a moment before retrieving his bow and securing a mount from one of the dead Blood Hounds. The swordsman snapped his full attention back to Carnexos as the pounding of hooves filled the air. Feather was on his way to warn Terun.

    “ Let the severance began, O Chaos!” Carnexos said, leaping towards Shura with his arms outstretched.
  13. Gothmog

    Gothmog Man, a curious beast indeed! ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

    Jun 30, 2002
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] This story IMHO is even better than IWD triology :) (Great compliment that is ;) )

    Keep writing please :) :D
  14. Aikanaro Gems: 31/31
    Latest gem: Rogue Stone

    Sep 14, 2001
    Likes Received:
    Brilliant, a brilliant thing to come back to my computer to
  15. The Kilted Crusader

    The Kilted Crusader The Famous Last words "Hey guys, watch THIS!" Veteran

    Sep 18, 2002
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    [​IMG] Great stuff, can't wait for your next part!
  16. Shura Gems: 25/31
    Latest gem: Moonbar

    Aug 9, 2000
    Likes Received:

    “ HAHAHA…” Shura felt the familiar battle rage fill his consciousness at the sight of such a powerful opponent. The laughter spilled from his lips as he leapt sideways, kicking off into a backwards somersault and crouching low into a forward roll as he landed. The dirt of the areas where he had been a moment ago split apart as if cut by a blade of unrivalled keenness.

    Carnexos waved his hands wildly in the air. Where his fingers pointed, stone parted cleanly. Similar laughter poured from the Child Of Travesty as he sought to catch the swordsman in his web of death.

    Sweeping his katana in a horizontal arc, Shura felt something come into minuscule contact with his blade. Sparks flared and a metallic screech filled the air. The swordsman leapt backwards, his cloak flying wildly.

    The sudden lull in the battle caused the smile on Carnexos’s face to lapse. He crossed his arms over his chest, like an oversized, grotesque insect and quirked an eyebrow curiously.

    “ You can see my weapon?” He asked. Shura shook his head; further deepening Carnexos’s curiosity.

    “ Your hostile intent is what I sense. It drips off your weapon, whatever it may be. I do not need my eyes to pinpoint its location although I have no idea what it might be.” Shura said, his own curiosity piqued. “ An invisible blade of some sort, like Krugar’s? Or a magical creation from some spell?” Carnexos’s smile returned in full. He waggled his long fingers and as the setting sun put itself behind him, the light glinted off ten silvery wires, hanging from the tip of each finger. Shura’s eyes narrowed at the sight and he backed off a step. He had never faced, nor heard of such a weapon before.

    “ The Web of Severance. With each gesture, I decide the length of each thread and where it shall strike!” He paused to let the information sink in on Shura. “ Have you thought of a way to fight this yet, Chaos?”

    Before the swordsman could answer, Carnexos swept his hands forward. Furrows formed on the ground between them as the Web of Severance cut easily through the dirt. Shura had no choice but to give ground, keeping out of the range of the deadly threads. Carnexos pursued him, filling the air between them with razor sharp edges.

    Shura sheathed his wakizashi and pulled out a dagger strapped to his thigh. After ducking from a blow that would have decapitated him, the swordsman hurled the weapon at Carnexos, its steely point aimed right for the Child of Travesty’s misshapen face. The dagger was sliced into a thousand fragments of steel and wood before it even got close.

    “ Nice try, Chaos. But it ends here!” Carnexos whooped. A single thread whipped past Shura’s shoulder and embedded itself in a rock as wide as the swordsman’s chest. With a heave, Carnexos caused the rock to sail through the air. The small boulder hit Shura squarely in the back, launching the swordsman forwards, blood pouring from his mouth.

    The nearly invisible threads wrapped themselves around his chest and abdomen. Before Shura could react, Carnexos brought both hands towards the sky in a dramatic flourish.

    “ Severance!” The Child of Travesty said. Blood spurted into the air.


    Feather leaned forward and spurred the horse on, galloping furiously. He knew that the beast could not keep up the pace for long, however.

    The city of Terun was a few hours ride ahead and he had no wish to ride the horse to death. After covering a sizable distance, he slowed the pace to a canter and then to a trot. The elf wiped the blood from his coat and face with a rag from his haversack, thinking about the battle that he had just fought in. The Blood Hounds had seemed ungainly and clumsy to him, their wild swings and swipes with their weapons leaving them wide open but Feather knew that he would not have found them such easy opponents a few months ago, before he met Shura.

    His swordsmanship had improved by leaps and bounds, according to Shura but it was only today that the elf had the opportunity to truly gauge his growth as a warrior. The thought brought a smile to his face, despite his grim task and predicament.

    Feather’s keen eyes spotted an obscure trail by the road and he reined his horse in. The beast neighed and halted, grateful for the rest. Shura had told him much about his uncle and the elf knew that the legendary swordsman, Kuroi Itezeru had dwelled near Terun until the time of his death. In the distance, he spotted the faint outline of a small wooden house amidst the vegetation. He could reach it and be out on the road again in less than an hour.

    The urgency of his quest tugged at him but Feather could not resist. He led his horse in by the reins, walking silently. After some time, the elf came to a small pond fed by a modest stream. Under a shady tree, a gravestone marked the final resting place of the greatest swordsman the world had ever seen.

    Magatsu Yagyu, known better as Kuroi Itezeru
    Hero of the Black Crane.
    Master of Harmony.

    Feather read the words on the stone again and again, wondering at how deeply his uncle had touched Shura’s life that the normally cold and arrogant swordsman would hold him in such high regard. He knelt before the gravestone and bowed his head in silent reverence for a few moments before getting to his feet and continuing on to Kuroi’s house.

    The dwelling was bare. Before he had left, Shura had packed every one of Kuroi’s books and paintings into a wagon and delivered it to the library of Terun, into the care of Father Attucks. The swordsman had left one thing behind, though and it turned Feather’s mouth dry with awe.

    A magnificent katana stood upon a wooden stand in the middle of the empty floor, covered with dust. Feather knew that this was his uncle’s legendary sword, Whispering Edge, without doubt. Feeling as though he was committing an act of sacrilege, the elf reached out and brushed the dust off its ornate sheath, and then took it up in his hands. Before he could hesitate, he drew the sword and held it up before his eyes.

    A low murmur filled his mind and the elf knew that the sword was talking to him. It was the sound of a soft breeze blowing gently through a patch of long reeds. Calm and serenity ran through his senses and the elf closed his eyes, basking in the benign sentience of such a fearsome weapon. After some time, Feather opened his eyes and noticed a small note written in Shura’s laconic script pinned to the floor by the wooden stand. He pried it loose and read it.

    ‘ This was the weapon of the Black Crane. Demons and evil men have perished under it. It is a blade forged with the blessings of the elementals of wind and is sentient to some extent. I would have been honored to bear the weapon of the Black Crane, but it’s touch causes agony beyond belief to me. To the one who can wield Whispering Edge, may you never lose the Harmony within.’

    Shura had left no signature. Feather swallowed nervously as he looked down upon the flawless blade of Whispering Edge. He had passed a test where Shura had failed. The elf tucked the katana into his belt and turned, walking towards where he had left his horse. He still had an important journey to make.


    Carnexos frowned in puzzlement for a while before shrugging and whipping his hands back. Shura fell to the ground in a bloody heap.

    “ The sword on his back saved him from utter dismemberment.” The Child of Travesty mused to himself. “ But it is of no consequence. I have won this battle.”

    Both of his arms half severed and his innards spilling from a number of ghastly wounds across his abdomen, Shura could not refute that point. His ribcage had been sliced open cleanly and the swordsman now felt blood filling his ruined lungs. Only the presence of Syn Vinac strapped on his back had prevented Carnexos’s wires from strewing the ground with his body parts. The Child of Travesty was a mighty opponent indeed. Shura was truly no match for him.

    “ Why do you seek to battle us, Chaos?” Carnexos addressed the swordsman by the strange title again. A wet gurgle brought more blood from Shura’s mouth as he attempted to answer. “ To rescue Arkados Blackmire?”

    The Child of Travesty walked over to Shura’s prone form and squatted down beside him, raising his hands before his face.

    “ Whatever your reasons are, you have failed. The True Father shall achieve his goal through your friend, despite your efforts, despite your death.” He said. Carnexos looked off into the distance. “ I suppose I shall have to kill your friend as well, Chaos but since you have been such a worthy opponent, I shall wait here until you have passed into the realm of the dead before I leave.” He smiled his ghastly smile again, the dim light of the setting sun casting deep shadows on his misshapen face. “ He shall not escape me.”

    “ In a way, I envy you, Chaos. People like us are born into this world and thrust into a whirlwind of violence that does not end. We can know no peace, no love and no rest. Only battle can bring us joy. Yet…one does tire of it.” Shura’s vision was fading. He had lost too much blood and his body was going into shock. Despite his agony, a wry smile creased his face.

    “ So this is how it ends…” He thought.

    “ I have known only battle my whole life. The monks of the Order of Severance raised me and taught me their deadly arts. They accepted ‘alms’ from various parishioners in return for a swift end to the life of a person of the parishioner’s choice.” Carnexos went on, his droning voice monotonous. “ My choice in life might not have been one of violence, but a man’s nature is always stronger than his will. Take yourself, for example. If I had not ended your life today, you would have continued fighting and fighting, wading through rivers of blood and climbing hills of corpses until someone eventually kills you. This result was inevitable, Chaos. Do not feel bitter about it.” The Child of Travesty stood up, as if sensing the end of Shura’s life. “ Perhaps one day I shall attain such release as well.”

    Shura’s consciousness ebbed. He had failed to defeat Carnexos. Arkados would not be rescued and Terun would not be spared the murderous intentions of the Blood Hounds. Jo-annia! The name rang like a pealing bell in Shura’s mind.

    “ Farewell, Chaos.” Carnexos said. “ I shall see you in the burning pits of hell where all our kind go upon death. Perhaps there we shall know true peace.” He walked off as the last of the sun’s rays played upon the black leather that encased his entire body.

    The Child of Travesty had taken ten paces before he suddenly stopped, grimacing in agony. He collapsed to one knee, a shallow gasp bringing forth a mouthful of blood. Reaching behind him, he plucked out a dagger that had been embedded deeply in his side. The sharp blade had punctured his liver.

    “ What?” Carnexos demanded. Turning around, he saw Shura struggle waveringly to his feet. “ How can anyone survive injuries like that?” The swordsman held forth his left hand. The dying light glinted off the ring on his middle finger.

    “ Krugar’s ring.” Shura breathed disbelievingly. The ring was powerful indeed if it could cause such wounds to regenerate. He snapped his gaze down towards the Child of Travesty hunched over in agony.

    “ I believe we have some unfinished business, demon spawn!” Retrieving his swords from the ground where he had dropped them, Shura spun the blades easily in both hands. Carnexos gritted his teeth in agony and then his ghastly smile came over his face once again.

    “ HAHAHA…This is the way it should be!” He spread his palms and threw his arms forward. The web of Severance cut through the air. Shura leapt backwards to avoid the initial attack. He knew he could not afford to get struck by the deadly and rare weapon again. Now that he knew of Krugar’s ring, Carnexos would never give him the chance to regenerate.

    Shura sheathed his katana and held his wakizashi in his left hand with that arm fully outstretched. He brought his right arm low and bent his knees slightly so that he was in perfect balance. Falling within himself, the swordsman sought the deepest levels of his concentration, recalling everything Kuroi had ever taught him about the Blade of Harmony. The web of Severance was clearly visible to him now, not as a whipping, bewildering mass of deadly threads, but as an extension of Carnexos’s arms.

    The swordsman had gained a grasp of the path of the threads. A slight shuffle forward, a minor lowering of his head and a small step to the side caused him to evade every single strike that Carnexos made at him. Gravel flew from the ground at his feet as new furrows were cut into it. After a minute of furious flailing, Carnexos stopped and stared at Shura incredulously. The swordsman had not moved more than half a pace from his original position despite the wild onslaught and he was utterly untouched.

    “ Magnificent!” Carnexos congratulated him. “ What is it that allows you to perform such a feat?”

    “ Discordance.” Shura answered, crouching low and placing his palm on the mutilated dirt before him.

    “ How many more can you dodge, Chaos?” The Child of Travesty swung his arms forward once more. This time, the swordsman did not budge. He waited until the threads were a hair’s breadth away from him.

    “ Ki Strike!” Shura bellowed loudly, calling upon his mastery of the Third Sphere. His right palm thundered into the loose dirt before him and a cloud of dust rose. The upward shower of gravel stole much of the momentum of the threads and for a fraction of a moment; they hung limply in the air.

    That moment was enough for Shura to kick off from his crouch and dash towards Carnexos. Drawing his katana, he crossed his arms across his chest as he threw both swords to each of his sides. The spinning blades got tangled in the hanging threads that were connected to each of Carnexos’s hands. The swordsman closed the distance swiftly and Carnexos, each of his hands weighed down awkwardly by Shura’s swords, kicked out desperately.

    Shura leapt high into the air, avoiding the kick and drew his last dagger. He rammed its sharp point into Carnexos’s throat as he passed. The swordsman landed lightly on his feet, his back facing the Child of Travesty. The agony faded from Carnexos’s face and he smiled once more.

    “ Finally…I can be free of the whirlwind of violence…” Blood bubbled from his mouth and he collapsed to the ground, dead. The look of peace upon his face was heart wrenching.

    “ Alas, the whirlwind you speak of still binds me.” Shura said. He turned to regard the corpse of the Child of Travesty. I shall see you in hell, demon spawn.”


    The city of Terun came in sight and Feather urged his weary mount on. Within a quarter of an hour, he had reached the city gates. The guards there looked curiously at his bloody and battered clothing and his swords but did nothing to hinder his passing through, except making a few comments on how rare it was for an elf to visit Terun.

    A river flowed through the course of the city. Oal had most probably passed by here many hours since. He felt a pang of guilt for his decision to follow Shura and no small amount of longing. The nights would be cold without her. The elf sighed and turned to a guard.

    “ Excuse me, good soldier. I bring news of an incoming disaster. Brigands approach your fair city and seek to plunder it.” The guard, a young man with an inexpertly trimmed beard, looked at him incredulously, his eyes bulging.

    “ Er…you…what did you say?” He asked, nervously fumbling with a scrap of parchment and a piece of coal. His companion, another guard of a similar age and aptitude, scratched his head. “ I just have to write this down and take it to the sergeant, you see…er…” Feather sighed.

    “ Please, take me to see your sergeant. My news is of the utmost importance.” The young guard nodded and knocked on a wooden door set in the city gates.

    “ What?” A gruff voice demanded. The guard cleared his throat and swallowed a few times nervously before answering.

    “ Someone is here to complain about brigands on the road, sergeant.” He said. The wooden door was flung open with a crash and the sergeant emerged. He was a stout and grizzled man in his middle years. His chain-mail shirt was battered and worn and the round helm tucked under his arm sported numerous dents. The sergeant regarded Feather with a beady eye.

    “ What’s this about brigands? Terun is safe from their kind!” He proclaimed.

    “ The Blood Hounds, a ravenous band of marauders will be here in slightly less than a week’s time!” Feather almost shouted, losing his patience. “ They have sacked every settlement they have come across! Do not presume that Terun will be treated any differently!” The sergeant’s beady eyes narrowed in thought. He ran a burly hand over his chin.

    “ Yes. We’ve heard some tales from the few refugees that have made their way here.” He spoke slowly. “ The tales about them Blood Hounds are probably true, then. But not to worry, we have a hundred fighting men in this city. Them robbers will not find us easy meat, I say!” The sergeant slapped the young soldier on the back heartily; causing him to stumble forwards a few steps.

    “ The Blood Hounds number several thousand, man!” The elf raised his voice now. “ They are savage and murderous killers to the last man. Children such as him,” Feather pointed to one of the guards. The young man blanched and leaned away from the elf. “ Will be nothing more than amusing sport for them!”

    “ Now that you mention it, a ship with no flag sailed through the river way this afternoon. She was a deepwater ship, strangely enough and the captain was a one-eyed woman. She was hollering something about fleeing for our lives but the ship passed by too quickly for anyone to seek an explanation…” A guard piped up. The sergeant glared at him.

    “ Why did you not mention this earlier, soldier?” He snapped. Before the guard could respond, the sergeant returned his attention to Feather. “ You dare look upon the City Guard of Terun with contempt, elf? I ought to let you spend a day or two in jail for this!”

    “ Every single person in your precious city is going to die horribly and you still have time for this?” Feather shouted in the sergeant’s face. “ Evacuate the city! Send the aged and infirm away with the women and children! Then, if you are still so sure of your City Guard’s prowess, remain behind to provide a few hours of amusement for the Blood Hounds!”

    “ That’s it!” The sergeant scowled angrily. He snapped his fingers. “ Arrest this fool and lock him up!” The two guards exchanged uneasy glances but they hefted their spears uneasily and took a few steps towards the elf. Feather snarled and reached for the hilt of the straight sword strapped to his back. He glared at the stubborn soldiers.

    “ You will regret laying hands on me, humans!” In one swift moment, the elf drew his sword and sheared through the haft of a spear a guard was holding. The two young men yelped in fear and stumbled backwards, one of them falling on his rump. The sergeant frowned and reached for his sword.

    “ Resisting arrest, eh? I’ll bring you before the local magistrate for that!” He promised. A figure in a gray robe interposed itself between the elf and the sergeant.

    “ Stop this at once!” A man’s voice said. Even in the dim torchlight, Feather could see that the speaker was a man around Shura’s age, clad in the trappings of a mage. For a moment, the elf felt a shimmer of hope. If there was a mighty sorcerer in Terun, the Blood Hounds might not find this city easily taken after all. He recognized the insignia on the collar of the man’s robe soon enough, however and he barely held back a sigh of frustration. The man was a scholar mage, with spells more suited for obtaining knowledge than for battle. “ What is going on here, sergeant Vecks?” The mage continued.

    “ Begging your pardon, mister Thonas, but this troublemaker here was taunting my men.” Sergeant Vecks knuckled his forehead in an unofficial salute.

    “ I did nothing of the sort!” Feather shot back. “ You were the one being unreasonable!” The mage raised his hands to calm both parties before turning to look at the elf.

    “ Perhaps you would explain yourself, good elf.” He said. “ My name is Feros Thonas and I am a member of the City Council. You may address any issues you have to me.” Feather swiftly repeated what he had told the sergeant and unsurprisingly, the mage regarded the news with a certain amount of disbelief.

    “ You must believe me! I fought and killed members of a scouting party of the Blood Hounds less than a day’s ride from here!” Feather spoke urgently. He held up his sword to the torchlight so that the dried blood was visible down its length. Feros’s brow furrowed in thought for a moment before he turned to regard the sergeant.

    “ Please get the Guard Captain to report to the city hall first thing tomorrow morning, sergeant Vecks.” The grizzled soldier saluted once. Feather snatched at the mage’s sleeve.

    “ Time is scarce!” The elf snapped. Feros gently disengaged his clothing from his grasp.

    “ Trust in us, good elf. We will not condemn our people to death through incompetence.” Feros told him. He swept an arm towards the now dark streets of Terun. “ The hour is late. Perhaps you would like to spend the night at my house? It is humble, but it is far more comfortable than camping outside the gates.”

    Feather sighed, fighting to regain his composure. He stared at the ground for a few moments before nodding his head reluctantly. Feros smiled and led the way to his abode.

    The mage lived in a small mansion. Upon his instructions, a manservant took Feather’s dusty coat and hung it upon a rack by the door. The elf was shown to a small well within the compounds where he could wash the dust of the road off. He did so gratefully. After brushing his leather trousers as best as he could, the elf dressed again and made his way to Feros’s living hall. There, a table was set for three people.

    “ Please, do be seated.” A melodic voice caught his attention. Turning, Feather caught sight of a young woman descending a stairwell so gracefully that he thought her an elf maiden at first. She was not, he realized, though her beauty was more than enough to make his mouth go dry. Her long dark hair fell luxuriantly down her shoulders and her face was perfectly proportioned with high regal cheekbones and large round brown eyes that tapered to a point at their edges. Feather realized that he was staring and he bowed hurriedly, feeling embarrassed.

    “ I do not believe you have met my wife Jo-annia, have you?” Feros emerged from the shadows behind her, smiling. Putting an arm around her waist, the mage kissed her cheek fondly once and the woman smiled. “ This is Feather, an elf weary from the road. You do not mind if he stays here for the night?” Jo-annia shook her head and continued down the stairs. She walked to Feather and clasped one of the elf’s hands warmly in hers.

    “ I hope one such as you does not disdain our human dwellings, Feather.” She said. “ The homes of the elves are said to be places of dazzling beauty.” Feather shook his head hurriedly.

    “ I have been in worse conditions, madam.” He looked around at the warm and cozy room and laughed lowly. “ Much worse. The hospitality you and your husband offer is much appreciated, I assure you.”

    “ Please, call me Jo-annia.” The wife of Feros took a seat at the table. The two men waited until she was seated before sitting down as well.

    “ My husband told me of the news that you bring. What course of action do you propose we take, Feather?” Jo-annia asked, in between mouthfuls of food. The elf realized that he had been stuffing the pieces of meat and vegetables into his mouth faster than he could chew them and he choked and coughed as he tried to answer her. Feros slapped him on the back and pushed a glass of wine into his hands.

    “ My apologies.” Feather gasped breathlessly. Feros shook his head; a wide smile on his face and Jo-annia’s eyes twinkled with amusement. When he could continue, he leaned forward resolutely. “ There is no other way. The people of Terun must leave. Your puny City Guard will be no match for the Blood Hounds.”

    “ Surely the city walls will hold them back. No casual marauder would lay siege to a fortified city lightly.” Feros protested.

    “ Your city walls would do you no good. There is a powerful being among their number called the True Father. He can bring your city walls crumbling down with a gesture and a few unintelligible syllables.” The elf told him. “ I have seen many burnt and sacked settlements on my way here. Most of them tried to put up some sort of resistance with no success. No, your city walls will not stop the Blood Hounds.” Jo-annia exchanged worried glances with her husband. After a tense moment, Feros leaned forward and spoke.

    “ If what you say is true, the Council shall begin the evacuation of Terun’s people the next day. They will not doubt my words and I have little cause to doubt yours.” The mage’s words were spoken without a hint of hubris, despite the grand claims within. Feather relaxed visibly. He leaned back in his chair and sighed.

    “ That is good. I have not failed in my task…” A sudden yawn broke into Feather’s speech. He covered his mouth hastily. Feros smiled.

    “ You are weary, Feather.” He gestured to his manservant who bowed. “ He will take you to your room.” The elf nodded, his eyelids heavy with fatigue. He stumbled from the dining table.


    Across the moonlit plains, Shura stood atop a high rock, gazing in the direction from which he expected the Blood Hounds to come. The muscles of his face were cramped painfully into a twisted grin and the moonlight glinting off his dark eyes hinted at no small amount of madness.

    “ Kill…kill…kill…I must kill…” He muttered over and over again, the words barely discernable through his locked jaws. “ I must kill…not enough…more blood…more pain…more death…”

    The wind caught his cloak and whipped it wildly about. To the swordsman, another figure stood beside him, a large easterner in a gray kimono and a katana stuck in his belt.

    “ So, you are unable to escape the path of Slaughter as well, weakling.” The Fourteenth incarnation said. Shura looked into the eyes of the man who had raised him and taught him the way of the Sword of Darkness. There was neither tenderness nor love in those eyes, only cruelty and mockery.

    “ Even after all these years, do I still live in your shadow?” The Fifteenth asked. A sneer appeared on the Fourteenth’s face.

    “ There is much fear in you. Fear and weakness!” He spat.

    “ You wanted to die, that day on the snowy mountain.” The Fifteenth accused. “ I was no match for you then. You sought your death.” An expression of rage came over his face, wiping out his earlier visage of insanity. “ Is there no weakness in that?”

    “ You are the weak one, fool! The path of Slaughter has you in its grip! Soon, you will be enslaved by the desire to kill! Where is the pride in that? Where is the pride of the Sword of Darkness if he is nothing but a heedless murderer?” The Fourteenth bellowed. “ You have been told of Harmony! You took one look at it and walked away! All because of your petty grief over a woman who is beyond your reach now!”

    “ Silence!” The Fifteenth drew his katana and swept it in a wide arc. The blade went through the Fourteenth’s body without meeting the slightest resistance.

    “ Kill her. That is the only way to free yourself.” The Fourteenth said evenly, locking gazes with his former pupil. “ Your self-pity tears you apart. You are the Sword of Darkness! The bane of life! Not some lovelorn young man!” The Fifteenth closed his eyes and inhaled deeply. He thought of his sensei. He had fallen to the path of Slaughter. Men, women and children died senselessly to slake his insane rages. Whole villages were decimated and even the livestock were slaughtered. He opened his eyes and looked upon the moon, the blue light filling his vision.

    “ No.” He said calmly. Shura turned towards the specter of his sensei. “There is no need for me to free myself, for I have never been bound!” A twisted smile flitted across the face of the Fourteenth for the barest fraction of a moment.

    “ You have left my shadow for a long time, Shura.” The ghostly swordsman said. “ You now cast your own.” Shura was shocked. This was the first time his sensei did not call him ‘fool’ or ‘weakling’ when addressing him. The Fourteenth began to fade from sight.

    “ Why did you have to die so early? I still have so much to learn from you!” Shura asked, a pained expression on his face. Just before the Fourteenth faded entirely, Kuroi’s specter appeared to stand beside him.

    “ We have nothing left to teach you, Shura. You must find your own way from now on, and a dark and most sorrowful path it shall be indeed.” The Black Crane’s voice was as gentle and kindly as he had remembered it. A strong gust of wind threw up a cloud of dust and Shura had to bring up one hand to shield his eyes.

    “ I shall have no fear!” The swordsman yelled into the whirling dirt. “ No fear!”

    Shura found himself standing atop the rock, alone once more. The night air was still and there was no trace of a dust storm. He wiped his face with the back of his hand once.

    “ A dream…” The swordsman mused to himself. Yet, the rage and bloodlust that had coursed through his veins not so long ago were entirely gone. Checking the position of the moon in the sky, Shura determined that he had slept for about two hours. He leapt off the rock and tugged at the reins of a horse that he had taken from one of the slaughtered scouting party. Various bundles weighed the beast’s saddlebags down heavily.

    It was time to create a killing ground for the Blood Hounds.
  17. Gothmog

    Gothmog Man, a curious beast indeed! ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

    Jun 30, 2002
    Likes Received:
    [​IMG] Oh i've been waiting for this for so long - and now it finaly came ;) :D

    One question though: In the beggining on the first page you said "here's the third part of Shura's story" Where are the first two??

    Outstanding :eek:

    [ December 14, 2002, 20:42: Message edited by: Gothmog4230 ]
  18. Frostmage Gems: 11/31
    Latest gem: Bloodstone


    May 28, 2002
    Likes Received:
  19. Gothmog

    Gothmog Man, a curious beast indeed! ★ SPS Account Holder Veteran

    Jun 30, 2002
    Likes Received:
    How can this be???

    I mean i cant see those titles on the initial page on Creativity Surge. After writing former message i went for a search (keyword: Shura) And found titles mentioned above.
    And this forum has only one page :confused: :confused: Thats confusing if you ask me ;)
  20. Dalveen

    Dalveen Rimmer gone Bald Veteran

    Oct 11, 2002
    Likes Received:
    its because you have it on "show topice from last 20 days" or something along those lines it only shows topics that have been posted in in the last 20 days you need to change that to "show all topics" also great work shura keep it coming
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