CN's Lord of Masks
The Bats and the Dragon
The End of the World was coming, it might be next month or in a century but it was coming and Sigmund von Müller knew that his destiny was to do his small part in helping usher it in. Not that he minded, the rising darkness was a time for the ambitious and powerful, besides if worst came to worst then it was better to see the end of time rather than die before it.
Indeed Sigmund's very reason for being in the old ruin of a keep was on the rumour of an artefact that might help his Lord in the coming days. Sadly he was not the only one the Count had sent.
“This place is utterly abandoned Sigmund!” Markus von Carstein hissed angrily.
Sigmund turned to glare at Markus, his “superior” was a tall and heavily muscled man who wore the same black armour of serrated plates and swooping sharp curves as Sigmund. Next to Markus, similarly attired, was a cadaverously slim man called Eikean von Drak.
“Perhaps we should go back?” the thin vampire asked.
Sigmund sighed softly, the brute and the bookworm but still they had been raised above him.
“So that you can tell Lord Mannfred how you failed?” Sigmund asked calmly knowing what the response would be.
Markus stepped threateningly forward threateningly towards the speaker. “I failed? I was not the one who said this where he tracked the son of Abhorash! I was not the one who assured us that this is where he would be and marched us to the middle of nowhere to do it!”
Eikean smirked at the slab of muscle that masqueraded as a man. “Oh but the Count said you're in charge Cousin, you're responsible...sir.”
Markus snarled angrily but even his small mind realised the futility of attacking the other two Drakenhof Templars. Instead he remained silent for a moment longer before turning to stride down the hall, Eikean shot Sigmund an amused grin before following suit.
As Sigmund followed he considered his situation. Under orders from Mannfred the Grandmaster had originally sent five of the knights, four considered too “unimportant” to be given the family name and then Markus, a member of the Inner Circle of the Templars of the Order of Drakenhof. That had been a year ago. Since then poor young Pieter had been killed when they'd stumbled into an Imperial ambush and then ill-tempered Luther had attempted an moronic mutiny against Markus. Even Sigmund who considered himself superior in every conceivable fashion wasn't foolish enough to attack their commander head on...Sigmund never attacked someone he wasn't sure he could kill, he was too intelligent for that.
And so that left the three of them. Eikean was ambitious, cunning and subtle, all respectable traits. He also was a skilled and powerful Necromancer in ways that made Sigmund envious, the vampire was sure he had the talent but had only ever had the opportunity to study scraps of knowledge that remained in the Drakenhof Libraries, never with a true tutor. Any time Sigmund found some arcane knowledge of worth or a willing tutor then his most gracious sire would show up to send her get away on some foreign mission or to do the bidding of an imbecile from the Templar Order.
Luckily for Sigmund Eikean's ambition and wish for an ally outweighed his respect for Lisette von Carstein's wishes, the sorcerer had taught Sigmund some lessons when they could get away from Markus's watchful eye although he was clearly holding out. Still he had taught Sigmund what he cared about most, helping improve his ability to raise the dead, other forms of sorcery where not an immediate concern for the knight. In return Eikean got one of the Order's foremost Swordsmen who stood low enough in the hierarchy that he didn't have to bow and scrape.
“And doesn't Fear.” Sigmund thought ruefully, he knew his lack of open ambition meant that many others saw him as weak.
“But if this goes well I shall have at last have the name I so dearly covet.” he thought remembering Mannfred's promise, he had turned down the chance to carry the von Carstein name once before for he was not ready. He would not do so again.
“So...how do we know this descendant of the great Aberash doesn't know we're already here?” Markus muttered, his hand clutching at his sword whilst he glanced around at the empty hallways.
“Abhorash.” Sigmund sighed.
“Abhorash, the Great Captain of Lahmia. First of his line and probably the greatest warrior to ever walk this planet, at the very least the greatest warrior of our kind.” Eikean interjected with a shake of his head “You always boast about how Vlad favoured you and told you all sorts of ancient things. In one ear and out the other, eh?”
Markus roared and spun around, his blade was a blur as it darted from his side to slash towards the other vampire.
Steel rang against steel as Sigmund intercepted his strike with the blade of his own.
“Sir Markus! Please! The man we've come here to rob is old beyond our imaging, even with the three of us we're going to struggle, we can't do this without Eikean!”
Markus growled like a beast, not for the first time Sigmund wondered how long it would be before the von Carstein began to shed his guise of humanity completely.
Stepping back the leader of their little group turned and strode away, keeping his blade free from it's scabbard.
Sigmund shot a warning glare at Eikean before following, the sorcerer chuckled to himself as he copied the others and unsheathed his own sword and walking after them.
After a few moments Eikean muttered under his breath “Well he knows we're here now anyway.”
Sigmund could have sworn he could hear Markus gritting his teeth, the lead vampire practically shivered with barely suppressed rage.
The undead trio continued down the hallway until the found a staircase and then climbed. They searched the ruins for another fifteen minutes before they found the correct entrance to the Keep's Tower and then they climbed once more. When they eventually reached the top Markus, without a moments thought as usual, he kicked the door open.
Whatever hope of surprise the dull minded von Carstein had hoped to achieve was wasted.
The circular room was almost empty, a few bookcases and cabinets. In the back of the room sat a large wooden throne upon which lounged a giant in crimson armour but where Markus just looked huge and clumsy this man seemed a perfect warrior.
“Welcome at last, children of Sylvania.” The ancient warrior stood smoothly in a single fluid motion that made the other immortals feel clumsy and slow.
“We're here for you head old man.” Markus snarled.
The disciple of Abhorash raised an eyebrow. “Really?”
The huge vampire was incredibly handsome with a shaved head and bright red eyes, he smiled and leant back to lift a long blade that leant next to his throne. Lazily holding the sword at his side he walked over to a closed cabinet.
“And here I thought you were after my prize...”
Eikean took a step forward but the warrior raised his blade to point it at the sorcerer, despite being at the other side of the room it was a incredibly intimidating sight.
“I had thought to perhaps give you the item...I have no further need of it really and yet...I will not, or can not, part with it.” the Keep's owner continued.
Sigmund put a hand on Eikean's shoulder and stepped past his ally. “Please Zaerkon, son of Abhorash, the Great Captain of Lahmia, there is no need for a confrontation between us. We only wish for the artefact, Lord Mannfred will be happy to compensate you for it, if you wish it he would even be happy to welcome you into his service.”
Zaerkon laughed, it wasn't a mocking sound, he was just incredibly amused. “Serve that boy? I think not...although I am surprised that he knows my name.”
“He didn't, I found it out...just like I found out where you live. All the Count could give us was the vaguest of clues.” Sigmund thought to himself.
“My Lord is wise and learned.” he said instead, sheathing his sword.
Zaerkon laughed again and he shook his head. “Your Lord is mad, it's in his blood.”
“Enough of this mockery!” Markus snarled starting forward but Sigmund through his arm out to bar his way. “Wait!” he hissed.
Turning back to their target he stepped forward a few steps more. “You know what power rises...”
Zaerkon's smile vanished swiftly as Sigmund continued.
“My Lord readies himself for this rising power. We can not stand idly by...it is at last the time for our race...for...”
Sigmund paused, he was going to say for power but if what he had heard was true then Abhorash's children didn't care for power for power's sake, at least not in the way of Vlad's bloodline.
“...for a true challenge of our Immortal prowess.”
That got Zaerkon's attention, Sigmund didn't let up.
“There shall be a gathering of the dead that has no been seen in an age, we shall rise up against the nations of this world and the forces of Chaos. There shall be battles like never before, the Wars of the past will seem paltry in comparison. We shall be tested and pushed to our limits...and we shall at last see just how powerful our age, our training and our blood has made us.”
Zaerkon began to smile slowly. “Yes...most tempting...but...you are just a little too grandiose for my tastes.”
He had only just finished speaking when he moved, the ancient warrior was simply at one side of the room and then right in front of Sigmund who realised now the foolishness of steeping in front of the others.
With all the speed he could summon Sigmund threw himself back onto his back as Zaerkon's blade flashed across the space where his neck had once been. The knight tried to rise to his feet but black fire flashed above him forcing him back down to the ground.
“Watch it Eikean!” he snapped.
The sorcerer ignored him and summoned a bolt of power and hurled it at the warrior. Sigmund pushed himself to his feet, unsheathing his sword.
He watched Markus for a few moments as the von Carstein traded lightning quick blows with the warrior but for all his strength and speed it was clear that Zaerkon was easily keeping up to him whilst still managing to duck and dodge Eikean's magic.
Sigmund growled angrily, he felt his muscles swell with unholy power, and he leapt forward and bringing his blade whistling down in a overhead blow. Zaerkon twisted and parried the below just as he side-stepped a thrust from Markus, then his blade slashed out swiftly to block a dark bolt of magic from Eikean, confirming it's enchanted nature.
For the briefest second Sigmund sensed great power in the blade and irresistible greed overwhelmed him, he would have it. Snarling the vampiric knight slashed with all his strength and was awarded by a palpable hit...but his sword merely slid harmlessly across the crimson plate.
Markus parried a blow meant for Sigmund and for his trouble received a powerful backhanded strike from the Blood Dragon, a blow so powerful that the huge man was lifted physically of his feet and smashed into the wall. Sigmund barely recovered from his failure to wound the man in time to block the downward cut from their opponent, but it drove him to his knees and forced the blade back towards him.
That may have been the end of him except that was when Eikean had finally decided that enough was enough. Furiously he lunged at the Blood Dragon, who twisted slightly to allow the blade to simply slide along his armour. Unluckily for Zaerkon he underestimated his attacker. Eikean did not wield a Templar blade like his brethren, he had been a Necromancer in life and carried the same weapon from then. A dead man's blade. A barrow-blade. And it was this blade that tore straight through the ancient blood coloured armour and left a magically inflicted wound across Zaerkon's side.
Eikean dived away from the ancient immortal as he roared in pain and tried to attack the one who had wounded him, but his strike missed partially because of the sorcerer's desperate dodge and partially because of the warrior's wound.
Sigmund and Markus leapt forward to take advantage of the man's injury. Despite being wounded he still managed to dodge, duck and parry the attacks of the two knights. Zaerkon threw his elbow into Markus's face sending the Inner Circle member stumbling back, Sigmund capitalising on the Blood Dragon's loss of agility he attacked.
Sigmund had always been a skilled swordsman, he leapt forward from, his blade slashed from an upper-right guard to flash down diagonally and as suspected the attack was blocked but the von Carstein simply twisted his wrists around to allow the weapon to scythe around for a cut at Zaerkon's unprotected head. When Zaerkon ducked Sigmund slammed his armoured knee into the man's nose. Zaerkon recovered swiftly and stepped forward into a lunge but Sigmund swayed to the side and trapped the sword under his arm and twisted at the waist whilst bringing the pommel of his own blade into the side of the Blood Dragon's temple.
Zaerkon stumbled back seemingly dazed and lost his hold on his sword to a triumphant Sigmund.
“A perfect disarm!” he thought to himself proudly.
As Zaerkon straightened up, looking utterly unfazed, Sigmund realised his mistake.
Sigmund had relaxed too swiftly, and at this close range with the Blood Dragon disarmed, that left the Blood Dragon only one alternative...unarmed combat.
Sigmund cursed as he threw his own sword aside and attempted to bring the stolen enchanted blade to bear but Zaerkon was too close and to quick, he delivered two swift punches and then clutched Sigmund by the arm and threw him away.
All this happened in the short time before Markus could recover and pick himself off the ground, where as Eikean was unable to deliver a magical strike without wounding his ally.
Now with Sigmund free Eikean managed to unleash his black fire which enveloped their enemy and for a moment Sigmund hoped that they had won but the disciple of Abhorash leapt from the fire, his skin blackened and burnt, holding Sigmund's Templar blade. Markus engaged him once more but this time he was able to keep up even with the ancient.
Eikean held out a hand, muttering under his breath, dark power gathered around him but he made no move. Sigmund, enchanted blade in hand, leapt forward to help his cousin.
Then Eikean attacked, a bolt of darkness was unleashed that struck Zaerkon in the same spot that the barrow-blade had tore open his armour. Zaerkon screamed in pain and yet still somehow managed to block Markus's sword-swing.
He could not, however, stop his own magical sword now in Sigmund's hands that was stabbed right through his back. Unbelievably Zaerkon still struggled on, holding onto the point protruding from his stomach with both hands so that Sigmund could not withdraw it, he turned with impossible strength wrenching the blade from Sigmund's hands.
Whatever plan he had hatched in those pain filled moments went unfulfilled as Markus brought his blade down hard onto his skull, caving the warrior's head in. Zaerkon, so ancient that his corpse could not remain in once piece, turned to dust as the weight of time finally caught up with him.
“And so passes Zaerkon the Great.” Eikean said with a smirk, stepping forward.
“Shut up!” Markus snapped putting a hand to his bleeding nose.
The huge Templar looked around for a moment before relaxing, for the first time he grinned at his brethren. “But it is over at least.”
Sigmund leant down to lift his Templar's blade from the pile of ash, he looked down at the two swords he held before looking up at Markus. He glanced over his cousin's shoulder and smiled coldly “Not yet.”
Markus half-turned when Eikean stabbed his barrow-blade into the back of the huge man's head.
“Now it is done.” Eikean chuckled.
Sigmund leant over to use Markus's cloak to clean the blood of his old sword. Straightening up he sheathed his old Templar sword and rested the enchanted one against his shoulder.
“Get the damned thing so we can go home.” Sigmund said roughly still feeling sore from the fight.
Eikean, who had been completely untouched, strode over and tore the doors from the cabinet and pulled out the ancient book.
“Why did the Blood Dragon even want a mage's tome?” Eikean muttered and then shrugged He turned to face his ally.“I've got the bo-”
Which was as far as he got when Sigmund rammed his enchanted blade through the sorcerer's heart, the magical blade piercing his armour as if it was cloth.
As Eikean hit the ground the surviving von Carstein knelt down to grab the book. He stopped short as he heard insidious whispers in his head. Sigmund frowned at the tome, he doubted it was one of the fabled Books of Nagash, or at least not the famous nine, but there was some dark presence inhabiting the object. Sigmund cursed angrily, he couldn't read the runes on the cover.
Standing he tore at Eikean's cloak, taking the ripped piece for fabric he wrapped it around the sword. As the vampire had guessed the whispers where dulled by the physical covering of the book, instead it was just a dull hum in his mind.
“Much better.” he thought.
Turning Sigmund glanced at his dead family and smiled.
“Goodbye brothers.” he mocked with a bow.
Striding towards the stairs Sigmund began his long trip back to Sylvania.