Confrontation: Ragnarok's Twilight
The following morning, Cyriin was awoken by one of the manor servants. She had apparently overslept. She swiftly dressed and hastily devoured the meal prepared for her, then broke into a run for the training grounds. When she arrived, tired and out of breath, she greeted and apologized to Ir'thatal and Kane. The latter slightly annoyed while the former simply sighed and said, "Well, at least you're warmed up. Shall we be on our way then?"
As the students and master began their trek, Cyriin asked, "Where are we going?"
"We are going to the place where I was trained." Ir'thatal replied casually.
"And where is that?" Cyriin pushed.
"A beautiful place." Her mentor replied, more intentionally cryptic this time.
Cyriin rolled her eyes and let out a sigh. "You know he would have told us if he wanted us to know, right?" Kane stated curtly.
"Well it can't hurt to ask!" She fired back.
"I'm just saying it will get you no where." Kane replied.
Ir'thatal began to laugh and said, "Come on, you two. No need to get into a fight about my little surprise."
"Yes sir." They replied.
" That's the spirit."
They continued walking for an hour, stopping once to get a drink from a nearby brook. Then Cyriin thought she noticed something strange. There was a small bush nearby, normal in all regards to the passing eye. But upon closer inspection, it seemed to shimmer, like behind a veil of water. Cyriin called out to her partner and teacher, showing them the anomaly. They both took equal interest in it as well. All three stood several feet away looking at it, until Cyriin moved forward and touched it. The moment she had, something amazing happened: The bush burst into a mess butterflies the color of jade. They flew away in all directions, shimmering and changing colors all the while.
"Just as I thought." Ir'thatal muttered. "Rylseim. Mirage butterflies."
"They were beautiful." Cyriin remarked. Kane agreed and asked, "But why do they do that?"
"It's a self-defense mechanism." Their master responded, "They use it to protect themselves from predators. Many of our mages use a spell that produces a similar effect. The Rylseim are undoubtedly the inspiration for it."
The elves continued their expedition, coming into rougher terrain as the time passed. Soon there was no longer a path, but they were creatures of this forest and were accustomed to moving through such terrain. Ir'thatal increased his pace, first to a fast walk, then a slight trot, finally settling on a run just shy of sprinting. He had obviously walked this path many times and was familiar with every root and tree. Cyriin and Kane began to fall behind, each stumbling upon the occasional root, but both unwilling to let the other gain a lead.
Suddenly, Ir'thatal took a sharp turn to the right, moving out of sight. His students followed him, only to find themselves blocked by a wall of thorns at the location where Ir'thatal had disappeared.
"Do you think he went through here?" Cyriin asked Kane.
"Where else could he have gone?" Her partner replied.
They both stood there for a moment. Though they were both clad in leather armor, the thorns were menacing all the same. With a resolute look, Cyriin covered her face with her arms and charged through the wall. She felt the thorns make small cuts into the side of her face and hands, but she fell through the other side. Apparently Kane had followed suit as he came crashing through right behind her.
What they saw amazed them: They had emerged into a small field. The ground was covered in flowers of many different colors and varieties. At the four corners of the field were four large trees, and in the center was the most awe-inspiring sight that both Cyriin and Kane had ever seen: A mighty Eriadu tree. Supposedly hand-crafted by the mother goddess Earhe, there were only supposed to be twelve in the entire Quithayran. It was a massive thing, it's trunk larger than any tree they had ever seen, and it's boughs climbing toward the heavens themselves. The two elves found themselves drawn to it, unknowingly walking towards it. As they both got closer, they saw their teacher waiting patiently, sitting on one of the tree's massive roots. "So what do you think?" He asked, a hint of pride in his voice.
"The tree," Cyriin began, "It's amazing."
"Yeah," Ir'thatal concurred, "it is."
He led them over to a small area where many wooden training dummies resided. Motioning towards the dummies he said, "Today I will be teaching both of you your last lesson under me, and quite possibly, the most important. Today you two will learn the Ssyslaen Tethrael, the art of the masterful strike."
His students watch closely as he pulled one of the training dummies out from the bunch and situated himself into a battle stance several feet away from it. Then he leapt forward, and in one fluid motion he cut the training dummy in half, right through the thickest part of the wood.
"Sometimes," Ir'thatal said, regaining his composure, "sometimes a battle must be one in a single strike. We scarab warriors are clad in powerful armor, and combined with our regenerative abilities as creatures of this forest, we are a force that can outlast almost any foe. But sometimes a battle must be won immediately; sometimes a foe must be felled as soon as possible. That is when you use this technique. Do you two understand?"
His disciples nodded. Then Kane spoke, "With all do respect master: cutting wood is no real feat." Cyriin concurred.
"Perhaps not," Ir'thatal replied, "But luckily these guys are made out of ironwood, so I predict it will be enough of a challenge."
"Ironwood?!" Kane cried, "We're supposed to cut through that much ironwood?"
"Yep." was all the response he got in return.
Cyriin greedily drank from the stream that ran through the field. She and Kane had been attempting to master the Ssyslaen Tethrael for several hours, and while they were progressing, they were nowhere near close to perfecting it. She took one more handful of water and went back to her training dummy. It had several large cuts, but the ironwood was proving a difficult and she didn't think she would ever cut the thing.
Taking her battle stance once more, she charged at it. She felt her body twist and felt the sword fall into a sweet spot in her hand. This was it. She could feel that this was the strike that would sever the infernal manikin. Bring the sword forth with as much force as she could muster she felt the force move through the blade, giving it the power to cut through anything it touched. She missed. Completely.
Dropping to her knees, Cyriin howled in frustration. Ir'thatal approached, and seeing the frustration of his student, decided it was time for a break. He told his students that they had one hour to wander around the area.
Kane had decided to rest in the field with Ir'thatal and Cyriin had chosen to follow the small stream to see where it led.
Following the stream, Cyriin noticed many plants that she had not seen before. On her trek she also encountered several animals, though they all ran away as she approached. Soon she began to hear the sound of rushing water nearby. This stream must connect to a large river she thought, since the sound of water was clear but there was no river in sight. Suddenly a shrill cry broke the tranquility of the forest. It sounded like a scream mixed with clicks and buzzing noises. Cyriin did not know what it was but her Daikinee blood told her that it was of the forest and her instinct told her it was in pain. Another cry erupted from where she thought the river was. Cyriin broke off in a sprint, sword firmly in hand.
After several moment of running, she saw water through the trees. Then a clearing came into view. The scream continued, and it was close. Sliding behind a tree she looked into the clearing.
There was a river, and sitting docked against the riverbank was a boat. In the clearing a scene unfolded that touched the deepest part of her soul and made her elven blood boil: Many small green creatures wielding spears, swords and hooks surrounded a large green creature. The creature could have passed for a humanoid in beetle-like armor if not for it 's large insect wings and six glowing red eyes. Protruding from it were three spears. It was also bound to the ground by chains and tethers, and was entangled in a net. The small creatures, which Cyriin recognized as goblins, were prodding and slashing at the creature. The creature let out another shrill cry, which seemed to pierce Cyriin's heart through.
Before she understood what her body was doing, she leapt from her hiding place and relieved the nearest goblin of its head. The goblins were caught off-guard and couldn't react before she had cut the throat out of one more and run her sword through another. Tossing the corpse off of her blade, she glared at the goblins, itching to kill. She stood her ground beside the large creature, ready to strike at the fall of a leaf. In front of her stood fourteen goblins, all malicious and armed to the teeth. Suddenly, one of them stepped forward. Cyriin braced for an attack.
This goblin wore a strange hat and was accompanied by a strange brown creature that howled and screeched menacingly. Cyriin assumed this one was the leader. With a smug grin on his face, the goblin spoke, "You, elf. You think you strong? You think you beat us so easy? Well you wrong!"
He continued, " You attack us from behind! No warning, yes yes! That no make you strong elf! No no! That make you sneaky elf!
"But you lucky," he proclaimed in a guttural voice. "You lucky that Captain Krill is kind goblin. If sneaky elf leave now, she live. If sneaky elf no leave, we kill her. Simple, yes yes. You leave now?"
Cyriin responded by slicing through several of the tethers as well as the net that bound the creature beside her. The defiant grin on her face showed that there was nothing left to say.
Three of the more bloodthirsty looking goblins leapt at her with sickles in each hand. She parried each with ease, returning several strikes in kind. Two goblin bodies fell where they stood. The third stumbled blindly with pain into the nearby river, being swept away by the rushing waters.
This time, two larger goblins wielding hefty scimitars charged at her, slashing wildly. These goblins, however, were not accustomed to fighting someone as well trained as she. Cyriin first took advantage of an opening in the first goblin's defense, slitting its throat. The second recklessly lunged at her, only to have it's arm promptly severed. The goblin wailed in pain and fell to the ground.
It was then that Cyriin noticed a shadow of movement behind her. She turned around quickly, but it was too late to block the strike. The small goblin would have run her through with it's spear, had the bound forest creature itself not reached out with it's one free arm and closed it's fist around the goblins throat. The creature was obviously greatly fatigued, but in one last act of courage, it tossed the limp corpse into a group of several other goblins. Having done so, it fell to the ground. "Thank you." Cyriin whispered.
Clearly shaken by the skill and especially the ferocity of their enemy, the goblins seemed reluctant to make another attack. But one goblin, armed with what looked like a giant fishing hook, stepped forward and charged at Cyriin. The others followed in kind. All the remaining goblins were upon her now, and while they were easy to fend off at first, Cyriin soon found herself overwhelmed by the sheer number of attacks. No matter how many times she dodged, parried, or thwarted a strike there was always another assault to replace it, leaving no time for a counter-attack. Soon the goblin attacks began to penetrate her defense: first a spear glanced her side, then another goblin managed to slice through her leather armor and leave a shallow cut across her stomach.
I can't keep this up. Indeed, Cyriin's body was beginning to become more and more fatigued. At least those wounds have healed up. The cut across her abdomen had healed fully thanks to the regenerative abilities of the Daikinee, and the wound on her side was already scabbed over. That didn't change the fact that she was in a very bad spot and the situation only seemed to be getting worse. A Daikinee may be able to regenerate from most wounds, but no one has a cure for death.
Suddenly, a familiar voice rang out: "Looks like you're in a bit of trouble, mind if we join in?" It was master Ir'thatal, followed by Kane. Dashing from the forest, their blades hissed through the air, cutting down two goblins before they had time to react.
The goblin may have had the advantage in numbers, but the arrival of two more enemies of the same caliber as the one they were currently fighting completely dissolved their will to fight. The battle erupted into chaos, every goblin for himself. The goblins stood no chances against their highly skilled and disciplined elven foes. Within the minute, the last of them had been felled.
"You're lucky we made it in time." Kane told Cyriin candidly. Cyriin thought about telling him that she didn't need his help, but instead said: "You're right Kane, I am lucky to have you two." This response left him stunned as well as slightly blushing.
Cyriin immediately ran over to the creature lying on the ground. Once she was sure it was still alive, she started removed the spears from it's body. There were three and it seemed to shudder every time one was removed. Once that had been done, she set about to removing the chains and tethers that bound it. Kane and Ir'thatal had also approached and Kane asked: "Master, is that a mandigorn?"
"It would appear so, Kane." Ir'thatal replied. "Those goblins must have wanted to kill it and sell it's shell to the highest bidder. I have no doubt that if we searched that ship we would find the skins of other rare animals among its cargo."
"That's…Terrible." Kane said, mortified at the thought of such a thing happening to one of the most revered creatures in the Quithayran.
Cyriin had finished undoing the bonds of the mandigorn. Stepping back as it stood itself up she looked with marvel at the creature. She never thought she would meet one of these rare creatures, especially not under such circumstances. The mandigorn also stood there, observing its rescuer. After a moment, two crevices opened in it's chest, spraying Cyriin with a misty substance that smelled like pine and roses. It unfolded it's wings, testing them before it took to the air, hovering and circling around Cyriin. Then it made a light sound that Cyriin likened to that of wind blowing through leaves, yet it still seemed to have spoken the words: thank you. The mandigorn flew off into the forest, seeming to bob in the air, but eventually finding stability.
The three elves watched it go. Once it was out of sight, Ir'thatal sighed and said they should probably see if there were any animals alive on the goblin ship. It was then that a growling voice cried out. "You do no such thing, stupid elf!" it was the goblin leader. He had apparently avoided the battle entirely, and was standing on the deck of his ship. "You stupid, sneaky elves let big bug go! Would have make me fortune and you let go! Now you is think to let other beasties go?" He was obviously quite frustrated, and Cyriin couldn't help but laugh.
"What you think so funny?" He screamed, "When Urga get back, you all be so sorry! Yes yes! You beg Captain Krill for mercy, but I no give to-" He was cut off as the rock Cyriin threw connected with his face, knocking him out cold. "God, he was getting annoying." Ir'thatal laughed and walked toward the boat moored to the riverside, his students following close behind. As they got close to it Kane peered under the boat and after a moment asked: "Are those wheels?" Ir'thatal turned to respond; when from behind them a huge racket came from the forest. All three elves turned to face the area where the noise came from, weapons held firmly in hand. Another loud noise, like trees being uprooted came from the forest, closer now. "Something's coming." Kane said, "Something big!"
At that moment, a deafening roar erupted from the trees. Cyriin could see trees being pushed aside as the monster tore through the woods to emerge in the beach clearing. It was massive, bigger then anything Cyriin had seen before. It looked like a goblin, only uglier and three times the size of the mandigorn they had encountered. In one hand it held an anchor, in the other it held the leg of a deer, which had obviously served as the monster's lunch. The creature's skin was a mottled green, with dried blood all over its mouth. "I… I d-don't believe it!" Ir'thatal stammered, sweating heavily, "A black troll here? How in Earhe's name did they control it?"
"Master… Do you think we can beat it?" Cyriin asked, looking to her teacher for reassurance. Ir'thatal closed his eyes for a moment, and then a look of steeled resolve came across his face. "Cyriin, Kane… while I distract it, you two run into the forest and don't look back! Once you've gotten into the forest it won't be able to catch you!"
" Never!" Kane replied.
Having realized that the three elves were not, in fact goblins, the troll cast aside it's food and let out a deafening roar. "Go! Now!" Ir'thatal shouted as he charged at the black troll. Cyriin stood motionless, watching her master nimbly dodge the monsters massive strikes and returning a few of his own, but it was like watching a hornet fight a bear. Suddenly she felt a tug on her shoulder as Kane pulled her toward the forest. "We have to go!" He said fervently.
"But he'll die!" she cried
"He gave us an order!"
"Do you want all of us to die?" Kane shouted. "Now let's go!" He pulled her with him as they ran toward the forest's edge. But just as they reached it, Cyriin turned around. Ir'thatal had still not taken a hit, but he appeared to be growing tired. "Come on…" Kane said desperately, trying not to look. Cyriin watched the battle, mesmerized.
After dodging another blow, Ir'thatal looked at the forest. Seeing his students still lingering nearby, he shouted: "Run Damn it! Run-" He was caught off guard, and took a backhand blow from the troll. Stunned and on the ground the troll approached him, raising it's large anchor above it's head with both hands.
"Master Ir'thatal!" She screamed frantically, running towards the troll. Distracted, it turned, swinging its anchor sideways.
Suddenly she felt herself being pulled backwards. As she fell on her back, she saw Kane stumble forward, the strength needed to pull her out of her run having thrown him off balance. Turning around, he mouthed: You owe me. And he was smiling. He was smiling about what he knew he had done. He was smiling when he died.
It was spring, and a leaf fell from the Eriadu tree.
Ir'thatal roared, charging at the black troll and planting his sword in its belly. The creature cried out in pain and grabbed Ir'thatal in both its hands and attempted to bite his entire head off. Ir'thatal managed to squirm out of its grip, but it still managed to sink its teeth into the left side of his torso, ripping an entire piece of his body out with its teeth. Ir'thatal cried out in agony.
Cyriin, who had been lying helpless with fear and despair, could take it no more. Taking her sword, she ran at the monster's back cutting it several times. The troll turned around to face its new attacker. Throwing Ir'thatal to the side, it roared savagely at Cyriin, its foul breathe engulfing Cyriin. She didn't blink; instead she sliced at one its knees, cutting through it almost completely, before leaping back. The creature stumbled at her, dragging its now useless leg across the ground. Dropping her own sword, ran toward the monster and grabbed Ir'thatal's sword, which was still situated inside the creatures gut. Using every ounce of her strength, she wrenched the blade up through the troll's body, eventually cutting through its sternum, freeing the sword. The black troll squealed in pain and fell backwards, but Cyriin wasn't finished yet. Spinning the sword to remove the black blood from both of its blades. Leaping onto its body, the troll desperately tried to grab her, only to find its hands severed after the attempt. Finally she brought the sword down on the Monster's neck. It made several gurgling sounds and its body convulsed, but after several moments it ceased to move, and Cyriin knew it was over. Leaping off the corpse, she ran over to her dying master who had managed to sit himself up against a tree. "Master!" she cried, "We have to get you help!" Ir'thatal smiled at Cyriin and spoke: "Cyriin… you actually killed it? I'm impressed. And proud." He began to cough, blood erupted from his throat and splattered on the ground.
"Cyriin…" He said weakly, "There's something I need to give you…" With great effort he reached up to his neck and tore a small amulet from it. It was a golden scarab smaller than Cyriin's palm. Ir'thatal place it in her hands. "It was a charm my wife gave me. Never take it off."
"Master…" Cyriin was in tears now, "Please don't leave me!" Ir'thatal chuckled and pushed the amulet in Cyriin's hand against her chest. "I won't." He said. His hand rose to wipe away a tear on her face, and once it had Ir'thatal let out a breath and his whole body shuddered but still his smile remained.
It was spring, and another leaf fell from the Eriadu.
Cyriin was silent for a moment and then, holding Ir'thatal's amulet to her heart, she sobbed loudly. For her friend. For her Teacher. The tears came and she couldn't stop them. Her body was wracked with tears, she couldn't control herself.
Then a new pain appeared. Looking down she saw something coming out of her stomach. A sword… she thought. It's covered in blood. My blood? It hurt, but was nothing compared to the pain in her heart. Her vision began to dim, sight fading into darkness. From behind her she heard a voice: "Stupid sneaky elf ruin everything! But now she dead elf, heheheh-" before she lost consciousness she heard a guttural cry of pain.