BlackThorn's Doom

Chapter One

The words Connell had spoken struck them all like a blow. Connell was a good and honorable man with the skills needed to wield the blade, and yet he had failed. Returning to his friends empty handed with the doom of the world weighing down upon his shoulders.

“Do not take offense,” The Se’estra said consolingly. “Men beyond count have ventured down the same path as you. They all have returned empty handed as well. In this there is no dishonor.”

Connell was about to reply when Casius stepped forward and boldly announced. “I will attempt the test,” he said calmly even though fear tightened his chest.

Connell gripped his forearm firmly. “Think on what you are saying.” He demanded sharply. “Should you succeed, then you will stand alone against the Kin slayer.” Connell searched his friend’s eyes. “Is this what you wish.”

“I told you once long ago that I do not believe in fate.” Casius answered him, searching for the right words to describe the helplessness he now felt. “I still don’t, but a mans future is guided by the choices he makes. Perhaps fate is the result of having no options left before you.”

“There are always choices, Casius.” Connell responded.

“If I turn aside now Connell I will never rest knowing I gave away the one chance to save the world. It is that cost that forces my decision. I am no hero, Bravery does not come easily to me.”

Connell smiled releasing his friend’s arm. “Though you may fail, even to make the attempt knowing the burden you will face should you meet with success proves the strength of your courage.”

“Have no fear Connell,” Casius said. “I will survive as you have.”

“The danger is not in failing Casius,” Connell answered. “Should you succeed you will be forever changed.”

“No man remains untouched in times such as these.” The Se’estra interjected stepping between them. “Only the dead are stagnant.”

Taking Casius by the arm she leads him to the stair that Connell had ascended. “Be true seeker,” She whispered softly. “Go now and be judged rightly.”

Casius looked over his shoulder at his companions. Marcos smiled and nodded his encouragement. Suni stood as impassive as ever; only a slight tip of his head showed the respect he had for his young pupil.

Connell nodded and waved him onward. Casius smiled and turned to the stair. He descended cautiously; the steps were narrow and slick. The base of the stair disappeared into a roiling mist that flowed about the ziggurats base.

Through the damp mist the stair led him downward until he emerged into a low grotto filled with lush vegetation. Sunlight coming from the rent in the mountain pierced the mist above and reflected brightly from small still pools of water.

A broad path paved with polished stone led through the ferns and unfamiliar flowers. A few hundred paces ahead the path entered into a deep cleft in the mountain rock.

The ever-present tinge of sulfur was absent here. Instead a pleasant aroma of sweet blossoms filled the air, adding to the beauty around him.

The garden was a sharp contrast to the land of sterile gray stone and blue tinged fields of ice. The Mahjie had performed a miracle, only through hard work and careful tending could such a place exist.

Casius walked slowly, savoring the feel of the soft grass under foot. He was determined to undergo the test, but he had no desire to wield the black sword. He could see no other way before him though and he braced himself against the responsibility it brought.

A pair of trees framed the opening within the lichen-stained stone. Their golden leaves whispered softly in a light breeze that Casius could not feel. He paused beneath their boughs; taking a deep breath as he steeled himself against the trepidation building within him.

Stepping boldly forward he entered the narrow tunnel. Less than a hundred feet ahead he could see the entrance to a broad chamber flooded with silver light. He entered the chamber cautiously; it was roughly circular and brightly illuminated by a host of the strange metallic spheres set into niches along the walls.

Against the far wall of the chamber sat a powerfully built man with a thick beard and braided hair of deepest black.

His eyes were closed and the deep lines etched into his face reminded Casius of the sailors of his home who lived in the harsh elements all of their lives.

Clad in battered armor that had seen many battles he appeared to be resting. As if at any moment