Chapter I: The Temptation
Copyright © 1999 C.E. by Dustin Jon Scott
[Last Update: June 6th, 2018]
Sunday, Holytide 36th, S.A. 4632
Lodin (Lodiyu) awoke slowly unknowing at first what was about him, and his eyes could not avail him. He felt weight above him. Uncomfortable, heavy, hard to breathe. An elbow in his chest, a knee in his gut. Bodies lying atop him. Cold. Nary a sound alit upon his ears. He wrested an arm free and felt about his surrounds for whatever he might grasp to hoise himself loose from under the corpses.
Inwardly Lodin praised The Gods as he freed himself enough that he took his first breath of fresh air.
Lodin tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids felt stuck.
Another deep, full, thankful breath. It was so difficult to move.
Would it be cowardice to keep resting? Lodin had fought hard. Had he not earned a moment’s leisure?
Was it over? Had they won?
Enough strength had returned to him that Lodin finally managed to wrest his other arm free, and he began to rub the encrustation from his eyes. His vision blurry, his eyes were greeted by a sky of stars and moonlight gleaming through glinting white gossamer clouds, with just enough myst in the air to bear the moonbeams down upon the piles of broken bodies about him.
With a determined grunt, Lodin pulled himself free of the bodies. Exhausted he lay limply, his head down, and as his clarity of vision came gradually back to him, he saw beneath him as he looked down upon the face of his friend Koman (Komayu) staring back up at him with one dead eye, his skull broken, warped, flattened and bent side-wise, face distorted and brains half-spilt.
Lodin gasped and turned away, seeing now before him the face of his friend Latana (Lataya), her glimmering green eyes staring back at him from what of her once-beautiful face now remained, for her jaw had been torn crudely from her, and her tongue hung slack from her throat.
Slowly Lodin rose to his knees, trying not to break at the sight. In pain he cried out.
Lodin looked down at his hands to discover the encrustation he'd rubbed from his eyes was dried blood.
Shakily he managed to get the sole of his right foot planted beneath him, and attempted to clamber to his feet, but no sooner did he begin to raise up off his left knee than the crunch of ribs breaking resounded as his foot fell fast through with a loud slosh into Latana’s torso.
Lodin screamed angrily, as loudly and for as long as he could, doubling over as he belted out every last bit of breath from his lungs before collapsing back down onto his hands and knees, weeping like a frightened child.
Then he collapsed utterly, sobbing and wailing.
Whenas he awoke, Lodin was uncertain as to how long he’d been unconscious, this time or the last.
There was no-one tending to the bodies, and they’d already grown cold by the first time he awoke. Neither side had yet returned to collect their own dead, nor to dispose of the enemy corpses. Either both sides were still fighting somewhere and hadn't yet the chance to return, or both sides had devastated one another utterly, for there was no victor here.
Lodin looked up at the Moon to confirm She was still full, though far higher in the night sky than She was whenas the battle transpired. At least this was still the same night. Inly he thanked The Gods, for only hours had passed.
He was near the old barracks.
Fires still burned in the distance.
In the distance he heard a man scream, followed by the whooping and cackling of hyenas. Crows cawed in the night. The scavengers had begun to feast. If there were still a standing military force, it had moved far from here by now.
Lodin checked down at his side, and found his arming sword gone. Gone also was his shield and all of his gear. It may have lain at the bottom of the pile of bodies he’d freed himself from, but it could just as easily have been scattered beyond any reasonable hope of finding it.
Lodin scanned the immediate area for a suitable small arm, such as a short sword or large knife, and for some sort of a polearm, such as a spear or a war-sword. The first of these was procured quickly, as there lay at Lodin’s feet the corpse of a Mortiferean Knight with a kukri in his belt sheathed. Many a pole-blade about him lay broken, but only a few steps thence he found him an intact glaive.
Lodin pushed forth, trampling the broken bodies and rent faces of fallen friends paving the path before him. Heavily upon his mind and heart remembrances of his beloved Kara lay, only shortly sith together they’d planned to handfast upon his return from Takanipayo (Necropolis) -- but he now feared that day would never come. He would die here, it seemed to him, but at least he would die honorably in service of his Gods.
Altimes Lodin was surrounded in what malefic shades the once proud metropolis vailed upon him as he lumbered wearily on. All around cob and brick tenements were collapsed into the roadways below, amidst the colonnades and peristyles that in ruin lay; as if before his very eyes, to dust they crumbled away. All the streets were cluttered in rubble and stone, and bore scars of a city by fires scathed, fires set and fires raged, all in some long-agone-passed day.
His throat parched, his mouth dry, Lodin began looking around at the corpses of enemy and ally alike for an intact waterskin. Quickly he came upon one and went to pry it from its place wedged half-under the body of a Mortiferean Knight, when the body stirred and began rousing, letting a moan escape his torn mouth. Lodin started and instinctively stomped at the man’s head, again and again until he felt crunching and sloshing beneath his blood-soaked boot.
Lodin drank from the waterskin, glutting down even the last drop, and let forth a sigh of relief as he slung the strap from his shoulder so that it hung at his hip, and he marched on.
Unsteadily Lodin ambled finally to the periphery of the pile of bodies, where now began evermore sparsely to lay the corpses of fallen warriors, and found thankfully solid footing beneath his feet between the bodies.
As Lodin pushed forward the piles of bodies seemed smaller and were distributed more sparsely. Wending ever toward the Mortiferean Temple, Lodin found in a pile of bodies a
Lodin soon found himself drifting through the streets of Necropolis, haunted by the battle that had taken place mere hours before. The horrid stench of blood and entrails lingered in his nostrils, churning his bowels as the foul odor violated his palate. Pale moonlight from above fell short of the vacant alleys below, painting an already eerie atmosphere with a blood-chilling calm. There was nothing but the chilling silence of a cold, empty ghost town. So truly disturbing was the air here that Lodin swore he could hear the wretched, taunting laughter of wicked beings echoing through his mind.
And through the horrid city’s shades Lodin trudged, overcome swith by anamneses of that battle wherein he’d seen slain his fellow Paladins by the darksome Mortifer’s Knights. Part of him wondered if he had died and awoke in the Underworld.
A sudden rustling of branches not far from him. The same, the very same the Paladins heard only just moments before the ambush, that by Mortifer’s Knights was laid.
Lodin heard in those lifeless streets the cries of his fellow Paladins as they battled against their Mortiferean foes, their suffered wails, and the clashing against armor of sword and glaive.
Yet nowhere he looked was there aught but blacken gloom riven by strips of moonlit stone. Nowhere he looked were there trees, nowhere he looked were there persons. Nothing from which such sounds would emit.
Yet louder grew the echoes of cracking bones and clanging steel. So clearly cried out the men’s voices, so clearly he could hear the blood, the bile, the bits of tripe they up-spat; he could hear it clearly within their throats briefly stick and forth come bursting as their bellies erupted by force of violent blow.
And in the distance there were laughters wicked and torment-wrought, of sightless Devils that in the city’s blackest reaches taunted, taunted at him from their night-abodes.
Lodin covered up his ears, clenching his eyes shut tightly, and his mind -- it screamed to expel from him those aural specters encroaching upon his pate. And with eyes shut, and ears covered, he stumbled blindly forward.
In his mind all he saw was a field in viscera sprent, shields glittered by crimson blood, and polearms strewn with sinews.
These memories, these images that took and held him in that battled before waged, with all his tortured mettle he fought at them, to wrench them from his haggard soul.
With eyes clenched he saw unspeakable things, his unspeakable things; atrocities he now lonely bore upon his lithered, fightless shoulders, as he tripped through the streets of Necropolis.
Inly he reeled and outward swayed, and as he stumbled forward his legs began to falter. And he fell that instant to his hands, and to his knees, and he choked down every invention, every imaginate thing that distraught him, every languishing vision and sound.
Into his gut he bade them back, and there he silenced them.
He fought them away, and in their wake was darkness.
And he breathed.
Now but for the cadence of his own panting was there quietude, and the Paladin opened his eyes.
Palled in what wretched lulls stilled the Necropolitan streets did Lodin find himself once more. It seemed in that moment of little profit to attempt retaining whatever was left in him of his sanity, than allow himself sickened by the madnesses that would so vilely divert his mind. What escapes from the hauntings of his own thoughts could suffer him such wroth, without the city of Necropolis?
But in this quest he nary would yield, lest never come his dawn. For there were but him none left to complete the mission, and not his brethren, himself, nor his Gods would he so fail by fleeing now what opposition afore and within him bade.
So he raised his eyes from the cobblestone path, and he brought fore his gaze, endlong the street that before him lay.
Erelong Lodin realized that he wasn’t hearing some distant demonic laughter, nor was it in his mind; it was screaming. It was a woman screaming, and two men, yelling, up ahead.
Lodin hastened toward the sound best as he could in the horrid darkness of the city. He couldn’t run and even at a brisk walk kept his shield before him in caution.
And as he looked, away up ahead and to the right, he beheld there a dim light, coming from one of the buildings.
‘More knights?’ he thought.
Shakily he clambered up and began to look around him, essaying to ken wherefrom he’d stumbled. Yet wheresoever he looked were only identic ambages that reached far as he could tell, and all of them in shadow horror-bent.
But still yet was he pointed eastward, still unto the Temple of Mortifer wending.
Suddenly the sounds of struggling stopped. Lodin continued regardless, until he could make out the faint, flickering rubescence of firelight from one of the buildings ahead.
His heart beat slow and hard in his chest. Against his ribs it thrust. His stomach knotted and sank, twisting him within as up his throat its bile sneaked. His legs grew heavy, his shoulders weak, and his arms grew nearly numb.
And when finally he neared the light, he saw it came from a store’s window.
As Lodin approached the shop he saw its frontispiece, stark and plain, that bore its neighbors’ burns; a scorched and blackened construct matching its surrounds. In its face was a large window, and single small door was to the window’s left, both with edges by fire receded crudely, and from both there glowed softly a yellowred light.
Within the unfurnished shop, nigh the room’s back wall in bright a burning stove’s gilded light Lodin saw two Mortiferean Knights laying stilly in a pool of blood, one on his back with a slashed throat and gashes in his chest, the other lying on his stomach with his head twisted around unnaturally to face the ceiling.
Then Lodin saw up ahead another glow that seemed to radiate from around the corner of the building, before it began to recede. Lodin walked past the window and peaked cautiously around the building’s corner, finding a pair of bodies bleeding out at the bottom of a stairwell as the glow of a lantern disappeared from the top of the steps.
Lodin bent down, and in the darkness struggled to examine the two bodies, waiting for his eyes to adjust in wake of the weak light, and after a moment found enough moonlight to make out their forms: two Mortiferean Knights, both lying on their stomachs with numerous wounds in their backs, both necks broken and their heads twisted unnaturally toward the sky.
Lodin creeped silently as he could up the stone stairs, but could not completely stifle the sound of his footfalls, and could hear no sound up the stairs. He could still see the lantern-glow flickering faintly at the top, but worried he could be heard coming as he slowly made his way upward.
Then as Lodin reached the top of the stairs, he saw at the edge of the rooftop a fair maid with a lantern in one hand and a kukri in the other, bedight in a blood-soaked bodice and matching, white linen loin cloth and stockings.
So devastating was beauty that she must’ve gathered it of the legends themselves, for she was the exemplar of femininity. No more than five feet of height, so sleek and slender was her frame that no Human woman could’ve healthfully matched it. Her face was youthful and fair, of feature both soft and delicate: a modest chin, a buttonish nose, and skin flawless and satin. Her eyne were of the most vibrant rime-blue, and almost shockingly large; shining as the purest blue spinel and chilling to the core any who would’ve gazed upon them, and edged by lashes so dark and thick that by contrast seemed they set her eyes afire. Her lips were full and pouting, silken, beckoningly. Her hair was varying shades of ruddy brown, from chestnut to dark auburn, hip-length; an elegant brown mane that accentuated her thin and swanlike neck, even as her hair lay mistfully down over her pointed ears, whilst trailing down either side of her face was a single blonde lock that began at the peak of her bangs. Her arms were delicate and nimble, both thin and well formed. Her torso was narrow and tith, and endowed with paps belike vast, sphery melons, that highly upon her chest were steeled, juttied forth pertly self-hoist as though weightless. Her waist was beyond reason tapered, and her abdomen lean and slightly incurved. Her hips, stalwart and hardy, were faultlessly sloped into her generous hindquarters; haunches perfectly rounded and granite, shaped as by sculptors of mythic renown. Her legs were uncommonly svelte, yet crafted with muscle and curve of breathtaking allure, and just slightly too long for her height.
In all, the young woman appeared as though someone had decided to clothe a Nymph. Familiar was her appearance to Lodiyu, for her image was identic to that of the Rowan women.
Scantly was she covered, serving to ostent what assets Nature had seen fit to bequeath her. Her upper body sported a bload-soaked bust-bodice of white linen, thin and unpadded, with a scooping neckline, thin straps that hung slack from her shoulders, and a lace-up front. Doubtless it was tailored for a woman of proportions far more rotund and less sonsie than she, being so tight around her chest that it prevented her from pulling its panels together so far as was by design intended, striving to contain her mammets despite hanging loosely from the rest of her form, and such was resultant manner in which the bodice was forced to fit her that her unthinkably taut midriff was left bare. Her legs were clad in stockings of white linen, and she wore also matching loin cloth, both bloodied belike her bodice.
“It’s not my fault!” the young woman declared, “They tried to rape me!”
“I believe you!” replied Lodin.
The young woman stared at him, inquisitively her eyes narrowed and her brow somewhat furrowed, as she sensuously approached him. With each seductive step she took, her hips bell-wavered below her absurdly small waist as a womanly pendulum exquisitely formed, seeming intent to wriggle free of her loin cloth.
She stopped just before him, cocked her hip sharply to one side as she kept the tip of her kukri trained at him, holding her lantern aloft.
“Who are you?” she demanded, in her voice a hint of nervous quaver. Even so, the sound was as heavenly as a thousand sirens’ quire.
Lodiyu held high his chin in the manner of pride he thought most befitting a Paladin, and he replied to her:
“My name’s Ka Lodin (Kalnyuu Lodiyu) of the Aradian Knights (Aradiyanitanundyeu), and of the Kingdom of Béowyn,” the Paladin stated with his head held high in a confident stance.
“Is that what I shall call you then, Ka Lodin of Aradian Knights, and of the Kingdom of Béowyn?” the girl inquired in a semi-mocking tone, grinning haughtily, though secretly she couldn’t help but think how familiar the name seemed to her, as though she recognized it from somewhere.
In embarrassment the Paladin aslight withdrew, crossing his arms and smiling awkwardly. “Well, no, I mean, you can of course call me ‘Lodin’.”
“I’m pleased to meet you then, Lodin,” she replied. “Would you like to come in out of the cold and get warmed up?”
“Yes, please!” replied Lodin. The girl slid her kukri into the strap of her loincloth and took the Paladin by the hand, leading him then down the stairs and into the shop. Lodin leaned his glaive against the wall and together there by the stove the twain sat. The maiden then reached to her backpack and unbuckled it, and pulled from it a half-empty bottle of wine.
“You look like you could use a drink,” said the young maid, holding out to him the bottle.
“Thank you,” said Lodin. He took the bottle in his hand, and from it took a swig, and held it out in return to her.
She raised her hand in protest. “Take the whole thing; I’m betting you need it more than I. I’d offer something a bit stronger, if I had it.”
“What about you?” asked the Paladin.
“I still have a full skin of ale,” she assured him, piking her right leg straight up to roll her blood-sopped stocking from her thigh to her knee.
“So, what could’ve possibly brought a girl like you to a place like Necropolis?” asked Lodin, as the girl bent her right knee that she might finish removing the stocking.
“I was actually hoping to find my sister here,” young woman explained, tossing the bloody stocking over onto a pile of clothing sitting in the puddle of blood surrounding the bodies.
“You mean Zhadiya (Jady),” presumed the Paladin.
“Yeah, how could you know that?” asked the girl, with her eyes narrowed.
Lodin glutted more of the wine. “Well, you look almost exactly alike. Your hair is red, and your eyes are blue, but otherwise I can’t see any differences between you. You’re all but identical.”
Still brightly smiling at the Paladin, the girl then rolled her eyes. “No, that’s not what I meant,” she said, folding her right leg beneath her ere piking her left leg above her. “Believe me,” she said, rolling the stocking up from her thigh to her knee like the first. “I’m well aware of how much Jady and I look alike,” she explained, bending her knee to finish rolling the stocking off. “What I meant was,” she began, tossing the bloodied stocking beside the other, “how do you know her?”
“We’re friends. Very good friends, actually, though I haven’t seen her since Larissa’s funeral. I knew she’d been looking for you for years, but I had no idea you were searching for her as w-- ”
“Stop right there,” she interrupted. “I think you have me misprised for my sister, Kyra (Kiriya).”
“You aren’t Kira?” asked Lodin, somewhat forstraught.
She shook her head. “No, my name’s Akanaraya (Windsong) Na’Aramyn. But everyone calls me ‘Nakaya’ (Gale). Jady’s my elder sister.”
“I didn’t know Jady had a younger sister,” said Lodin, as Gale reached over to her backpack to procure fresh clothing.
“Neither did she, till we met in Candleton last Ereyule,” said Gale, rising to her feet and motioning for Lodiyu to turn around. “At first she took me for Kyra as well,” she said, untying the knots at the sides of her loincloth and letting it drop the ground. “So did her friends,” she continued, loosening the strings of her bodice, “when she brought me to see them in Idlestone.” Gale then slipped the thin straps of her bodice down over her shoulders, letting it drop to the floor. “Now that I think of it, I might recall hearing something of you. Weren’t you betrothed our older sister, Kara?” asked Gale, kicking the discarded clothing over into the corner.
Lodin began to turn toward her.
“Hey!” scolded Gale, quickly covering her erogenous areas with her hand and arm ere Lodin averted his gaze once more.
“She’s called Mistress Phoenix Adonia, now,” Lodin explained as Gale began to pull on a pair of clean, white linen leggings. “She’s a priestess,” Lodin informed Gale as she bent herself down and grabbed up a clean, white linen bodice from her backpack. “If your hair were redder, you’d look exactly like her. We plan to move back home to Foxley where she can teach,” said Lodin, as Gale replaced her bodice, this one much like the last but for its long, bell-sleeves.
Gale sat herself down before Lodin once more and smirked as he turned back around to face her, and she removed from under her pack her skin of ale. She took a drink and then leaned back, propping herself up with one arm. “Ah, so you were the lucky one who managed to sack ‘Miss Foxley the Fair’, eh?” And with that said she gave the Paladin an allusive, roguish wink.
“I wouldn’t say it in those words, exactly, but yeah.”
“So,” said Gale, standing up once more, “what brings you to a place like Necropolis?” Gale then produced woolen leggings from her pack, and began to pull them over her linens.
At this query Lodin’s head for a moment hung, his mind briefly again taken to what earlier in the eve had transpired as Gale once more sat before him. “I was sent here. Well, we were sent here, I should say,” Lodin explained as Gale took up another woolen garment from her pack. “The other Paladins and I. It’s a long story,” he said, as Gale pulled the woolen sweater down over her head.
“I wouldn’t mind hearing it,” said Gale, beginning to tie her hair back.
“I wouldn’t mind telling it, but unfortunately I haven’t the time,” Lodin said as Gale procured a woolen skullcap from her pack. “Honestly, I shouldn’t even be here. I have to get to the Temple of Mortifer. I have to get to the Lychstafr and the Demonicon before the Mortiferean Knights do.”
Gale’s eyes grew then very wide. “What Mortiferean Knights? There are more of them here?”
“The Mortiferean Knights that killed the other Paladins,” replied Lodin. “They might all be dead now. I don’t know. I don’t have the time to explain.”
“No, no, you’re going to explain,” demanded Gale, slipping the skullcap onto her pate. “I have no desire to get killed here. I think I have the right to know about whatever’s happening.”
“I have to leave,” insisted Lodin, his tone urgent as he clomb up from the floor.
Gale stood up as well, and she grabbed Lodin by the arm. She looked up into his eyes, and she said to him: “Listen, Paladin, there aren’t any Mortiferean Knights here right now, besides the ones I just took care of. If you don’t tell me what’s happening....”
“What?” asked Lodin, and Gale released his arm.
“I’ll kill you,” she replied with a careless shrug, her face stoic, yet eyes suasive.
“I’m a Paladin. You couldn’t kill me.”
“I just killed four knights. You wanna risk it?”
“You wouldn’t kill me,” argued Lodin.
“Do you want to risk it?”
“I know you’re only jesting.”
“Do, you, want to risk it?” repeated Gale, yet this time by her own beaming grin betrayed.
“I don’t have time to debate the matter. I have to go.”
“Then I’m coming with you,” said Gale, grabbing a leather duster from beside her backpack and throwing it around her shoulders, quickly slipping her arms through the sleeves.
“Fine,” said Lodin, “you’re coming with me.”
“Fine,” replied Gale. “Just let me gather my things.”
Gale turned and bent down, closed up her backpack, quickly rolled up her bedding, and strapped it to her bag. She buckled up the pack and threw it on, then over her shoulder she slung the strap of her ale-skin, and grabbed up her lantern as she stood, along with the bottle of wine.
“Here, you nearly forgot this,” said Gale, handing the bottle to Lodin.
“Thanks,” said Lodin, taken sharply aback at how swiftly she’d readied her supplies. He shook his head, and drank back some of his wine. Lodin and Gale then left the warmth of the shop, and into the dark of the city.