Before Alkesh Alushain, there were many others, drawn together by Fate for purposes only the Light understands. One of them, called the Alkesh of Timoral, was all that held back the forces of Darkness stirring the Civil War. There was but one human member: Edgar Alan Poe. His Luminara, Lenore, had an obsession with Darkness, was convinced it could be cured. Eventually, she came to convert a Demon, who joined them, her Shadow, and a Runner named Maridigron.
Theirs was a tumultuous group, hounded by the Dark wherever they went. Wyatt, then unbound, and his alkesh of Viatrians protected them as best they could, but Zestir’s machinations were strong. With the corrupted Viatrian Tiermond at his side, Zestir’s alliance of evil would not be stopped.
By Dark forces unknown, Poe was killed, and with him Lenore was snuffed out. Without their aldara, the converted Dark members despaired. Their Shadow faded and starved into nothing. The Demon was caught and tortured to death as a traitor. Only Maridigron survived.
It happened that Lask learned of him in the Library one day. He was researching Alkesh Heirlooms– powerful magical objects passed between alkesh through the ages, coveted by the Dark, and many lost or destroyed over time. It was through tracking one, the Chessboard, Lask asked, “Whose were the last living hands to hold it?” The Library replied, Maridigron. Naturally, the Luminor inquired, “Who is that?”
What he got was a woeful tale. After the death of his alkesh, Maridigron was captured by Zestir. Because he was but a Runner, he was too unimportant and too unsatisfying to kill, so the Demon made an example of him. He cut off the Runner’s hind foot, and forced him into slavery, until he was no more than an animal. As Lask read of his fate, he felt the familiar pressure of choice on his shoulders, a pressure than often came with knowledge.
Since 1990, Lask had left his island cloaked in magic to allow Zestir the assumption of success– for 25 years, the Demon thought he killed Lask, and foiled the alkesh he would form. To rescue Maridigron from his clutches would be to lose that protection, for surely Zestir would track what he thought belonged to him.
But when Lask went to the watchtower, and turned the dials, flipped the switches, and moved his fine lenses into alignment, he saw for himself the fallen Runner, curled like a dog under Zestir’s whip, chained by his remaining back foot until it bled. He was skin and bones, perhaps even too far gone in the mind to be anything more than animal. Lask sighed, took a cursory look at Zestir’s stronghold, then wrote down the coordinates.
He passed the paper to Falient. “There is a Runner here. His name is Maridigron, I need you need you rescue him, Light of the Lost.”
“Alright, alright, let’s see.” Falient unfolded the paper, and furrowed his brow. “You do know who this is right, whose gate you’re sendin’ me to?”
“A Demon called Zestir.”
“Aye, big guy. Started the Civil War, killed Wyatt’s alkesh, brought down Stefin, still goin’ strong last I saw. You might ought t’ve heard of him?”
“Yes, that one.”
“Alriiiiiight,” Falient said, tucking the paper into his coat pocket, accepting the challenge “But I steal that Runner out from under him, he’s gonna come lookin’ for us. You could be startin’ a war.”
“Let him look,” replied Lask, “I hope he’ll be surprised.”
February 27, 2015
Lask waited until night had fallen, and his family settled in with each other for the night. When he was sure he would not be missed, he began pulling on his armor. He had watched Zestir for days, and knew the Demon’s scouts had tracked Maridigron to Avigdell. Zestir raged with the knowledge of his enemy’s survival. Away to the north, an army of four hundred Dark soldiers was gathering, massing their strength before Zestir sent them word to march on the island. Lask did not intend to give them that chance.
He fastened the sword strap across his chest, then pulled a crimson cape around his shoulders. He picked up his helmet, then slipped out of his room. He glanced down the hallway, ensuring no one was afoot in the night to spot him, then stole away down the stairs and made his way out to the stable.
The horses snorted at him, craning inquisitive necks over the doors of their stalls as he entered. Lask opened the door for Theramancer, and the stallion clopped out into the aisle. Lask went to the tack room and began carrying out his horse’s armor as well. He fastened on the plates, Theramancer standing in steady obedience, until the stallion stood clad in magnificent golden armor to match his master. When his mount was tacked, Lask pulled himself into the saddle, and withdrew his key.
He aimed the tip of the key into the empty air before him, and drew a wide arc, sparks trailing in air. A tall set of double crimson doors appeared just ahead of them. Lask nudged his mount forward, and rested the key between the horse’s ears. Theramancer nosed at the doors, and they opened, swinging out into a black land. Lask motioned him on, and the stallion trotted through. Lask waved a hand, a gust of wind swirling to close the doors behind him.
He emerged on a hill overlooking a Dark encampment. The creatures below were busy in the night– sharpening weapons, squabbling over scraps of food– but the camp went silent as they registered the presence of Light. Lask made no effort to disguise himself; there was no point. He shined like a beacon in this bleak place, seeming to give off his own light in the blackness. He drew his sword, flames rising on his hands, sparking along the plates of his armor, the feathers of his helmet, the hem of his cape. The fires raced along his horse, swirling off the stallion’s mane and tail, sparks leaping from his hooves, until the knight and his horse seemed a living torch in the blackness.
There were shrieks from the Runners below, and terrified howls from Warmongers. Lask gave them no time to organize. He spurred his horse, and raced down the hill, leaving a swath of fire behind him. Flames raced down the blade of his sword, and as he reached the perimeter of the camp, the night exploded in a tempest of fire.
The noise was deafening. All around, Runners screamed, Serpents hissed and spat, Warmongers barked and howled. Lakvos yelped and scrambled in all directions. Lask cut through them all with his indiscriminate sword. His fire engulfed the camp around him, burning the life out of everything it touched. He moved like a living inferno through the place, the blazing hooves of his horse crushing anything that fell.
There were two Demons in the camp. One was a lesser, and Lask stabbed him through the back as he turned to flee. The other was stronger, braver, and she came tearing through the flaming debris and threw herself straight at the fiery Rose. Lask deflected her claws with his sword, and Theramancer punctuated the motion with a swift kick. The Demon was sent sprawling, and Lask sent a bolt of flame after her. The fire burst over her hide and she screamed, scrambling in the wreckage. She came flying back, and her own speed thrust her onto the point of Lask’s sword. She slid backward off the blade, the fire hissing in her blood, and the Rose moved on.
He seared through the camp like a red-hot iron. Desperate Warmongers and Lakvos tried to swarm his horse, snapping and clawing at Theramancer’s legs, but Lask crossed his arms across his chest, gathering his strength, then flung them wide with a fierce shockwave of fire, that leveled everything within fifty feet of him. The scorching wind of him swirled through the camp, igniting everything it touched, while the bodies of the soldiers crumbled to ash under the stallion’s feet.
It only took minutes for Lask to reach the other side of the camp. He was winded when he got there, chest rising with great swells of breath, and his horse panted sparked beneath him. Lask’s crimson eyes cut like a blade over his shoulder, taking in the destruction with a glance. He turned back to the night before him, and caught sight of Dark things fleeing toward the twisted trees in the distance. He kicked his horse after them, his left hand renewing its grip on his sword, fires streaming behind him like the tail of kite.
He caught up to the rear of the group, scorching the life out of them as his horse passed. He urged Theramancer faster, swinging his sword to cut down one of the Runners. The blade flashed and spun, slicing through two Warmongers in one swift pass. Theramancer’s hooves set fire to the rough scrub grass under foot, as they raced toward the trees. At least a dozen more Dark soldiers fell before they reached the forest.
Lask pulled his horse to a rearing halt, Theramancer shrieking in the crimson firelight. Lask brandished his sword at the trees, and roared after the last of the survivors,
“Run back to Zestir! Tell him what has happened to you at the hands of one. I have leveled his army by my hand alone. Tell him to imagine if I should turn my sword upon him with all of Alkesh Alushain at my back. Tell him to look to my allies, and tremble at the thought of us coming down upon him. Flee and keep your lives this night, but move toward the Halls of the Wind, and death awaits you there!”
The survivors fled into the forest, leaving the wrath of the Luminor behind him, while the wreckage of the camp still blazed at his back. Watching them retreat, Lask turned back and walked his horse back to the wreckage of the camp. He reached back to his saddle bag, and withdrew a long crimson feather, edged in shimmering gold. He considered it a moment, jaw tight, then cast it to the ground, where it glinted in the ashes. He knew Zestir would understand.