The Mask of Night

Ismail. Farrow. Laila. Kaelan. Four people. Four tales. Before we are done, their stories will be irrevocably twisted together. Ismail is a secretive mage, hailing from the far reaches of the North. Though a formidable fighter, when the bodies pile up and the only enemy left is himself, the truth must emerge. Farrow, a talented demon hunter trying to piece together the fragments of his past, finds himself the centre of a manhunt. Laila, the thirteen year old firstborn heir to the Emperor's throne, must flee from a deadly conspiracy. And Kaelan. A ranger of some skill, he grows tired of his life among the forest. When the Forest Druids decide to help the Northern rebels, Kaelan joins them, and events rapidly spiral out of his control...

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8. Saviour

They were lost. Hopelessly lost. Something had gone wrong with the Pentacle. Ismail reckoned that they had confused it, three people, all thinking of different things. As a result it had sent them to some random Pentacle in the middle of nowhere. Maia was furious, after exploding for the first five minutes in various languages, she was now ranting quietly to herself, occasionally shooting Ismail evil stares.

 

So here they were, in the middle of a freezing mountain range, with nothing but their wits, an angry battle spirit and a thoroughly disgruntled Shadowmancer. Suddenly, she saw something. She could only just make it out through the blizzard, but it was definitely there. A hut. Why it was there, Laila didn’t know, but there it was, and there was a light on inside. She ran to catch up with Ismail, and poked his arm hard. He looked at her quizzically and she pointed at the hut. His eyes widened and he motioned for her to get Maia. She started to move, but he grabbed her arm and shouted something inaudible over the howl of the wind. He knelt down a spoke into her ear; “Stay still.”

 

Before she could ask why, shadows bunched around her and layered themselves over her clothes, forming a shield that wasn’t warm, exactly, but it wasn’t cold either; it was shielding her from the bracing wind and lacerating snow. She nodded thanks and sprinted over to Maia. Together they trooped toward the hut. When they got to it, however, Maia stopped, looking at it suspiciously. “This is a trap.”

“Nonsense,” replied Ismail happily, “it’s just a random hut in the middle of nowhere with no purpose whatsoever, and there’s a light on inside, but nobody’s home. What could possibly go wrong?”

 

With that, he stepped over the threshold, and got thrown backwards by a blurred figure moving at impossible speeds. Ismail hit a snow-covered rock with a sickening crack and lay still. Maia and Laila stood where they were, staring at the vampire who crouched before them. Maia moved to attack, but before she could do anything, a second vampire grabbed her throat and slammed against the wooden wall of the shack, pinning her there. Finally, a third vampire grabbed Laila and held her tight against itself, so she could smell the sickening tinge of fresh blood. She turned her head slightly and she saw a gaping wound on its neck, drops of blood still seeping from the severed arteries, turning the snow pink.

 

Then, just as she thought things could get no worse, they did. A sinister looking figure dressed in black robes stepped into sight. A Necromancer, she thought. After Ismail’s first visit, she had done some research into the different types of sorcery. Now, she tried to remember all she could about Necromancy. Necromancers had no real magic, she had learnt, like Summoners, their power lay in controlling spirits, in their case, spirits of the dead.

 

Before she could remember any more, the figure turned its head towards them and stepped out into the light. He had black hair, cut short, with sharply turned eyebrows, grey eyes and thin mouth. “So,” he said crisply, his voice like a knife penetrating the flesh. “You thought you could capture me. You thought that you could trap me with this pathetic excuse for bait?” he motioned at the hut.

“It’s a building Mor, it doesn’t care how much you insult it.”

The Necromancer’s head snapped around, finally resting on Ismail’s form. Now standing, he gathered the shadows around him where they coiled and writhed, tense and ready to spring.

“Ismail,” spat Mor, “you never were much good at setting traps, more of a fighter than a thinker.” Ismail frowned, confused,

“What are you on about? You set this trap, waiting to capture some random traveller.” Now Mor was confused.

“You didn’t set it?”

Ismail shook his head. “And you didn’t?”

“No.” Realisation dawned.

 

Just as the penny dropped, there was a faint whizz, and one of the vampires collapsed, sparking the other two into motion. They attacked as one, fighting some unseen force, lashing, clawing, howling ferociously, against what appeared to be thin air. Suddenly something was there, wielding a deadly war hammer, fair hair glinting like gold wire in the weak light. He smashed it into the first vampire’s chest, sending it flying against the shack. The attacker turned his head silently to where the Mor stood, fighting with Ismail and losing.

 

Necromancy is not a directly combative magic, despite its reputation, and the Necromancer was being attacked mercilessly by wave after wave of darkness. Mor stumbled back, tripped, and fell over a rock. He began brushing away the snow frantically, and uncovered a symbol on the rock.

“I’ll be in touch,” he said, and dived headfirst into the Pentacle.

 

The blond man and the second vampire circled each other, cautious. Finally he attacked, and the vampire attempted to dodge, but walked straight into Maia’s fist. With a flick of her left hand, she sent the vampire stumbling to the ground with a knife in its throat. Not satisfied, however, the man stomped on its face with his heavy boot, crushing its skull.

 

Now that he was still, he could be seen properly. He wasn’t really a man – no older than seventeen – but everything about him spoke of power. His dirty, golden hair hung untamed, falling down to his shoulders, his face was ruggedly handsome, with blue eyes that hid things so terrible that they would make you curl up and cry. He was pale skinned, but tanned, as if he spent a lot of time outside. He was tall and muscular, there was not an ounce of fat on his body. He was solidly built, everything about him radiated power. His bare chest showed runes carved into his skin, the white lines almost glowing dully.

 

He reached up over his shoulder and slid his hammer into place. There was a lull in the blizzard, and Laila realised that he not only had that, but also an enormous axe, and a monster sized sword. He pulled out a crossbow, pointed it at Ismail and started speaking rapidly in an incomprehensible language. After a tense moment of silence, Ismail started speaking back. As he spoke, the young man’s face took on a look of awe.

 

“What’s he saying?” asked Laila.

“I’m not certain, I’m a little rusty, but he’s introduced us,” replied Maia quietly.

“Who is he?”

“No idea. But he speaks an ancient language, one used by the Valkyries.”
“The Valkyries?”

Maia gave her a strange look.

“Sometimes I forget how restricted your learning is. The Valkyries are spirits of blood, death and battle, the original carriers of the dead to the Ninth Plane. They are the mothers of all spirits related to combat, death, honour and the afterlife.”

 

Ismail called out to them over the fading blizzard.
“This is Tamar. He’s a Barbarian,” at this point Maia let out a sigh of realisation. “He says that he has been hunting these vampires for weeks. He wasn’t very happy we interrupted him, but he’s agreed to take us to his village. There, the elders will decide what to do.”

 

Tamar had already started walking, and turned back towards them, shouting in the strange language.

“He says to hurry up,” translated Ismail, “Else he’ll leave us here.”

“Maia,” Laila called, struggling to keep up, “What language was that? How does he know it?”

“That was Norsk. Humans call them Barbarians, or the Norse. Their name for themselves means something similar to ‘keepers of the Shadow’. They are a fierce people, and one steeped in magic and mystery. They hide themselves away in the mountains, and mainly live far from the Empire – we must be further west than I thought.”

 

Tamar set a hard pace, and soon the blizzard strengthened again. The snow wrapped itself around Laila’s legs, chilling them to the bone. She walked with her head down, bowed against the wind. After half an hour, Laila bumped into Tamar. He leant down and shouted something unintelligible. Laila stared at him. He shook his head and repeated it to Maia.

“He says you’re too small,” translated Maia. “He wants you to get on his back. He says that in five minutes the snow will be up to your shoulders.” Laila bit her lip nervously.

“Can’t Ismail carry me?”

“I suggested that, but he said that Ismail is exhausted. He’s been running for days, I think he’s right. Don’t worry, I’ll stay right behind you.”

 

Hesitantly, Laila looked up at Tamar and nodded. Tamar removed his weapons from his back, handing them to Maia. Almost fainting with tiredness, Laila struggled onto Tamar’s hard, muscled back. She circled her arms around his neck, and wrapped her legs around his waist. She had been carried like this as a babe, but now it made her think whether Tamar was fully human – he was incredibly tall and strong, and seemed too graceful for a normal man.

 

Tamar swept an enormous cloak over his back, covering Laila completely. At first Laila panicked and rose up, but then she realised that the storm outside was almost completely shut out. Waves of exhaustion swept over her, and she finally accepted sleep.

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