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Decade
11-23-2009, 10:11 PM
Chapter 1 ? Through the Fires (part 1)

Though the sealed metal helmet, Gerlin could smell the sacred incense flowing from the brass burners, but the fumes only made the torment worse. He did his best to keep still, so that the bladed chains and shackles that held him aloft would not dig any deeper into his skin. He wasn?t sure how much longer his sentence would last, but he prayed to the Shaper that it would end soon.

In his years working for the Visgoth, he?d been wracked many times. Though it was Menoth?s way that suffering brought clarity and purpose, his own wrackings had less to do with redemption and more with insubordination.

So, here he was. Chained to a wrack, again, and suffering such torment that he wished He would take his life and end the pain. It was making him reflect, granted, but he doubted it was the reflection that his masters had wanted. It rarely was. Instead, it made him reflect on what had brought him to this moment.


*****


Gerlin?s father stood behind his son as he opened the chassis of the immense laborjack. Inside of the metal beast, Gerlin?s tiny hands searched around, feeling components and pieces.

Where is it? He thought as he fumbled around for the limiter.

?Father,? Gerlin said, pulling himself from the inside of the `jack, ?Can you pass me the schematics again? I want to see where that limiter?s supposed to be.?

Obligingly, Ranos passed his son the machine?s carefully drawn blueprints. Gerlin looked them over again, then back into the guts of the inert machine. It was the Kalton?s one labor-jack, and both he and his father had patched the thing up more times than he cared to count. He wasn?t sure what had gone wrong this time, but he had a feeling.

Looking at the plans again, he stuck his head back into the metal behemoth. After a few moment?s, he saw the problem.

?Idiot ran the thing to hot again.? Gerlin snarled ?Father, I need the spanner, and a lignin wrench.?

?What happened this time?? Ranos asked.

?That damn fool ran the boilers too hot, and cracked the limiter. We?ll have to strip off the entire chassis to fix it this time.? Gerlin replied, climbing down from the jack and setting the paper down. His father passed him a cloth, which he obligingly took, and wiped the grease from his face and hands. ?Why in His name haven?t we sent that idiot back to Imer yet??

?Watch your tongue!? His father snapped as he grabed Gerlin?s arm. ?That ?idiot,? as you so brashly call him, is one of Menoth?s chosen warcasters. He was sent to us to sharpen his skills with the holy weapons of war. We?re fortunate that we received his services in the first place.?

?And I know why he was sent to us.? Gerlin snarled back, ?He?s wrecked nearly every laborjack in the area. How many times have I had to patch up our `jack because of him? Or our neighbor?s? I?m sure the temple thinks its better that he wreck some villagers? livelihood than one of their own precious weapons of war.?

?Enough!? His father bellowed, ?You will not question the actions of the Creator or his representatives. If it is Menoth?s will that his disciple be here, then we shall abide. He works in mysterious ways, and we dare not assume that we know His will.?

?Of course father.? Gerlin said, ?I meant no disrespect to the Creator.?

This was not the first time he and his father had this argument. Gerlin deeply despised Authis. Before his arrival, Gerlin rarely had to service his family?s laborjack, or any of the laborjacks for that matter. In fact, thanks to most of the modifications he?d secretly made, they ran Almost better than they did when they were new. Now, he was constantly patching up components, repairing stress fractures to various cylinders and replacing fused wires on the solenoids. They?d been fortunate so far, and there?d yet to be any true damage to key magikal components. But as it stood, it would only be a matter of time.


*****


It took hours, but he?d finished up the jack. Tightening the final restraining bolt, Gerlin wiped the sweat from his forehead and leaned against the `jack?s leg and slid to the floor. Once he?d got the chasses open, and realized the extent of the damage, he and his father had spent most of the day pulling and replacing damaged and burnt out pieces of the `jack. After a while, his father had to attend to other business, so he?d left Gerlin to his work. After his father left, he worked much faster. Beneath his hands, the framework of the mechanikal being was peeled away, and he began to repair the behemoth with casual ease.

If I can?t be rid of that damn fool, He thought as he slaved away on the jack, I can at least make it so you?re not so easily broken old boy.

Gerlin toiled all day, only taking a break to eat his midday meal, then returned to his work. Unlike a properly furbished repair shop, Gerlin was forced to improvise on almost everything, do his best to repair the pieces, or hope he could bypass them. It wasn?t easy, but somehow he always managed to get the job done.

The sun was starting to set as he finished his labors. Let?s see that imbecile break you now. Gerlin thought to himself as he sat propped up against the thick leg of the jack. Reaching around, he patted the metal of the mechanikal limb.

Normaly, when a jack broke down, the Vassals of Menoth were called in to repair it. His village had been fortunate. Thanks to his aptitude with the machines, he could easily repair them as well as any journeyman mechanik. Sure, most of his fixes were not using the optimum parts or tools, but they held, and often worked better than the originals.

?You?re never going to get anywhere in life just loafing about like that.? A voice from behind chided. ?Get back to work lazy bones.?

Turning around, Gerlin saw Vashti standing in the doorway of the workshop, leaning on the frame. Despite being half-Sulese, years in the desert had tanned her fair skin to a swarthy bronze, and bleached her nearly black hair to a dull brown. After spending all day with his hands inside a `jack, he was not in any mood for her teasing. Still he was grateful for her company.

?Leave me alone Vashti.? He said with a deep sigh. ?I?ve been working on this blasted thing all day.?

?Aw, poor baby.? Vashti cooed as she crossed the workshop and knelt down next to him. ?Want me to kiss it better.? She said as she leaned forward, her lips puckered.

?Cut it out.? Gerlin admonished as he put his hand on her forehead and gently shoved her away.

Vashti shot him a wry smile as she allowed him to push her back, then put on a sour face.

?What?s the matter? You don?t want a kiss?? She said as though she were talking to a five-year old. Gerlin ignored her.

?Just tired and mad `s all.? He said, turning away from her.

?Tell me about it.? She said as she sat down next to him, leaning up against the jack?s other leg.

?Menoth save me from this warcaster His priests sent to us!? Gerlin exclaimed. ?I spend so much time fixing up the village jacks that I barely have time to help father with anything else! Its like he?s intent on breaking them so he doesn?t have to practice! Five times this month he?s overworked the boilers! One day he almost blew out a cortex! The blessed cortex for His sake! And don?t get me started on the Relmethan?s plowing jack! I practically had to rebuild the thing from scratch to keep it running after what he did to it! And because he?s a warcaster, my father refuses to ask him for payment, which I doubt he?d provide. With the way things are going, we?re not going to be able to earn enough to make ends meet.?

?Yikes. Sorry I brought it up.? She said as she leaned back against the mechanikal leg. Looking up at the jack?s immense frame, she cradled her head in her arms. ?So, my mother?s making zak-lar tonight. Wana come over??

?I can?t.? He said. ?Its my turn to perform blessing tonight over the meal. I doubt mother or father would let me off that duty.?

?Can?t blame me for trying.? She said as she gave him a sidelong glance.
?Hmph. Have you heard back from your brother recently?? Gerlin said, sitting up strait to look over at his friend.

?Unfortunately not.? She said, ?He?s stationed with the Flameguard near the southern border of Sul. There?s been a lot of violence lately between our forces and the heretics.?

?Heh, I?d love the chance to try out some of my ideas on those fools.? Gerlin said as he bunched his fists up, and leaned forward, excitement filling his voice. ?I bet I could easily take down dozens of those heretics with my designs. Menoth be praised, it would be glorious!?

?I?m sure it would be Gerlin. I?m sure it would.? Vashti said as they both sat beneath the shadow of the jack, watching the sun pass below the horizon thought the windows.

Decade
11-23-2009, 10:15 PM
The weeks slowly passed. Every few days, Authis broke another jack, and Gerlin and his father had to patch it up. The almost daily call from the warcaster to the boy and his father wore on his nerves. The constant demands for repairs, the always broken and scorched components. Not that his father did much of the work. It was Gerlin who diagnosed and repaired the damaged machines. His father merely provided the labor. Unlike when they worked at the smithy, when it came to the jacks, Gerlin was in charge.

What is the point of all this? Gerlin would ask himself. Why send this walking jack wrecker to our village. I can’t believe for an instant that they don’t have practice jacks at the temple in Imer. Was he sent here to punish us for some transgression? No, if there had been something of the sort, it would be the scuritors, not a warcaster, who’d have come.

I know Menoth has a plan, and I know it’s presumptuous of me to question Him, but still…


Gerlin slowly began to get used to the constant strain of having Jacks constantly broken, him repeatedly repairing them, and them being broken to be repaired again. True, it was still good practice, and let him make many of his ideas into reality, but he grew increasingly fed up with it. His body ached; his hands were blistered and calloused from the constant repairs and upgrades. It was almost as if he were being pushed to the limit of his abilities. No mater how much he improved the performance of the jacks, Authis found some way to break them, or simply trashed them, necessitating them being re-built practically from scratch. It was more than any man, let alone a lone twelve-year-old boy, could have possibly managed on his own. Yet, through strength of will, he did. He couldn’t disobey one of Menoth’s chosen, no matter how much he loathed the man.


Vashti regularly came to visit him as he struggled to keep up with the repairs. Though Gerlin didn’t see it, she was clearly concerned about him, and what the constant strain was doing to his body and mind. She’d keep him company while he pulled apart yet another damaged jack, and though he would snap at her occasionally, he was grateful for her. When he could take a break, she’d help him wash up, then drag him to the market and stuff him with sweets or fruit juices from her family’s shop, and when he couldn’t get away, she’d bring spice breads or bowls of ajr-los pudding to help him keep up his strength. Then it was back to the shop, with Vashti constantly chattering about how good for his soul all this hard work must be. He’d snort contemptuously at the thought, but knew she was right.


Word came that Authis’ master would be arriving soon, ostensibly to see the progress he’d made. Gerlin rather hoped that he’d put Authis on a wrack for causing so much damage, though he doubted it. If anything, he’d be held responsible if any of the jacks broke down. He knew it.


On the scheduled day, the entire town turned out to witness the arrival of scuritor Aran-rythos. It was only a few hours after the sun rose that he arrived. Flanked on either side by a pair of exemplar vengers, and preceded by a full unit of flameguards, the scuritor shone brighter than any of them, the radiance from both his armor and the holy aura emanating from him made him difficult to look at. And all the while, the scuritor remained in silent prayer, his hands clasped together as he walked, his head bowed down in silent reverence to Menoth. While almost all eyes in town were on the Aran-rythos, it wasn’t the scuritor that drew Gerlin’s attention as he watched the precession from the roof of the shop, but the final members of his precession. Warjacks. True warjacks. And not just any. These were serious hardware. The two directly behind the scuritor he could only guess were devouts, their sleek and nimble frames easily keeping up with priest as he made his way towards the temple. Yet they were dwarfed by the jack that followed behind them. Gerlin had only heard rumors about this jack, but the sight of it filled him with both terror and awe. It was a crusader. Each of the deadly jack’s hands held a large blackened steel case, though he couldn’t fathom the contents, and its massive inferno-mace was strapped to its back, waiting to be drawn. Gerlin could only stare in stunned silence as he watched the three jacks pass as the whole precession approached the temple.


As Aran-rythos reached the temple steps, all members of his guard spread out around the entrance, forming a wall of steel and flesh as the scuritor ascended the stairs and entered. Once inside, all the villagers present lowered their heads and shut their eyes in respect to this most holy of men. The scuritor slowly ascended to the temple’s pew, and knelt before the Sacred Flame before rising to address those present.


“Warpriest Authis. Rise and approach me.” The scuritor said. Even through his metal helmet, his voice carried throughout the entire temple.


Presently, Authis did as he was commanded, his head still bowed as he slowly made his way towards his master.


“You honor me with your presence, your holiness. Of what service may I be to you?” He said, keeping his eyes firmly pointed to the ground.


“I would know the results of your time here. I pray that it was not in vain.” The scuritor said.


“If I may be so bold, your grace, I would be very much humbled if you would watch the results yourself. I do not think you will be disappointed.” Authis said.


“I will be the judge of that.” Aran-rythos said.

Decade
11-24-2009, 08:45 AM
Gerlin hid himself in an alley near the temple. Unlike most of the adults, the children had not been privileged with the right to enter the temple with the scuritor. Most of them had gone back home or to work, but Gerlin was too fascinated by the presence of actual warjacks to leave just yet. No matter how hard he tried, he just couldn?t resist the opportunity to examine the hulking battle machines. Though among the three, his attention was most fixed on the crusader. Even standing still, he could see the internal mechanisms churning between the jack?s heavy armor. But it was the crusader?s inferno mace that really drew his attention. The design of the weapon was so simple, yet breathtakingly elegant. He knew from the rumors that the jack could shatter stone and incinerate enemies with the massive bludgeon. At that moment, he wished he could approach the jack to examine it closer. But he didn?t dare.

Gerlin nearly jumped out of his skin when a large, mailed hand grabbed his shoulder form behind. Whirling, he saw a one of the exemplars from the scuritor?s entourage. Despite the man?s armor, he?s moved with the silence of a desert cat. Gerlin flushed and stammered as the man knelt down to look him in the face.

?What are you doing child?? He asked, his voice calm and level. ?You shouldn?t be out here. Not now.?

Gerlin tried to speak, but couldn?t find his voice. All he could do was stare at the ground, unable to look the exemplar in the face.

?I?m sorry sir.? Gerlin finally managed to whisper. ?I just wanted to see the scuritor?s ?jacks. I meant no disrespect.?

?Oh?? The exemplar said, his voice still calm as a windless day in the marches. ?Never seen a ?jack up close before then??

?Well,? Gerlin muttered, his face still pointed at the ground, ?I help repair jacks for the village, so I see em all the time. I?ve just never seen a warjack up close. I couldn?t resist the chance to get a closer look.?

The exemplar suddenly grabbed Gerlin?s shoulder, and clasped the boys face with his other hand, forcing Gerlin to look directly at his bronze mask. Though he could barely see the knight?s eyes, he could feel the intensity of his stare, as though he were looking through his very soul. For a moment, the knight just stared at Gerlin. Then just as suddenly, the knight released his grip, and stood to his full height.

?Hmm.? The exemplar mused. ?I?ll let it go this time. Now, run along. You shouldn?t be out here.?

?Yes?sir.? Gerlin said as he hurried off.

He had always heard about the exemplars. The power of their faith, and the intensity of their scrutiny, but he never expected one to be so? terrifying. There was a weight of presence behind the man that was unmistakable. In a way, it reminded him what he imagined Menoth?s presence must be like. He supposed it was only natural. The exemplars were Menoth?s hands on Caern, and He gave His power to His agents. But there was something else, almost chilling about the man. In all, he was glad to be away from him.

As soon as the boy was out of sight, the exemplar turned back down the alley, and walked away from the temple. As he did, he chuckled to himself as he made his way out towards the edge of town and then out into the barrens. Once out of sight of the village, a circle of green runes passed along the length of his body. As the spinning magical circle passed, the illusion she was cloaked in began to fade, revealing a gaunt
necromechanikal body. The iron lich moved much swifter now that she no longer needed to maintain the pretense of being human. She drifted like an umbral shadow across the scorched rock and sand of the Marches, her dead flesh and steel body not noticing the intense heat of the day. Soon, two others appeared from the wastes to meet their companion, both gliding across the sands like phantoms.

?Did you find the child Admonia?? One of the two approaching said, his voice like a chill breeze passing through a graveyard.

?Yes Maelovus.? The first said, her voice no louder than a soft whisper, yet reverberating like an echo. ?He has great potential, buried deep within his being, but it has yet to ripen.?

?Do you think it wise to leave him to grow among these mortals. It could make pulling the strings of his fate that much more difficult.? The third said, his voice like the moan of the wind across a barren wasteland. As he did, he pulled a small skeletal marionette from his robes, and made it dance. ?The longer the strings become before we pull them, the harder it will be to make him dance the way we want.?

?No, Tremelus? The one called Maelovus said. ?The portents our dear sister have cast tell that his powers will serve our master that much better when ripened here. We will need to bide our time, for now. He will be ours, one way or another. Remember, patience dear brother, patience.?

?Indeed.? Admonia and Tremelus said in concert.

?In time, it will happen. In time, all will belong to our Lord.? The three said together, their voices forming a horrid chorus out in the barren lands.


*****

Scuritor Aran-rythos glared disapprovingly at the laborjacks before him. Authis? control was flawless, that much he could see. But there was something else at work here. Their movements were too fluid for such simple machines. They were too precise. And he could feel that Authis?s mental commands were still sloppy, uncoordinated and crude. No. There was something else behind this. And it wasn?t his clumsy disciple.

?Authis.? The scuritor said sternly. ?Come here.?

Authis separated his mind from the jacks, and approached the scuritor.

?What is it your holiness?? Authis said, his voice trembling with uncertainty.

?What has been done to these jacks? I can feel your control could not possibly make them move so easily. Your mental commands are still too crude.? The scuritor said.

?I?I?I?? Authis stammered.

?Let me make this clear. These jacks move like true warjacks, not simple laborjacks. Have you tampered with them? Had someone upgrade them? Altered them in any way? And do not lie to me. I will know.? The scuritor said, folding his arms across his chest and staring sternly at Authis through his metallic visor.

?No. I?ve not tampered with them.? Authis blurted out. Then, thinking quickly, he recalled the smith and his son. ?But I know who might have. At times, when these jacks couldn?t handle what I asked of them??

?You mean when you forced and damaged them. I know you Authis. You?re too impatient. So, you had someone repair them. It wasn?t one of the Vassals. I?d have heard about it.?

?A local smith repaired them. It?s possible that he was the one who altered them. They always did seem to move more easily when they returned from his shop.?

?And you assumed that you were getting better.? The scuritor said, his voice cold and grave.

?I did sir.?

?I would like to meet this smith. Take me to him.?

?Yes your holiness.?

Decade
11-24-2009, 08:48 AM
?GERLIN! GET DOWN HERE!?

Gerlin almost dropped the hammer and tongs he was holding. Quickly putting the steel chain he was forging down, he set the tools down, then ran out of the smithy.

Gerlin?s heart raced with terror as he made his way from the forge into the house. His father only yelled when he was furious. Had the exemplar come and told him he was spying on the scuritor?s jacks. He couldn?t imagine what his father would do to him if that were the case.

As Gerlin rounded the corner, he froze. There was his father, looking furious, his arms crossed and glaring at his son, but that wasn?t what made Gerlin?s blood run cold. Authis was there, leaning against the wall of the house. From the way he had his arms folded across his chest, Gerlin knew he was also angry.

?Get inside now boy.? Ranos said though his teeth, ?We have a guest, and you?ve got a lot of explaining to do.?

Gerlin swallowed hard as he walked past his father, and Authis, his head down, not daring to look at either one. This was more than he could handle. His father was one thing, but Authis. That was bad news. His mind raced as to why the warcaster was there. Had something gone wrong with his adjustments? Had Authis had failed his exam, and now was coming to take it out on him? He hoped that wasn?t the case, because it might mean any sort of punishment the warcaster wanted.

Gerlin timidly entered the house, and he nearly fell to the ground in shock. Scuritor Aran-rythos was sitting at the table, his hands clasped together on the tabletop. Gerlin immediately lowered his head and fell to a knee, the color draining from his face. This was completely beyond anything he had expected. Why was the scuritor here? There wasn?t anything he could have done that warranted the presence of such a powerful man. Even being out when he was told to stay inside didn?t warrant this! Not the scuritor. There was something more going on here. But what? What could possibly have happened?

Gerlin heard his father and Authis come in, his father also bowing down to the scuritor. Authis walked up behind the boy and violently grabbed his shoulder. ?Get up brat. I?ve got some questions for you.?

Gerlin could do nothing as he was pulled to his feet and set on a stool, as Authis pulled a chair out and set himself down near the scuritor.

After a few uncomfortable moments, the scuritor leaned forward and looked directly at Gerlin. Unable to meet his gaze, Gerlin turned his face away. What was going on?

?Child, your father tells us that you the one who worked on the laborjacks Authis practiced with?? The scuritor asked, his voice stern.

Gerlin couldn?t find his voice. How could he possibly respond? What could he say?

?Answer the question whelp.? Authis snarled.

?Authis, be silent.? The scuritor said, ?Boy, are you the one who works on the jacks??

?Yes.? Gerlin finally stammered, the blood draining from his face even more than it already had.

?Did you make any changes to them?? The scuritor asked.

?I did.? Gerlin whimpered.

?Gerlin!? Ranos snarled, ?What have you done this time??

?Why did you do this thing child?? The scuritor asked, unperturbed by Ranos?s outburst.

?Um.? Gerlin stammered.

?The scuritor asked you a question boy. You best answer him.? Authis snarled.

?B-b-because of him, y-your grace.? Gerlin stammered as he gingerly pointed at Authis. At this, Authis rose from his chair, slamming his hands on the table, his anger clearly roaring to the surface.

?What did you say, trash?!? Authis bellowed.

The scuritor raised his hand, his fingers spread wide, causing Authis to stop in place and sit down.

?Please explain what you mean.?

?I?I?d rather not your grace.?

?Gerlin, answer him now.? Ranos ordered.

?Don?t worry child. You can speak freely.? The scuritor said soothingly.

?Those jacks are our livelihood.? Gerlin muttered, ?If he kept breaking them, we?d starve. So, I changed them. Made the tougher. Easier to move. I hoped it would be enough to keep them running long enough for him to finish.?

?And how did you accomplish this. Did you find a way to get help from the Vassals? Or did you do something else??

?No your grace. I made all the changes on my own.?

?That?s a rather unlikely claim.? Authis sneered. ?You?re not even twelve summers old, and you say that you modified machines as complex as jacks to perform better. You better tell the truth now boy.?

?Authis, be silent.? The scuritor said. ?Child, what you claim is indeed unlikely. You will explain what you meant.?

?I meant just what I said your grace? Gerlin said, this time with a bit more confidence. ?I made the modifications myself. I just? know? how to do it. I can look at a machine, and see what?s wrong with it, or how to make it work better. I can?t explain it any other way.?

?That is an impressive claim.? The scuritor said as he rose from the table and walked over to where Gerlin was sitting. ?Now, I want you to come with me. I want to see this? ability? of yours for myself.?

Gerlin could scarcely believe what he was hearing. A scuritor wanted to test his ability with machines? Could this mean he would work on true warjacks? Maybe even try some of his battle designs? The possibilities were so mind-boggling that he could barely think. It was possibly everything he had ever wished for.

?I would be honored your grace.? Gerlin said, his heart racing.

Decade
11-29-2009, 11:00 AM
Ch2 ? Crashing flame

Gerlin pulled himself out of the crusader and wiped his brow. It had been two weeks since he had been ordered by the scuritor to modify his personal warjack, and he was making only gradual progress. Gerlin had taken up the challenge with relish, since he was giddy at the prospect of working on a true warjack. Yet, after a few days, he realized that he might be over his head.

For one, a crusader?s body was much more complex than a laborjack?s. Often, he had to go back and check the schematics and his notes. The number of redundant combat systems, the extra armor plating, the piping; it was just so much more than he?d ever encountered. He knew the underlying principles were the same as those of the laborjacks, but this machine was so much more intricate, it stretched his understanding of his craft to its limits. Yet, the biggest obstacle he faced was the fact that, unlike the laborjacks, he couldn?t have the machine try out the new system modification. He wasn?t a warcaster, so there wasn?t any chance that he could pierce the protections and actually get the jack to move. So, he had to make the modifications blind. He considered asking the scuritor to assist him, but he didn?t dare do so.

He also found the work to be much more tedious than his time in the shop because he didn?t have Vashti there to keep him company. He hadn?t realized just how much he liked having her around. Even her constant distractions, which he had formerly complained about, he found himself missing dearly. With nothing but the monotony of his labors to keep him occupied, he found himself straining to keep going. Even the short breaks he was allowed were restricted to the temple grounds, and he was forbidden to speak with anyone besides the flameguard, and they were poor conversation. Still, he knew that Vashti was keeping up her old habits: he?d find little packages of sweets left near his room, or a bottle of imported fruit juice hidden among the clothes his father brought, or even just little signs that she was around. It made things much more tolerable knowing his friend was still watching out for him.

So, despite his loneliness and frustration, he forged on, because he knew that he would either prove himself, or most likely be put on the wrack for wasting the scuritor?s time and resources. He was determined to prove himself to this scuritor, his father and everyone. This was his gift, and he wasn?t going to let it be dismissed. So, he focused his energy on working out how to modify the jack as best he could.


*****


Authis rifled through the papers before him, burning with rage as he tried to decipher the boy?s code. To the fledgling warcaster, the pages looked like nothing but the inane scribbling of a child. Beside him, Aran-rythos examined another set of documents, using his own divine powers to decipher the script. The scuritor regarded the documents with casual interest. Clearly, he?d stumbled on something that he?d never expected to find in such a remote village. Unlike his clumsy disciple, he understood what they had found.

Aran-rythos reflected that perhaps this was the reason Authis had been sent here. When he had asked Menoth what to do with is apprentice, he had received a vision showing him the remote little town they now occupied. Originally, he thought that it might be removal from Imer that would shape Authis into an actual warcaster. Now, he suspected that it wasn?t Authis?s training that Menoth had directed, but his own attentions to find this boy.

After the boy had been consigned to the temple, the scuritor had his room searched to see what else he could learn. What his men delivered was so far beyond what they had expected. Pages upon pages of schematics, design modifications and upgrade records. Clearly, the boy had kept meticulous notes of his work, and not just his successes, but his failures and mistakes as well. The scuritor marveled at the details of the records, because they clearly represented a mind that was beyond his ken. Past just the work records, there were the boy?s almost random weapon and armament concepts. Some were exceptionally simple, while others, they were so much more complex than either of them had ever seen. Even the code the boy used to encrypt his notes was exceptionally advanced, forcing the scuritor to use his magic to decipher it.

All of this truly confounded the scuritor, because whatever the Shaper?s gift was in this boy, it was something unprecedented. Whatever it was that this child did, it appeared to be due solely to the boy?s skill with the physical aspect of the machines, and had nothing to do with magic, divine or otherwise. When he first met the child, he had sensed no more latent magical talent in him than with the average citizen of the Protectorate. His singular genius was beyond miraculous, simply because it appeared that the boy had told the truth. All of the documents made it clear that he really did simply know how to work on jacks without any formal training. He could see that much. It was as though he couldn?t create the magic necessary to make a jack functional, but rather, he could rearrange the machina to improve their performance, or give them completely new functions.

But what to do with him, that was the question. He clearly would be of great use in the ranks of the vassals, but without any magical ability of his own, he was limited. And he was worth so much more than a simple laborer in the assembly plants. Would he be accepted into the higher ranks of the designers at such a young age? Should special dispensation be made?

The scuritor silently prayed to Menoth for guidance as he continued to pore over the documents before him.


*****


Gerlin growled in frustration as he tried to tighten another lynch-bolt and reattach the final piece of armor to the crusader?s arm, then howled in pain as he lost his grip and slid to the floor. He dragged himself up, his body aching from the last minute changes he?d made. In fact, he had completely eschewed sleep the night before to finish things up. Yet, the day had arrived. He had no idea how well the improvements had taken, but it was now or never. He?d done everything that he could, and now it was judgment time.

Gerlin slumped down next to the machine and breath deeply. The scuritor would be arriving soon, and he was mentally prepared for whatever came.
It was an hour before the priest arrived, and in that time, Gerlin had cleaned himself up as much as possible. Even so, he was unkempt, worn-out and bruised. His eyes were bloodshot, and he was sure that even with the aromatic oil he applied to his clothes, he stank. At this point, he was almost beyond caring. Fortunately, when the scuritor arrived, he paid the boy?s appearance little heed. Instead, he made his way to the crusader standing idle in the center of the workshop.

?So, tell me child, what progress have you made??

?I?ve done what I could with the resources available to me, your grace.? Gerlin said.

?Excellent.? The scuritor purred. ?Now tell me, what changes have you done??

Gerlin was having trouble standing, but he forced himself to remain awake.
?I did my best to augment its speed and reaction time, and I?ve tried to improve its ability to process your orders. I?ll admit, it was much more difficult than I had expected.?

?That in itself is worth much to your soul child.? Aran-rythos mused. The scuritor looked over the machine. The plating was slightly skewed from what he remembered, and there were many new scratches, dings and dents in it. ?What of its weapon. Have you modified it as well??

?I did make one improvement, but I?m not sure if it?ll work.? Gerlin said, still struggling to remain on his feet.

?Tell me of it.?

?I set a directed explosive charge into it. If it works, you should be able to use it to increase the power behind its swing. But you?ll have only one shot at it.?

?You?ve done well to do all of this on your own.? The scuritor said. Turning back to Gerlin, he put his hand on the boy?s shoulder. ?Go home and rest now child. I will call for you.?

?Thank you.? Gerlin said as he bowed deeply.

As the boy hobbled off, Aran-rythos turned back to his crusader. This boy was truly incredible, he mused. He hadn?t expected him to finish in the time he?d been given, but he had. There was great determination and willpower in that child. He would make an excellent tool in Menoth?s arsenal.

Reaching out with his mind, he unlocked the defenses around the cortex and interfaced with the machine. The first sensation he received from the machine?s artificial mind was one of irritation and indignation. The priest chuckled to himself. The machine clearly hadn?t liked the boy pulling it apart. Calling in several of the flame guards, he had the men ignite the crusader?s furnace and prepared to test the boy?s modifications.


*****


Gerlin stumbled out of the temple, and began the trek back to his home. He was so exhausted he could barely stand. All he could think about was sleeping in his own bed for the first time in weeks. He barely made it out of the temple grounds before fatigue finally caught up to him, and he collapsed.

Decade
11-29-2009, 11:15 AM
He awoke to find himself in a soft, comfortable bed, while all around him the scent of desert flowers filled the air. At once he realized that he wasn?t in his own room. He struggled to rise, but found his muscles ached terribly when he tried. Even the act of opening his eyes took considerable effort. When he did, he saw Vashti sitting over him.

?Hey lazy bones. Finally decided to wake up I see.? She said. As she did, she pulled a wet cloth from a basin next to the bed, and, wringing it out, put it on his forehead.

?Wither and die Vashti. Do you have any idea what I?ve been through over the last few weeks?? He said as the cool cloth settled onto his brow.

?I?ve got some inkling.? She said sweetly. ?You had yourself a nice, relaxing vacation. I can tell you?re sorry to see it end.?

Gerlin couldn?t help but chuckle to himself. ?You got that right. It was soooo wonderfully tranquil. Just me and almost working myself to the grave on that jack.?

?Hey, you made it out. Consider that a gift from Menoth.? Vashti said as she got up and walked to a table next to his bed. When she got there, she lifted up the clay pitcher on the table and poured a milky white liquid into a ceramic cup. She brought it over to Gerlin, and, helping him sit up, she put the cup into his hands. He gratefully drank it down, noting that there was a sweet, almost floral flavor to it. After gulping down the cool fluid, he could feel his muscles relaxing and some of his fatigue evaporating.

?What is this?? He asked.

?Its an Idrian herbal remedy my mother learned from her people. You should be fit as a falcon in a few hours thanks to that.? She said as she took the empty cup from him, ?Just don?t try moving while it does its work.?

?Thanks. I really appreciate this.? He said.

?Hey, what?re friends for?? She said as she refilled the cup, ?Drink up. You nearly killed yourself.?

?You?ve got no idea. I think I saw Urcaen near the end there.? He said as he drained the contents of his cup. ?By Menoth?s grace, I didn?t think I?d make it.?

?He?s surely watching over you.? She said as he handed her the cup.

Gerlin lowered himself back under the blankets.

?How?d I get here? The last thing I remember was leaving the temple.?

Vashti walked up and knocked him on the head with her knuckles.

?I heard you were being let out, so I came by to walk you back. I found you face down in the dirt right outside the gate. I ran home and got my dad, and we brought you here.? She said as she sat down on the edge of the bed.

?Why didn?t you take me home?? He asked.

?My place is closer. Besides, your parents aren?t exactly the nurturing type. Ranos?d probably have you in the forge as soon as you got back.? Vashti said, not making any effort to conceal her feelings about Gerlin?s parents.

?Heh. You got that right.? Gerlin said. ?Old bastard?s a real taskmaster.

?You should?ve seen just how mad he was when the scuritor came for me. I thought he was going to kill me. I was praying to Menoth at the time, but I gotta admit, it was kinda funny when I think about it.?

?Well, you?d better rest.? She said as she stood up and began to walk to the door. ?My dad and I are going over to your place. He wants to tell your folks that we?ve got you.?

?Good luck.? He said, then thought of something ?Hey, could you bring me my journals? I?ve got some new notes to add.

Vashti turned back to him, her head inclined to one side. ?Sure. Top of the shelf near your bed, right??

?Yup. And Vashti??

?Yea.?

?Thanks again. I really owe you one.?

?You bet your sorry butt you do.? She said as she left the room and closed the door behind her. Gerlin smiled to himself as he drifted off into blissful oblivion.


*****


Vasti and her father made their way down the street.

?Do you think that Gerlin?s going to be okay. He?s in pretty bad shape.? Vashti said to her father.

?You?re mother?s medicine should help. He just needs rest.? He said.

?You know Ranos won?t give it to him if we let him take him back.?

?Ranos may be stubborn, but he?s not that ruthless.? Lyton said. ?But you?re right. I think Cyletha should keep an eye on him for a little while longer.?

?I?m praying Menoth gives him some time to recover. I doubt he?s going to be able to do much for a long time.? Vashti sighed. ?I just can?t stand how badly he wore himself out.?

?That?s the kind of boy Gerlin is.? Lyton said as he put his hand on his daughter?s shoulder. ?He?s as stubborn as Ranos, and a little too smart for his own good. Now cheer up. He?s going to be okay.?

The two walked in silence the rest of the way to Ranos?s smithy. They found Ranos in the forge, pounding out horseshoes. He didn?t notice Lyton and Vashti until they spoke.

?Ranos, Gerlin?s been let out of the temple.? Lyton said, keeping his voice level.

?Where is he? I need some help with this order.? Ranos said, not even lifting his head from his work to look at his guests.

?I don?t think he?s in any shape to do that.? Lyton said as he walked up to Ranos. ?The boy collapsed when he left the temple. He?s at my home recovering.?

?Hmph.? Ranos snorted, ?He?ll be fine. Menoth protects those in his service.?

?Either way, we?re going to keep him for a while. Cyletha wants to keep an eye on him. I just wanted to let you know he?s okay.? Lyton said.

?Suit yourself.? Ranos said, turning back to his anvil. ?Now if you?d kindly get out, I?ve got work to do.?

Both Lyton and Vashti were utterly bemused by the man, but took their leave, leaving Ranos to his work. Once outside the forge, Lyton turned to his daughter.

?Go get those books Gerlin asked for. I?ll wait outside.? He said, as he turned towards the street.

She didn?t need any other prompting. As she made her way towards the house, she thought about Ranos?s attitude. She expected him to demand Gerlin returned immediately, but he acted almost as though he meant nothing to him, as though he?d lost all interest in his son. It was too strange. She didn?t consider it long, since it meant Gerlin was going to be safe at her house for a while. She just needed to get his books, and she could get back to her friend.


*****


Authis was at the temple deep in prayer before the Sacred Flame. Despite being in such a holy place, he was fuming over the indignities he was suffering because of that child. He had hoped to show his master how much he had grown, then leave this squalid village and return to the comfortable temple at Imer. Now, his master was more interested in investigating the deluded bragging of that child than getting out of this chamber pot of a town. And it made him burn with rage at the thought of all his progress was not due to his own skills, but because of some lowborn child tampering with his jacks. He refused to believe that the boy was capable of such miraculous work, and he refused to be shown up.

He couldn?t take it any longer. He rose from his spot before the alter, and stormed out the door. He?d show his master what he could do. And he would prove that child was nothing but a fraud.

Fuming, he rounded the side of the temple and saw Aran-rythos with his guard all around his crusader. Not even stopping to steal a glance at anyone else, he walked up to his master.

?Master!? He snarled, not even bothering to show the scuritor the proper reverence.

Without even looking back at his disciple, the scuritor said ?What is it Authis??

?This is absurd master! You can?t seriously believe that? that? CHILD could have possibly done what he claims! He?s nothing but gutter trash!?

?That is none of your concern Authis.? The scuritor said as slowly turned to face his apprentice. ?I?m putting my faith in the Creator, and this child to whom he has guided me. I?ve seen the work he is capable of. It was for the purpose of refining him into what he is that I was guided by Menoth to send you here.?

Authis began to protest, but closed his mouth as he saw his master?s eyes through his helmet. There was great zeal behind them, like a man possessed.

?I do not need your permission to pursue the work of the Creator, my foolish apprentice.? Aran-rythos said as he began to advance on Authis. ?You presume to tell me what is absurd? What is possible? You know nothing! I have seen what this child is capable of. Impossible. Hah! Nothing is impossible for one gifted by the majesty of the Creator. That child was given to us as a weapon to wield against the enemies of the faith.

?Remember that it is by my grace that you are even allowed near a warjack, let alone into His service. You may have potential, but you lack refinement, or control. In your time here, you were to learn restraint, yet in your arrogance, you chose to ignore the lessons I taught and instead made no progress in your training. Consider that before you dare have the gall to tell me what I should believe.?

Authis began to back off, but Aran-rythos continued to advance.

?Need I remind you that it was this child?s absurd creations that allowed your clumsy techniques to control those jacks? It was never your skills. It was his.?

Authis stumbled backwards into one the Exemplars.

?Get him out of my sight. Put him to the wrack. Perhaps it will remind him of his place.? Aran-rythos said with a dismissive waive of his hand as he turned back to his warjack.

?NO! Master, no! I meant no disrespect! Please! No!? Authis begged as he struggled against the exemplar?s powerful grasp as he began to carry him off.

?Reflect on why I?ve done this, and, perhaps you?ll understand what you are lacking.? The scuritor said without turning to look at Authis.

Decade
11-29-2009, 11:29 AM
Vashti slowly entered the room, doing her best not to disturb her friend. Despite her efforts, Gerlin stirred, then woke up. Seeing her, he shifted around in bed as she approached him. He immediately noticed her confusion and concern.

?What happened?? He said as she came and sat on the stool by his bed.

?Your books are gone. The scuritor took them.? She said.

?What!?? Gerlin exclaimed. ?Why?!?

?You think I?m stupid enough to go and ask that? Your mother told me that once you were taken to the temple, the scuritor confiscated your notes and journals.? Vashti said. ?And just before you were released, he told your parents that he wants to take you to Imer.?

?But, that?s wonderful! Going to the holy city means that they want me to help in the crusade. I?ll be able to do everything that I?ve ever wanted.? Gerlin said as he began to perk up.

?Idiot!? Vashti shrieked, then regained her composure. ?Think about it. You?ll become a vassal. A slave! You?ll lose everything.?

?Vashti, I know.? Gerlin said. ?But I?ll be able to serve the Creator, and make a difference in the War of Souls. Isn?t that a wonderful thing??

?For a genius, you?re such an idiot.? Vashti said as she lightly slugged him on the shoulder. Gerlin couldn?t tell if it was in rage or a playful gesture.

?I?ll be fine. If its Menoth?s plan, then I?ll abide.?

?You?d better be.? She said. ?If you don?t keep yourself alive, I?m going to come to Imer and have you clean my shoes with your tongue.?

?Not even Menoth could get me to do that.? Gerlin retorted.

Vashti snorted, then both of them broke down laughing. It was absurd, but they couldn?t help it.


*****


Outside town, Authis found himself chained to a wrack. Inside the helmet, he fumed with rage. This was all that child?s fault. He would make sure that brat suffered even worse agony than he was at this moment.

Listen to him. A voice said in his mind. It was soft and feminine, almost like a reverberating whisper. So full of righteous indignation.

Indeed. Another said, this one chilling him to the core of his soul. Truly a pathetic sight.

?Who?s there?? He groaned though his helmet.

What shall we do with him? A third voice said, this one shrill like a moaning wind.

?Who are you? Where are you?? Authis said with as much force as his pain-wracked body could manage.

We?ve come to offer you something human. The first voice cooed.

You want vengeance against the child, yes? The third whispered. We can provide you with a means. All we ask is that you make sure he dies.

Authis?s heart was racing. Was he going mad?

?What?s in it for you?? Authis whispered, growing suspicious.

That is not your concern. The second voice said.

You don?t want to repay this indignity? The third voice said. That child stole your pride, your prestige and your future. Your master?s eyes are now on this new disciple. One who will assuredly take your place by his side. Certainly you don?t think that he doesn?t deserve to suffer for that? You?re being offered a chance to reclaim your pride. Grasp it!

The third voice?s barbs stung deeper than the wrack?s sharpened chains. It wasn?t fair. He was one of the chosen, and that child was no more than a fraud.

?I accept.? Authis said. ?Free me, and I?ll make sure the jackals will feed on his bones.?

Excelent! All three voices intoned at once.

Suddenly, the wrack buckled and shifted painfully as it splintered and collapsed. As Authis fell to the soft sand below, he felt the metal of the shackles rust and fall off. His hands now free, he summoned his own magical energy. Glowing orange runes circled the helmet as it split open. Pulling his head free, he beheld his ?salvation.?

Before him stood more than two dozen ghastly corpses, each one fitted with a smoking steam engine. Besides the mechanical dead, there were six immense ghouls in blackened armor, each wielding serrated axes. Around them, the light of day faded, as though it refused to touch their unholy forms while bale-fire ran across openings in their leering skulls. Behind them, a large, demonic jack stood, its black metal body radiating a sickly green light from its smoldering furnace. The thing?s malign head was adorned with a pair of fearsome tusks, and its fists were armed with immense, savage claws which looked like they could tear a man in half. Even with his limited knowledge of the world, Auths knew who these mockeries of life were. These were the repulsive soldiers of the Cryx.

We give you these tools to use as you see fit. The second voice said. Make sure the child dies!

Reluctantly, he reached out and found the cortex of the hellish jack. It allowed him in, and he felt his mind link with it. Unlike any other jack he?d used in the past, he could feel something else behind the vile thing. There was a hunger for death and slaughter that he barely could contain. It was both terrifying, and intoxicating at the same time.

?The child will die. That I swear.? He whispered as he rose. As one, he and his new soldiers turned towards the village.

?Menoth, forgive me this transgression.?

Exemplar's_Gaze
12-07-2009, 02:32 PM
No, the bottom of the page!

I need more!!!!

strangedane
12-13-2009, 02:42 AM
DAMN NICE!!! Love fluff stories, keeps the interest of the game intact!

Decade
12-16-2009, 07:28 AM
Thanks. Chapter 3 is underway.

Mercykiller
03-15-2010, 11:14 PM
Hate to sound pressing, but where's more? Excellent writing, and want moar nao ;)

Exemplar's_Gaze
03-25-2010, 12:06 PM
I am with Mercykiller on this one. I have been waiting on chapter 3 for too long!

Spooker
03-29-2010, 08:02 AM
I agree also. Can't wait for the story to continue.

Great read.

Take care

Iqus
04-18-2010, 10:56 PM
I like this story so much! Where is the next chapter? :)

Decade
05-25-2010, 05:04 PM
Sorry for the long delay. General life drama plus a sever case of writer's block. Here's chapter 3.

Ch3 – Shatter

Aran-rythos smiled contentedly at his crusader as he powered down the jack’s furnace. The boy’s work exceeded his expectations; the machine’s reaction time, agility and strength were easily superior to anything they were before. He had yet to test the modifications to the inferno mace, but he suspected that if it worked as well as the other changes, there would be nothing to worry about.
Turning away, he couldn’t help but feel almost euphoric. This was truly a gift from the creator. With Hierarch Voyle pushing towards war, and news that the legendary Harbinger had been found, Menoth would soon begin his holy cleansing of the heretics. This boy was further proof in the scuritor’s eyes that the Creator of Man was preparing them for a great purification, in which all of those who worshiped false gods would be swept clean and all of man would once again bow before their creator. With the child’s considerable skill lent to the crusade, there would be little that could stand in their way.
As he began to make his way back to the temple, one of his exemplars came running up, breathless from the exertion.
“Brother Cayl, what is the matter?” The scuritor asked, sensing the knight’s distress.
“Your grace,” the knight huffed, “Authis is missing!”
“What!? What happened?”
“I don’t know. When we went to check if he was still alive, the wrack was destroyed and he was nowhere to be found. There were a dozens of footprints on the ground near the wreckage, but no signs of a struggle.”
“I don’t like this. Increase the watch around town, then I want you and Jacob ride out as soon as possible. See if you can track whoever took him. If he’s dead or alive, I want him brought back.”
“Yes your grace.” The knight said as he bowed and prepared to take his leave. Then, turning back, he addressed the priest again. “There is one more thing.
“There were signs of a jack as well. And from the size of its prints, it was a large one. Possibly the size of your crusader.”
“That changes things. When you find them, don’t engage whoever took Authis. I don’t want you two risking your lives needlessly.”
“As you wish.” Cayl said.

Hours after the sun had set, Gerlin was up and about. Vashti had retired a little after sundown, but he had too much on his mind. Flexing his arms, he marveled at the medicine that Cyletha had given him. In only a few hours, it had cured his fatigue faster than he could have imagined, though the bruises and cuts from working on the jack would take more time to heal completely. It wasn’t any wonder to him that the Idrians could have survived so long out in the desert with such wonderful herbalism. The priests and warriors of the church might do well to actually invest some time into the nomad’s old ways.
Of course, such thoughts were only a momentary distraction from the crushing weight of the situation. He had considered heading home, but he truly didn’t feel like it, partially because he didn’t want to deal with his father, and partially because the reality of his position was starting to sink in. Initially, he was elated by the idea of working for the Visgoths at the great cathedral. But, slowly, the weight of it bore into his skull when he realized that Vashti was right. If he went, he’d lose everything, and become a slave to the will of the church. His life would ultimately belong to the visgoths and the hierarch. Though he always knew his soul ultimately belonged to Menoth, the thought of losing all of his rights was not an appealing one.
Then there was the confiscation of his notes. Those journals were everything that he had, both personally and professionally. He cherished those books. He had poured everything he learned into them, all of his experiments, his theories, his successes, and his failures. Everything. And now, the scuritor had them. He hoped that they would be returned, but he had a sinking suspicion that wouldn’t be the case. Even with the encryption he developed, it was more likely that they would be taken to the temple and added to the documents in the visgoth’s vaults, where he’d never see them again. That was what truly made him burn. All of his work developing those theories and techniques, and now, they’d be lost to him. Even though he had internalized most of the information and processes long ago, it was the principle of it that bothered him the most. It was his life’s work, and he didn’t like the idea of anyone benefiting from it without his consent.
Still, he grudgingly realized that he had little in the way of a choice in the matter. He’d have to try and get some rest, because as it stood, there was nothing he could do. Not now in any case.

The hour was well past midnight. In the light of the moons, a small shape could be seen making its way towards the temple. Upon reaching the great doors, it carefully pulled the latch open, and entered. Pulling them closed behind him, Gerlin silently made his way towards the censer where Sacred Flame burned. Kneeling in supplication, he clasped his hands and fell into fervent prayer. It was only in times of great distress that he dared to call out to the Creator. Unlike most Menites, he considered it unwise to entreat with Menoth unless it was direly important. Now was one of those times.
He had finally gotten to sleep, but it was fitful and uneasy. The weight of his future weighed too heavily on him, and he felt that he needed guidance. Vashti wouldn’t be much help, and his father was useless. He knew where the scuritor would lean. The only place that he knew the answer could be found was in the will of the Creator. So, his restless mind unable to cope, he stole out in the dead of night, and entered the temple.
“Its rare to see you in here young Gerlin, particularly so late at night.” A gentle voice said from behind. Gerlin did not visibly start, but the interruption did break him out of his prayers. “What brings you here so late?”
Gerlin looked back at Father Krazten, who stood serenely in his robes near the entrance to his sleeping chamber. The temple’s priest was an immigrant from Khador, and an imposing tower of a man. Yet despite his size, he had a gentle, calming demeanor to him that always put Gerlin at ease.
“I’m sorry to have come so late Father, but I was in need of Menoth’s guidance.” Gerlin said as he rose and approached the priest. He’d know the Father since he could remember, and he always felt that he could be trusted.
“It must be a great burden to bring you here so late at night. Come, tell me about it.” Krazten said as he led Gerlin towards the pews. Sitting the boy down on the bench, the priest sat next to him to listen.
“I’m lost and confused right now.” Gerlin said, “Scuritor Aran-rythos has confiscated my books, and from what I can surmise, he intends to take me to Imer.”
“You’re afraid of this then my son?” The priest asked.
“I’m just so unsure of what I should do.” Gerlin whimpered meekly, “I’m sure that if I go to Imer, I’ll be inducted into the ranks of the Vassals.”
“That is possible. I’ve always suspected that your talents would eventually draw that sort of attention. But, that alone wouldn’t bring you here at this hour. There’s something more, isn’t there?”
“I’m just so unsure if I’m up to the task.” Gerlin said, “I’m no mage. You yourself said that even after the first time my gift showed itself. All I can do is change things. I can’t create. Of what use will I be?”
“Do not sell yourself short my son. You’re gift eased the lives of many people in this village. Just because you don’t create the devices, doesn’t mean that your skill is not worthwhile. I’ve seen the work you’ve done. The diligence and dedication you put into your craft. You have a rare gift. Be proud of it.”
“But it’s not just that. I’m scared. More than I’ve ever been in my life. If I become a Vassal, I’ll be stripped of everything. I don’t want to be a slave.”
“Young one, the Vassals may be, as you call them, slaves, but they are far from abused. They are treated well, for they provide an essential service to His cause. True, they sacrifice much, but they are not treated crudely. And you are not anything like the other Vassals though. Your gift allows you to forge our holy weapons without tainting your own soul with foul sorceries. I may channel his power, but you, you can shape instruments of his wrath for all of his followers to use. By that simple fact alone you are worth so much more than a simple Vassal. And Scuritor Aran-rythos knows that. He wouldn’t allow your potential to be squandered.
“But, you needn’t worry about that right now. In time, you will be shown the path Menoth has set down for you. Trust in the Creator and all will make sense, in time.”

Decade
05-25-2010, 05:04 PM
A cold wind came whipping across the wastes and over the twin figures crossing the desert in the moonlight. The two of them were astride sleek and powerful horses, their white and red armor gleaming in the moons? luminescence. The unusual tracks they were following continued out further out into the wastes, making both men uneasy. Both men and their horses were tired from the hours of riding, but they pushed on.
Joseph was the first to break the silence that they had maintained since sun down. ?I don?t think we?re going to find him tonight. We?re not equipped for a long search like this.?
?Just a little longer. Then we?ll head back.? Cayle said resolutely.
?I don?t like this Cayle.? Joseph responded solemnly. ?This? just doesn?t feel right. Whoever took Authis isn?t even attempting to hide their progress. Surely they expected us to follow.?
?I know.? Cayle said.
They rode on in silence for another couple of miles. As they did, they noticed that a number of the tracks had begun to veer off into the wastes at random intervals, as though half of their numbers had simply walked off.
?This is too strange.? Joseph mused, ?Why are they splitting their forces apart? Are they trying to disappear into the desert??
?Or trying to confuse us.?
And so they rode on. Soon, there were only 8 sets of tracks, one from the mysterious jack, one what they assumed was Authis, and six that reminded the knights of long robes dragging through the sand. These later were the most disturbing, because they appeared to only brush the ground, leaving no footprints. There was something fundamentally wrong going on. Both knights knew it. But they knew their duty, and they were determined to fulfill it.
It was nearly half an hour later when they noticed a strange green glow in the direction they were heading. The light was faint, but obvious in the dark. In an instant, the color drained from Cayle?s face, and gestured for his brother-in-arms to stop.
?I?ve seen that light before!? Cayle said, reining his horse. ?That?s corpse fire!?
?What does it mean?? Joseph said, also stopping in his tracks.
?Cryx.? Cayle whispered, ?The dead.?
?So far into our land? How is that possible??
?I don?t know, but that they?re here is an ominous sign. We need to see how many there are before we report this to the Scuritor.?
Both knights slowly rode towards the green glow, lances readied. They drew up their horses and cantered behind a few boulders before dismounting and looking around their cover to get a look at the invaders. Despite Joseph?s protests, Cayle insisted that he be the only one to go. Unlike his brother, he had experience dealing with the dead, and knew some of their ways. Slowly, the lone knight crept forward, doing his best to keep low and silent, no mean feat in his armor. As he came within eyeshot of the Cryxian forces, Cayle?s heart sank as he saw the true face of what they had been tracking. It was a Slayer. Cayle had faced one of these horrors before, and though it was one of the most basic weapons in the Cryxian jack arsenal, he knew how deadly they could be. When he had fought one before, it had cost him many brothers and dear friends. Beside it, there were six armored dead, each bearing a massive barbed axe. Cayle recognized them as well. Banes! This was more than two knights could possibly handle, and a threat of great proportions. If these?things were what took Authis, he was likely dead, or being taken to their wretched islands by now, because there was no sign of the young warcaster.
Cayle made his way back to Joseph as quickly as possible. As soon as he got back, he mounted his horse. Joseph, sensing his brother?s distress, he approached Cayle.
?What is it? What did you see??
?Mount up. We?re leaving. This is far beyond anything we could deal with.? Cayle said, terror in his voice.
?But what was it?? Joseph asked, still rooted in place.
?Get on your horse right now. If we stay here any longer, we?re dead. We?re no match for what?s over there, you understand me.?
Without another word, the younger knight swung up onto his horse. Cayle wheeled his horse around to leave, but was forced to pull hard on his reins to keep from being thrown. Before him was Authis, his relaxed and amused look completely out of place in the situation. After settling his horse, Cayle regarded the warcaster as Joseph approached from behind.
?Authis!? Joseph exclaimed, ?You?re all right!?
?Obviously.? Authis said, his tone cold and even.
?What happened?? Cayle said, his hand going to his sword. ?How did you escape??
?Escape? Oh My dear, simple fool, I wasn?t taken. I went willingly.? Authis said, his mouth twisting into a cruel smile. ?I was given a gift my Menoth to correct a mistake before it could bring ruin to the Creator?s works.?
?You? you?re working with the Cryx?? Cayle said, drawing his sword and backing his horse away. Joseph also unsheathed his blade, and began backing off.
?No, they have the same goal as I do. I merely accepted their offer of aid.? Authis hissed.
?Heretic.? Cayle said in a low voice, ?You will pay for this treachery.?
?I don?t think so. You two aren?t going anywhere.? Authis said.
There was a hiss from behind like a piece of cloth being dragged across the sand. For an instant, both knights felt a deep, cloying sensation like a breeze across an open grave, followed by a the hideous tearing sound of metal and flesh being sundered, which was followed by a searing pain in their backs. Both men pitched forward, nearly torn in half by a savage blow from behind. Joseph died instantly, his torso and legs cleanly separated by the attack, which also took the head from his horse. His body landed behind Authis, blood erupting from the ragged wounds. Cayle?s body was not sundered, but the blow savagely tore out his right side, throwing his guts across the ground and wrenching him from his horse?s back. As the life bleed from him, he saw the form of the large, armored Bane standing over him, its barbed axe wet from his blood. Cayle reached out, trying to grasp the creature before the life faded from his body.
?Go to Menoth brothers.? Authis said, lowering his head in solemn prayer, ?You?re fates were much kinder than the one in store for that brat.?

Gerlin slowly trudged out of the temple as dawn?s light began to crest the horizon. He was tired. It wasn?t just that he had been awake all night. And it wasn?t that he was terribly hungry. It was that his heart was caught in a storm of doubt and confusion. Even after talking with Father Krazten, he was still unsure of everything that was happening around him. He had to keep reminding himself that come what may, Menoth must have a plan for him, and that he must find the strength to follow it.
It took him only a little while to reach Vashti?s home, and he entered as silently as possible. Making his way back to the guest room, he lay back down and fell into a fitful slumber.

It was still a few minutes before dawn when the first screams woke Aran-rythos from his slumber. In moments, there were shouts from outside, which were soon followed by more shrieks and the sounds of fighting. Rising, the scuritor quickly donned his robes, snapped on his mask, and rushed out the door of his chamber. As he ran down the hall, he nearly collided with Father Krazten.
?What?s happening?? Aran-rythos demanded.
?I don?t know.? The priest said as the two made their way out of the temple and into the courtyard.
Aran-rythos didn?t respond as more screams broke out. They were coming from the north west of town, near the business plaza. As he made his way down the stairs, he could feel the familiar presence of a warcaster nearby. Seeing the scuritor, his flameguard quickly made their way towards him, with several of the local constabulary with them.
?Your grace! We?re under attack!? One of the flameguard said breathlessly.
?What? By whom?? The scuritor demanded.
?By the dead!? The man wheezed. ?They attacked the smith?s home, then started sacking the other buildings nearby. We lost a dozen men to them. They?re contained right now, but we don?t know for how long.?
?How many??
?At least two dozen of them. They look like corpses outfitted with steam-engines.?
?Mechanithralls.? Aran-rythos snarled. ?Fire up my jacks. They?re likely only the fist wave.
?I need two of you to help me start up my warjacks. The rest of you, go with Father Krazten and aid in the defense of the town.?
Without another word, Aran-rythos turned towards the courtyard where his jacks were stationed, with two of the flameguards close on his heels.

Authis made his way silently through the alleys between the buildings, trying desperately to remember where his quarry was hidden. He had arrived at the smith?s home just before dawn, hoping to kill the child quickly and quietly. But he wasn?t there. When he confronted the wretch?s father, the oaf told him that the boy was recovering at his friend?s home. Authis burnt the man alive with Menoth?s holy fire before using the same to ignite the house and forge. As the flames began to rise from the dry timbers of the house, he ordered his minions to create a diversion. Taking the ghouls with him, Authis left the steam powered corpses to ravage the market as he wove his way towards the center of town. Sending out a mental signal, he called forth the demonic warjack to come to him.
At last, he would have his revenge.

Iqus
05-31-2010, 10:15 PM
This story is real exciting.
More? I need more! ))

Spooker
06-09-2010, 02:28 PM
Excellent read.
Please continue.

Take care.

Exemplar's_Gaze
06-10-2010, 01:19 PM
Seeing this update truly made my day, Decade. Thank you.

Another great chapter.

I am excited for what I am guessing will be the final chapter! Hop to it!...please :)

Szugi
06-15-2010, 12:40 PM
Very interesting! I was pulled into the story right from the begining - and of course I impatiently await future works! Great Job!

Decade
09-21-2010, 01:45 PM
Sorry for the delay. Busy field season this year & bad case of writers block.

Ch 4 ? Shift

Fire and death danced through the blasted remnants of his home as a fiend set everything alight, while demonic beings from Urcaen slaughtered and maimed all those around him. His father lay burnt on the ground, consumed by the demon?s fire, while three of the viscious creature?s minions gnawed hungrily at the twisted corpse of Vashti. Father Kranzten lay on the ground, split open, his entrails snaking around his form like rope. The things began to turn on him, slowly approaching with their bladed arms dangling from their jerking, ridged frames.
As they were about to reach him, a swarm of steamjacks emerged from the gloom, throwing themselves in the way. They battered the monsters back, but were cut down by their scabrous leader and its dark power. The thing looked on him with unrelenting rage, and in its eyes, Gerlin saw his end.
He is coming for you child. You must flee! A trio of voices rang out in his head.

Gerlin was awake in an instant. He felt his pulse racing and his skin breaking out into a cold sweat as he tried to shake the horrid, nightmare vision from his mind. The screams were still ringing out in his mind as he pulled himself out of bed, his pulse still racing. Taking a few deep breaths, he walked to the window and pulled it open. The sun was still below the horizon, but the fist fingers of dawn were beginning to creep their way over the desert to the east. The morning was still and peaceful, yet he felt a tremor of fear as the memory of his dream came rushing back. The most haunting of all was that final warning.
He is coming for you child.You must flee!
Who was coming? Why? Was it real, or just a dream? The vision of his friends and family torn apart by those twisted creatures, and the dreadful, leering master which they served, who?s eyes bore into him with such unfettered hate tore at his heart and mind. What was it? A warning? A premonition?
He took a deep breath and steadied himself on the windowsill. It was just a dream. Just a dream. He kept repeating it to himself. It was just a dream.
It was then that he saw the first signs of the smoke on the horizon. And it was coming from the direction of his house. As he turned to wake Lyton and Vashti, the first screams rang out through he cool morning air.

It was an eternity of moments as Gerlin rushed to rouse the entire house, though it was hardly necessary. Vashti nearly collided with him when she emerged from her room, obviously awoken by the screams. Lyton and Cyletha soon followed, their rumpled night clothes barely covering their modesty.
?What?s happening?? Cyletha aksed, still in a haze.
?I don?t know.? Vashti sqeaked as she tried to wake herself fully.
?It?s a fire!? Gerlin yelped, ?I think it?s my house!?
Before anyone could stop him, Gerlin ran through the halls towards the front door. As soon as he reached it, he yanked it open, and ran out into the yard. Before he could make it out, Vashti dove and tackled him, knocking him to the ground. Gerlin struggled with all his might to break free of her grip as she held him firmly to the ground.
?Calm down idiot!? She said, now fully awake and very angry. ?You can?t just go rushing off like that.?
?But my family!? Gerlin wailed, the vision from his nightmare still fresh in his mind?s eye. ?I?ve got to save them!?
?What are you going to do? If it?s your house, you?re too far away to do a thing.? She said, tightening her grip against his furious struggling.
?Only because you?re holding onto down.? Gerlin retorted.
?Think about it genius.? Vashti said as she rolled Gerlin onto his back and pinned him by the shoulders. ?If it?s a fire, your mother and moron father probably got out fine. Its not like Ranos is too stupid to get out of the house if it?s burning. So calm down. We?ll all go and see.?
As Gerlin relaxed, Vashti released her grip and got to her feet. She extended her hand, and helped Gerlin to his feed.
?After all, I need to keep you from doing anything too stupid, now don?t I.? She jeered as she slugged him on the shoulder. Gerlin looked ruefully at her, but after a moment he cracked a smile and chuckled too. It was all he could do to try and shake the feeling of terror sinking into his guts.

Authis couldn?t believe his luck. After what seemed like hours of searching, he had found his quary. And what was better, the child was coming ot him. The boy was with that wretched friend of his, her father and filthy idrian mother, all moving briskly with dozens of other people towards the fires he started. He would be difficult to reach in the throng of people, but it wouldn?t be impossible. Though still out of striking range, they would be in moments.
Before he could savor the joy of his vengence, it was snatched away from him. Just before his prey was within striking range, one of the local constables intercepted the herd of people, and with a few sharp words, stopped their advance. Even from his vantage point, he could hear the guard ordering the crowed to return to the church. The dead were in the town, and the other guards were engaging them. All zealonts were to head back and arm, while all civilians were to seek shelter in the sacred halls of the cathedral. Aran-rythos had ordered it. Authis saw the child push his way to the front of the column, and he heard him plead with the guard to tell him of the smith. All dead. Authis enjoyed a brief moment of satisfaction when the child nearly fell to his knees upon learning his family?s fate.
You?ll be joining them soon enough brat Authis thought with a wicked smile.
When the crowd turned to head to the cathedral, Authis knew it was now or never. He had to strike. He signaled the ghouls, and as one they rushed forward to attack.

Decade
09-21-2010, 01:46 PM
They?re coming!
The warning flooded into Gerlin?s mind, the words clear as if they had been whispered to him. As he swung his head around, looking for the source of the voice, something in his peripheral vision caught his eyes. He barely turned in time to see six twisted monstrosities emerge from the dark of the nearest building. They wore blackened armor, yet moved like desert cats, swiftly descending upon the crowd. About them, an envelope of darkness seethed, as though it were a living thing. Each bore a massive barbed axe, which looked like it could cleave a man in twain. Yet, most horrible of all, were their faces, which were naught but skulls, blazing with what looked like glowing green runes. As they drew near, dozens of people around him screamed as the darkness wreathing the demons reached out and twined around them, slowing the villagers as the monstrosities cut them down.
They come for you! Run!
Gerlin heard the voice again. He needed no other prompting. Turning, he ran. As he fled, he looked to see where Vashti and her parents were. He was relieved to see them heading in the other direction, towards the cathedral. In that moment he made a desperate decision. The creatures had come for him. So he was the one that had to lure them away. He was already responsible for those creatures killing his family, he wouldn?t be the cause of his best friend and he family?s death too.
Behind him, he could hear the dying screams of the villagers as the monsters hacked them to peices. He didn?t dare to stop and look back. He just ran, hoping that they would follow him, and that it would buy Vashti enough time to get to the safety of the temple.

Authis fumed impotently as he watched the child slip away in the chaos. With a sinking realization, he knew that the child would be even harder to catch now that he was on his guard.
The wretched creatures he had sent to deal the final blow had instead been distracted by their own desire to kill, and had slaughtered dozens of villagers instead of staying focused on killing the child. As the child slipped away, he had ordered them to pursue, but they had ignored him, and instead continued to attack random villagers. He had called them back when the guards arrived, but the creatures had continued to attack, headless of his orders. Only after all living things in sight had been slaughtered did they return to him. Authis was furious as they stole away back into the alleys. Two of them had been killed, and now the whole town was on high alert.
More guards began to arrive to pursue them. The rouge warcaster knew they weren?t much of a threat, but they would cost him valuable time if he didn?t deal with them. Drawing on his power, he pointed at the nearest guard and invoked the power of the Creator. In an instant, red runes encircled his arm, sending his power into his foe. As the first burst into flames, the magic arced to the next, consuming him as well. In an instant, all of the men had been reduced to ash, but he knew that it was now only a matter of time before more arrived.
Aprasing the situation, Authis realized that it was time to call in his trump card. Reaching out with his mind, he called the demonic warjack. Though it was still far outside, he could feel its response as it began to make its way towards the village, its artificial mind filled with thoughts of slaughter.
The child would surely make his way towards the temple like the callow little wretch he was. Authis merely had to ensure that he never made it there. Signaling his remaining ghouls, he turned towards the cathedral and prepared to finish his job.

Aran-rythos sighed deeply as the flamegaurd dealt with the last of the mechanithralls. He hated dealing with the defiled dead. It was an affront to everything he held sacred, using the body of an innocent as a weapon, or denying a foe the dignity of a peaceful death. Even the most brazen heretic didn?t deserve such a wretched fate.
His crusader walked slowly to his side, standing by him like an oversized dog. The scuritor reached up and patted the metal construct on its arm affectionately. As he did, a contented hiss of steam escaped from the jack?s furnace as it accepted the unspoken praise from its master. Though he rarely showed his affection for the machine publicly, this was one of the times he felt it necessary. The jack had performed better than he had hoped. Clearly, the depths of the child?s modifications were beyond miraculous. It had barely required his guidance in the fight, and its movements were easily twice as smooth as it had ever been. With more training, and greater tools at his disposal, the miracles the child could work would be truly beyond belief.
?Your grace!?
Aran-rythos turend to face a young priest, who was gasping for breath from exertion. From the look of him, he?d run from the temple.
?What is it my child.? Aran-rythos mused.
?Your grace, another force of the dead has penetrated the village. They?ve slaughtered many on the south-west side of town.?
There was a sharp intake of air as the scuritor?s arcanatrix turbine roared to life. The younger priest shied away as raw heat literally began to radiate from the elder priest.
?How many?? Aran-rythos said, clearly trying to control his rage. His mind was racing furiously. Had this attack been a distraction to keep him occupied while the dead sought out their true objectives?
?Eight. Two were slain by the guards. According to the survivors, the things were like armored men, but were shrouded in choking darkness.? The messenger stammered.
?Banes! Filthy banes!? Aran-rythos snarled. ?How many villagers were slain??
?Nearly three dozen. The survivors are being taken to the cathedral.?
?Very well. I want you to return and ensure that the temple is sealed tightly. I?ll have no more of the faithful die at the hand of these wretched monsters. Now, be gone.? Aran-rythos said as he waved his hand, dismissing the younger priest.
As the messenger hurried to carry out the scuritor?s orders, Aran-rythos turned back to his soldiers, and the last remnants of the dead mechanithralls. Raising his hand, the elder priest pointed at the corpses. Glowing red runes flashed around his hand as the mechanithrall bodies burst into flame, filling the air with greasy smoke and the acrid smell of burning flesh and machinery. The flameguard turned as one to stare at the scuritor as he slowly lowered his mailed fist.
?Come! We have more of the undead to slay!? Aran-rythos shouted as he turned sharply and strode off.

Decade
09-21-2010, 01:50 PM
Gerlin ducked into an alley and behind several crates. He was uncertain if he had lost his pursuers, but he hoped that he had. Despite being used to physical exertion, he was tired. The creatures that were hunting him were relentless. As soon as he was sure that he?d lost them, and took a moment to catch his breath, they were upon him again.
Without warning, he felt a familiar chill in the air. Without a second thought, he took off running. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the glint of a jagged blade. Throwing himself forward, he ducked, and then rolled under the ax?s blade. The creature?s weapon lodged itself into the building as Gerlin narrowly avoided being decapitated. Getting himself to his feet, he began running again. Behind him, he could hear the creature hissing as it tried to dislodge its weapon from the masonry. He didn?t bother to look behind as he tried to put some distance between them.
He wasn?t sure how much longer he could manage to avoid the creatures, but he knew he had to. If he didn?t, they?d turn their attention back to the other villagers, and he couldn?t bear that thought. What was his life if it meant that everyone else could make it to safety?
?Brat! Get out here now!? A familiar voice roared from the nearest street.
Gerlin stopped in his tracks as he recognized it. It was Authis. Gerlin?s mind raced as he tried to comprehend it. What was Authis doing here?
?I?m growing tired of this game brat! Come out now!? Authis bellowed.
Gerlin didn?t dare move. There was something in Authis?s voice that reeked of murder and death. He was sure that the priest was here to kill him, not help him.
?Boy, get out here now! This is an order from one of Menoth?s chosen! You?d best not deny me, lest you prove just how much of a heretic you are!?
There was no way he could obey Authis. Had the scuritor not praised him with his devotion? Though willful, he had never outright disobeyed the cannon of the True Law. He knew himself to be no heretic. Authis wasn?t acting out of devotion to Menoth. He was acting out of petty rage. Aran-Rythos must have sent Authis to retrieve him, but the young warcaster was simply enacting his vendetta. Gerlin could see that plainly. He had to get away from here. Perhaps Authis would deal with the creatures hunting him. At the very least, he wasn?t so debased as to allow them to live. And Authis?s bluster was sure to draw them out.
Quickly looking around, Gerlin spotted a ladder going up the side of one of the buildings. Perhaps if he couldn?t escape on the ground, he could make his way along the roofs. With one swift movement, Gerlin darted from the cover of the alley and to quickly made his way up the ladder.
?I?m losing my patience boy! Come out now or I?ll start burning this village to the ground!?
Gerlin climbed over the lip of the roof and pasted himself flat to its surface. Crawling along on his stomach, he inched towards the furthest ledge.
?Where is that brat! Why haven?t you wretches found him?!?
Gerlin froze.
?You are completely worthless! How can you be so easily outwitted by a child!??
Gerlin couldn?t believe what he was hearing. No, he had to have misheard.
?I want you to find him, and find him now. I want his filthy head at my feet so I can perosnaly cush the life from his skull!
?I will make him pay for playing me for the fool!?
Gerlin?s stomach turned as he took in what Authis was saying. Was he commanding the other villagers to kill him? How could he? How could they? This went beyond simple vengeance. It was madness. Gerlin had to know if Authis was leading local zealots to kill him. So, ever so slowly, he began edging closer to the side of the building nearest Authis. When he reached the edge, he peaked over the raised side of the roof to peer down into the street. As he did, he had to cover his mouth to stifle a scream.
The man he saw before him was clearly Authis, but he was without his mask. Though he had never seen the warcaster without his facial covering, he recognized him instantly from his robes. But what truly horrified him wasn?t the nearly heretical way Authis was dressed. Authis was not surrounded by zealots, but the very same monsters that had been hunting him.
The monstrous things didn?t move as Authis continued to berate them, but merely stood, motionless as he continued to lash out at them. Suddenly, Authis turned away from the creatures, and began to look around as though trying to see someone, or something, that was hidden from sight.
?I?m trying! I?m trying damn you!? Authis yelled to nothing in particular. ?These useless creatures you sent me haven?t found him yet!?
Veins began to rise on Authis?s brow as he clasped the sides of his skull with his hands, shaking his head back and forth, as though he were suffering some sort of agonizing pain. Suddenly, he let go of his head, stood and regained his composure.
?No, you?re right. He?s bound to have made his way to the temple by now.? Authis said in a cool, level voice.
?Yes. Yes, I understand??
Authis turend away from the ghouls, and beconded them. ?Come, we?ve got a heretic to slay,? Was all he said before marching off.
On the rooftop, Gerlin slumped down against the wall, nearly catatonic.

Aran-rythos stared gravely down the streets as he marched onward, now flanked by a dozen zealots in full battle gear, intermixed with his own flameguard units. All of the surviving citizens had been gathered up into the temple, and those zealots who knew how to fight had armed themselves from the caches to aid the scuritor?s hunt for the dead. Still, he was ill at ease, for there was one person missing that he considered invaluable above all the others.
When they encountered the last of the fleeing citizens, a young girl, whom he recognized as the youth that had regularly visited Gerlin during his test, had approached him. She had blurted out that the boy had run off when the monsters attacked, and that she?d lost sight of him as they fled towards the temple. Aran-rythos took the news hard, because he considered the boy?s fate of utmost importance. He was a singularly potent gift from the creator, and his loss to Cryxian predations was unacceptable.
There was a sudden familiar sensation in the back of his head, which told him that another warcaster was nearby. This was a potentially disastrous complication. If there was a warcaster with the undead, there could be a real fight, rather than simply killing a small conclave of banes.
Aran-rythos felt a sudden surge of power come from behind and a vice like blast of heat grip his body. All around him him, several zealots burst into flame, screaming in agony, before being reduced to ash. As he twisted around to see where the attack came from, the banes materialized from the shadows and descended onto the zealots and flameguards. Half a dozen were cut down before they could react. Aran-rythos raised his hands and called out for the power of Menoth, sending divine energy out around his remaining men to protect them from harm. As he did, he called the crusader forward. The jack swung its inferno mace down with crushing force, obliterating one of the banes and sending dry bones and blackened armor skittering across the ground.
There was another terrible blast of energy from his flank, and more of his men were consumed by fire. Yelling for his flameguard to press the attack against the banes, he closed his eyes, and focused on finding the source of the attacking magic. No more than an instant of time later, he reeled back. He recognized the soul of the warcaster attacking him. It was Authis.
Picking up on his rage, his crusader let out a roar of steam and barreled towards the spot Aran-rythos had sensed Authis. There was an explosion of stone as it slammed its inferno mace into the side of the building, shattering the stone and opening a large, gaping hole in the wall. The jack followed up with a powerful blow with its fist, causing more of the walll to shatter. Having lost its structural support, the building collapsed. As it did, Authis lept from the roof onto the adjacent building, throwing up a cloud of ash behind him before running.
Aran-rythos turned to the flameguard captain, as the men finished mopping up the last of the banes. ?You stay here and clean up this mess. I?m going after him.?
Before the senior soldier could respond, Aran-rythos signaled his crusader and the priest took off running. The aracantrix turbine in his armor threw a cloud of ash into the air as he stoked the furnace into high output.
Aran-rythos focused his mind, sending out a wave of prayers to empower his crusader with greater speed, while keeping his mind firmly locked onto Authis?s magical aura. As he persued his wayward apprentice, the senior priest was overcome with nearly blind rage. All of his work with Authis, all of his preparation, and he threw it away in an instant for power. And for what? His own swollen pride? Hierarch Voyle had high hopes for those Aran-Rythos trained, and this heresy was not only an insult to Menoth, but to Aran-rythos himself. Authis would die for this. He would burn and have his soul cast into Urcaen for Menoth to judge. After Aran-rythos burnt every shred of flesh from his still screaming corpse.

Decade
09-21-2010, 01:52 PM
As the scuritor rounded a corner, he spotted his quarry climbing down from the roof of a nearby building. Yelling out Authis? name, Aran-rythos pointed at the renegade priest. As he did, glowing runes encircled his hands as half a dozen arrows of fire lanced towards his target. Authis turned in time to see the incoming projectiles, and threw up his own power, creating a barrier of magical power. The shield blocked most of the fiery bolts, but one pierced his protection, and scorched his right arm badly. Howling in pain, Authis summoned more ash clouds as he turned to run again.
Cursing under his breath, Aran-rythos dashed after him. Stymied for a moment by the chocking ash, he continued after Authis, now firmly in his sight. Just behind him, the scuritor could feel his crusader hungry for the chance to crush Authis beneath its mace, its long history of mistreatment by Authis? clumsy control rising from the depths of its cortex. Before, Aran-rythos had tightly held onto its impulses, but now, he told the machine that if it caught Authis, it could do what it wished. Impelled by its rage and power from its master, the crusader barreled forward like a wild train.
In a moment, they had entered into a plaza, and had nearled closed with Authis. As he did he felt a sudden tingle in the back of his head. The scuritor recognized it as an active cortex. There was another jack nearby, and it wasn?t one of Menoth?s holy machines. It was something darker, hungrier, more predatory. From the corner of his eye, he saw a blur of movement on the roof of a nearby home. Instinct took over as he dodged to the left, just as a pair of metal claws burred themselves into the ground where he had been moments before.
?Damn. I was hoping that it would split you with that attack.? Authis taunted as Aran-rythos rose to one knee. Turning his head, Aran-rythos?s eyes widened as he saw a blast of mystical fire spiraling towards him. The blast would have connected if his crusader hadn?t protectively imposed its body between him and the attack. The priest could feel its discomfort through the bond between them, but it only stoked the jack?s battle spirit more. The speed that the machine moved stunned the scuritor for a moment, but he quickly regained his senses and got to his feet.
Aran-rythos didn?t have the opportunity to think about how the machine had moved the way it had before the other warjack was barreling towards him, clawed hands held back, ready to tear his body in half. The thing was a monstrosity of blackened iron, its massive arms tipped with massive bladed claws, and its head was armed with a pair of cruel tusks. A sickly green glow pulsed inside the jack?s exposed ribs and eyes. Aran-rythos knew the name of this breed of deadly machine. Slayer.
Before he could give a command to his crusader, it once again imposed itself between him and the incoming threat. The slayer?s claws tore into the jack?s torso, ripping open armor and gears, the followed up with a savage thrust of its tusks, which pierced the armored cowl by the crusader?s head. The machine?s steam engine howled in rage, and it swung its inferno mace at the slayer?s head. The black machine raised is arm defensively. The mace?s blow shattered most of the armor on the machine?s limb, but failed to destroy it completely.
Taking the opportunity, Aran-rythos leapt back, sending some of his power to the crusader, and throwing up a warding spell around himself. No longer engaged with the slayer, he turned to Authis, who was summoing another blast of magical fire. Aran-rythos summoned his power, and sent a wave of divine magic outward from his body. As Authis completed his spell, the power backlashed, and was turned back onto him instead. Authis was thrown to the ground by the force of the blast, but the field of divine energy surrounding him guarded his life. Authis glared balefully at his master as he rose to his feet.
?Authis, what is the meaning of this!?? Aran-rythos shouted. Authis didn?t respond, but instead spat a wad of blood to the ground. Raising his hands again, he summoned another cloud of ash between him and the scuritor. Aran-rythos was distracted from Authis by the immediate sense of danger from his crusader. The slayer had managed to wreck its right leg with its claws. Calling on his power, he sent a wave of protective energy to the machine. The slayer struck out again, but its claws deflected off the crusader?s newly mystically enforced armor. Sending energy to the crusader, the machine grabbed hold of the slayer?s carapace, and, using as much strength as is could muster, threw the machine backwards. As the machine tumbled on the ground, it dug its claws into the soil, the pistons in its arm straining as it fought to right itself.
The scuritor looked at his machine with a real sense of alarm. Its right leg was wrecked, and he could tell that the rest of its body wasn?t in much better shape. Though the slayer was injured, it still had its mobility, and had taken much less damage to its body. If the crusader fell, he wouldn?t be able to fend off both Authis and the slayer.
Authis emerged from the ash cloud, and threw another blast of fire at Aran-rythos. The scuritor?s shield held, but some of the fire made it through, scorching him through his power field and armor. For the first time, Aran-rythos could see Authis?s face. His features were contorted into such an expression of pure hate and maddness that the scuritor barely recognized the man before him as his apprentice.
Aran-rythos took the opportunity to throw another volley of flaming bolts at Authis, who was struck by two of the flaming projectiles. The scent of scorched flesh filled his nostrils as Authis staggered back.
In that moment, the slayer lunged at the crusader, its good arm raised to rip the last bit of life from its foe. What followed happened almost too fast for either Aran-rythos or Authis to follow. As the slayer was about to bring down its claws, the crusader swung its inferno mace upwards, as though guided by an unseen force. As the face of the weapon struck the side of the helljack?s body, there was a sharp click, then a deafening blast as a powerful explosion rocked the area. The slayer?s body was torn into pieces, and thrown across the plaza. The largest chunk of the machine flew towards Authis, who screamed as he saw the shattered machine hurtling towards him. Aran-rythos felt only a twinge of regret as the two tons of machine landed on Authis.

Gerlin heard the blast coming from the far side of town, though it barely registered. He was still sitting against the low wall at the edge of the roof, barely able to find a way to stop himself from crying. It was too much to deal with. All of what had happened was his fault. If only he didn?t have this cursed power, he wouldn?t have been culpable in the deaths of so many people around him?
?Child, self pity does not suit you.? A familiar voice said. Slowly lifting his head, Gerlin saw a gleaming exemplar standing before him. Even through the haze of his despair, he recognized the man as the one who he had met when the scuritor had first arrived.
?Please, I mean no offense your grace, but please leave me be. If you want to take my head for speaking out of turn, go ahead. I deserve it for everything that?s just happened.? Gerlin said as his head slumped back down, unable to look at the gleaming knight.
?Foolish little boy!? The knight bellowed, causing Gerlin to flinch, ?You did nothing wrong! That foolish man that attacked this town was jealous of your great power, and it blinded him. Your gift and potential is far greater than you realize. In time, you will become a formidable power in our lord?s arsenal, one that may change the very face of our eternal war against those who would oppose him.?
?But all those people. All this death. What was the point?? Gerlin whimpered.
?We are not privy to the Creator?s will. In the end, we must trust that he has a plan, and that we walk his path. Never presume to know His will. We are merely his tools to forge a world in his image. Not all of the paths are so clear that we can see them. He works in mysterious ways.
?In time, your destiny will be realized child. You have a greater purpose than you know. Never forget that.?
As Gerlin lifted his head to speak, the exemplar was gone, as though he were never there.

Decade
09-21-2010, 01:52 PM
Authis winced in pain as he limped across the sands away from town. The demon jack?s shattered remains had landed on him, but a combination of luck and his power field had saved his life. He had deactivated his armor and played dead until Aran-rythos was distracted by the arrival of his men, then made a stealthy getaway.
Is that all you have? The voices taunted him What of your revenge?
?That machine you sent me was useless. It should have torn that crusader apart.? Authis muttered to the air.
Oh, there was nothing wrong with the machine. It was the man directing it that was the problem, The female voice taunted. But it is of little consequence. You?ve done what we needed.
?But that brat is still alive.? Authis protested as he dropped the ground.
We never wanted him dead, fool. We wanted his faith shattered, and his abilities known. Thanks to you, your former master knows of only the barest hint of his gift, and thanks to your reckless attacks, his belief in the nobility of Menoth?s chosen has been irrevocably stained. In time, that seed of doubt will be exactly what our master needs to bring him into the fold of a true god. The one with the echoing voice hissed.
?You?you used me?? Authis whispered in dismay.
Indeed. But now, you?ve out lived your usefulness to us. The third chuckled. And since there?s really no more use for you?
Authis felt a sudden chill, as though a freezing wind had run down his back. Looking up, he saw a dark, robed figure. Its body was made of blackened iron, and was articulated like a warjack. A pair of smoke stacks rose from the creature?s back, belching out black smoke. The thing?s head was naught but a skull, and its hands ended in cruel talons.
Authis turned, as though trying to escape, but was confronted by two more of the terrible creatures. One had an almost feminine look to her metal body, while the other carried a macabre puppet in its hands.
?We thank you for your service to us, and to our lord Toruk.? All three said in concert, ?Now allow us to give you your reward!?
Authis?s scream was cut off as the three creatures descended upon him like a pack of wild dogs, their claws tearing into him like a storm of bladed razors. As his life expired, the first pulled his still squirming soul from his body, and, without hesitation, drank it like a fine wine.
After finishing his grisly repast, Maelovus looked to his fellow iron liches. ?Now, we wait, and the seeds we have planted will grow in the boy?s soul.?

Iqus
06-28-2011, 03:46 AM
Excellent, I can't believe that this is the end of story =(
I also was pulled into the story right from the begining and await new works.

Terminal_C
06-30-2011, 04:01 PM
very, very, cool! thanks for sharing!

Buster
07-06-2011, 12:43 PM
Wow! I really enjoyed reading this one. Will there be more to it?