The Tower [not GW related] Part 4
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Tori believed he might finally be ready. Perhaps this was the morning he would ride to the Tower, and discover his fate. He wore every single piece of jet black armour. Around the edges flowed a formless pattern of silver, almost seeming alive in its grace and meandering form. At his left hip hung the intricate scabbard for his blade. The blade rested in the scabbard, a reassuring weight. On his right hip was simple, short, black lacquered wood scabbard. In that rested his dagger, inscribed with Unbaraki. He could feel the Essence coursing through his entire body.
There was till work to be done. Everything felt right, but there was tiny, nagging feeling that something was missing. Something small, innocuous, but vitally important. He couldn't tell what it was, but he knew he was meant to have it. So this would not be the morning, today he would not be learning his fate. Instead he would ride to meat with the Coven again, to ask them what might be missing from his arsenal.
The ride was short, but filled with colour, it was the Turn, and all the trees were losing their leaves. Everything was changing, soon the world would be covered in snow, during the Great Fall. For now, everything was a riot of golden colours, even the clothes those of the upper class were wearing. The coven of warlocks, as always, wore robes representing the colour of their particular school of magic. He had known them for months now, and still had no names. Instead, they seemed to address each other by their title or school. It would likely be the Mystic that could answer his question, dealing, as most of that school did, in life's many mysteries.
"I keep getting this little feeling," Tori told the man. "This feeling that something is missing. I have my sword, my dagger, the armour, and all the enchanments on the three. But still, it feels somehow incomplete."
"Perhaps," the Mystic replied. "What you require is a charm, or pendant. A symbol, if you will, that binds all of these disparate pieces together. But the symbol itself would have to be selected very carefully, so as not to interfere with the runes and blessings already placed upon your equipment. The symbol also has to have purpose to itself, it cannot simply be the key within the lock, it must be part of the lock itself."
"I think I know the prefect symbol," Tori had a flash of inspiration. "The Maiden. That is the purpose behind everything here, would that serve as a potent enough symbol."
Another warlock spoke up.
"Normally, no. However, while the Maiden is usually seen as a weak symbol, perhaps, in this case, it might be the most potent of all. The only way you will truly know is when you attempt to wear the amulet that holds the symbol."
They took a walk across the Sacred Grounds, heading to town. There was little talk, the warlocks kept to themselves. Occasionally the Chaosigan or the Runesmith would offer a piece of insight into the magic around them, or the Mystic would say something about the many mysteries that still existed in Nature. This was the subject of some ribbing by the Naturomancer and the Shaman.
The jeweller took one look at the coven and the heavyset man in the ornate armour and nearly fainted. It was not often warlocks or warriors entered her store, and even less often to provide her with custom. Yet, here they were, apparently trying on every variation of a single amulet, the Maiden. One ended in a very bright flash, and a chagrined look from the warrior. Another flew across the store, embedding itself in the timbers. None of the amulets seemed to want to go anywhere near the armour, or the warrior within that armour.
They took the third to last amulet from the rack. The Maiden on this one was cast in an alloy of starmetal and silver. The surround was made of bronze, set with onyx. It was in fact one of the least liked versions of the amulet. With a bright flash as the man put it on, it seemed to melt and flow into the armour, becoming a part of it.
"I guess that seals it," Tori said to the coven. "This must be the one."
"With a reaction like that," the Mystic replied. "I'm not surprised."
Tori turned to the jeweller, flicking her a due of golds. "For your troubles, and the amulet."
This was it, he realised. The day he would be judged by the lands of the Tower, and either emerge victorious, or die a failure. Tori ate his breakfast slowly, gathering his thoughts, preparing. Stella mewled at him as he donned his armour and strapped his sword to his hip.
"I'm sorry girl," he said sadly. "But this is it. I must go, to find out if I am worthy. You'll have to fend for yourself now. Don't worry though, there's still a little fish on the bench. You're welcome to it if I don't return."
The cat seemed to understand the finality of this speech, rubbing affectionately against Tori's armoured shins. She mewled once more before leaping on to the table, holding Tori's gaze as he slowly strapped the dagger to his right hip. He reached to rub behind her ears one last time.
The Maiden looked out the Tower's window, tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. He meant to save her, and he would die trying to achieve that impossible goal. It seemed that he might leave behind no one that truly cared for him, merely a cat he had truly cared for. There would be no one to remember him for the man he had been, or was about to be. That thought saddened her immensely.
A storm was brewing in the distant twilight. Already the shadows were roaming across the lands below. As the light grew dim and the rain began to fall, The Maiden did something she had not done in a very long time. She prayed. Prayed that she would be saved the heartwrenching loss that this one's death would cause, or that he would finally be the one strong enough to be with her.
It was raining. In the dreams it had never rained, but it had always been late afternoon. The shadows congealing ahead of him looked nothing like the creatures in the dreams. Something had changed the rules. Tori knew at once that this would be nothing like the dreams. He also saw something else in the distance.
The Tower. An immense structure, it seemed half alive, its walls wracked with pain or malicious laughter. The great boundary wall around it seemed to made of massive ribs, filled with corpses in the gaps. The moat was thick with blood, perhaps even all blood. There was no way across to the boundary wall. There was no way through the wall to the tower itself. His task, Tori realised, truly was impossible. Still, he would fight. He would fight for her because it was the right thing to do.
She could feel his shock, his despair, and then his resolve to carry out his appointed task. She prayed harder, hoping one of the gods would answer her call.
The fight was only just beginning. With an upward slash from hip shoulder he ripped one of the fastest shadows in twain. Demonic ichor sprayed across the ashen plain. One of the casters in the distance tried to kill him with a black dart. The dark magic glanced from his warded bracer as he adopted a new guard, hilt high, blade point low. It was an inefficient guard. The nearest of the more bestial, wolf-like shadows attacked.
As his right arm snapped out Tori adopted a new guard and channeled his essence through his open palm. The demon flew apart, seeming to blur into many shadows as it disappeared mid-leap. Three more attacked at once. With expert bladework he dispatched them. If he wasn't careful, he could be overwhelmed.
Two of the massive, implacably strong shadow guardians attacked while a pack of the wolf-like ones circled behind him. The Seaz rune on his armour allowed Tori to see everything that was happening around him at once. He drew his dagger with his left hand. The first guardian's attack sent him flying, landing in a heap next to the hellhounds. The first of those caught a dagger in its throat, the second had a heavy pommel stoving in its skull.
More magic assailed him as the shadow guardians closed in. The Tower did not hold back. It did not offer mercy, or even a moment's respite. For a second he was cloaked in deepest darkness while the runes across his armour glowed with baleful fire. Then the magic suddenly stopped. A swarm of bats, or something like bats, made of pure shadow swooped in to surround him, scratching and clawing at his armour. The force of their assault drove him to the ground.
The Maiden watched as the Warrior was driven to the earth by the force of the swarm. The swarm seemed to rustle and hiss for far too long. She began to lose hope. Something ripped through the swarm, flying straight up, casting it aside. At its base lay the Warrior, his blackened armour rife with new scratches and dents. The swarm closed in again.
This time he was ready. As the swarm closed in he spun his arms around in a complex pattern, essence trailing from his gauntleted fingers while other shadows crept forwards. With a flourish he was done. The vortex swept up the bat creatures, dashing them together or ripping them apart, sending droplets of pure darkness raining across the plain.
As he fought his way through the shadows before the tower, slowly making ground across the plain, Tori slowly stopped existing, seeing fragments of his life flash away as he was slowly transformed from Salvatore Perenno, one time bounty hunter, into the Warrior.
A horizontal slash. The amulet flowing into his breastplate. A ringing clash of blades. His first cast while in armour. A thrust with the dagger. The first time he died in the dream. A strike that scored sparks from his helmet. The sparks smouldering in the smithy's beard. A thrust straight through a caster. Honing the edge of his sword. A blow with force enough dent his armour. Finding Stella. A sword and dagger riposte. His brother's death. A cross-bladed block and redirect. His first kiss. A strike strong enough to buckle his pauldron. His very first memory, the face of his mother, dimmed with time.
By such flashes and memories is built the death of Salvatore Perenno, and the birth of something far greater.
Casting Break to shatter the shadowy shield of great guardian. A new memory. The first Warrior, his burning desire to be with the Maiden. Landing hard from a throw. The second, using all the magic at his disposal. As the final parts of Tori fall away the spirit of the Warrior builds itself. Over time it has become a nearly elemental force. Few others have gotten far enough to feel it. None have been as uniquely prepared.
Into this mortal vessel of flesh bound, bound by the ensorcelled armour, weilding the most powerful blades, flowed the true spirit of the Warrior. Still, there was a tiny part of Tori that remained. Enough to give the elemental force of the Warrior both purpose and direction. Through new eyes he saw the shadows for what they really were. Now they resembled the creatures in the dreams.
His existence now was distilled down to a single, eternal moment. Every reserve of strength, every erg of Essence, every flourish of the blades. Everything he knew, everything The Warrior knew, was now being used to gain ground across the ashen plain. He knew, without a doubt, that he would die. And through death, would he be redeemed. As soon as he felt the Warrior's spirit gaining strength he had accepted that. It was not a matter ofif, it was a matter ofwhen.
She felt him slowly being eroded away, the great spirit of Warriors past surging into him. She could feel his will, so strong, guiding it, directing it to where it could do the most harm. She could also feel cold resignation. He had accepted his own death, and was merely waiting for that last blow to fall.
It broke her heart, his will so strong, yet knowing he would die. She could never be with them, any of them. As she watched from the window, white dress fluttering behind her, the first tear streaked her face, marring its ethereal beauty ever so slightly.
She prayed again, with all her heart.Let this one be different. Don't allow the Warrior to consume him. Let him win. Let him return the love I feel for him. She opened her eyes again, only to see him fall away, smashed aside by the largest of the shadows she had ever seen.
As he slowly rolled to his feet the Warrior realised that there were no other enemies around him. There was only the massive Black Guardian ahead of him now. The Guardian was immense, easily three times the height of a normal man, and easily five times as broad. The ashen plain seemed to darken as the shadowy being strode forwards.
The Warrior cast his most powerful battery of spells, slowly ripping into the heart of the greatest shadow that had ever existed. It was all to no avail as the wound healed over, stitched together by great swirling bands of shadow. The Black Guardian's fist hit the Warrior so hard it left a crater in the plains. The Warrior's armour cracked, pauldrons and couters falling away, tassets and gorget crumbling to dust. The helmet shattered into a million pieces.
It was clear, as the Warrior slowly regained his feet, one more hit like that and it would all be over. The tiny piece of Tori that remained asked of the Warrior whether this great shadow actually had to be defeated to break the curse. The spirit of the Warrior simply scoffed at the thought.
Half his armour now broken, cracked and smoking between rusty weapons thrust into the ground, the Warrior prepared for his most powerful assault. It would cost him nearly everything. His hands began to move, Essence crackling and trailing them. His lips mouthed words that could not be pronounced. The ground seemed to tremble beneath him and the heavens were torn asunder. The sword in his right hand glowed with magical fire, burning white but putting out no heat. Only the runes on the blade prevented it from being consumed utterly.
As the Black Guardian closed in for the kill, The Warrior launched his weapon skywards, watching as it became nothing more than a pinprick.