Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Albinor Chronicles Chapter 4
"The Trial of Castle Skarda"

By Marcus Pan

May 14, 002

The sun blazed like a dark, blood-colored flame as it hung low over the hilltop. The travelers passed on to the foot of the hill and paused. The sun seemed to hang so low directly above the four of them that it seemed they could reach up and touch it. Beads of sweat rolled slowly down their haggard faces. After a slight pause the leader, a middle-aged human man dressed in chain mail with a fine sword hanging from his belt on the right side, gently urged his horse up the steep, rocky slope. The other three follow slowly behind.

Coming over the top of the hill the man's eyes fell upon a strange sight. All around the great hill, which seemed the tallest as far as he can see, the land was covered in a shell-like layer of hardened magma. Rifts and chasms pocked the land and an occasional rumble sent up a wisp of steam or smoke from deep within the earth. Atop the great hill on which he stood the remains of a great castle sat ominously before him. Fallen and shaken by time and weather, the walls and roof were pockmarked with holes and breaks. Two great, iron bands hold what is left of the great, oaken doors, now rotted and splintered wood, in the gaping entrance-way. With the sun slowly dipping behind the horizon and nowhere else to go, the four entered the castle. Tieing their mounts just outside the castle entrance, they entered and found an empty room to rest in. Dirt, dust, decay and rubble as well as anything else associated with ages of neglect line the walls and floors. Entering a doorway on their left, a rubble-strewn, empty floor they came to and here they laid their heads to rest.

They slept uneasy with the unusual groans of the earth, wind whistling through the walls and a smell of rotting life all about them. The air inside these walls seemed colder and more chill than that outside and the earth seemed to growl with their every move. They awoke uneasy, the party leader first, and it seemed like they haven't slept at all. A rumble rolled up from the depths of the earth upon their awakening, more audible and violent than before. It seemed as if the earth wanted to keep this land for it's own, including the ruins atop it, and wished for the four humans to get off it's flesh.

Donning his chain mail and sword after a meager, dry breakfast in the chill of the room, the leader pulled the steel blade from it's sheath. Like a flask of light in a perpetual darkness, the blade flashed with glories untold. "Skarda's Castle will rise again!" The voice of the man came strong and harsh, cursing the earth for its torment. "And I, Karnack, shall be the master of the Broken Lands!" His sword rose above his head in a long, sweeping stroke. The Broken Lands rocked and reeled beneath him. The three cloaked figures then rose behind him, standing in a small circle. There was Mo-Mo, the female illusionist of great power and her apprentice, also female, Shadow of the phantasms. And another man, Thor of the mage's hand, standing apart in his black and gold-trimmed cloak, the others wearing black with silver trim. And together they burst into the innards of the castle to bring back the glory that once belonged to these lands.

They followed Karnack down the wise, front hall to the back of the castle as he held his bright blade aloft. The dust billowed up around them and the wind outside picked up. Soon the wind was whistling louder than ever through the holes in the walls and the first drops of a great storm began to rage down on the castle and the hilltop. Large drops poured through the holes in the collapsing ceiling and pattered the floor. The wind picked up dust and small debris and hurled it to the ceiling, forming a seemingly solid fog that followed the adventurers as they raced down the hall to meet whatever gauntlet the castle would throw at them. Coming upon a door hanging open before him, Karnack stopped and peered inside. Most of the ceiling in the room was gone and rain poured into the room sending rivulets of dirt running to his feet. A strange clattering sound, like bones on stone, came from within and the stench of death was impenetrable. The lightning flashed with a great, violent effort and arched through the sky. One finger of the electricity touched upon the wall of the castle and blew off a great, stone block that was sent hurling to the hilltop. The man readied his sword and rushed into the room.

There was a loud, aching scream from the corner. Shielding his eyes from the fury of the windy storm and rain, he peered in the direction of the horrifying scream. Huddled against the wall was a skeletal figure holding a rusty short sword. Tatters of clothes and flesh hung limply from it's bones, blowing violently in the fury of the wind. It lunged forward at Karnack. With a great effort he moved his sword to his head to block the blow from the skeleton's own rust weapon. He felt it's power and strength. He thrust with a powerful, backhand blow to the creature's chest and felt, and saw, the bones crush and break beneath the fury of the blow. The creature screamed again and slumped to the floor. It's skeletal figure came apart and piled onto the ground. Some more screams and a few other skeletons rushed at the man. From the door behind him Karnack heard a soft, male chanting. Throwing back his cloak to the fury of the storm and showing his ragged, weary face, he motioned with his hands. A strange group of glowing arrows, four in all, formed around him. With a gesture from his right hand, they rushed forth tearing and breaking through the chest of one of the skeletons, sending it back to the far wall with it's force. There the monster was pinned until the arrows faded away and the creature fell into a pile of bones before the wall. Karnack swung his sword and another skeleton raised his in return. More had crept in during the turmoil and now there were at least a half dozen rushing forward and uttering their foul and horrifying battle cries. Mo-Mo threw back her hood and raised her arms, chanting loudly and wildly in the turmoil. From the ground rose a great beast, never before seen. It arched it's head above Karnack and lashed down at the skeletal warriors. The creatures heeded it not and rushed forth into it until they came out the other side. The great beast vanished, the illusion of Mo-Mo shattered before it had even begun. Karnack kept swinging his weapon wildly, hitting skeleton after skeleton, he himself getting occasionally sideswiped by a powerful blow from one of their rusty swords. Shadow stepped up to cast some of her magic and a great finger of lightning shot from the sky and smashed into the stone floor just a few feet before her, startling her out of her chant and sending stone, dirt and the young woman back against the wall beside the doorway. Half-turning his head, Karnack barked back at the three others, "Leave! Now! Ride, my friends, ride. God-speed." He turned back to the battle at hand and kept swinging at the onslaught as more and more came from the shadows and the piles of bones about the man began to abound.

Grabbing Shadow, Mo-Mo backed out of the room. Thor soon followed. He touched the archway of the door and said a few strange words. The floor beneath the door split in two and a great, steel slab if perfect smoothness and strength came from the floor and rose until the entire doorway was blocked like a locked door. From beyond this barrier the words "god-speed" and "hurry" wafted through and the three rushed down the hallway to their waiting mounts. Into the storm they raced, untied their mounts and got upon them quickly, for they heard shuffling and racing footsteps behind them coming from the gloom down the hall. Away they rode swiftly, urging their mounts through the fury of the storm as the wind and the rain barraged their faces. Other hoof-steps raced up behind them and they turned, half-expecting to see packs of skeletal warriors atop skeletal steeds. But it was a haggard and bleeding Karnack, his sword still in his right hand and splinters of bone falling from it's blade. The wind had blown his hood back behind his head and his face looked graven of stone ashen and unemotional as if a great weight had been placed upon his mighty shoulders. "Onward, quickly!" he cried. "The deathless ones come forth." And, sure enough, they could faintly hear the screaming battle cries of the skeletal warriors behind them in the wind. They rode on quickly and passed the Broken Lands alive, yet with death about them. Never again will they be the same.

And Karnack swears he will arrive at the great Castle Skarda and reign as master some day.

The above item may have been edited by the author since its first appearance in Legends No. 7.