An age in the past, the world’s two greatest Mages fought a bloody war to a draw that slew them both.
In the time since, the Kingdom of Vishni has known quiet, and the Swarm beyond the mountains has grown in strength and numbers. Now, with the Time of Prophecy at hand, dark forces move to fulfil ancient visions.
Two men, born to poverty but bearing the blood of those ancient Mages, will rise to decide the fate of both Swarm and Kingdom as the fires of this ancient conflict rise anew.
The Hawk Lord Shar’tell nodded at the Mage’s report. He could see it himself, a swarming horde of corruption and death slowly advancing up towards the apex of the pass. “He is there.”
His companion looked up at the tone of his Lord’s voice. “Your commands, Hawk Lord?” the General of his Mage army asked.
Shar stood. Red-collared white robes swirled around his plain black tunic, seemingly the same and yet completely unlike the clothes of the Battlemagi around him, as befitted the most powerful Mage alive and the man who stood first after the Gods among the people of Vishni.
“You know the plan, my old friend,” Shar’tell told the Battle Mage as his fingers ran over the pulsating red blood crystal that topped his white oak staff. “I can give you nothing more, save hope.”
The Mage councilor bowed. “That you already gave us, Lord.”
The Hawk Lord’s eyes swept the advancing Swarm, seeking his prey like the hawk he wore as his other form, and nodded. “He is here,” Shar’tell said softly.
Suddenly, Shar’tell hunched his shoulders, preparing to take wing, before meeting the gaze of the other Mage. “Be ready. Be strong.”
The Battle Lord stepped back as his master shimmered, then Shifted. A red-crested black and white hawk winged its way into the heavens.
The General stepped away, turning to the other Battlemagi. “Be ready,” he repeated. “The Swarm comes.”
The horrendous mass of the Swarm moved slowly, as if unaware of the thin line of Battlemagi blocking the way. No two creatures in that inconstant mass were the same, many shifting forms even as they advanced. An immense stench rose from their corrupted forms as the poor creatures, warped and torn by chaos, approached.
The white-robed Magi stood motionless, waiting for them. Exactly seven hundred and twenty-nine strong, their line blocked the narrowest portion of the pass like a series of marble pillars.
The wind billowed their robes out around their black tunics, but they remained silent and still as they watched the doom of the kingdom they were sworn to defend swarm towards them.
Something changed. The leading elements of the Swarm paused for a moment, gathering themselves. Then, with an indescribable sound, that corrupted mass lunged forwards as one.
The Battlemagi watched in silence as they came. For the first time there was movement in the white-clad line, as hands carefully shifted their grips on the crystal-tipped white staves.
The Swarm moved ever closer, a multihued living whirlwind of limbs, claws and fangs. It seemed as though nothing in the entire world could stop it, until, as if driven by one will, the Battlemagi brought their staves out in front of them. They paused, making sure all their comrades were ready.
Then a great cry burst from their throats and the staves slammed into the dirt with a resounding crash. The crystals flickered, and solid planes of light stretched out from both sides of each staff, merging to form an unbroken shimmering white wall across the pass.
The Swarm broke upon that bright wall like water upon cliffs – and died.
The Swarm boiled back and forth, staying clear of the mound of misshapen corpses where they’d met the Battlemagi’s shield. Unintelligent as they were, they did know fear, and that gleaming, invulnerable, wall awoke it in them.
A pattern seemed to form in the heaving mass, as the shifts suddenly only became one way. It appeared almost illusory for a long moment, and then a split appeared in the ranks of the Swarm, a path clearing for a group of figures.
Four Riders came forward, two men and two women. All four were mounted upon drakes, immense lizard-like creatures more constant than most in the Swarm. Both Riders and beasts were clad in a deep purple that seemed to pulse with corruption.
At the center of the Riders formation drifted a single man. He floated in the air and kept pace easily with the Riders around him without visibly moving.
The strange group stopped perhaps ten meters from the line of Magi. The man hovering in the air moved forward to rest upon the ground in front of the Riders and stopped.
The Battlemagi’s line wavered at last as they recognized him. His robes were inconstant, a varying purple on which swirled reds, blacks, and greens. Shadow clouded his face, allowing only his glowing red eyes to be seen. Even the shadow that clung to him was wrong, shifting and glowing in its corruption. This was the Drake Lord Jai’tell, the Master of Chaos. The Accursed One.
He raised his hand, hidden within the voluminous sleeves of his robes, and gestured wordlessly. Multicolored flame flashed out, flaring along the shield. The corpses of the Swarm incinerated unheeded as his fire tested the defense.
The flame stopped as he lowered his hand. His pulsating purple eyes considered the Magi, and thunder rang under his voice as he spoke.
“Do you truly believe that you can stop me?” Jai’tell demanded of the Battlemage host.
The Battlemagi were silent. The pulsing eyes flashed, and he raised his arm once more, and this time the multihued fire battered at the shield and kept battering. Several of the Battlemagi were driven to their knees. They kept their hands on their staves, though, and the shield stayed up.
The Drake Lord lowered his arm, and the fire stopped. He focused on the Battlemagi, missing the single bird that flew in to land in front of him. “Impressive. But you cannot stop me.”
“No. They cannot.” The bird shimmered, and Shifted into the white-robed Hawk Lord Shar’tell. “But I can.” He drew his staff from within his robes and stepped forward.
Jai’tell gestured the Riders forward, but Shar’tell raised his hand. “They have no place in this, Accursed One.”
The red eyes blazed, but a flick of the robe’s sleeve sent the four Riders back. “So be it, my brother,” the Drake Lord said coldly, his voice dripping venom. “Let this be done.”
The two men, brothers and no longer merely human, advanced upon each other.
Jai’tell drew his staff from within his robes. A bright gold dragon, its eyes purple crystals that the rainbow swirled within, topped a staff of dull black wood, as different from the shining white of the Battlemagi’s staves as could be.
He swept the dragon scepter around, and the same multihued fire he’d unleashed on the host lashed out at the Hawk Lord.
The white-robed Shar’tell casually brought his own staff into the path of the flames. The multihued fire gathered around the blood-red crystal tipping the staff, until the swirling hues stabilized to the natural colors of fire. Shar’tell twisted his staff, and sent the flames hurtling back at their creator.
The Drake Lord sneered, and killed the flame with a gesture. The gesture continued, ending with his hand pointed at Shar’tell. Purple-cored lightning flashed out at the white-clad Mage.
A glittering white shield flickered into existence around the Battlemage, shedding the lightning like water. Energy coruscated around the shield, glittering like stars in the night sky.
Jai’tell stepped forward, raising his staff to add more purple lightning to his assault. “You have learned much, little brother,” he snarled. “But I am the stronger.”
“Your strength is chaos, Jai’tell,” the Hawk Lord said calmly. “It will rip you apart and spit you out as dust upon the wind.”
“And your weakness is your altruism!” Jai’tell snapped. His focus suddenly shifted, and he sent a beam of power, empty of either light or dark, hurtling towards the Battlemagi line.
Shar’tell shifted with him, placing his shield between that beam and his people. He grunted with the effort of holding back that lance of pure chaos.
Then the attack shifted, the beam flashing out of existence, to reappear slashing straight at the Hawk Lord. His defenses focused elsewhere, the lance ripped through his stomach and sent him crumpling to the ground in a spray of blood.
Shar’tell lay on the ground, hearing the soft footsteps on the rocky soil as his brother came to finish him.
His heart continued to pump his blood out, soaking the rocky soil and the already-red crystal of his staff. With each drop that touched the blood crystal, its glow grew more intense.
A slight shift, covered by his crumpled body, drew his left forearm across the sharp edges of the crystal, leaving his life’s blood to pump out onto it. With a thought, the Hawk Lord reached out to the blood crystal, trading it a devil’s bargain: his life for the strength to finish this.
Then Jai’tell was there. For the last time, strength filled Shar’tell’s limbs, and he thrust the staff upward. The blood crystal glowed with a brazen light as it sliced through the Drake Lord’s shields like tissue paper, then continued on to rip out his throat in a spray of gore.
Shar’tell slumped back, the blood crystal draining the last of his life and soul, as the carefully balanced chaos in his brother broke free.
Heat was the last thing he felt as chaos fire swept the pass with death.
The Battlemage Adept moved through the debris quietly, one of dozens who searched the pass. Something tugged at his mind as he searched, drawing him towards a heap of rubble.
He used his hands to clear away the rocks and dirt. He had a glimpse of a red gem, moments before his hand touched it. As he touched it, a whirlwind ripped into his mind; knowledge, words, and thoughts that were not his own.
It spun through him, filling him, subsuming him and being subsumed by him, and then a voice spoke in his mind and through his lips, words in a tongue he didn’t know – and yet knew perfectly:
“Ba kar shana dua…” and then he understood the words as he spoke them:
“As there were two, so shall there be two
In which the blood of the Twain runs true
They will clash, as did the brothers
And they will decide the future.”