Into the heart of the story Chapter 4 = The dark powers
Part 4 = A magic too strong
The wet mud filled plains that spread for miles was all that surrounded a small group of people trapped within a storm, with the only hospitable place for miles being a small castle with its gates wide open, although it was midday the sky was dark grey with thick clouds and a heavy rain was beating down on a small tent, inside this makeshift shelter where the four people who's destiny it was to save a troubled world, they knew however that the tent was much safer than the castle, for an enemy that awaited them sat in a throne in the main hall, the powerful dark elf Astos who possessed a magical and physical might that has crushed powerful Elvin rangers.
The four Light Warriors sat in the tent preparing as best they could for the battle that they knew would face them in the morning, Fighter was repairing his weapons and armour (several magical blasts had torn the breastplate in his plate mail armour), Thief sharpened several daggers before he concealed them in easy to reach places on his body, White Mage had been praying for victory since they had set up camp and Black Mage was mentally preparing himself for the battle of wills ahead, he reached out with his subconscious mind to try and discern if Astos was still within the castle.
Once again Black Mage could feel the unnatural presence, this time it washed over him and pierced his very being, Astos was not even bothering to hide his presence now, and it became very clear what was happening.
''He knows we are coming and he knows that we are aware of his identity, we can no longer masquerade my friends, we must fight on his terms,'' he said aloud to his companions, they didn’t appear to be concentrating however, they all suspected that it would come to this.
Black Mage kept his gaze fixed on the castle, Astos had in his possession a magical orb of great power, the group had already promised to return it to the witch Matoya, however Black Mage questioned this decision for Matoya was sworn not to interfere directly in the current events, perhaps if the orb had stayed in Black Mage’s possession......
He shrugged these thoughts away, he had given his word and he intended to keep it, however if the orb should choose him....
These thoughts remained with Black Mage as he prepared for the upcoming battle; the possession of the orb would have to wait until they had beaten Astos, the night continued with such preparations until the storm began to die down.
It was night time and the clouds blocked the moonlight; White Mage stood up and lifted the canvas of the tent to reveal the unusually calm weather.
''This is the doing of Astos'' she said with trepidation clear in her voice '' Odin has spoken, he intends to keep us here as long as he can, to break our spirits, but we have been granted this brief respite to get to the castle, if we fight Astos then it must be this very night.”
''What, how do we know that we will reach the castle before the storm starts up again, if we get caught out there then we will die of pneumonia before we can get back,'' Fighter said with doubt clear on his face.
''Odin has granted us this brief time, I would know if Astos was trying to fool me, even his magic’s are not strong enough to emulate the pureness of Odin’s voice, gather only what we need for our time is brief'' White Mage began gathering her equipment, she wrapped herself in a thick cloak and hung her holy symbol around her neck, a pure light shining from it.
Not doubting White Mage's words the others quickly gathered their weapons and equipment, then they ran into the night, following the light from White Mages symbol.
The run seemed to go on forever, each expecting the storm to crash down on them and end their journey, but no rain or thunder struck as they approached the open gates of the castle, the place seemed somehow different than last time, the place felt darker somehow, almost as if it was a different place entirely.
They entered the courtyard and even though White Mages light shone bright some of the corners still held their own darkness, suddenly Thief recoiled, his Elvin vision had just saw something in the dark that the others could not see.
White Mage approached the place that Thief was looking at, and then the three human members of the group recoiled, the light washed over a grotesque monument to the cruelty of Astos.
There were several bodies piled on top of each other, men women and children of both Elvin and human races, their bodies had been tattooed with the symbol of Chaos and mutilated beyond anything the others had ever witnessed.
There were several such monuments in the courtyard, each obscured by their own darkness, they noticed that the doors were carved with symbols of evil magic, the very stones of the walls were covered in drawings of demons hunting humans, elves and dwarves and burning them over large fires.
The Light Warriors stood in the centre of the courtyard aghast at the images around them, White Mages symbol suddenly flared and revealed all of these images at once, Black Mage could feel a magic within this place that he had never experienced before.
Fighter's face went red with anger, of all the crimes he had seen, of all the evils he had experienced none compared to the death of a child, with sword and shield in hand he charged the door that led to the main hall, in his state of anger his strength burst it open, a stench of death flowed from inside the castle and washed over them, Fighter carried on his charge with the others following.
The walls of the castle during the last visit were covered in tapestries and portraits (defaced but recognisable), now their were only more grotesque caricatures, the smell of blood and burnt bodies was thick in the air as they ran up the stairs leading to the throne in the great hall.
The Light Warriors reached the top of the stairs and the main hall was spread before them like a scene from a nightmare, the previously chaotic hall with its misplaced furniture and defaced artwork was replaced by something altogether more sinister, the support columns had been burnt black and etched with symbols of evil, the walls were covered in bloody handprints, as it someone was trying to vainly scratch there way through the walls, bloodied hooks hung from the ceiling and shook of their own accord.
This grim scene repeated itself until the end of the chamber, the original bronze throne was replaced by one made of bones and skulls, sat in this was the eccentric king, however he held an almost tangible aura of darkness around himself, his face was obscured by shadows that were only pierced by two red eyes staring straight at the Light Warriors.
''So'' a raspy voice came from the king '' did you find my crown?”
'' End this charade Astos, we know who you are and we have come to destroy you’’ Black Mage said as he stood defiantly at the head of the group.
''Odd words for someone who is destined to save the world don’t you think, I thought you had come to reclaim that old fool Matoya orb from me or maybe you came for a cure for that idiotic Elvin prince's sleeping sickness'' the voice seemed to be emanating from the king yet his face was clearly not moving.
''Where you are concerned Astos we may as well be anyone, for it matters little because you will fall this day, for your crimes against Matoya the Elvin race and the people of this castle'' Thief shouted unexpectedly, these words were welcome in the circumstances.
''What of your own crimes little elf, you have slaughtered many creatures due to your own definitions of evil, creatures merely defending their lands, had the creatures been invading your lands would you have been in the wrong, what of the Red Imps whose forest you nearely burned down, the Ogres whose home you entered and slain, including a member of the Titan faith, what if I killed you, would that make me evil?'' Astos said with an air of smugness.
White Mage lifted her holy symbol and its light washed over the king, his hand lashed out in front of his face to shield his eyes from the burning light, White Mage’s clear voice rang like a bell throughout the room.
''We have slain creatures who have attacked us yet they left us no recourse, we have halted and destroyed pure evil like yourself however, we have stopped Garland and Meythil and we have converted Bikke to our course, tell me creature what acts have you done that you can justify with a clear conscience.”
''I DO NOT HAVE TO JUSTIFY MYSELF TO THE LIKES OF YOU PREISTESS, MY QUEST FOR POWER WILL NOT END BY YOUR HANDS FOR ODIN HAS NO PLACE IN MY HEART, HE CANNOT TOUCH ME!'' Astos’s voice changed to a more demonic, spite filled tone.
''Odin may not be able to harm you, but I am his servant and by his will you will fall'' White Mage said with an air of confidence.
''Really, have you seen true evil pathetic human, have you seen a darkness so absolute that light cannot pierce it?" The kings hand raised to the sky and black energy began to grow in his palm.
"If you have not then prepare yourself for I shall show you my true form and then you will know terror,'' Astos’s voice reverted back to its raspy state.
The kings hand waved in the air and White Mages symbol was knocked from her hand, an aura of darkness swept over the king, then a burst of magical energy knocked the Light Warriors from their feet, when they stood up they saw that the man was screaming as his body began to change shape.
His arms began to elongate beyond the natural reach, while his legs began to constrict shorter, his hair began to grow wildly and his face began to change radically, his nose stretched longer and his ears began to sharpen into points and spread wider, his eyes narrowed into slits and his teeth became razor sharp.
As this was happening the robes of state began to melt away, replaced by black chain mail the split at the centre revealing Astos’s belly carved with pentagram tattoos, his skin changed hue to a dark green and his body entered its final stage of transformation, his hands grew large and wide, his feet became flat and his dirty black hair hung down his back and on his shoulders.
The Light Warriors were sickened by the horrible change, it seemed so unnatural that they doubted what they had seen, and Astos sat in the throne in his true form with a smile on his face.
''I may not be as fair as I was when I was a normal elf but this form gives me advantages that you cannot even dream of, my magical and physical might is unmatched by any living creature,'' Astos said with a wide smile spreading across his disgusting face.
Fighter seemed about to explode, he had heard too much talking; he just wanted this creature gone once and for all.
''Your form does not impress us Astos, if anything it only makes us more determined to destroy you,'' Black Mage said with absolute resoluteness.
''I tire of your whimpering mageling, it has been so long since I have had a worthy opponent, peasants pose no threat and slaying children takes no effort whatsoever....”
Astos immediately broke into magical chanting as the mention of his killing children had drove Fighter into frenzy, with sword in hand he charged across the main hall to get to Astos.
The others began to act, they wished Fighter had given a signal before he attacked; Astos finished his chant as Fighter was only a few feet away from the throne.
''Reaper claim your bounty, Erase life-force.”
A ghostly figure floated appeared around Astos, all that anyone could see of it was that it wore a long black robe with its hood down obscuring its face, it took flight at Fighter and a white skeletal hand appeared holding what appeared to be a scythe, Fighter swung his sword vainly at it but his sword passed through to the other side, the creatures hood fell down revealing its identity as the Grim Reaper, it raised its scythe to swing and Fighter screamed.
The scythe passed through his body, he stood frozen for a few seconds as the Reaper faded away, Fighter just stood there with a look of shock on his face, and then without warning he fell to the floor, dead.
Astos began to laugh as White Mage ran to him and felt his pulse, she couldn’t feel anything, and tears began to fall as she turned to Black Mage and Thief and shook her head.
''Now you know it is foolish to fight me, perhaps if you surrender I will make you my servants, my own personal Dark Warriors maybe,'' Astos began to laugh again.
Black Mage broke into spell casting, Thief pulled a dagger from his belt, threw it and ran forward pulling his rapier from its scabbard, White Mage began a prayer to Odin, Astos stood up from the throne and his back hunched down as he started to cast another spell.
The dagger flew and its aim was true, it sank into the chest of Astos and into the place where his heart should be, he didn’t seem to notice however as he continued with his spell, Thief realised that he was in the way of three spells and leapt behind a column as three spells finished in unison.
''Thunder that exists in only the heavens, Mjoliner Strike Attack.”
''Odin master of light, bend it around my allies, Invisibility.”
''From the dragons mouth it flies, White Flame Dance.”
Black Mages hands glowed with a strange blue light, Astos’s hands glowed red, they lifted their hands in unison and bolts of lightning and fire struck each other in the centre of the hall (where Thief was moments earlier), Thief faded from view as White Mages spell took effect, he drew another dagger and moved to another column, preparing to strike.
The magical bolts struck each other in succession and then finally died down, Astos stood smiling and prepared another spell, White Mage drew her war hammer but remained where she was, if Astos attempted any elemental magic then she should be able to nullify it.
Black Mage began another spell, Thief quickly moved behind the throne and prepared to jump out when Black Mage finished his spell, the spell chants finished, however Astos chose not to finish his spell, he stood there waiting for Black Mages spell.
''The power of lightning bends to my command, Zeus Blade Magic.”
A single bolt of lightning shot from Black Mages hand and flew towards Astos, as the bolt closed in Astos leapt in the air with inhuman speed; he leapt backwards behind the throne and behind Thief who was waiting there.
The bolt struck the throne, Black and White Mage stood amazed at the incredible speed of the dark elf, Thief also was surprised at the sight of Astos landing in front of him, and then he heard words spoken in the Elvin language.
''I can see the spectrum of magic you fool '' Astos said with a frown on his face, his large hand curled into a fist and smashed into the chest of Thief, he fell to the floor as blood poured out of his mouth, he couldn’t believe the strength of the punch, Astos was at least as strong as an Ogre and three times faster, pain flooded Thief’s mind as he began to lose consciousness.
Astos threw the throne aside to reveal the broken Light Warrior on the floor, he once again began casting.
White Mage wanted to run over and heal Thief but she couldn’t risk getting so close to Astos, if he was strong enough to beat Thief in close combat then she wouldn’t last long, she would have to use a less effective spell with a greater range.
“Celestial water rain on the holy, Heal aura wave."
A green energy flowed around Thief, he could feel his insides tighten as his ribs melded back together, he managed to focus his mind and tighten his grip on his dagger, Astos was still in the throes of spell casting, Thief managed a burst of strength and he got onto one unstable knee and plunged the dagger into Aston’s stomach, he didn’t seem to notice.
The two mages finished their spells in unison, twin bolts of lightning struck again in the centre of the room, and Astos then noticed Thief vainly stabbing him in the abdomen, with a backhand strike to the head Thief was dropped to the floor. barely alive.
White Mage was unsure of what to do next, if she attacked Astos then he would surely defeat her and Black Mage would be on his own, yet if she didn’t then Astos would only cast spells until Black Mage had run out, perhaps if she distracted him then they could gain an advantage.
With her silver war hammer in hand she moved slowly towards Astos, at the first sign of a spell she was going to try and nullify it and then charge, Black Mage began casting and so did Astos, Black Mage had a spell in mind that could turn the tide of the battle.
''From the force that breaks the sky, Electric Anger.”
''Sleipner speeds the worthy from danger, Nullify lightning.”
''The centre of nova, Kossuth Demon Rage.”
From Astos several large lightning bolts shot forth towards Black Mage, however they changed course and struck White Mage, she glowed blue as the electricity passed through her, thankfully her spell had protected her.
Black Mage however had cast his spell strategically, knowing the Astos could easily dodge a front attack he cast a spell that starts at either side of the target and rushes forward to strike it at the centre, when the two parts met they would explode, unfortunately for Astos this spell was a fire spell.
The twin white orbs rushed across the floor and struck Aston’s arms, he screamed in pain as his green flesh singed, but his scream was not as nearly loud as the one he emitted a few seconds later when a burst of magical fire erupted around him.
He thrust himself out of the flaming orb and leapt behind the knocked over throne, patting out the remaining flames and pulling the burning hair from his scalp, he was in absolute pain but his mage trained mind quickly regained its concentration, the annoying priestess of Odin and the weakling Black Mage were attacking again, if Astos was to win then he would have to act fast.
White Mage was upon him then, her war hammer smashing into his shoulder, Astos felt the pain but knew that his body would repair itself in time (a trait of his body), with no hesitation his fist struck out and smashed into the stomach of White Mage, although she wore chain armour beneath her robes she still felt the incredible strength of Astos, she fell forward gasping for breath as blood poured from her mouth.
Astos smiled despite his pain, he had foreseen this coming, the two spell casters face to face and spell to spell, with one of the Light Warriors dead and two others mortally wounded he felt confident about the battles outcome (despite the slight miscalculation involving that last fire spell) he was going to prove once and for all that the prophecy of the Light Warriors was a sham.
Black Mage was angrier than he had ever been, his three closest friends cut down before him, Fighter didn’t even have a chance to die fighting, but Black Mage felt a determination that he had never known before, for the sake of his friends he would win.
Astos kicked White Mage further away from himself (in case she managed to heal herself and strike him at a crucial moment) and he began to cast again, as long as he had Matoya’s orb then he would not run out of spell power for a long time, yet he could already tell that the humans energy was diminished.
Astos began to cast another spell and Black Mage did likewise, both engaging in a spell contest that neither had ever encountered before, a battle of two mortals with near equal magical strength was about to begin.
“The power of lightning bends to my command, Zeus Blade Magic."
“Tiamats might empower me, Electric fury.”
The two mages shot lightning bolts from their hands which caught each in the centre of the hall, both stood eyes transfixed on the other, looking for a sign of weakness.
The two began casting again, this time changing tactics.
“The power of fire burns to my will, IMIX hatred magic.”
“Kary’s anger flows from me, fiery rage.”
Fires clashed in the centre of the room, Black Mage disliked what was happening, he knew that he would tire eventually and that Astos was baiting him, he had to think of a way to get out of this situation.
Then it struck him, a spell he hadn’t used in a long time that may just save him, he began casting again with renewed vigour.
Astos noticed this change in attitude and realised that he had to act fast, he began casting his most potent attack spell (except for perhaps his death spell), and it was a race against time.
“Time bends and breaks you, Slow Speed Magic.”
Astos began to move slower, however he finished his spell and could feel the power of Unholy Magic flow through him as he completed the spell.
“Unrelenting cold, heed my call and freeze all in your path, Ice Break.”
The air around Black Mage began to grow cold, then it began to freeze and lock him within a tomb of ice, Black Mage cursed himself, he should have concentrated on countering Aston’s spells, his mistake may have ended the journey of the Light Warriors.
Astos laughed, while Black Mage was trapped he couldn’t cast any spells, with the death of him then he would be the greatest of Chaos's champions, he began to cast a spell that would be a fitting end for his worthy opponent.
“Flames that purge the souls of the dammed, Burning Inferno.”
From Astos’s outstretched hands a wave of absolute flame shot forth and engulfed Black Mage, although he was thawed out he was burning badly, the melted ice made sure that his robes did not catch fire although this was a null point compared to the damage he had taken.
Astos shook with excitement, he couldn’t believe that he had killed the Light Warriors, could not believe that he had won and erased a prophecy that the populace so believed in, most of all he marvelled in his own power.
He made a symbol in the air with his finger and from no where an orb appeared in his hand a rather plain looking orb, yet anyone with any magical skill could have felt an aura of power about it, a power usable by those willing to take it.
“Look at my achievements my prize, look at what I have done, the Light Warriors are dead, soon the world will plunge into darkness, the monsters that have been hiding for so long will rise up and destroy the mortals, with these out of the way I will deal with your old master, perhaps then that fool prophet Luckhan, prepare yourself for war my prize.” Astos said to the orb which only glowed silently.
Then Astos felt something, as if something was being torn away from his body, he felt strange; he hadn’t felt like this since....
''NO, NOT NOW, NOT NOW!'' Astos began to scream at the orb.
Black Mage began to twitch, he could feel power coursing through his veins, a power he had never known before, and he could hear a clear voice inside his head.
''Do not worry, I will help you repair the balance Light Warrior, trust in me as another of your order did long ago.”
Black Mage felt the energy inside him growing, he managed to pull himself onto his feet, he looked at his body and saw several open wounds and burns, yet he was standing and he could feel magical power welling within himself, the strangest thing about all this however was Astos.
He was kneeling on the floor holding a glass orb which was shining brightly, it almost seemed as if Astos was growing smaller and weaker, he was shouting (it seemed) at the orb.
“You used me, why didn’t I see it, you just wanted to get to him, why do you betray me, and I am the stronger?”
The orb carried on glowing silently, yet it seemed that it was somehow communicating with Astos.
“What balance, what are you talking about, you promised me power and glory, yet you would kill me for your own ends “Astos kept on talking to the orb?
Then Black Mage heard the voice inside his head again, with each word he felt a burst of energy.
“Trust in me wizard, I will grant you the power to destroy your enemy, will you accept my prize.”
Black Mage looked at the babbling creature in front of him, the creature which seemed so mighty and had nearly killed him, he wanted revenge against Astos, wanted to avenge his friends, with no hesitation he answered.
“Yes “with that he felt a surge of power that he had never experienced before, he knew what he must do. “Astos, I have waited for this moment, you have slain my friends and terrorised the people of this land, now your power leaves you, and I am going to give rest to the souls of the people you have slain for you will soon join them, prepare for the end Dark Elf.” Black Mages eyes glowed with the yellow mark of magic.
Even though he had lost most of his power Astos was not finished yet, he prepared to leap over Black Mage and get out of the castle, yet when he tried to move his legs they wouldn’t respond, he tried casting a spell yet the power of magic wouldn’t respond to his call.
“No Astos, I cannot risk you following me, today you die.” The voice spoke to both Astos and Black Mage.
All Astos could do was scream, he couldn’t escape or protect himself from the punishment about to be exacted; he covered his face with his hands, not wanting to face his executioner.
“I thought that you would face your end with dignity, but it appears I am mistaken; prepare for the end,” Black Mage said, a multicoloured aura appearing around his body.
A pentagram appeared at his feet, symbols of power flowed around him, then (to his own surprise) when he spoke three separate voices shouted in the language of magic, then they finished their chants together.
From Black Mage's left hand several bolts of lightning flew and struck Astos, he screamed in pain from the electricity flowing through his body.
“The heart of the ice that banes nature, Frost Destruction Spell.”
From Black Mage's right hand, hundreds of sharp shards of ice flew and engulfed the shaking Astos, hundreds of cuts opened up on his skin from the blades of ice. “The centre of nova, Kossuth Demon Rage.”
Black Mages eyes glowed red, his orb (kept around his neck) appeared outside his robes and began to shine, his body erupted in golden fire, he looked at Astos with hatred in his eyes, he pointed both hands at Astos and with a shout in the language of magic a wave of fire shot from his hands and flew at Astos.
It was soon over, Black Mage lowered his hands and he could no longer see Astos, just a pile of ashes on the floor, the pentagram faded and Black Mage fell to the floor unconscious.
Black Mage woke up in a lot of pain, his wounds stung worse than ever, he managed to sit up and quickly fall to the floor again in agonising torment, his burn and cold wounds hurt like nothing else he had ever experienced, his weary yellow eyes scanned the room, Fighter and Thief were lying perfectly still, White Mage appeared to still be breathing however.
Yet something held his attention more than anything else, an orb glowing silently a few feet in front of him, he once again managed to sit up, ignoring the pain he crawled over to the orb and picked it up, he held it to his chest.
“It is time to make the choice Black Mage,” the voice from the orb called to him.
“What choice? " he asked.
“The choice that all my owners must make the price of power, the prize of the loyal,” the voice asked.
“You mean I would have to give my sight for power?” Black Mage asked as he rubbed his hand on the orbs surface.
"No, the price is different for each person, Matoya gave her sight, Astos gave full dependence on my power yet all must pay one price, they cannot interfere with the destiny of the world.” The voice said.
“You mean....." Black Mage asked with concern in his voice.
"You would have to leave the Light Warriors, give your orb onto another, I will grant you the power to create a tower and you can discover the secrets of magic undisturbed.....until the day you die," it said, its voice showing no sign of emotion.
“But what of Astos, he interfered with our destiny, how did he do that?” Black Mage asked.
"Why did you think I granted you the power to destroy him, I can help you do great things, just promise me that you will leave the Light Warriors forever, I can grant you powers you never dreamed of," the voice told him.
Black Mage sat for a few moments; holding the orb close, thoughts rushing through his head, could he leave the Light Warriors, abandon his destiny.
“Think of the power, you could break mountains and change the courses of rivers, think of the things we can do together,“the voice said.
“What if I moved the mountain or the river if it stopped my friends from continuing on their journey?” He asked the orb.
"Then you couldn’t do it of course, choose Black Mage, a life of power and security or a journey of hardship and suffering," the voice said.
Black Mage sat for a few moments, for the first time he understood why Matoya had chosen to lose her sight and gain power, she knew that she could not interfere in the events that would transpire, but what would happen without him, if he hadn’t been with the group then they wouldn’t have made it this far, what would happen to the orb if Chaos managed to get on the surface of the world again, could the orb protect him then.
“I am sorry orb but the answer is no,” Black Mage said resolutely.
“What, you would deny all that I offer?” The voice said, for the first time showing a sign of emotion, anger.
“For a long time I have wanted power, to be able to do great things and make people respect magic, but now I realise that what you offer is empty, I could live safely but it would be pointless, for the first time I appreciate all that I have, all that I will learn and all that I have lost," Black Mage said looking at Fighter.
"So your answer is no, I will return you to Matoya and together you can save Corenia.”
The orbs energy left him and he fell to the floor, his wounds had taken their toll, he lay on the floor and lost consciousness.