B.3 Chapter 48: Bloody City (Part One)
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Harald took a step back from William, his hand moving to his sword’s guard. The champion before him took a step back as well, his cold eyes set on the veteran.


“We can stop this,” Harald called out. “No one needs to die.”


“The Draugr should have thought of that before he endangered Valenfrost,” William answered venomously.


“What did they tell you?” Harald asked.


“They didn’t have to tell me anything. I saw it for myself back in Buravon,” William scowled. “The things I saw there…” He shook his head. “I’m going to take you down, Stroud, and you’re going to tell me everything.”




“Shut it! Stop acting as if you are still my superior!” William pointed at himself. “I am the new champion of Azlene! I am her blade, her emissary!”


“You’re a fool if you think Azlene stands for any of this.” Harald gestured to the blood moons above, which had just appeared not too long ago. The man before him seemed to hesitate for a moment, but he soon shook it off. He stared at Harald, his anger still boiling as he disregarded the moons.


“The goddess chose me,” William growled. “I shall use her cleansing embers to purify these islands and the abominations that lurk within them.” He raised his sword at the veteran. “Draw your weapon! Fight me!”


Harald stared at William, unsure if the younger man truly knew what purpose he was fighting for. If anything, he seemed confused and scared. Harald wanted to talk with him, to at least reason with the champion. Yet even he knew it would be for naught. William was irrationally angry and there was nothing he could do or say to stop him. With a heavy sigh, Harald unsheathed his sword. He gestured to the guardsmen behind him.


“Stay back. Don’t jump in.”


“Are you sure?” Dirk asked.


“Sir, this is crazy…” Kate murmured.


“This is personal,” Harald simply answered. He turned back to William, who awaited him. “I accept your challenge, under the condition that if I win, you call off your men.”


“You are in no position to negotiate.”


“I will tell you everything, William,” Harald revealed. “The absolute truth, I swear it. Just accept my terms.”


William seemed to ponder at the veteran’s words. After a few seconds, he muttered a curse and gritted his teeth.


“Fine,” William answered through his clenched jaw. “Are you ready, Stroud?” The champion asked as he shifted and took his stance, enchanted sword at the ready.


“I am more than ready.”


Harald took his own stance, his nicked and scratched sword wavering a little as he readied it. The veteran took a deep breath, his left hand moving to fix his helmet. This was a battle he waged multiple times in his mind. One that he replayed countless times. Yet he felt far from ready. His knees wobbled and his breath was shallow. The sword was ten times heavier and his armor was tight against his chest. The veteran was nervous.


William was the first to charge. Harald raised his weapon in defense, barely catching the strike. Both men contested with each other, with William having the upper hand. Soon enough, William won the brief clash, his blade flashing as it struck the veteran’s upper chest. Thankfully, the steel plate of Harald’s armor protected him from a grizzly fate. Still, there was a visible gash that ran deep into the steel. It was the power of enchanted blades, one that Harald knew very well.


William rushed back again, wasting no time in fighting the veteran. Harald stepped forward, his armament already mid-swing. The two swords clashed once more and this time, the veteran’s own blade couldn’t hold up with the champion’s special weapon. The sword broke as a result, sending half its length flying across the street. Harald stared at the broken weapon. The entire world around him stopped at that moment. Stunned, he could only watch as William’s sword lunged towards him.


A sharp pain jolted Harald awake. The veteran’s gaze moving to his abdomen. William had stabbed him, the enchanted blade’s runes burning with red energy as they pierced armor and flesh. However, the wound was not deep enough to be vital. That was the result of the veteran’s instincts. His left hand grabbed at the sword's edge, blood staining all over his palm and fingers as he gripped onto the weapon.


“Harald!” Kate’s shout rang out, snapping the old man out of his stunned stupor.


“Why don’t you just give up already!” William shouted in anger as he pulled his sword away from Harald. The veteran took a step back, his right hand lowering the broken sword.


“Just accept your defeat and die!” William lunged once more, his sword swinging down on Harald. Harald moved to dodge, barely avoiding the strike. He thrusted forward with his broken weapon, landing a hit on the other man’s side. Yet the jagged edge did nothing but scratch the steel.


“Idiot!” William retaliated. He backhanded the veteran, sending him to the ground. “You’re even worse than back when we last fought. It seems as if these islands have corroded your skill and experience to a null,” William taunted. He dragged his sword across the ground in front of the veteran. “You’re pathetic.”


Harald himself felt the sentiment in those words. He had trained and fought, survived and killed, yet he was losing horribly. Was his past dragging him down this much? His body was slow. His bones felt weak and his hands were shaking. Harald felt like the old man he really was.


‘Is this my reality? Was I nothing more than a pathetic old man destined to hold on to the past?’


He looked up at William, who was raising his sword. He was no longer the young man back on that isle. No longer was William, the rookie who wanted to be nothing more than a knight. He was Azlene’s chosen.


“Do you have any last words, Stroud?”


“I’m sorry,” Harald breathed out.


William stopped and blinked. “What?”


“I am sorry. For everything I did,” Harald reiterated. “The fort. The men we lost that day. It still haunts me.” He broke eye contact. His pride was gone. His dignity taken away. He was done. “Not a day goes by where I don’t think about it. I deserve this. I deserve everything you have to throw at me.” He gestured to the guardsmen behind him. “But they? Let them live, at least. They’re just kids…”


William furrowed his brow, his jaw visibly clenching at Harald’s words. “What gives you the right to negotiate? To act as if you care?” The champion raised his sword, his face twisting into fury. The veteran only stared at William, his mind trying to find the words. To find the phrase that could end this fight. Yet nothing came to mind.


Before William or Harald could say or do anything, someone yelled at them. “You bastard!” It was Kate, and she was rushing towards William. The guardswoman had her sword drawn, and she was aiming to strike the chosen champion before her. William raised his weapon, defending himself from the woman’s swing.


They contested blades, and Kate screamed at Harald. “You idiot! You’re supposed to be our example! Our mentor! Yet here you are! Groveling like an idiot!”


Harald stared at her, shocked at her actions. Kate shifted to William, pushing him back as she called to the fallen veteran. “Pick yourself up and fight! Your past is the past! We are here to save a city, not your conscious!”


“Insolent bitch!” William rushed back at Kate, his sword glowing with embers. “Ember Strike!” Kate tried to defend herself, but the William’s blade cut through hers like nothing. His strike cut through steel and gambeson, singing the young woman’s arm and throwing her back.


William went for the killing blow, his sword in full swing. Harald rushed in with his broken blade, using his boot to kick at the other man’s arm. William stumbled and tripped as a result, his gaze moving at Harald. “You gain the will to fight now?!”


“I’m defending my students!” Harald announced.


“You’ll die at my hand. I swear by it!”


Harald took his stance, his hands raising the remaining half of his sword. “Try it.”



Dahlia pressed herself against the alleyway’s walls, her fist raising to stop everyone behind her. The gnomes nearby stopped their march, their wide eyes watching ahead with anticipation. The storm clouds that hung over Vindis had snuffed the blood moons and their glow out, leaving the city in near darkness. Only the burning buildings and sporadic flashes of lightning provided any light. Still, while they couldn’t see, they could still hear the sounds of soldiers fighting and marauders howling. It was more than enough to signify danger.


The gnomes that hung behind the shaman were Nathan’s own employees, being the same ones that gave her the artificer grenades and supplied her with alchemical ingredients. These artificer gnomes, Wheaton, and their dwarf coworker, Rockford, were currently carrying Vindis’ last hope. The totem was an old thing, one that had originally been used back during the founding days of the city. Normally, it would be useless, but the gnomes had tinkered and enchanted the thing, improving upon its original design.


Dahlia hoped it would be enough, that it would send the message out clearly to any nearby outposts or longships. There was no backup plan after this, after all.


“I think we’re clear,” Elaine muttered nearby Dahlia. The bard gestured to the street ahead, which was quickly illuminated by a flash of lightning. As it turned out, Elaine’s hunch was right. There seemed to be no one visible on the main street, which gave Dahlia little relief.


Still, she needed to move. Time was running out, and they needed to reach the center quickly.


“Do you have any buffs you can cast on us all?” Dahlia whispered to Elaine.


“I have one that can quicken our steps, but with this many people…” The bard turned to everyone in the alleyway. Dahlia turned as well, her eyes scanning the many armored men and women cramped in the small space. There were close to twenty people, nearly all of them honorary ravens. Some thieves were in the mix as well. Elaine wouldn’t be able to buff them all efficiently without straining herself to the limit.


“We’ll have to risk it,” Dahlia bit her lip. She took point once more, ignoring the plea of the gnomes and Archibald’s protest. The shaman moved forward, quickly crossing the street before everyone else. Once across, she gestured for everyone else to move in. Just like before, they all moved in segments across the street. First the gnomes and Rockford. Then Elaine and Lilith. Helen would move in with Bjorn and Archibald, with the guards in the back and front.


Just as the last group crossed the street, a volley of arrows flew at them. One of the many projectiles struck one man by the arm. The guardsman shouted as he stumbled, before another arrow struck him. This one hit his exposed neck, causing the man to gurgle out in pain and agony.


“Archers!” Dahlia shouted. The other men and women in the street moved to protect themselves, raising their shields as they tried to drag off the injured man.


Archibald tried to check on the struck man but was stopped by another volley of arrows coming from the darkness.


“He’s done for! Leave him or else you’ll end up the same way!” Helen shouted at the elf before she dragged away another guard who had arrows protruding from their back. Dahlia stepped in to help, her hand equipping a rune stone that was enchanted with Night Spray. She aimed it at the general direction of the arrows, her voice gaining magical might as she chanted the spell.


“Night Spray!”


The stone grew immensely hot, shuddering as it fired multiple firefly-like projectiles into the general direction of the arrows. In the dark rainy night, the shaman could see the night spray’s projectiles impact and light up men in shoddy mail and half ripped clothing. Marauders.


“Keep moving!” Dahlia shouted to the guards as they ran to safety. “Helen, we have to run, now!”


“We can’t!” Helen shouted back through the rain. “Too many wounded. They’ll catch us if we run. Some of us will have to stay and fight.” Her words stung Dahlia like a knife.


“I’ll stay and hold them off!” Bjorn shouted out. “I can take them!”


“Don’t be an idiot!” Archibald reprimanded. The elf was currently helping one of the wounded. “You’ll get overwhelmed. Your sacrifice will be for nothing.” Archibald stood and unsheathed his rapier. “You’re going to need my help.”


“Are you sure, Archibald?” Dahlia asked.


“I’m more than sure. Go,” The elf fixed his helmet, making it so that the visor wasn’t obstructing his view. “The dwarf and I shall be your shield.”


“I’m staying too!”


“Same here.”


“I’m not backing down!”


Some guards nearby voiced their opinions, some of them even moving to join Bjorn and Archibald. Even the wounded were moving to join the band of defenders.


“We’ll stay here,” Bjorn called out to Dahlia. “You need to get to the center and activate that totem!” The dwarf tightened his shield to his left arm, readying himself for battle. Dahlia felt a heavy weight on her heart as she watched the men and women before her ready up. Lightning flashed and the shaman could see the wave of marauders charging from the end of the street.


“We have to go,” Helen muttered next to her. The veteran pulled at Dahlia’s arm, snapping the shaman back to her reality.


Dahlia nodded and slowly moved to catch up with the rest of the group. She gave Bjorn and Archibald one last look. The elf was in position, his rapier up and ready. The dwarf downed one last potion, before he tossed it away. Dahlia took in the heavy, rainy air before she shouted.


“We’ll come back for you all!”


Bjorn simply turned back to her, his single eye meeting with hers. He flashed her a grin, one that could make the most fearful of men proud and brave.


“Don’t wait up!”





Deimos crushed the skull of the city guard, watching as the younger man’s eyes went blank. The corpse fell back onto the wet ground, blood leaking from his eyes. The chieftain looked up at the clouded sky, focusing on the red glow that shone through the rain now and then. He hadn’t had fun like this since the Halvorson raid. The only thing missing was the challenge and blood boiling heat of danger. Deimos longed for another fighter like Yorn. A man who could push the chieftain to his very limits.


“These guards will have to do it for now,” he sighed as he kicked the corpse. Deimos looked around, almost expecting another fellow marauder nearby. Instead, there was no one in sight. The chieftain raised an eyebrow, his body turning to look around the street. Aside from the trail of bodies, there was not a single person in sight. It would seem the Red Death’s path of destruction had outdone his own marauders.


The marauder leader turned back to his front, his gaze setting on the path ahead. More fighting could be heard south of where he was. It was far from the center of the city, but Deimos didn’t care. Any fighting would do, even if it was solely one-sided. The chieftain stepped forward, making his way through the alleyways and winding paths. He came across more bodies, ones that he was surprised to see. Lumen soldiers with phoenix emblems, thieves that bore green cloaks, and even a couple of guards that bore a white raven symbol.


Deimos continued along, passing burnt buildings and collapsed bridges. More bodies littered the street as he went along, most of them marauders and lumen soldiers. The one thing most of them had in common was a single killing blow.


‘Their throats are cut wide open. Dagger most possibly.’


Deimos kicked over another of the bodies. As he expected, there was a wide red smile on this one’s throat. He looked up, focusing on where most of the bodies converged. A merchant’s guild, its roof burnt and half its walls collapsed.


Deimos only needed to take one more step to figure out what was happening. A cold sensation washed over him, one that made the rain feel lukewarm. He stopped, a grin forming on his lips.


“I can sense you. Come out and give me a fair fight.” Deimos waited for a moment, expecting for the cloaked men to come out of the shadows. None came forward. The chieftain scoffed. “I see now. Cowards to the end, eh?” He raised his long ax. Right when he did so, a thief came to his left. The dagger wielder went for a stab at his throat, aiming to make a swift kill.


Deimos reacted quicker, his ax swinging to block the thief’s dagger. The dirk reflected off the ax’s staff, making a faint chink sound as it uselessly glanced against steel.


“My turn,” Deimos muttered. With a quick motion, he grabbed the thief’s throat, using his strength to crush it. The man in his grip cried out pathetically before he tried to use his dagger to stab Deimos. It was no use, as the chieftain’s armor was far too thick. Deimos squeezed even harder, putting his entire strength in his grip.


Two more shadows rushed out at the chieftain, their daggers glinting as they brandished them. Deimos turned to them, his left arm straining with effort as he threw the first man. The thief flew, before he collided with his fellow thieves. Deimos took a step forward, his long ax raised above his head. Using all his strength, the marauder swung his weapon.


“Power Strike!” The ax’s edge gained a red hue, its speed doubling as it swung diagonally at the three thieves. Blood and guts spilled as the ax tore through the airborne thief, stunning the others before him. The ax continued its swing regardless of the body, hitting the next thief instantly in the jaw. The ax head shredded bone and flesh, sending it flying. Its momentum finally stopped when it struck the last man in the skull, burying itself deep into it.


Gore flew and splattered all over the chieftain’s armor, staining it. Deimos shifted from the drawback of the casting, his body burning and heating to an extreme. The power strike was much more draining this time, a result of the chieftain bolstering it. Thankfully, the icy rain made it all the easier to recover from. Deimos pulled his ax from the dead man’s skull. He watched as the man before him fell to the ground, his head split open like a melon.


“Who’s next?” He called out to the rain. Ahead, Deimos could see multiple shadows emerge, their hands brandishing shining daggers. They were like a wave, appearing on the roofs and in the alleyways. It looked like they learned their lesson. No amount of ambushing was going to work on Deimos. Not when he could sense them all. The Red Death grinned in excitement, his ax readying itself once again.


Carapace!” He shouted. A warm snug feeling made itself known, filling the chieftain’s mouth with the taste of berries.


The thieves charged at him, their own voices filling the cold air.




“Caelus’ Edge!”


“Arpidel Aura!”


“Endious’ Wrath!”


This night was going to be interesting.





“Up ahead. At the wizard’s shop.”


Seamus whispered to Nathan. He gestured to the shop ahead, the same one where he saw the blind spellcaster enter.


“Ferir’s shop,” Nathan muttered. “Never really liked him, but he never deserved death.”


“I don’t see any guards,” Haggard spoke up. “Are there more inside?” The drifter asked Falrick.


The older man shook his head. “From the scry I did earlier, he sent off his only guard to deal with another part of the city. He’s all alone.”


“How confident is this bastard?” Haggard murmured as he stepped out into the street.


“Judging from what he managed to do, I’d say he’s not to be underestimated,” Falrick warned as he followed the drifter.


Nathan followed behind, his hands flexing and forming practice runes. “Ferir wasn’t just any old wizard either,” he started. “The fact that he was killed means we’re dealing with someone exceptionally dangerous.” Both wizards walked side by side, their hats waving in the wind and rain.


Seamus recalled Falrick’s stories of wizards. They were exceptional spellcasters, masters of all houses of magic. They were the peak of spellcasting, the hats they wore being one of status. Seamus eyed the gold pins and badges that were pinned on both men’s hats. Falrick outranked Nathan by a mile, but both men’s skills were still on another level. Nathan’s foreign pins still signified him as a wizard of noticeable power. Falrick’s pins showed that the old man was a master of his craft.


All in all, they were stacked in power. Even Haggard was at full strength, itching for a fight with whatever laid beyond the wizard shop. The only oddball was Seamus, who stayed in the back as the powerhouses took the lead. Haggard was the first to reach the shop, his hammer at the ready as he opened the door. Seamus held his breath as he watched. The drifter swung the door open, showcasing the darkness inside. There was a pause as he stared inside.


Haggard was the first to step in, his left hand forming a rune. “Candlelight.” His fingers produced a small ball of light, one that illuminated the interior of the shop. Surprisingly, it all looked normal. Items still lined the shelves. Valdoras spotted the counter. Candles were snuffed off. It was like the shop was closed for the night. Still, Seamus could feel the sense that someone was looking at him.


“I’ll take the lead,” Haggard called to the wizards as he walked ahead. Falrick didn’t argue as he stuck behind him.


Nathan looked at Seamus. “Go, I’ll watch your back,” He murmured. Seamus nodded and stepped up to the door. He stuck close to Falrick, his sword’s blade halfway out of the sheath. The group slowly made their way through the shop, passing shelves and hanging curtains.


They would reach the backroom without so much of a peep. The only sound was the creaking of floorboards and wet boots pressing against them. Haggard took a deep breath and stepped through the curtain that led to the backroom. Seamus followed behind with Falrick.


The room was much spacier and vast than Nathan’s, almost like an indoor courtyard. There was a large skylight above them, showcasing the stormy sky that poured rain upon the building. There looked to be little to no furniture or amenities inside, the only thing being that of a large rune circle that was carved into the floor. It glowed a dark purple, with symbols and glyphs surrounding a figure at the center. Seamus stared at the man before him. Memories flooded back into his head, reminding him of that fateful night. He remembered seeing someone similar, someone just like this man.


Yet the young man couldn’t remember it clearly. It was all so blurred, so hazy.


The blindfolded man stood from his position in the circle, his head tilting at the group. He grinned. “How quaint. Falrick and Seamus. I’d never expect to see you two here, alive and well.”


“Who the hel are you?” Seamus asked in a mutter.


“You don’t remember me, do you?” The spellcaster asked. He looked upset.


“It doesn’t matter who you are,” Nathan said. “We’re here to dispel your circle and stop this raid.”


The spellcaster turned to Nathan with a confused look. He laughed almost immediately after. “That’s quite funny…” He raised a hand to his chest. “It does matter who I am. For this rune circle is tied to my life force.” He gestured to the surrounding runes. “As long as I live, this city will be cut off from the ley lines.”


“Is that supposed to intimidate us?” Haggard asked as he hefted his hammer.


“Oh most definitely,” the spellcaster chuckled. “For I am Eli of the Marauders. The same man who had brought the Halvorson clan to its knees and helped cut the bear’s head off.” He made a motion across his neck. “You are foolish to believe you could kill me.”


“I’m willing to try.” Haggard grinned.


“Haggard, wait!” Falrick called out to the drifter, but it was already too late. Haggard rushed towards the spellcaster, his hammer raised and ready to smash. Eli simply stared in amusement before he stepped forward.


“How naïve,” he called out. Eli swiped at the air before him, summoning a mist of black that rushed towards Haggard. The drifter faltered his sprint at the sight of this, his body shifting to dodge the black spears that had manifested in less than a second.


They only scratched at his armor, but the act was enough to strike fear in nearly everyone in the room. Seamus himself felt he was going crazy. Did he really witness that? Eli had summoned a spell without speaking its word of power. That was impossible. Not even the best of wizards could cast spells like this. Yet here was Eli, using his hands to guide spears of mist. The blind caster swiped once more and a ball of light appeared from nowhere, blinding everyone. A flare spell, this one also cast without the user’s input.


Seamus raised his sword in defense, his eyes blinking as fast as possible. Through the fading screen of white, he could see Falrick raise a staff.


“Magi Shield!”


In a near instant, Seamus saw a bubble of blue form around him, its magical power humming around him. Right after this, a spear of black mist pierce right through, barely missing the young by a few hairs. The shield broke, shattering as fast as it appeared.




Nathan was next, his staff glowing as it cast the fiery ball. His spell flew through the thick air like a raging furnace, heating everything around it as it collided with Eli. The explosion rocked the room, its heat enough to make Seamus’ face go red.


“Stay vigilant!” Falrick shouted as he slammed his staff against the ground. “Light Carapace: Four Fold!”


Seamus felt a warm blanket-like feeling spread across his body, accompanied by the taste of fruit. He saw how Haggard's and Nathan’s bodies were wrapped in a blue aura. Falrick had buffed them, possibly to prepare them for the fight ahead.


Seamus looked to where the fireball had hit Eli. Just as he feared, the spell had done nothing to stop the terrifying spellcaster. Eli stood in the smoke, barely a scratch made on his skin. The only thing that was damaged was his clothes, which were lightly tattered. Even his blindfold was beginning to fall apart.


“This might be fun,” Eli laughed aloud.


“What in the gods are you?” Falrick asked.


“I am beyond you,” Eli chuckled as he brushed soot from his clothes.


“No man can cast spells without uttering their words of power,” Nathan called out. The wizard was already forming runes, his staff’s gem glowing a yellowish red.


“That is because I am no man.” Eli answered in a frustrating tone. “Like I said. I am beyond you mere wizards. I am the future, the next step in our species’ evolution.”


“What are you talking about?” Seamus asked.


Eli turned to Seamus, a small smile growing on his lips. “Well… You are all going to die. I might as well show you.”


The spellcaster raised his hands to his blindfold, his fingers gently pulling at them. With care and gentle precision, he untied and folded the velvet-like fabric. His eyes were closed, a clear burn mark over his eyeline. Seamus felt sick to his stomach as Eli grinned even wider. The spellcaster opened his eyes, showcasing something that made the young man remember everything.


The memory of that night came flooding back, its images flashing in his young man’s mind. He had seen something like this before. Back when Deimos had raided his father’s fort. He could never forget those cursed eyes. The ones that were crystalline purple with pupils that were shaped like stars. They were burnt into his psyche, reminding him of everything that happened.


Seamus never knew what they looked like, but even so, he could recognize that Eli had eyes that were never supposed to exist. The young spellcaster had beholder eyes. Artifact level orbs that were only myth. Belonging only to the Mad King.


Despite logic, Eli’s gaze glowed a deadly purple as he laughed uncontrollably. Nathan stood shocked and Haggard could only stare in disbelief. Falrick, however, looked terrified. His fear was something that made Seamus truly believe Eli. That they were all going to die.