Warning: This work has been rated 16+ for violence.
Down Valalar went, beyond into the tartarean birthplace of the world's foundations. The ethereal wisps of white arrayed themselves back into his corporeal form by the will of an yet unseen ironbound requisition.
The sudden airiness and disembodiment Valalar had experienced faded but would linger on tingling inside him for a little while longer. He was too mystified with himself to notice the oppressiveness of the caverns' caliginosity and the unlit roaring of soulfire; along with an abundance of graves and coffins. The hellish pain of his body wasn't present as he sat up and moving didn't seem to cause him nausea. He found his burns reskinned and as he clenched his fist he felt a return of dexterity.
Disbelieving his perception of the winds and the flickering of shadows he brought his hand in view to snap his fingers. Though interrupted he would soon be forced to accept the unexplained restoration of his wounded sensory organs. A mighty grinding noise swatted every ambient sound aside. Valalar grappled himself back to reality and watched as a colossal coffin laying askew against the cavern wall possessed itself. The lid slowly crawled to the side and fell onto the cavern floor with a great seismic thud.
A deep, hermetic commotion arose out of the coffin as its occupant stirred from its slumber. It began to sit upright and a powerful skeletal hand clenched the side of the coffin to draw itself more forward. It's phalanges twitched subtly. From out of the inky blackness its whole form revealed itself, a mound of assorted bones several times Valalar's height. On great ossified quadruped legs it lumbered forward. Its forelimbs were long and disproportional, but carried with them a crushing fortitude. Absent was it's right hand, and in its place an enormous scythe-like sword grafted onto its forearm with more bone. Femurs and humeri dangle from its chest and skulls adorned its chest and shoulders like furs. A waving flutter of black and deep purple energies unfurled from the shoulders and cloaked the thing. Valalar's mind was invaded by the memories of those whose souls made his host's cloak. Unlike when he cauterized his wound however, only Dravidia's galliant and dauntless now haunted him with visions.
Valalar looked up to a large humanoid skull that sat as the thing's head. He winced as the empty sockets of its eyes exploded and retreated into intense purple beads that glared into him. He was awestruck but had grown to know what meant him harm in the time he'd spent in the underworld. A timid voice sputtered from his throat; "On the surface Sir Lord Octavius spoke of a 'Gravelord'. The commander of some army that is awaiting some unspecified dreadfulness. Are you this person?"
There was a pause as the boney mountain beheld Valalar. In a voice sonorous and silken, and timeless as the metamorphic rock that encased them. It responded; "I am many things. Gravelord, Cryptking, Barrowbaron, Charnel Sovereign, but my name is Isilithagardôl. My regards, you have passed Ishabooru's Second Trial."
Valalar in good health and realizing his eldritch host wouldn't trample him underfoot, felt a small amount of spunk return to him. Motioning at Isilithagardôl and the deathliness about them he asked; "What is the purpose of all...this?"
"The purpose." Isilithagardôl restated; "Purpose doesn't even begin to remotely convey the unfathomed scope of this dominion." He continued "The divinities, the knights, the thrice redoubted fortresses and thaumaturgy. Every one exists to stem the demonic tide that slinks and simmers in their diabolic lairs in the far west acrossed desolation. Each ever awaiting a lapse in our vigilance so they may devour the east in a storm of beastial destruction." Motioning around himself he spoke; "Everything that dies in that struggle, whether it be 'fallen brothers and sisters or slain demons of the west' as Octavius said, comes here. And whether they be friend or foe under Ishabooru's banner I will cause them to arise from there dormancy and command them into the awaiting of their final passing; armageddon."
Valalar's spirit tore itself from its coil. Isilithagardôl knew whence it flew. To a precious memory as quicksilver in Valalar's mind as the clear and crystal brilliance of the moon on that autumn night. There he sat, with Maybelle under a sprawling cottonwood as old as Yárafaurë itself. The leaves were yellow and gold, and moonlight irradiated the two in yellows.
About them was meadow undergrowth. Maybelle reclined in the flowers as Valalar continued to weave white roses and blueish-purple lilacs into a wreath. He looked into her face and smiled. But his facial muscles writhed and spasmed against an expression he'd forgotten how to make. As he handed her the wreath he'd made for her, the smile upon her darling face envenomed and breathed air into his breathless lungs. Yet the air of the memory was smooth and clean, and the ratcheted airways of his mind dilated to allow contentment momentary access to his being.
He took the wreath she’d made for him and crowned himself with it. He felt the love within its craftsmanship. They took each other's hand and reclined on the hill away from the tree's canopy. They lie there in the dark of stars cherishing the time together. Finally, Maybelle broke the trance; but the dream remained unbroken as it yet stands. "Do you ever wonder if there's something beyond the stars?"
"What?" Responded Valalar.
"We've known each other since youth, my human family are outsiders in an elven land. As we aged together an acquaintance grew into friendship, and that friendship into love. And that love has weathered every woe and hopelessness cast upon it."
"Are you burdened with the fork driven between the fates of elves and men?" He thought he was beginning to understand. But Valalar was a young man by human standards, and barely a newborn speck by the timetables of his kin. To him the world was still incarnate and not the wallowing river flowing yonder unknown into the hereafter.
But Maybelle knew this; she continued: "In a few decades time any union of ours will be interrupted by my frailty as a mortal, but elves; oh elves. You are timeless, only sorcerer's steel or bitter grief sees you pass on. Whatever gatekeeper may dwell binding us to our destinations is less real than my love for you. I love you Valalar."
"I love you to Maybelle. By discovering the realest magic, we can cross the sea of dreams and go to those stars."
"Let us be wed come the dawn of the morrow. So that when we are in those stars, we may cross the rainbow bridge, into the fiery guts of the Sacred Heart.”
Valalar beamed from ear to ear and the two spun about one another dancing jubilantly. "Yes!" Said Valalar. “Into the fiery guts of the Sacred Heart. Let any preordained fate or black magic necromancy see their powerlessness against love.”
The word staked itself through Valalar's mind; "Necromancy." His mind whispered sardonically to itself; "Necromancy." Again and again ad nauseam his psyche began to fracture. He wielded his sword so he could depart this life with a smile, only to be made to do the exact same thing in another. When he first met Andre, he himself had spoken of a fabled, nigh chimerical time when the world was a paradise. And yet so great a singular impurity could be as to turn the peerless gift of resurrection into the heart-piercing irony of the accursed word; "Necromancy."
Valalar's blood boiled and by instinct he ripped his estoc from its sheath. "You would dare to fake hospitality all the while you exist to leech off corpses! My friend Andre spoke of a time when spells had the potency to resurrect. But then this Enemy came and debauched it into the irony of necromancy. All this time Ishabooru and Her entire kingdom rests atop one in league with it!
Isilithagardôl weighed his accusation. "Don't presume to shimmy a stick at me child. It was I who healed your wounds. My roots were laid even before the maring of the world and unwanted this station was cast upon me. Indeed necromancy and black magic of which you speak of is hideous and loathsome. But my place was anointed and thus even the greatest and most foul of the undead sorceries are to me but trites and frivolities. Necromancy implies a previous state of life, and how can I be a necromancer when I am death impartial?
Valalar fumbled for words in his outrage. "What!? If you are death why don't you simply resurrect my family? So that we may go home away from this bewitched place and love each other in spite of you ever grasping away at humankind's heals.
"My dominion is Dravidia, not the world. Even then only the coming of the anointed hour will see my coffers spilled unto the fields of war; armageddon." As Valalar charged towards Isilithagardôl in his blind rage, he wished to himself he could sigh. Again and again those who sought the Executioner's Sword came before him, and every time their grievance and reason for seeking the sword would find a way to clash with his very existence. The sockets of his eyes once again exploded and everything was ablaze in purple. Valalar again was made into the white wisps he'd come here as and sent upwards back into the world of the living. Isilithagardôl wallowed back into his coffin and his wakeful fires extinguished. The lid slowly and sorrowfully floated and slid into place. Again to await the next champion to curse him, or as he endlessly hoped, to the wars of restoration into a world remade.
The first two things Valalar felt was the coldness of air and the warmth of sunlight. The next was being cast into the snow as an ecstatic Andre tackled him to the ground and into a hug. Andre's well wishing and inquiries momentarily soften him. But the hot blood running through his brain through one thing; wrath.
Octavius stood aside as Andre vainly attempted to calm him. Valalar seethed about, accusing the very air of necromantic conspiracy and negligence. Growling oblivious to the polychrome torrents lashing about Her temple, along with the opalescent quartz and violent eruption of stardust from there within. But he paused dead transfixed by the bright spring green eyes that looked at him, alike to a misbehaving child freezing at the mentoring glance of a parent. In rose gold armor with mystic topaz highlighting, hair scintillating and aflutter with fulgid red. Ishabooru spoke, her voice solicitous and commanding. "Do not think I am unaware of your woes, friend. I well know what you feel inside and why you are here. But part of what boils inside you is a deep, wrathful vengeance; a bloodlust. This bloodlust stems from your grief triggered by an innocent Isilithagardôl. May I show you what may become of bloodlust wielding my sword?"
Valalar stood mute. Ishabooru pulled an executioner's sword from a gilded scabbard. She ran the thick and golden alloy across her forearm. A few drops of dark maroon fell heavily on the snow. She then outstretched her free hand at Andre's staff and attacked herself with the light of his most potent and offensive magic. All three winced as Ishabooru disappeared into the blistering arcana. Stillness returned to the mountaintop and she stood unphased.
Valalar remained bitter but his temper was bridled. This was the sword he sought, it could make heaven weep its sanguinary tears so surely he could hack Thunderthrore apart. She wasn't done though. Rainbow lightning shot from her hands and illuminated his mind with visions of what might be. He floated volitionless in the dreamworld and panicked as agonized snorting pierced his ears. A wicked look was in his eye and helplessly he watched as that version of himself brought down that sword on an unseen target followed by cranial innards splattering him. Next came an injured blue dragon laying on a mountainside. He watched as a crazed Valalar would taunt and stick the sword into its flesh intent on torture. Crawling along with its mangled husk Valalar continued to hack. The beast pleaded to be put out of its misery but he continued to hack parts of it off without a mercy kill. The torture continued onwards until finally Valalar watched himself rolling around in a hollowed out dragon head painted head to toe in red and offering up his nitrogenous waste onto the corpse. Lastly Ishabooru made him watch as he prowled about in dungeons slaughtering hatchlings as they cower in shadow.
She allowed him to awake from his nightmare. She spoke; "This is what might occur if you cannot separate vengeful sadism from being an instrument of karma. I forged this sword so the weak could bring justice to the strong. I will not see it used for genocide. We have reached our final hour. If you cannot prove to me a capacity to wield this power, then be gone from here and wander the world in your stupid frothing. So starts your third and final trial."
A shell-shocked Valalar wobbled to his feet. He found himself in the center of Ishabooru's Temple, all the scenery whipping about him. Andre stood alongside Octavius and Ishabooru. His humanity told him to intervene, but he knew he couldn't even if he could. Everything they'd been through together had led to this moment, and the magic now at play would yield only to its purpose.
A black figure materialized opposite of him. Its sharp red eyes were the only colored feature. An already frenzied Valalar became even more wild, the shadow before him reflected his likeness perfectly, it was him.
His shadowy doppelganger drew its smoldering estoc and charged across their stainglassed battlefield. He drew his own blade and prepared his stance for a violent and decisive killing strike.
But the blackness burned with a hatred beyond his comprehension. It was rabid. Its attacks weren't influenced by the fear of death. It threw itself upon Valalar to which he easily parried and drove his sword into its black heart.
The shadow continued unharmed and in that instant Valalar panicked. The shadow continued flying towards him sliding upwards with Valalar's sword in its chest. Valalar jolted backwards and pulled his sword out. Sticky ink drooled from his blade. As he did so the shadow's attack missed its marker but was able to slash Valalar. A deep laceration ran from his cheek up to the side of his forehead. Blood splashed upwards following the swing of the black sword.
Valalar reeled backwards and the shadow swung and stabbed about. One of its swings landed onto Valalars chestplate with sparks flying off. Some of the grayish-white foam from the shadow's mouth landed inside his facial wound. The vipertine agony caused a lapse in his form. The shadow once again impaled itself on Valalar's sword. Only this time it's own stabbing met Valalar's lower quadricep. He screamed, blood gushed and squirted around the black steel which stood perpendicular inside his leg.
Valalar's blood ran thick as he overdosed on his own adrenaline and endorphins. Their circulation could only last so long as they drained freely onto the Temple floor. His guts took possession over him. He shifted his body and let the black sword gore more of his leg. In return the shadow would be put at an angle where it couldn't withdraw its sword. The pain caused Valalar to bite off part of his tongue, giving way to the sourness of his blood. Gambling the last of his strength into one last maneuver he pulled his sword from his opponent's chest and spun around, dislodging his enemy's sword from its grip.
The metal severed a black neck. A detached head of his darkened likeness flew upwards and spun about before hitting the ground with a splat. He watched as a bottomless wellspring of black fountained from the bodily stump. His nostrils snorted. If darkness had a smell, it would be this. The beheaded corpse collapsed limp. Valalar himself fell over, exhausted and exsanguinated.
A fearful Andre felt Ishabooru’s hand reach out for his shoulder. Valalar took stock of himself. "Look at yourself." Valalar though. "Look at what has become of you." He looked around looking for assistance that wouldn't come. Anguished and broken he looked upon the well in the center of Ishabooru's Temple from which the stardust erupted from. He crawled over to it, his blood trailing in his wake. Not sure what would happen or if it would help he pulled the sword out and shoved his impaled leg into the bedazzled slurry of chaos.
What he felt was indescribable, a limp appendage instantaneously curled back. The stopgap did quell the bleeding. But now his leg lost sensation and was glossed over in some iridescence glass. The black pools flowing from the disembodied head and decapitated corpse began to intermingle. Andre and Valalar watched as the head began to slowly slide back over to its carriage.
The lapse in the ceaseless action forced introspection on Valalar. “What?...What even is that thing?” Valalar said after spitting out blood. "What am I doing here? In this…place. What a stupid thing to ask; to avenge the deaths of my family and friends. But what would Maybelle think of me if she beheld me now? What hypocrisy to teach mortality as a father when I am incapable of separating redress from wrath. The visions the Goddess forced upon me. Is that really what I have been reduced to? Is that wretched blackness what I’ve become?"
As the head slid closer to its body Valalar slipped deeper into himself. He reflected on his life, his love. He thought of what he and Andre had discussed on that sorrowful evening in Ezebullon. On the unknowable cabalism of the very essence of life and death, of the soul, his soul. Perhaps this was his time; perhaps this is how he’d be reunified with his beloved. Not by the sword, as he always thought. But by giving himself up to his love. His love for his family, his friends, these are stronger than any steel or sorcery, they’d be how Thunderthrore met his comeuppance.
The head reattached itself and the blackness staggered to its feet. It shrieked hatefully through a throatful of its fluidic innards. It ravaged on over towards Valalar and took hold of its sword as it berserked. He gave it a peaceful look as his grunt cut through the everlasting stillness. In that moment the black blade chipped past his sternum and went into his heart out his back. Ishabooru's grip on Andre's shoulder tightened as he turned away from the sight.
The victorious shadow wondered why the meat impaled on its steel continued to squish.
Ishabooru gently shook Andre; "Look." She said.
The rabid mass of hate began to quiver inside itself. The sharp reds of its eyes dulled and softened. The unworldly vocalizations quieted into the untroubled grandeur of the mountain. Without a fuss it disappeared back to where it came, the magic behind its existence having seen its purpose complete.
Valalar reached down incredulously at his chest. He looked like half a corpse and half a god. His wounds looked nigh necrotic and he was doused and crusted in blood. The leg where he’d been gored was still glassy with rainbow magic from when he cast it into the eruption of pixies. Andre rushed over to him and began casting spells to nurse his wounds. As he was helped to his feet Ishabooru and Octavius walked over to him and she began to unbuckle the scabbard of Her sword. With a sad and miserable expression engraved on his face he asked the Goddess; “Why do I yet live?”
“You have succeeded in ablating the cancerous wrath towards Thunderthrore. All that remains now is the catharsis of being karma’s envoy. You once said to your beloved that with the power of the purest magic you’d make your way together into the Sacred Heart that beats forevermore beyond the stars and across the rainbow bridge. It was that very magic that allowed you to survive my third and final trial. Take my sword, use it wisely and use it well. You’ve proven your capacity for restraint and forbearance, to distill a fine vintage of judiciousness from the fermenting bile of violence. Thunderthrore’s castle lies far, far in the North, and the North yet teeters on the brink of war. If you are to succeed you and Andre must establish peace. So you can waylay against the castle atop the clouds that dwells within the tempestuous thunderstorms. You destination lies in the city of Frostylrock.”
Valalar grew more weary as he cast aside the Sword of the Second Trial and felt the weight of the Executioner's Sword. “Will you heal my wounds?”
“No.” She said. “In time you will heal, but the scars will remain. To serve as a constant reminder of the consequences of blind hatred, and how it can lead you down the path of wanton destruction alike to which that triggered all this in the first place.”
"War." thought Andre; "What doth insights the northlands to fighting?" That very afternoon Andre, Valalar, and Octavius stood outside the east gate of Dravidia where they’d originally met. Andre assisted the limping Valalar into the cradling leather of the saddle and finished the hurried organizing of their supplies. Octavius looked at Valalar, and than at Andre. His middle-aged and dutiful face sprouted a wry and owlish expression. He walked closer to Valalar's horse and spoke; "Young man you ought to sit upright. What you have accomplished today is epoch-making. For the first time under my watch as the Sir Lord, the Executioner's Sword will be leaving Dravidia's borders. You feel disturbed by the visions shown to you and the rage you felt. But take heart that knowing anyone, myself, Andre, the Gravelord, even the Goddess Herself are capable of such emotions. You wouldn't be wearing that scabbard if the shame you felt was rightly manifested."
Octavius walked back into Dravidia and before the gate closed he waved and shouted "Until we meet again my fellows." The purple steel teeth bit down and the knights manning the wall nodded to them.
Valalar's face cracked wearily at Andre and they rode onwards sharply to the north by northeast, and to whatever was awaiting them there.