Chapter 1 - The Gathering Dark

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Chapter 1 - The Gathering Dark

The steel rasp of the king's sword being drawn from its scabbard broke the silence. It was just the four of them now. The narrow arch of stone was all that stood between the chittering mass of kobolds and their prize; blood, human blood, rich in iron and power, and all they had to do was take the bridge that arched out over the waters of the lake.

Clai, King of the City of Ai stood in the centre of the bridge, his feet planted on the stone, battle armour shining like a beacon. There was a faint twang, and Aethan lifted his freshly strung bow. The elf grinned at the human and reached to his quiver for an arrow, nocking it to the string.

The king looked to his left and lifted an eyebrow at the dwarf, Trask, who drank noisily from a hip flask, belched, and lifted his war hammer. "Ready when you are, Clai."

Finally, he cast a glance behind him and tilted his head at his Queen, Sorenna. She inclined her head in return, a look of sadness touching her fine features, but resolution set in and she smiled, her eyes flashing with stored manna, sparks jumping between her fingers.

"And so it ends, my friends. The spot where human, elf and dwarf stand together, facing the enemy. See, even a mere four of us give them cause to be afraid. We have fought mightily, and now we will fight one more time, together. There's nowhere left for us to run, but we know we have saved the elves and dwarves, and a few scattered humans from this gathering tide of darkness. It has been my honour to fight with you."

A thin wail drifted up from the ranks of the kobolds and a shaman stepped onto the bridge away from the throng. As the creature lifted its weapon, the rest joined in the ululating cry and thousands of throats gave voice, waves of harsh guttural sound washing over them as the kobolds worked themselves into a killing frenzy. The wailing was augmented by the clash of weapons and stamping feet, the incessant rhythm working to fever pitch.

As the noise reached a crescendo, the shaman broke his chant and bolted towards the top of the narrow span where the last of the defenders stood, the dark mass of spidery creatures following in the shaman's wake. Aethan's first arrow took the shaman in the throat, a handful of kobold bundling to the stones in the fallen creature's wake. The dark tide swallowed them up instantly, and arrow after arrow disappeared into the chittering maelstrom.

A fireball scorched past them from Sorenna's outstretched hands, and creatures screamed as they fell from the arch of the stone bridge, fires quenched instantly by the holy waters of the Lake of Time.

Clai glanced over his shoulder at the walls of his citadel: the bronze gates were swinging shut. "The gates are closing, the people are almost safe!"

The dwarf roared a battle cry and powered into the tangled mass of creatures as Aethan dropped his bow and grabbed his two swords from their scabbards. Clai followed and soon the clash of weapon on armour, and dull thud of metal on flesh beat the air with a rhythm of death and destruction. Fireball after fireball whistled over their heads to char the bodies of the creatures waiting to attack, as the three warriors and the sorceress filled the narrow bridge with destruction and pain.

There was an echoing 'boom', and the massive bronze gates closed behind them. Sorenna whirled, her long hair flying around her head in a static haze as her power manifested in crackling energy about her body. A hand gestured and a stream of blue light played over the gates, magically fusing them shut and protecting the city and its people.

"They're sealed, Clai. Do it! Use the sword now!"

"Down!" commanded the human king and Sorenna made a sweeping motion with her hands that swept the bridge clear of the kobold horde as the elf, human and dwarf knelt. Thousands more kobold halted at the start of the arch, their ululating cry beginning once more as their shamen rallied them for a second onslaught.

"My friends, sheath your weapons and join me." The king's quiet, sombre tone carried through the shrieking horde, and the other two warriors moved to his side. "We have fought, but we cannot run any further. We have nowhere to go now."

Clai turned his sword so it hung like a cross from his gauntleted hand, lowering the point to the massive keystone of the arch. The Eyes of Glan shone brightly; one on the pommel, and one to either side of the wrist guard, a triangle of orange fire in the early morning gloom.

"Aethan, Trask, please place your hand on the guard." Each rested a hand on the horizontal guard, Clai holding the hilt. Sorenna whispered a spell behind them, one which was soon drowned out by the kobolds as they once more worked themselves up into a frenzy.

The gems in the sword glowed and pulsed and, as they watched, the guard split and morphed, each bar of the wrist guard changing into a short dagger with an elegant hilt, each topped with one of the two smaller Eyes.

"Keep hold of your new weapons, my friends. Tell your people what we have done here, for one day the Eyes will be needed again to shine in the darkness.

"Sorenna's spell will not last forever. When the dark stirs once again, your people must once again stand up and face the enemy. We will be here waiting. Goodbye my friends, may the Gods bless your children and your clans."

Sorenna's final words were screamed, an answering screech from the kobolds drowning her cry of despair and sorrow as they raced up the arch. The dwarf and elf stepped away from the human king, gazing in wonder at the daggers they held. Of their own volition, two arcs were described in the air, and both stepped through the portals and back to their people leaving the humans alone on the bridge.

Clai stepped backwards, a look of grim satisfaction on his face, and embraced his wife as she ran into his arms. The glow from the pommel Eye spread as the sword sank into the bridge. As the shoulder of the blade reached the stone, leaving only the hilt exposed, the final eye lifted from the pommel and embedded itself into the keystone of the arch. A glowing shield of light rose from the depths of the lake surrounding the castle and expanded rapidly, rippling out over the bridge to encompass the city. Beyond the killing grounds, a crack appeared in the bare rock, the stones shifting behind the attacking forces

King Clai held his queen and kissed her as the tears ran down her cheeks. "We have done what we can Sorenna, the cities are safe for now, let us hope the prophecies are true." Hand in hand they stepped onto the magically imbued keystone and, as the dome and the killing grounds beyond sank into the depths of the lake, two royal golden statues kept watch as the attacking horde perished in the holy waters of the Lake of Time.  

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