The Thief of the Rose
Copyright© 2012 by R22CoolGuy
What came before...
The Orion sector, Rito III, 3158 GST (Galactic Standard Time)
Reginald Ravensblade, Harpist of Time, sat idly watching the roulette wheel spin as the small gold ball travelled around in the opposite direction waiting to find its home. An unassuming man of medium height, dark hair and unusual eyes, one brown and one blue. He was of medium build, well fed but fit and carried himself with grace and dignity.
He was in the Maytag Casino, the largest, most prestigious gaming establishment on Rito III, a pleasure planet known for its gaming establishments. Reg had been on the planet for a week and had just finished his latest quest, another task where time had been manipulated. Several unscrupulous men had found an ancient relic and were using it to alter time to win at the various games of chance, most notably this very game of roulette.
Reg was dressed in a fine silk black tuxedo with crimson bow tie and cummerbund. The sword hanging from his left hip was conspicuously out of place, but no one had called him on it even though he had been sitting at the table for some time. The large stacks of chips sitting in front of him were a testament to his skill, so perhaps the sword was as well. Either way, the other patrons, as well as the casino's employees, were leaving him alone. His thoughts were interrupted by his sword.
"My Lord, he comes," the sentient Runesword on his hip, Timekeeper, announced telepathically in a hushed, almost reverent voice.
"Who?" Reg asked, absently grasping the pommel, but still watching the wheel.
"22, black!" the Dealer announced as the wheel slowed and stopped, showing the ball sitting in the pocket of the black even number.
Reg watched as a modest stack of chips were slid over to his position at the table. He had been steadily winning for the last several hours. He removed several of the largest denomination of chips from the stack and leaned forward and placed them on 23 red.
"The Creator," the sword replied. "He is looking for us."
This time Reg did detect the reverence in the sword's voice. Reg looked up as a short, unassuming, elderly man sat down to his left at the gaming table. The old man was dressed in a tan cotton jumpsuit, of the kind worn by elderly men everywhere. Zippered in the front from crotch to neckline and held in place by a built in belt with a silver buckle. Attached to the belt on his right side was a large rune inscribed ring holding several intricately wrought keys of differing size and shape. He had closely cropped hair the color of burnt orange and crystal blue eyes. A strange dress for this upscale establishment.
"Harpist, we finally meet," the elderly man said by way of introduction. "I am called Dao."
"I have been halfway expecting a meeting for some time," Reg replied with a nod. "You look more like a maintenance man than who you truly are. The key ring is an unique touch."
"Maintenance man, Creator, it amounts to the same thing, do you not think?" Dao chuckled. "You like the key ring? It holds the keys to the universe."
Reg could feel an almost imperceptible shudder from his sword. He glanced down at it with a frown. "Melvina said that eventually you would want to meet me."
"Yes, you are an anomaly," Dao eyed him intently. "I am very curious about that."
"How so?" Reg asked, with a tinge of irritation. "Because I, a mere mortal, was able to draw Timekeeper from its stone?"
"No. More like you, a mere mortal, are fairly pulsing with Eldritch and the Eldritch of a WitchLord," Dao replied. "That is a little strange considering your race is not Tarran, do you not agree?"
"A gift from a friend," Reg shrugged. "An unintentional result of saving my life."
"Yes, very strange circumstances and very unique. I do not believe it has ever happened before. I was unaware that it was even possible in the first place."
"You sound surprised," Reg replied, eyeing him intently.
"I was surprised that your body was able to cope with the change and it takes a great deal to surprise me," he smiled. "I also wanted to thank you for saving my daughter. It was not strictly within your purview and yet you rendered aid when asked."
"You are more than welcome, I was honored to help and besides, the unintended results made it more than worthwhile," Reg replied with a shrug and smile. "But, that is not why you are here, is it?"
"Perceptive, very perceptive," he replied. "No, it is not why I am here. I am in search of a champion, a herald, or a troubleshooter, if you will."
"I already have a title and an occupation," Reg replied drolly, his hand sweeping toward the hilt of his sword. "And I am fairly sure that there would be conflicts of interest."
"No, you misunderstand me," the man shook his head. "I do not want you, just your impressions. Your recommendations as it were. No, I am thinking of your friend and benefactor, one Aaron Whiterune, WitchLord and styled thief."
"Then ask him, not me," Reg replied absently, more interested in watching the wheel spin and tracking the rotation of the ball. "I would not presume to speak for him."
"It is not a voluntary position," he replied with a shrug. "I need to know how he would handle himself under less than ideal situations. Is he as resourceful as he seems? Tell me everything you know about him."
"Why him?" Reg asked intently, now more interested in the conversation than the wheel. "He may not like being manipulated. Strike that! I know for a fact he will not like being manipulated."
"Many reasons," Dao shrugged, "not the least of which is the fact that he is dangerous where he is right now. Too strong for the current climate, if you will. His abilities are upsetting the status quo. He is disrupting the balance and it is unable to correct for him. I would rather make use of his unique talents than to have to put him down."
"Put him down? Are you even sure you could?" Reg chuckled, thinking of his friend. "Many have tried and yet he still stands. If he thinks you are truly a danger he would put down the 'Rose Swords' and call forth the 'Hand of Death'. I do not think even you would want that."
"No, absolutely not," Dao smiled a truly deadly smile. Reg chuckled having seen that very same smile on Aaron's face quite a number of times.
"No, we ... I need someone that could instinctually correct shifts in the balance," Dao explained. "Since he is an anomaly and outside the influence of the balance he would be perfect. There are numerous worlds and Mythos where his talents would be of assistance."
"What do you mean he is outside of the influence of the balance of things?" Reg asked and cocked his head. "Did you just not say that he is disrupting the balance on Andor?"
"Yes, I did," Dao shrugged. "The balance cannot adjust for his actions and has removed him from its calculations. That makes him perfect for what is needed. Your impressions, please?"
"He is single-minded and does not react well to authority," Reg tried to describe his friend. "He does not like people being taken advantage of. He never backs down from a fight, but he does not look for one either. He despises tyranny of any type, or any type of oppression for that matter. If pushed he does not just push back, he shoves. Hard. He is loyal to a fault. Balance that against the fact that he has no use for authority and no qualms about his chosen professions. He is basically evil, but even that may not be totally accurate, and has no qualms about how he achieves what he perceives as right. He is he who he wants to be, no facade, no hidden agenda. Does that give you some insight?"
"Yes it does," Dao's smile became genuine. "He is exactly what I need. After that glowing review it is about time that I met him in person. Do you still harp?"
"Excuse me?" Reg replied, perplexed by the change in direction of the discussion.
"I asked if you still harped," Dao repeated himself. "I ask because I would like to hear you play. Melvina speaks highly of you and your skill."
"Here?" Reg replied, sweeping his hand around the crowded casino.
"True," Dao nodded and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them the room was silent and more importantly empty.
"Harp for me Reginald Ravensblade," Dao commanded. "Harp for me and I will tell you a story..."
He called himself Dao and he had been searching the Universe for sometime; searching for a fragment of what was left of his home world, Archan. He had a name at one time but, with no one to communicate with or introduce himself to, that name passed into obscurity a long time ago. He remembered his nickname though, funny how you can remember the things that taunt and torment you and yet important things end up drowned in the waters of Nepenthe. His nickname was Dao, and that was all that he had.
Some within Dao's race had achieved the highest plane of existence and had cast aside their corporeal forms. They existed as pure energy and thought, abstract ideas, able to live amongst the stars, Dao was one such entity. That was the only reason he had survived the cataclysmic event that destroyed his home world, although it very nearly destroyed him, as Destruction is want to do to Creation.
After Dao regained consciousness he had tried searching for any of his family or friends and when that failed he reached out searching for anyone that might have survived the catastrophe. Surely, someone else must have survived? He had searched and sent out energy, feelers if you will, all to no avail. He could not believe that he was all that was left of the thousands that had achieved astral enlightenment, that he alone survived when others of even greater intellect did not. His only conclusion was that they must have hid for some reason, perhaps for the same reason that his world was destroyed. Perhaps there were outside influences that he did not know about. If that was the case then he needed to be careful and more importantly he needed to be prepared.
He grieved for the lost for some time and then decided that the best course of action to honor the dead was to start anew, start over and build a new world. He wanted to create something that would last, something that would be protected, something that would survive.
When the star providing warmth and light for his world inexplicably died, taking his planet with it, a new star had been born. The left over matter created a solar system with eight planets, seven of which could support life. Dao was cast adrift on the solar winds, for time immeasurable, until he healed from the aftereffects of the explosion and was strong enough to chart his own course. Staying relatively close to his original home world, he chose this new solar system and its third planet as his new home and settled on an island in an archipelago south of the equator. He had named several of the planets in this solar system. The third planet he named Andor, the fourth planet Goth, the fifth planet Tarra, and the sixth planet Omegadon. The other planets had not yet been adapted to support life.
The third planet was not uninhabited; in fact two separate, distinct sentient races had been seeded on the planet and had risen to the top of the food chain. As equal predators it naturally occurred that they became mortal enemies. Both races had reptilian characteristics: the Wyrms of the Sky were more serpentine in nature and the Guthards were more lizard-like. It amused Dao that life, it seemed, always started with the reptiles, although he had a small hand in that in the past. Both races were born of Eldritch and commanded the power within all living things.
Wyrms were large dragon-like sentient creatures that mated for life and lived and hunted in pods of six to eight. They were capable of breathing both fire and acid. They walked upright on powerful rear legs, but ran on four. Their front legs doubled as hands and they were nimble enough to weave spells with those front talons. Their powerful tail was both weapon and balance for their upright stance. Their race was further subdivided based on type; color being the more common, while metal the more rare, with platinum their royalty.
Wyrms lived in a loose monarchical society whose queen arose from the platinum family. The monarchy was handed down from mother to daughter. The queen's only responsibility was to rally her subjects during times of war or other strife. During all other times pod units lived a semi-autonomous existence, working together to better the pod or family unit.
Wyrms only clutched thrice during their breeding years, usually laying two to four eggs per clutch. After learning to shift their shape to humanoid, it was not uncommon for them to interbreed with the second age races. Whether they chose wyrm mates or humanoid mates, female Wyrms always produced a clutch that they tended to in wyrm shape.
Guthards were a warrior race of reptilian nature. Large muscled and scaled bodies, taloned fingers, broad foreheads, pointed ears laid flat against the side of their heads. They dressed simply, wearing only loincloths. When they reached manhood, the males shaved their heads bald with the exception of a single braided stalk of hair in the center of the back of their heads. The braids and hair bands denoted their respective tribes, as well as rank and honors achieved.
Guthards lived in tribal or clan villages, spread throughout the landmass south of the mountains. Inter-clan conflicts were not uncommon and in fact were normal methods of proving prowess for the males. They hunted in small, four to six male units, each taking part in both the kill and the spoils thereafter. Although primitive in appearance, their looks were dangerously deceptive. They were skilled trackers, hunters, and weapons makers. Their passage of manhood included not only the demonstration of their hunting, tracking abilities, but also included navigation by star position, combat methodology, battle plan and all matters related to warfare. Their females protected the village and their young, and provided input in warfare planning. It was not uncommon to find unpaired females assisting in hunts and village raiding.
The two races divided the main landmass into separate territories, with the Wyrms staking claim to the mountains and all lands north, while the Guthards inhabited the plains and southern lands. Other races began to flourish during the first age, but the first-borns maintained a stranglehold at the top of the predatory tree. The second age would change that.
It was from this new home that Dao had started his search for a fragment of his old home world, a fragment that would enable him to create magnificent instruments for both good and evil. He knew that the metal contained within the fragment would be far more powerful than any metal that he could find in this new world. No weapon created by the different materials that could be harvested from this new world would be able to stand up against his creations. That was his intent. The metal, he would name Archanite, and that others would later call Star Stone, would be unrivaled in its toughness and hardness, its ability to take and hold an edge, and would accept further enhancement, enchancement from Eldritch, more easily than other known metals. He rethought the notion that he would only create instruments of good and evil and realized he would also need to create great instruments to balance them. But before all that he would create an instrument that would protect this world, this Mythos. An instrument that could not be defeated, could not be overcome by force or guile, not by him or any of his kind, not by a force of nature, nor even by a dying star.
Dao was on the trail of a large chunk of rock and had been so for close to an age. It could have been longer since he had nothing in which to mark time with, no calendar, or any other way to mark the passing of time. Like the tail of a comet, the rock's essence had fanned out behind its travel through space. Dao had tracked its movement through this backwater galaxy, hundreds and hundreds of light years away from the supernova that destroyed his world.
The rock had passed close by the Yellow Dwarf that provided warmth for this particular solar system and abruptly veered course when snagged by the gravitational pull of the third planet from the dwarf star: a blue-green planet. He trailed the rock's path to the blue-green planet, where it had entered the atmosphere and crashed. He was astonished to find that there was life on the planet, sentient life!
The meteor had entered the atmosphere, passing close to the northern pole and had impacted the ground on the northern portion of an island landmass in the northern hemisphere. Having ascended beyond a corporeal form eons ago Dao followed the trajectory, invisibly, to the outskirts of a small village on a coastal area in the north of this large island landmass.
Dao's senses detected that a huge meteor had impacted here ages ago and a hut was currently sitting above what was left of it. He flitted about trying to determine the technological advancement of this settlement and was dismayed to find that they were not very far along the advancement scale. Rudimentary skills in agriculture and weapon manufacturing, coupled with poor sanitation and medicine seemed to sum up this society's advancements. There seemed to be some major event happening in the village square so Dao proceeded to the area and began to learn the language. What he found dismayed him further.
There was some type of public trial going on involving a woman and her three identical children. The woman was accused of, did he have it right? Witchcraft? These people were barbarians! Anyway, apparently the fact that her children were triplets and healthy had caused alarm within the village. Also the woman's small crops were always the first to come in and were always the sweetest, hardiest, or largest. A recent storm which had devastated the area had completely missed her home. Dao could feel the power pulsing from her, as well as from her children. The rock, that fragment of his home, must have leached its energy into the area and the little family must have been mutated by it. He wanted that rock and those children as well. The woman could not be saved if he wanted to take the children with him. Perhaps he could ease her passing, though.
He watched as the woman was led away to a stake and tied to it. She cursed the townspeople as bundled sticks were laid around the stake. A man with a lit torch threw it on the pile of sticks and they ignited. The children watched in horror as their mother was consumed in a bright white light and disappeared. The townspeople watching the event fled in terror leaving the children huddled together, alone and unattended.
Assuming the corporeal form of an elderly man, Dao walked into the square and stood before the children and addressed them in their native language.
"Your mother is gone," he said. "There is nothing more for you here. The village people are afraid of you and will only do you harm. Would you like to leave with me?"
"Why did she have to go?" the little girl asked.
"Well dear one, Death comes for us all in the end," Dao replied sagely. "Do you want to leave this place and go with me?"
After receiving nods from the three children, Dao cast them into suspended animation and hid them amongst his essence. Resuming his ethereal form he returned to the hut and, using the power of the rock, he lifted it out of its resting space into the air.
The rock was huge, at least 30 yards in diameter and denser than any known matter in the galaxy for its size. He noticed a glint of red and rotated the rock to find a large crystal of red. The crystal, mostly obscured by the surrounding stone, was almost four feet in diameter and over six feet long. A most unexpected bonus to be sure. The large rock with its ruby crystal was all that was left of his home planet after a supernova, and resulting black hole, destroyed the solar system.
The metal within the rock had power, naturally infused with the power of Eldritch and then intensified during the supernova. He dubbed the resulting metal archanite and would use it to create magnificent weapons. The archanite in its unrefined state was black in color and highly radioactive. When refined, the metal would change color to white and lose its radioactive qualities. In either state the metal was highly magical, and could be infused with even more power. At the very center of the rock the metal was in its purest and most concentrated form. He named it star of archanite and it was silver in color. The red crystal was a ruby and perhaps the largest he had ever seen. No, strike perhaps, it was the largest he had ever seen! It was also infused with Eldritch and pulsed with its own natural light. He was not sure what he planned to use it for but he did intend to use it as well.
Dao returned to his new home world of Andor with the rock of archanite and the three sleeping children. Taking on his new corporeal form he created a medium sized cabin next to a pool of water fed by a cold mountain stream. The cabin had multiple rooms and beds for each and Dao laid the children down and moved the rock to his mountain forge.
This particular island was dominated by a volcanic mountain and that was Dao's destination. He climbed the path that led to a vertical crack in the mountain's side and entered his work area. Having found the crack when he first picked this new home, he had enlarged the chamber and constructed a forge that was heated by the volcano itself. He scoured the mountains of the mainland for the material to create his anvil, and after finding what he needed he enchanted it with runes and Eldritch. His hammer was fashioned from the same material as the anvil and equally enchanted as well. Now, having the material for his weapons, he could begin his work. Setting the large meteor aside for the moment he went back down the mountain to wake the children.
Entering the cabin and checking on the children he was surprised to find them awake and huddled at the head of their beds, as far away from him as they could be. Surprised, because he had placed them in suspended sleep and here he found them awake. Their power was strong enough that he could feel it radiating out like the heat from a bonfire. He studied them for several moments trying to get a sense of their temperament.
"Do not be afraid, little ones," he smiled, while talking slowly and softly. "I am called Dao. You have nothing to fear, I will take very good care of you."
"W-W-Where are we?" the little girl asked hesitantly.
"You are at my home, your home now," Dao smiled. "What is your name, little one?"
"M-M-Melvina," she stammered in reply. "I want my mommy."
"Your mommy is gone, Melvina," Dao replied softly. "The bad villagers did not understand how special she was, or how special you three are. It happens with ignorance. Can you tell me your brothers' names?"
"My name is Driscoll," replied the boy to Melvina's right.
"I am Randolf," the other replied. "Is this really our new home?"
"Yes, you can stay here for as long as you like," Dao smiled. "It will always be your home. Now, who is hungry?"
Three hands shot up and Dao chuckled and led them outside where a table was set with fruit, breads, cheese and roasted fowl. While they ate, Dao learned that they were eight years old and Melvina was the unofficial leader. Randolf was the adventurer, while Driscoll liked to make things with his hands and loved animals. Although they were nearly identical, the boys at least, small differences in the boys' mannerisms set them apart. The children were beautiful, an adjective not normally used to describe boys. Melvina was clearly going to grow up to be a beautiful woman, while the boys would be quite handsome after they reached adulthood.
Dao explained that they now lived on an island uninhabited by anyone else. The boys wanted to explore, while Melvina wanted to stay close to Dao. Dao cautioned the boys that while there were no other inhabitants, there were still plenty of dangers on the island. They were to call out if they ran into trouble that they could not handle. Dao watched the boys disappear in the underbrush and then turned and smiled at Melvina.
"Well, little lady, I have work to do," Dao explained to her. "You can come with me and watch, but no touching, understand?"
After receiving a nod in the affirmative, Dao reached out and took her hand and together they climbed the path to his forge in the side of the mountain. Melvina looked around in amazement at Dao's workshop and forge. He politely answered all her questions and set a stool by his work table for her to sit on. Climbing up on the stool, Melvina watched Dao at work.
It took him the whole of three days to break down the meteor and begin the smelting process. He worked late into the evening each day and Melvina stayed with him the entire time. She was a patient little girl, asking questions when appropriate, but not bothering him at crucial moments. Like any other woman, her eyes lit up when he unveiled the ruby crystal in its entirety for the very first time. Her excitement level caused Dao to chuckle and he promised her that she could have part of it. He took additional time to cut the crystal in half and fused her half into the rock of the mountain cavern for later use.
He ended up with several stacks of bars of white archanite, as well as stacks of silver star of archanite. He withheld many large rocks of pure black archanite as well and fashioned them into useable bars with his hammer and anvil. Beside its other obviously magically properties, black archanite inflicted wounds tended to heal slowly or sometimes not at all. Dao assumed correctly this had something to do with the amount of alpha radiation the rock gave off. Discarding the remaining rubble he had the beginnings of several swords and many other weapon parts. He finally finished on the morning of the fourth day and started on runes of power.
Taking out a rolled up piece of parchment, Dao unrolled it and set small weights on the corners to hold it flat. Taking a quill pen and inkwell filled with ink he had prepared from a mixture of animal oil and powdered archanite, he began writing runes on the parchment. As his quill traced the lines on the parchment, a silvery viscous light appeared out of the air and flowed into the lettering, like water filling a trench. As each rune was completed it would flash with a brilliant silver light and rise off the parchment and into the air. The rune would hold its shape for a moment and then dissipate in a silvery glow, finally fading into nothingness. The mountain would rumble and the ground would tremble when each rune dissipated.
"What are you doing?" Melvina asked, looking at the parchment.
"Creating words of power," Dao replied, absently. "The written symbols are called runes."
"What are the runes for," Melvina asked, reaching out to touch the flow of silvery light.
The light shifted its course and began to flow onto her fingertips. Dao reached over and gently removed her hand from the flow. Melvina lifted her hand up and turning it back and forth to study the silver light encasing her fingertips. Her skin began to absorb the light until eventually none remained.
"That tickles!" she giggled. "What was it?"
"I imagine it did tickle," he chuckled as well. "It is called Eldritch and it is the life-force of this land. With it you can accomplish amazing things."
"Like creating runes?" Melvina asked, studying his writings. "You never answered me why you need them."
"I am going to create great swords of power," Dao replied. "I need the runes to bind the swords and give them great power. The words will also be the swords' true names. Runes can also be used as a type of magic; one that needs no outside power, the power will be contained within the runes themselves."
"Are they Runeswords?" Melvina asked, awe clearly in her voice.
"Yes, exactly so," Dao replied astonished. "Runeswords!"
"What are true names?" Melvina asked while studying his drawings.
"True names unlock special powers and give the one that knows the true name special control."
"What will the Runeswords do?" Melvina was clearly interested.
"Why, they will give their wielders, their lords, great power," Dao proclaimed. "Some will be for good, others for evil, and still others for balance. In their runes will be their true name, their power, and their binding."
"Can I help?" Melvina asked bright-eyed.
"I believe you already have," Dao laughed again, dipping the quill into the inkwell.
"Will you teach me the runes?" Melvina asked.
"Cauth," Dao explained as he drew the symbol, a capital 'A' with the tails curling outward and connecting the cross. "It is the rune of power. It will magnify your power if spoken at the release of your attack."
"Careem," Dao explained as he drew the rune, a horizontal line with two small circles, one at each end. "It is the counter rune. It will counter any attack except Himith."