The Blade of Chelaque, Chapter 1: Words of Freedom

In the southeastern reaches of the Iron Sands Desert, a wasteland of greyish brown reaches beyond the ability of any mortal to see. Vast, mountainous dunes of greyish sand roil and shift with the unbroken wind here in the interior desert where only the hardiest of mortals and titanspawn dare tread, such as the daring band of adventurers that happens to be escorting a three wagon caravan on its way to a village further north nestled between the Bonewind Hills and the northeastern reaches of the Titansforge Mountains. The guide of the caravan happened to also be the most important item of the inventory, an elven Sorcerer Priestess of Lethene named Arcaneaux on her way to visit one of the tribes of the Lethena on the the outskirts of the Bonewind Hills. She was a raven haired beauty, except for a few streaks of scarlet. A bizarre feature apparently attributed to her titan influenced bloodline.

The Sorceress was in the lead wagon, riding passenger where she launched spells of lightning and fire at the gnolls. She was a vision, stunningly proportioned and clad in simple robes with a necklace of what looked to be coyote fangs dangling from her neck. Her features were especially hard for an elf, the scowl she wore as she launched her destructive magics seeming somehow normal for her, though she relented upon noticing what appeared to be a small war party ride out of the dusty distance lead by a man in what appeared to be exquisite scale armor and a leather cloak. His crew of adventurers were all spear wielders, and they rode in hard at the flank of the gnolls besieging them.

The motley crew of adventurers met her own by sheer twist of fate in sight of the central southern edge of the Titansforge Mountains, perhaps three days ride from it. The caravan had been beleagured by gnoll skirmishers for some time, with naught but the sorceress and a pair of horse archers defending it when they were out of the blue greeted by this welcome sight.

The sorceress knew he and his men to be a worthwhile addition to her retinue as she observed the short work they made of the gnolls, the strange magic that the now seemingly unarmed man wielded proving effective with the implements he called to hack and slice the flesh of her enemies, and his Tehlashos comrades were skilled with the spears they wielded as light lances to ride down their canine adversaries. Where the horse archers had been exhausted and low on arrows, the arriving warriors were fresh and unexpected catching the man-dog creatures completely unawares.

The newly arrived cavalrymen would not have to scour the enemy long to send them scurrying into the distance, gnolls being famous for their cowardice in battle. They thrill on the ambush, pride themselves on their trapcraft, and never attack when their numbers are not an advantage, or so claim the Tehlashos. When their victory was secured, the newcomers rode back to the caravan, their light warhorses carrying them nimbly across the scorched and broken earth. It was then that the sorceress guiding the caravan invited them to join, and guaranteed them rewards upon safe deliverance.

The trip proved to be a long and arduous one, for the better part of the first week they could scarcely tell that any progress had been made, though the priestess assured them they were making good time. Her powers were almost as strange as those of the warrior with the empty scabbards who said his name was Velius D’Seryan, though her spirit was much more harsh. This was to be expected, as all who intimately venerated the embodiments of the primal powers of Scarn strove to hold themselves as extensions of the will of their adopted masters, as such they carried themselves as closely as can be expected to the way they perceived their masters to carry themselves. In her case, it was akin to a wild and cruel abandon. Sparks literally flew from her person when orders were not carried out immediately, and the weather seemed empathically linked to her. This was somewhat a good thing, however, for it meant a constant breeze, albeit frequently tinged with ozone.

Such things here are not looked down upon, however. Nature is cruel, but through its cruelty one can be refined and grow strong. That which does not kill a man makes him stronger, this philosophy permeates every level of society in the badlands of Termana. The critical difference between the Clerics of the Gods and the Servants of the Titans, is the Titans do not respect grovelling. Where the Gods demand respect through polite rituals and proper methods of requesting attention prior to the gift of some measure of ability, the Titans recognize only strength. If you want something, you take it. You prove your worth by holding onto it and taking more, the intelligent know when they have reached their limit, the foolish will undo themselves and overreach. Beggars can starve for all the Old Ones care.

Velius and Arcaneaux got along as well as can be expected, she being a Titan worshiper and he favoring  Erias, the God of Dreams. She pressed him for knowledge as to where he derived his ability to conjure such odd weapons as his, flowing blades seemingly forged of violet dreamstuff but as lethal as those wrought from the iron bones of the Old Ones themselves. These questions he merely shrugged off, much to her chagrin. She knew him to be something more than he let on, but she also felt his intentions to be true and this served well to check her frustrations over the matter.

After their first week of traveling together, the uneventfulness began to crumble. One of the Tehlashos escorts spotted a stranger on the western horizon, the way they had come from. A stranger on horseback riding alone. The stranger would remain disregarded for quite some time as they continue onward, their trust in numbers encouraging a modicum of complacency rather than curiosity or alarm over a singular object on the horizon. By the second day it became plain that this stranger was making good speed and gaining on them, this coming as no surprise to the Tehlashos, however. By the end of the second day, the caravan would come to a halt as the Tehlashos notice the stranger to no longer be on the horizon. Ordinarily this would be no problem, but the stranger had been gaining on them and was expected to be well caught up with them by nightfall so even if the person had reversed course, they aught to still see him. They rationalized the stop through a need to give their horses a rest as they had been making hard progress of late, breaking fast in the morning then slowly trotting by day under the withering sun and forging by night after a break for dinner. They had been rotating out their guards and drivers so that all stayed reasonably rested. With this development, they decided all hands needed to be available, so they decided to rest for the entire evening.

The night would start out peacefully enough, one of the wagons being hit up for tinder to start a campfire. This would be the first time in over a week everyone got to eat hearty, and spirits rose well as a result. Arcaneaux would have nothing to do with the festivities, instead preferring the sanctity of her personal coverred wagon.  Velius, however, was more than happy to engage in the night’s festivities. A couple of the tribals were vigorously working stretched hide drums while several of the guards were doing their best at dancing to the rhythm. The only general complaint so far this night was that the wine and liquor was strictly off limits, saved for the trip’s completion.  Velius was sitting off to the side cross-legged watching the festivities while devouring a portion of snake on a stick. The hide had been stretched on the side of one of the wagons for the time being until they figured out what they were going to make from it as it had been a fairly large rattlesnake, the rattle already dangling from the back of Arcaneaux’s wagon. After a few hours of such revelry, she slung open the back of her wagon and declared an end to the racket, as she put it. The celebrants were to replace the ones currently on duty so they could get a proper meal themselves and that would be the end of it. With that said, Velius took his meal and water-skin and headed out to the edge of camp ahead of the caravan.

Two hours passed thereafter with nary an event, time enough anywhere in the world for complacency to begin to creep into the hearts of all but the hardest of veterans after a good meal. A shadow flickered in the darkness behind the caravan, the moon was high by this point, and the torches of the defenders played continual tricks on them so little was thought of this random supposed trick of the light, at least until a translucent blue chain of blades struck from the darkness tearing the first of the defenders off of his feet from some ten feet away from him, just outside the reach of his torchlight. Clad in black leather, the warrior was properly attired to ambush the hapless defender, quickly falling on him to finish the job before he could properly scream. The fallen warrior’s partner came to investigate the sounds of the scuffle, the thud to the ground carrying well in this open terrain but not especially unusual with the pack animals milling restlessly. The unfortunate spear-man would meet a similar fate, wrenched off of his feet, but unfortunately his wits were more about him than the last as he lets out a yell for help. Rather than fall on this one already scrambling to his feet, the warrior executes a series of slashes from a distance with his unusual weapon. It appeared as a sort of segmented sword, but its obvious qualities aside, it bore a lot of similarities in make to Velius’ own weapon in that it did not appear to be of any worldly make. The brutal assault proved sufficient to fell the unfortunate warrior but by this point the other guards were well roused along with Arcaneaux.

“Who are you, stranger, to come among us and make war without declaration? Speak now or die where you stand!”

The strange assassin removes her face-mask, revealing her identity as a human. They knew something about her to be different from Velius, a certain quality that they could not place. A certainty that most would agree on, however, was that she was likely much more dangerous given the methods she employed in disposing of two of their number.

“I am Myrianna, and I come for one I know to be among you that calls himself Velius D’Seryan. His lord summons him and is most displeased.”

At this point, Velius comes strolling up, finishing his snake dinner and eyeing Myrianna. Though he effects a lackadaisical manner, his nervousness is apparent in the furrowing of his brow. He tosses the stick down and takes a last sip from his waterskin, handing it to the archer next to him. The soldiers have the weapons ready, but their deference to Arcaneaux is obvious thanks to the lack of unnotched arrows. It was known that her electric wrath could fell all but the deadliest of foes, and she did not require a gesture to scorch a man where he stands. She looks to Velius with a quirked brow and speaks in a sardonic tone.

“Old business that you would like to inform the rest of us about?”

“Lord Chelaque does not approve of desertion, nor does he forget offenders. Unfortunately, since his servant has found you, you are all marked as well now should you assist me in this.” Velius replies thus with an increased furrowing of his brow, evidencing his considerations as to the gravity of his present situation.

“So you would rather die here than come with me?” Speaks Myrianna the assassin.

“You understand me perfectly, and I am sure that they do as well so let’s keep this simple, shall we?”

“Very well. Your arrogance precedes you and will be your end, now die!”

With that, she sends her serpentine blade at him, intending to employ the same technique as on the previous two but finds him prepared as his twin blades snap into existence. He defends against her move with a swipe at the reaching blade disrupting it enough to prevent it from ensnaring his ankle, unfortunately he still feels the bite of its blade as it rakes across his boot, chewing into the unguarded joint and through the skin beneath, sparking with ectoplasmic fire and sending a lancing pain through his spine and to his brain, like a brief but intense migraine. Thankfully the wound is shallow, ensuring little as he darts away from the crowd and answers her attack with a pair of thrown blades of his own. The first goes wide as she skillfully dodges but the second chews through the outside of her off hand shoulder, rewarding him with a smirk though the glaze to her eyes tells him that she had felt his own reply to her psychic strike. As she steps away from him, he steps forward recognizing that she is going to make a second attempt at the same maneuver. Not giving her a chance he rushes forward, enduring the pain as it saws into his leg yet again, similarly coupled with another psychic strike. He lays into her with a flurry of attacks, his blades finding their mark more often than not but her agility preventing a solid mark until finally she whirls around slightly away from him and succeeds in snatching his feet out from under him. He felt as if she nearly tore his leg away from his hip as his face plants into the dirt and the ectoplasmic fire of her blade literally explodes into his calf, cauterizing it even as it blows away meat, leather and metal.

As he lays there numb with pain, she plants her boot in the small of his back and he feels the tip of her blade on the nape of his neck. She starts to say something, but before she can finish her first word the smell of ozone fills the air accompanied by a peal of thunder as the hairs rise all over his body. Bluish light is all he sees as the ringing of his ears drowns out the sound of his former assailant dropping to the ground, a smoking corpse. He takes his time climbing to his feet, breathing deeply as he forces the pain of his leg aside enough to realize that the entire time no one had moved from where they stood at the start of his fight.

“Why did you help me? Now he will come for you as well. He sees through the eyes of his chosen!”

“You owe me an explanation, I owe you none. If I am satisfied with your story, I may yet reward you one anyway, but for now still your tongue. Your life is now mine, not his.” She gestures to the archer next to her and he moves to Velius, escorting him to her wagon where his grievous wound would be treated.  She followed him there, and then climbed inside to reach into a chest full of potions and herbs, the inside of her wagon proving her to be not only a priestess but an apothecary of some ability. She grabs one of the vials and pops the cork, shoving it to his lips once the guardsmen gets him into her wagon.

“Drink, and don’t fight it. This will put you to sleep so that we can tend your wounds.”

Her words proved true as he quickly lapsed into unconsciousness, how long he would be out he did not know but it scarcely mattered as when he awoke he found himself to be in much better shape than he was before. He had been stripped of his armor, and the wagons had not moved from their spot. It was daylight outside and the assassin was splayed out in the campground stripped of everything and they seemed to be arguing over something about her corpse.

“Nevermind them, how do you feel? Your leg will be fine, though I am forbidding you from guard duty for the next three days to be certain.”

“I feel fine, thank you. You said I owed you an explanation. How far is this to go? I notice we have not moved from here.”

“Indeed we have not, and I want to know everything. You said we are marked, I don’t take that lightly, and I have heard the name Chelaque before, though it was in reference to ancient times. Before the Divine War, though to what I know not.”

“Chelaque the Imprisoned. He is one of the Uthriach, beings of pure intellect and wielders of a power totally different from that of gods, titans, or sorcerers like yourself. They are older than this world and mean to destroy it that they may be free from it. They call their power, and mine, Psionics. The closest thing to it, magically, I reckon would be dreamstuff, like that of the domain of Erias and the Dreamfolk, or the Laughing Man in his swamp.”

“That’s a start, but it doesn’t tell me what he wants with you and why he sent her. She was obviously superior to you in ability, and some of her belongings elude my investigations. Are they of…psionic make? We found a strange scroll as well, I was able to decipher but the technical jargon makes little sense to me, references to powers that I do not grasp.  What is this business?” As she speaks she gestures to a couple articles of jewelry that look to be of crystalline make, included a double terminated crystal of modest size wrapped in what looked to be silver wire.

Velius picks up this crystal first. As he concentrated on it, studying it intently, he realized fairly readily the nature of this item as he had handled one much like it before. “This is a cognizance crystal, useless now as she has expended it. Psychics use these for various purposes much like you would use a wand. Generally speaking, they are useless to arcanists. Some replenish themselves over time, though this one I doubt will. I lack the ability or training to recharge it, unfortunately…As for the scroll, I would like to read it myself. Texts of psionic lore are rare, and valuable indeed to the scholarly. Hollowfaust would pay dearly for such, indeed likely even kill for it.”

“Interesting, here is the text. It makes reference to some sort of Chain of Supremacy, is this an item? I know of nothing of the sort. I was educated by tutors from the Citadel of the Rose, as such I am keen on many matters of arcane antiquity. My parents recognized in me a gift for magic. You should know that I know something about the pain of being disowned and exiled, that is not important to this discussion, simply calling to your awareness that I am more open-minded than most. I may be a dweller of the wastes, but like you I am hardly ignorant. Do not think to keep secrets from me.”

Velius raised his brows in surprise at this brief moment of near-intimacy, suddenly finding himself curious about this woman, he thought to himself that he would have to pry at some point. He reaches for the scroll and unfurls it, immediately greeted with a thing that he could never have expected to discover and fails utterly to keep from showing this in his features as he devours the textual contents therein. “This…is the first of a set…It is the first of a collection! This is a relic, informally known collectively as the Chains of Supremacy, the Lore of the Warmind! The Chains are not items, per se, they are lessons in battlefield supremacy. Compiled supposedly by Chelaque himself and dispersed among his most trusted mortal servants. Alone, this is an amazing find, but if the set were to be found it would be an invaluable asset against the Uthriach. I may one day be able to make use of this, if I can find other pieces of the collection.”

Arcaneax, adjusts her seating and begins to move to the rear of the wagon, gesturing for him to follow. By this point the body of the assassin had been disposed of, Velius knew not how nor did he care. He followed her out of the wagon and they stepped casually away from the encampment, he assumed to speak of more private matters as she seemed satisfied for the moment about their find. The sun was as cruel as ever as they stepped away from the caravan, not venturing far but simply out of immediate earshot. His leg was predictably stiff, causing him to walk with a slight hobble but was not terribly discomforting. She finally turned to face him, her expression more serious than normal, which he found telling.

“What do you intend to do? It seems clear to me that the Uthriach you speak of are Slarecians. Your performance against one assassin strikes me as underwhelming, but I would still find it terribly disappointing if you failed to return the favor.”

“I do intend to return the gesture, and I am aware of the odds against me in light your less than favorable observation. I fail to see what other choices are available, though I am certain you are aware of one that I am not, given your demeanor.”

“Astute as usual, greater power must be met with greater resolve. This is the only formula that nature recognizes for survival. Your power has been found wanting, as such you will NOT return the gesture. Not at this time. You have proven you can survive in the wastes, and this has made you strong. I know how you may grow stronger still, perhaps enough to survive threats in the future and be a benefit to Scarn, which you are not presently.”

Velius found himself initially offended by her analysis of him, but was forced to grudgingly admit the sincerity and accuracy of it. After a moment of frowning at this, he asked her what this would entail. “You will undergo a trial. A harrowing. The first condition of this trial will be to accept the decree of my quest, upon which you will be bound until its completion. At the time of its completion, I will absolve you of your past transgressions, thereby granting you a proper place in this land. Your secrecy is the stain that marks you and sets you apart from the world in which you live. That is no way to live. There is a reason that we have found each other in this place that commonfolk refer to as the middle of nowhere. You abide by your polite standards in conforming to the traditions of civilization in an uncivilized land, don’t think the irony of this is lost on me. I too know something about the Ancients whom you claim to have once served, my Mistress dealt her share of blows against them before the Divine Betrayal. Your quest will involve the retrieval of an item of significance to my cult. A basic quest, but difficult. You will have until we reach our original destination to consider this, for fulfillment of these conditions will have a long-term resonation in your life, and you will never be able to give back what I am offering.”

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About Velius

Greetings to the world! I am 27 years old and live in the South, and enough said about that.