The forest was quiet. Perhaps, some would say, a little too quiet. Almost as if it was holding its breath, waiting for something.
The forest's large, gnarled trees stretched up into the sky, their branches looking like blackened claws in the darkness. The trees bore no leaves, and there was little foliage beside them in the forest, only a few stray dead bushes and dry blades of grass.
There were almost no animals to be seen in the forest, save for the occasional bat or owl. Due to these facts and the sense of foreboding that seemed to ooze out the place, this particular wood was known as the Dead Woods. The local countrymen avoided it at all cost and even thieves and bandits strayed clear of the silent place.
Thus, it was extremely strange that on this particular night, a man was walking through the Dead Woods.
The man was walking through the trees, at a slow, leisurely place. He seemed unconcerned to be in the forest, despite its reputation. He made no sound as he moved through the empty woods. No even his footsteps gave off any noise.
The man was a tall, very thin figure, so thin, in fact, he might have been mistaken for a scarecrow. Over his form, he wore a long black hooded robe. The robe was very long, its end stretching down to the figure's ankles. The robe's hood covered the man's face, shielding his features within a void of blackness.
The only parts of the man's body that were visible were his hands and feet. His hands protruded from his sleeves. They were very pale in color, so pale, one would think this figure had never seen the sun. The hands resembled those of a skeleton, being as thin and as white as they were, rather than those of being of flesh.
In the man's left hand, he was clutching a staff. The staff's body was carved out some sort of metallic substance. It was in heavy contrast to the figure's natural surroundings, being the work of man, rather than the earth. The staff was dark grey in color, and quite nearly blended into the blackness of the forest.
The head of the staff was carved to resemble some sort of beetle. In the center of it, between the "beetle's" wings, was an emerald. Part of the staff's head had been carved out to hold the jewel, and it was a perfect fit, secured tight within the strange metallic staff. The emerald glowed with a strange, eerie green light, illuminating the hooded figure's surroundings, enabling him to see within the pitch black forest.
Briefly, the light of the glowing emerald hit the man's face. For a moment, the darkness of his hood was dispelled and his face was visible.
Except that it was not. For the man was wearing a mask over his face. The mask was made of metal, and seemed to shimmer in the light of the staff. It had no distinguishing features on it, being entirely faceless. Two eyeholes were carved on either side of the metal mask, from which the man's eyes stared out of. The man's eyes were blue in color, but they held no kindness in them. Rather, they housed images of cruelty, arrogance, and above all, anger.
Directly above the eyeholes, a symbol was also carved into the mask. This symbol was a fairly small one, being nothing more than a simple circle. However, that symbol housed many secrets, many of which had directly affected the man wearing the mask.
The cloaked figure lowered the staff, making sure its light strayed away from his face. Instantly, his masked head was engulfed in darkness once more, hiding it from the outside world.
The figure moved along, stepping over dead branches that littered the barren path through the woods. His feet were bare, and as such, they bore many cuts and scrapes.
The man suddenly stopped. He twisted his cloaked head about silently, gazing through the quiet forest, listening.
He then glanced down and his head cocked to the side. He leaned forward, and held his staff to the ground, focusing its light on a tiny patch of earth before him.
The light revealed something amidst the branches that covered the forest floor. The figure gave a mutter under his breath and then silently whispered, his voice a raspy hiss, "Klorence de objectare".
Instantly, there was a whooshing noise. A small blast of wind, tiny, yet powerful, flew forth from the staff's emerald. It hit the branches, pushing them away. The branches went flying, landing in a small clump a little ways to the right. The wind, however, did not disturb the object beneath the branches, leaving it where it was.
The hooded man stretched his hand forwards and snatched up the object. He hefted it up, holding it before his glowing staff, and took a good look at it.
It was the skeleton of a bird. The animal's bones were covered in soil, and other bits of the earth. The creature did not look like it had physically harmed, as its skeleton seemed to be undamaged.
The figure tapped the end of his staff against the bird skeleton. The emerald changed colors, its bright green glow giving way to a dark red glare.
The cloaked man looked at the now red emerald. He cocked his head again and looked back at the bird skeleton. He then spoke, addressing the dead animal.
"Well, well, it appears you had ran into them," The man said, his low voice barely rising over a whisper. "What a foolish and pathetic thing you were. Sometimes, I am grateful for their presence here on Altaria. They are removing all the weak creatures of this world, allowing just the strong to survive. Thus, I can have better challenges from any foes I come across. Of course, none are a match for me, but in this way, I do not have to waste my magic on weak beings such as yourself."
The cloaked man gave a small chuckle, before tossing the bird skeleton over his shoulder. It went flying away, before landing with a crash in a pile of branches.
The hooded figure rose off the ground, and started off again. He looked up, his gaze moving through the tops of the trees that loomed over him. Through the gnarled branches, the man could see the clear night sky above. The moon, Norlus, hung above, its round form providing small amounts of light for the land. Yet, none of its light seemed to penetrate the darkness of the Dead Woods. It was almost as if even the heavens themselves seemed to fear this forest.
'Such cowardly creatures,' The man thought to himself, turning his head away from the sky. 'I wonder why they seem to fear the dark so much. The darkness is much more powerful than the light, able to grant powers that followers of the light can only dream of. I have proven my dominance over the night, and now, the shadows obey me, granting me the greatest powers in the world. I am the most powerful being ever seen because of the darkness, and the followers of light shall seen the error of their beliefs just by looking upon me.'
The man walked on, stepping over sharp rocks poking out of the soil. He could see a clearing up ahead, one entirely devoid of trees.
'I could show the followers of light how foolish they are,' The man thought to himself. 'But it so much sweeter to let them gaze upon my brilliant image and have their own dreams of power crushed, when they see they could never hope to attain my level of magical ability. No, all beings are unworthy of learning my talents. They must pay for their idiocy by continuing to follow the path of light. I also extremely doubt they even have the skill to master the simplest of my spells'.
The hooded figure moved through the trees, stepping over a broken log, covered with dried moss, in his path. He stepped between the trees, finally walking out into the clearing.
The man looked about the clearing, his hate filled eyes studying everything before him. The clearing was completely empty, save for a few patches of grass here and there. Here, the moon shone unrestricted on the clearing, allowing everything to be seen clearly.
The hooded man growled angrily. This was not what he had wanted. He had hoped for some sign of a town or village. Instead, all he had gotten was more of the forest.
The man moved on, his bare feet carrying him forwards. The staff's light mixed in with the light of the moon, making everything brighter. No longer did the hooded figure blend in with the darkness.
Then, he heard a low growl behind him. The man halted, listening to the snarl. He stroked his bony fingers across his staff's emerald, before calmly and slowly turning around.
There, standing before the man, was a bear. The monstrous beast was huge, at least twice the size of the cloaked figure. The massive creature was covered in densely packed, dirty brown fur, its skin layers of rippling muscle. It stood on all fours, and it growled again, its lips curling back, revealing rows of white, sharp teeth. Spittle dripped from it jaws, turning the dirt wet beneath the bear's large head.
The man considered the bear, before giving out a humorless laugh. He stood his ground before the creature, his fingers tightening around his staff.
The bear was have been driven from somewhere else, either by hunters or angry villagers who considered the animal a menace to their livestock. It would not have entered the Dead Woods otherwise.
"You stupid animal," The man hissed out, glaring at the growling bear. "Do you know who threaten, you ignorant beast?"
The bear responded by rearing up on its back legs, bringing itself up to its full height. It towered above the cloaked figure, its large frame blotting out the light of the moon and casting a shadow above the man. It opened its jaws, letting loose another fearsome roar.
The man laughed. "I see that you do not know me then. Unsurprising, see if you had known of me, you would have fled at the sight of me. I am Daklin Ullieam, the most powerful mage on all of Altaria! I wield the power of darkness, having the power to destroy any who so much as glance at me with a flick of my staff. With a simple wave of my hand or a blink of my eyes, I smite an entire village, turning it into nothing but dust! To threaten me, filthy beast, is to invite the kiss of Death itself."
The bear roared again, and tensed, clearly preparing to charge.
Daklin pointed his staff forwards. "For preparing to attack me, you shall die. But I think I will not waste my grand power on a weak thing such as you. You are undeserving to be killed by my magical power. No, you shall die another way. By the teeth of my…companion".
The bear bellowed, before flinging itself forwards, striking the ground and running forwards on its four legs. Its eyes, full of nothing but hunger, locked on the hooded mage. It roared again, its horrifying cry echoing through the silent forest.
Daklin simply snorted at the charging animal. He then closed his eyes and concentrated, focusing on something within his mind. He stood unmoving, as the bear closed in.
Then, the emerald's color changed from green to grey. The metallic staff grew cold to touch, but the mage still held onto it.
A wisp of smoke emerged from the emerald. It moved forwards on its own, twisting through the air like a serpent. The bear halted in mid-charge, and started to back up, growling at the moving smoke.
The smoke moved downwards and touch the barren soil. It then began to take a shape, growing in size.
A head formed on the top end of the smoke, the head in shape of a wolf. Legs, a body, and a tail also formed out of the smoke, forming into the shape of a large animal.
The smoke rippled, and suddenly, it transformed, from smoke into a living creature of flesh and bone. It stood upon the forest floor, having formed itself into a massive, living wolf.
The wolf was very large, at least twice the size of a regular one. It had jet black fur, the color of the night sky. Its legs resembled logs in size, and it had dozens of razor sharp claws adorning its feet. It raised its head and its eyes suddenly snapped open, revealing that the creature's eyes were bright red, the color of blood.
The massive wolf turned its red eyes towards the bear before it. It let loose a low, menacing growl, and parted its lips, revealing rows of deadly looking yellow teeth.
"Naziulof," Daklin said, his voice commanding. "Kill."
The wolf raised its head to the sky, and gave off a loud howl. It launched itself forwards, leaping into the air and diving at the bear.
The bear roared, lunging forwards, raising one of its muscular arms. However, at the last moment, before the two animals collided, the wolf twisted itself. Instead of striking the bear head on, the wolf landed right next to the larger creature.
The bear's massive paw struck the ground instead, knocking a huge amount of dirt to the side. It started to turn around, bellowing in frustration. However, before it could, the wolf jumped forwards and landed upon the larger beast's backside.
Naziulof, the wolf, opened its jaws and bit down hard, sinking its teeth into the bear's neck. The larger animal gave a roar of pain, and threw its body back, trying to the shake the wolf off.
But the red-eyed wolf hung on tight, its claws cutting into the bear's skin. Naziulof gripped its teeth harder into the large animal's neck, before it gave a sudden low growl and yanked its head backwards with all its might.
There was a wet tearing noise and the bear's throat was ripped free of its flesh. Blood spewed from the animal's open neck, coating the barren earth a bright red. The bear's gave a gurgling noise, its face frozen in a mixture of shock and pain. Its eyes then rolled back and it fell off its feet, landing with a loud thump against the ground.
The wolf jumped off the dead bear, the creatures throat clutched between the red eyed creature's teeth. Its yellow fangs were coated with blood, as was its claws and parts of its fur.
Naziulof dropped the bear's torn throat to the soil, and its tongue stuck out of its mouth, licking the blood from its chops. It moved forwards, back to Daklin, who had been watching the whole battle silently.
The red-eyed wolf looked up the masked mage and sat down on its back legs, closing its mouth. It sat there obediently, waiting.
Daklin did not say anything, offering no words of praise to the wolf. Instead, he simply closed his eyes again and concentrated hard.
The emerald's changed once more, its green glow fading away, grey taking its place. Naziulof's body shook a little and the wolf's fur rippled, standing on end. It did not move, showing no fear of what was about to happen.
Its body changed, dissolving away, growing smaller, its features transforming back into smoke. The smoke flew forwards, gathering itself into a single cloud and sucked the staff's emerald, vanishing back into the glowing jewel.
A moment later, the emerald changed back to its normal green color. Daklin opened his eyes and moved along, stepping past the bear's corpse.
He moved out into the clearing, back into the forest. The mage walked for a few minutes, before at last, the trees seemed to part and Daklin moved out of the Dead Woods, onto a grassy hilltop.
The hooded mage stood tall upon the hilltop. A chill wind blew past him, ruffling his black cloak. Beneath him, more plants were growing out of the earth, free of the Dead Woods's influence.
Daklin looked down and saw a huge, sprawling grassland stretched before him. The land seemed to go on for miles. It was a rugged country, lacking large plants and instead having shrubs, bushes, and miles of grass in place of any trees.
Far off, in the distance, the mage could see a small village. Daklin's eyes narrowed in disgust as he looked upon the town in the distance. What a vile place, full of filthy, uncivilized peasants. Under normal circumstances, the hooded man would have avoided that town at all costs, preferring to brave the elements, rather than risk his intelligence by being around such savage barbarians.
But tonight, Daklin knew he had to go there. This land was a harsh one, and would not be full to the brim with game to catch and eat. The mage knew he would have to stay in that little village tonight, in order to eat and drink.
Daklin began to make his way forwards. He would spend a single night in this dirty village and then continue onwards, to the Far East. No men of the West had been able to help him. Unsurprising, since none of them had the knowledge he held, but still.
Daklin reached up and touched the mask covering his face. Hopefully, someone living in the Far East could help him with this accursed artifact. He was loathed to admit it, but even his great magic had failed him this time.
The hooded man continued onwards, beginning to cross the sprawling grassland, his glowing emerald lighting his way.