AUTHOR'S NOTE: Okay, people... personally I consider this 3-part prologue to be a fairly dodgy first attempt, and will definitely be rewriting it in the near future (when I have a better grasp of my fantasy setting and more experience as an author). Until then, I fervently hope you enjoy it in all its imperfection. Please review and be specific so I know where I'm on the right track and what I need to look into for the rewrite.
PROLOGUE, Part A: The Demon King's War
PROLOGUE, Part A: The Demon King's War
In one swift stroke, High Lord Ilantar Telthurin drew his blade down across the chest of his wretched enemy, cleaving its impure flesh and staining the earth with its lifeblood. Everywhere about him the battle raged, and his bright sword Ezalior sang in his ears, calling out for blood and glorious battle. The blade shone in his grip, burning with power, and he felt its call keenly. The smell of sweat and blood and burning flesh filled his nostrils, the ringing of steel on steel and the cries of the dying assaulted his ears. Smoke burned his eyes and throat as he scanned the charnel-field, panting with adrenaline and exhilaration.
He felt alive.
On all sides, the Dread Titan's war-bred legions clashed with the might of the Ilien and their cousins the Isaad, the twin elven kindred sundered in the ancient past. Though Ilantar had little love for the Isaad and their sinister lord, he admired the skill and fury with which they fought, striking swift and deadly as serpents.
In contrast to the sleek and fluid motion of the Isaad, the Ilien stood tall in shining mail, cloaked in white, stalwart and true. The ragged hordes of the Enemy, Marduk, were utterly wretched and pathetic in comparison, lacking both valour and spirit. Blinded by hatred and fury, and mad with terror of their masters, they charged headlong to their deaths on the keen blades of the elven warriors. Though scores of the barbarous filth were cut down by the bright and noble Ilien, the crushing press of bodies ensured that, one by one, the loyal soldiers of Ilantar fell beneath the cruel blades and tearing claws of the legion.
Pathetic as were the slave-races of the North, Ilantar knew firsthand the dread prowess of their captains. While he could only look on in horror, he had seen hundreds of elite soldiers fall before a single black knight of Marduk, one of the so-called "darkhearted", men who had turned away from their lands and their gods to serve the Dread Titan and rule in his name. Their power lay in their corrupting magic, in the terror of their visage, and in their command of things unnamed, pale shadows of death that slew without compunction or pity. There were few of mortal race who could prevail against such a foe.
A thundering roar drew Ilantar's attention, and he beheld the gargantuan shape of a Bale Fiend, one of the demons of the Enemy. The Fiend stood nearly three times the height of a man, and it had girth to match, its body corded with thick and powerful muscles. Its hide was black and leathery, stained a dark, mottled red by the scorched and caking blood of its victims. In its talons it held an iron sword, which glowed red as an ember from the heat of its body. Smoke trailed from the demon's wolf-like muzzle, and great leathery wings unfurled from its Herculean shoulders to beat at the air. As Ilantar watched helplessly, the Bale Fiend used its dark crafts to engulf scores of Ilien warriors in flame while it strode through the warring masses, impaling, crushing and dismembering at its leisure.
Ezalior sang, and Ilantar leapt into battle. The music of war rang clarion in his ears, thrilling him with its intensity. He hewed his way into the shadow of the mighty demon, treading heedless through the gore and viscera of the slain. Here was a worthy foe, a true test of his skill and power. The air shimmered with heat, and Ilantar's breath came in choking gasps, filled with the overpowering aroma of rust, sulphur, and blood. With a shrill cry he struck out, and the Fiend met Ilantar's golden blade with its own, showering bright sparks over thedetermined elven-lord. The force of the blow was great, but Ilantar gritted his teeth and stood his ground.
The demon's smouldering eyes flared with anger, but Ilantar was undaunted by its burning gaze. With a triumphant shout he forced back the Bale Fiend's sword, staggering the creature as he darted forwards, thrusting, piercing its side with the bright flame of Ezalior. The Fiend's fury was now absolute, as its black, smoking ichor fell in thick droplets to the barren earth. With a tremendous sweep of its wings it lifted into the air, summoning the power of its unholy magic. Its thunderous voice spoke incantations in the foul language of the North, as its talons formed the seals of power to complete the spell. The demon drew breath, and released an infernal plume of white-hot flame to the ground that swept outwards, turning the air to liquid fire and incinerating those unable to flee.
Ilantar held aloft Ezalior to part the demon's fire. Its sizzling power curled about him, singeing the hairs of his body, crisping his white cloak to ash, but the golden blade's protection was true. Wiping the slick perspiration from his brow, Ilantar leapt forth in his glittering mail to strike at the Fiend once more. Running through the black ash which now coated the ground, he hastily called on an enchantment to bind the monster's wings and force it to earth. Singing out the spell of power in his native Ilien tongue, Ilantar heard Ezalior's answering call, its harmonies enhancing the binding spell. With a clench of his fist as the final seal, the completed spell struck at the Bale Fiend and tightly bound its immense wings, crushing them with a sickening crack of splintering bone. Fresh ichor rained onto the ash below as the demon howled in agony, and its smoking body fell to ruin on the packed earth.
Quickening his pace, Ilantar prepared to deliver the coup de grace as the fallen giant struggled to raise its hulking body. As it beheld the approaching elven-lord, the Fiend lanced out with its glowing sword, hoping to impale the bright warrior. Ezalior flashed in an arc to deftly parry the larger sword, leaving the demon defenceless against Ilantar's final attack. Shouting his victory, the High Lord brought down his golden blade to cleave the Bale Fiend's horned skull.
Thrashing, rending the broken earth in its death throes, the demon gave one last, shuddering howl, before the holy fire of Ezalior consumed it. Ilantar drew out his shining blade, and took a rare moment's rest to gaze out across the field of ash and ruin. None had dared to approach as the elven-lord duelled with the great spawn of Marduk, and so his vicinity was now deserted save for drifting ash and tortured spectres.
'Ilantar…' The sibilant call came not as a sound, but as a whispering upon the edge of Ilantar's mind, an ethereal pressure on the border of his sanity. His clear eyes scanned the fields around, where the Isaad were now crushing the scattered remnants of the Enemy. Nothing was nearby, but the phantasm worried him. Perhaps it was mere fancy, but something about that call seemed familiar, something he was sure he could grasp if only…
"Lord Telthurin? Pardon my … intrusion."
The High Lord pulled off his grimy gauntlet and wiped the soot from his face, before turning towards the Isaad officer. The pale man's features were delicate, like any Ilien's, but his straight, shoulder-length hair was jet, not platinum, and his eyes were yellow and menacing where an Ilien's would be clear as ice. He carried himself with naked arrogance, as he played idly with the tasselled pommel of his long, curved blade, and held his helm casually under one arm, with the white plume of a lieutenant clearly on display. But at the same time, he seemed wary, threateningly poised like a coiled snake, and Ilantar could see that the Isaadi was gauging him, sizing him up for any weakness or defect.
"Yes, what is it?" Ilantar replied. "You are not an officer under my command; what could an Isaadi want from me?"
"Well, it seems," the officer paused to glance around the field, "that all those formerly under your orders have now … perished." He smirked wickedly then, watching Ilantar for a reaction. "They burned in your battle with the demon. I have merely come to inform you – under orders from my own lord, of course – that the enemy forces in this area have been destroyed. It appears that the demon you slew was their captain, as their morale was broken in the instant of its demise."
"Thank you for the report, lieutenant," said Ilantar calmly, schooling his face to stillness as he dismissed the officer from his mind. He had more pressing matters to attend to than listening to the taunts of a malicious Isaadi. Allies they may have been in this war, but the rift between the elven races was riven deep indeed.
Leaving the Isaadi to fume by himself, Ilantar climbed a nearby hill to get a better view of the surroundings. To the east, men still fought against the legions of Marduk. He saw the banners of the Ilien, and also banners bearing the crests of human clans and nobles, fluttering fitfully beneath the burning sky. The red, baleful sun had risen much higher since the battle had commenced, but it shone only dimly through the black ash and smoke that filled the air.
Pitifully, there were no horses or mounts of any kind to be had, so Ilantar had no choice but to walk to the scene of battle in his now ragged, soot-blackened mail, conserving his energy for whatever fighting may remain to be done upon his arrival, if any. The surviving Isaad remained behind to lick their wounds, for the most part.
A slight breeze picked up from the south, where dark clouds carried the promise of rain. The cool, moist wind, though pleasant enough, did nothing to dispel the reek of death, which had soaked into the gravel soil. Ilantar tensed at the sound of crunching footsteps behind him, placing one hand on the hilt of Ezalior, readying himself to strike. He had no trust to spare for Isaad warriors.
"Lord Telthurin, wait!" called a woman's voice. Ilantar relaxed his grip on Ezalior ever so slightly, and turned to face the Isaadi. She was armoured in overlapping strips of metal, as were all Isaad soldiers, with gauntlets and knee-high boots of toughened black leather. Her heavy woollen cloak and the tassel on her sword were dark green, and her waist-length black hair was securely braided and hung to one side. Her golden eyes, which shone from the shadows beneath her crested helm, carried no threat of violence.
"Wait here, when death stalks me from afar? I think not," Ilantar said. "Speak quickly, Isaadi, and then begone. I desire no traffic with your kind."
She stopped some distance away, and her eyes became downcast. "Lord, my unit was eradicated. Because I admire your strength, I wished to accompany you … but if I am unwelcome, then I shall leave at once."
"My strength?" Ilantar said scornfully. "Do not admire my strength. Such a thing has little worth."
"Then was it not your strength that overcame the Bale Fiend?" she inquired, her keen, bright eyes locked on Ilantar's.
Ilantar studied the Isaadi before him. "What is your age?" he asked.
"My age? Why would you ask, my Lord?" She seemed troubled by the question.
Ilantar inspected the Isaadi's youthful features before speaking again. "You have not lived even a century, have you?" Her eyes widened in shock, confirming his guess. "Why are you fighting in this war, a mere girl, not old enough to leave your parents' side?"
She looked away, unable to meet the High Lord's piercing gaze. "My reasons are my own," she said defensively.
Ilantar sighed loudly. "What is your name, girl?" he asked the Isaadi.
"Salyn Kethrizar, my Lord," she replied enthusiastically.
"You may follow me, Salyn, but know that it is likely you go to your death," Ilantar said reluctantly.
"You have my thanks, Lord Telthurin!" she said, kneeling and bowing low. "I offer you my allegiance –"
"Allegiance?" Ilantar interrupted. "You are Isaad. How would your masters react, to see one of their own prostrated before a High Lord of the Ilien? Surely such a gesture constitutes treason."
Salyn raised her head to glare fiercely at Ilantar. "My allegiance is mine, to give freely to whomever I will! My masters, if they can be called such, have not the courage to fight the Dread Titan. They deserve neither loyalty nor respect."
"Perhaps it is not cowardice, but pride that gives them pause," said Ilantar gravely. "It is known that Kaelesha despises Marduk deeply for his treachery, but I think it unlikely that the Poisoned One would bury his grudges with the other gods for the sake of an alliance."
"Please, do not speak the names of the gods so freely," Salyn said, and muttered a prayer under her breath.
"If it bothers you so, then I shall not speak of it again," Ilantar said, somewhat condescendingly. "Come, Salyn. We have tarried here too long already, while our allies die in the east."
"Yes, Lord!" she said, rising quickly to her feet to follow her new liege.
Ilantar's long, determined stride set a hard pace for Salyn to follow, and she was almost forced to jog in order to keep up. In the distance, the clamour of war grew steadily louder, and Ilantar's tension increased. Something terrible was close by; he felt it.
'Ilantar … come to me!'
The High Lord froze, eyes wide and staring. The call was stronger now, and carried more than mere words: it was saturated with dread and foreboding. And there was still that familiarity; he was so close now, so close to realising its nature. Could that call come from the one he sought? He reached out with his senses, straining to catch a glimpse of the source, calling out to his unknown adversary…
"My Lord? Lord Telthurin! What is it? What's wrong?" Salyn's voice was full of fear and concern. She clung to Ilantar's arm, shaking him, trying to rouse him from his stupor.
Ilantar put his hand on Salyn's shoulder. "It's alright, Salyn," he said, in as reassuring a tone as he could muster. "Let's continue on. We are needed on the field."
Salyn nodded, and released his arm, but said nothing.
As they approached the battlefield, Ilantar quickened the pace rapidly, and his young companion struggled to keep up with him. After more tense minutes they crested the last rise, only to see the minions of the Enemy overrunning the scattered and desperate defenders. A unit of horsemen broke from battle and fled at full gallop towards the low ridge on which Ilantar and Salyn stood. They bore the banner of a minor human noble, and trampled both friend and foe blindly in their desperation to escape the slaughter.
As the riders approached, Ilantar hailed them loudly. One horseman, the bannerman, slowed to a canter and broke off from the others. His armour and clothing were torn, tattered and stained from fighting, and blood ran freely from a forehead wound into his short black beard, dripping from his chin into the saddle. His burnished steel helm and breastplate had been fine once, but were now scratched and battered, and his left arm hung limp and bloody while his right clutched tightly at the reins of his brown mare.
"Turn back!" he cried out to Ilantar. "Flee for your lives! The field is lost!"
Ilantar hailed the man again, and he reluctantly rode to a stop in front of the elven-lord. "Forgive me," said Ilantar, "but I require your steed."
The man stared at Ilantar in confusion. "You can't be serious," he said. "The battle is lost! My own lord, Duke Rambrecht, was cut down before my eyes, and I have never known a more capable soldier. We're completely overrun. It's hopeless!"
Ilantar drew out Ezalior slowly from its scabbard. "Give up your steed!" he commanded, affixing the dishevelled rider with his fiery gaze. The man's mouth flapped soundlessly, before he hastily dismounted and ran for his life. For all his ragged, battle-worn dress, Ilantar still had the commanding presence of an Ilien Lord.
Salyn gave Ilantar a disapproving look. "Surely you didn't have to go that far, my Lord," she said.
Ilantar's face was stone. "I have no time to waste on fools and cowards," he said coldly, as he climbed into the bloodstained saddle, pulling Salyn up behind him. As they raced towards the battlefield, he looked back at Salyn. "How well do you fight?" he called to her over the din.
"Well enough," came her reply.
"Then kindly begin!" Ilantar roared, as the exhausted steed crashed into the enemy lines. Ezalior hummed with power and battle-lust, and Ilantar gladly satiated the blade, tearing into the flesh of his degenerate enemies. Salyn's own curved Isaad sword flashed out rapidly and precisely, incising her foes, dismembering, or tearing open throats.
The mare whinnied loudly, rearing on its hind legs before collapsing from its many injuries. Ilantar and Salyn hastily struggled to their feet and continued to fight against an overwhelming press of enemies, as they were forced back to back.
Ilantar called out to Salyn. "Buy me a few seconds!"
"What?" she cried out. "That's impossible, there are far too many!"
"Just do your best," Ilantar shouted, "or else we'll both die for sure!"
Ilantar thrust Ezalior into the ground in front of him, and rapidly formed arcane seals with both hands, chanting a powerful evocation, while Salyn frantically darted about him, lashing out with her blade.
As the last seal was completed, Ezalior gave off a brilliant radiance.
"Get down, Salyn!" Ilantar roared.
The Isaadi immediately obeyed, dropping down on her chest and placing her hands protectively over her head, as a concussive ring of phosphorescent energy expanded from the planted blade with a deafening thunderclap.