by Klaudaryn in Dark Ages
The wind howled around the two worn looking figures as they staggered wearily up the blasted hilltop. One, a proud warrior, was bedecked in once glistening armour that bore the faded crest of his order. Armour now stained with the darkening blood of his lost companions, the memory of holding their pulsing corpses still fresh in his thoughts. The other, a fragile but beautiful woman with long raven hair blowing wildly in the gale winds. From her fingers crackled strange energies as she turned around, preparing to unleash another torrent of fire upon their pursuers.
The warrior spun around to face his companion as he raised his sword to a guarded stance. In the valley below, they could make out a seething mass of shapes surging forth up the moonlit hillside. Dark things, which had once been human, but were now warped beyond the sane reckoning of any man. Taking in a sharp breath of crisp night air, Conell stood firm for a moment, relishing the refreshing feel of the freezing rain on his burning skin. Glancing briefly as the mage worked her spell, his thoughts were for a moment far removed from the cursed hill on which they stood.
She was strikingly radiant the first time he laid eyes on her. There she was in the middle of the Tavern in Mileth, laughing and drinking with the other members of her party. They had just returned from a successful foray into some dark crypt, so he later found out. Conell himself was merely a peasant boy, but the very sight of these rowdy and aloof adventurers ignited a spark within him. A longing to be like them, to be able to sit in a smoky tavern and tell tales of high adventure and death-defying feats of valour. And then there was her… that mysterious and enchanting woman with the raven black hair down to her waist, and equally dark and spellbinding black eyes. If only he could get her to notice him. Little did he know it then; the path of the Aisling had seduced him.
A howl of rage and pain brought Conell back to the present as the searing energies of Aine’s spell tore into the advancing horde of dark creatures. She breathed deeply as the discharge ended, then noticed him staring at her and looked back into his eyes.
"Is this how it will end, Conell? I… had dreamed of a… better... way," she cried out, straining to be heard over the howl of the wind.
"Aine… Mistress O’dright rather.." he replied softly almost disdainfully, "I… I had dreamed... I once had dreams. That never ever did change the harsh reality which we are always forced to face regardless."
"Conell… love…" a tinge of sorrow and worry entered her voice.
Sudden memories again. The sun was shining bright and the sweet smell of summer grass permeated the air. The two of them – Aine the Magician and Conell the Swordsman – lay down in the grassy meadow, arms around each other. It had been a year since she and her party had rescued him from that fateful bandit ambush. A year and a half since he had ventured forth from Mileth a young warrior.
"I love you, Conell," he remembered her whispering, her voice soft like a lazy summer’s breeze. Things had been like a dream then.
"Don’t ever use that word with me! Ever!!" his tone peaking suddenly in a furious shout as a snarl creased his mouth. "You… used me.. you…" he let his voice trail off as he tightened his grip around the handle of his ornate sword.
"Conell! This is no time to-"
"Go then!" he cried, cutting her off in mid-sentence. "In fact, I do not wish to spend my last moments with one such as you. You have what you came for, the crown is in your sack. What does it matter if Sierth and Elie had to die in order for you to get it? What does it matter if one more of us dies? All that will matter is that you bring that crown back to your ‘beloved’, right?!? Keep your lies of love and honour to yourself. I want no part of it!"
Recent memories now. Elie… Elie the bright, Elie the cheerful, Elie the healer. Now Elie the dead. Conell gritted his teeth and fought back tears as he held her torn corpse close to himself. She had been like the big sister he never had but always wanted. She was always so happy. Right up to the time when the howling horror had crept of behind them and ripped her to shreds before anyone could react.
Sierth was gone too, that brooding rogue. For every bit of cheer that Elie had in her, Sierth was the opposite. Always miserable and seemingly hopeless, Conell always wondered what it had taken to scar a man so deeply. And yet the rogue had followed them despite his premonition of dread the night before. Followed them to his ultimate demise at a very trap he was attempting to disarm. One similar to that which he had done countless times in the past with much ease. Over confidence or coincidence, Conell did not care; Sierth died all the same. That left the two of them. Maybe losing half their party was too much strain for Aine, for an hour later, she confessed everything.
"Damn you, when I said I loved you, I…"
"You lied," his voice dying to a whisper once again as he focused his gaze on the horde of shadows slowly making their way up the hill towards them. "All those months… all the times you told me you had to travel south to visit your sick mother, and forbade me to follow… You were with him. Serving his purposes… and using me… using us."
"You don’t understand…" she sighed softly, turning away from Conell.
"I understand enough. Now leave me. Go back to that rich lord of yours with your bloody treasure. Go to the depths of hell if I care. Just go."
"Go now! Before I turn my sword on you…" came his shout and then whisper.
With that, Aine shut her eyes tight and just ran, never looking back at the doomed warrior. Conell watched her disappear down the other side of the hill then turned back to regard once again the advancing enemy. The fire in him had all but gone out. Cold, he was, with the raindrops stinging his cheek as a single burning tear made its way down the side.
Another memory? No… this was different. Conell sat slumped in a corner, a grizzled veteran of countless battles. His armour was different too. Lighter but sturdier, and it was almost as if it had grown to be a part of him. His familiar sword was gone, replaced by an ungleaming blade, which absorbed the surrounding light rather than reflecting it off the blade’s razor edge.
He was bleeding now from a savage gash in his side. Glancing at his reflection in a pool of blood by his side, Conell realised that the disorientation he felt earlier was not only because of the bloodloss, but also the fact that he watched the world from a single eye. Apart from the leather patch over his left eye, the face that stared back at him was his own- only edged with the scars and fine lines of age and experience. A scream of rage snapped him to attention and he raised his sword as best he could to fend off the advancing dubhaimid. It was time.
Conell shook himself from the dream-state and took in a deep breath. The enemy was almost upon him. It was time to bring the fight to them. Even if there was nothing worth living for except that final moment, he had no choice but to live for it.
‘Sierth,’ he thought to himself, ‘just don’t let me end up like you… a warrior without a soul… let me keep mine, dark as it is’. Channelling all the hatred and fury and anger and sorrow he could find inside, he let out a loud shout of defiance and raised his sword to strike.
Aine, startled by the shout, turned back just in time to see the one they would later call ‘The Cyclops Blade’ and ‘The Scourge of the Dark’ charge down the slope and into legend. Fighting back tears, she whispered, " I love you"