In Shadows and Dark Places

October 30, 2017 Background  No comments

The world and history of Dark Age is a large and epic place, with tons of secrets hidden and tucked away in its shadowy corners. Whenever we get a chance to peel back one of these mysterious layers, we like to do so with some flair. Something interesting and unique is coming to Dark Age in early 2018, and today we want to give you just a preview of its arrival…

A Piece of Dark Age Fiction by Bryan Steele

Shadows Dark Places Tease

“Did you hear that?” Unsria scanned the rocky landscape, the night as bright as day through the crystalline filter of her Raaf helm. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary to her, but all of her senses were on fire nonetheless. Something was not right out here. “We are not alone.”

“Of course we are not,” Khasatta chided with a click of her tongue, tapping the ground with the butt of her bardiche, “there are still some Blood worshippers yet left in these hills. If it wasn’t one of them,” the Spirit Lord ran her slender fingertips across the wall of the ruin they were investigating. Deep violet traces of foci energy was visible for a moment on the stone before evaporating away like breath on a mirror. “Lady Amabilia claimed it could take years to cut out all of the Skarrd cancer from this valley.”

The two Shadow Caste veterans were part of that night’s excursion beyond the tunnels and the caves in the Talen Valley, half of a skilled Dragyri warrior quartet searching through one of the many Skarrd surface camps the Blood Cult left behind when they abandoned their homes to join Johann at Retribution. Engagements with stragglers were common in the first few weeks of scouring, but most of these later attempts have been fruitless.

“I hope you’re right,” the Raaf growled anticipatorily, “because every time I hear from our brothers and sisters deeper in the manlands about all the lives their blades are drinking up – I just want to kill something.”
“There will always be something else to kill, child,” Khasatta purred, her slightly pointed teeth clacking together hungrily, “the Lady Amabilia is unravelling the threads of their world even now. A great and murderous war is not far.”

“How can you say that?” Unsria’s voice was a displeased hiss, her tone almost as sharp as her spur blades. “The Grand Arbiter pushes for peace above glory, the Day of Darkness did not unleash the Umbral tide like we were promised, and now… the Arbiter of Purpose’s return? These are not small obstacles to overcome on the path to their apocalypse.”
“San’triahn is of the old ways,” the Spirit Lord reminded as they rounded a bend into some fresh half-standing constructions, “which might be more problematic for Yovanka’s new regime than she imagines. Purpose and Fate have been at odds since before Earth’s hibernation, and with the evolution of Luck’kit’kaii’s gifts from the Masters…” both of them paused to spit dramatically on the ground, “that rivalry will surely only grow. Hood is handling Rath’zhi, I am told as well.”

“Maybe you’re right. I just despise all the waiting.” Unsria deftly climbed over some rubble. “We hid in darkness for so long. Now that we are out and able, I feel like I should always—”

The clatter of gravel falling from a higher level in the ruins ripped both of their attention away from the conversation. Trails of dust drifted down in the moonlight from where the stones fell, and their Dragyri predatory senses honed in on a human shape scrambling away from the lip of the ledge.

“—be killing something.” She grinned.

“Don’t you run, honorless tadpole!” Khasatta’s eyes went wide, the amber shine growing darker as if it were swallowing up the light around her face. She shot her hand out toward the ledge, her talons grasping at the air. Cold tendrils of blackness seeped out from within her sleeve, unfolding outward like ink running across the page until it swallowed up the entire area of the upper ledge. Once the ballooning orb of darkness encompassed everywhere the scurrying trespasser could have crawled, the Spirit Lord closed her fingers around the aether and twisted her fist in a circle, like winding an invisible rope around it. A few twists later and she yanked her arm backward, the darkness washing back toward her like a wave. The wave crashed against the ground and dissipated into wisps of smoke. In its place, trying to scramble to standing at Khasatta’s feet, remained a pale-skinned man covered in ritualistic scarring and tattoos.

“It… it’s too late,” the human looked up at his attackers defiantly, his bloodshot eyes peering out from carved holes in a mask made of cured flesh, each one flicking back and forth with excited anxiety. “… you have already let it out!” He held up his hands, and draped between them was a length of old rusted chain – the links at both ends shattered, twisted, and open. “You came here… you took the tunnels… and you took the vault! You took the vault and you didn’t even know! You… you… you let it out!”

Unsria and Khasatta looked to each other quizzically.

“Do you know what it is saying?” the Raaf asked, stepping closer.

“I only know enough hyoomahneese to tell if they are afraid of me,” the Spirit Lord laughed, ripping the chain out of the Skarrd’s hands, “but this thing’s mewling is nonsense.”

“I’m sure our Grand Arbiter would want us to learn more about our surface neighbors,” Unsria ran the edges of her spur blades against one another, sending a screeching tone echoing down the valley, “so let’s start peeling back some layers and learn something.”

The sound of something heavy landing in the gravel beyond the broken brick wall stole all of their attention in an instant.

“What was that?” Khasatta tossed the chain aside and scanned the darkness.

“It’s here!” the swiveled its head from side to side, “The Ghost is free!” He looked at his would-be killers and levelled a bony finger on both hands at them, “It comes for you now! You opened its cage! You! The Ghost now comes for YOU!”

“Enough!” Unsria lashed out with her blades, but the Skarrd warrior was nimble and ducked out of the way.
“Hold still, worm!” Khasatta’s weapon slashed down through the night air, but again he stepped to the side.
“You know not what you have done!” flaps of shorn flesh worn like leathers twirled around him as he fled toward the darkness beyond the edge of the ruin. Perhaps it was the frenzy of paranoia or just the familiar landscape, but somehow he was outpacing the Dragyri. “Reap what you have so—”

The world around him erupted in plumes of white, dazzling light. Explosions from several impacts tore the ground to craters, sending rocks and flaming debris in all directions.

Yet, when the smoke cleared and the spots vanished from the warriors’ eyes, the Skarrd was still somehow alive. Blood poured from dozens of shrapnel cuts, smoke curled from his molten hair, and black char clung to the edges of his man-leather clothing – but he was still alive. Alive, and laughing.

“What was that?” Unsria’s question was as much to the universe as it was her sister-in-arms.

“More hyoomahns?” Khasatta was just as confused, but her aetheric senses were already telling her different.
Then a growl – a stiff, echoing, mechanical growl – thrummed through the laughter. Followed by heavy, gravel-crunching footfalls.

“What is that?” the Raaf pointed the length of her blade at a large, hulking shape walking into view.

“Targets…” the booming, bass tone growl of a menacing speaker droned out from the somewhat humanoid shape, “… acquired. Assessing.”

“An aether lord?” Khasatta gasped, rubbing her eyes with the back of her hand, seeing the trace outline of green flame or some similar image scrawled upon its chassis, “No… something else…”

“Eliminating,” the mechanical voice reverberated, but the sound was nothing compared to the roar of its cannons…

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