The home guards watching over the herb fields had been called back to the city gates just a week ago for the assisting with the defense of the city, leaving Khel’s farm unprotected.
Hoping that the elite forces could hold the city gate for another day, Khel had continued to tend to the herb fields since the physicians’ assistants still came in to get the herb stacks.
“Its business as usual, Master Khel”, one of the assistants had told him, “as long as the city gates still hold.”
“As long as Mount Zor stands, Zorsoga will not fall”, the old fool, High Lord Salbaran had said.
The marauding ravagers of Kardun had stripped the sprawling city down to its very foundations, laying waste to the quarter of a million strong Zorsogan elite forces.
Between the crazed Kardun fanatics and the wily, yet deadly, Karduni conjurers, the Zorsogans had stood no chance. But make a stand they did, even if it was their final one.
Khel was thrown back by the blasted door of his cellar, hitting his head hard against the back wall. Where it had stood moments ago, now was a figure, wrapped from head to toe in a deep red cloak, with a bone staff in its gloved hands. It looked very human; except for the eyes… the eyes had a fire in them that matched the cloak in color.
It was a Karduni conjurer, one who was given in to the dark arts of soul entrapment, the left way as High Lord Salbaran called it. Worse, this was the ‘Red Blight’ herself.
As mortal dread took him, Khel passed out.
The woman slowly pushed her bone staff in front of him, chanting incantations in a hissing tone. The staff’s head began to glow in an eerie blue light. Suddenly, Khel began seeing visions of his past, of his family, his friends and how he had wronged them. His soul burnt with the guilt.
Pain. Mind numbing pain.
Khel’s mind struggled to resist the visions but to no avail. He had never been this terrified.
Then, a voice rang weakly, but clearly, in the abyss of his subconscious mind.
“Fight it. Don’t give in to it. These are just visions conjured by the soul stealer. You have done nothing wrong!”
Khel clenched his teeth. As his body began trembling under the onslaught of the conjured visions, Khel opened his eyes and found himself face to face with the Karduni conjurer. She had removed her hood, showing her pale grey skin and long black hair. Her very look was enough to instill fear in the bravest of men.
The conjurer gurgled in her throaty voice and spit on Khel’s face. And the she smiled; a gruesome visage, with fanged teeth
“Do you think you can fight me? Do you even have a glimmer of hope that you can save your soul from me, Zor tiller? But I will have your secrets before I make you mine!”
Grinning, she waved her bone staff over his body. Khel felt his body go numb below his neck, a cold settling down on his body.
“Call upon what was yours once. It will come.”
It was the voice again. And this time it was stronger.
“Reclaim what you once willingly disowned, Khel Zorsolan.”
Zorsolan. A name forgotten for ages.
The visions stopped abruptly, only to be replaced by searing pain. Khel screamed, lifting his arms to clutch his head, rolling on to his side on the stone block. The conjurer pulled back her staff in surprise. She slapped Khel hard on his cheek that made him stop his scream and spit blood instead.
“It cannot be! How… how did you break my spell?” she shrieked. “Speak!”
“Call forth the power that was never yours.”
Khel tried to support himself up on his arms, but she kicked him on the side of face, sending him sprawling on his back.
“Speak now or I will give you pain that will make the visions a lover’s embrace!” she hissed, lowering the staff head at his face. Khel saw her face slowly disappear in a haze. His body went limp.
“Focus, Zorsolan. Focus. Call forth the elements that you once willingly played with.”
The voice was addressing him as a teacher would address a student.
“Call forth the fury inside… Kheldarin Zorsolan, Mage of Arcaris.”
All of a sudden, Khel opened his eyes. A star studded sky greeted him. Even the air was still. The conjurer was kneeling beside the altar, her eyes closed and chanting a high pitched incantation, which was the only thing that broke the eerie silence; Her was staff was glowing bright red.
Soul’s coven. A place I had never wanted to lay my eyes on, yet one which I was destined to lay waste to.
He raised his left hand slowly, with his fingers spread wide, a glow emanating between them. The conjurer still hadn’t sensed him being conscious. With his mind clear like a placid lake, he sent forth a call, as strong as the apocalyptical wind, in to the elements surrounding him.
The elements answered. And, something else answered with them.
Rapture…Pure rapture that the elements had not given me before with their coming.
The Karduni conjurer, feeling a different power nearby, opened her eyes in confusion. Seeing Khel with his hand raised, her mouth became a snarl but her eyes suddenly showed a flicker of fear. Her whole body had become rigid. She could feel the tickle of cold air over her body, but she couldn’t move. Her fingers opened up on their own accord, letting her staff fell from her hands, hitting the ground with a resounding ring. But as soon as it touched the ground, it broke in to shards of black ice and began to melt away. The woman’s eyes betrayed her surprise… and growing fear.
“How can you resist my power? Who are you?”
She could speak. Her lips were trembling with rage, but her eyes betrayed her confusion.
Khel slowly got up and set his food down at the side of the altar. He looked at the woman serenely, almost like a benevolent teacher gazing at his student. He lifted a hand and slowly placed it on the woman’s head, smoothing out her hair, almost lovingly.
She gritted her teeth, the inner struggle of her powers rallying against the binding force.
“Such hatred! You are almost human…yet so horribly far from it.
“Tell me dear… do you remember your name?”
Her eyes had their fury back in an instant.
“You filthy sand scrubber! You dare question me! I will…” she growled.
She suddenly began to splutter. An invisible hand seemed to be tightening around her throat.
A small smile came to Khel’s lips.
“Remember Arcaris, soul stealer?”
Her eyes widened in surprise.
“Arcaris? It was destroyed…”
“Yes. Yes, it was destroyed ages ago… but not completely. You know this too, is it not?”
“Liar! I was there… but… how could you… possibly know…”
The grip on her throat tightened. She struggled for breath.
“You will… suffer an eternity for… this! Your soul…”
“Well, well… Grand Conjurer Lithara…, or should I call you ‘Red Blight’, you haven’t changed much.”
Her eyes narrowed. Her voice trembled.
“How is it… how do you know my name? Not even the Soul Lords know it! Who are you?”
She became silent as Khel suddenly walked towards her. Her breathing almost stopped.
Khel knelt beside her. He leaned close to her face, looking directly in to her red eyes that were glowing with fury.
“Kheldarin Zorsolan” said Khel, in a quiet voice.
Her eyes widened once more but this time it was in mortal fear. Khel straightened up.
“It cannot be… I destroyed him…”
“Did you now really?” laughed Khel. He walked away and turned back to look at her.
“I am Kheldarin Zorsolan, Mage of Arcaris. And as fate would have it, your tutor at Arcaris.”
Her body bind was released. She still knelt on the floor, her lips trembling with anger, emotion and fear.
“No! This cannot be… I killed you… I destroyed the Soul Crystal of Arcaris myself!”
“You still think you did, but you should have destroyed my soul too, when you had the chance. I was and am still the heart of Arcaris.
“And as long as I continue to draw breath, Arcaris stands undefeated.”
She opened her mouth to say something, but her confusion got the better of her. She remained kneeling. She couldn’t identify the new power she could sense from Khel.
“For the sake of our old days, Lithara… I am going to call for a duel. You would like that, won’t you?”
“You will die in a heartbeat, old man.” she suddenly snarled, her fury back in her eyes.
Lithara jumped up in the blink of an eye and conjured a staff out of thin air. “Prepare to give up your soul, Zorsolan. I took it once, I can take it again”.
As she waved her staff, the air around her cracked with lightning, conjuring up whirlwinds of energy that she projected out at Khel. But they just disappeared upon coming near him. It was as if the elements didn’t want to harm him.
“If you could kill me, you would have done so already.”
Her face registered surprise. She tried to assail him again with her conjured visions, but her attempts were like trying to bind smoke with a rope net.
Purple fire flared up between Khel’s fingers and grew to the size of a fist.
With a whirl of her staff Lithara conjured up a terrible spell and sent it forth at Khel. He unleashed his flame at the same time. The collision of the two powers shook the monolith pillars that surrounded the altar, but the flame consumed the conjured spell and continued towards Lithara. She was forced to conjure a shield to stop the flame from consuming her.
“Ah… the Aegis of Souls… you were always a good student, Lithara.” smiled Khel, “Seems like the souls you stole have indeed been useful.”
“As will be yours soon!” snarled Lithara, twirling her staff again.
Khel spoke under his breath. “Pity you could never understand the cost of being you.”
Lithara was blown back by a fist of air. She hit the ground hard on her back.
Khel looked at her as she tried to get up. In a voice that held more pity than anger, he spoke.
“Enough lives have been taken on your account. It all ends now. Remember what the Guardian of Arcaris comes to possess?”
He invoked the Light of Arcaris. A golden glow engulfed his upraised hands.
“Nooo… don’t…. you are a mage. You cannot… master!” Lithara screamed.
Khel thrust out his hands and screamed.
“By righteous fire, be purged!”
A column of white hot fire, dancing with purple lightning, struck down upon where Lithara stood. Her scream of horror rent the air only for an instant. The silence that ensued was deafening. The ground where she had stood now shone bright orange with the heat it had just borne.
Khel leaned his head back, his voice rising up in a gale of arcane winds.
“Arcaris is avenged.”