Monday, August 23. 2010
"And this circle means we can't hurt each other?"
"Damage will be restrained,"
Hel didn't look convinced. "So... this puny circle will somehow keep you from melting me into a little puddle how?"
"Once your person suffers damage the circle will activate and extinguish magic in the area. First blood. The Order uses them all the time,"
"That makes me feel so much better,"
Darken sighed at the younger man. "Humour me,"
"Aright,” It occurred to him that the damage the circle might detect could be someone dying. He couldn't understand why Darken had been pushing for this duel for so long. The man was trustworthy and yet... Hel didn't trust him.
He cast off several things he didn't need. Waterskin, raincloak, gourds of mercury and saffron. He checked his armour and fingered the ball of iron in his hand reassuringly. Then he strode into the circle and took up position in the centre. Darken doffed his waistcoat and followed, wearing a charming smile.
"Now, we face away, take five paces away from each other and turn back,"
"And then I fuck you up?"
"Yes, then you... we both say ready and then... are you ready?"
"On three and go,"
The two turned away stiffly and marched away from each other. Hel purposely checked his stride, keeping the paces short. The closer he was the sooner he could grab Darken's arms and twist them behind his back.
Hel twirled hurriedly and yelled "Ready!"
The circle faded.
“I knew you were lying!” Hel roared as he charged forward. The iron leapt from his hand, driving forward as a thin spear. It passed through the smirking Darken and Hel skidded to a halt. Darken gave a small chuckle, appearing near where Hel had started.
Hel hissed, drawing on words of power to enforce a shield around him. “Anything you didn’t cheat at?”
Darken cast his hands through the air casually, tugging on empty air. “This lesson will be useful. We’re going up against nobles, not warriors. All your preconceptions of fairness and honour are meaningless,”
Hel took a step to one side, squinting. His shield up he could make out streams of power running through Darken's fingers.
“You’re all bastards,” he said
Darken smiled. “In more than one sense of the word,” And he flicked the gathered energy at Hel.
Hel felt it impact against his barrier. As it struck it flared into incandescent sparks, illuminating the spitting raindrops. The energies focused on a weak point and began drilling through. Hel ignored the attention, and pulled the iron back into a ball. From the ball he pulled a single blob. It solidified in his hand and he focused on imbuing it. It took a few seconds for the spell to take and he immediately hurled the blob at Darken. Darken continued his attack with one hand as he batted energy at the blob with another. It knocked the blob away from him and knocked it to the ground. Hel slammed a blinding enchantment over his eyes. There was a popping sound. Darken's attack stopped. Hel reincanted his barrier, strengthening his defenses as he brought down his eye protection.
“I’ve fucked up nobles before,” he said grimly.
Darken was sitting on the ground, tears streaming down his face. Hel knew his eyes must be burning. He began to advance but slowed almost as quickly as Darken’s hands began to move. The air grew hotter and Hel retreated, trying to take a breath without gasping. Rain sizzled as it met the blanket of heat Hel was wrapped in. He stumbled through a refrigeration spell, turning it on himself. The sudden chill made him shiver but the heated air no longer bothered him. He turned on Darken and drew out an invisible length, metallic rope materialised in his hands. He tested its strength before whipping it at Darken's hands. Darken rolled away, lashing wildly at the air. Hel sized the man up for another blow, checking his barrier was still secure. Then it collapsed right before his eyes.
Hel dived sideways as the air around him filled with fire. He felt scorching trails sear their way across his back. He caught his knee coming down and his head bounced off the ground, mouthing another protection spell. He lay there for a moment, a shielding spell flickering in and out of existence. Turning his head he could see Darken struggling upright, still blinking furiously. His hands moved constantly and Hel could see embers whizzing about, searching for him. Hel didn’t bother trying to get up. He rummaged about in a pocket and pulled out a jar. This was going to hurt. With a great deal of effort he gave it a vicious twist and slammed it into the ground, burying his face in the dirt. There was a great deal of noise for a very brief period.
Hel pulled his nose out of the dirt. Everything was quiet but for the spatter of rain. The water was slowly washing away a ring of red dust. Hel stood up, wincing at the pain shooting along the burns across his back. His armour was torn in places; scores of red dust had buried itself in his clothes. A few paces away were the curled up remnants of a man. Hel approached cautiously and nudged it with his foot. It whimpered. It was covered in the dust, flecks of metal had torn its skin and blood seeped from a hundred tiny cuts. Hel dragged Darken up and half carried him to their forgotten camp. There he pawed at a waterskin and took a long drink before forcing liquid down the man’s ruined throat. He’d taken the rustbomb right to the face.
It was a long time before Darken could speak, longer still before either was in the mood for conversation.
“That was... unexpected,” Darken’s voice rasped against the cool night air. They’d started a fire with some difficulty and had munched on trade rations until long after the cloud beset sun had disappeared.
“You thought you’d just school me and walk away?” Hel hadn’t meant to sound so vitriolic; it just came out that way.
“I... most mages are unimaginative. They fight fire with fire,”
“I fought mages for years. You think I don’t know?”
“Those little tricks of yours, I’ve never seen magic used that way, blatant but indirect,”
Hel shrugged, poking at the fire. “I didn’t make ‘em up, just got ‘em off some of the older wizards in the camps,”
Darken sighed. “That is how to fight a mage. You disable them fast, blind them or incapacitate them. Two mages try to fight for long, someone's going to come along and gut them both,”
“Yeah, you try to fight like the fucking Order you're going down hard”
“I agree. They’ve grown too constrained. Too set in their ways,”
“And they do is kill anyone who doesn’t think like they do,”
“That’s not how...” Darken groaned and cleared his throat. “Not how it’s supposed to be. I can only imagine what’s been lost in the quest for peace,”
“That’s why I’m gonna stop them,”
Darken glanced across the fire. “Alone?”
“I’ve been working at it. Picking ‘em off here and there like when I ran into you,”
“One or two lives you can claim. You almost claimed mine after all,”
“I’ll get them all this way, sooner or later,” Hel avoided Darken’s eye.
“That's a tall Order. More to the point have you forgotten the good they do?”
Hel’s head whipped up as his lips curled back in a snarl. “Good?”
Darken nodded wearily. “I know it can be hard to see but for all its bad points the Order did and does fight against the darkness. The necromancers, the forest dwellers, the monsters that make this world unsafe for mere people,”
“And what’s so bad about them? What makes the Order any better?” Hel’s scowl was savage as he stabbed at the fire angrily.
Darken took another sip of water, letting it ease his throat. “Don’t be ridiculous, did your mother never tell you the tales?”
“I have to bow and scrape to dick mages because of kids tales?”
Darken shook his head, his voice growing firmer. “Know you nothing of history? Of the evil that once ruled the kingdom?”
Hel glanced skyward, screwing up his eyes in thought. “I know there was the first queen, bitch of Dia or something. I don't pay much attention to priests,”
Darken coughed throatily. Delicately he placed a hand over his mouth as he hawked up blood and spat into the fire.
“There is a place. If you have the courage,”
Hel stared at him strangely. “Courage,”
“It is not a pleasant place. In fact it is a threat,”
Hel let the pompous tone pass. “What the hell is it?”
Hel blinked. “A what?”
“A tomb, a place where the dead are kept,”
“You don't keep dead, you burn them,”
“And why is that?” Darken scratched his throat, looking meaningfully across the fire.
“To... Dia's breath I dunno, to release the soul and let it go to god's bloody grace,”
“Yes,” Darken was silent a long moment. “I think you should see the darker corners of this world before you so quickly judge. It may... you may learn something,”
“You tried to fucking kill me. Right about when I was almost starting to trust you,”
“I was trying to test you. I didn't expect you to do so well,” Darken began to chuckle only to break out into coughing again.
Hel grinned. “Yeah well, imagine what I can do to your tomb that is a threat where courage is required!”
Darken returned the smile, leaning back. “You’ll have to excuse me. I’m too used to being pompous,”
“We can beat it out of you,”