A Time of Blood and Magic
January 11, 2012
This is a bit Swords and Sorcery, a bit anime-esque. It was originally inspired by one of my favorite White Wolf tabletop RPGs, Exalted. I’m still not exactly sure what I want to do with it (open to suggestions) but I kinda like it, in its own way.
Kourin kicked the dirt beneath her feet and watched the motes of soil float on the wind across the field before her. She knelt and tasted the earth, watching the wind sweep through the trees. She glanced up at her companion, the bark-color skinned Hatshen’ket, as he reached his fingers out and listened to the earth. He was dressed in his ceremonial garb, a skirt of tanned hides, hard boots, a girdle strapped with various magical objects, and shoulder-length black leather gloves taut against his skin. His hair, his gear, flowed in a gentle breeze that never seemed to abate. Against the wind, his hair drew back in his personal aura of power.
“They headed east, Kourin. Through the fields of bodies. But around the heart of the forest. I do not understand why…Kha’him does not tell me.”
Kourin nodded and stood up, adjusting her staff so the three blood-red rings on one end were up. “The heart of the forest is a place of death, bodies rise to swell their number. It is dangerous to go through, but fast if you know the way. w The dark man chuckled softly, “We do not all the khem foo-swee like you do, but I do not fear death by any means. The Earth and the Wind shall guide my will and our steps. Come, warrior. Let us make haste.”
Hatshen’ket strode forward, his steps seemingly gliding across the land in ways that normal men cannot understand, while Kourin’s sandals slipped between puffs of dirt and swirls of fog, seemingly sliding across the land behind him. Both were silent in their trek, sliding around trees, between camps, and past waking dead. The wind blew from behind them, as if the heart of the forest was inhaling slowly, pulling them in toward it, inviting them to join it. Hatshen’ket’s hands opened softly, encouraging walls of greenery to part, grass to grow and sway as he passed, and the trees to lean just enough to hide his shadow from watchful eyes. Kourin needed none of these things, sliding like a serpentine shadow across the ground, never pausing or slowing, even her breath invisible in the cold midwinter mist.
The earth groaned around them as dead soldiers clawed their way out of the earth, wearing armor fashioned last week for fresh ashigaru or forged millennia ago in the forges of Parcis Arenia for the armies of Corvus of the Thousand Boughs. The searched the woods with sightless eyes, sniffed with rotten noses, listened with decayed ears. In wretched hands they hefted forlorn weaponry and stalked the fields and dales, hungering for life, for blood, for more to swell the ranks of the damned army resting under the ancient oaks. They felt the two seekers charging through their forest, but could not find them. They did, however, seek out and locate small camps of adventurers, plucky young heroes searching for fortune in the ancient catacombs beneath Ashisaiga. Soon, curdling the blood of the heroes approaching the heart of the cold forest, screams filled the air as young men and women were set upon by foes older than thought, by a darkness that human kind has felt but not known since the dawn of the first spirit-talkers.
Hatshen’ket sighed softly and whispered a prayer to the khem, then sealed himself away in an aura of silence. Kourin knew not how to feel for those who were dead, their screams the gravestones they would leave upon the waking world. Instead, she trudged on, sandals slapping against the wet ground as she approached the heart of the forest. Thick in the air was the smell of steel, the smell of iron, the thick scent of blood. Now the wind was alternating directions slowly, the forest breathing in life and exhaling winds of death. The wizard halted and drew his power around him, whispering to the khem and summoning spirits of the trees, spirits of the fire to aid him in what he must accomplish. He stepped forward, shambling statues of Anun and Hekara joining him, fashioned from the roots about the forest, and their gaze swept over the blood-soaked altar surrounded by the thronging horde.
“Soldiers of wars past, fallen in the great forest of the dead, I bring you solace. Let me pass unharmed and I shall allow you respite in your damned existence. Cross me and I shall show you Light, I shall sweep away your Darkness, I shall show you the fields of the Afterlife through eyes from beyond even immortal ken. Part so that I may walk amongst you or stand so you may die as men.”
Hatshen’ket stood solid as the first soldier stood up and rushed toward him, broken gladius waving menacingly in the air, spots of rust reflecting the unearthly light flowing from the altar like muddied water. Kourin lept from the trees, rolling over in the sky, her staff opening, a thin line at first just above her hand, grasped tightly above those three blood red bands, and like a shot of lightning the arc of her long, softly curved blade swept through the air and cut the shambling warrior from shoulder to sternum. The blade slid back into the black lacquer cane before Kourin, or the undead soldier, hit the ground.
Three heartbeats passed before the golems of the gods of the khem swept into the soldiers, one spitting star’s fire in bright blue blazes, the other wrapping shadowy tentacles about their necks and draining the false caricature of life from their weakened bones. Hatshen’ket plucked a brass rod from his girdle and wrapped his hand tightly around it, speaking in clear, commanding khet, calling to Anun-Ram to guide his hand and invoking the Father’s might. Dawn broke from his brass bauble, spreading out in a blade fashioned from the rays of the sun which humbled and burned the undead around him. Without consideration, he went to the dirty, stoic work of butchering those who had no will but to fight. Tears seeped from his eyes but never slowed his hand.
Kourin had no hesitations or considerations in her bouts. Staff lashed out to the temple of a Nipponese warrior, dropping him before a well placed kick destroyed his skull. Blade sprang to dismember another Graecian soldier, sliced into six parts before the first fell to the earth. Three more fell when Kourin rolled through the air to escape a flail held by an armored knight before blue flame destroyed the armor and whatever was contained within. With ruthless efficiency, the kensei demolished ranks of deceased soldiers as a butcher prepares a morning’s cuts for market.
Feeling its warriors wink out one by one, the altar slowly crept back on itself, recoiling from the words of the khem, the light of Anun-Ram, and the flashing quicksliver blade of the young woman. The altar bubbled like boiling water, stone rolling and frothing in the cold night air. Slowly it peeled back, a splayed tumor giving birth to a robed creature who had long forgotten the need for flesh and blood. Soulless sockets surveyed the battlefield, barren teeth clattering as the creature found its voice. Its whispers cut through the din of battle, a voice with no sound commanding its troops. Do not worry yourself with the creatures of wood and magic, my children. Cut down the dark man with the sword of sunbeams, bring me his still-beating heart so we may feast. The beast of bone and bane stood high, a staff finding its way into the thing’s hands, as dark light, purple and malignant, filled the tattered old skull and formed the dark heart within it. Hatshen’ket reached for another device on his belt, a bag that hung by his left hip, and scattered seeds from within it on the ground infront of him. A deep, sullen voice poured from him, speaking ancient words to the khem and inviting soldiers of stone and blood to rise up against the enemies of the Desert Gods.
Kourin’s blade grew brighter the more she cut, seeming to sweep through the forlorn warriors as if they were wheat standing in the field. Fury fueled her steps, pouring her toward the monstrosity that alighted the altar. Every step deliberate, every cut devastating, the light shining like the moon to Hatshen’ket’s sun. First it found flesh, then it found bone, then it ate through the stone of the alter, clawing its way toward the arcane lich that stood above the melee. The light pulsed with laughter, pulsed horror and disgust. Kourin growled and clawed her way through the thronging flesh around her and dashed into the air, rolling over herself and letting her blade catch the night air. For any who watched, it was if the moon had risen from the undead horde and set upon the lich, spraying blood and dark light across the clearing of the deep forest. The darkness filled it, filling from the broken altar as if a broken well, causing the undead to slump into the earth, the light from the golems to die, and the sun and moon fashioned into the blades of the warriors to set. Slowly, the moon shone through the quiet night and the stars greeted the waylaid travelers, whispering to them that all was right again in this ancient wood.
Without word, Kourin sheathed her blade again and dove into the darkness, with the quiet khem wizard following her patiently.