Chapter 1

The Hero, Orephius


In the alabaster spire in the grand towered castle of Eidolon, Orephius waited on the King.

He was resplendent in shining white plate, with shimmering golden inlay and a blood red cloak.  His great axe, Terror, rested along his back.  As the champion of Eidolon and High Gladiator for Prince Reynar, he was allowed arms on him at all times.  If there were an attack, it would be his responsibility to crush it before it was allowed to reach the King.

Woe to any fool who made an attempt.  Ore was the hero of the realm, and had crushed all opposition on his way to the top.

His mind was not on any of that, though.  He tapped his foot impatiently.  Galelea would be incensed at him, but he had to heed the calls of the King.  There would be time for training later.  Not that he needed it.  He had won the grand tournament more than five years in a row now, and easily last year.  That was a glorious thing.  He smiled at the thought of that, and at the thought of Galelea fuming.

She’d get over it.

Finally, a guard approached, his head down, afraid to look Orephius in the eye.  Ore raised a hand in a gesture of friendship.

The man’s skin was pale white, his hair such a faded silver that it was almost white in the dull shadows of the hallway. Ore had never gotten used to these people and their strange, timid ways.

He strode into King Deynar’s audience room.  There was a long, heavy table in the center, made from a huge slab of shell.  It looked delicate, with colors swirling just below the surface, but was solid and strong.  The king, with his golden beard and flowing white robes, sat on his grand silver throne.  Behind him, strangely, stood Lerren.

Lerren was a dark man, long, sharp, and thin as a rapier.  Otherwise, he looked much the same as the King.  He was bright and shining, in his old golden armor.  Lerren wore gilded mail beneath his silver tunic, and a golden shoulder piece and arm guard on his right side.  Though, he was a Duelist, so he wore much less armor than Ore, a Juggernaut. 

There were others in the room that Ore didn’t recognize, however.  A woman in a long black dress with short dark hair, next to her a short, wide man with burning red hair and moustaches.  They were each flanked by members of the king’s guard.

“I meet you well,” said the king with a wide  armed gesture, his empty palms held out, as though offering.  It was an open motion that Ore returned.   He strode over to the near end of the table, far away from the king, and pulled out a heavy chair.  He waivered a moment, a smile wide on his face.

“A wonderful day for an audience,” Ore said, a neutral statement.  “I trust all is well.”  Meaningless comments.  Ore often grew tired of these people and their strange, round-about way of speaking.  They’d rather he spit at the king than just as a damn question.  Instead, he sat, as was expected of him and reclined.

“Yes, all is well,” the King replied.  “And for you, I hope.  The Grand Tournament is up and coming and I would guess you are looking for a repeat.”

“I was hoping,” Ore said, rubbing at his chin.  “That I could actually find something of a challenge this year.”  The king shifted uncomfortably on his throne.  Perhaps even that was a bit too forward for these people.  Ore rolled his eyes, and when he did, he saw something.  The woman.  She was doing something.

“Well,” The king said, pulling Ore’s attention back.  “All is well.  You remember my good nephew?”  At that, Lerren gave his own open armed gesture and stepped forward.  His hand was resting – no, clutching – his sword.  Ore leaned forward.

“I am familiar.”

“He will be competing as well, with a new team.”  The king glanced over at Lerren.  Was he sweating?

Something strange was happening, though Orephius wasn’t exactly sure what.  “Well, I hope to face him in the finals.”  He pushed the chair away from the table.  “Speaking of finals, I should be preparing, if there is nothing else you need of me.”

“Why wait?”  Lerren asked.  The king looked at him and gave an almost imperceptible nod.  Ore’s hand shot to Terror but Lerren was faster, drawing his sword and crossing the room in a single swift motion.  He was leaking dark, shadowy tendrils.

Ore caught the blade on the vambrace of his raised arm.  He struggled against the force of the blow, the powerful magic enhancing the strength of the strike.

“What is the meaning of this?”  Ore yelled, as much at the king as at Lerren.  He would not yet summon his power, though he had underestimated Lerren.  Last time they fought he’d been a master Duelist, sure, but now he had unlocked some new power, a rogue specialization that Ore had only heard spoken of in whispers.  He’d found the Path of Dark Tendrils, it seemed.  The legacy of Cain.  Ore went cold in his armor.

“I am sorry,” the king said, but there was no feeling in his voice at all.  He refused to look at Orephius, just down at his hands, impotent in his lap.  Lerren danced back and then struck again.  Ore was able to catch the blows on his armor, but Lerren struck like a cobra, over and over.

Ore gathered up his power now, stomping on the ground as Lerren drew close.  A huge shockwave of force erupted from Ore, a scream of power that pushed back the chairs and the tables and Lerren, too.  The Lion’s Roar.  The Duelist was thrown against the far wall and hit hard.  In that moment, Ore reached for Terror and was able to get the axe free of its sheath.  He held Terror before him, the dark metal shining.

Lerren, still against the wall, fell into the shadows that were writhing behind him.  He watched that spot.  Ore started gathering up energy so he could activate his Lion’s Mane defense.  The air around him started to fill with burning, shining energy.

Before he could finish, a fist slammed into the center of his chestplate, pushing Ore backward and interrupting his spell.  He didn’t see who had hit him, but he put his energy into a wide, sweeping strike with his axe.  Grand Claw.  The world seemed to blur with the speed and power of his swings, but there was no one there.

Until, when he took a moment to recover his stance, a shadow enhanced blade cut into the flesh of his left arm, finding the soft leather between the plates of his armor.  It staggered him, and he stumbled, trying to keep his feet.

Instead of stumbling into another attack, Ore swung himself around and jumped.  He came down far away and smashed the ground with a powerful blow that sent out shockwaves of force.  Go for the Throat.  It allowed him to recover and this time he was able to see who had attacked him.

It was the man with the red hair.  Damn, he was fast.  He bolted ahead, almost a blur, but this time Ore was ready.  Just as the man drew close, ready to strike, Ore gripped his axe in two hands and pushed forward.  The man’s punch only grazed off of the heavy armor as Ore pushed him away.

Ore pressed his attack.  He leaped again and when he landed he gathered up power and pushed it into his axe.  Callous Judgement.  Ore raised terror high.  It was a spell he didn’t often like to use, because it ended the fight too quickly, but he couldn’t afford to hold his punches.  The blade of his axe grew white hot; shining so bright it was hard to look upon.  He’d seen the truth: if he didn’t give his best he would lose.  His axe came down hard, radiating with Glory energy, pulsing with a strength that could cleave through stone and steel.  The air rippled and burned as the axe fell.

The blow struck true.  The marble floor shattered from the impact, as the life was driven out of the wide man with the red hair.  The great axe Terror let out a keening cry.  This was the wapon’s special power, a high, whining call that struck fear into the hearts of those who heard it.  Ore looked up and saw Lerren.  The Duelist had stopped dead on his approach, his eyes wide and afraid.  Lerren had hesitated in his strike for one breath, just a heartbeat too long. 

Ore roared again, knocking Lerren away just as the Duelist recovered.  Ore put his shoulder down and charged forward.  Lerren had just landed and started to recover, but he was too slow.  Ore swung a wide arc with his axe and, at the last moment, turned the blade to spare Lerren’s life.  Terror struck true again, a sorrowful wail filling the air as the axe dropped yet another opponent.

Ore looked to the king, an accusation in his eyes.  It was the last thing he saw.

The dark woman appeared beside him.  “Truly, I will miss you,” she whispered, her voice smooth as silk.  It made Ore feel strangely relaxed as everything seemed to dissolve around him.

Lerren picked himself up and watched the woman as she pulled the red haired man up off of the floor.

“What happened to Orephius?”  Lerren asked.  “Is he dead?”

“I’ve sent him away,” the woman answered.  Strangely, her voice seemed hoarse and weak. 

“What if he comes back?”  Lerren asked.

“He will come back,” the red-haired man said through bloody lips and broken teeth.  “But weak.”  Lerren looked a question as his uncle, the king.

“You said he would die, Uncle.”

“He will,” Deynar said, his voice uneven, strained.  “We will make ready.”