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|Nazgrim #6. Picks up pretty soon after The Glass Rose, and Grim has been picking up steam ever since. But will all that power and vengeful wrath be enough when he finally confronts Emperor Barrund? How far is he willing to go to win? Will he truly pay any cost?||
Hand of Kharon
“Lord Barrund!” Sagato burst through the doorway into the throne room, where the hunched figure of Emperor Barrund, draped in black velvet robes and mantle, sat upon a throne he crafted from the bones of his enemies.
“I thought I ordered you to leave.”
“My lord, Nazgrim has desolated the First, Third, and Seventh armies! Are you not concerned about this in the least?”
“Your news is old,” Barrund chuckled. “Not two hours past, the Fourth and Eleventh armies met the same fate. The last obstacles have been removed. He cut a straight line here, just as I expected.”
“Lord Barrund, if he has slaughtered so many then he could have gathered an absurd amount of dark power! Lord Barrund!”
“I dismissed you and the others for your own good.” Eyes alight with inner flame blazed within the dark hood. “Leave me be, so that I may enjoy this feeling.”
“I said leave.”
* * *
As the keep appeared over the horizon, a malicious smile spread across Nazgrim’s face. He strode across the mirror-smooth surface of the sea, radiated dark magic stored from the slaughtered soldiers he’d left on the other side. The water bubbled beneath his feet, dead fish surfaced in his wake. The sky darkened as if the sun were afraid to shine on him, afraid to challenge the darkness he had gathered. At first he had begun his journey impatiently but the original fury has since given way, left only a single-minded will to destroy in its place. The embers smoldered, waiting for new fuel to consume.
With his first step onto land, the ground blistered and cracked. Plants withered and died, and Nazgrim harvested that power as well. The stone of the wall weathered as he approached, disintegrated at his touch, so he walked through and let the dust pour off him. Inside, he found four Overseers but no one else. No armies, no servants, no citizens seeking protection, not that Barrund would grant protection to any if they even asked.
“Sagato, Diakonos, Kazui… Mirei.”
“Aw, you remember me.” Mirei, the only woman of the four, curtsied. “I’m flattered.”
“We four are those who remain,” Sagato said as he silenced Mirei with a jealous glance. “Emperor Barrund ordered all to leave, but we refuse. We will die for the Emperor!”
“I will grant that desire,” Nazgrim answered. “But first, I wish to know. Was it one of you that killed Annira?”
“Who delivered the Glass Rose makes no difference. You know what it means. Barrund is the one whose will was done, not that of the Bearer. You have filled the role of Bearer on many occasions yourself, as I recall.”
“You misunderstand,” Nazgrim stated. “I will be taking it up with him after I kill the four of you, but if one of you delivered the rose, and since I’ll be killing you all anyway, I don’t see the harm of giving that person something a little extra.”
“If you want to know so badly… fine. I am the one. I, Steel-hands Sagato, delivered the Glass Rose to Annira, the daughter of Joten.”
“All right then.” Nazgrim clenched his fists. “You die last, and in the most pain. Brother demons, devourers of damned souls, unto you I grant these sacrifices! Ongakke and Gakkeon!” Bent and disfigured demons appeared before him, one to his left and one to his right. As one they sprang forward, Ongakke dove into Diakonos and Gakkeon into Kazui. Both Overseers howled in pain and collapsed, both being eaten from within. Diakonos withered and dried into a husk as Gakkeon leeched away his blood, and Kazui’s skin tore and bled as Ongakke devoured the flesh and left only blood.
Sagato rushed forward and swung, but Nazgrim easily leapt aside, glided on his cloth wings. As Sagato followed, his flesh shifted into metal, and he charged forward like a juggernaut. Nazgrim reared back to punch, and as he did so willed his cloak to wrap around his arm. The punch carried the added force of his magic behind it, and Sagato flew back, tumbled and rolled.
“I said last, wait your turn.” He turned to Mirei, who stood and glared at him silently. “Don’t think that the times we shared will garner you any mercy. Beyond a quick death.”
“You always were such a jerk,” Mirei sighed as she flipped her hair back. “It’s not like I’m planning to join you or anything. I am here to kill you or be killed by you, that’s the Overseer’s way. Nothing that has happened between us matters. I’m here because… I don’t know how to live any other way.”
“If you insist on standing in my way, then you die. I don’t care who you are.”
“You act like every woman in the world can’t help but fall in love with you, it makes me so sick.”
“Well… yeah.” Nazgrim grinned, for a short moment the darkness lifted from his face. “Every woman worth having, anyway.”
“I invoke you, demon of the air, gatekeeper of the heavens, Avruk, master of storms, smite my foe!”Avruk’s ethereal form appeared before Mirei even as Nazgrim leaped forward, and the pair passed in midair. The smoky body of Avruk vanished with a wail as Nazgrim reached Mirei and placed one hand on her chest, just below the ribs.
“Thanks for the memories.” She stared at him for a moment, trembled in fear of what was to come. “Spark of suffering, dark fire that lights the way for Kharon the Ferryman, take my foe for your master’s collection of souls! Hellflame!” In a burst of flame and smoke she was repelled, the spot where he had laid his hand on her smoldering. She toppled through the air like a rag doll until Sagato caught her in his metal embrace.
“There was… a time…” Mirei choked out as she smiled at him sadly, “that I thought… dying… in the arms… of the… man I loved… would be the… greatest feeling…”
“My love…” He held her tightly.
“It feels so… so very different… than I… thought…”
“On your feet,” Nazgrim ordered as he tapped his feet impatiently. “I haven’t got all day to waste with you.”
“Mirei…” he set her on the ground and folded her arms over her chest. “Wait for me. I’ll join you soon.”
“You certainly will. Mighty Aegis, warrior unparalleled--”
* * *
Barrund rose to his feet as he felt the surge of power, recognized the spell and knew that Nazgrim had finally arrived. He reached up and shoved back the hood of his velvet robes, revealed an ageless face and mane of long black hair. A single mark decorated his face, a rune on his left cheek that glowed a faint red in the shadows, the color of dying embers. The mark of Kharon, the curved lines that stood for fire in the pits.
“Fist of the Fallen Brave!”Nazgrim’s voice echoed through the keep, proceeded the shattering fist into the throne room but was followed by the decapitated head of Sagato, frozen in a look of terror and preserved in steel. Nazgrim marched into the room and squared off with Barrund. “Good, you waited, just like I told you to.”
“That bravado may have worked on those fools, but it won’t take you one step further now, my wayward child. What business brings you back to your old home?”
“You know damn well!” Nazgrim hurled the glass rose left on Annira’s corpse at Barrund, who merely took to the air on velvet wings and flew over it, landed atop the tall blood fountain in the center of the chamber.
“Because I had a traitor executed? I had hoped for more.”
“I was ready to walk away!”
“And I wanted you to return. Of course this is what I sought all along, you must have realized that. From the very beginning I have been guiding you to turn on me, as you guided that poor girl to betray my empire. We are so very selfish, you and I, but what more can be expected of those who dance to the beat of dead hearts?”
“But…” Nazgrim faltered, he heard no lie in Barrund’s voice; after so many years, he knew exactly what Barrund’s lies sounded like. “Why would you want me to turn on you?”
“Not even you, the most powerful and most determined of my Overseers, ever guessed your true purpose. I did not create the Overseers solely as a means of control over the populace, fear can do that. Armies can force peace upon the rebellious. So why, do you suppose, would I gather those who are anomalies--as I am--train and mold them, and then set them at each other’s throats?”
“Boredom? Some… sick little game?”
“You’re half-right,” Barrund grinned. “But what eludes you is the scope of the game, and the prize that awaits the winner. I wanted to raise an heir, a proper successor to this empire of which I have grown so very bored of ruling. I have discovered the truth. True, unlimited freedom can only be found in death. And so I raised many disappointments over the years, lost much that was once dear to me, and then a little boy with powers akin to mine appeared in this castle. Carried here by the very woman I had once loved, before this heart of mine had completely perished. Look at you now, how far you have come with my guidance. You might be the one.”
“So your motives become clear,” Nazgrim muttered. “That’s why you tried to send everyone away, you wanted me to reach you at the height of my power.”
“Those four didn’t drain you much, did they?”
“A decent warm-up, little more.”
“Excellent.” Barrund removed the glove from his left hand, revealed blistered flesh that flared as air touched it, the mark that Barrund was indeed the Hand of Kharon. “Shall we begin in earnest then? Forgive my impatience, I have waited so long for one of you to finally challenge my rule.”
“I care nothing for your empire,” Nazgrim grumbled.
“Once I’m dead you can do whatever you like with it, destroy it for all I care. That will be your right, as the conqueror. Now come on, cast the first spell. Or better, I’ll match you spell for spell, does that seem fair?”
“This is no game!” Nazgrim barked. “I am here for your blood! Weapon of the Dark One--”
“Wrath of Vanus? Good, let’s not waste any time,” Barrund grinned, spoke quickly to catch up. “Weapon of the Dark One--”
“flame that burns in the lightless pits granting neither radiance nor warmth, thief of the breath of life--” Their voices overlapped as all the energy in the room polarized, drawn to one or the other. The spells radiated darkness and light, left a vacuum between the two. “soul-consuming frozen flame, born of ice and fire, become my sword! Wrath of Vanus!” The spheres of dark energy collided at the halfway point and burst, though since neither of the two had consumed any matter the explosion was little more than a concussion.
“Not bad, my boy,” Barrund chuckled. “I’ll have to use more power next time.”
“Your call.” Nazgrim’s temper has cooled somewhat, now that he has seen Barrund match his most powerful casting of that spell with such ease. In the moment of time he waited for Barrund to select a spell he considered an invocation of Vanus, but Nazgrim had no idea if that would be sufficient to sever a Hand’s ties to his guardian demon. Such a casting could prove a horrible mistake if Barrund was not completely stripped of his magic as Nazgrim would be.
“I choose Jormungal, I haven’t used that spell for so many years.”
"Blood-harvester, minion of the ancient shadow--"Once again their voices matched, their rhythm and inflection almost identical. "serpent of acid, slither forth, your master demands it! Jormungal, strike and devour!" Twin serpents of acid rose from the floor and battled, and with each strike one of the pair was whittled down, slowly shrank from loss of fluid until only Barrund’s remained, though it too was almost destroyed.
“Fury!”Nazgrim’s spell proved powerful enough, and Barrund’s incarnation of Jormungal burst like a wineskin. The floor between Nazgrim and Barrund was now pockmarked and scarred by the acid, sizzled and smoked as acid continued to eat away at gray marble.
“Not used to losing a contest, I see,” Barrund taunted. “In all your hundred years, has that ever happened before? I thought not, I couldn’t remember it ever happening before.” The ageless emperor sighed reminiscently. “I remember when Alkaela first brought you here, I thought to myself ‘That little half-starved orphan will never wield any true power.’ How odd that you, whom I regarded as the weakest, proved to be the strongest.”
“I had to prove myself to you.” Nazgrim tolerated the banter, hoped that it would lead to Barrund lowering his guard. Despite all the power he had gathered as he slaughtered the armies, doubt overshadowed his confidence. Exactly how strong was Barrund? So far, he has been unable to gauge. Was this all he had, or could he channel even greater amounts of magic?
“But of course, they all want to… at first. Hahaha, you tried your best to look stoic when you met me, but you sensed that I was far more powerful than you. Kae spoiled you, too, and you still managed to become powerful. When you first showed up with Elle, I knew you were getting soft. The girl was cute, too, but she had never showed any proficiency for magic. But she worked hard to try and please you, and she was a half-elf, so she turned out better than expected, as well.”
“You should have praised her back then.”
“That was never my way.”
“Lord Barrund!” Nazgrim ran forward as fast as his short legs could carry him. He was still short for his age, though he had grown some since he first arrived in the keep. “I did it! My first mission was a success!”
“It was an easy mission,” Barrund answered dismissively. “We’ll have to find harder work for you from now, that’s to be sure.”
“Now, Tiemo, the child is proud of himself,” Alkaela chided as she bent down and smoothed out Nazgrim’s hair lovingly, though he fussed and shook his hair out wildly once he managed to get free, a mirror image of Barrund’s wild look. “And he did far better than you had expected.”
“How am I to know that you didn’t help him?”
“I did it on my own!” Nazgrim declared. “All twenty of them, I killed them all!”
“And you should have seen the looks on their faces,” Alkaela added. “Twenty paladins, massacred by one cute little boy like him.” She fiddled with Nazgrim’s cloak as he rolled his eyes.
“And exactly what do you want from me?”
“Praise him,” Alkaela pressured. “He did very well.”
“All right then. My boy--”
“Save it!” Nazgrim snapped as he glared at Alkaela. “If she has to force the words out of you, then I don’t deserve to hear them.”
“Grim! Apologize for your rudeness!”
“It’s alright,” Barrund chuckled. “He’s not one to tolerate pleasantries, and neither am I.”
“You humans,” Alkaela scoffed. “You’re so undignified.”
“And you choose our company over that of your own kind.” Barrund bent down and kissed Alkaela on the forehead. “Your real opinion of us is revealed.”
“Kae loved you very much, perhaps as much she once loved me,” Barrund sighed. “If I may level with you, I never understood elves. They make no sense to me, wasting words on empty praises and time on ceremonies. Do you miss Kae? I don’t.”
“I miss her a little, sometimes,” Nazgrim muttered. “Maybe that’s just the guilt. If she were still around then I wouldn’t have killed her.”
“And then you show up with that little half-breed pet of yours. With Elle running around, causing mischief, the place felt alive again. She had all of Kae’s endearing traits and none of her annoying vices.”
“Reij tried to use Elle to kill me. Did you know that?”
“He ran that plan passed me, yes. I knew it wouldn’t work.”
“Came pretty close to working.”
“Some of us can’t be killed through mere deceit and trickery.” Barrund grinned slightly at Nazgrim. “How is Elle doing? Is she here somewhere?”
“I told her not to follow me.” Nazgrim clenched his fists. “Did you ever find a cure, some way to fight the ‘death within.’ I…”
“It’s called death because there is no curing it. I feel for you and Elle, I really do, not that it matters since you’ll be dead soon. But I feel for the two of you nonetheless, star-crossed love is something I have experienced. Kae and I… just couldn’t get passed the death within. I doubt that anyone can get passed it. We necromancers aren’t suited for love, as if we didn’t already suffer enough for our power.”
“We can love as well as anyone else,” Nazgrim said, more a thought spoken aloud than an argument. “We merely have to prepare to lose the one we love, that’s what I can’t do.”
“What kind of love is left?” Barrund asked. “Love is merely a clutching desire, akin to fear. To love is to cling to that which makes you feel safe, as I did with Alkaela. And for a Hand to love is an even worse crime.”
“It’s something I myself don’t understand,” Nazgrim muttered. “At some point, since leaving this place… I learned how, I stopped forcing my own selfish desires on Elle and Annira. I wanted them both to live, and be happy.”
“What changed?” Barrund asked intensely. “I must know.”
“I can’t put it into words.”
“So it seems you have surpassed me in one way, at least.”
“I won’t die here,” Nazgrim stated. “I have to see Elle again, just one more time. Writhing wretched spiteful souls, bestow upon me your malice, fuel my power with your agony! Wraith-Blade!” Tendrils of shadow twined to form the cutting edge as Nagrim’s spell flared forward. Barrund’s mantle formed a shield around him and deflected the spell with ease.
“You try to strike me with such a pitiful spell?” Barrund scoffed.
“Stop holding back!” Nazgrim yelled. “This is no game!”
“Then, goodbye, my boy.” Barrund extended his left hand, and the flames that sprang from his skin doubled in intensity. “I am proud of how strong you have become. By this hand of Kharon I do invoke the limitless hellflame--” The sudden vortex of dark magic shook the stone beneath Nazgrim’s feet, and he watched in awe as the blood in the fountain boiled and evaporated, absorbed into the hand of Kharon. “by the power infused in this sacrificed hand, I call upon the dark fires! Harrowing Inferno!” The entire castle became alive with flame as Nazgrim wrapped himself in his shielding cloaks. Back he flew to the wall where he was pinned for only a moment before the stone, too, was consumed. Through the ashes he fell, out into the open keep, flew through the air until he collided with a warm, familiar presence that he was not conscious long enough to recognize.
“Grim!” Elle called out as she carried him to the ground as best as she could. “Grim, answer me!”
“And he said he told you not to follow,” Barrund chuckled, strode from the smoke and flame casually. “I thought you always listened to him.”
“Stay back!” Elle yelled. “I won’t let you touch him!”
“He challenged me, little one,” Barrund answered. “If you come in between he and I, then I will simply kill you as well.”
“Then I will die for Grim!” She thrust both hands down against the ground, and up sprang vines that tangled and tore into Barrund. Great spirit that governs the soil, bringer of life and accepter of death, both nurturer and cruel mistress, the one on whom all children must depend--”
“Interesting choice,” Barrund grinned. “Don’t you know who I am?”
“I call you now, I invoke you, raging Earth-Mother!”The turf rolled up into a great wave of stone, lead by the skeletal face of a maiden, but Barrund sprang lose from the vines and blazed forward, his left hand leading, and tore through the incarnation of the Earth-Mother. Low and fast he flew, a dagger shone in his right hand.
“Elle!” Nazgrim struggled to his feet and shoved her aside, met Barrund’s rush full on. They parted, each with a dagger in his chest, and Elle caught Nazgrim as he fell. Barrund stumbled back and pried at the dagger in his chest.
“Grim… I’m so sorry,” she gasped as she pulled the dagger out and held a piece of cloth to the wound.
“Why did you come here?!”
“I felt that… you weren’t planning to come back, were you?” She held his hand tightly. “You meant to leave me behind! I felt that if I didn’t come after you, then I would never see you again, and I couldn’t live with that!”
“The two of you are so very sweet,” Barrund muttered. With the dagger finally removed from his chest, he cauterized the wound with his left hand.
“I will stand beside you,” Elle said as she stepped toward Barrund. “You don’t have to do this alone, my love.”
“Run while you can!” Nazgrim barked. “Elle!”
“I am not afraid of you, my emperor,” Elle declared.
“Then you die too, little girl.”
“I’ll keep him busy, Grim. Come up with some spell that can defeat him.”
“As if there was one,” Barrund chuckled. “But do try, my boy, don’t let her die in vain.”
Elle and Barrund flew up into the sky, where would stand a better chance against the emperor’s power. Nazgrim hauled himself up to his feet, though he knew pursuit would be fruitless. Though he considered all his most powerful spells, none seemed effective enough to defeat someone of Barrund’s power. Truly, being one of the Hands meant becoming a necromancer of power exceeding all other.
“I guess that’s that,” Nazgrim sighed. “But whom to choose?” He took one of his daggers out, and held the pentagram scar on his left palm out before him. “If only Vanus had a rune, he’d certainly be able to grant me enough power.” He hesitated, regretted having to swear himself over to a demon. But if he did not Elle would certainly die, and that spurred him into motion. “If I am to combat Kharon, Sivarand seems the logical choice. Tyrant of the Black Ice, the frozen demon, accept this hand as your own.” He carved Sivarand’s rune in the center of the pentagram. Immediately a numbed pain shot through his arm, and he cried out in pain as his arm discolored. As if frostbite spread through his arm, Nazgrim’s flesh became black and gaunt, frost formed on his skin. Through the pain he grinned, and knew that Sivarand had accepted the sacrifice. New power welled up inside him as he stood, raised his eyes to the battle.
“What is this?” Barrund asked. Elle’s unmoving form dangled from his right hand, held by her hair. “What have you done?”
“Unhand her!” Nazgrim roared.
“As you wish.” Barrund released Elle and she fell into Nazgrim’s arms, followed swiftly by a burst of hell fire that Nazgrim countered with the power of the black ice.
“Elle… don’t you die on me,” Nazgrim said as he laid her on the ground.
Nazgrim and Barrund charged together, left hands collided, and all the world resonated. A great shockwave emanated from the impact, froze and baked the ground that it contacted, and both necromancers were flung back. They circled through the air, spiraled together and struck, both tried to afflict the other with the power in their left hand.
“Do you know what you have done?!” Barrund shouted. “The power of a Hand comes at a grave price! We must sacrifice souls to feed our power!”
“I will pay it!”
“A Hand is driven to destroy that which he loves! You will destroy Elle!”
“I will spare you from my fate. By this hand of Kharon I do invoke the limitless hellflame--”
“By this hand of Sivarand, I do invoke the timeless black ice--”
“by the power infused in this sacrificed hand, I call upon the dark fires!”
“with the power in this frozen hand, I invoke the consuming cold!”
“Storm of Torment!”
The spells collided and entwined, neither gained dominance at first but simply competed in the middle ground. Barrund grimaced and poured more of his power into the spell, but Nazgrim never faltered. Slowly the storm of fire and ice pressed toward Barrund, until finally the emperor abandoned the spell and plummeted, barely avoided death.
“From the frozen wastelands of the pits, I bid you rise Tyrant of the Black Ice, ascend and do my will! Sivarand, I invoke you!”Nazgrim wasted not a moment, even as Barrund dodged he cast another spell. The incarnation of Sivarand followed Barrund as he dodged and wheeled through the sky.
“I will not die so easily!” Barrund roared and thrust his burning hand at the incarnation, dispelled it almost immediately. “You’ll have to do better than--” He stopped short when he felt Nazgrim’s frozen hand against the back of his head. “Tricky, my boy. Ever so tricky.”
“I learned from the best.” A surge of dark magic and Barrund’s head was encased in black ice, frozen solid and consumed. He plummeted from the sky, and on impact with the ground the ice shattered. “The Empire of Barrund has ended this die.” Nazgrim landed lightly on the ground and knelt beside Elle.
“G-Grim?” she stammered dazedly, then bolted up. “What happened? Did we win?”
“Barrund is dead,” he answered. “As for winning… I don’t feel like I’ve won anything.” He stared down at his left hand. “Not at all.”
“What is it?”
“I have become the Hand of Sivarand, there was no choice if I wanted to protect you.”
“So… what happens now?”
“I don’t know. Barrund was the Hand of Kharon for as long as I’ve known him, so I don’t know what happened to him when he made the pact. I think Alkaela once told me that was the day he began his conquest.”
“Are you going to start a war?”
“Something feels… wrong…” The fingers of the frozen hand twitched and spasmed. “I have found what true freedom is, Elle.”
“What is it?”
“Death.” Again the fingers moved of their own accord. Nazgrim’s arm rose up as if reaching out to Elle and she smiled at him, never suspected anything was amiss. He did not realize what was happening until he felt the power that gathered in his arm. “Elle! Move!”
Nazgrim slapped his right hand across his left, barely redirected the surge of black ice away from Elle. He struggled and strained, forced the hand of Sivarand down toward the ground, locked it between his knees as his right arm tired.
“Elle, get away from me! Now!”
“What’s going on?”
“Barrund said…” Nazgrim strained between gritted teeth. “that there would be a price! Sivarand is trying to take you!” Black ice began to flood from the frozen hand, coated the ground beneath his feet and began to spread. “You must get away!”
“What about you?!”
“Stop thinking about me!” he barked. “You must flee!”
“Grim… it’s too late.” She looked down at her feet, already coated in ice that climbed up her legs as if it were a living thing. “I don’t mind dying, not for your sake.”
“Elle!” Nazgrim could not hold back the frozen hand any longer, it burst free and black ice flooded over Elle. In a span of heartbeats she was completely entombed, remained faintly visible through the obscuring ice. With that complete the hand grew still once again. “What have I done?” He sank to his knees, set his forehead against the block of ice. “Elle?” He clawed at the ice but could not make even a scratch in it. “Don’t leave me…”
* * *
“Is this palace much farther?” Kyran asked. The thieving sprite, Tivas, ran far ahead of the rest of the Green Cloak Brigade. Kyran lead, with his brother Vanseid close by, and the paladin Sir Reginald and priestess Serena behind. Wynna the druid lagged behind, used her magic to try and bring life back to the withered and dying plants left by Nazgrim’s passing.
“I can sense that a battle between powerful mages took place just a little ways ahead,” Vanseid answered. As he walked he leaned heavily on his staff. “The power of the dark arts permeates this land, I’ve never felt anything quite like it before.”
“And we certainly can’t lose Nazgrim’s trail,” Wynna muttered. “I doubt I’m the only one who has noticed the all the plants are dying.”
“I see it!” Tivas declared excitedly and pointed over the next hill. “Do you see the smoke? It’s rising from the castle! Though there’s really not a lot of castle left, I suppose, but you can tell it used to be.” He beamed proudly as the others caught up with him. “Reminds me of old Uncle Travas’ house when his collection of tall-folk’s socks caught fire, oh you’ve never seen such a blaze as that. For some reason uncle Travas liked to run in socks up to his thighs for some reason, I never understood. Auntie Tantie, her name was Tanati but we just called her Tantie because it rhymes, you see. Auntie Tantie. Anyway, Travas’ obsession with big socks was quite alarming to Auntie Tantie, one day she said to me--”
“Enough!” Wynna scolded and clapped both hands over the sprite’s mouth. “You’re going to get left behind!”
“Wait, Kyran, it’s not safe!” Tivas ran after the brothers as fast as his little legs could carry him. “Let me go first!”
“I don’t like the idea of any of us going first,” Vanseid muttered. “Stay close, everyone. I think the battle is over and the winner gone, but there’s no need to be foolish.”
“Over?!” Tivas whined and ran straight for the courtyard. “But I wanted to see the mage battle! ZAP! BOOM! CRACKLE! I want to see!” Without a heartbeat of hesitation he ran straight in, but paused just inside. “Serena! Hurry up! The nice lady is in trouble!”
“Elle?” Sir Reginald gasped, then he too ran as quickly as he could in his heavy armor. “Merciful gods, what is this devilry?” He placed one hand on the black ice and it began to melt slowly beneath his touch.
“Cool!” Tivas gasped. “Let me try!” He placed one hand on the ice, but rather than melt the ice began to spread over his fingers. “Cold-cold-cold-cold-COLD! Help! Reggie! It’s got me!”
“What fell magic behaves so?” Sir Reginald held his hands over Tivas’ until they were free of the ice. “Stop touching everything, Tivas.”
“I can’t help it!”
“This is the Black Ice of Sivarand,” Vanseid muttered as he examined the block. “Swiftly, Serena, Sir Reginald, use your holy amulets. If we hurry then perhaps she can still be saved!”
“What happened here, brother? Can you tell?”
“I found a body!” Tivas exclaimed as he jumped up and down. “But his head’s exploded, good luck guessing who he was!”
“That is… that is the Hand of Kharon!” Vanseid gasped, he shoved Tivas aside and examined the body. “Could it be?”
“Don’t leave us in suspense, brother. What is it?”
“Then Hand of Kharon lays here, dead. Elle was struck by the power of Sivarand, the chill aura in the air… I can only assume that Nazgrim has become the Hand of Sivarand.” Vanseid sank to the ground and set his head in his hands.
“Is that bad?” Wynna asked. “Nazgrim is our friend, more or less. What’s wrong with him becoming more powerful?”
“He attacked Elle,” Kyran answered. “Don’t you think there’s something wrong with that?”
“Nazgrim is not aligned with Sivarand,” Vanseid explained. “He’s not strong enough to contain the power of the Hand, indeed he is perhaps the youngest necromancer to successfully attempt to become a Hand, and many far older have been manipulated by demonic powers for years after becoming the Hand of lesser demons. The last Hand of Veroma, for example, blighted the islands in the west centuries ago and the taint remains, so long after his death.”
“So what do we do now?” Kyran asked. “If he cannot control the power he has been given, what do we do?”
“Do?!” Vanseid scoffed. “You jest. The two of us could not defeat him before, and now that he has become a Hand… What would you have us do, brother?”
“Perhaps, with all of us united--”
“You want to kill him?” Wynna asked.
“I’ve always wanted to,” Kyran answered evenly. “Until now, I had no good reason. Are we to just ignore the people who he might destroy?”
“You don’t know, he might find a way to control this power.”
“Which way did he go, Van?”
“Looks like… he went home.” Vanseid nods in the direction they came from. “The Freed Lands.”
“We’ll decide what must be done when we get there, is that satisfactory?” Kyran asked. “Our first priority is saving Elle, if we can. Perhaps she can help us, if she’s strong enough to fight.”
“She won’t fight Nazgrim, regardless of what shape she’s in,” Sir Reginald said but did not look up. Frantically he worked at the ice, tried feverishly to get Elle out. “Don’t kid yourself. She loves him with all her heart, for some gods-forsaken reason. And you have no right to ask that of her.”
“Our options are rather limited,” Kyran muttered.
“With the man she loves, become an instrument of a fiend’s will,” Serena muttered. “I wonder if she even wants to get out.”
|The Sleeper||The Way of the Overseer|
|The Outcasts||The Wild Hunt|
|Green Cloak Brigade|