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Tales of Humana: The Phoenix and the Chimera

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((Inspired by a Dungeons and Dragons campaign I made for my college friends. Felt like writing something non-WoW, so hope you enjoy.))

The sounds of a bustling city floated this way and that, muted slightly as the sun set in the western distance. Towers of stone and gold shone in the dim red light. Banners bearing the regal phoenix whipped in the wind, the elegant flames woven into the fabric brought to life by each gust. Above the phoenix the moon-and-stars sigil of the ruling house gazed eyeless at the city below. To the eyes of a human, those that went about their business in the dying light would seem rather wealthy for all the fancy garb they wore. Indeed, the elves of Valteris were known the world over for their prosperity and ingenuity. But like most peoples, the Eldruin -- more commonly known as “high elves” – were a thoroughly diverse and mysterious race. Where some sought to take lengthy strides on the path to knowledge through science, others branded these ingenious fellows as brazen in the face of thousands of years’ worth of tradition.

On the hilltop above the rest of the city Valornaeyis, the great golden tower of the exalted kings sat erect and glittering brighter than any other structure across the skyline, and brighter even than the stars winking into view high above. Three banners now flew from its peak: the phoenix, a symbol representative of the kingdom as a whole, the moon-and-stars of the Moonshadow bloodline, and a banner bearing a grim black creature akin to a serpent with a head of hair like the mane of a lion and a pair of batlike wings. It was odd for the Tower to ever hold more than two sigils at a time, but not unheard of. Valteris had forged friendships and alliances, but as well they found foes in the wide world. In the last hundred years travel across the seas had become the only way for a nation to strike its claim to power. Whoever ruled the waters could rule the earth as well. Far across the sea to the east, a human empire, its capital in a vast desert, sought to conquer the world in such a way. The King of the Tower had sailed off with the supreme elven marine army to face the threat of imminent invasion by these ambitious humans head-on.

King Dalonis Moonshadow was known well for his aversion to direct methods and brute force. Some claimed it made him easier to manipulate, while others said he was unpredictable. Whatever the case may be, the king had gone off on his quest to repel the great force rising in the east, and left his brother as regent. Lord Steward Salazar had been born a Moonshadow, but had married into the head of the great northern lordship of House Steelfeather, whose dreaded chimera sigil now flew over the face of the Exalted Tower. Salazar was cunning and inventive. In his youth, he advanced the production of the mountainous factories that dot the northern city of Fengross. The naval forces of Valteris’ foes stood no chance against the onslaught of the iron terrors wrought at Steelfeather hands, and for that, Dalonis made Salazar his Steward. Yet Salazar had designs on the future of his homeland, and his people. He looked around at the cities full of traditionalists, clinging to misguided ideals and outdated notions of philosophy. And so he quietly planned to introduce the future – his future – onto those fools.

Deep below the twilit streets of Valornaeyis, caves built by the Ancients remained dark, damp, and useful only for those with the stomach to endure the ratlike Skald. In a chamber sat an elf. He was small, frail, and pale of complexion, and on his head and arms runes were written in script that would drive a priest to horror. His face was gaunt and twisted into a frightening grin of yellow teeth. Two long threads of hair on his upper lip and one on his chin marked the only spots on his body not devoid of hair. His bright gold eyes were shut tight as he meditated, drawing the void over his mind to quiet the dripping of sewer water and the scuffling of rats. In the void, he found the dream that had brought him to the path he now tread. In the dream, he stood upon a hill of corpses. Bloated, pale, bloody, and blackened, these bodies were of those he had slain in his time spent hunting for power. All around the mound was black abyss. Above the nothingness, a storm swirled, dark crimson as if it were the blood of those piled below. At the center of the swell, a dot of black, even darker than the abyss all around, gazed with judgement on the elf and his pile. A voice called out from the eye of the storm. “Lichblood,” it said with a grizzly, powerful voice. “Your lust for power has brought you closer to me. Your pile of dead grows well, but you must rest not, for the road is long and hard.”

The Lichblood gazed back into the eye and replied, his voice strong and proud, “I do as you will, Dark One. None serve you as loyally as I.”

“Indeed,” the voice barked in reply, “Your actions in my name shall be rewarded. I shall bestow upon you the gift of eternal life, that you may live on to produce more corpses until the end of time.” The Lichblood’s grin grew wider and more sinister. Eternal life had been one of many goals on his quest for power. His master’s acknowledgement of his greatness made his hunger for carnage grow all the more. But the voice spoke further, “You must pay a price for this power, Lichblood. The blood of foes is not enough in return for such longevity. You must show how deep your devotion runs. Sacrifice your own heart at the foot of my altar, and your reward shall come to you.” The dreamscape faded until the elf returned to the dank room in the caverns of the Ancients. His smile had slipped at the last request by his dark master. Cutting one’s own heart out was truly a test of faith. The Lichblood placed faith in power alone, and the marvels his master had already shown him were enough to prove as much.

He stood slowly on his bare feet and with a flick of his wrist, the stone doorway ahead of him opened itself to allow his passage. In the hallway outside the meditation room, his guardians, their faces long, pointed, horned, and bright red in color, stood constant in their vigil. As their master walked the path down the hallway, they followed. After many confounding twists and turns, they came before a large chamber lit with flickering red candlelight. In the middle of the room a stone tablet sat, a wolf’s head skewered on a lance before it as a sort of holy icon. The Lichblood called out to his followers, gathered around the altar in the center, “My devout and faithful servants, at long last our master has seen fit to gift me with life eternal. For our great deeds in his name, he is pleased and intends to allow us ample opportunity to continue our work. However, in exchange for this gift, I must give something in return.”

The Lichblood walked up the stairs to the altar, then climbed onto the flat, bloodstained surface, casting aside his black cloak to reveal flesh dripping with more red script and deathly pale skin. He drew a dagger inscribed with further writings of their faith from his belt and held it aloft for all to see. “I must give to him my own heart! I shall sacrifice my mortality so that this world may bear witness to true power!” The crowd of followers roared praise. “Glory unto you, our master!” they chanted. “Long live the name, Zakbar Lichblood!”

Zakbar’s face grew wide with glee. “Eternally I shall damn this world so that we, the mighty, may live on! Forever I shall claim power until our master is released from his imprisonment!” He lowered the dagger slowly to his chest. The tip of the blood hovered above where he felt his heart beating anxiously. Memory flashed before him. He remembered his home in the woods of Lucia. He remembered his mother and sister, their pale golden eyes lovingly cast on him. They had been proud of him once. Then the storm of fire came and took it all away. Their faces burned away, and only the void filled his mind. The knife sank into his flesh. The sounds of the devotees’ chants fell away in a sudden silence. It felt as though the world held its breath. Then pain roared in his breast. He forced the feeling down into a pit where it could not bother him. He carved deeper, his hands slick with blood. The red runes turned invisible as the ichor of his life dripped over them. He felt his legs waver as blood loss began to take over. He forced himself to stay steady. The blade had cut a wicked circle around his heart. He cast it aside, and fell onto the stone, his vision fading fast. Those who followed him came forward, their hands reaching for his wound. They tore into his flesh, ripping it away until his heart became visible. In his final moment, Zakbar Lichblood saw his own heart, and pondered the fact that most people never got a chance to see such a sight. With his last breath, he laughed triumphantly. High above the chamber of sacrifice, the sun had set, and darkness reined in Valornaeyis.

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