Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4
Written By: Cyrus of Sosaria

"A Short Tale With Little Point", by Cyrus of Sosaria.

It had been many months since I'd entered isolation, away from dungeons, from ancient evils and fell beasts, but peace seemed too elusive a prize to be won through simple meditation among the Abbey Monks...~

~One fine and bright morning, a wounded rider came to the Abbey, a large battle had broken out in the lands of Felucca, and many casualities were coming. The efforts to treat the broken, and comfort the dying taxed the kindly monks' and my own, battle-honed healing skills to their limits...~

~During the course of this great effort, orcs were sighted in the woods, reports of ettins and other, greater fiends hung in the air...the lands were darkening...~

~After a time, when relief came to ease the burden of the tiring healers, I found myself alone in my small room within the Abbey, fixedly reciting the mantras of the Virtues, their great power seemed more distant than ever on the eve of this latest catastrophe...~

~Almost without thought, i found myself holding the small figure of my ethereal mount, Etheleal, the spirit of a noble Ki-Rin bound to the small figure seemed to call to me...~

"It is time to ride once more", a voice seemed to say, "It is time to see for yourself what is becoming of Sosaria."

~I set the figure down and looked to a small, ornately carved Ankh necklace, a family heirloom, the last remaining piece of my past before I first took steel to the breast of those that would defile virtue and serenity...~

~I held the necklace for a time, then turned to a small chest, covered with a dusty and tattered shroud...I opened the chest and slowly drew out a fine shirt of mail, crafted of purest Valorite...it still glistened, even in the dim light of my secluded chamber...underneath it lay more pieces of the hunter I'd left behind...fine chainmail, thick and durable leather, a true and sturdy helm...and the curving blade of a kryss, still humming with the power of arcane magic...~

~It did not take long to make the choice, only a matter of moments, though they seemed hours, days even...before I was aware of it, I had slipped into my old equipment, though the kryss still lay in the chest, crossed over a second kryss atop an enchanted kite shield...~

~Quaking, I reached for the blade, and swept it up with surprising swiftness...had it been so long since I held it that I forgot it's lightness?~

"It might be unwise to test my luck too far too soon", I thought, and with that, I slid the blade into a scabbard which I belted across my waist...I held the second blade and gripped the edge of the shield fondly...it had borne me safely through many a battle, I would soon depend on it once more...

~With a flash of energy and light, Etheleul poured forth from the small statuette and I once more sat atop my great steed...a sense of calm swept over me and i leaned into the mystic saddle...I bounded forth in a burst of speed, easily skirting through my chamber doors, and the narrow halls of the ancient Abbey...I glanced once more at the great Ankh set in the chapel behind me, and slipped on my ankh necklace before riding forth into the steadily darkening afternoon...~

*After months in seclusion among the healers and scholars of Empath Abbey, the paladin & ranger known as Cyrus departed from the Abbey's safety and into the wilds of Sosaria, little did he know that another wandering soul also stalked the lands...*

"Reunion", A Wanderer's Tale, told by Cyrus of Sosaria.


~A sickening sound rung out as I drove the long blade of a kryss through the last of the Orc's stomachs...the day had been long and the battle fierce, I'd ventured forth from the Abbey's wall only the night before, and came upon several dozen orcs and the battle that had broken out chased away the night and half the day...caked in blood and weary, I fell atop the heap of slain foes and sat in silence, my own breath and the creaking of ancient trees the only sounds for miles...~

~I held the pommel of the worn blade and slowly propped myself up, then stood and turned to the bodies of the orcs...larger they seemed than even the greatest lord, now that I took the time to consider them, and geared with keen blades and armor that at first glance looked ancient and worn, but upon closer inspection merely hide an under layer of fine mail, akin to the smithing work of men...~

"Something is amiss in the lands, even darker than I first feared...", at this thought, I took out the statue of Ethelual, "Did you sense something, old friend? Something in the very ether that hinted at this foulness?"

~I slid the statue back into a pocket within the folds of my robe and gathered what I could from the orcs' belongings...they had traveled light, even for orcs...no provisions, few captured garments, and nothing whole enough to replenish the bandages I'd spent in battle...~

~A shuffle of movement came to my attention and I tightened my grip on the hilt of my kryss, then spun about and met the shaft of a carved, oaken staff...a thunk and a shudder came in response, my blade bounced off the surface of the wood, and nearly leapt free of my hand...~

~A warm laugh came from beyond the staff, and my eyes focused, even through their weariness, charcoal robes and a gnarled hat hung about a seemingly frail form, and under the hat, a tangled beard peaked out...~

"You used to be faster than that, my young friend..."

~With another laugh, the old man stood, leaning on his staff, I noticed blood stains and signs of battles hard fought on his garments, and a tiredness hung about the old man, but still I recognized him...The Cystocot, the strange old wizard who took me in what now seemed a lifetime ago, after the deaths of my parents at the hands of orcs, who taught me the ways of war that I might one day reclaim my birthright as a Paladin of Trinsic, who supported me with fine equipment and finer fellowship...~

"And you used to be quieter...", I smiled and sheathed my blade, "I could hear the creak of those old bones at a hundred paces..."

"Haha!", he patted my shoulder, his old hands were still firm and full of life, and the touch seemed to ease my spirit and rouse me further from my weary state.
"It's been too long, boy! What rock have you been hiding under? I've not heard tale of you for months...only to come upon you fighting the same battle as myself.", he smiled fondly, but the smile faded as he looked to the grim pile behind me.
"You've been busy, lad...and as sharp as ever, to have felled so many this day...but come, let us retire and catch up...there is much to tell..."

~With a gesture and a chant, a blue moongate sprung forth, and we stepped through, into the streets of Skara Brae...the ever peaceful city now seemed like a ghost town...few hunters strode the streets, and the peasants had a look of despair about them. The sight of two battered adventurers seemed to disturb a few, and we quickly adjourned to the Shattered Skull Tavern...~

~We sat for what seemed like hours, as i told my old master of my time in the Abbey, of the fallouts of many battles i had witnessed...he sat silently for the most part, drinking in the information while smoking from a long pipe, as i drained a stein of ale...~

As i finished my tale, the old mage looked up, grief clear on his face, "I'm glad to hear you've had some peace...your days have always been marred with blood, and for that, i bear no small responsibility..."

"You guided my path, friend...but you did not put me upon it.", i said, it seemed to comfort him, if only a little..."Tell me, what deeds have these days forced upon you, old master? What can you tell of the strange orcs i fought, if anything?"

"There is an evil about the land, but the source seems quite skilled at hiding itself...", he sat back in his chair and puffed his pipe, the glow of the embers traced the scars time and battle had added since last i saw him..."I know not what to make of it, and even in counsel with other arcanists, i've learned little...I can say, though, that these orcs are but the rabble, the lowest pawns in a mighty order that freely roams our lands, they appear from nowhere, and disappear as swiftly as they came, leaving all in their path broken and burned..."

"I sense the force behind these troubles may share some blame in the escallation of wars within the olden lands...ever have they been a place of strife and suffering, but lately the sides seem gripped by madness and frenzy...", he sat for a few moments, staring into the fire of the tavern's hearth, lost in thought..."It is good that you have come to the field of battle once again..."

I drank from the stein and sighed deeply, "Is it?", he looked at me and sighed deeply, his expression sinking again.

"We've lost many friends...even your brother, wise beyond his years, seems to have passed beyond sight in these days...i fear he will never walk these lands again, and we shall be poorer for not having his magics at our side...", his voice trailed off and i removed my helm...

"Have you heard from Shiori since last we sat together, old friend?", a slight twang of desperation crept into my voice...

"No...she has likely fallen...reckless girl...kind and gentle...but ever reckless...", he sighed and sat forward, "And even young Robert is gone, passed into peaceful retirement only to have an Ettin die at his steps and crush his small cottage...we've touched so many, only to have them die or otherwise fade...i wonder sometimes if i should be lingering in these lands..."

"Take heart, old friend.", i rose and donned my helm again, "I feel the woods may offer more insight now that we are refreshed...perhaps in my early weariness, i overlooked something among the felled orcs...", i looked to my friend and he smiled, then stood and gripped his staff.

~With a wave of motion and a flash of light, another gateway opened...passing through, we stood once more in the forests of Yew, the stink of the orcs now hung in the air, the cloud of flies about them was dense...a bolt of energy leapt from the mage's fist and struck the mound, burning the flies into a fine ash, but leaving the bodies unspoiled for it's touch...~

"Interesting trick...", i smirked and the old man's face brightened.

"A minor spell, not even worth noting in arcane text...but useful...", he snorted as he laughed aloud.
"Aye, would that you could do something to burn away the stench of these fiends...though they smell better now than when we fought...", i passed the mage and begun to pick through the heap of brawny orcs, within moments i came upon a finely decorated dagger, deep within a leather satchel, it's blade blackened as if charred, yet glowing softly...

"Let me see that, boy...", the old mage slowly crept close, and i turned and held out the blade...his hand shook as he reached for it, and despair fell deeper than ever i had seen upon his brow..."Barac...old friend, you still linger..."

"Barac? I've heard the name before...though i can not place it...", curiousity came over me, but the mage seemed distant.

"It is an ancient name, from long before even your great-grandfather served the Holy Order...he was once a powerful wizard, but he fell into darkness...to necromancy and even darker arts, before he was struck down in the Wood...", he shuddered at that, and i was certain already where this journey would lead...

"The Cursed Woods...the Liches' haven...", the mage grimaced even as the words passed my lips..."It would seem i must bear the Bane sooner than i'd hoped...", my fingers passed over the guard of my second kryss, and a soft humm filled the fouled grove...

"Aye...but i sense deeper plots than even Barac of the Dark...", he scowled and cast the dagger to the ground, the mage seemed to fill with new vigor, and he held my shoulder firmly. "I've old business to see finished, and we would be wise to travel with haste. You know these woods far better than even i, young Cyrus...lead on."

~With that, we each summoned forth mounts from the ether, Ethelual bore me, while the Cystocot rose onto the back of his great and mystic Ostard, Glien-sul...i looked into the deep woods, my eyes focused clearer than they had for ages and Ethelual bounded forth, Glan-sul sqwuaked and sped after me, the sun was again setting and the forest closed all about us as daylight died...~

*After a long and bloody battle, Cyrus reunites with his long time mentor & friend, a mysterious wizard known only as "The Cystocot", and they share tales of the dark and strange days that have come to Sosaria...* *After thier talk, Cyrus brims with new resolve, this threat to the lands, hidden in shadows and riddles, must be uncovered...returning to the scene of the earlier battle, Cyrus thoroughly searches the orcs and finds an ancient dagger that shakes his companion and wakes old memories...their journey takes them to a fouled and evil place, the Corrupted Woods far to the south, home of the undying liches, in search of the twisted soul of Barac the Dark...*

"Corruption", part three of the Wakening, told by Cyrus of Sosaria.

The battle with the orcs had started at the edge of the woods near the city of Yew, but as it dragged on from evening to day, to early afternoon, it had pushed far to the North and East, and as my old mentor and I rode, into the dark night, it became apparent just how far the battle had borne me...~

"We must've started near Wrong...or perhaps Minoc...", i sighed and drank from a small flask of water, then held it out to my mentor.

He waved it off and smiled, "Do not worry, young Cyrus...look!", he pointed high into the skies, where the twin moons, Trammel & Felucca hung overhead, shining brightly even in the dim light of evening. "The moons of the Spirit hang in the heavens, virtue is with us this night!"

~With that he let out a yell and kicked into the shadowy sides of Glien-sul, and sped off to the south, swifter than ever i had seen before...i patted the neck of Ethelual, it's ethereal form gleaming in the light of the moons, and he bounded forward, driving with all his might, determined not to let the wizard's beast show him up...~

~We'd crossed miles within the space of mere hours, and as we crossed the King's Way, high road of Sosaria which flowed from Trinsic in the distant south to Minoc in the far Northeastern forests, our mounts slowed, the vigor of the moons seemed to pass, and even in their ethereal states, their fear was palpable as we looked out over the Corrupted Woods...even on this bright evening, the woods were dark, shadow moved unchecked, forms shambled in the distance, and even at this late hour, the muffled sounds of battle within the woods rung out into the hills...~

"We should dismount, and not take our noble friends into this...", i scanned the wizard's face as i spoke, worry seemed to cloud his eyes..."They have carried us far enough, i fear terror would overtake them and hamper our efforts..."

After a time, my companion turned, and nodded, "Aye...", he spoke softly, i could tell his mind was elsewhere, perhaps on thoughts of Barac...he'd called him friend, but what little he told me hinted at bitter betrayal and a disappointment that even now pained the wizard...

~We passed the next few hours in silence, my troubled friend behind as i led us into the evil forest...signs of recent battle were everywhere, for the valiant and true ever came to this place, and the battle to keep the liches bound within the woods was neverending...~ ~Bodies of several hunters lay on the edge of the woods, the sight of them roused the wizard, and he rushed to the fallen warriors...~

"Stop a moment, let us see what we can do...", he gripped his staff and began to chant loudly...a glow filled the woods and arcane light flowed from the form of the Cystocot, as the light grew, my hand would not leave the hilt of my kryss, the soft humm of power barely audible over the chant and the oppresiveness of the forest...

"Hmm...", the chanting ceased and the wizard stooped, "Strange...", i turned and stooped low, my grip still firm about my blade's handle..."There is no life in these men, their souls have been consumed, the bodies cast out..."

~A snap of a twig caused me to spin about, in a blur i twirled out my blade...in a flash, the blade ripped through the form of a lich whom the light must have drawn near...it choked out a curse and fell in a heap of rapidly decaying flesh...~

~The blade glowed from within, flame seemed to curl about it's length...runes seethed and the light of the moons caught it, even through the forest canopy...my old friend looked on and smiled...~

"'Ghoul Bane'...i had hoped more battle would come before i had to use it...", as i held the blade and swept it about, the mage looked into the woods.

"Isolation has not dulled thy skill, my friend, and it would seem we have little contest to our destination...", he pointed out, my eyes caught the glint of moonlight against cold stone...the crypt..."A pity...from the sound of things, battle goes poorly this night..."

"Something foul stirs in this place...more foul than ever i have felt...", as i spoke, a thumping sound came to our ears, a form stood over the crypt, black beyond description, all light died as it fell upon it's aura..."By Virtue..."

~The mage sprung forth, seemingly maddened, and i chased after him before i was even aware i'd given pursuit...the form immediately took notice of our approach, and turned, a vision of evil...~

~A flowing shroud, black as coal, hung in tatters about it, sickly grey skin, akin to the color of ash, hung loose on it's skull-like face, and it's withered hands cracked as fingers traced dark and intricate, deliberate paths...~

~Lightning cracked the skies, and flame rained down, i barely managed to tackle the frenzied mage to the ground as a ball of flaming stone split a nearby tree in two...Ghoul Bane hummed louder than ever, it's blade burning with energy and fury, until the humm threatened to split our skulls...~

~All at once a half dozen liches clawed up from the ground, eyes glowing with twisted, arcane power...roused back to sense, the Cystocot rose and began to chant, a glow limned the dark form and himself, and he strained, hand reaching out, as if he was drawing the fiend's energies into himself...~

"Quickly, dispatch the liches...", he said with much effort, "I can not hold their master long...", his eyes shut and his chant grew more intense, the dark form writhed and shrieked, and the liches grew closer...

"Forul...Solum!!!", i screamed the mystic words, and an aura washed over me, my blade and i were one...my brow twitched and i shuddered..."Consecrus...Arma...", the second chant came forth with great effort, but to great effect...Ghoul Bane cracked with energy, it's glow grew even more potent than before...my eyes narrowed and i stole one more glance at my mentor as he struggled to dominate whatever war he fought with the dark wraith...

~As the liches closed the gap, i spun about, dashing the closest one apart with ease, and Ghoul Bane shook, the enchantments sprung to life, and in my eyes the liches seemed to glow and come into keen focus in the darkness...with a sweep, i brought the blade upon another lich, it was blasted apart where it stood, and even as my blade cut through it's rotting flesh, i spun and stabbed the blade of Ghoul Bane, to the hilt, through another lich...~

~The sting of magic exploded against my side, instinctively i swung out the blade and lopped another lich's head clean from it's shoulders..."Obsu Vulni!", i called, and healing light washed over me, the pain lessened, though proper treatment would later be needed, i could fight on...~

~Two more liches remained...they made no movements, and they shrieked into the darkness...i kicked the last lich's shattered form from my blade, and i held one hand against the shuddering blade..."Divinum......Furis!!!", i howled out and in a blur of movement, both liches were cloven in two...but now my energies were all but spent...the light of Ghoul Bane dimmed, and my laboured breathes showed the strain of weilding the Holy power again after so long...~

"Aaaugh!!", the Cystocot fell to his knees and barely held himself from falling to the ground, the strain of the contest wore the great wizard down and he seemed all at once weakened by the burden of his many years...I managed to step to his side, my eyes ever on the unmoving form or our great enemy... "Barac...hatred...torment.....", his words trailed into arcane speech, but slowly his eyes grew sharp again..."There is more...here..."

~With a rustle, something dark and lithe fell from the trees...a blade met my own even as i swung...a snarl and a hissing intake of breath followed, and a black blade, drinking in the light, crossed over Ghoul Bane...the light of my blade faded even more and a hard headbutt sent me reeling back...~

~In the low light, the shrouded attacker straightened up, it's blade held to my throat, ending in an ornate handle, like the dagger carried by the orcs..."You've grown weak, old man...", a soft, but cruel voice hissed from behind a mask of death..."You should have stayed in your Abbey...", my eyes grew wide...i knew what i faced...for i had trained this person...~

"Shiori...", my voice was now dry and low, the hissing responce, and the cold, hate-filled glare chilled my soul...my former protege, now easily my equal in skill, and bent by Barac's evil, stood before me...Barac's form loomed up behind her, his dark eyes bore down on the prostrate form of the Cystocot, and energy danced between his boney, cracking fingers...before i could react, another savage headbutt rocked me, and all became dark as i fell to the earth......

*Prologue: Shiori's Story, as told by The Cystocot*

The thumps were growing closer, the footsteps louder...the young girl cowered under the floorboards of her home, under the hatch her father had made years ago to hide his gambling winnings from the ever watchful Court of Justice...~

~The smell of bog was almost enough to gag her, The Decay's grip on Yew was tightening...she felt almost relieved that the hiding place was still here, the house had sunk nearly a foot since the swamp rose up beneath it...~

~She covered her nose and her mouth, trying desperately not to cough. She lay still, the squish of the bog as she shivered was barely drowned out by the footsteps above...~

~Suddenly, a loud crash and horrid screams filled the air, several thuds followed, and a window shattered...then all was silent...she chanced to roll over onto her back, to get a better look through the floorboards...an armored boot stepped over the hatch, and a pair of gentle voices spoke, barely above a whisper...~

"No bows...", a deep, almost exaggerated sigh followed.

"Don't worry, plenty more Lords where that one came from, Kexx.", a laugh and the slap of a hand against a plated shoulder filled the scared girl's ears..."Come, we shouldn't leave the battle for too long, these fiends were only a small scouting party..."

"Aye...", the butt of a long spear thunked on the floorboards, "Just...warn me next time you plan to run off...hard to keep up with you in plate.", the two friends laughed and walked from the ruined house, the armored boots of "Kexx" crunching loudly, but his companion barely made a sound...

~After several silent and agonizing moments, the girl reached up and pushed the compartment open, she climbed out and nearly toppled back in when she came face to face with a Jukan Warrior, his face locked in a mask of pain...she came to her senses and surveyed the room...the bodies of three more warriors lay about, and slumped half out of a window was the body of a Juka Lord, his armor torn apart by countless stabs, yet the wounds barely bled out...~

~Her knees shaking, the girl approached the door, barely holding back her revulsion...a clamor rose outside and her pace quickened...several yards from her ruined home, a pair of warriors fought back to back...one, clad in Shadow-Black Platemail from head to toe, weilding a long spear with deadly precision, the other wearing bright, silvery-grey chainmail, a shield on one arm, a curving blade in his other hand, striking rapidly, each thrust barely seen, but for the pain that marked his opponents' faces...they fought as one and made short work of their foes...~

~The mail clad man slowly and methodically searched the belongings of several of the Juka, while his companion poked and prodded several more, a sigh resounded within his helm and he slowly stood.~

"Not much for treasures are they?", the plate-clad warrior turned to his partner and removed his helmet, long hair flopped about his shoulders, and a scraggily beard marked his chin... "Good sport, at least.", the chainmail wearing man stood and turned, when something caught his eye...he saw her...

"Ahh...", she nearly took off running, but her legs failed her and she fell to the ground with a squish, the man ran over and helped her up, and threw a long cloak over her and she looked up...

"Don't worry, you're safe now.", his kind eyes were the last thing she saw before she passed out from exhaustion.

~In the days that followed, the young girl learned of her saviors...Kexx Woodkin, the spear weilding warrior, always clad in sturdy platemail and a flowing cloak...and Cyrus Swayze, silent, chainmail wearing master of the kryss blade...she met their companions, Alleria Swift, a mighty woman warrior, nearly unmatched in her skill with the blade, and the Cystocot, a strange old man, Cyrus claimed he was a powerful wizard, but Shiori rarely witnessed anything more than a curiously strong old craftsman who reluctantly gave her her first blade...~

~As Cyrus and Kexx continued to battle the Juka, Alleria began to train Shiori...she was an orphan, and though she was still young, she quickly took to the blade...when the threat of the Juka passed, and other concerns took over Alleria's time, Shiori began to train with Cyrus...he was patient and kind, but the training wasn't easy...she learned to press on through pain, to make every strike in battle count...and when she was ready, she learned the ways of the ranger...~

~Years passed, and the frail young girl grew into a powerful and fierce woman, she grew increasingly independent, and she would often spend months apart from her friends, occasionally returning from the wilds barely alive, her armor in tatters, but her mood always light...until one day, she was invited to help hunt down a demon that had attacked a small farm near Skara Brae...~

~Excitement filled the air as they set out, Alleria eagerly showed off a new katana, enchanted to be a bane of demons, crafted for her by the Cystocot...Cyrus, who had recently taken to wearing the robes of a healer, yet still moved with near-silence, weilded a similar kryss, a blue-silver blade that rested against his shoulder as they stalked the woods, following the demon's trail...now and then, Shiori's eyes strayed to the other blade Cyrus carried..."Ghoul Bane"...he'd shown it to her once before...it hummed with power, and it never left the ranger's side...~

~As they walked through the woods, they came upon a clearing, and a large shape loomed before them, battling a small band of Orcs, fire and streaks of lightning lept from the beast's hands, leathery wings nearly spanning the clearing, charred skin and a hideous roar marked it plainly...it was the demon they sought, still scarred by the assualt of the brave people of Skara Brae who chased him from their land...~

~Alleria and Cyrus rushed in even as the last orc fell...the battle was fast, Shiori was stunned by the grace and speed of her fellows, their movements in harmony, they almost seemed to be dancing as they attacked...and the beast's attacks, savage and terrible, filled her with dread...the fight seemed to be going in the favor of her friends when the demon lashed out with impossible speed and force...Alleria was sent clear through the air, she crunched against a thick oak and nearly split the old tree in half...~

~Shiori roused from a stupor after what seemed like hours, Cyrus stood over the carcass of the demon, his face twisted with rage and pain, his formerly brown robe now stained deep with the fiend's blood...Alleria was dead...~

~Despair had taken hold of Cyrus, days after the tragedy, he simply vanished...he left no word for Shiori, and even the kindly old wizard, the Cystocot, could tell her nothing of him...~

~One day, after a brief and near-wordless visit with the mage, Shiori stepped into the moongate of Skara Brae...and disappeared from memory...~

(End Prologue)

*The trail had led my old mentor and i into the Cursed Woods...it did not take long to find what we sought...Barac the Dark...he commanded a group of liches, and and was held by the Cystocot's will as i fought...our efforts drained us, and i was ill-prepared for the attack of Barac's other minion...my former protege, Shiori...*

"Unravelling", Chapter 4 of "The Wakening", told by Cyrus of Sosaria.

I woke with a sharp pain which dimmed my sight...how much time had passed since the battle?...even as i pondered this, i became aware of the shrouded form sitting on a nearby log, a slender, plated hand gripped the hilt of Ghoul Bane...and the jaw of a skull peaked out under it's hood...~

"Shiori...is that really you?", my voice was dry and strange even to myself...the form turned and it's cold eyes fell upon me...a terrible aura surrounded it...

"You're stronger than i thought...or at least your head is...", the voice was soft, but each breath was a hiss, and though it was familiar, it was also strange...the form pulled back it's hood, and removed it's cracked skull helm...it was Shiori, her skin was paler than a corpse...her hair raven black, and a wicked scar marred her face, carving up from chin to just below her left eye, and splitting the edge of her lips...she grinned cruelly and turned to a small campfire. "The look on your face is payback enough for my helm..."

"I'd be careful with that blade...if what i feel is true...", i coughed blood and managed to prop myself up on one elbow, my hands were bound behind my back...i surveyed the area, we weren't far from the Crypt, my other kryss was imbedded in a gnarled tree trunk yards away, and the darkness of the woods hung in the air like a viel...

"Your eyes are still sharp, i see...", she stood and whipped up Ghoul Bane, bringing it to my chin in a swift and graceful thrust-step...her hand shook and her grin grew wider, then her eyes darted to the side, i followed them and saw the Cystocot, unmoving, pale as death..."Barac wants to savor this...he's waited centuries for his revenge...the old wizard should not have challenged my pet..."

I stared into her cold eyes and grim reality sunk in..."What have you done?"

She rose again and caressed the length of Ghoul Bane..."Your question is meaningless...you already know...", she hissed and stooped, then grabbed my shoulder...pain tore through me, and i felt my life ebbing...

"you raised him...with necromancy...", i struggled for breath, she released her grip and stood over me again, the bodies my friend and i encountered now made a chilling kind of sense..."why?"

"You will never know...Barac is resting now...but his strength will return with the night...and then...you will die...", she paced about and swept Ghoul Bane about her in rapid, graceful arcs...whatever had brought her to the dark arts, she had clearly focused her combat training greatly since i last saw her..."He knew the blade would draw the wizard...you are merely an added bonus..."

~Suddenly, a shaft of dark energy rose from the ground, and took the shape of a blackened moongate...cold, glowing eyes stared out from a hulking shadow, and Shiori fell into a low bow...~

"Master...", she hissed sickeningly, almost delighted, an even more twisted grin on her face..."What are your orders?"

"Child of Dark...Holy Knight...", the eyes turned on me and i shuddered uncontrollably, whatever this abomonation was, it's voice was deep, and resounded with power and rage..."Kill the Knight...spill his innards upon the Crypt of Barac...bring him forth with the arcanist..."

~The ground shook and the portal faded, the woods darkened in it's passing, and the trees moaned...as the dark lifted, Shiori cackled and rose, her shroud rustled and her hair caught a sudden breeze...~

"Well...well...", she turned and stroked Ghoul Bane, "It will almost be an honor...felling my former master with his treasured blade..."

"Is that so?", i coughed another wad of blood and smiled, "You should have killed me before i had such a...peaceful slumber...", i rose and she staggered back with surprise..."AUGUS LUMINOS!!!!"

~Light filled the woods and my body burst with holy energy...streams of light crashed down from above, and Shiori barely dodged a bolt of the light, i rolled back as they fell and my bonds were burned, with a snap i freed my hands, and i quickly ran to the tree that held my other kryss...Shiori had recovered from the flash, and she raced after me, as i pulled the blade from the tree, i parried her attack and Ghoul Bane rung against it's companion blade...~

"I'll give you the chance to flee...our friendship is still dear to me, and i do not wish to fight you!", i stared her down, her cold eyes locked with my own...

"Too bad, old man...i can not think of anything i'd rather do!", she spun Ghoul Bane about my own blade and swept down, my blade lept with remarkable speed and met her strike..."What!?"

"This blade has no name...", runes scorched to life along the length of my blade and Shiori's eyes grew wide..."I'll say again...go now, go back to whatever fiend you serve...but don't force me to strike..."

She cackled and stepped back, her stance shifted..."I'm not a defenseless child anymore!! And i will kill you!!!", she grinned and licked her lips..."An Sanct Gra Char...", her body shuddered and dark energy swirled from her hand down along the length of Ghoul Bane...it glowed blood red and it's humm deepened..."Defend yourself..."

~She thrust the blade and barely grazed my cheek as i deflected it...i felt a strange, drawing sensation...my cheek grew cold and Ghoul Bane's aura darkened...Shiori grinned and thrust again, i parried and kicked her in the side, she rolled with the kick and lashed out, only to meet my blade...she hissed with frustration and stared into my eyes...~

"How...you can't be so fast...", she swiped again & again and roared with each parry, i stepped back and blocked an overhead strike, her breathing became erratic, and aggravation showed clearly on her face...

"Stop this, Shiori! What do you hope to gain?", i pressed against her blade and she struggled to keep her footing on the dewey grass..."Don't make me do this..."

"You're weak!!", she roared and pushed forward, i staggered and she whipped the blade across my chest, slashing my robes open, but my armor held against the blow, i steadied myself and shut my eyes...

"Consecrus...Arma...", energy crackled down the blade even as the words left my throat..."Divinum Furis!!!", a gust of wind shook the trees and i felt every muscle in my body tense...my eyes opened, my vision keen and sharp...Shiori's form was dim...her once soft face now grotesque and twisted with hatred and perverse pleasure...

"Die, Cyrus!!!", she rushed at me, my blade whipped back and i shut my eyes as i thrust...a sickening gurgle filled my ears, along with the tearing of armor and a roar of flame...there was a soft crunch and i turned my wrist before releasing my hold on my weapon...

I turned before opening my eyes, and walked to the Cystocot, he barely moved, but some of the color had returned to his skin...the forest itself seemed to lighten, and the sun peaked through the tree canopy...as i stooped by my friend's side, he gripped my hand and sighed with relief...

"Barac has passed again into rest...i can not feel his foul presence any longer...", his eyes met mine and he slumped back...he caught sight of Shiori's, still clutching Ghoul Bane, with my kryss protruding from her chest, it's firey enchantment still seethed and smoke rose from the wound..."I see..."

"Only the haste of the blade's enchantment saved me...she was so determined...she left me no choice...", i shuddered and the old mage held my shoulder.

"I am sorry...perhaps had i not rushed in...had i given myself time to recover from my spell...", i stopped him and rose, then walked to Shiori's still form and looked upwards..."What are you do-?"

"Dium...Prostra...", as i chanted the spell, the mage's scream of protest was drowned out...my life energy ebbed and my body glowed with a blinding light...the light faded suddenly and i fell to my knees, drained...but nothing happened...Shiori still lay dead, her skin growing more and more pale as each moment passed...

"cyrus...", a cough of blood and a gurgle rose up from her, a rattle of breath escaped her lips and she smiled..."i'm sorry...", her eyes shut and contentment washed over her, she gripped the blade in her chest and drew it out, then went limp and cold...

~All was silent...i could not move, i barely heard the Cystocot as he rose and came to my side...he sighed and chanted under his breath, then bent and pulled Shiori up and craddled her body in his arms...~

~I watched as his body erupted with arcane light, and ahead of him, the ground yawned open, he bore her into the waiting grave and took Ghoul Bane from her grip, then layed her down and stepped back, the ground sealed up and his aura faded, he held the blade and walked back to me...~

"There was nothing more you could do...but i feel your sacrifice soothed her soul...for a moment, i saw the gentle face of that scared young girl you carried from Yew, so long ago...", he held out Ghoul Bane to me and i slowly gripped the handle, a cold sensation washed over me and i dropped the blade..."It has been cursed through the dark arts...but it will be cleansed, as was Shiori's heart..."

I sat and stared at the blade, and slowly turned to the other, it's surface marred with blood..."My heart and hands will forever be stained...", i rose and slowly sheathed the blades, i walked with the mage a short distance before finding my dented helm, battered shield and his cracked staff...

"A high price we have payed this night...and we've learned little...the evil that corrupted Shiori is likely the evil that stalks our land...and we are left without any path to follow...", the mage sighed and i slowly removed my robes..."Cyrus?"

"It can not hide forever...", my eyes seethed, "It will answer for this dark deed."

~The next day, i rode out from Britain, the night spent in the comfort of the inn had done little to rest my mind...i rode atop Etheluel and crossed the South Bridge, stopping only to gaze at the sun, still low in the sky...~

~Gone were the robes of the healer, i now wore a pure white surcoat, and a flowing red cape draped over my shoulders...my eyes stared out into the wilderness and i sat motionless for countless moments...with a deep sigh, i urged Etheluel into a full gallop and we rode towards the distant moongate...~


~Cold air swept through the leaves of the dark forest, the ground moaned and even the mad laughter of the liches that usually filled the woods was silent...something dark and wholey evil walked the woods...not even the moonlight shone on it's hulking form...~

~It came to a clearing, and to freshly disturbed earth, and bent low, glowing eyes barely showed any hint at it's features...~

~It's head reared back and a roar issued forth, the ground shook and thick, aged trees snapped back like twigs, a slender hand rose from the ground and was followed by a pale, shrouded form...cold, lifeless eyes met the glowing eyes of the great beast, black wings, torn and tattered spread and the woman once known as Shiori Kitae rose from the ground. She drew a shadowy blade from the folds of her shroud and grinned wickedly, the beast's wing's fell around her and the night grew terribly dark, as the dim passed, both beast and woman were gone...~

This marks the end of The Wakening, i thank all who have read these words, and hope you enjoyed the tale.

~Cyrus of Sosaria~