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An Old Story Retold-One of my story lines from years back

Discussion in 'UO Catskills Role Play' started by Aedon Durreah, Oct 16, 2015.

  1. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    Legacy of Connemara-

    In the Still of the Night

    The night winds blew softly through 'The Glade', carrying gently on their backs the fragrance of heather and various other wildflowers. From the direction of the Knight's Rest, the gentle slosh of the water in the pond served as a reminder to him that for now, all was as it should be in Aegis. Sitting on the steps of Connemara, Aedon sipped a cup of tea, the last he would enjoy while looking out through the woods of Yew.

    His mind wandered back over the festivities of the night. It made his heart glad to recall the fine turn out for the story telling. He chuckled a bit recalling the insults flung at him in the spirit of fun. He thought of those so dear to him, their words this night, and also those words unspoken but conveyed through a look or a touch of the hand. He had vowed he would not feel sorry for himself as he said his farewells. After all, as was said to him,

    “Goodbyes are needed, so there can again be hellos.”, but, would there be any more hellos?

    He was glad that Aramis had arrived home this night, and relieved when he said that he would accompany his father on the journey. The travel would be made lighter by the company, and there was much he wished to discuss with his son.

    Most had been made ready for their departure. What was not shipped ahead or given away, would be carried along with them on the pack horses Llyrwech had provided. They were sturdy creatures, and quite spry in spite of what Aedon could only guess to be their age. Llyr would follow close behind after closing down and settling the accounts they held with the many tradesmen.

    It would be so good to see Jan and Kylee again. This thought ran through his mind over the days that led up to the party at the Rest, and now lay on his heart causing a quickening sensation that brought to mind a young man pursuing his first love.

    It had been some time since he had laid eyes on his wife and small daughter, but their faces stood out crystal clear in his dreams, and he could swear, from time to time, that he could hear Jan singing softly to Kylee in the nursery down the hall.

    A journey once begun is half done.

    But, though he longed to again hold his wife in his arms, and to hear the first words of his daughter, still Aedon hesitated in Aegis. There were things he must, he needed to do. There would be a breakfast with Beleg and Ahmaya. One more chance to sit with his elven family and enjoy watching their wee ones at play. Tea would be shared one final time with Sage in the quiet stillness of the Freehold of Roses. Then a last round of packing, the road routes planned out, and then, one final ride through Aegis.

    This he would do alone in the wee hours of the morn as the mists lay gently on the boughs of the trees. Stopping in the chapel, he planned to keep a silent vigil, and spend some time in contemplation of years spent within the shelter of the glade.

    Taking to the foot paths, he would embrace the feel of each familiar cobblestone that made up the well worn path which led from the Knight's Rest, to the spot where once the Saints and Spirits stood. All this, he would commit to memory, and carry away with him to distant lands. And, although there was so much he had planned and never accomplished here, he would take away with him no regrets for a life well spent among these people.

    Finishing his tea, Aedon stood and looked off towards the East. Already the first rays of the sun could be seen peeking over the horizon, illuminating the clouds which hung lazily in the skies of early summer.

    “Well, it would seem I have wiled away the night lost in thought again.”

    Turning to go inside his house, Aedon froze as he turned the knob. Something within paralyzed his body, his heart raced wildly as visions of despair filled his mind. A deep sense of foreboding and loss overcame him, and from the darkest recesses of his mind a voice called his name.
     
  2. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    The air around him reeked with the smell of sweat and blood. Overhead, clouds thick with smoke hung low over him. All about him the sounds of battle echoed, and yet his focus was not on those around him.

    He could hear the screams of the combatants as they fell, wounded mortally, to the ground. The constant bark of orders given to those who remained to stand their grounds. And in the distance, he thought he could hear Aramis calling out to him.

    Aedon wanted to run to him, to see to the safety of his son, and yet something held him in the spot. He dare not move, lest the darkness surrounding him consume his soul. Here he felt somewhat safe as the carnage played out around him.

    An explosion rocked the land and then came the stench of burning flesh and the agonized cries of those consumed in flame and pain beyond all endurance. The feted stench assaulted his nostrils and caused his stomach to lurch. The calls for his aid grew louder and more desperate. But still, he remained knelt in this one spot, Ahoun held firmly in his hands as he stared into the void.

    Around him the battle seemed to at last fade out, the cries from the dying ceased, and as the smoke began to clear, Aedon cautiously looked around him. The lands lay littered with many of the brave men who had ridden out with him that morn. The wide opened stare of a young lad of about eighteen summers met his gaze, and Aedon could not help but wonder what crossed his mind as he saw his end coming.

    He called out for Malac, for Llyr and Aramis. But no response came back, only the howl of a desolate wind. All life had fled this place, and only he remained to face the coming storm. He was alone now, truly alone. And as he turned his gaze forward again, he saw the daemon's approach.

    Black as night, a huge formless mass, it moved upon the land consuming all that it touched. Over head, the skies darkened, as even the suns light fell before the coming doom. Aedon found himself scrambling backwards in a wild attempt to escape this fate. Sword still drawn, he drug it through the blackened sands as he sought some safety but finding himself in a seemingly confined area.

    With no place left to go, Aedon struggled to his feet, and drew the soul-reaver up, pointing it towards his advancing foe. He searched within himself for the courage to stand, the dignity to meet his end as those around him had done.

    And then he heard it, or thought he heard it.

    A laughter, low and menacing, almost growling... like the sound a rabid wolf makes when it has trapped a rabbit and is moving in to consume it. It hit him like a blackrock blast, sending him flying backwards until his body struck a tree, and then he lay against it staring down at his own sword buried deep in his chest.

    He tried to sit up, but found that he was held fast to the trunk behind him. Blood seeped slowly from the wound, and yet to his surprise, he felt no pain.

    He lay there for sometime awaiting his fate. Assumed that he would either bleed to death, or be torn asunder by that which he could feel growing ever closer to him. Thoughts of green fields running down to a blue bay filled his mind. Meadows ablaze in shades of orange and red flowers glimmered in the light of a rising dawn. And the sweet sound of music washed over him. Slowly, Aedon began to sing an old song he recalled from his time at home in Ireland. A smile traced his lips and a new calm filled him as he remembered for the first time in many years that which had been lost to him. He saw the great hall of his father, and the path which ran from the smithy, down to the meadows before Galway Bay. Spirited horses galloped through the fields, heads flung back as they neighed and reveled in the fresh spring air.

    And looking upon all this, he remembered even more. He remembered who he was.

    Grasping the hilt of Ahoun, he slowly withdrew the blade from his chest and stood to face what now grew even closer. His heart swelled with pride, and honor and virtue stood with him as, with renewed courage, Aedon met death head on. There was no loud fanfare, no clarion call as he stood still singing, and the darkness enveloped him.
     
  3. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    The light slowly filled his eyes as he lie in bed, staring up into the night. The breeze at the window billowed the curtains gently, causing the light of the twin moons to flicker across the floor and over his bed. The bedsheets were tangled and strewn about, the mattress soaked with sweat, yet Aedon felt somehow quite serene... more so than he had felt these many years.

    How many years has it been, anyway? How many ages have passed since the fields of Connemara drank the blood of an innocent smith and claimed the life of a king? He could not even begin to count. He had been back and forth among worlds so many times, now. He had seen the autumn of years only to give winter and spring amiss and return to summer. When a man ought to have died as many times as he, acknowledging birthdays seemed a farce.

    As he chuckled at this thought, the night-clad room drifted into focus. Aedon sat up in bed, resting folded arms upon his knees. The cool air was pleasant against his chest, but made his leg ache. He rubbed gently at the old wound as he thought on others which had faded. Corellon had blessed him with a mostly-healed body as a partial boon for his services in the past and claimed Aedon as one of his own. The symbol still remained on the inside of his left arm, a soft but constantly-glowing pale-blue crescent moon. It was supposed to be a mark of protection; sometimes, he wondered if it wasn't more like a brand on a head of livestock.

    He turned his attention to his right arm. It still seemed unnatural to see so clean and unblemished. Though it was not his own, he had lived the life of a smith for a number of years, and his maul-arm had known more than its fair share of live iron and flying embers. In renewing his body, Corellon had stripped, too, those marks of honorable work, symbols of a decade-long apology for his life's one great regret. He tightened a fist and watched the muscles tense under the skin. His arm was as restless as his mind was calm.

    On the wind, he thought he could hear the familiar sound of steel on steel. Memories of the blacksmiths' shop in northern Britain, perhaps, or remnants of the nightmare. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, waiting for the phantoms to fade as they always did... but the sound would not abate. It rang on, constant and rhythmic.

    clannnng~

    clannnng~

    clannnng~


    His hand began to itch and he could almost feel the weight of the maul in his grip. At length, he stood and moved to the window, listening to the ringing in the night. He closed his eyes. It was a lullaby to him. But, who would be at the forge at this time of night?

    He pulled on a shirt and a pair of trousers and left his room. Into the night, he walked, barefoot, toward the forge across the glade.

    * * *

    The lamps were lit in the forge and a mixture of yellows and reds pressed their way into the darkness of the night. Stepping toward the sphere of light, the air grew noticeably warmer. Whoever it is, the fires are going full-force...

    Aedon rounded the corner. “... John?”

    John looked up from his work, though his arm kept true to the rhythm. For Aedon, looking at John was gazing into the uncanny. Standing before him was the young man whose life he took on that old and distant field—or, rather, an illusion thereof, an echo made palpable. This person, this... being... held the soul of the lost John McDermmot, that was certain. This body, however, never had the chance to be. John had been cut down in his youth, a boy of no more than twelve, called to the field in place of his ailing father. The man who stood at the forge had been created out of a combination of the recollections of the severed soul and Aedon's memories. However, those memories had been tainted and combined with the ones gathered over the years during which Aedon took the boy's name and place. As such, Aedon was never sure whether he was looking at the young smith's son aged outside of time or a perversion of his own mien.

    “Aedon!” John greeted him, surprise in his voice even as his work was unaffected. “What brings you 'round at this hour? You've sleep to be getting.”

    Aedon entered the forge and took a seat on a low workbench. “Dreams...”

    For a moment, John was not sure if Aedon planned to continue. He regarded the old king, his eyes turned toward the stones, his mouth moving in the silence of words he could not form. At length, John returned his attention to the sword he was pounding out of a blank. He quenched the sword in the oil trough and pulled another brilliant-red blank out of the forge and went about pounding it to shape against the anvil.

    At last, he spoke: “What work keeps you up so late?”

    John took a moment out of stride to point to the corner where, gathered in a barrel, stood a number of freshly-made swords, all of a length. Simple blades with simple handles, the kind which can be made, and repaired, at need. He returned to his work, back on rhythm, as if he had kept the time in his mind.

    “I see.” Aedon nodded. He looked to the forge. Full double or more blanks lay waiting in the coals, with three or four more partially-forged blades sticking out of the oil waiting to be wiped and re-fired. “... You have much work ahead of you, it would seem.”

    “Aye,” John replied, simply. But for the rumble of the coals and the clanging of John's focused work, the air between them was silent. John tapped the slag off of the blank and quenched it in the oil. It bubbled and hissed violently as he drew a prior piece out of the oil. He wiped it with a cloth and placed it into the coals, then selected another blank and placed it on the anvil. The action was simple, but the grace and flow with which he went about this demonstrated a practiced art.

    Aedon watched John pound out the blank. Against the red glow of the metal, the pale-blue mirror of his own mark of Corellon caught Aedon's eye—a symbol of the bond between the two men, placed upon them both in the same moment.

    Aedon's arm grew anxious. He looked to the pile of blanks still waiting in the forge. “May I help?”

    John looked up and ceased his pounding. His maul-arm dropped to his side and his greyed-blue eyes looked deeply into Aedon's rich green. “This's hardly a king's labor, Aedon.”

    “I know.”

    “An' y'haven't so much as touched a hammer in how long?”

    Aedon's gaze lowered. “I know, John.”

    “An' I've quite a lotta work ahead of me tonight, so if it's...”

    “I can see that, John,” he nearly barked. His eyes closed tightly as he settled himself. “May I help or may I not?”

    John stared a moment, baffled by the reaction. He shrugged and returned to pounding. “You're the king.” He gestured across the way with his forehead: “There's another anvil set up right there. Maul's on the wall, blanks're right here.”

    Aedon stood and moved hesitantly about the room, gathering his supplies. He slipped an apron about his neck and lowered a maul from the peg-rack. It was unexpectedly heavy at first, and he nearly dropped it, but the wrapped-leather grip felt good in his hand. He slipped his other hand into a glove and retrieved a blank from the forge. Laying it on the anvil, he steadied himself and prepared, arm thingyed at his side. He adjusted his stance a moment, then wound up and took a swing...

    CLAUNK! The blank bounced from the force of the strike and fell to the ground, sizzling against the dirt and dust.

    “You clod!” John shouted as he abandoned his own work and strode firmly across the workshop. He reached the fallen blank before Aedon and knelt to inspect it. He picked it up and held it gently by the handle, looking the blade up and down. “Oi!... dented an' filthy. This one's ruined; it'll have t'be re-smelted and poured an' I don't have the time for that, now...”

    “I...” Aedon wasn't sure what to say. He hadn't been in this position in some years. “I am sorry, John. Maybe I should just leave you to your work...”

    “Oh, no, you don't,” John commanded. “You just cost me a blank. Yer gonna work it off. Grab another. Yer gonna do this right!”

    John tromped back to his own anvil as Aedon retrieved a fresh blank. He placed the glowing metal on the anvil gently and started to feel out the first strike. As he drew back his arm, John called out:

    “Stop! Right there. That's your problem. You're striking.” Aedon met the disapproving gaze of the smith. “You don't strike. It's not a matter of hitting as hard as you can in one blow. You're the conduit. You let th' hammer do the work. It wants t'fall. It's gonna fall. All you do is guide it. Like this.” John made a point of broadly drawing up his arm over his head and letting his maul-hand drop cleanly through the air, landing the hammer on the side of the blade and drawing it back as it bounced. He did this a few more times before looking back to Aedon and commanding him to try.

    Aedon drew his maul up over his head and cleared his mind. He tried to focus on the feel of the weight and the way it moved through the air. He let it drop. He hit the blank squarely and drew back gently: not a perfect hit, by any means, but an effective one. He gave the blank a few more whacks and began to fall into his own rhythm. Soon, their hammers were locked in a call-and-response.

    Clang – Clang...

    Clang – Clang...


    Aedon's oil trough began to collect quenched blanks. His pace was nowhere near as strong as John's, but he was making progress. He was focused. He did not even notice that the mark on his left arm had begun to shift in color, from a pale blue to a gentle yellow, as did that on John's right.

    Clang – Clang...

    Clang – Clang...


    “I am beginning to wonder,” Aedon said after a time, “just what this journey will bring.”

    “Hmm,” was all the reply.

    “I would not say,” Aedon continued, “that I fear it... but there is an unease within me...”

    John silently pounded away, his hammer replying to Aedon's.

    Clang-Clang...

    Clang-Clang...


    “John...”

    John grunted questioningly.

    “... I cannot ask you to go with me.”

    “Well, then it's a good thing you haven't. Doesn't mean I'm not goin'.”

    “No, John... not this time... I cannot let you go with me.”

    John stopped abruptly, mid-swing. “An' why the blazes not?”

    Aedon ceased as well and rested his hands on the anvil, staring into the red-hot steel. “Because, John, I am beginning to wonder if...” He searched for the words. “... if I shall be returning this time. I do not know what lies beyond, and I wish not to put you in danger.”

    John huffed. “Not this, again.” John rested the top of his maul on the anvil and leaned on the handle. “Look, Aedon... that's all been done. It's over. It's past! You can't keep livin' in the fear of what you can't...”

    “That does not mean I have to make the same mistake twice!” the crafter-king bellowed, his voice ringing through metal of the tools hung behind him. The marks continued to shift, their light drifting toward a rich orange.

    John stared at Aedon for a few moments, watching as the man's shoulders heaved heavily with a weight they were still trying to shrug off. “Aedon,” he began, gently, “... that was a lifetime ago... for both of us.” John placed a hand over his ribs. “I know why you feel this way... hell, I've some of your memories of those years... but Aedon... I've moved on. I've accepted it.” He gripped the fading blank and prepared to try a few more hits before it expired. “You should, too.”

    As the sound of John's hammer echoed through his head, Aedon's shoulders dropped softly. After a few minutes, he slowly returned to the work at hand, quenching the tired blade and retrieving a fresh one to forge.

    The marks took on a deep-red hue, lost now in the glow of the hot metal.

    ClangClang...

    ClangClang...


    John took a slow, deliberate breath. “When d'you ride, m'lord?”

    Aedon paused, then replied: “We gather at seven and ride by nine.”

    Cla-Clang...

    Cla-Clang..
    .

    “An' will y'be needing my services?”

    “Blades must be mended.”

    ClaClang...

    ClaClang...


    “Then we will ride together...”

    Cl-Clang...

    Cl-Clang...

    C-Clang...

    C-Clang...

    Clang...

    Clang...

    Clang~...
     
  4. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    I am prepared for the journey. Well I suppose I am about as prepared as I can be. I have dealt with some parting matters, and even found time to sit down for tea with Sage. This, for me, was a bitter sweet thing. Sitting across from the Ghille Dhu who has been my friend for some time now, I found it surreal to think that I would not look upon her face again. Our chat started out light, as they always do; a bit of teasing on each side. But as our time drew to a close I found it harder to look at her.

    I knew she could see it in my eyes, feel it in the air about me. I have changed since the night of the party. Things of the past that once gripped my heart with a sense of dread have faded before the light of a new conviction which moves me. I am eager for the journey even with no knowledge of what lay ahead. Or in spite of the feeling that I will never again look out over this glade.

    In my final hours here my thoughts again turn to Jan and Kylee. Safe within the lands of her family they wait for me now. I have written ahead telling Janissan of my impending departure. I had hoped for some word to reach me before we set off. But I am well aware of the time a letter may take at times to reach another.

    I pray my letter reaches her on time. I hope that she will understand what it is that detains me, prevents me from coming to her straight away. Many nights we have sat on the steps of Connemara, me prattling on as she listened to my belief that some fate awaited me, dogged my waking hours and called to me in the shadowy landscape of dreams. These things I told her when fear ruled my way of thinking and clouded my reasoning. I wanted her to know, I am ready. That I go now fully aware and prepared to whatever awaits me.

    (Slowly reaches up and touches the pendant around his neck.)

    The treasure of my family. I had always assumed it to be this bauble. Something passed down through the ages, through years uncountable by me. When it was given to my keeping I locked it away deep within the vault of the keep. It was precious to me. A symbol of the Durreah clan which surprisingly, none of us knew where it came from. Figol called it the Star of Connemara. Told me that in the time to come, when all was made ready, I would know all I needed to know of it.

    We shall see.

    So far all I am sure of is that I must be wearing it as we depart. I assume it is for that reason that I retrieved it from its spot of safe keeping. It is a calming thing it would seem. Though just wrought of metal and precious gems it glows with a serene light. This is something different for it, or was I just unready before to see its radiance?

    Llyr is finishing his packing now, and it looks as though he will be leaving at the same time as me. Something seemed to be driving him to finish faster. I am glad for this. It will be the four of us now. Myself, Aramis, Llyr and Malac. Four on the road together should make the going easy and help keep the mood light. Ari has promised to share some new songs he learned while away.

    I am ready.
     
  5. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    The Reunion

    The note he had received was... enigmatic at best:

    “I must journey for a time. Your company and counsel is requested. You have no obligation to attend.
    Your friend,
    Aedon Durreah”




    Even now, as his horse ambled slowly toward the forest of Yew, Malac re-read it once again. The penmanship was precise, pristine, unrealistically perfect. It was a slow and deliberate hand which wrought these words, and that fact alone was troubling enough.

    He had received it earlier this week. Preoccupation with the curiosity of the request had been all too obvious on his face during supper. Yumiko tried to make casual conversation over tea and domburi. He would respond, but she could tell his heart was elsewhere. He could see the sorrow and confusion on her face, but could think of nothing to say. He was not ready to tell her.

    That night, he sat on their mat, staring out the window. She lay behind him, turned to the wall, trying to sleep. Within the crevices of the moon Felucca, he found the words. He told her he had to attend to his Lord. She would understand the demands of his fealty. She nodded in silent tears. He told her it was a matter of importance; that his services, though unpracticed in years, were needed. She sat up and caught his eyes. He told her he did not know how long he would be away. She kissed him gently.

    It is customary among her people that, before a warrior leaves for battle, he spend two nights alone in silent reflection and contemplation and, on the third night, the night before he departs, he would lay with his wife.

    Tradition was broken that night.

    The dull thud of the horse's hooves beat an entrancing rhythm. Malac found it both relaxing and troubling; troubling because it left him to his thoughts of what might be ahead. Aedon was never a man for lengthy speech, but this brevity did not suit him. In Aedon's silence, Malac knew, there lurked a dread calm. It was as the last note of a man going to the gallows...

    The day before he departed, Malac took down his old blades, Fuyu no Ikkaime na Shimo, Winter's First Frost. They had rested, disused, for quite a while and were sure to be in need of polishing and care. He knelt before the stand on which they had rested and sat back on his heels. Placing the still-sheathed katana in his lap, he whispered a brief oath of respect to the sword before revealing its blade and inspecting. In the brilliant edge, he could see a rough reflection of Yumiko, behind him, watching wistfully.

    She told him she was afraid. He told her she had no cause. She said that she would miss him dearly. He said she should look to their child's eyes whenever she needed to see his own. She asked if he would ever do the same.

    He could find little to say.

    All he could manage: “These blades have carried me far from you before, yet they have always returned to rest in this house. So, too, shall they this time.”

    He could still feel her eyes on his back, watching his path, as he approached The Knight's Rest. He dismounted and lashed his horse to the post outside. He opened the door, expecting to greet Aedon.

    “An' th' gen'ral returns, I see.” Llyrwech sat on a stool at the bar, carefully polishing an old shield. He did his best to smile in welcome, though his eyes showed he was far from this tavern, which was otherwise empty.

    Malac returned the weary smile. Llyrwech nodded and turned focus back to his work. Malac took a seat at the bar as well, leaning both elbows on the counter to stare into the space between his arms.

    “You too, then, old friend?”

    “Aye.”

    The shield in his hands was familiar; it was of a false-golden hue and well-tarnished with age. Malac had not seen that shield since a battle on a field long ago and far away.

    Malac sighed and stared up toward the ceiling, though he hardly paid it any mind. “What is to become of two old warhorses, Llyr?”

    Llyrwech shrugged slightly. “All we c'n do is what we will do.” He fiddled and fussed with the old leather straps on the back of the shield. “Time has a funny way o' comin' back 'round f'r what it left a'hind.”

    Malac nodded. He stared across the way, watching his own distorted reflection in the polished brass backplate of the bar. His age was upon him, but Llyr was right. He had a part yet to play, a duty to fulfill. He felt a swell of determination which was painfully familiar.

    “Llyr,” he said, still staring into his own eyes, “I have a favor to ask of you...”
     
  6. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    Departure

    The woods are lovely—dark and deep—
    But I have promises to keep...

    The pad of hooves drifted though the air, as four horses bore their silent riders far east of Yew, beyond Minoc, almost to the waters. All words worth saying had already been said by the time they had reached the mountains of Despise. Since then, apart from the occasional attempt at small-talk, the rest of the long ride was made in quiet contemplation.

    Aedon, in particular, seemed to be absent from the journey. His body swayed rhythmically to the movement of the muscles in the back of his steed, as he made no attempt to hold himself upright. He gazed forward with eyes both determined and uncertain. Aramis and Llyrwech rode one on a side of the King with Malac on the outside of Llyrwech. The three of them looked to Aedon for clues as to where exactly they were headed, but there was nothing to be gleaned; at each turn along the way, Aedon made no attempt to direct Lleannan and it soon became clear that the steed had a better idea where it was going than the rider.

    They rode the long way around the river Vesper through Minoc and turned off the road just north of the delta. The forest was abnormally calm. It had been all of their experience that these woods were frequented by harpies and feral gargoyles, by timber wolves and great brown bears. Barely a single creature could be seen around them; only one bird flying low overhead.

    They reached a small clearing in the forest and Lleannan slowed to a halt; the other riders reined their horses. Aedon stared straight forward into the woods at the other side and his attendants followed his gaze.

    Nothing.

    Just the depth of the woods stretching on around them.

    Out of the sky, directly toward the gathered, descended a familiar, swallow-tailed kite. It swung its legs forward and batted at the winds as if it were preparing to lite on the air itself. As it lowered itself gently, a figure faded into view; an aged man in a thick robe, striding slowly forward with a tall staff. Atop this staff, Nemaira came to rest.

    Figol lowered his hood and stared directly into Aedon's eyes.

    “Welcome.”

    * * *

    Figol made his slow way across the four, his eyes measuring and probing each of them in turn. He passed Aedon entirely, preferring instead the son to the father. Aramis flinched when first he caught the eyes of the mage, and fidgeted uneasily under the eldritch gaze. After a time, Figol shook his head gently and moved back in front of Aedon. He planted his feet and his staff and looked deeply into Aedon's eyes. They seemed to regard each other with equal fervor.

    His eyes still locked on Aedon's, Figol finally spoke: “I gather, at this point, you are all aware of what is ahead.”

    None of the four offered any response. They knew they did not need to.

    Aedon tapped Lleannan's chest with his heels and circled behind Figol to stand at his side, facing the other three. “Where I go now,” the King began, “I will not ask you to follow.” He looked to both Llyrwech and Malac: “You have both discharged, long ago, any and all obligation and duty to my state.” He turned to Aramis, who soon dropped his eyes: “The sins of the father need not be paid by the son while the father yet lives.” Aedon sat up straight in the saddle and stared forward into the forest beyond them all. “I will ride with no general, no brother, no son. Let he who rides with me today go as a friend; if he not ride today, let him wish me safety as a friend; but let no man hold fealty to me into the unknown.”

    The three looked to each other with wonder, and long moments passed between them.

    Malac broke the silence: “Aedon: it was you who first found me in this land, lost both in direction and in purpose. You gave me cause, taught me responsibility, offered me respect. I have long been your general, but you have longer been my friend.” He drew his katana and held it before his face, bowing his head in Aedon's direction. “If my arm may be of service yet to you, old friend, then let it be so.”

    Llyrwech nodded to this. “Aye, lad. Y've been a great deal t' a great many people o'er the years. Y'r a king, sure t' be true, but king be jus' a title. I could ha'e been king, but it was nae within me. Y' understood tha', and didnae hold it again' me. T'call y' a king an' hae that be th' end o' it, t'call y' a brother an' say nae more... these are jus' titles, jus' things one c'n be born inta. You hae' more within ye than regal blood. Crowns an' family crests cannae be what defines ye, f'r what is th' measure o' a man if nae th' content o' his heart?” Llyrwech drew his longsword and, like Malac, held it in front of his face and nodded, smiling. “Let us stand by each oth'r now, m'friend, as we hae before.”

    All eyes turned, now, to Aramis. The young prince's mouth gaped and seemed to move a moment, but his throat would make no sound. Instead, he simply presented his sword as the others and bowed his head. He could be heard to whisper little more than a single word, but the sound was lost in the rustle of trees.

    Aedon smiled at them all and nodded, then turned to Figol.

    Figol grunted once and turned away from the assembly. He tapped his staff once on the ground and Nemaira took wing. She circled about a few feet in front of them and hovered in mid-air. Her wings wrapped a downward arc and seemed to extend from her height to the ground. In the midst, accompanied by a cool breeze and the ringing of chimes, appeared a large, golden moongate. The three riders stared into its depths.

    With a smile and a shout—“YA!”—Aedon wheeled Lleannan around and rode headlong into the gate. The others quickly spurred their steeds into action and rode forward into the writhing portal.
     
  7. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
    Stratics Veteran

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    Battle's Tide

    The dense, rock walls of the tunnel would have sung the echoes of their wild charge were it not already singing a cacophonous canon of the battle which already raged within the cavern's depths. In and down they rode, their cries of war driving them onward; down and down they rode into what may as well have been the depths of hell itself.

    At last, they broke upon it, a righteous wave crashing against a blood-soaked shore.

    ~~~~~~~~~

    Men in heavy armor clad with brandished blade gave battle with the twisted hoards of nether beasts called forth by ebon tongue. They fell a-man in garish gore and screams aloft on either side did fill the very heart of earth with vile reverberation.

    The call went up: “The King arrives! Fight on for life and Aedon King! Raise up your spears and spirits all! Our King returns at last!” The Wayward King would lead the way, his Warlord on his left-hand side, the Noble Tinker on the right, the Prince to take the rear.

    The King in warlike state appeared, the first time seen as such since days of yore on fields of Galway where his fate first gained its seal. His armor bright, emblazoned with a crest his making years ago; a verdant tree embossed upon a heater shield of gold.

    Upon his head he wore a crown of simple make. Upon his back a pair of swords ensheathed and crossed lay waiting for his hand. The one a gilded hilt did have. The other more austere of make, secured with scabbard etched in runes of Aethryvald design.

    They dove into the writhing throng, and Aedon drew the royal blade and, in that motion, felled his first of many foes that day. The Warlord Malac charged ahead and, like the tender fruits to Winter's early frost untimely come, they fell on either side.

    The Maker drew his heavy maul and with a farrier's strength he smote a score of dæmon-slag against the anvil of the ground. The Crafter with his hammer and the Warlord with his daisho carved a channel double-shoulder wide on Aedon's either side.

    The Prince his father's shadow rode, to battle now as e'er before, and three or four he felled; his sword-arm truer than his nerve. He gave the wights the through-and-through, his doublet with their ichor stained. The putrid stench uneased him greatly, yet he soldier'd on.

    Emboldened by his royal presence, Aedon's men gave great retort, redoubted, resolutely stood in face of unknown foe. The enemy was driven not by fealty, but wild fervor plied them on, uncheck'ed rage their only rally-call.

    As Malac rode in headlong-on in battle's charge, the clam'ring hordes his charger clung and battered-on until to earth he fell. He gained his feet too late to claim his steed. The draugr dragged it off away to feast upon its flesh. Its whinnies tore the air.

    No humans these no more, but shambling corpses raised from ground by eldritch hand and given one command: to kill or else to fall. Their vacant eyes and feral maws made mockery of who they were at once; the happy denizens of Connemara fair.

    They walked with wretched demon-kin who orders barked in vile ancient tongue unknown to man. Their voices dire, sharp and shrill. Their tearing claws left wounds which burned from deep within. A man would fall in pain and, cleft of dignity, would be consumed alive.

    For hours unto days, it seemed, the battle raged, and some would tell that victory as easily could come to either side. A stalemate of righteousness and devilry. And only the arrival of an outsider would mark the turning tide.

    Four friends rode into Hell that day, but four would not survive.
    Four friends rode into Hell that day. But two would stay alive.

    ~~~~~~~~

    “CERRI!!!” Malac reached through the hoards toward his faithful warhorse as she was dragged away into their twisting, black masses. Her bays and whinnies chilled his soul. He could not see precisely what her fate had been, but there could be no doubt as to the savagery with which she had met.

    A new fire of anger fanned up within him and he began to whirl and cleave his way through the shambling army with no regard for himself. A blow on one side or another, the clawing of putrid hands at his legs, he was determined to let none of it slow him. He cut down as many as he could, but just as quickly as they fell before him they seemed to rise again behind.

    “Malac!!” Aramis shouted out over the din. “Malac, fall back! You're too deep!”

    The Warlord wheeled about to see that his berserk charge had taken him well thirty or more yards beyond the front and he alone now stood among the dogs of the underworld.

    “MALAC!” Aedon called. “Malac, where are you?!”

    Malac separated another wight from its head. “I am lost, my friend!” he answered back. “Fight on! I will hold them here!”

    Aedon grimaced and turned to his men nearby. “He leads the charge and will not retreat! Let us take the battle to him!” A rallying cry went up as Aedon stepped down from Lleannan and turned her out. The others followed suit and their horses followed fast where Llannan nimbly galloped up and out through the cleft of the dead the warriors had made.

    Aedon armed his shield and raised his royal sword, issuing a primal cry which could only have come from the burning forge of his very soul. His men joined the shout and they dove into the writhing armies, pushing hard to join Malac deep within.

    The Wayward King was a sight to behold. His blade performed its savage work, but the way in which it was wielded was a thing of beauty. He would block one way and thrust another, only to turn and slice a third opponent while redoubting a fourth. A fifth he would slam to the ground with a blow from his shield while a sixth was parried mid-swing. It was an elegant war-dance which he just as well might have choreographed himself. He felt their assaults and was there to respond before attack had been made.

    Across the way, the Prince gave battle, a pale figure of his father. He was more than capable with a blade, but his form was rough. Where Aedon allowed his sword to guide him, Aramis lashed out to strike. Blow for blow, he struck harder and deeper, but the going was tough and his arm, over-tense with the strength of his attacks, grew tired.

    “Aramis! Behind you!”

    Aramis had little time to respond, as the momentum of his swinging carried him forward. As he cleft an arm from the beast in front of him, he stumbled around to meet the corpse which rose at his back, a broadsword held high and prepared to crack his skull in two.

    The prince commanded his pain-wracked arm to lift its sword in his defense, but he was a moment too late.

    A heavy thud and a deep, loud crack split the air.

    The corpse fell to the ground in an instant, its blade dropping to the side. Triumphant and panting, Llyrwech stood snarling at the creature he had just felled, both hands wrapped tightly around the handle of his great maul. He had split the creature's spine with a single blow.

    The Crafter King hesitated to look ahead, yet unsure of whether he had played defender or avenger. With resolve, he snapped his head forward to find Aramis standing with a look of shock on his face, his arm drawn back prepared for a thrust which never happened.

    Relieved, Llyrwech stepped forward. Aramis lowered his blade and Llyrwech cupped a free hand around the back of the prince's neck, resting his forehead on the young man's. “Are y'alright, lad?”

    Aramis panted hard, still in shock. “I... I think so.”

    Llyrwech grinned and slapped the Prince on the back. “Good! Now, grip tha' sword an' get back to it!” And, with that, the Maker dove back into the business of unmaking an army.

    * * *

    Aedon and Malac met at last and stood back to back to face the wheel of netherbeasts around them.

    “Just like old times, eh, friend?” Aedon said through a wild grin.

    “Indeed, m'lord,” Malac replied. “We should have done this sooner.”

    Aedon chuckled; “Well, it seems we are making up for lost time.”

    They spun and whirled about each other, a cyclone of steel clearing an eye in the undead storm.

    “What do you say,” Aedon asked, “to a friendly wager?”

    “First to one-hundred?”

    “Loser buys a round for the winner.”

    “I don't drink, m'lord.”

    Aedon grinned: “Neither do I.” He knocked a dæmon to the ground with a clash from his shield and ran it through. “One!”

    * * *

    It seemed as though the battle could go on forever. The spawn of the underworld were tireless and savage, but the army of men was skilled and determined. They matched, move for move, each side sacrificing and taking, advancing and retreating, with neither able to gain advantage the other would not quickly close.

    However, in a moment, the behavior of the writhing undead shifted. Where before, those of the hoard behind the front were clamoring over each other in an attempt to have their chance at blows, they now backed up and seemed struck with awe. In a matter of moments, those which were not immediately involved in a struggle for their own unnatural un-lives began to shrink and cower, to pull back.

    Some of the men believed this to mean that victory was at hand, but Aedon and his coterie realized that this could only herald something more dire.

    As they searched the pitch-black depths of the cavern for some cause of this change, an explosion struck in the middle of the King's forces. Some soldiers fell then and there while others were thrown wide. The Four were knocked to the ground. At length, the ringing in their ears gave way to the mad laughter of their assailant.

    They looked up and saw, floating over the cowering masses, what appeared to be a young man in a rich, grey cloak. His hair was long and black as the void. His skin was fair, though covered in old scars in odd and twisting shapes. In his right hand, he held a longsword, dark in color, which thrummed with energy, or the absence thereof.

    Aedon was all too familiar with blades of this kind. He recognized not only the make, but the design. Llyrwech did as well, for it was he who had forged it.

    “Welllll, welllll, wellll,” the young man began, “Lookie what we have here. It's a good old-fashioned family reunion!”

    “Ordrune,” Aedon snarled, “Why are you doing this?!”

    Ordrune looked around the cavern casually. “But, someone is missing. Where is my Aavaren? I did so want for him to see how much his student has learned.”

    Aedon's fury erupted. “ANSWER ME! WHY?!”

    Ordrune chuckled gently. “Oh, pish-tosh, Aedy-poo. What do you think I am, some over-wrought villain made up by a two-pence bard?”

    A number of Aedon's army had regained their feet and attempted a charge toward the young mage and his hoard. Ordrune held the ebon blade behind him and gestured casually toward the advancing men. They slowed in their run and began to scream in agony as they started to rot on the spot from the feet up until their fetid remains collapsed to the floor of the cavern.

    “Do keep your dogs at bay, Puppet King,” Ordrune said, smiling, “My own men smell horrid enough already.”

    Aedon stared agape at the soldiers turned to week-old corpses in less than a minute by this young Mage's hand. Deep within himself, he wanted to cry for their suffering, but now was not the moment.

    Ordrune began a slow descent, locking eyes with Aedon. “You and I have... unfinished business.” He began a slow walk toward the King.

    Aedon stood and met Ordrune's gaze. “What do you want from me, traitor?”

    “Strong words,” Ordrune said, the corners of his mouth creeping upward, “but it's not what I want from you... it's what he wants.” Ordrune brandished his blade. “It's what... this wants.”

    A few more of Aedon's guard stood and charged, weapons at the ready. With an unearthly calm, Ordrune sidestepped their blows and struck clean through each man. Where his sword passed, a terrible rot sprang up and consumed the victim as he screamed in agony. With each soldier felled, the blade vibrated more and more deeply.

    “Come on, Aedon!” Ordrune yelled as he downed another soldier. “Draw your sword! Fight me!” He ran another one through and grinned. “You know you want to.”

    Aedon's left hand twitched at the hilt of his still-sheathed blade.

    “DO IT, FOOL!” Ordrune's voice bellowed and echoed from every rock in the cavern.

    Instead, Aedon retrieved his shield and braced for battle, his royal sword in his hand.

    “... Pathetic.”

    “Foul abomination: I am Aedon Durreah, King of Connemara, and I shall not allow your forces entry into my lands.”

    “Pah!” Ordrune spat on the ground. “You are not you! You are Figol's toy, just as I was. You and your entire line. He just wanted to see how far across the board he could move you before you were taken. You are no king proper; you are little more than a promoted pawn!”

    Ordrune ceased his tirade as quickly as he had started and slowly scanned the assembled. He locked eyes with Llyrwech, who had been staring helplessly at the mage's arcane blade since he first caught sight of it.

    “You know this sword, Maker,” Ordrune said as he slowly moved toward the Crafter King. “You nearly gave your life to forge it. Is it as beautiful as you envisioned?” Ordrune smiled as he twisted the blade before Llyrwech's eyes. Being so close to its edge made the Smith grow tired and weak.

    “Your brother forged this very sword for me, Aedon,” he continued. “He forged it for your son.” Ordrune turned to catch the eyes of Aramis, who went pale at this statement. The mage smiled a sadistic grin. “Oh, no. Not you, whelp. You are far too weak for this blade. No, I speak of your brother.” Ordrune turned to Aedon again. “Your brother, Michael.”

    Aedon commanded his legs to move, his arms to swing, but he was paralyzed where he stood. All he could do was growl at the taunts.

    “As you can see, however,” Ordrune threw his arms wide and looked about him, “Michael is not among us. Alas... even he was too weak to wield the reaver. In fact, it drove him to such madness that he took his own life with it. And now, the blade wields him.”

    Ordrune looked back to Aramis and strode slowly forward. “But it occurred to me why the blade is so... violent. It was well-forged... but it has never been properly quenched.” Ordrune closed upon the cowering Prince and drew the sword back at length. Aramis could do little more than shield his face with his arm. “Come, child. Join your brother within the blade.”

    Aedon howled as he struggled against his own immobility. He called out to his son in a desperate plea, one he feared could never be answered.

    Ordrune thrust his blade toward the heart of the Prince but the strike was deflected by a deft upward slice and a hard shoulder slam which sent the mage reeling. Before Ordrune could respond, Malac sped forward to meet him again and return his own attack, now wielding his katana with both hands. His strike landed hard upon the broad edge of the darkened sword.

    “Whoo! Finally!” Ordrune cheered, “One with some pep in him!”

    They met blow-for-blow, block-for-block, dodge-for-dodge. Malac's every swipe was either deflected or avoided. Ordrune's each advance rebuked and each spell evaded. Around and around they went, and neither side dared interfere.

    “Enough!” Ordrune yelled, and released a shock-wave which drove Malac backward. Regaining his feet, Malac charged forward again.

    Ordrune's eyes glowed and a severe look overtook his face. As Malac ran forward, the dead soldiers at his feet, fallen of either side, began to reach up and grip at him, slowing his advance, tripping him up and, at last, dragging him to the ground.

    Ordrune walked deliberately toward the downed Warlord. The hordes on the ground drew him backward on his knees over his heels. He struggled to pull himself upright, but rotting hands held his arms fast.

    “You seem... oddly familiar.” Ordrune regarded the General with a careful eye, studying the man who still fought for freedom in front of him. Suddenly, his eyes snapped open and a laugh errupted from his chest. “Aedon!”

    The mage turned to the paralyzed King. “Aedon, you old egotist! You! ...you-you-you...hypocrite!” Ordrune flew into a tantrum and chilling winds whipped through the cavern. “You're just like him! Toss aside the one you don't approve of and find a replacement! YOU'RE JUST LIKE HIM!”

    Ordrune snapped his glare back to Malac. “You have been played, my fine friend. Ohhhhhh, I see it now. The dark hair, that thousand-yard stare, the fervor and zeal...” Ordrune laughed again. “Well, they say we all have a double somewhere.”

    The mage drew back the blade again, and the creatures below presented the Warlord's chest. “Perhaps your soul is stronger than your spirit-brother's. Let's find out!”

    As the blade plunged toward his chest, Malac wrenched his arms free of the decaying hands below and caught the sword between his palms. The very touch of the blade felt to him like the deep dark of winter, yet his hands scarred and burned. He could smell the flesh searing away, but he held his grip fast.

    “You are a strong one!” Ordrune bared his teeth in a horrid grin, “But it is all over for you, boy. Accept it. We all have a part to play. This... is yours...”

    Where Malac had been focusing on his hands and the fate they kept at bay, he now turned his eyes to Ordrune's manic gaze. He turned his head to look over his shoulder. Aedon stood, fighting against his own body. He must have been yelling something, but all Malac could hear was the loud thrum of the dark sword. He smiled at Aedon, and a look of peace fell over him. Aedon stopped dead in his struggling, and while his eyes still pleaded for Malac, his yelling ceased.

    Malac looked back to Ordrune with a wry smile. He clasped his hands together harder than ever and bowed his head in silent concentration. Almost imperceptibly, unnoticeable in all likelihood to anyone but the King, Malac's body emanated a pale yet glistening light. Across the nether, he called up the sum of all the force of the Virtues to which he had sworn himself when he had trained as a Paladin in the Britanian Guard. He threw his arms wide and the blade struck true.

    A blade of Blackrock, like Ahoun, this sword was designed to be a reaver of souls. It was Ordrune's greatest mockery of his teacher that he would prove he could create so great a token of power as Figol had done. However, the design and craftsmanship of the blade were flawed. Forged by an unwilling hand, it held within it a rebellious spirit, one which fought its wielder at every turn.

    Each soul it took fractured the blade from within, as its rebellious heart turned against it the strength and anger of those souls whose bodies it had cut down. In Malac, it found an amplified soul, a spirit driven by purpose, one which gave itself over willingly but with intent to defy. In Malac, the heart of the blade found what it needed.

    The sword glowed white from every crack and imperfection along its surface until, at once, it shattered. The pieces flew through the air, most of them embedding themselves within Ordrune's chest.

    The shards of the blade began to pulse and beat in unison, harder and harder, faster and faster. Waves of distortion burst around him and his entire form began to twist and melt. Looking over the damage he suffered, he could do nothing but laugh.

    “You fool...” he managed between laughing fits. “You... beautiful fool! It comes even still!” Ordrune stumbled and caught his footing as he spun to face Aedon. “Look, where even now, it begins! I had promised to be his vessel... but now.... but now!... it would appear that I shall be his conduit.”

    Ordrune fell to his knees and threw his shoulders back. He screamed to the roof of the cavern: “Through me, your reckoning comes! May you all perish in the void!”

    With a final, blood-curdling laugh, the distorting waves collapsed on the mage and a burst of wild æthyr tore a dimensional rift where he knelt. The ground around the void-portal rapidly froze and cold winds buffeted the armies on both sides.

    Their master gone, the hordes fell to disarray and wild discord. They attacked with the feral will of a pack of rabid wolves. The men, now freed of Ordrune's oppressive grasp, returned the assault.

    Aedon stammered and staggered. He had been powerless but to watch his old friend murdered before him, yet Malac had accepted death so easily, so willingly. Why?

    The King was startled from his musings by the shrill cry of a kite, which echoed down the tunnel. At once, his face became solemn and sure once more. This is it, he thought to himself. This is the moment...

    As the war raged around the rift, Aedon strode toward the frozen circle into which no man nor beast dared enter. He dropped his regal sword and shield as he went and slowly, carefully, drew from his back the blade which had remained sheathed the entire battle.

    As he drew its length from the scabbard, the runes began to glow a pale, gentle blue. The heat of the hilt in his hand was all too familiar. It had been years since he dared do draw out Ahoun.

    He held the blade before himself, a pious march toward the maw of the Underworld. The dread blade hummed and pulsed with energy, and all made way where he went.

    He approached the rift and stared deep within. What things he saw no man could fathom, nor could mere words do justice. The Underworld is not to be glimpsed by mortal eyes, yet Aedon gazed now into its very heart. He turned the blade downward and grasped it sturdily by the handle. He knelt before the rift, not a yard from its terrible void, and drove the point of Ahoun into the very stone below.

    Crystals of ice began to form in his hair and at his nose where he breathed, yet he did not feel the chill; the spirit of Ahoun burned within him. Aedon bowed his head, his entire will focused on remaining conscious, on completing the task at hand.

    The edges of the rift took on a deep-purple glow and vibrated in the air. Aedon's body began to shake, and the surface of the sword scintillated with otherworldly energies. The mark of Corellon on Aedon's left arm began to glow and steadied him.

    Dark-grey tendrils reached out from the blade and latched onto Aedon's arms, his legs, and his chest. They pulsed once, and a shock ran through Aedon's body.

    He regained his footing. They pulsed again.

    Aedon reeled, yet remained resolute. They pulsed again.

    The shock nearly sent him to the ground. As he leaned on the blade, panting and gasping, the pendant around his neck, the Star of Connemara, sparkled and came to life, glowing green and warming the air.

    The ground behind Aedon began to thaw, and the thaw spread toward where he knelt. As it approached, a figure faded into view. The spirit of John McDermott stood behind Aedon, a look of pity on his face. The Young Smith knelt behind Aedon... Not behind him, but into him. He wrapped his arms over Aedon's, his hands gripped where Aedon's gripped. Their positions matched, John faded again from view. Where he vanished, his mirrored mark of Corellon remained upon Aedon's right arm. This second mark began to glow as well and the two resonated. The strength and protection of the Elf-God flowed through him and he steaded himself again at the blade, staring once more deep into the portal.

    The tendrils loosed themselves from his body and, instead, reached out to touch the maw. From where he knelt, Aedon could see a figure growing closer. Not quite a figure, but almost a face. A terrible, indescribable face with many soulless eyes and burning hell behind it. It grew closer and closer, screaming in a multitude of voices and twisting its way toward the world before it.

    As it neared the gap in space, it locked eyes with Aedon and flooded his mind with visions of its goals. He rocked with the terror of it all. Not just Connemara, but all of Earth laid to waste. Not just Earth, but Sosaria black as char. All worlds of mortals left to ruin. And standing over the corpses of the fallen, Aedon, but not Aedon—Aedon, vessel of Donn the Dark—the dread blade in his hand.

    Donn snarled at the portal, held by the tendrils of Ahoun's deep spirits. Not just the stench, but the very essence of death and decay washed over Aedon and he felt he might faint. As he wavered backward on his knees, he felt as if he were being propped up. He looked to his shoulder and saw an old, battered hand. Looking up, he saw the face of Sean McDermott; forger of the blade Ahoun; the heart of the reaver.

    Sean smiled at Aedon, then looked into the eyes of the approaching dark lord. Aedon, too, returned his gaze. The tendrils from Ahoun shifted from a deep grey to a brilliant silver. Surprise gripped Donn the Dark, and he wailed in fury, snapping at the assembled three.

    Aedon, John, and Sean stared down the void. The three together uttered a single, ancient word which no single tongue could reproduce. Ahoun itself shone silver and flared with light. Donn shrieked and writhed away from the portal, twisting back into the depths of the Underworld, pursued by the thousand angry souls which Ahoun held within.

    The rift snapped shut and an explosion of air ripped through the cavern.

    It was gone.

    Aedon collapsed to the ground.

    “FATHER!!” Aramis shouted, and began a wild dash for the place where Aedon lay.

    Llyrwech grabbed Aramis by the arms and held him back. “NO, boy!”

    The two stared at their fallen kin in fear and wonder. Aramis fell to tears and screamed his father's name over and over, but the King did not stir.

    Aramis wrenched his arms free of Llyrwech's grip just in time to watch as a golden glow fell over the King. In an instant, Figol swept in, threw his cloak over the fallen Aedon, and both were gone again. All that remained where he lay was a simple, gleaming sword of steel.

    Aramis gaped in stunned silence.

    Behind him, Llyrwech gave the call: “THE KING HAS FALLEN! DRIVE THESE BEASTS BACK WHERE THEY CAME FROM! AVENGE THE KING!”

    But Aramis could not hear.

    And the battle raged around him.
     
  8. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    Battles Ebb

    There is no victory cry this evening.

    No drums sound low and no trumpets blast.

    Just the silence of the dead in the heart of the earth.

    We combed through the piles of bodies, searching for signs of life. Those of our kin we could save, we did; there were not many.

    This damned cave reeks of blood and rot, and I will be happy to leave it behind. There are too many to bury.

    Too many to bury.

    This cave shall be their tomb, instead. It is no proper burial, but the dead within have earned what rest they can gain. I will not disturb them further.

    ...

    Aramis has left us. He is among the survivors, but I doubt he would have it so. To watch a father fall is hard enough for a young man. To be robbed of the chance to say his goodbyes...

    I doubt I will ever understand why Figol took him from us.

    The old mage obviously had a plan. He's been toying with this family long enough. He must have known this was coming. Then again, would any of this have happened without his meddling?

    Ordrune contracted the forging of a blade from a smith who would never have been a smith had his brother not suffered defeat in a battle he would not have led had his father and his father's father not been placed in a seat of power by Figol. Moreover, Ordrune would not have had cause to demand such a blade had Figol not so offended him...

    Or, so we have been led to believe.

    And Figol is not here to give rebuttal.

    ...

    I have discharged my favor. Among General Malac's affects was a single Travel Crystal, intended for his return journey. Among us is a soldier who has no surviving family and, through battle, has lost his nerve. I have given him this crystal so that he might make a new life for himself on Sosaria, provided that he return the General's swords to his wife in Tokuno.

    It is the least I could do in return for his valor and sacrifice.

    ...

    Aramis has left us. As the last of the hordes fell, he let his blade fall to the ground and simply turned away. He was the first among us to leave the cave.

    I watched him go.

    I know that I should have stopped him, but I did not have the heart.

    As son to the fallen King, the seat of the throne is his to claim.

    But he is not ready.

    He would be a fit ruler, a just ruler, a kind ruler. He has all the qualities and experiences necessary.

    But he is not ready.

    Just as I was not ready when his place was mine.

    My brother understood that of me. Though the elder, our father's death hit me harder than I could bear, and the weight of his crown, taken from his head before his scalp had gone cold, was not fit for my brow.

    And so, I left. And my brother ascended in my place.

    I never thanked him properly for that kindness.

    And now, I never shall be able to.

    Instead, I shall do his son an equal favor. One day, he will return for his throne. One day, he will be ready.

    Until that day, I shall keep it safe and guard it well.

    Thank you, dear brother.

    Wherever you have gone.

    ---

    Llyrwech Durreah
    King of Connemara
     
  9. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    Chapter's End

    The tale is told from age to age of what a price was paid that day; four friends rode in and, by the end, two only walked away. The warlord and the fallen king both victims to the reckoning of fate. Yet from their sacrifices dawned a brighter day.

    What happened, then, to Aedon King is open yet to questioning. Some say he simply died. Some say his spirit lingers on. Some tell that he to Aethryvald with Figol went, and sits among the ancient ones. Some say his body washed into the sea.

    But as for me, I choose to ask no more of he on whom the world was placed before his father's kin had entered into life. I choose to hope he has his rest, as he has earned it most of all. And where he lay, alive or nay, may fortune treat him well.

    For not a man, alive or dead, so honored ever be
    Than Aedon of the Galway Court shall e'er remain to me

    ~~~~~~~~~~

    The old man looked over the page and twisted his head this way and that. Satisfied, he jabbed a final period on the last line and tucked the quill into his saddle bag. A sprinkling of talc on the page... followed by a sneeze, as always... and a smile.

    “Well, then...” he closed the book and jiggled the reins gently. “What do you think, Llama?”

    The Llama snorted and spat to the side of the road.

    Aralanth chuckled. “Alllllways the critic, Sir Llama. Alllllways the critic.”

    As the sun set ahead of them, he mused aloud: “I wonder what adventures we shall see next...”
     
  10. Aedon Durreah

    Aedon Durreah Village of Aegis
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    It is done.

    Donn the Dark One has returned to the Otherworld, with more than a thousand, teeming, restless souls to keep him occupied for ages to come. My long work is completed. The mortal realms are safe from the meddlings of the Horned One.

    I am sure the Gathering will be pleased.

    Causality is a funny thing to one who lives outside of time. Three centuries of mortal time past, I came to this island, on this simple planet, to set in motion events which would prevent a terrible disaster which would occur on this day. We knew it was coming and when it would occur. What we didn't realize is that our hand would be both help and hindrance.

    Perhaps, that is why I feel... I believe they call it “remorse.”

    From where I see things, everything happened precisely as it was going to happen. Those died who were meant to die and lived who were meant to live. A threat appeared and was repelled. This is as it has always been and would always be.

    Maybe I have grown soft.

    I have known all these decades that this man would fall, that he would give his life for the safety of all. I knew that he would lose many dear friends and endure sufferings difficult to count. I knew that he would spend a lifetime prisoner to his own regret and self-pity, for this is as it has always been and would always be.

    But, why must it be?

    At various times, he was to me an experiment, a pet... a child. I asked so much of him, and he did as I asked. He was not always willing and often protested, but when the time came, he always rose to the task. He did so again today. He paid a great price to do what I could not.

    I never thanked him.

    Instead, I give him one final gift. I give him peace. I give him the chance to live the life he never knew. I have returned his body to the lands of Sosaria, where he has known the greatest joy and deepest sorrow. I return him not as a king, but as a man. I return him as the man he would have been had his lineage been allowed to live their days in comfort, free of the meddling of Outsiders. For this is how it always should have been, and ever shall be.

    The Gathering will not approve.

    But it is not for them to choose. Aedon deserves a greater rest than death can provide. He deserves a deeper peace than the grave. He deserves the chance to know himself as himself, not as the product of the machinations of immortals.

    Meddling is meddling, no matter the intent. Donn the Dark One, Figol the Grand Magus, Corellon the Elf God... we are all guilty.

    For this is as it has always been, and always will be.

    But not from me.

    Nevermore.

    ~~~~~~~

    Figol, the Wanderer