Thread Contributor: IyoforeayoThe Arrival
#1
Chapter 1

‘You’re lucky to be as alive as you are.’

Iyoforeayo heard the thought clear as day in his mind, before the rest of his senses took hold. A searing pain washed over his face, and the thieflord cried out… or at least tried to. His voice rasped out of his throat in a painful wheeze, that soon turned into a desperate gasp for air.

‘Try not to put too much strain on… well, any of your organs right now. I’m honestly surprised they weren’t ripped right out of your body.’

Still blind, Iyo felt around the ground nearby, which appeared to be just under about two inches of water. His hands padded over the mossy, submerged stone before his fingertips finally grazed the familiar hilt of the Shadknife.

‘There I am.’

As soon as his trembling hand wrapped around the sword’s hilt, the pain in his face instantly diminished. Another gasp for air - this time out of surprise - and Iyo felt the coldness fill his lungs and soothe his aching throat, as if his body had never breathed before.

“What… happened?” Iyo finally managed to get out.

‘Well your little experiment worked… almost.’

By this time, Iyo had just about blinked his surroundings into focus. He lay in a devastating crater at the end of a ruined sewer tunnel, which slowly drained its rubble-filled waters into the pit. The walls and ceilings around lay in absolute ruin, amidst several small fires...

And suddenly, everything came back to him. The harvesters bearing down on the besieged city of Auru, ripping the very land into the sky. The final call to let loose the untested Obelisk, in the desperate hope that it would somehow work. The Aurulians sprinting through the streets to set off the arcane charges that anchored it. The air filling with electricity, stinging, suffocating, and then-

Iyo winced as he was gripped by a searing headache. It subsided almost instantly, as if his mind was rejecting the memory of that particular moment.

“Iyo!”

He looked up to the source of the voice, and was relieved to see the familiar face of the Prophet Ajaxan peering over the edge of the collapsed ground above.

“Are you able to climb out of there?” Ajaxan shouted down.

“I think so,” replied the thieflord, pulling on a vine dangling nearby.

“Good. You need to see this…”

It took a moment for Iyo to get his bearings after pulling himself to his feet. A few seconds of wavering while the blood returned to his legs, and soon he was sheathing the Shadknife in his hilt and pulling himself hand over hand up the hanging vine.

As he reached the top, Ajaxan offered him a hand up. Iyo smiled, relieved to see his old friend in one piece - though the Prophet’s smile lasted only a moment before furrowing in alarm.

“What?” Iyo asked.

“Your… your face…”

The thieflord turned, kneeling beside a nearby puddle of clear water. As he peered over it, he found he barely recognized the face that looked back at him. The once-smooth flesh was now scarred and burned, leaving only the crudest outline of his features. Iyo raised his hands to the edges of his hideous visage, feeling the ruined skin nearly torn from his skull.

The horror of Iyo’s realization was cut short by the annoyingly sarcastic thought that the Shadknife spoke directly into his mind:

‘What’s a little facial scarring between friends?’

The cold sentiment filled him with sadness, as he fully took in the image of the monster he had apparently become, staring back at him from the shimmering puddle. Then anger gripped him - at himself, at the Obelisk, at the inanimate sword that had chosen him to torture with its constant intrusions into his thoughts-

“Are you alright?” Ajaxan asked, placing a hand on the thieflord’s shoulder.

Iyo whipped around, batting the Prophet’s hand away in a snarling rebuke. “I’m fine.”

“How did you-?”

I’m fine,” he repeated, harsh and pointed. He felt the anger subside, and suddenly turn to shame that he had taken it out on Ajaxan. Iyo grabbed the tattered green hood of his cloak and tugged it over his head, shadowing his face. “And you’re alright?”

“As far as I can tell. But look…”

He turned to show the scene behind him, and for the first time, Iyo saw what had become of their city. Auru lay in ruins around them, every building and road shattered, as if it had been dropped onto the land from some great height and blasted into pieces. At the center of it all, the base of the towering Spire rose up to nearly half the height it once stood - above that, the shattered pieces of it’s top half seemed to hover in mid-air, near where they once would have been anchored to the structure itself. And floating above it all…

The Obelisk. The dark, prismatic artifact of their own design; a crude marriage of science and magic that existed only to delay the end of all things. A device activated in a panic, long before it should have been, without any proper knowledge of the extent of its power. A device that had once been held in place above the Spire with great chains, anchored to smaller artifacts across the city - but now seemed to float above the ruined tower of Auru of its own supernatural accord.

Iyo stared up at the great crystal that held the shattered pieces of the Spire in stasis around it, like some crude painting of a memory. A million thoughts and questions raced through his head then, but they culminated into one that overshadowed them all:

“Where are we?”

Ajaxan turned to look at him, answerless.

“And the others?”

“You’re the first person I’ve found… alive.”

Iyo tugged the green cloak tighter around his face as he turned down the ruined road. “Well then let’s keep looking.”

The two men scaled the rubble of Auru, turning over the shattered spruce and cobblestone that had once stood proudly along its roads. To the thieflord’s chagrin, a great many bodies lay strewn beneath the crumbled buildings; terrified townsfolk who had met their end under a fatal collapse.

It was amongst the ruins of the Alchemists’ Guild that he found the first sign of life beneath the rubble: the stirring body of Tee Alduin. Iyo pushed the cobble aside, being careful not to further upset the injured form of Auru’s head alchemist.

“Tee? You alright? You with me, buddy?”

The man was barely conscious, muttering something that Iyo couldn’t make out until he had gotten close enough to lift Tee from the collapsed building:

“Jed… Jed…”

“OK, you’re alright,” Iyo affirmed, “let’s get you out of here.”

He linked his arms under the alchemist’s shoulders and freed him from the rubble, getting Tee to a nearby clearing where he could tend to his wounds-

“Got another one!”

Iyo froze. The voice didn’t belong to Ajaxan, nor any Aurulian he could remember hearing. Affirming the instincts that suddenly coursed through the thieflord’s veins, the Shadknife echoed its sentiments into his mind: ‘Hide.’

He dragged Tee to the low cover of the nearest ruined foundation, and waited. He listened for the nearby footsteps, counting the pairs - four, six, eight - before a gravelly voice shouted back to the first in response:

“Bring him to the cave with the others.”

It was then that Iyo locked eyes with Ajaxan, who had likewise taken cover behind a building nearby. The Prophet mouthed something silently across the broken plaza, which the thieflord discerned as something close to ‘look who they have…’

Slowly, Iyo peered out over the low side of the wall behind him. Less than a hundred feet away, a group of cloaked, huddled figures - over a dozen, from what he could tell - dragged an unconscious body towards the ruined outer gates of the city. The group shifted and turned, and suddenly Iyo saw who was being taken…

“Tyrriel…”
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#2
Chapter 2
 
The last thing Tyrriel remembered was staring up at the Obelisk as it crackled to life. He couldn’t see the far plaza, but if the thing was working, then General Xovious had succeeded in detonating the last charge.
 
Now the statically-charged air around them started to spit and crackle, seeming to suck up all the oxygen around them. Tyrriel felt his lungs tighten as the air became harder and harder to breathe. He gasped, looking up at the experimental artifact in terror.
 
‘Something’s wrong,’ he thought, choking on the crackling air as it filled his lungs and spread throughout his bloodstream. ‘It was too soon to-’
 
Then darkness.
 
***
 
“Got another one!”
 
“Bring him to the cave with the others.”
 
The voices swam in and out of focus in Tyrriel’s mind, as he struggled to pull himself up from unconsciousness. He could barely feel his body, but had the sense that he was still wearing his armor. And that he was moving…
 
‘Being dragged, more likely,’ he thought, but no sooner did he start to wonder who was moving him, than a wave of crippling pain tore over his body. He felt it for only a few seconds before mercifully slipping back into the darkness.
 
***
 
It wasn’t a voice that woke Tyrriel next, but a searing pain in his right arm. His vision came back to him in a painful blur, as he squinted to bring his surroundings into focus. He was staring at the damp, rocky ceiling of a small cavern… and the pain in his arm was someone slicing into it
 
His first instinct was to cry out, but Tyr noticed that they’d left his helmet on… and that the hooded, gloved figure beside him had not noticed the Aurulian was awake. The pain was excruciating, as the carver sliced further down his arm, but Tyrriel remained motionless.
 
‘Just hold out for another few seconds so I can gather my strength,’ Tyr thought, grimacing through it. ‘Then I’ll--’
 
Suddenly the figure stopped cutting, and Tyrriel breathed a silent sigh of relief. He stayed as still as possible as the figure turned his arm over, letting the blood drip down onto the rocky floor. From the edge of his sightline through the visor, Tyr could see a small chunk of obsidian being placed underneath his open wound.
 
He watched as his blood streamed down, dripping onto the black rock. Where it splattered against the obsidian, it began to sizzle like a dying campfire. But after just a few seconds, the reaction dulled and Tyrriel’s blood oozed down the dark stone as one would expect.
 
Whatever result the cloaked figure was hoping for, it didn’t seem like this was it. Tyrriel heard the thing growl with impatience, as it reached for its bloody knife and raised it high over Tyrriel’s chest.
 
The Aurulian hadn’t been sure his torturer was even human to this point; but now as he looked up, he saw the figure’s cloak fall back a bit. Enough to reveal a pale, withered wrist beneath its gloved hand, and the distinct outline of a human jaw jutting from beneath the shadows of its hood.
 
And then the knife was plunging downward. Tyrriel felt the adrenaline he’d been saving til now fire throughout his nerves as he snapped his left arm upward to grab his assailant’s wrist. The figure reeled back in surprise as the Aurulian clutched a bare hand around his wrist, staying the blade.
 
Tyr sat bolt upright to face his attacker head-on… but as he finally saw the face of the man beneath the hood, he noticed his pale, sunken eyes go wide with shock. Beneath Tyr’s bare hand, the skin around the man’s wrist withered and tightened around his darkening veins. The man choked and gasped for air, as if his heart and lungs had suddenly given out. The knife fell from his hand, and Tyrriel watched the man’s eyes loll before crumpling to the ground in a heap.
 
‘Was that… what did I…?’
 
Tyrriel stared at his bare hand, white-knuckled and trembling. All he’d done was grab the man’s wrist… and now his assailant lay dead at his feet, blood welling behind his lifeless eyes.
 
Footsteps echoed around the corner of the small cavernous room, and the Aurulian felt his instincts kick in again. He pressed himself against a nearby rocky outcropping, his eyes darting to the bloody knife in the middle of the room. Too far to reach, and yet…
 
A second cloaked figure strode around the outcropping, his narrow eyes darting down to see Tyrriel’s hand just as it shot up under the man’s hood. Tyr felt his right hand slam into the man’s nose, and he sunk his fingernails deep into the sides of the man’s face.
 
Instantly, he twitched and struggled beneath Tyrriel’s grasp. The knife he had started to draw from its sheath tumbled to the ground, as he thrashed violently. For a split-second, Tyr felt the man desperately biting the hand covering his mouth… but it soon stopped, as the life seeped out of the Aurulian’s second victim.
 
No time to question-’ his mind screamed at him, bombarded with thoughts and emotions, ‘Grab your stuff and get out of here.
 
Tyrriel snatched his discarded armor from the pile in the corner, and wrapped himself in one of the dead men's cloaks. His sword was nowhere to be seen, but he armed himself with the two discarded knives of his attackers before making his way further into the cavern.
 
Voices echoed throughout the cavern, as he made his way deeper and deeper into the rocky tunnels. Lit only by the occasional torch jammed into the crag of a stone wall, the Aurulian crept his way towards the dull din of chatter. The tunnel grew wider and wider, eventually feeding out onto a high ledge overlooking a vast antechamber. Tyrriel knelt low, pulling himself to the edge of the overhang and peering over into the cavernous room. What he saw below horrified him…
 
Surrounding a cabal of cloaked figures below, a dozen Aurulians hung chained from the walls.
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#3
Chapter 3

The world that swam into focus before Tee’s eyes was one he did not recognize.

“Jed...”

But it was not Jed’s face that he saw peering over him. Rather it was Ajaxan, sporting a look that quickly turned from concern to relief as Tee began to stir.

“I thought we’d lost you,” Ajaxan said with a smile. “I should’ve known you were tougher than that.”

Too many thoughts raced through Tee Alduin’s mind, which was already pounding with the pain of going through-

The alchemist eyes went wide as the memories came flooding back to him - the great battle in the streets of Auru, the Obelisk charging, the air filling with sparks and fire, before…

Tee looked to the Prophet in astonishment. “It… it worked?”

“Somewhat.”

Even with his head still swimming, Tee noticed the slight falter in his friend’s smile that accompanied that response. It was then that the alchemist began to notice his surroundings - the familiar rounded walls of the Spire’s interior that he lay propped against was in ruins. The streams of sunlight pouring through the gaps made it hard to see much outside, but they illuminated the shattered floor around them. Throughout the room, a half-dozen wounded Aurulians lay upon whatever makeshift cots or sleeping rolls had been cobbled together. Tee recognized the few closest to them: Fawkes, the city’s chief engineer, as well as a few younger lords whose labored breathing revealed them to be worse for the wear.

“What did we do, Ajax?”

“What we had to. We’re alive because of it.”

“And the others?”

Whatever smile was left on the Prophet’s face fell away. “Iyo and Tyr are alive, as far as I know. Everyone else I’ve found so far is either in this room, or…”

Tee didn’t need to hear the end of that sentence. He was already dragging himself to his feet to stagger towards one of the Spire’s ruined walls. As he approached the open air, Auru’s city streets came into view - but where the colorful stands of Market Row once dotted the western road, Tee now looked out onto nothing but ruin. The modest houses, the cobbled roads, the carefully-crafted sconces that framed Auru’s main thoroughfares - all lost beneath layers of rubble and ash. Throughout it all, the bodies of fallen Aurulians lay strewn about - far too many for him to count, too many to-

He felt the bile rise up instantly, as the horror and grief took hold of his stomach. The alchemist barely had time to drop to his knees before he was retching onto the ruined floor. The acid burned his throat, his eyes watered - but it was nothing compared to the sickening thought that seized Tee’s mind: We killed them. They trusted us, and we… we killed them all…

“Tee…?”

When he was finally able to catch his breath, he turned to see the Prophet now kneeling at his side. But Ajaxan’s look of concern was focused on the ground beneath Tee.

“What just came out of you?”

It was not a question Tee ever expected to be asked, so it took a moment for him to register. But as he followed the Prophet’s gaze to the stone floor next to him, he saw what had so shocked his friend: a black, bubbling ooze that slowly seeped into the cracks between the ruined stone bricks. Tee wiped his mouth with the tattered sleeve of his robes, leaving behind specks of the same pitch black bile.

Don’t move.

The voice wasn’t Ajaxan’s - it was much too gravelly, nearly growling out the order. As Tee looked up at the Prophet, he saw him frozen beneath the jagged axe-edge pressed against the back of his neck.

“Either o’ ye move an inch, and this one’ll need a new head afore ye can blink.”

***

The mouth of the cavern was not far off the main road out of town. Iyoforeayo had kept his distance while following the group carrying Tyrriel, but held back once they descended into the cavern itself. Iyo wasn’t sure if and when the next group would come up the road behind them, and the last thing he wanted was to be flanked inside those tunnels.

Not a bad place to post up, Iyo thought to himself as he hunkered down behind a nearby outcropping of rocks. Outside the ruined walls of Auru, palm trees dotted the lush grasslands and beaches of what appeared to be a decent-sized island. Auru’s heavy spruce-and-cobble architecture, perfect for insulation against the harsh winters it was built to withstand, now looked quite out of place in this tropical climate.

‘Road’s clear,’ Iyo heard the Shadknife whisper after a patrol veered off the road and into the cavern’s maw. ‘It’s now or never.’

The cave opened into a tunnel wide enough for two or three to stand side-by-side, but dropped down rather steeply into a tunnel system below. Iyo stepped lightly, straining to hear the murmured voices that echoed off the walls; though between the clamber of footsteps and dragging chains, nothing was intelligible.

‘Chains? What are they doing down there?’ Iyo wondered.

But then another sound drew his attention: something slow and methodical, and much, much closer. Slicing.

The thieflord needed only to turn the corner to find the source of the sound, as he stepped into the opening of a small chamber. An unconscious body lay on a slab at the center; a hooded figure stooped over it, running a jagged knife down its arm.

Kill it!

Iyo had never heard the Shadknife’s intrusive thoughts so seemingly desperate before. Scared, almost…

‘Kill it, kill it now!

But there was no time for him to consider before the hooded figure looked up from its ritual, dropping a chunk of obsidian from its gnarled hand and lifting the jagged-edged knife high. In a flash, the thing was charging Iyo, slashing wildly. Instinct took over then, and Iyo lept sidewards out of range of the hooked blade. Finding his balance, he dug a foot in and pivoted around to see his attacker turning to meet him.

The hood had fallen back, and Iyo now saw the figure for what it was - a pale, balding man with a crazed, far-off look in his eyes. Not exactly the menacing opponent Iyo had feared beneath that cowl, and yet the Shadknife’s panicked urges rang even louder in his head.

‘Now! Do it NOW!

As if realizing suddenly that his jagged knife was no match for the range of his opponent’s sword, the balding man hurled the knife toward Iyo’s throat. The clumsy throw was easily dodged, but not without slicing a deep line across Iyo’s shoulder.

The thieflord winced, but the adrenaline quickly numbed the pain. In an instant, he raised the Shadknife to shoulder-height and drove it through his attacker’s throat, up to the hilt. But what he felt next was unlike anything Iyo had ever experienced…

A surge of energy shot through the blade and flowed down his arm, coursing through his bloodstream with violent heat. Iyo felt every nerve, every muscle pulsing with renewed life. He heard the Shadknife cry out in relief, as if it were tasting water after nearly dying of thirst. ‘That’s what you’re doing, isn’t it?’ Iyo realized, knowing the sword could hear his thought clearly. ‘You’re drinking…

We are…’ it responded simply. Iyo looked down to the knife wound on his shoulder, and watched in awe as the split flesh began to weave itself back together, stemming the blood that had been flowing freely from it just moments before.

Suddenly the surge of energy stopped, and Iyo noticed that the balding man’s already-pale skin had achieved a new lack of color. ‘He’s dry,’ was the thought that echoed in Iyo’s mind as he pulled the Shadknife’s blade out of his attacker’s throat, and the bloodless body crumpled to the ground.

‘Feeling a bit better now, aren’t we?’ the Shadknife said. Iyo raised the sword up to wipe the blood off, and saw that none remained on the blade. Instead, he was met with his reflection in the pristine surface of the metal: the horrible scars that had once covered his face were now… dulled. Healed, even. Iyo saw a face he recognized from before the Obelisk, marked only by the faded scar tissue of his old wounds.

“Iyo…”

He spun around to see Tyrriel, standing in the opening of the chamber, a look of concern on his face as his eyes moved from the thieflord to the blood-drained corpse at his feet.

“Tyrriel… the Obelisk… it did something to me…”

“Me too,” Tyr responded, tugging at the gloves he wore. “But it’ll have to wait - there’s something you need to see.”

The two Aurulians made their way deeper into the tunnels, approaching an outcropping that overlooked the large main chamber. Iyo peered out over the scene that Tyr had left only moments before - a dozen Aurulians, chained across the walls of the cavern.

“Lord Xalar,” a voice echoed from below. “We’ve found one.”

Iyo and Tyr crept closer to the ledge, getting a view of the group of cabalists that now strode into the chamber. The one they addressed, Xalar, stood before a stone podium of sorts. The body they presented him was unconscious and bound in chains from its ankles to its mouth, making it hard for the Aurulians to see its face.

The one named Xalar leaned down to inspect the chained man, then looked up at the others. “Let me see.”

The hooded cabalists quickly dragged the captive to the stone podium and flipped him on his back. As his chains were wrapped around the pedestal, the Aurulians finally saw his face…

“General Xovious...” Tyr whispered. “What are they doing with him?”

With the chains secured, one of the cultists grabbed Xovious’ right arm and pushed up the sleeve of his tunic, revealing several recent scars. The cultist drew one of the horrifically-jagged knives and made a new, careful incision near the others. As the blood dripped from the new wound, the one named Xalar produced a chunk of obsidian and held it beneath.

As soon as the first droplet of Xovious’ blood touched the rock, the obsidian erupted in purple flames. As more blood poured down onto it, the flames crackled and intensified - Iyo thought for sure the flames would burn Xalar’s arm to the bone, but the man seemed to endure it without even a flinch. He lifted the fiery obsidian higher, and Iyo saw the flames illuminate Xalar’s wide-eyed expression.

“The essence is strong with this one,” Xalar said to the others, still holding the flaming rock aloft. “You’ve done well. Chaos take us all.”

Chaos take us all,” came the synchronized reply.

As the flames began to subside from it, Lord Xalar began waving the glowing obsidian chunk through the air, as if tracing a rune. Suddenly, the stone seemed to tear into the air itself, and a horrible ripping sound echoed throughout the cavern. Iyo and Tyr watched in awe as the stone tore open the air itself to reveal a rippling black portal, out of which poured a deafening cacophony of screams.

The cultists unwrapped Xovious’ chains from the pedestal, and Xalar hoisted them over his shoulder, using them to drag the Aurulian’s body behind him as he advanced toward the black portal. As the cabalist dragged his captive through the open rift, Iyo heard his final orders to the others echo back through amongst the din of screams:

“Kill the others.”
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