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Last Look At Sothron

Written by: as told by Reeve
Date: May 24th, 1005
Sir Pyter Baesh was never a man to trust magic. No man that ever forged his honor with cold steel held magic in high regard. Deception and crimes against nature were the means of magic and they begat only power and riches unearned. But his liege, King Garimaddon of Sothron treated with the dark arts now. Sir Pyter was not a knight of the highest regard in the Order of Sun Down for questioning his King. The King was of the noble line, only mortal in looks and aging. Garimaddon was descended from the gods of old to serve both gods and man. It was widely known that Garimaddon was in much better favor with the gods than his father had been.
All this Sir Pyter kept close in mind when he was summoned to the King’s study by the seneschal. Seneschal, Pyter knew, was an honorary title. Vaesyrio carried out none of the tasks for which a seneschal was appointed. Rather he squatted on the office while servants did their best to do the tasks he was nominally in charge of. Vaesyrio spent much of his time in dark libraries, or travelling from place to place learning the forbidden lore. Somehow he had convinced King Garimaddon that someone must know the ancient evils else they will be forgotten and thus freed to do the realms of men harm once again.
Pyter, clad still in his chain mail and girded with his battered sword, followed the Seneschal up the winding stairs and down a short hall flanked with doors. Each door lead to a different bedchamber. Each chamber was the length and breadth of a different woman’s domain. Each woman was for the King and the King alone though none were taken to wed. It was no business of Pyter’s to question this, still he loathed walking this hall. Nine doors lead off of it. More often than not he heard weeping as he passed the doors.
Vaesyrio turned to the side as they reached the ninth door, and afforded the knight an oily smile and a bow. Pyter wondered how such a wizard as Vaesyrio found the time and patience to be so perfectly groomed. Most of the wizards he’d met in his travels were rather hair-brained, confused by the routines of life, unkempt at best.
He rapped once on the door and then opened it. Within his liege was lounging on a couch, one foot cocked over the arm. He was staring idly at a map. Sir Pyter strode meaningfully to his King and dropped to one knee. It was his duty and his pride to deliver a resoundingly good report of his latest campaign.
"My Lord King, the Orc clans of the mountains will trouble you no—"
"Yes, yes," Garimaddon said without looking up from the unfurled map on the couch. Only the words and a single perfunctory wave of the off-hand lead Pyter to believe that he had been heard and recognized. "Vaesyrio has told me all about your successes. You’ll receive the usual honors."
Pyter resisted the urge to glare at the Seneschal who had robbed him of one small pleasure he had hoped for after the long ride home. "Rise," the King said. "As my War-Lord and trusted servant you must know our plans." Pyter straightened as he stood and glanced at the map. It was a much-embellished map of the northern realms that had long refused to treat with Sothron. There had been light talk amongst some of the younger knights of Sun Down. Apparently there was now a movement among them to break away from Sothron and travel to the fabled land of Tsimaerone which lay many days to the north of the dwarven holdfasts. The general feeling was that the seemingly eternal war with Tantarill had depleted the honor of Sothron and the latter kings had fallen to plundering the resources of countryside in their wars among other things. Pyter tried not to think of the doors in the hall outside.
"Come here, Sir Pyter," the King beckoned. He had made his way to a table where many documents and other maps lay strewn about. "While you were away I called the nobles and raised the levies. The entirety of our army but for a handful of hosts at garrisons and such lies a day west of here. In three days they will march."
"My Lord King, on whom do we march?" Tantarill had been quiet these years past. Of much greater concern where the more wild problems on the borders such as the now scattered orcs. He’d intended to urge the king to break the Ogres power with a sufficient force within a few weeks time.
"I think you know," the King smirked as Vaesyrio materialized across the table from them, laying the map of Tsimaerone down. "We have been most busy." Pyter frowned. He had very little knowledge of Tsimaerone. It was a fabled kingdom, supposedly more wealthy and advanced than Sothron even.
"But if we dispatch our strength to the north Tantarill will not waste the chance to sack Sothron."
"Indeed," the King said. He carefully plucked a loosely rolled scroll from the papers on the table. Pyter noted the obvious waxen seal of Tantarill on the lip of the paper. It had been broken completely in half. The King unfurled the parchment and Pyter carefully read the treaty, his mouth dropping open.
"I had known we’d pressed them hard in your father’s years, My Lord King, but not so hard that they would shirk their pride for this opportunity."
"My thoughts exactly," Vaesyrio put in. "The King has skillfully bartered this treaty to the mutual and limitless gain of all parties." Pyter ignored the Seneschal.
"Quinn will fight with us? Against a realm that has heretofore given him no cause to take arms against?" King Garimaddon snorted.
"The sanctimonious nobility of Tantarill will bow to profit as well as a sword. We expect treachery on their part, but our dear Vaesyrio has set things in motion so that we will have both warning and the power to defeat them easily."
"But," Pyter interrupted, frowning. "Even our two nations together may not be enough. Tsimaerone is—"
"Doomed," Vaesyrio chuckled. "Quickmarsh has invested much in this venture already. Cruen’t has promised us armories full of their wares. Only Sylvane resists our entreaties. Something about peace and quiet and how we humans are so volatile."
"Needless to say," the King put in. "We must march through Sylvane to reach Tsimaerone. If we must march with them or over them it’s little matter to me." He chuckled darkly. Pyter frowned.
"I do not understand this, my Lord King. We band with out enemies in Tantarill to threaten our allies in Sylvane that we might make war on a country that simply refuses to treat with us?"
"Look at the map, Sir Knight," Vaesyrio urged. "Tsimaerone is the center of all the known regions. If you control it you control all."
"There is no if," King Garimaddon declared. "We already control it. The people there just don’t know it yet."
"I must say, My Lord King, that I would not wager in our favor. Tsimaerone is said to be extremely powerful. And the other northern kingdoms will not rally to an invading banner if Tsimaerone is as honorable as is told by travelers."
"Let’s just say we have an extremely powerful ally awaiting our bidding," the King sneered.

---

Pyter was given a day’s rest before he was to head west to the main army. It was to be his paramount command and he found he disliked it, and not simply because Vaesyrio was at the heart of it. It was wrong.
Nevertheless, he spent the evening in good cheer with his wife, Eleanor. He slept late the next morning and ate a small breakfast. Then he went to see to the quartering of his men who would ride with him in two days. As he returned to the barracks at the edge of the city he was accosted by a strange woman. At first he thought she was going to beg a few silver from him and so he slowed his horse. She was youngish, with a wild look to her. Herlong dark hair was muddy and tangled. All of her clothes were threadbare and brown. She had a bow on her shoulder and witch-woman’s collection of trinkets hanging from her belt. A single green sash was the only color to her. It ran from shoulder to hip, loosely, and was as filthy as everything else. And there was a striking scar on her right cheek.
"You!" she said grabbing the bridle of the horse and pointing at him. "You’re the one!" Pyter cocked his head at her and opened his mouth to apologize for not recognizing her as she obviously knew him. She cut him off though. "You must stop them, Sir Knight! Stop them all before its too late...too late...too late..." Her voice trailed off and she looked at the horse. "Corruption marches on us, while you march on friends!"
"I beg your pardon?" he said. She made a peasant’s superstitious gesture to ward against evil.
"GO! Stop them before the Corruption gobbles them all up like flesh ridden with pox!" She started to laugh, and let go of the bridle of his horse. "Too late...too late...too late," she sang and made an absurdly graceful pirouette that carried her into the arms of an approaching city watchman.
"Sorry, milord," the guard said. "She’s been at everyone on ‘orseback since dawn. We’ll have her thrashed and put out." The woman struggled in his arms apparently still trying to dance. Her eyes were locked on the sun overhead.
"The sun is too far away to help!" she cried suddenly. Pyter looked at it and then back at her. "The gods know. The gods know what you bring on the world. They retreat! They recoil from the Erl-King."
"Right you stupid, gilly," the guard said attempting to keep her upright. "An’the faerie queen’s a comin’ t‘ave supper with you. Come on then." Pyter let them go, though he felt a desperate urge to hear more of the madwoman’s prophecy. As it was it had already sufficiently darkened his mood. The Erl-King was a childhood story. The only one he could remember that had frightened him right up to the time he was learning the sword. But it was just a child’s spook tale. Adults used it to get their wayward children coming home by dark.
He returned to the castle and spent the remainder of the day with his fellow knights, talking of his campaign in the mountains.

---

On the day before his departure it stormed. The clouds roiled in from the sea like waves themselves and blanketed castle and city both in cold grey rain. Pyter spent the day readying his men. They would ride at sun-up on the next day. The weather made everything a task. Sothron was mostly horse shit and piss in the best conditions. Adding rain made it more like Quickmarsh than one might believe.
He returned to the castle at dusk to find it locked up tight. It took the guard long minutes to lower the bridge and let him pass. They said the King had ordered the extra security. Pyter did not question further. Instead he chose to inspect the castle guards in their routines. He never did trust the soft men who took the easy military assignments in castles.
It was while he was on the wall that a troop of black robed figures came to the gates and stood silently waiting. Without a word the bridge was lowered and the gates were opened. Pyter cursed and hurried down from the wall in time to catch the newcomers and the guards in the gatehouse.
"What’s going on here?" he demanded. The gate captain glanced at him curiously.
"Lord Vaesyrio ordered directly that these folk be allowed entrance, Sir."
Pyter looked at the six robed and hooded men and the smaller form in their midst. On impulse, he pushed into their group, jostling one of them and causing him to drop one end of a chest he helped to carry and ignoring it. He pulled the hood back from the small one and gasped. It was a child, a young girl. Her face was half covered with pox. She stared at him with one good eye and one milky blind eye. Her grin was frighteningly wide and full of rotted teeth. She started to babble at him. The incoherency of her of her words startled him. He recoiled some.
"What is this?" he roared and turned on the other robed figures. They were hurriedly picking things up from the chest which had spilled on the ground were it fell. He was only able to see a dagger fashioned of black stone with green wisps of some mineral in it. He was not sure but he thought the green might have actually glowed in the shadows.
"This is my business, Sir Pyter." He looked up and into the eyes of Vaesyrio. The Seneschal stepped up to the babbling child and stroked her hair. Then he pulled her hood back up over her head. "She’ll catch her death. Shame on you, Pyter," Vaesyrio admonished with a sardonic grin.
"Bring no evil into this house, wizard, or I’ll see your head on a spike," he threatened.
"Evil, Sir Pyter? Why, that’s your area of expertise. I am just doing our Lord King’s bidding."
"I’m certain that’s what you keep telling him," Pyter spat. "He should have turned you out years ago." Vaesyrio’s eyebrows raised until Pyter could no longer see them beneath the hood. "Get them inside and begone from my sight."
"As you command," the Seneschal bowed with an insolent sneer on his lips.

---

Pyter woke suddenly from his slumber. The candles were out and no light shown through the slats of the shutters but the rain was still battering away at them. He rose and grabbed for his sword. Something was terribly wrong. Things always were when he woke early. On more than one occasion he had woken hours before dawn, unrested and unable to fall back to sleep. On each occasion something had happened or was about to that would always be to Pyter’s dismay. His wife stirred and touched his hand as he stood by the bed.
She spoke something drowsily, but all he heard was a half-crazed woman’s voice warning him. “Eleanor!” he said sharply. She snapped full awake. “You must dress. Pack up what you need! Ride hard for the camp. You’ll be safe with the troops.”
In the dark she stared at him, terrified. “Pyter…?”
“You must go. Something is not right here.”
He had no time to don his armor, though he had no idea how he knew that. Instead he pulled on a robe and girded his sword at his waste. As an after thought he picked up his shield. Outside in the hall it was quiet. Small candles burned in sconces at intervals down the hall, but he could see them flickering and he himself could feel a steady breeze. He ran in the direction the breeze was coming from. The corridor passed other doors, all closed. At the end there was an open door that led out onto a landing. He stopped there. Then turned back to the door, horror claiming him slowly.
The door had not been left open. Rather the solid oaken planks simply weren’t there anymore. Of the metal braces that had fastened the wood together and to the hinges there were only corroded stumps of rusted metal that slowly but steadily disintegrated before his eyes. He looked from them to the stones that comprised the wall. Vaguely luminescent green cracks seemed to pulse like veins in the stones. He stood back from the door and followed with his eyes, the glowing paths of putrid green. They were everywhere like a tree’s net of roots, yet moving too. They writhed on the walls, no through the walls. Wherever they passed the ancient stones of Castle Sothron were diminished, devoured. Pyter saw another tendril of green wrap itself into the hallway he had just come from and touch the first door on the right. The wood rotted before his very eyes. It took a matter of seconds.
Pyter plead with whatever powers favored him that Eleanor would make it out safely. He drew his sword and dashed up the stairs, careful to leap over any green tendrils he saw on the floor, and there were a few. They chased after him like dogs on tethers. It was a matter of minutes before he was at the top of the stairs. To his right lay the King’s chambers. Several of the green lines were pulsing in the darkness of that stair. To his left lay the entrance to Vaesyrio’s tower, from which all the tendrils extended that Pyter could see.
He dashed toward the King’s rooms. The stairs were a hazard, for here the tendrils were not so lazy, and they were obviously trying to get to him. He leapt stairs at a time to avoid them. At last he came to the hall with nine doors. Except there were no doors anymore. He peeked into the first room on his right and saw his King, or rather what his King had become. There was a mottled thing with the three-peaked crown of Sothron on its brow. It was otherwise naked. Garimaddon had taken an axe to his shoulder while still the prince of Sothron. It had healed well enough but the scar was still clear in his putrified flesh. This he could see on the thing that raped the girl within. Pyter stepped over the threshold, absurdly afraid that he might be reproached for his boldness in disturbing the King.
"My Lord King," he said. The thing never halted in its business but did look at him with eyes exactly like the one grey eye of the girl Vaesyrio had brought into the castle earlier. Then his lord grinned.
"She’s not cold yet, Pyter. Do you want to share?" The voice was not that of the King’s. It was phlegm-filled, and rasping. Without much thought, Pyter lunged in and struck the head from the thing his King had become. The crown rolled away from the head and the body slumped to one side. Pyter saw that the girl was indeed dead. Her face had been smashed in with something. He regarded the crown on the floor, unable to contemplate what he had just done. A tendril of the sickly green stuff touched the gold and silver circlet and Pyter saw the gold, and the gold alone corrode into dust.
He snarled and, with a cry of anguish ran from the room and down the stairs. When he came to Vaesyrio’s chambers he did not halt or go with caution. He only barely managed to avoid the green places in his rage. The Seneschal was there, in his chamber, surrounded by six robed figures. An altar had been erected in the center in a peculiar shape. Vaesyrio stood over the alter, his hands still on the haft of a the dagger Pyter had seen earlier. Its blade was buried in the stomach of the little girl. She was writhing in pain and anguish. The wound, Pyter knew, could take as long as an hour to kill her. The Seneschal held the dagger in the wound and so kept the girl from falling off the altar. Blood from the wound poured into tiny etched reservoirs in the altar and ran down onto the floor to fill up a pattern of what appeared to be six symbols. It seemed the symbol was the source of the green lines that destroyed whatever they touched. Arrayed in a circle, one by each symbol, were the six robed men he had seen with the girl. They were facing Vaesyrio. The arch-mage himself was looking up into the darkness of the rafters, an expression of pure elation upon his face.
The girl cried out, shattering Pyter’s indecision. "Vaesyrio!" he cried as he came into the room. The wizard’s head snapped down and met his eyes, his expression every bit as intense as Pyter felt. Pyter raised the sword and made for the altar.
Vaesyrio opened his mouth but then the room, the very tower shook with the sound of a voice. Pyter had in his days witnessed several exorcisms and dealt with no small number of demons. Never had he hesitated as he now did in the face of such. The voice was terrible. It filled the chamber, echoed through the halls beyond. It dwarfed the thunder peeling in the heavens. Pyter cringed. It was like a great nothing had opened in the noise that always can be heard. It hurt to hear it.
"It. Is. Done!" the voice proclaimed. The room grew dim and the tower trembled again. Vaesyrio looked down at the girl.
"She’s dead!" he cried. "She’s dead! It’s done!"
Sir Pyter regained his composure and leapt across the symbol at Vaesyrio. His sword pierced thick robes and feeble flesh, splitting the ribs apart and stabbing through the heart. Pyter took no pleasure in it. He had never relished combat. But there was a definite satisfaction in the act.
The wizard stared at him in amazement and Pyter, who had traveled the length and breadth of three kingdoms and had never seen such a thing, let go of his sword. From the body of the child, through the foul dagger and into Vaesyrio’s arms their flowed not a putrescent green tendril but an all enveloping coat of blue. Vaesyrio, clothing and all was covered in a moment. His skin became the color of a sapphire, though not quite transparent. His eyes were the color of the night sky.
"My reward..." Vaesyrio gasped. The sword slipped out of his chest and clattered noisily to the floor leaving not so much as a tear in the fabric of the arch-mage’s robes. Pyter stepped back.
Suddenly the six men at the edges of the symbols staggered and fell to the ground as one. As they fell a mist as blue as Vaesyrio’s new countenance remained in their places. This mist began to flow towards and then into the wizard. Pyter took another two steps back, getting off the bloody symbol. The arch-mage finally focused on him again.
"Why, Sir Pyter, I’d nearly forgotten about you. What was it you said to me earlier?" He let go of the dagger in the girl’s corpse and stepped round the altar. "Oh yes! You’d see my head on a spike!" He lifted his bloody right hand. There was a crackling sound as a small sphere of bluish light appeared in his grip. Pyter barely raised his shield in time. The wizard hurled the sorcerous sphere at him. The shield shook under the force. Before Pyter could gain his senses the wizard had thrown a second one. This one struck home in his upper right arm. It burned his flesh and shattered the bone within. He retreated, dazed. Another bolt of magical energy splashed on his shield and another slammed into the wall by his head as he dodged out of the sight of the arch-mage.

---

Nursing his arm, Pyter came down the now unstable stairs. The green tendrils in the stone seemed furious, frantic. He came into the great hall where his King held court and found many other people panicked. Some were desperately trying to evade the tendrils. Others were praying. Those who stood still too long were touched and they rotted, as the King had rotted. Some turned and attacked their comrades.
Pyter shrugged his shield off and grabbed the sword from a corpse at the foot of the stairs. With a roar he began to defend those who were too frightened to defend themselves. The walking corpses were slow, stupid and unafraid of the sword. Nonetheless the blade rendered them quite dead.
Sir Pyter never remembered how but from the chaos he managed to calm the people somewhat and lead them out of the castle. He was amazed to see that the deadly green veins had spread through the castle walls themselves and were already wreaking havoc in the city. Sothron was ablaze. The peasant quarter was completely on fire. The market district was a maelstrom of riots.
It was almost half a day before he managed to gather city and castle guards as well as his own host and guide the few relatively sane people left out of Sothron. On a rise to the west of the city and castle he stopped alone among many to look back. It was almost noon and the rains where still steady. Sothron was a blanket of darkness on the coast. Even the fires had been quenched. The castle remained and at the top of the tower he saw one single light coming from one window.
Created by Janna Oakfellow-Pushee at 05-28-14 10:25 AM
Last Modified by Janna Oakfellow-Pushee at 05-28-14 10:25 AM