Homecoming I'm just wondering if anyone is interested in this story -- should I go ahead and continue writing it? Khalim: once Lightbringer; once Lord in the Light; once Lightbearer, wielder of the Lightbrand (though he had given that sacred blade up willingly, to the only man more worthy of it than he); once a Finger of the Light; once a Paladin of the Zakarum. He surveyed the horde arrayed against him and spat at them. "Come, take my head from me -- if you dare!" he roared in defiance. Like curs before a noble wolf they cowered. But this wolf was old, and his sharp teeth had been weakened by long use. His speed was blunted by a terrible limp, the only sign of a bloody gash across his leg. They could take him, easily. If they paid the blood-price in full. A terrible blood price measured in skulls crushed (thirty-five), chests smashed (twelve), limbs mangled (one hundred fifteen; varius) and hearts stabbed (one). Non-fatal blows were too numerous to count, consisting mainly of friendly arrow fire, with crushed hands and feet, and the occasional broken bone. Khalim grasped the hilt of the narrow blade that had pierced his plate. All his enemies fell back, waiting to see if this would kill him. He drew the blade out, its edge squeling against his armor. Looking forth, he cursed the mob before him. "Damn you! May the light turn its face from you forever!" his breath failed him at last, as he crumpled to his knees. He spared one, last thought for his friends so far away, even as he brought a trembling hand to his face and bit, hard, on an emerald stone embedded in a ring. As if by magic, trees grew up around him, a rippling explosion of ever-growing jungle, fertilized in his dying body, and hating the corrupted Zakarum. It was his last sight as things grew dim before his eyes. For an instant, the recent past exploded before him. *** "This ring, here, will unleash a growth of plants in your vicinity if the inset emerald is crushed. Just bite down, hard, and my magic will do the rest." Khalim smiled at the pale figure before him. "I told you I could use a little help, and you give me a plethora of magic weapons-" Gregori interrupted him. "These weapons are, for the most part, useless here. A few of them might hold an application, but we have plenty of duplicates for those." Khalim laughed. "Really?" Gregori glared. "Believe it or not, your choice. All I've given you are things your small band, deep in enemy territory and far from friends will need." "A ring to grow plants?" Khalim querried, laughing. "Useless in a desert, true. But Kurast lacks only the plantlife to become a jungle -- and that ring will create a jungle for you, if you ask it to." Khalim eaised an eyebrow sardonicly. "Believe me. Should you clear the Inner City, that ring will pretty much halt all pursuit. The jungle in qestion will reach to the edges of the Old Lands, outside the Great Walls that protect the entire region." "That far?" Khalim was surprised. "That's nearly a day's travel by fast horse!" "Farther, actually. Just won't be as noticeable in the Old Lands." Gregori smiled. "Is that of any use to you?" "As much as any Great Magic would be..." Khalim's voice held a questioning edge. "Nope, I made it." Gregori said, flattered. "It certainly sounds like a Great Magic. Oh, well. Any other magics?" Khalim's voice was hopeful. "Other than that flail I mentioned earlier, no." Gregori replied. "Too bad." Khalim's voice was rather joyous. "I like the idea of that flail, even if I'd have to give up the lightbrand." "Give up the Lightbrand?" Gregori was a little surprised. "It must be used as a primary weapon -- a tradition as old as paladins." Khalim laughed. "Though, there have been a few cases where it was only the main hand-to-hand weapon, with a bow wielder." Gregori laughed. "Odd tradition, but then even the vizjerei have a few of those. When I become too old to use my staff, for example, I'm supposed to cut it into four equal pieces, and give each piece to a seperate apprentice as his first staff -- though cut in four like that, it won't be very strong." Khalim laughed. "A mighty short staff!" "Actually, just thin." "What? You mean you cut it into four pieces lengthwise!" "Yup." Gregori laughed at the look on his friends face. "Another day, my friend." Gregori reached out. "May we meet another day!" Khalim grasped his friend's arm with a smile. *** Khalim looked around the ranks of paladins arrayed around him and smiled once more. They represented nearly a third of the might of the Zakarum, and were the best of it's veterans -- meaning they held nearly half again the fighting power of the rest of the Zakarum. "Gebriale! Front and Center!" Khalim roared. That worthy stepped back out of ranks and marched to the front, first marching sideways to an aisle. "Seargeant Gebriale, reporting as ordered!" He snapped a salute which Khalim returned. "Kneel." Khalim commanded, and drew his sword. "By the power vested in me, I heaby declare thee Knight-Leiutenant." Khalim rested his blade on each of Gebriale's shoulders for the barest instant. "Rise, Sir Gebriale." Khalim raised his blade up, holding the hand-and-a-half sword up high. "Gebriale, Knight of the Zakarum, I needs must give up this sacred blade. I charge you with delivering it to its new owner." Gebriale rose, and grasped the blade's handle carefully as Khalim relinquished it. Turning sharply, he marched with deliberation to Gregori, who stood where he had all afternoon, directly behind Khalim's 'spot' in formation. "Kneel, Gregori, son of Harlen." Gebriale's voice intoned solemnly. Surprised, Gregori did so. Confusion reigned on his face, battling with just a hint of deep, dark suspicion. Gebriale slowly lowered the balde, resting it for just an instant on Gregori's left shoulder, the shield arm's shoulder. "This for the blows you will take in defense of innocents." Gebriale intoned, slapping the flat of the blade crisply into Gregori's neck. Lowering it again, he let the blade rest for an instant on Gregori's right shoulder. "This for the blows you will deal in defense of innocents." Gebriale intoned, slapping the flat of the blade crisply into Gregori's neck. He then reversed the blade and let the tip rest on the ground, cross-guards directly before Gregori's face. The tablue held for several long instants before Gebriale growled softly to his former mentor, "You're supposed to kiss the blade, dummy!" So prompted, Gregori leaned forward and did so. A small laugh for his ignorance rippled amongst the ranks. "Rise, Sir Gregori." Khalim intoned. "Arise, Knight-Captain of the Zakarum! Arise Lightbearer!" Gebriale swiftly drew the Lightbrand up, and flipped it around so the blade rested on his arm. Trembling, Gregori reached out a hand a grasped the blade. White light flashed from its tip, racing down the blade's runes to spell out its name. Instinctively Gregori raised the blade up high and let its glow shine forth freely. Death claimed him. *** Khalim felt a terrible pain and coldness as sembelence of life was forced back into his battered body. He was still dead, though he could again see and hear. "You betrayed our noble order, Khalim. Such betrayal must be punished -- even in death." Swift knives carved out his heart, his brain, and his remaining eye. Khalim sensed each organ change as they were touched to his flail in turn. They turned hard and glossy, and he sensed each drain something from him and the flail. The Council Head tossed the offending organs, and the flail, to several monsters around the room. "Hide these, and guard them, where they will never be found." Khalim again died, and returned to the past as his gateway to heaven, his mind sustained by the curse. Khalim leaned on the ships rail, gazing at Kurast's docks. A large, bruly fellow gazed back at him, wearing laerge, thick armor blazoned with the symbol of the Zakarum. His armor was abnormally thcik and burly, more like that of a heavy infantryman than a paladin, yet his feew movements implied an ease of movement greater than most paladins. Khalim let his nose stick out more prominently and sniffed. All he actually smelled was tar and sea-salt, but he could sense a slight trace of demonic energy from the creature before him. Not much, no more than had washed off on Khalim over his years of demon-slaying -- less, even -- yet combined with the creatures unnatural strength more than enough to prove it was demon-touched. Here. In Kurast. The heart of the Zakarum. Wearing the colors of the Zakarum! Any doubt in Khalim's mind was banished: Mephisto was free, and controlled the high council of the Zakarum. And through them he had corrupted the entirety of the Zakarum's home forces. Khalim smiled jovially at the creature, and waved as if in good cheer. Bemused, it waved back. "You're dead." Khalim promised under his breath. When the ship docked, he leapt off to embrace his 'bother' in arms. "Take me to the council!" he commanded imperiosly. Startled, the creature shifted, trying to regain the upper hand. "The council has commanded that you rest in the quarters prepared you before you join them." it said. "Oh?" Khalim asked. "They commanded me to make all haste -- the least they could do is match my speed!" "Recent events have caused several disruptions here in the city, milord. They are busy dealing with them, and would rather you meditated for a time before joining them." "As a fellow Lightlord, I should be helping the council deal with them!" Khalim exclaimed with energy and gusto. The creature shifted on its feet, searching for a way out of Khalim's arm, which he had slung around the beasts shoulders. "In the time you could be briefed on any of the problems, they could be solved several times over by whoever was briefing you. Please, take a well earned break." Khalim deliberated for a bare moment and decided not to press the issue. "Then I will wait in my rooms." he pronounced, grabbing the bag tossed at him by one of his men and taking off. The creature had to trot to catch up, leaving slightly out of breath as it spoke. "Unfortunatly, your rooms were damaged in the recent troubles, milord. While they are being repaired, the council has furnished another set of rooms for your use -- with additional security against further damages." Khalim ground his teeth. By Tyreal's breath! I need to get at my stash! he thought. "Fine then." he said curtly. "Lead the way." The creature moved swiftly, Khalim noted, but while its strength exceeded that of most men its speed was sub-par, for paladins at least. It was made for the crushinf embrace of heavy infantry and cavalry, not the skirmishing and charging of the paladins. That explained its unusualy heavy armor. Khalim noticed his men being herded off elsewhere, and chose to ignore it. A simple glance at the sergeant insured that they'd behave themselves for their 'breatheren'. *** Khalim heard the door seal itself shut behind him and sighed with exhaustion. Maintaining his role as a loyal, none-to-perceptive Lightlord was difficult enough; he also had to exude the proper priestly demeaaner at the same time. The next best thing to impossible. Worse yet, maintaining the roles properly -- which is to say, convincingly -- required wrapping that role around him like a cloak, so tightly he slowly became it. His senses were dulling oh-so-slightly, a poor sign when he needed them at their best. A slight click behind him said the door was now locked. Frowning at this obvious assault on his dignity, he glanced through the glorius veiw through the barred windows. Turning to sit, he snapped his head around. Barred windows!