My church cast me aside, but my god had not abandoned me. His power still stirred within my soul, strong and thumming. I felt its coursing strength begging to be unleashed upon his enemies. Through its force, I knew of his desires. His foes must be destroyed, and I was the tool by which he could purge them from the world.
My former comrades pushed me away, because they believed me too violent, to fervent in my desire to obliterate the evil from the world. I think they are too peaceful. They are too complacent. They, and others like them, are why evil has been allowed to take root in Aia. It is not the everyday evil of the mortals, either, but the loathsome, dark, infectious evil of the Dark One himself.
I found a hive of this evil: a nest of Khaiborn, tunneled into a mountainside. They were over a day’s travel away from any human settlement, but that didn’t matter to me. They were too close. So long as they lived within the sphere of Aia’s sky, they were too close. Some day, in the distant future, perhaps I will have banished them all from the world in Cylpher’s name. On that day, I made some small progress.
The Khaiborn carry the blood of demons in their veins. The influence is far removed, this many generations hence, but the evidence is still clear in their forms. Their skin ranges from sickly grey to to a black liked charred wood, and many have veins of red which lance through their skin, disguising the fact that their true veins bleed black. Their bodies resist the touch of flame, as is befitting of hellish creatures.
I watched them from a high ridge, for a time. They kept no guards. They lived in a mountainous, surrounded by deep forest. It was likely they had not seen a human here in months or years. It was possible there were younger ones among them who had never seen a human. No matter. They were a blight upon my world, and Cylpher’s calling drove me down upon them.
I could only resist for so long. Every moment I regarded them caused my lord’s power to seeth more violently within me. Perhaps it would have been wiser to resist, for a time, and study their habits. Perhaps I should have considered what martial force they may have been able to muster. I gave this little consideration. I knew that Cylpher would guide me well, and that his strength would be more than they could bear.
I descended from the ridge and fell upon them before they could register my presence. Two were coming up a path which led into the woods. They were laden with heavy baskets full of herbs and fruits looted from Lokyah’s bounty. My rage at this built: Lokyah, the God of Life, does not seed the world so that beings tainted by the Dark One can subsist.
With my spear, I struck them down, one after another. They scarcely had time to make a sound. The blade slipped easily into their hearts. Their wide eyes stared at me as they fell. Berries and apples rolled out of their baskets and onto the earthen path. Better that, I thought, than in the stomachs of such vile creatures.
I dashed across the clearing, heedless of what exhaustion it might bring upon me, for the Cylpher’s Light had arisen in my chest, and I knew I would feel no fatigue until I felt my battle was done. In my left hand, I carried a round shield. In my right, my spear, darkened already by the blood of the two khaiborn. On my back I had slung a mace, should my spear fail me, and on each hip I kept a dagger. My armor, two layers of leather surrounded thin plates of metal, creaked as I ran. Cylpher’s tenets decree that one can never be too prepared for battle. I agreed.
The khaiborn working outside saw me. They shouted in their twisted, foul language, raising the alarm for the others. I saw no weapons among them. They seemed to be doing mundane work: hanging clothing out to dry, churning something — I doubted it was butter, for they had no livestock that I could see — and cooking over a fire. I quickly overtook the ones who were cooking, though they turned to flee.
My spear flashed forward. I swept the legs out from under one of them and caught the other in the back, just below its shoulder-blades. I felt my blade slip between the bones of its spine. It fell, crying out, and tried to keep crawling forward, its hands slipping against the loose dirt. I gazed at them, lying pathetic and ugly upon the ground, and raised my spear high in the air, calling upon Cylpher’s power.
Twin beams of radiance rained down, emanating from the tip of my spear. They bored through the two khaiborn I had knocked down, silencing them and scorching the dirt beneath them. From around the clearing came screams, wordless and high, in contrast to the shouts they had unleashed earlier. I had frightened them. Good. Fear was a weakness.
The remnants of Cylpher’s radiance still clung to my spear as I ran toward the mouth of the cave, where the khaiborn that remained outside were fleeing, running toward it like water swirling down a drain. Khaiborn are small creatures, with the tallest of them coming only to chest height on a human, but if the entrance of the cave was any indication, it would be just tall enough for me to stand erect.
They could not all pass through the entrance at once, and so I came upon them where they clustered. Two turned, snarling at me, bearing their fang-like teeth and brandishing their clawed hands. I laughed at their temerity. They had neither weapons nor armor. One jumped at me, raising its hands to swipe with its claws. It was an attack with no martial merit. I crouched then lashed outward with my shield, meeting the creature at the top of its arc. It squeaked like a mouse being crushed underfoot and fell to the ground.
The other khaiborn with a modicum of bravery threw itself at my right leg, wrapping its arms around my calf. Opening its mouth wide, it attempted to bit my thigh. I spun my spear, flipping my grip, and thrust downward, piercing the disgusting vermin’s skull before its teeth could meet the armor that covered my leg. I scowled as its blood sprayed me.
I wrenched my spear from within the khaiborns head, then with a swift, efficient move, buried in the chest of the one I had bashed with my shield. I then raised it, regarding the ones that were escaping into the cave. Its tip flared with white light. Beams of radiance, imbued with Cylpher’s righteous strength, blasted forth. Despite their power, I felt no kickback. They pierced the fleeing khaiborn and passed through them into the depths of the cave.
I walked calmly over to their bodies. Some had survived, left with smoking holes in their shoulders or stomachs. With several quick jabs, I sent them to Oht. Or Khainorh, I hope. I can’t be sure of where khaiborn souls go when they die. I don’t’ care, frankly, so long as they aren’t here.
I stepped over them into the cave. Within, it was slightly lower than it appeared. I had to crouch slightly to move without brushing my head upon the rough stone ceiling. No matter. Cylpher’s strength still guided my body. My movement came effortlessly. The cave sloped downward. The khaiborn had laid boards over the ground, smoothing out what might have been a rough floor and allowing for easier passage.
Two khaiborn were running upward. Like their comrades, they wore no armor, but each of them carried a small, rough spear, with a head made of stone rather than steel. They were paltry imitations of my comparatively exquisite weapon. I laughed at them. They balked, seeing me their, my face fearless and laughing. I do not blame them. I’m sure I was a fearful sight.
They fell while still disconcerted and surprised, their bodies tumbling down the steps formed by the boards. I followed after them. The slope soon leveled out and the cave widened. Here the khainorh had actually built wooden structures, obfuscating the natural or carven shape of the cave and dividing it into rooms. It felt smaller than I expected, and I felt an odd, growing sense of disappointment, thinking that I had, perhaps, already cleared out the infestation.
I pushed open the door nearest to me. It led to a small hovel, hardly more than a room with a bed, but it was obviously intended as a living space. I pushed open the next door, and the next, going further down what felt more like a hallway than part of a cavern. Each was similar: a living space. Some were larger, some smaller, but it was clear that these were intended as places for the khaiborn to spend their time.
“Hey.” I jumped at the sound. A scratchy, high khaiborn voice, yes, but speaking in a human language.
I turned away from the doorway in which stood. Three more khaiborn stood a few yards down the hall. Two had wooden shields and spears and wore what looked like armor woven from strips of wood. The third stood behind them. It had what I could only interpret as a crown upon its head, though it was not gold, but instead a woven braid of some sort of twine.
“Leave this place,” the khaiborn said. “Or your soul will leave you.”
I scoffed. “You have no power to threaten me,” I said. “Your people are dead.”
“They are,” the khaiborn leader said. “And so you know we have nothing left to lose. Our spears will pearce your body, and we will drag your entrails out and wrap them around your throat so that you can feel the pain that you have caused us today.”
I dropped my spear and pulled my mace from my back. In these tight quarters, the longer weapon would be harder to wield. I tightened my grip upon the mace’s haft. A white radiance enveloped its head. “I will not die here today.”
The khaiborn leader said something in his own guttural language. The other two pushed forward, shields before them. The khaiborn with the crown had no weapons, and so my attention left me completely. That was a mistake. I rushed forward, hoping to surprise the two with the spears with burst of aggression. I had only closed half of the distance when a violent red light joined the white light of my mace.
A writhing ball of flame flew over the heads of the spear-wielding khaiborn, arcing toward my face. I brought up my shield. “Cylpher,” I intoned. “Shield me with your light!”
The power flowed out of me — I felt it. In the air, the edges of a barrier of light began to form. The next few seconds struck me harder than any blow I’ve ever faced. The shield crackled and faded away, failing to form. A tone rang out through my body, like the chime of a great bell felt by someone standing inside of it. The light at the head of my mace winked out, and the power continued to flow. Away. It drained from me, leaving me weakened, and I felt — not heard, but felt, with every fiber of my being — the answer to my prayer.
I threw myself to the ground. The ball of flame passed by close enough that I felt its heat. It struck the ground behind me. I glanced at its point of impact, fearful that it would light the wood on fire, but oddly, it splashed like water upon the boards, leaving no mark.
I pushed myself to my feet, grunting and full of fatigue. Immediate I was forced to meet the thrusts of two spears, blocking one with my shield and lugging my mace upward, barely managing to bat the other aside. I growled. Cylpher’s strength had left me. I had only my own. I had less than my own, for Cylpher had been woven into me like thread, and his departure left me weak and trembling.
Taking a deep breath, I roared. I could hardly lift myself, let alone my mace and shield, but from somewhere deep within I found a reserve. I brought my mace up and slammed it downward. The khaiborn on my left tried to meet it with his shield, but the angle was all wrong for him. My mace struck the wooden barrier, but I felt something snap, and the khaiborn cried out in pain. His arm fell limp at his side. I brought the mace around again, this time horizontally. It took him across the side of the head. He crumpled.
The other spear-wilder hissed. He rushed forward, coming inside my range. My head spun from exhaustion. I watched him as if from another body as he pushed past my arms. His shield hit my stomach, pushing the air from my lungs. In a white-hot flash of pain, I felt his spear pierce my armor just below my armpit.
I felt backward. I had just enough strength so that I didn’t land with the full force of a limp-bodied fall. I let my mace fall free of my hand, for now the khaiborn was on top of me, and I couldn’t bring it around to swing. I brought my shield around, pushing its rim beneath the khaiborn’s chin and into his neck in an attempt to peel him away from me. Meanwhile, I slipped a dagger free from its sheath on my hip.
The khaiborn tried to stand, so that he could have leverage to use his spear. He couldn’t find purchase in time. I brought my dagger around. My body had weakened so greatly that my first blow barely scratched his neck, bouncing, instead, off of his flesh. I gritted my teeth and stabbed again, using all the force I had left in me. This time it plunged into his throat. He gurgled, his blood pouring over me.
I rolled him off of my, gasping at the effort and at the pain in my side. The final khaiborn still stood. His fingers had formed a circle in front of his chest. Between them I could see the sparks of another fireball igniting. I pushed myself to my feet and stumbled forward. His eyes widened. He shouted something in his own tongue, or perhaps the tongue of magic; I do not know either well enough to say.
The ball of fire shot forth. I put my shield before it, and it caught the flame, which splashed outward to either side. The front of the shield, unlike the khaiborn’s wooden structures, caught the fire and began to burn. I tossed it to the side and put both hands on my dagger. With a two-fisted stab I took the khaiborn in the chest.
I fell with him as he crumpled. To my shame, I passed out.
I woke again, with a startled gasp, several hours later. I looked around me, eyes wild. I must have truly slain them all, for none had killed me while I slept. I’d woken with my face pressed against that of the dead leader. I felt dirty and disgusted, and, above all, abandoned.
Why had Cylpher left me in such a dire moment? Why had he rescinded the glory of his blessing? I couldn’t fathom the workings of the mind of a god, but I couldn’t — and still can’t — help but wonder. When I left the cave, night had fallen, and I stared upward at the night sky, which some say is a window to Aurelia, where Cylpher resides.
I could not see him. Of course I could not. But for the first time in ages, I couldn’t feel him, either. Like my fellow priests, he had abandoned me. I fell to my knees and wept at my loss, and I stayed there until dawn, searching and failing to find the reason why he had denied me.