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Synopsis

Within the realms outside Creation, all things are possible. It was there that the theft of the elements took place. It was there that true rage and hatred was born.
Now, the eldest of rivalries will clash to decide the fate of Creation with mortals and gods alike bound to the struggle. One soul. One choice. One Wielder of the Void…


Chapter 1

Forced Exodus

The sea air of the Thulsenan coastline was filled with bitter wisps of
brine that choked pedestrians walking along the seashore yet today onlookers
cared more about the living shadow over the water than the salty air in their
lungs. Gasping in astonishment or anxious with fear, the multitude of onlookers
flailed in recoil as great feathered wings lowered its massive feline body onto
the sandy beach. It came to rest in stoic majesty as though glossy ebon night had
been given a material form with which to perform its bidding.
The great hind paws sank deep into the damp edges of surf to support and
steady its body as it landed. Chest forward and wings pumping lazily, it glared
defiantly at those gathered to view its entrance. The total of its forward weight
came to rest on its left forelimb; its right glistened of open wounds with arrow
shafts driven deep from feline shoulder to avian foot. Within, the upturned paw’s
talons clutched protectively to a limp human form like a parent to vulnerable
young. A piercing screech peeled from the dark beak of the creature as it craned
its head to the sky; a shriek of pride, pain and warning.
Fur-lined shoulders hunched in exhaustion as the wings wrapped
themselves about the powerful feline torso. The black coat of the body mirrored
the ebony feathers about its neck; feathers which hid rivulets of blood, yet
more evidence of combat. Piercing amber eyes scanned for threat even now
and the throng cringed ever backward. Whether they stared upon the victor or
the defeated, the gathered audience did not know. These Thulsenans prided
themselves on being a stout and hearty people, not given to superstition and
mystical foolery. The fact that a creature borne of myth and midwife tales stood
before them chilled many to their very soul.
A groan emitted from the bedraggled form nestled to the creature’s chest.
Slowly the beast lowered what appeared to be a man though dirt, torn clothes
and long, wild hair seemed to make the form seem genderless. The beast’s hawklike
head darted in motions too quick to fluidly register with the naked eye as it
regarded its charge now lying upon the wet sand. Having deposited its burden,
the winged creature emitted another cry that seemed to rattle the cobblestones
of the streets and shake the dust from the mortared bricks of onlooking shops. A
storm of sand and water rose underneath it as its powerful wings lifted the body
into the early evening sky. At a speed unattainable with even the fastest stallion,
the creature retreated back the way it had come, heading west toward the golden
crescent of the setting sun. The body on the sand began to move.
“Good-ah… goodbye Triumph. Goodbye… my friend,” Malerick
whispered through his sand-caked lips.
Attempting to stand erect, powerful muscles and a haphazard beard
affirmed the onlookers’ suspicions; this was definitely a man. Wearily he came to
unsteady feet and began to wobble as much as walk toward the beginning of what
appeared to be a seaside marketplace. As he took his first steps, Malerick’s mind
noted that the architecture about him was foreign, the mode of dress unfamiliar
and the atmosphere distinctly different from his homeland. Indeed it was the
beginning of what seemed another world entirely.
The crowd parted as he made his way onto the rough-hewn cobblestones
of the street. A generous radius about him cleared as if he were at the epicenter
of an impenetrable penumbra. Pedestrians looked the other way as he scuttled by,
the most brazen of the merchants and loquacious of customers taking great pains
to ignore him should they pass his gaze. Whispers filtered to him of pedestrians
warning their countrymen to stay away or risk unwanted attention from the local
guards for involvement with an outlander. The scuffing of his old boots was the
only welcoming sound he heard as he made his way toward the central heart
of the marketplace. Shopkeepers in the process of storing their wares until the
following morn stopped and stared at the back of this vagabond staggering his
way into their midst.
“Excuse me good sir, but what manner of beast was that?” a portly man
asked in a strange accent that drew his words through his nostrils. He wrung his
hands into the hem of his berry-stained apron and gave off the smell of sweet
confections. His shiny bald pate glistened with sweat and his forearms were
caked in flour. Hawkers and customers alike scattered from about the heavy-set
man and the stranger he addressed as though both were suddenly struck with an
infectious plague. The speaker, however, simply smiled.
“What?” asked Malerick incredulously as if he misunderstood what
creature the man was referring. Following one stout finger’s gesture out to sea,
the bedraggled man suddenly understood.
“Have you never seen a graephon before?” asked the newcomer. The
quick shaking of that bald head was all the answer the baker afforded. The
disheveled man’s face sank farther into confusion. The baker smiled wider in an
attempt to cheer his audience.
“Sir, I don’t know who you are or what circumstances brought you here
but it would seem you’re in a better spot now than you were before. Trapped
within the clutches of a monstrous beast! The very idea is scandalous!” said
the baker. He smiled as he dobbed at the sweat of his brow with the edge of his
apron. The newcomer seemed to regain some of his composure.
“That creature was my friend,” he said as the baker’s brow rose in
disbelief. “Where am I?”
“Why good sir, you are in the Peddler’s Row of Tan Partha,” answered
those bulbous cheeks.
Malerick shook his head in disbelief. He knew of this place. Tan Partha
was the coastal crown city of Thulsena on the western coast of the Alumbrian
mainland. He was a long, long way from home and his eyes scanned about him
as one lost in unsettling environs.
“Can I ask where does such a creature come from sir? I’ve never seen
nor heard of its like before,” the baker continued.
“From Carthuis, my homeland,” Malerick replied dryly his gaze turned
to the western horizon.
“Carthuis? My, my, my. Across the sea a thousand leagues, they say.
Greatest navy north of the Icewall, they say. I believe even Fang Shiu Khan
may fear them,” the portly man stammered. Amazement graced those generous
features as though Malerick were a fantastical attraction in a menagerie and not a
simple man.
The Carthuian paid them little heed. His mind was stammering, searching
for what he knew of Thulsena, what could be useful for him now. What he could
recall was very little.
The previous queen of Tan Partha was not of the kindest persuasion and
relations between the Thulsenan and Carthuian monarchies were tenuous at best.
She had been dethroned by invasion when he was but a child and Carthuis’ King
Agremagne had refused trade with Thulsena after some sour transgressions with
its usurper, Fang Shiu Khan. Fine Tan Parthan silks were a great commodity back
home. None of this was of any help to him now.
Malerick sighed.
“Might I ask how old you are sir?” the baker muttered as he dry washed
his hands with his flour-saturated apron. What did his age have to do with
anything? Malerick thought. Why did it matter? A quizzical look crossed his
features as he decided whether to answer such a peculiar question. But then, what
could it hurt?
“Twenty four. How old are you sir?” Malerick replied. Perhaps asking
the same question of the man might hint at his purpose. The baker smiled a gay
smile, but a mischievous twinkle flashed over his eyes.
“My good man, I make the soil seem young,” he barked quizzically and
patted the back of the younger man’s shoulder.
“You should head east of here and look for an inn marked the Lady’s
Grace. It’s a fine, fine establishment ran by a fine, fine woman. She will help you
if need be. If not, then I am sure the entertainment will be quite to your liking.
And might I suggest a bath, good sir. The barmaids are quite delectable, but only
if one is groomed properly,” he said. Again he dry washed his hands into his
apron.
Malerick found the portly man appallingly nice and peculiar in a way the
outlander could not place. Something seemed amiss that caused the Carthuian’s
hackles to rise. He nodded but was unsure whether to take the portly man’s
advice. The baker seemed to sense it.
“Good sir, from the looks of you I would say you lack the coin for so
much as a bath. Here,” the baker said and pressed a thick gold sovereign into
the outlander’s grubby palm. A strange script marked both sides, one having a
finned serpent coiled about the edge eating its own tail. The beast’s body was
wrapped about a strange blocky symbol, prominent and slashed in odd waves
that Malerick only perceived could be some language that he was unfamiliar. The
opposite side showed a ship with sails that were ribbed like the wings of a bat
and more of the strange block text around its lip.
“Very generous of you,” the outlander replied. The heavy coin was
certainly more than standard fare for beggars, he thought. He had no idea the
balance of currency in this new country but back home this would be a sizable
amount of money. Beside himself, Malerick felt his earlier apprehensions melting
away.
“So you accept my token then?” asked the baker.
“I do! I will find a way to repay you,” blurted Malerick as he bobbed the
coin back toward his benefactor in thanks. The baker waved it off as trivial and
smiled an impossibly large grin in return while the Carthuian shook his head at
the funny little man. Along the road to the west a commotion had started as men
in dark livery forcibly pushed their way toward the baker’s storefront.
“Go now boy. The city’s guardsmen take harshly to outlanders. By order
of the khan, you’re not welcome here. Head east toward the Lady’s Grace. The
house matron is one of the very few Thulsenans with a soft spot for outlanders,”
urged the baker. Malerick could only nod and turned eastward toward this inn.
“Gentlemen! He went this way!” bellowed the baker as he shooed the
outlander with his hand behind his back. “He darted through my store!”
Malerick smiled and wished to thank the portly man but there was no
time. He looked back over his shoulder as two large men in livery stopped before
the baker’s threshold and slowly entered, swords drawn.
,(.
The baker closed his storefront portico to any further disturbances from
the street outside. Shops were closing as the day grew long with people rushing
to finish last minute business along Peddler’s Row. The baker would see no more
patrons; his work was done. The mangled bodies of what once had been two city
guards, his final visitors, cluttering a dark corner of his shop. Pitiful fools.
So much time had passed and yet now it seemed all too soon. Thick
fingers itched nervously at his skin as his apron dropped to the floor. This was not
his floor, nor his shop and certainly not his flesh. Humans were disgusting and
their skin made his crawl. Why did they have to be so… soft? He shivered as he
walked through the door leading into the oven room.
A smell wafted to his nostrils as he passed before the huge bread oven.
The stones were still warm from this morning’s baking, the coals still glowing
somberly. Pastries and half-made dough lay strewn about in mounds of baking
flour. A large burlap sack of the white powder rested in the corner and leaning
against it was what a one time had been a large man, bald headed and jovial. Of
course without his flesh none could have discerned his hairlessness or his smile.
The sanguine remnants of what once had been a hand rested atop the sack as
though clenching it to remain within the world of the living. That flour would be
useless now. The absorbed blood had clearly ruined it of its purpose. The baker
laughed to himself.
“All is finally ready. You told me I would know him when I saw him, that
it would be unmistakable. You and your little games, ha!
“Well I have found him. All the pieces fit. To think it’s been so long,
so long that I have waited. The next the tercentennial cycle is at hand,” he said,
slamming his fist down on the kneading table. Clouds of white and red flour fell
all about the room.
“Finally, another chance! And this time all will be fulfilled,” he
continued, laughing to himself. The body in the corner shifted slightly causing a
small cake pan to tumble into the viscera on the floor. The baker gave a start as
though realizing some unfinished chore in his routine.
“Oh yes, you. I almost forgot,” he said. Sighing to himself offhandedly,
he walked over and picked up the body by the muscles of the forearms.
“Shall we dance?” he said and laughed as he twisted the skinless corpse
about the room. Small pieces of fat and tissue scattered from the open gaps
between the muscles and bones. The baker heard a crunch as his boot shattered
several digits on the corpse’s left foot.
“I’m sorry!” he gasped and dropped the body into a heap on the floor. “I
remember you being so much lighter on your feet,” scolded the bulbous man. He
paused and tapped his lower lip in quandary.
“Oh, now, now, what to do with you?” he muttered while scanning the
room, clicking his tongue to the roof of his mouth as he continued to tap his right
index finger to his lips. His eyes swiveled in their sockets to lock on the massive
bread oven.
The portly man grinned malevolently and belted another guffaw as
he began pumping the bellows of the small fire inlet that heated the interior
chamber. The coals began to glow brightly in a vibrant red aura and crackled in
protest to being worked again this day.
“Yes, well now, you will simply have to stew over it, won’t you?” he
responded to the flippant coals. Releasing the bellows, the room fell silent and the
dead man’s rictus remained locked in impotent response to the joke. The baker
grasped the ruined body angrily below the shoulders. Such a clever pun and not
even a murmur out of the man; being dead was no excuse! None!
Hand over hand he unceremoniously fed the lifeless body through the
oven’s mouth. Fat fingers scooped up remnants of castaway viscera from the
floor and added them to the blazing container. Iron hinges of the aged oven door
squeaked in agony from lack of grease but he paid them no mind. There were
more important things to think on now. There was revenge to wreak and havoc to
sow. There was all of Creation to destroy and oh-so-little time to prepare. He had
waited so long and now his opportunity seemed ready to eclipse him yet again.
There was still so much to decide.
A pungent scent began to fill the air akin to beef being charred over
an open flame. Such a pleasant smell, he thought. Just needs some pulped
cranberries.
As he turned away a great groan wailed behind him. Cinders blazed and
coals cracked in showers of sparks that the oven’s door could barely contain.
Its stone walls radiated an oppressive heat while the iron door was progressing
to an orange hue. The shop’s oven apparently was not made to accommodate
ingredients in such quantity. It was good the fat merchant was dead, he thought,
for the man lacked the vision for competitive commerce with such a petite
instrument. Soon the thing might very well erupt. Who knew? There were so
many things about this trivial world that he neither had the time nor the desire to
contemplate. It was time again to focus on his penultimate goal: the eradication
of all Creation.
The white-hot oven door swung open and the stone mouth behind it
belched flames amid acrid smoke. Meat fat turned to grease consumed the oven’s
interior with a fire it could no longer restrain. Spilling forth, the floor became
a mire of blazing liquid that consumed bags of grain, flour, sugar, oats and
cornmeal. He could not have planned it better himself.
Peeling off the unwelcome skin, his true, twisted form stood stoic as a
vertical seam formed in the air before him. Reality distorted along the edges of
the rift as the seam widened like sliding doors made of warped, trick mirrors.
Beyond the rift a blank Void answered him with a colorless, odorless opacity
far outside Creation. His home realm beckoned and his Master awaited news.
Anxious to tell, his twisted mouth peeled back a wicked grin of sharp, misshapen
teeth. After so many centuries, He might finally be pleased again.

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Brock Roberts

Indianapolis, USA

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