A Beginning

NotoriousTBD Apr 1st, 2017 (edited) 2,826 Never
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  1. The setting of the sun behind Dammerung Keep began to cast a shadow over the deserted streets, driving out all light save for the faint glow of the streetlamps, their runes still yet to fade. The effect was chilling--almost surreal in what was once a bustling district of the city. It was through this eerie interplay of light and dark that the Swordsman first spied the skulking figure. Brandishing his weapon with both hands and forcing even breaths, he began to study the creature.
  3. "Too large for a dog. Wrong shape for a horse."
  5. Thoughts and anxieties raced through his mind. Slowly, ever so slowly, details of its form began to emerge from the shadows. The likeness of a certain heraldic beast, red-furred with a great mane, soon gave way to more sinister elements. Starved eyes seated above a wicked maw of countless teeth; the wings of a bat and the tail of a scorpion--sharp quills adorning the end.
  7. "It couldn't...but…"
  9. Its ears flicked, and morbid curiosity was replaced by terror as the beast took notice of him. Transfixed by its ghastly image, the Swordsman could scarcely move as it approached. The claws, the wings, the tail. Teeth-- row upon row of teeth--meant to completely devour prey.
  11. "No remains would be found."
  13. Something clicked, and his thoughts began to flow once more. He remembered the fear, the hatred, the heat of the blaze. That crushing feeling of helplessness. The desperate resolution that brought him to these desolate streets. This moment, this opportunity, was exactly what he wanted. He tightened the grip on his sword.
  15. The beast roared, and the Swordsman answered in kind. The two clashed beneath the moonless sky.
  17. ***
  19. The Swordsman opened his eyes to unfamiliar surroundings. Slowly sitting up, mindful of the bandages wrapping his shoulder and chest, he began to inspect the interior of the canvas tent. There wasn't much to look at. Two crates, a barrel, one lantern--unlit--and a bottle of unknown contents.
  21. "My sword...and..."
  23. His equipment was gone.
  25. He paused to let the loss sink in.
  27. Focusing on the current situation, the Swordsman lifted himself up, and approached the flap of the tent. He began to make out the sounds of daylight: the chirping of birds, the chatter of men and...
  29. "...Women?"
  31. He opened the flap and looked about the area. Apart from a few tents and a pair of wagons, the only thing of note was a small group of four figures gathered near the center of the camp, with some others scattered about closer to the tree line. He focused on one in particular: a redhead. Sitting across from the others, he could see her face. Their eyes met and she stood up, showing him a smug grin.
  33. "Awake at last," she whispered under her breath.
  35. She sauntered over slowly--purposefully--providing him with ample time to take in all her assets. Apart from her womanly figure, what stood out most to the swordsman were some rather distressing features. A scorpion's tail, bat-like wings. Dark red fur covered her hands and feet--themselves built more like the paws of a great cat--with tufts of white where it joined the rest of her body. The same white covered her neck, just above her...
  37. "Hey big boy..."
  39. His train of thought interrupted, the Swordsman's eyes returned to her face. Her ruby-red eyes were fixed on him--hungry, but not strikingly so. She licked her lips, giving him a flash of her sharp teeth before continuing in the same sultry tone.
  41. "Whatsa matta? Neva seena Manticore before?"
  43. She shifted to a thick and syrupy accent, almost giving away her hunger for the tasty morsel that had been dragged into camp several nights ago. He certainly cleaned up nicely. She wondered if the others would allow her to get him messy again.
  45. The Swordsman took some time to collect his thoughts before responding.
  47. Manticores. The Swordsman had doubtlessly heard of them. From the soldiers who warned of their sharp claws and fangs. From the traders who swore by the awesome power of their quills. From the missionaries who proclaimed them wretched and hated things. But had he ever seen one before now?
  49. "Maybe I have."
  51. ***
  53. As the doors of the old church struck upon their frame with a resounding thud, the Swordsman waited with baited breath for the echo to pass. When all was silent once more, then and only then did he give a sigh of relief before planning his next course of action. Considering his choice of shelter, he gave a small prayer of thanks before moving deeper into the building.
  55. "Let's get this off...huh?"
  57. Methodically removing his armor, he only now become aware of a certain peculiarity of this night. Although dusk had arrived some time ago, his vision remained yet unhindered--at least not to the same extent he had observed previously. His view was certainly darkened, with the details of the church's stained-glass still unclear, but for the most part the general form and outline of objects remained distinct. Upon removing his breastplate, he discovered a faint glow that could explain this phenomenon. Perhaps the small pendant about his neck retained some arcane power that granted improved vision.
  59. The Swordsman shook his head. Now was not the time to consider such things. He  retrieved some flint and tinder from the leather pouch at his side and, striking the two together, lit a torch on a nearby column. He then set about treating his wounds the best he could--gathering supplies from the backrooms of the church--as well as evaluating the condition of his equipment.
  61. His sword, an impressive blade some three-tenths stone by weight and nearing 140cm long, was often the point of ridicule by townsfolk who had yet to see it in action. Far above a guardsman's meager pay, it was gifted as a trophy from a barroom battle against a traveler whose liver proved less able than his sword-arm. To his relief, the blade remained in good condition. Based on his first encounter with the terror stalking these streets, he doubted any lesser arms could suffice against his foe.
  63. "A weapon to match what I'm fighting."
  65. His armor, originally a patchwork collection of leather and metal gathered over the years, now lay in an even more sorry state. The steel breastplate and iron cuisses about his legs were largely intact, and his leather vambraces and gauntlets remained serviceable--despite being a reminder of how incomplete his collection remained. The left pauldron, however, had suffered a glancing blow from the beast's claws, and the troubling crack the Swordsman spotted a week earlier now ran halfway to the shoulder. Eying a suit of full plate in one of the rooms of the clergy members, he considered substituting it for his entire armor, doubting the previous owner would care to complain. Unfortunately, upon further inspection the armor was merely a replica--the material unsuitable for most defensive purposes. The Swordsman still decided to swap out the pauldron, if only to remove his faulty left whilst retaining some sense of balance with the right.
  67. Opening a drawer in this same room, the Swordsman once again whispered a prayer of thanks for his good fortune in a rather spectacular find. After another moment of deliberation, he strapped the leather accessory about his waist to the right, opposite the pouch, and gave the instrument a quick inspection before placing it inside. He practiced retrieving and returning it a few times to get used to the feeling, and then headed back to get the remainder of his gear.
  69. The survey of his equipment now completed, the Swordsman's focus now turned to his inevitable rematch with the beast.
  71. "Tonight. I have to do it tonight."
  73. Some strange feeling deep in his gut proclaimed a sense of urgency to this matter. Whether by some misplaced idea of duty, or pride, or something else entirely; he felt compelled to finish this before dawn.
  75. "But how?"
  77. Soon enough, he found himself studying the pendant as it gave of its eerie glow, and wondering what secrets it held.
  79. ***
  81. "Ay!"
  83. The shrill cry shook the Swordsman out of his stupor.
  85. "Let me see that."
  87. He barely had a chance to respond before the pendant was snatched right out of his hands.
  89. "I thought I already checked for...yep...still no charm spells. Does the Order even have stuff like that? I guess you're just absent-minded, huh Mister?"
  91. 'Kid' was a rather appropriate term to describe the young girl standing before him. Her diminutive stature, furred extremities, and hooved feet--along with the two goat horns protruding from her scalp--saw neatly to that. In spite of her size however, the Swordsman recognized her as a Baphomet, described as one of the most powerful and feared monsters in existence. Even so, he had a hard time seeing her as dangerous. She wore a revealing outfit of gold and black lace, adorned with ornaments he strongly doubted were mere replicas of bestial remains. Although the ensemble brought up several uncomfortable feelings inside of him, fear was not one of them.
  93. "So, before I give this back, mind telling me why a town guard is holding onto something way above his pay?"
  95. "It was a gift from a friend."
  97. "Night-vision, increased strength and endurance; nice piece of spellcraft on this thing. Must be some friend."
  99. She turned it over in her paw a few times before continuing. It is a small thing, easily concealed in the palm of one’s hand. Silver with an inlaid a fiery-orange gemstone. Coincidently, numerous distortions and discolorations in the ornament gave clear signs of fire damage. Just where did he get this?
  101. "I tried to fix it up the best I could. What happened?"
  103. "It was like that when I got it," the Swordsman responded.
  105. After a brief encounter with the Manticore--'Kate' as she called herself--and some of her compatriots, he had been urged to speak with this girl nearer to the tree line. What ensued was a cursory physical inspection and mental evaluation. Peppered in were a few rather confrontational questions that created a notable dissonance with the girl's more affable mannerisms.
  107. "Look, my friends and I just spent the better part of a week putting you back together. We can't have you running around with your head screwed on wrong, right Mister? And we can't just let you go free without knowing more about you, can we?"
  109. She narrowed her eyes and tossed the discolored chunk of metal pendant up and down in her paws.
  111. "What if you're a crook, or a killer?" Her eyes went wide, and she flashed a toothy grin. "Can't have that!"
  113. The Swordsman returned a look of unamused resignation.
  115. "Right. Now, this friend you mentioned...a special someone in the guard corps?"
  117. "No, just a was a good luck charm...more than luck I guess."
  119. "Does this friend normally rob charred corpses?"
  121. The Swordsman just barely managed to catch the pendant tossed his way. The grin was back.
  123. "Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood a bit before the serious stuff."
  125. "Serious?"
  127. "Follow me."
  129. She turned and began heading into the forest at a steady pace, giving the Swordsman a good view of her cape. He pondered whether he had seen it before somewhere.
  131. Her ears twitched. She couldn't hear any footsteps, and felt no indication that he was moving. What was he up to?
  133. "Ay! Ogle on your own time!" Her voice took on a shrill tone before returning to its normal, somewhat youthful timbre.
  135. "Not every day we have to sew a man back together, and Milady wants to speak to you about 'that'."
  137. "Milady?"
  139. ***
  141. "First a right, then a left."
  143. Wild beasts tend to act on instinct. If given the same situation, they tend to act in the same way, especially if previous experiences reinforced the behavior. This monster was no exception.
  145. "Wait for it..."
  147. During their first encounter, the Swordsman overcompensated on his second dodge, fell for the faint that followed, and only narrowly avoid a devastating punish that cost him his left pauldron. Now he planned to bait these same attacks, only this time he would be ready. He half-heartedly fell for the ruse--side-stepping to dodge a blow he knew could never connect--and let his blade slip to his right, his left hand falling from the grip. Overconfident against a weaker for, the beast must have not noticed the motion--why would it when victory seemed so close? It reared up on its hind legs and readied its right claws for a lunging slash that would surely finish this.
  149. Time slowed to a crawl as the Swordsman retrieved the sidearm from the holster at his waist. He took aim and pulled the trigger. A loud bang echoed through the streets as the bullet tore into the beast's cheek. It was stunned, but did not relent. Nor did the Swordsman , quickly resetting the mechanism, redirecting his aim, and fire once more. Its left leg was shredded in an instant, forcing it back to the ground with its clawed arm lying before it. The Swordsman let the pistol fall to his side. Reloading it would take too long, and he needed both hands to land a more decisive blow. He returned his grip to the sword, raised it to his left, and a brought it down upon the beast's right forearm. With the beast still dazed from the counterattack, the Swordsman delivered a second strike--this time at its exposed neck. The blade cut deep, but...
  151. "Damn it! Not deep enough!"
  153. With a growl, the beast brought its tail down on the Swordsman . Narrowly dodging the barbs, he retrieved his sword and retreated as the beast eyed him carefully. He considered trying to retrieve the pistol and began scanning the ground. Would he be able to find it in the dark? Would the beast give him time to reload?
  155. "Not a chance."
  157. Instead, his focus snapped back to the beast, which had closed some of the distance between them while he was distracted. It crouched its legs and pounced.
  159. The Swordsman reacted quickly and rolled to the left, hoping the beast couldn't strike him with its injured limb. Then, glimpsing a shadow moving in the darkness, he followed into an overhead swing, intercepting the beast’s tail in midair. Sword and tail impacted on the ground with a loud crunch. The Swordsman took a moment to gain his bearings, but the beast continued its attack. Spinning itself around, it connected a swipe with its left forearm and sent the Swordsman flying into the remains of a market stall.
  161. "Shit"
  163. Rising back to his feet, he gripped the sword partway down the blade, holding the tip against the ground in an effort to steady himself. The beast stayed back for now; the Swordsman envisioned it licking its lips. Breathing heavily, he held his free hand to his injured side. Warm and wet, with a dull pain.
  165. The Swordsman understood his disadvantage all too well. Despite its damaged limbs, the beast was not yet crippled, and would have no issue attacking any number of times in order to finish this. He, on the other hand, might only be able to deliver on or two more attacks before the stress on his wounds would sap his remaining strength--exhaustion being the end of him. He readied his sword for a transverse slash from left to right, then began running at the beast. The gap between the two growing ever smaller, the Swordsman waited until just the right moment.
  167. He swung early, letting the inertia of the blade pull him to the right as the full motion of the beast carried it to his left. Its claws passed just in front of his face as the wound along its neck came into view. Forcing his feet into the ground, the Swordsman renewed his grasp on the sword, and heaved it into the air by the grip. This would be his last chance; nothing else mattered besides this one final attack.
  169. He didn't notice as a warm bead of fluid slowly trailed down his forehead. He didn't notice as his arms nearly gave out while changing momentum of the swing. He didn't notice as he tore open the wounds on his side while struggling to put his back into the stroke. He didn't notice as he brought the blade down upon the beast’s throat--not in a clean cut, but a barbaric strike that crushed in the foe's windpipe. He didn't notice as blood began to spill from lacerated veins, draining out along the edge of his sword, dripping from the crossguard, and finally pooling on the ground near his feet. He didn't notice as the beast, starved of both air and blood, at last succumbed to its grievous injuries--the light of life, visible even in the darkness of the night, rapidly fading from its eyes.
  171. Only when the light began to fade for him as well did he finally notice the strange luminescence hiding in the shadow of the felled beast. The orange glow of torchlight falling upon a flawless arm extending from an immaculate robe of white. Then all faded to black.
  173. ***
  175. A whirlwind of black and white swept through the forest clearing. A white haired-warrior, clad in black armor, seemed to be using this place as a practice field.
  177. Her form was incredible. Her armor, though revealing, did not seem insufficient; her movements and positioning served to limit any exposure of weak points. Again and again, she danced a twirled, cutting down numerous unseen foes with her ornate sabre. Her movements were not only stunning, but impossible for ordinary humans. Not that anyone could mistake her for a human. She wore no helmet, yet distinctive black horns protruded from her head. The white, bat-like wings that seemed to fold out of her paldrons in actuality sprouted from her lower back--emerging as needed to aid her movements and preserve momentum as she changed directions. Likewise, her lithe and spade-tipped tail flitted about behind her, serving not only as an aid to her balance, but as an offensive weapon no different from her blade.
  179. The only thing amiss was the state of her off-hand. Unused in the display, it would be more of a hindrance if not a target in real combat. Or perhaps she was only focusing on one-handed combat for now. These occupied the mind of the Swordsman as he waited patiently beside the goat-girl--her more childish mannerisms all but gone by now. It wouldn't be unusual for a Baphomet, as such a powerful monster, to simply interrupt this sort of thing and move on to more pressing matters. However, in this case, she would not dare show such indiscretion towards someone who both overpowered and outranked her.
  181. The warrior's movements slowed as she came to a halt in the center of the clearing. Her eyes--gleaming rubies in a sea of pitch--met those of her guests, in particular the Swordsman's. Finally, given the chance to take in her soft features, he was struck by her flowing hair and pale skin as her wings spread to reveal their full size and splendor. The entire scene was almost something out of a painting, or rather a mashup thereof: a magnificent heroine revealed in wooded calm--but the expected subject of the work was replaced with an insidious demon exuding a wholly different idea of magnificence.
  183. She closed her eyes as her wings wrapped about her, fusing with the armor, morphing and changing into a robe, every so distinct from the shade of her skin and hair, giving her a ghostly, ethereal appearance. Intricate black runes began to emerge from the fabric, echoing elements of the dissolved armor. Her tail was gone, and her horns had shrunk, becoming considerably less noticeable; if not for her eyes, one could almost mistake her for a human as she was now. Even so, her current visage did nothing to subside the anxious pounding in the Swordsman's chest. Not that, he surmised, she had any intention of doing so.
  185. "Thank you for your patience"
  187. Her voice was kind with a steady pace. Her countenance was steady, with a certain tranquil vigilance that seemed to take in more than it gave away. Even her eyes, little by little, became less striking the more he looked at her.
  189. "Morgan, if you will."
  191. The goat-girl nodded, again considerably more polite than the Swordsman had witnessed earlier.
  193. "Ahem," the Baphomet began, "presenting her Highness the...
  195. The words failed to reach the Swordsman, too taken by the devilish beauty of the creature before him. He struggled to mouth the words a few times before speaking them aloud.
  197. "Lilim. You're a Lilim."
  199. "Yes. A daughter of her Majesty the Overlord herself."
  201. Her lips curled into a smile--more gentle than cruel, but not sickeningly sweet. They exchanged greetings: he a simple guardsman with no introduction to give; she a demon princess with no introduction necessary.
  203. "Come, walk with me."
  205. The Swordsman took a moment to consider her offer. This whole time he had been going along with them without question. Why was that? Was he already taken by their charm? Was that such a bad thing? Should he run away? Could he even escape? Where to? How many of them were there?
  207. The two women turned their backs on him and started walking away.
  209. Could he fight them off? Without armor or weapons? Would he even be able to survive in this forest?
  211. They had nearly left the clearing. Would he join them? Would he even care? After seeing that, surely he would, right?
  213. Who are they? What are they doing here so deep into the Frontier? Just what are these...these...
  215. His thoughts came to a screeching halt, unable to properly process that word at the center of all his thoughts for the past few days. He had set out in search of answers, but found only more questions. Just before disappearing back into the woods, the Lilim turned around and motioned to him--breaking through the fog.
  217. Finally, the Swordsman reached a resolution. The three of them--Baphomet, Lilim, and Swordsman--departed in the direction of the camp.
  219. He set out in search of an ending, but instead found
  222. -A Beginning-
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