Chapter 24: The Resurrection of Vindicor-Kimber
Copyright© 2011 by Celtic Bard
The Dei-Xhan removed his mask and looked down upon the giant of a Gnathar child, disbelieving. The same spell that had incinerated the Gnath had not only been cleaved in half by the child's weapon to explode harmlessly down slope, but neither axe nor Gnathar were damaged in any visible way. "Boy, where did you acquire that weapon?" the sorceror inquired in an almost haughtily cultured manner.
Jonar gazed implacably up at the sorceror and shrugged. "Not that it will matter to you, but from a Gnome in Meikar," he replied grimly, advancing toward the sorceror. "You are responsible for the death of my wife, sorceror. If it takes a lifetime, I will see she gets the justice she deserves. Starting with you."
The Dei-Xhan shook his head and smiled, making Jonar pause and frown. "Not I, youngling, not I. As so many of those down below, I too am merely a minion following orders," the sorceror explained with a chuckle. "Oh sure, I am much farther up the chain of command than the Gnath-fodder below, but I, too, have my superiors. After all, I am Lord Dzar, not Prince Dzar or Captain-General Dzar. I am merely the tool my kinsman and his allies in Outland have used to bring us to this place in time, my young friend."
Jonar frowned at this. Being a good Imperial Gnathar, he had never taken much time to actually speak to a Dei-Xhan; he merely killed them and got on with his day. "But-"
"I know, you, as all other Gnathar in the Empire of the Gnath, think all Dei-Xhan are the spawn of demons. It is best to simply kill us and be done with it. Right?" the sorceror asked with a lightly mocking lilt to his voice as he circled Jonar, his eyes on the axe the young barbarian kept between the two of them. "That is a finely crafted weapon given to you by someone who knew the path you would travel, my young friend. The Clerics of Light do not part with such things cheaply, but I doubt you paid what it is worth. There have been truthseekers propping you up and leading you around by your nose from the beginning of this, if my guess is right. They told you that the only choices in this dance were to retrieve the Axe of Sol or die, didn't they?"
Dzar raised his hand, interrupting Jonar again. "I know, I know, they never said it quite that bluntly. It was always implied, insinuated. But this is the moment of destiny, my young friend. The choices simply teem, with possibilities streaming off into the future from each possible choice until you make that choice. You control what goes on here. You decide where this world goes from here. Can you pick that Axe up and smite me, my men, and all those whom you find wanting? Of course! And that is the path the truthseekers would have you follow, with them subtly shading exactly who it is you find wanting," the sorceror's gravelly voice said silkily, his will oozing all over his words as they entered his ears and were processed by his brain. It was no spell, not exactly. It was merely truth, as seen from the sorceror's point of view. A side of truth Jonar had never been presented and was having trouble refuting, even in his own mind. "What you, undoubtedly, will always come back to in this moment is the death of your mate. Such things always clear away some of the choices automatically, of course. Such as the possibility of you simply walking away from this moment of destiny. Turning your back to it and telling the Gods to find somebody else. I know there had to have been points along your journey here where that sounded like a good alternative to picking up that Axe. The Bearers always have such tortuous lives and the burden of Bearing the Celestial Objects is heavy. Not everyone is suited to it. But you got this far, you heard the Voice, and you answered the Call. You obviously have what it takes to get here. But that, believe it or not, is the easy part. What comes after picking up the Burden is the hard part. Are you up to that? And if you are, how will you proceed from there? Will you be the pawn of the truthseekers and the Clerics of Light? For that is the path they would have you tread.
"Or perhaps I could enlighten you about another way ... a way which would place you over Prince Keilun Dzar of Lunland and Captain-General Unkur Dashsson of Outland, them at the mercy of your vengeance for your mate. For it is they who are responsible for this bit of divine theater that has taken place this gloomy day in this drab, lifeless scrap of earth. It is they who summoned all of those warriors being ground into so much gabressi meat down below us by your prodigious friends. It was they who gave me my orders and those of my underlings. Sol's Axe could just as easily be used to rid the world of them than be used upon a lowly minion such as myself on your way to heel at the feet of the truthseekers who sent you here," Dzar offered, his voice dripping sincerity even as it was threaded with malice and hate, not of Jonar, but of those against whom he would send a Vindicor-Kimber-armed Jonar. A most wickedly tempting partnership, yea, friendship even, in some strange, twisted way.
The sorceror watched the barbarian warrior's eyes as the sun lowered behind the peaks to the southwest. The light of the sun had been wan all day and as it faded, the Netherlands around Mount Gyru got no dimmer. The brilliance from the battling Gods, the glow of Illuminants, the flashes of sorcerous detonations, and the eerie light of the aurora suddenly flaring in the sky all blended into an unnatural luminescence that kept all of the combatants below and the two circling enemies above well, though softly, lit.
I listened to the words the sorceror directed at my new master and marveled at his cleverness. He reminded me of more than one of the Bearers of my siblings, Darkblade and Soul-Drinker. Truth, every word, though shaded to mean something much different than somebody else would have put it. Shaded to insure that my master's mind roiled with turmoil. He was young and clung to some of the naiveté that probably endeared him to his mates to begin with. By the time most of my previous masters came to me, naïve was not a word that could be used to describe most of them.
I watched and listened as the sorceror made his attempt to coax my master not only to not kill him, but to in fact join him in his bid to depose his kinsman. I longed to whisper my advice into the young Jonar's mind, but I felt compelled to stay out of this battle of wills. Compelled by the same being that comforted me so many centuries ago when my last master fell, delivering me to this icy spire of rock in the middle of the barrens that are the Netherlands.
And so I watched.
Jonar's eyes never left the sorceror, even as they circled one another, eventually putting Jonar with his back to the frozen corpse of Justin Justinian and Vindicor-Kimber some feet away now. Gnusyl had circled with him, a strong presence at his back, but had remained silent throughout. Without glancing over his shoulder at his friend, he thought, What he says is not wrong, Gnus.
The Gnath snorted, glaring at the sorceror, his mouth watering at the thought of eating the wicked man so that they could get off this rock pile and got back to their friends. His Pride had already routed the Dei-Xhan's minions, the combined forces of Lunland and Outland fleeing north in the face of the Gnath charge. His mates and Pride were even now below feasting on the aftermath of their glorious victory. But, for some reason, he did not charge ahead and bite this ... enemy in two.
"Doesn't mean he is right, either. Whether he was the one who gave the orders to be here or not, he was the leader these enemies looked to. He was the one who had the man who killed your mate looking for us and attacking us. That Illyana was killed may have been an accident, but it was an accident only in that it was she, not you, who was killed by the arrow. Truth is a wonderful thing, Jonar, but that does not mean truth cannot be used to cover lies and that is what this one is trying to do. Think about Illyana and what it is she deserves and then decide what this one is saying is wholly true or not," the Gnath replied with his mental voice devoid of reproach or encouragement or any other flavor that would give Jonar an idea of what the Gnath was really thinking at that moment even as his eyes practically glowed with the thought of eating the man before them.
Jonar thought about that; thought about what letting this sorceror, truthful or not, live and it made his blood boil, almost throwing him into a berserker rage. A blonde-framed face floated in his eyes, calming him with her smile, her eyes twinkling mischievously. Everyone, Jonar thought. Everyone who was even remotely part of the decision process that led to his Illyana's death was a dead man! If she cannot be in my life, see our child born, grow up with me, grow old with me, then nobody else involved with her death will either!
Lord Dzar's mouth firmed and he drew out two cleaver-shaped short swords from beneath his robes. "I see. Your eyes hold a death sentence in them, my young foe," he pronounced, his rough voice sounding a doom that was borne away on the howling wind. "A death sentence not only for me, but countless others as well, do they not. So come, we will end this in the manner of men on this night of Destiny. The choices narrow and your path goes through me, young Bearer. See if you are up to this task." The sorceror hefted the weighty-looking blades, weaving his arms in a deadly dance before coming to guard.
Jonar, caught off guard that the sorceror read him well enough to read his decision before he had given it voice, firmed his grip on the great axe weaving menacingly between them.
In most races, axes are an unwieldy, clumsy weapon used either by unskilled or burly soldiers to give them a weapon that will do a lot of damage by combining strength with the weight of the weapon. In Gnathar and Jotnar and some few Dei-Xhan, however, their strength was such that axe-fighting took on a whole other level of sophistication and almost graceful beauty. Gnathar warriors kept their axe blades razor sharp and used them as cutting weapons as other races used swords or even daggers. Add their strength to that, and the axe took on a gracefulness races such as the Ce'al wielded with swords.
Though certainly no master, good breeding and practice over the last year with men who were masters had refined Jonar's movements and the Dei-Xhan's eyes widened as Jonar's hands wove the large weapon through the air between them with graceful ease. Dzar was old, perhaps the oldest sorceror living. He had seen many a Gnathar barbarian waving an axe about. None had approached this level of apparent skill and comfort with the weapon. Very little penetrated the centuries' old arrogance of a Grand Sorcere the age of Dzar, but as he darted forward in the opening move of this final gambit, he felt something crack the façade of towering conceit justly built over his long life.
Jonar watched the sorceror's chest and saw the first muscle spasm that indicated the Dei-Xhan was going to move. He easily parried the darting thrust of the right hand blade and narrowly dodged the sweep of the second blade swinging towards his torso in the left hand. The young warrior realized that not only was the Dei-Xhan fast, but the two blades were going to erase much of Jonar's height and weapon advantage. Jonar followed up the dodge by swinging his axe high and kicking out low at Dzar's knee. He was blocked by the crossed blades and Dzar quickly pushed his weapon to the side and leapt backwards, avoiding the kick. He quickly darted in again with a slashing combination of moves that had Jonar on the defensive.
Around and around the ring of now watching Gnaths the two combatants clashed, avoiding the shrine around Justinian and backing Gnusyl up to the frozen, deceased Bearer. The ring and bellow of steel on steel chimed out a rhythm as old as the Races of Man, singing out the hatred and enmity flowing from the clash of sword on axe and the grunt and snarl of combatants. Gnusyl watched Jonar defend against the swiftly striking sorceror, fretting as he saw the direction the fight was going. Jonar was bigger, stronger, and tougher, and his weapon was a fearsome thing in his hands. But he was much slower than the sorceror and the sorceror, it appeared, was a master with the double blades he wielded.
Jonar came to the same conclusion even as the sorceror penetrated his defenses and ripped his blade along Jonar's side. He felt the blood begin to trickle down his left flank even as Dzar darted forward again, trying to capitalize on his hit. Jonar blocked another strike to his left at the expense of leaving his right open, allowing another slash through, this time high on his shoulder. Dzar darted and weaved around him. Dancing a pattern of death by a thousand cuts as two more slashes got through, a shallow one to his right cheek and a deeper one to his left thigh. Jonar's eyes began hazing red and he fought for control. Going berserk against average foes might work, but doing so against someone this skilled was going to get him killed faster. He fought with all of his might not to lose control. He swung into a slashing-kick-thrust combo that drove Dzar back momentarily and allowed Jonar to hear the satisfying sound of breaking ribs as he connected his right foot to Dzar's left side.