by Frank Moricz
A darker force moves into the world in an attempt to exact justice.
If you choose to rate and review this story, please ONLY do so after having read the story from the beginning. ("The Ternion Prologue" )
The Wild Lands: An end to innocence
The dense trees slowed the fierce pace of the Peacekeeper. The dark green plants around him were wet and thick, but the forest floor guided him with obvious tracks to follow. His thoughts were bent around the desire to eliminate another exile - rumors had reached him that this one might present a challenge, and the prospect of a true fight excited him. For his size, he moved with a great subtlety, and his quiet footsteps sank softly into the damp ground.
The outside world was completely alien, but traveling away from the familiar stone streets of Arc City gave him no pause. His prey had received a head start, but with each step he felt the gap between them closing. The thrill of a hunt consumed him completely – to deliver justice and keep the peace of Arc City was his only purpose.
Occasional droplets of water still fell from the sky and made their way through the canopy above. The air around him was thick with moisture; his damp hair refused to dry, and it caused sporadic rivulets to trace down the burned flesh of his grim face. He brushed aside the water that trailed downward and threatened to obscure the vision of his remaining eye; his face twitched at the feeling of his rough fingertips dragging over his scars.
It was not yet dawn when the trees had begun to give way to a large clearing, and a rolling terrain of grassland had become his newest obstacle. The Peacekeeper stooped near a large stone and quietly examined the ground at his feet. He inhaled deeply through his nostrils and closed his eyes for a moment. When his eyes opened, his gaze was fixed on the rocky mountains of the horizon. Immediately, he journeyed south; his pace quickened without the burden of trees.
He stopped as the grass failed and the ground around him became barren. It was too rocky a landscape to find obvious prints on the ground.
“Into the hills?” his voice growled as he asked aloud. “No tracks, but the stink of your soul magic still remains.” The scent of decay lingered in his nostrils; a smell that he had come to recognize over the years of rooting out exiles that hid amongst the dark ruins of Arc.
He turned toward the highest peak of the mountain and began to make his way through the sharp stone. His feet kicked aside fragments of stone that littered the mountainside as he moved upward. The terrain clattered beneath his heavy strides, but his momentum did not falter against the jagged uphill terrain.
He came upon a large rock that rose above him, and the brown chain around his neck began to glow in the darkness. His legs bent slightly, and then snapped to propel him upward. He landed atop the rock with a loud thud; his heavy frame balanced with an unnatural grace. Standing slowly, the rock beneath him groaned under the weight of the Felguard.
The suns had begun to rise, and he turned to see the shield of Arc City in the distance. The aegis stood interrupting the sunlight and cast a azure glint on the eastern horizon. His gaze moved back to the mountainside where the scent of death filled the air. The new light showed him nothing, and he exhaled quickly in frustration.
A quiet sound in the distance caught his attention, and he sprang toward it. The boulder he had stood upon began to grind as to rolled; he paid no heed to the landslide behind him, and instead focused on the path ahead. A large stone had begun to roll downhill towards him, and he ran to intercept it with renewed vigor. He leapt over the deadly obstacle when it came close, and saw a hint of movement from the hilltop.
He reached the peak of the hill, and spotted his prey.
* * *
Magus Nylia had followed a trail of broken trees and crushed foliage through the darkness. Moving away from Arc city, she knew that the Peacekeeper would be headed to find Zek as well, and had decided that he would know best where to go. She was saddened to find that the water from the skies had nearly ceased; to a water mage, the cool shower was a dream come true.
Silver silhouettes painted the ground, and allowed her to make out the heavy strides of the massive Felguard. She followed in the hollows of his heavy footsteps until she came into a wide grassy field.
Nylia sat herself down onto a large stone. She looked out over the grass; the long blades moved like water in the breeze. A smile crossed her fair face, and for a moment she leaned back to enjoy the scenery. She closed her eyes and felt the wind move through her long hair. Again she found herself conjuring the face of Zek in her mind, and she opened her eyes; her desire to see him once again was stronger than ever.
She stood and began to follow the obvious trail of smashed grasses that lead into the rolling hills ahead. The field had begun to fill with the light of the suns as dawn came upon her. The deep green around her teemed with life, and the water that had refused to dry in the night clung to the thick blades. Droplets drank in the light of the suns, and caused the grassland to sparkle with a beautiful glimmer.
The serenity of the scene was shattered by the sounds from the hills ahead. Nylia watched a cloud of dust rise in the distance from falling rocks that moved down the hillside. She furrowed her brow in curiosity and continued forward. As she advanced, she wondered if the Peacekeeper had fallen amongst the boulders.
When she reached the hillside, she was relieved to see that only rocks lay on the ground. She examined them closely, and her gaze moved uphill to see where they had fallen from. Her feet treaded carefully between sharp stones once curiosity had won out, and she had begun to climb the rocky incline.
She felt the muscles in her legs burn with each passing moment. The hilltop drew her gaze; the silent hope that Zek would be waiting for her there with open arms caused her to put all pain aside and dart forward. Moments away from the top, a sour smell invaded her nostrils. Her face scrunched in a look of disgust; the scent reminded her of rotten fruit and decay.
Her eyes went wide when she reached her destination, and she felt her mouth open in surprise. Her scream came without warning, and she felt herself taking steps back from the scene in front of her. The land here was painted with a dark crimson, and the rocks were littered with bloody remains. She looked to her feet and saw a pale hand torn from a body, with wet bone glinting in the sunlight.
Nylia felt herself falling backward from the hilltop, but she could not react in time. Fear pumped through her. She closed her eyes in anticipation of the pain, but instead she felt herself land against a soft wall. Her eyes opened once again while a look of confusion decorated her face.
A massive force gripped her, and it lifted her to safety. Her feet touched the ground, and she spun to see what had happened. She found herself staring into the eye of the Peacekeeper; the towering creature leaned over her and his gaze seemed to pierce right through her.
“Who are you?” he asked, his deep voice echoed amongst the stones.
“I am Nylia--” she started with a voice of fear.
“Why have you been following me?” he asked.
“I... did not know where else to go,” she replied. The Peacekeeper inhaled deeply while she spoke.
“You do not smell of exile, but you will die all the same,” the Peacekeeper said. “You should have stayed at home.”
“I followed you from Arc, but I didn't mean to get in your way. I just want a new life,” she chose her words carefully.
“These pathetic soul mages sought life as well,” he responded. “Your death quick will be a mercy in these wild lands.”
His arm moved like a blur, and the Peacekeeper wrapped his massive fingers around her soft throat. Breath fled from her. She watched the Felguard's eye flash with malice and magic. Her body lifted from the ground once again, and she kicked at the air in wild panic. She felt her body tremble with the massive strides of her captor. In the corner of her eye she saw that the land appeared to be coming to an end.
Her fingers scratched at the wrist of the hand that crushed her throat. Tears filled her eyes, and a choking sound came forth while she attempted to scream. When the Peacekeeper stopped, she knew that there was no ground beneath her feet.
“You are ill-prepared for this life you seek. All you would succeed to do is bring outsiders to Arc, and there would be chaos. I deliver your justice, and keep the peace once again,” he said. His fingers became loose and Nylia fell from the cliff towards the jagged terrain below.
Her hands shot out. Her right arm tightened as her fingers gripped a single jutted piece of land. Hanging by a single hand, she dangled dangerously from the edge. She turned her head for a moment and saw the doom that set before her if she were to fall. She raised her other arm to the rock above her, but her grip fell short and her body began to swing harder.
The Peacekeeper disappeared from sight, and her fingers slid from the sharp stone with the aid of the blood that now poured from them. She heard a dark laughter from the mountain as she fell. The air whipped around her violently, and she turned again to see the world rushing toward her. She closed her eyes and began to scream.
* * *
The suns had nearly set, and the Peacekeeper had not yet left the mountains of the arcane lands. He had decided to continue south and attempt to intercept the assumed path his targets had followed. A seemingly endless horizon of brown hills and valleys lay before him. Over each rise he had hoped to see something more of his prey, but each apex would only reveal a new obstacle to overcome.
His stubborn nature would not allow him to give up easily, and he continued on as long as he could. It was only when the sunlight had finally failed him that he began to look for a place to camp. Before he had settled upon a large, flat stone beside him, a new smell flowed through the air and his head snapped southward once again. He waited, and he listened for a moment.
At first, all he heard was the repetitive chirp that had come with the dusk; he had sought it out to discover tiny creatures that made homes amongst the stone. Aside from the now-familiar sound was a chatter in the distance. To the Peacekeeper it sounded like voices on the wind but they were too distant for him to be certain.
He abandoned his plans to camp, and made his way up the next hill in the south. The light of the moon was dim; each of his steps were placed carefully on the loose ground. The strange smell still lingered in his nostrils – it was not the decay of exiles, but it had a familiarity that drove him. It filled his head with strange memories of the Feltower.
The hilltop held no obvious quarry, but it gave him a new vantage point. His eye looked out over the bones of Aura which shone a pale white in the moonlight. He stood for a moment in the chill of the night air and examined the gray horizons. The sounds were still a distance away, but it had become clearer to him that they were hushed voices.
It was a small flicker of red light that caught his attention, and at once his pursuit began again. The chain he bore around his neck glowed with a brown light and his strides became longer. He was at the next peak before long, and he stopped to get a better look at the strange light that emanated in the valley before him.
'Fire,' he thought. 'Charred flesh.' He recognized the smell and was filled with a black anger. Thoughts from his past filled his mind and threatened to obscure his task. He forced himself to calm, and willed the thoughts away once again. 'I am a nameless instrument of fate, and keeper of the peace.'
He watched the small fire waver in the breeze; it cast long shadows amidst the valley. Nearby sat crouched figures who sat unmoving. They spoke amongst themselves in whispers. A silhouette slowly made his way to the flames; he carried a bundle in his arms. The light shone on him as he approached, and the Peacekeeper watched him stoop to feed the flames with pieces of wood.
'Why would they burn wood?' he asked himself. In the wild lands wood was not scarce, but to burn wood instead of using crystal seemed alien. His curiosity was stoked, and he watched on.
The man who placed the wood into the fire stood, and removed something that had been burning in the pyre. He handed something to each of the men in turn, tearing from the thing in his hands. The Peacekeeper saw that they were eating together, and seemed to be sharing a food that had been taken from the flames.
These men were not arcane, he knew, but clearly they had survived in desolate lands. His task did not call for their deaths, and he decided these strange folk may know of routes that could aid him in locating his prey. He began his descent from the hill; he moved slowly down the hillside towards the camp. The slope became flat land, and he advanced to the flames unafraid.
One of the men stood in alarm to see the Felguard come into the light. The Peacekeeper stopped in place and put his hands out as a gesture of peace.
“I mean no harm. I seek criminals who must be brought to justice,” he started.
The other men stood, and they dropped their meals to the ground. They wore clothes unlike the arcane had ever seen, and carried trinkets on their belts of sharp wood and stone. The Peacekeeper took a step forward.
“No weapon?” the tallest man asked.
“I need no weapons,” the Felguard replied.
“E'rebody know these mountains belong to th' marauders,” the man said. “Piss on yer criminals. Yer life is ours.”
A wooden weapon shattered across the back of the Peacekeeper, but he was not injured. Slowly, his head turned to the shadows to see a small man with a look of surprise on his face. The chain around the neck of the Felguard gave off a subtle glow, and his hand wrapped around the neck of the small man. He lifted him into the air; the shard of wood fell from the hands of his victim.
“Marauders, you say?” the Peacekeeper asked. His eyes lay once again on the group near the fire. The men stood with fear in their eyes.
The choking man he held aloft reached into his belt and pulled out a long shard of sharp crystal. Before he could stab the weapon into the arm that held him, the Peacekeeper dropped him to the floor. He reached down and picked up the shard, and he pointed it toward the fire. The orange crystal glinted in the firelight, and filled with a new glow while he activated it. Bolts of white energy leapt from the shard to the air around it.
“I come in peace, and you repay me with violence. It is clear to me now why you burn wood like savages; it's because you don't know better. Perhaps I was wrong to seek your assistance,” the Peacekeeper said. “Even so, I bring you this gift of justice.”
The man on the ground began to roll over, and the Felguard dropped the energy crystal on top of his body. Bright flashes filled the dark valley along with screams of pain.
“Now, I will trade well for the little assistance your kind may provide,” the Peacekeeper said to the men.
“I a'mit, we mistook you. My people always been open fer trade – it's how we live. We have a 'lil--” the tall man spoke again.
“I need nothing from you - except information. I seek criminals, and I would guess they would seek supplies and shelter. Where would they have gone?” the Peacekeeper asked.
“Th' closest town be Avila, 'n th' south... but if they passed through our land...” the man started.
“Then your men were killed,” the Peacekeeper said. “There were two of them. I am told they wore robes, and one had silver hair. I will find this 'Avila' and wait for them. If your men chance upon them resting, or if they can find a way to bring them to me, your reward will be great.”
“Don't mean t' sound ungrateful fer our lives, but what you got in trade fer them?” the marauder asked.
“If you can truly bring them to me, I will see your reward is more than you could imagine,” the Peacekeeper said. He turned south again, and began to walk away.
“Dunno 'bout that, I can 'magine quite a lot,” the marauder said to his group. “Hey, just curious... who are ya?”
The question rang out from behind the Felguard as he moved. He didn't turn away from his path, and he continued toward the hill that led south. His eyes glazed over and the expression of his face became blank.
“I am an instrument of fate, and a keeper of the peace,” he replied.
If you choose to rate and review this story, please ONLY do so after having read the story from the beginning. ("The Ternion Prologue" )
Continued in "The Ternion - Chapter 8"