Enderal:Tales of the Wanderer: The Dark Keeper
The Dark Keeper
Magic is a double-edged sword. While the gleaming side of the blade aids men — curing our illnesses, closing our wounds and easing our daily lives — its darker twin holds far more temptations for weak souls, though they come at a high price. Invariably, the shadowy side of the mighty sword extracts its payment from the lives of those who would entrust themselves to it, twisting and using them to further its goals. Sinistra, the school which teaches that magic, is understandably ostracized on civilized continents. It concerns itself with powers that should not be toyed with the manipulation of innermost thoughts and of life and death themselves. As the saying goes, “What is dead should remain dead.”
During my travels, I, encountered Sinistra; not just once, and certainly not because I practiced it myself — no, I would not dare to take even a single step in such a direction. But every continent has its secret retreats where such magic is practiced, dark gorges lacking solid ground and hope. Since my duty as a wanderer commands me to regularly enter the worlds of eclipse and beyond, I can give account of a warrior with arcane talents who achieved mastery over the art of fighting with forbidden magic. Our encounter was more by chance than intent…
It cracked and thundered. Lightning cast the parlor in its garish, ghostly glare and made candle and chimney fires flicker upwards. Rain pounded against the windows and on the roof. Outside, the wind shook the walls, howling and screaming between every thunderclap. I had before me a steaming bowl of cabbage soup. Its sour stench tickled my nostrils as I took a spoonful, blew, and ate. The soup was awful, but it was also the only fare on offer, apart from a particularly stale hunk of bread. All the same, I have eaten worse. The shabby inn had seen better days; it was on its starting to come apart at the seams, one might say. It rained an awful lot in that region — almost every day in the period between winter's bite and summer's burn — and that didn't do the wood any favors. The inn and the village it belonged to were nestled in the Dark Vale, and it couldn't have been more aptly named In one corner of the inn, soldiers from the Order were busy carousing, singing and bawling and pulling the young serving wenches into their laps. Most other patrons were peasants and farmers.
“How's it suit you?”, the buxom landlady with red cheeks and patterned apron asked. Her husband owned the tavern. She was cleaning the neighboring table, where an old swashbuckler snored away the evening.
I twisted my mouth in response.
“Well, you better be thankful we've still got cabbage. Snails robbed us of all the rest. Out of nowhere, they started multiplying and wouldn't stop, until we finally found a way to get rid of them.”
“Did you hire a mage to take a look at your fields?”
“Aye, we had one of them around here. Do you have the second sight, or do you simply know more than others, foreigner?”
“Because of my grey hair and the wrinkles, you mean? Don't let yourself be fooled, my dear — there's more youth in me yet than you might think. I can taste his novice's spell in the soup.” I replied with a tired grin.
The landlady laughed heartily. “Who are you, anyway? Most folks with any decent jokes don't usually end up here.”
“I'm a wanderer.”
“One with a name?”
“I have none and there doesn't need to be one.”
'Oh-ho the mysterious type, ain't we? Have it your way. What do you want in our town, wanderer?” I sipped at my stale beer. Outside, it thundered again, this time louder.
“Just passing through on my way to the North Wind Mountains.”
“Well, you didn't choose the best time to make your journey. It's gotten mighty dangerous since the rebels took up camp in the valley,” she said, glancing at the drunken men of the Order.
“Is that why all these soldiers are in the villages?”
“These rebels are criminals, the whole lot of them. They should all be hanged. They tore in here last spring, expecting we'd be willing to give up our land so they can hide out from the authorities. Oh yes, they thought, let's draw the peasants into our schemes. But there they are mistaken. I'm not going to be punished as some sneak-thief's accomplice! It's not been easy for us, that much is true, but before risking death I'd rather it stays the way it is. I just can't understand how there can be so many southerners supporting them; they're just causing trouble everywhere they go…”
I ignored the landlady's while she chattered to herself and turned my attention outside. Something was happening there, though clearly no one else had heard it. But I heard it through the door crack — the heavy, iron-shod boots thudding in the puddles on the street, the horses snorting in the wet cold. Someone was coming. Instinct took over, and I clutched the hilt of the blade hidden under my cloak. The soldiers' cries of laughter were interrupted by thunder, but this time it was not the storm.The door burst open, almost ripping it from the hinges. The silhouette of a tall man was illuminated by the flash of lightning, which revealed the figure in his heavy, black armor as he stood in the doorframe. The tapered helmet hid his countenance and everything about him seemed deadly and sharp, as if one could cut his eyes by gazing upon his armor. He bore an enormous sword on his belt, glittering dangerously in the storm. Most dangerous of all, though, was, the crest painted on his shield bearing the red-on-black hammer that was the sigil of Kilana Hammerschlag. For a moment the inn held its breath. Then the high-pitched shriek of a woman terrified out of her wits cut through the silence. The half-drunk Order soldiers stumbled clumsily to their feet as the terrible man ducked through the doorway.He was followed by two lackies bearing the rebel sigil less tall and well armored.
“Get yourself gone, rebel! You ain't welcome here,” a soldier slurred.
The warrior in black armor advanced wordlessly.
“Take to your heels before we cut your legs off!” another man added, sounding less than confident in the face of the giant
“You stink of snake, little one — and of piss-beer.” the rebel said, voice black as tar and murderously low.
“Get lost, you whoreson-” The soldier choked on the word. With an ugly sound, the rebel's sword cleaved him in two. The men of the Order yanked their weapons up, but did not dare to attack the giant.
“No harm will come to you if you don't interfere,” the rebel announced to the patrons, who cowered under the tables. A few seized the opportunity and fled outside.
“I'm afraid the same can't be said for you, though.” He pointed to the soldiers.
An icy feeling of terror settled over the inn as the warrior murmured an incantation. I heard the words clearly — like an echo, they reverberated, although he made no noise. I rose, with my hands tightly clutched around the hilt.
“Sorcery! A wild mage! Run or he'll steal your souls!” one of the patrons panicked as he ran to the door.
I had never seen a mage of the forbidden arts in the rebels' ranks. Either dear Kilana has changed her recruitment criteria or something here was rotten. I suspected the latter.
One of the soldier's eyes turned inward, he suddenly lurched, as if out of his mind, and wheeled around with his sword, past friend and foe.
“Eltin, what are you doing?! Why are you attacking me?!”
His neighbor cursed. Utter chaos erupted. More mutters from the rebel. The next incantation, the next one collapsing, the next one attacking his comrades. Jugs bursting, tables being knocked over; panicked shrieks, explosions from who knows where, the soldier's blood splattering on the planks, the soldiers who were killing each other. They did not have the ghost of a chance. The warrior laughed madly while observing the massacre with relish. Calmly, he watched how his puppets dancing until no living foe remained.
“Behold what happens to those sticking to the Order — ah!” He shouted surprised. One of the peasants had grabbed a pitchfork and stabbed him right under the shoulder plate.
“You vile peasant!”
He pulled the pitchfork out and impaled the peasant against the wall. He choked; coughing blood like a gargoyle — then his head slowly sank to his chest. The bystanders were still awestruck as the giant looked at the blood flowing out under his armor plates. He walked to the corpses and put out his hand above them. My right eye, the one with the special vision, betrayed it: He absorbed their energy, healing his wounds with the powers of the dead. Then he shuddered.
“That was a mistake. I wanted to spare you — well, it's a real shame with your pretty room. Go on ahead, I'll be there in — let's say two moments.” he said to his companions and sent them outside.
He sat himself at the counter and tossed the contents of another man's cup under his visor. I anticipated what he intended. A wizard with such powers would be able to raze the inn and the surrounding fields to the ground — the people included. I could not allow that.
“You will never lay a finger on these people again.”
I had positioned myself behind the warrior, prepared to do what was necessary. Slowly, he turned around, eyeing me suspiciously. A muffled laugh clang under the helmet.
“Bold. But I doubt you can so much as hold a sword with your hunch, old man.”
He calmly rose to his feet. “Don't waste the last years of your life. Attacking me is pointless. I am immortal.”
He wanted to take a step towards me, but I raised the hand I had concealed under my cloak. The counterspells had already been cast, all precautions made. Suddenly, the warrior paused midstride, as if petrified.
“What — what are you doing?” he asked angrily and tried to move, without success.
“You seem to believe your dark magic will protect you from everything. You were mistaken.”
“Leave me be!” he screamed.
I advanced, raised my voice until the walls were shaking, grabbed the warrior at his helmet and, with iron will, forced him on his knees.
“Here, nothing remains for you to be done. You caused enough suffering. I know that you do not belong to the rebels. You pursue your own goals, in the name of what you might call justice. But mark my words, whoever you are and whatever evil dwells inside you: With your dark powers you cause harm to innocents and punish them for deeds committed by their masters and not them. Someday, your foul magic will eat your heart out. You will go, now, without protest. And when I learn that you and your men returned to attack the villagers, I will find and kill you. Have you understood?”
He nodded under fearful whimpering. He rose and hurried straight out of the door. Shortly after, a rataplan of hooves reached us from the street — the men rode out of the village at a gallop.
I braced myself on my sword — weakness washed over me like a surging billow.
The process had cost much of my strength. Drops of sweat ran over my forehead and my sight became unclear, colorful lights were sparkling at the fringes of my viewing range. Slowly, the villagers approached me.
“Sir Wanderer, are you hurt?”
“No.” I said. “I am fine. It is high time to leave this region. I've already been here too long.”
“But you need to rest, please. You saved us, we owe you our thanks.” I broke away and limped to the door, braced on my cane. On the threshold, I turned.
“Burn the corpses. Bodies defiled by forbidden magic seldom stay dead for long. Then leave this place.”
I stepped outside, into the raging storm and pulled my hood over. The landlady's, her husband's and the other villagers' voices were swallowed by the pattering rain.
In the following years, I heard many tales of that arcane warrior in black armor, whose forbidden arts and cold-bloodedness spread terror on battlefields and in the Order's ranks. It transpired that he led an independent sub-group of rebels, who had broken away from Kilana Hammerschlag. I cannot say where came from originally, but I doubt he ever set foot in that village again. Back then, I probed into the darkest caverns of his consciousness to awake his deepest fears and forever bind them to that village. That certainly did not protect the inhabitants from other dangers, and neither they nor the other settlements in the Dark Valley were spared from the devastations of the conflict. I will call the combat style of that warrior in his heavy, dark plate armor, who knew the arts of Sinistra, the “Dark Keeper”.