The Way Things Were
From amidst the trees, fifty figures advanced onto the edge of a cliff surreptitiously, each one falling into straight lines as they awaited their leader to begin his speech. The field was blackened, darkened by their presence and the air was much thicker and colder then was typical for that time of year. Ometh stood at the head of forty nine of his brethren, dark swathed in billowing folds of black silk. His hungry red eyes shifted among his men and his metallic tones rang out in a clear note as he addressed the Black Hand.
“Today, we breathe in victory. We have spent countless years preparing for this assault; waiting for the time the Blackest Incarnation would demand we reclaim his past. To show the world how things could’ve been had Styx’s birth been hallowed rather than blighted.” Ometh marched across the rank and file, his crimson orbs boring into each Death Knight. “He is like we are, those created in his image. He was once a noble soul and sought to create peace and detested unlife. He was once the god of Paladins and remembers what it was like to revel in the Light.” Ometh paused, glancing away at the distant shoreline, his vision obscured by the image of the White Domain.
“Until the White Hand, who we once were, robbed him of that glory. Alexander is nothing more than a false God, the true Shepherd of Souls. We are Styx’s to command and his words spoke of the deaths of these blasphemers, who condemned us to this penitential existence with no care for us!” He roared the last four words out over the waves, his voice echoing below off the rocky cliff to be met with the crashing tide.
“The balance must be corrected at all costs or neither we nor Styx will ever remember the good in life. We will waste away, sinking into insanity and bitterness while those pretenders reap the benefits of their treachery.” Sorrow etched every word but Ometh clenched and unclenched his hands angrily, unable to come to terms with what their defeat would cost them. “You know what we must do, our duties to what we were demand as much. We must mete out justice, striking at the very heart of evil. Defeat your opposition my knights or we will languish in these bodies of ours, forever imprisoned. With their deaths, we will become ourselves again and reclaim our lives as Paladins. Such is Styx and Alexander’s wager, who through us shall also become as they once were.”
“Let us pray to the Gods who know the truth of the false King that sits upon the throne, let us pray for wings that we might swoop into our enemy’s abode. Let us pray for fire that we might shield our presence from their knowledge and let us pray that none of us fail in our duties. You cannot begin to believe the repercussions for failure.”
Ometh began intoning a prayer to Zephyr and immediately was granted what he desired; the bones underneath his robe expanding, tearing the fabric away as they sought room to exist, coming to a point behind him and then sloping downward and tapering off. A slight crackling sound could be heard as skin formed and melded together, giving way to feathers which coalesced in a matter of seconds. He gave them a reflexive flicker, watching as the scenario repeated itself forty nine times over. He tested the completeness of the spell by soaring upwards with a few flaps of his granted wings. As he landed, all of them walked to the edge of the cliff, the sole of their boots crunching the wheat colored grass flat.
Simultaneously, their hands shot out towards the ocean and they muttered an additional prayer to Apollo, asking for flames of a charitable magnitude. Rings of fire amalgamated within their grasp and as they were flung down at the shoreline the water stopped its advance and boiled away. Very slowly, a heavy blanket of mist began to rise up to greet them and Ometh began to chant once more. The mist draped itself around his force and they began their flight to the White Domain, gusts of wind swishing behind them with each flap of their great wings.
Lumeth knelt at an altar to Alexander, forehead resting on a single knee, all ten fingertips resting on the floor. His golden locks fell forth around him, silhouetting his face from view as he intoned a prayer. “Forgive us, our Savior, if we have not lived according to your tenets. Forgive me if I have not led the White Hand according to your desires. I strive in all respects to remain ever faithful to the cause of the Light but if I have ever failed or blundered in any manner, know that I only seek to appease you. May your Wisdom and Love shine upon us ever more.”
As Lumeth shifted upwards from his kneeling position, he noticed several of his men moving forward at a rapid pace, headed straight for him. Puzzled by their lack of regard for his privacy while he was at the altar, he walked forward to greet them. “I expect this intrusion to bear something worthy of note, otherwise you will not enjoy the duties to be given you tonight.”
With the utter look of foreboding stamped upon their faces and not even the flicker of a smile, Lumeth knew the situation to be far more serious than he had anticipated. “I jest. What have you to report?”
“Sir, the Black Hand,” The man at their lead hesitated. “The Black Hand is on their way here, through flight. They tripped one of the perimeter alarms and our men finally noticed a cloud of mist that wasn’t moving with the wind. Upon a true sight cast, one of the men was able to divine them within.”
“What are you waiting around for then?” Lumeth moved quickly, racing forward to the double doors leading to the Courtyard. “Sound the alarm and make sure everyone is armed, even the servants!”
“Done, sir. Lumina has already headed off to do so.” As he finished his sentence, the alarm began to ring, a low pitched whine letting the White Hand present throughout entire complex know that they were under attack by their most hated of enemies, the Black Hand. Lumeth charged past the double wide doors, hastily opening them and slipping out onto the deck at the top of the stairs.
Twenty of his men lined the walls, bow drawn and arrows nocked, looking out towards the east. Twenty five of them stood within the verdant gardens situated in the courtyard. The three that had come to warn him swiftly took their positions within the Courtyard, occasionally glancing up at Lumeth. Every single one of the Paladins diverted their attention from the oncoming assault to gaze up at the Speaker, bowing down on a single knee.
“Look to the horizon and you will see the bane of everything we uphold. Foolishly, they believe they can defeat us in our own domain and hold us in such little regard that they are willing to try such a bold, straight forward assault. You stand on holy ground gentlemen, consecrated by our own lord, Alexander. Your strikes and parries will come faster, your strength and speed multiplied tenfold. They cannot hope to defeat us when they are so obviously at a disadvantage yet still they will try with everything they have to defile and corrupt the world. “
Lumeth paused, glancing to see how long until they arrived and continued. “We have but one duty; to ensure the sanctity of life remains uncorrupted, unblemished by the hands of Styx. Strike fast and strike well , my brothers. We cannot fail, for if we do, the cost is far too heavy for the inhabitants of Nimera.”
He finished just in time to see Ometh and his forty nine knights descending into the Courtyard, each one grasping the weapons at their sides and drawing them forth as they quickly moved forward, intent on seeking out their counterparts among the White Hand. A few of them cackled in elation as they found their match, issuing the appropriate challenge and fading out of view quickly with their correct match. Several Paladins began a small retreat to the steps, looking for favorable ground. Lumeth himself had a few Paladins on his heels as he entered the chapel and as the Black Hand moved forth into the temple, more of them disappeared from view as they encountered their opposition and finally, Ometh stood face to face with Lumeth himself within the vast hall.
“Lumeth of the White Hand,” Ometh drawled, clutching the massive mace at his side with renewed vigor. “I challenge you before the Court for determination of the Throne. May your God grant you mercy in death.”
“My God grants life, not death. It is you who shall rejoin Styx within the river.” Lumeth shot back as the world began to dissipate around them. Whenever a challenge was issued by either member of the Hands, they essentially began to exist within an alternate dimension, placed there for combat by their respective Gods who often fought another for control of the Heavenly Court through their worldly avatars, the Paladins and the Death Knights.
Ometh’s weapon was a massive two handed mace with two hafts. When necessary to fight in a dual wield style, he could pull the mace head apart into two tear shaped half circles. Lumeth wielded a large broad sword and normally kept two long swords buckled to his waist as a precaution against his adversary but today, as his luck would have it, he had not thought to bring them with him.
Ometh raced forward, his two handed mace clutched behind him and brought it around in a vicious sideways chop towards Lumeth’s midriff. The Paladin quickly followed the direction of the mace, staying out of the way of clumsy weapon’s reach as he unsheathed his sword and brought it around to Ometh’s backside. Billowing folds of black robes shot upwards and Lumeth heard the distinctive ring of his sword tip hitting the cobblestone as Ometh landed on top of the blade, still swinging his mace in the same direction he had originally taken. The impact of the blow took Lumeth by surprise and he felt himself soar lightly through the air to come crashing into the base of one of the pillars in the Chapel. Aware of the moderate amount of pain he had inflicted, Ometh quickly pressed on, not wishing to lose a single second of the clear advantage he had gained as Lumeth propped himself up on his hands and knees.
“My weapon moves more swiftly today, blasphemer. Here in your own hallowed halls shall you fall, answering for your misdeeds.” Ometh stated mockingly to him as he brought his weapon crashing downward from overhead. Lumeth proved faster however and quickly rolled out of the path of impact by pushing off his knees and holding his weight on his hands. Even as Ometh brought the mace upwards to catch his opponent, Lumeth had already pushed off his hands and cart wheeled to the right, bringing him right to his sword. He picked it up as Ometh came running at him, bringing it up to bear just in time to avoid catching a thrust into his stomach and turned Ometh’s mace off to the left. He quickly reversed the direction of his parry and brought it up to Ometh’s neckline, scoring a hit and catching the clasp of his hood.
Lumeth grimaced as he unveiled Ometh’s skeletal face, one devoid of any flesh whatsoever. Twin red pin points flared for a second and the metallic, chilling laughter froze Lumeth’s blood as he remembered what it was he faced. One of the clearest advantages these beings had were their undead state. As they both spun around to face one another, Ometh continued as he stalked in towards Lumeth. “I will not tire, I will not falter and I will not die.”
Ometh’s confidence unnerving him, Lumeth side stepped and backed away from a fairly straight forward assault, his eyes catching hold of several openings but failing to take advantage of them. Pondering his course of action, Lumeth saw an opening he couldn’t refuse as Ometh brought his mace around in a slashing gesture.
Quickly he slapped the flat of his blade against the backside as he leaned back away from the head of the mace, pushing it outwards in an attempt to put Ometh off balance. He deviously twisted his sword afterwards, attempting to run the edge of his blade through Ometh’s neck with his own momentum.
Ometh anticipated the move however and Lumeth was shocked to find his blade stopped short as he evaluated the situation. The Death Knight had already begun to unsnap his weapon into two smaller maces and Lumeth himself had aided him in forcing them apart when he had attempted to push him off balance, resulting in Ometh slinging his weapons up to catch his blade in between the parted heads and snapping the Mace together, effectively rendering his sword permanently immobile. He wasn’t quite done however and Lumeth stumbled, losing his grip as he felt the weight of Ometh’s foot collide with his chest, making him fall face first into the cobblestone.
Lumeth began a chant to Zephyr so that he might quickly escape this scenario but he began to feel a curious sensation within his chest and his eyes widened as he spat up blood, the words becoming nothing more than a gurgle amongst the torrent of crimson spray that began to flow from between his lips. He gazed up briefly to see Ometh moving around him, snapping his mace back together.
Impaled upon my own sword! Lumeth smiled to himself as he realized the absurdity of the situation but fear began to seep into his head as he realized what his loss meant for the world. He didn’t even flinch as Ometh swung his mace low, caving in his face with a powerful blow, killing him instantly.