Friday, October 12, 2018

#FridayFlash - Heart of Draekell

Another older piece, something that has been sitting in my pile of rough drafts for a decade or so. Probably longer; you can tell by the heavy hand of my style at the time.

Anyway, enjoy.

***

It was a chill morning as Xiaster Raell stepped onto the dewy grass. The sun had barely cleared the hills to burn off the mist. He shivered, chills running up his spine. A crowd and gallows waited for him cross the lawn. The guard pushed him, and he began the march to his end.

As Xiaster stepped heavily upon the short stairs, he looked out over the crowd. He saw his men; unquestioningly loyal to him, they were to be flogged after his hanging. His eyes ran over his wife; loving, faithful, and devoted, tears poured down her hollow cheeks as she was forced to watch him. King Deago; the man Xiaster had served for years, who had sent him on the very quest that had led to this. At last, his troubled eyes fell upon Rector Constantine; leader of the Clerics of Thrage, Constantine was self-righteous, pious, and wise. Xiaster hated him.

The former guard captain stopped in the middle of the platform, put his hands behind his back, and glared with all the venom he could muster at Constantine. The rector’s pale hand incessantly stroked the sheathed sword that lay across his lap. Xiaster knew the sword well; it was the catalyst of his doom.

Deago rose. As king, he had to preside over the punishment of high criminals. There was a look in the king’s eyes that Xiaster hoped was regret. Looking down briefly, Deago turned and addressed the crowd.

“Xiaster Raell was once a noble and loyal champion. He fought on the side of good on many occasions. That was the reason he was chosen to quest for the Heart of Draekell. Sadly, something changed him during that quest, and he became a cold-blooded murderer.” The king paused briefly. “The punishment for murder has always been hanging. Let the prisoner be punished.” Deago sat back down.

Xiaster’s eyes locked on the Heart of Draekell, one of the thirteen True-Names Swords; legend said it had been forged in dragon’s fire and that it was a champion of the weak and oppressed. When an ancient enemy had surfaced to destroy the Clerics of Thrage, King Deago had sent Xiaster for the Sword. The champion had spent months on the quest, flirting with death the entire journey. When he’d finally found the Sword, Xiaster had felt sure he would succeed at protecting the Clerics.

He’d taken the Sword from its ancient cradle, and had felt an instant change within himself. His senses painfully expanded, and his mind burned from the new perspective. Bizarre, animalistic hungers had filled him, and instincts he’d thought long buried by civilization had risen to the fore. With a primal cry, Xiaster summoned forth the dragon buried in the Sword, and flew back to his king.

Matters had escalated by the time Xiaster returned. An all-out slaughter of the pacifistic Clerics had begun. Surprising to Xiaster’s new mind-set, the Clerics had no proof the deaths were related, no clue of who the perpetrator might be, and were therefore taking no actions. “Murder is unjustified by Thrage,” was their excuse. Xiaster frowned, prodded by the Heart of Draekell to seek justice.

An old wise-woman had approached Xiaster with the location and the truth of the Clerics’ killer. In ancient times, a chapter of the Clerics had fallen to evil ways, embracing darkness, and had sworn destruction to all that followed Thrage. Many wars had been fought, and the evil thought destroyed. The wise-woman knew different, and gave Xiaster the location of the evil.

Xiaster and twenty of his best men traveled to the ancient monastery, only to find the doors standing open, the halls long deserted. The Heart of Draekell urged Xiaster upstairs, and there he found the man responsible for all the destruction.

The dark cleric gave no name, merely confirmation of his intent, and then the Heart began the battle. As the two men clashed, an army of undead fell upon Xiaster’s men downstairs. Both battles were brutal and deadly, and both ended when Xiaster’s thrust found the cleric’s heart. Claiming his opponent’s head, Xiaster returned to his king with the joyous news.

But the news was not taken as he had expected it to be taken. Constantine called him a murderer, despite the proof the champion brought with him. Xiaster had become frustrated, and struck the rector. King Deago was bound by the law, and was forced to convict Xiaster and his men.

Xiaster begged the king to wait, to see if the deaths stopped. They did, but Rector Constantine declared it to not be proof enough to justify Xiaster’s actions. No one could find the wise woman, and no amount of searching the old monastery found anything. To Xiaster was to hang.

Xiaster glared at Constantine as the noose was slipped over his head. The champion could feel a phantom ache of the Sword’s heat in his hand. He’d performed his duty, he;s served his kingdom and church, and he was to be hanged for his efforts, all because for some pacifistic belief that he’d commited murder. In his heart, Xiaster knew the Sword would not have allowed him to slay an innocent man. He’d found the murderer, and had dealt him justice before anymore could suffer!

Xiaster ground his teeth. He would not show fear in the face of death. He had always known he would die young, he just never knew it would be at the hands of the people he served. Eyes boring into the Hearth of Draekell, he waited for the trapdoor to fall out from under him.

Distantly, he heard the mechanism sound. He felt what seemed an enormous distance, only to be painful brought up short. Searing pain shot through his neck, and pressure built in his face until he thought his head would explode. He spun, and could no longer make out the details of his surroundings. He thought bitterly of the injustice of it all-

-and was suddenly free of the pain. He felt an immense heat around him and knew he was surrounded by other people. No, other men. Other warriors. He heard a primal scream, and felt fury fill him, as it did every soul around him. His thoughts lost all identity, and became one with the flames.

The flames welcomed the new soul to its being, praising the strength it brought. It was angered by the weakling who currently held it. But it knew that it would soon be in its ancient hiding place, waiting for one to come for it, to wield it in a justified battle, and to feed its strength. The flames crooned to itself.

And as the last spark of Xiaster’s identity faded, he knew he was in a hell forged in dragon’s fire, cooled in villain’s blood, and fed by warrior’s souls. His screams faded in time.

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