For too long the battlefield has denied my soul, and Strothheim beckons. In these hours of my final judgment, I stand on the precipice of victory, one that will purchase my lord’s transcendence. Khyber, God of the sword and shield, will break the shackles of the mortal realm and take his rightful place in the afterlife, joining the Ethereal Battle. All I need do is slay a goddess and all her mortal children.
So I ride to assassinate an ally. This will be my legacy. This gamble that I cannot lose, for the price of failure is too high. Once I strike the death blow, Khyber’s remaining allies will know. And they will come for us. Three gods, each with a nation at their backs and vengeance in their hearts. If Khyber doesn’t claim the Mother Tree’s soul, the ascendancy war will destroy all I love. My nation will burn. My people will fall, and there will be nothing I can do to stop it.
I swear, by all the gods, that no ascendant shall sway me from this course. And should all the demons and Arisen that wander the mortal plane be arrayed before me, I will carve a bloody path through and secure my lord’s dominion. My crimes are unforgivable, but I am no traitor. For I am Rodrick Corwyn, Khyber’s servant, his right hand, his Avatar, his Wrath.
Spriggans lay dying all around me, their long lives ebbing like spilled wine through the floorboards. Imbued weapons rose and fell, cleaving through their wooden flesh as smoothly as a spade through tilled earth.
“Hold the line!” I shouted. The sound of breaking glass echoed across the clifftop as one of the shield's kinetic imbuements failed. Too slowly, the acolytes disengaged. The shield wall exploded inward. A half-dozen soldiers careened through the air as a Spriggan barreled through the ranks.
Rushing forward, I drew my sword. The Spriggan raised a talon, aiming for a fallen acolyte. I took it off mid-forearm. The Spriggan darted back, rattling like a barrel of snakes. With its remaining hand, it grabbed a soldier by the ankle and swung him. Nothing could be done. I dodged, and he slammed into the earth. Ignoring the hideous crunch, I lunged, slashing upward, careful to miss the Spriggan’s core. Two halves fell to the dirt, each taking its own time in dying.
“Fill the gap,” I shouted needlessly. These people knew their profession.
I turned to the fallen acolyte and rolled him over. His face was unrecognizable. I made the sign of the sword over the corpse. “May Khyber’s light lead you to Strothheim, my brother.”
Sergeant Hilstrad sat up, coughing and holding her ribs.
“Easy, soldier. Anything broken?” I asked, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Just winded, sir.” She failed to hide a wince.
“Take a breather till one of the physics looks at you.”
“Sir, no, Avatar, sir.” She hefted her shield, testing the weight. “Fight’s not over.”
I clapped a fist to my chest. “Stand sure, Hilstrad.”
“Stand sure.” She saluted. “Avatar Wrath.” She fell back in line.
The fourth and largest detonation sounded over the garden city of Ellodrin. The limb finally broke free, seeming to fall for an eternity. The impact crushed the mid-west of the city and miles of forest beyond. Debris hurtled through the air.
Swords cut down the stunned Spriggans as they stared at the ruination of their sacred grove.
“Shields!” I commanded.
The acolytes closed ranks, forming a tortoise.
“Judges, complete the ritual circle,” Avatar Justice barked.
The four robed priests continued chanting. Sparks flew as their imbued torches melded the final pieces together. The circle closed. The judges jumped back as red lightning crackled from rune to rune, activating the various nodes. It was perfect, the precision needed to bring the facilities online at the exact moment the judges completed. My heart swelled with pride. Today, a generation's worth of work paid off.
“Huntsman, bring the sacrifices,” I said.
Melcor rose from where he’d been crouching, his every movement punctuated by the grating of chains. He hefted his gigantic sword onto his shoulder as if it were no more than a willow switch and collected the prisoners.
Debris from the city peppered the shield wall. “Brace for impact!” Avatar Might yelled. The acolytes shouted defiantly as a two-story section of building hurtled toward us.
“Hold! Khyber will protect us.” Avatar Shelter’s voice rang over the din. She added her shield to the apex of the wall. “Lord, lend us your strength.” Shelter’s armor flared with blue light, which rippled across the shield wall. The broken building hit, and the soldiers cried out. Cracks spread across the shield’s imbuement. The building bounced, then spun end over end, over the edge of the cliff. A collective sigh of relief escaped the acolytes. Then it caught the underside of the precipice. The bank gave way, and two ranks fell with it.
“Hold the line!” I commanded. My acolytes adjusted, grim faced as some held against the Spriggans while others searched the sky. Not one paid attention to the cliff. They all knew the risk and what we stood to gain.
The huntsman yanked on the chain. The Norven's shear mass pulled most of the bedraggled prisoners from their feet. The filthy beast exposed its canines, its muzzle the only part of its face not covered by its war mask. A shame this abomination had to be present. If Melcor had been a mere Norven, a mortal, the insult could be borne, but a demon…
The prisoners huddled together as if safety dwelled in each other’s arms. Except for the Spiral’s high priestess. Her face twisted in disgust as she studied the ritual circle.
“This will throw the Spiral into chaos,” she raged.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” I sneered.
“The Neather Realms reflect the mortal,” she said.
“I'll believe my senses over conjecture. The Ethereal Battle has raged since the dawn of time. Gods and demons slay each other every minute. What happens here is a single spark compared to a forest fire,” I said, voice laced with scorn.
“A spark that may cause the whole world to burn.” Her anger faded. “Please.” She reached for me with grubby peasant hands. “Violence will further tip the scales. You aid the Void.”
I allowed her to paw my leg. “You’re wrong. This will bring order.”
“These are our allies. We have stood side by side with the Spriggans for centuries. Khyber is sworn to protect the Mother Tree.”
“Do you have any clue what waits outside our borders?”
“The alliance has kept Oppenfauld safe.”
“You have it backward.”
“Since when does Khyber practice blood magic?” the priestess spat. “How long has he sacrificed his own?” The other prisoners cried in horror as they realized their purpose. “Or has he always been a demon?”
I raised a gauntleted fist. The priestess flinched. No, striking the heathen would teach her nothing. “You’re not Fauldic. You turned your back on the king to worship a gravitational phenomenon.”
“I have lived my whole life in Oppenfauld!” the priestess said, her manacled hands held defensively.
“You spit in the face of your rightful lord.”
I lowered my arm, and she pushed a few strands of graying hair out of her face.
About the Author
Colin was born at 12:01 am. Outside a blizzard howled, and his nurse dropped a chemical on the poor infant’s face, dying him a dusky blue. Thankfully, there was no lasting visual damage …
His early childhood was spent sliding down snowdrifts and adhering his tongue to frozen poles in Saskatchewan prairies. His family migrated across Canada to where he grew up in Invermere, British Columbia.
He began writing in grade four, with little plays he and his classmates inflicted upon their teacher.
Colin has always had a voracious appetite for Scifi and Fantasy. He sat down and read the Lord of the Rings trilogy from cover to cover … three times in a row. Tolkien taught him to read, and ever since he’s devoured the works of Robert Jordan, David Farland, Steven Erikson, Mark Lawrence, Brandon Sanderson, and so many more.
He lives on Vancouver Island, Canada, and no matter what anyone tells you, it’s not paradise. So definitely don’t come, you won’t like it.
Colin’s other interests include Karate, gaming of any sort, theater, and music. But what really gives his life meaning is his ever-patient bombshell of a wife and two ferocious daughters. So far he’s been quick enough to keep all his fingers, but only time will tell…