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Thread: Pestilence and Strife

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    Pestilence and Strife



    Lo, I saw the second seal break, and a great stench issued forth. The pale king called unto me in a voice of corruption, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a jade horse, and he who sat on it bore a crown of flies, and in his hand he had been given a bent rod, that he may issue forth and collect a third of the land unto his breast.

    From the Holy Scripture of the Knights of the Apocalypse 6:12-13
    "I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me." - Call of Cthulhu

    David vs. Goliath: History's first recorded critical hit.
    JC Thread - The Bitter King

  2. #2
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    Dragon’s Folly was not often a destination sought by travelers. It was a more deadly than rewarding place, even for curious and foolhardy adventurers. Many pilgrims had travelled to the valley immediately following the Alerarian Navy’s defeat of Arztschlange the Eternal, hardy explorers, craftsmen and everything in between. All lured deep into the Mountains of Dawn by the promise of ancient dragon’s bones.

    Instead of fortune, far too many found nothing but death. The rumors spread even more quickly that the news of Arztschlange’s demise. Even in death, it was said, the plague dragon’s wrath was both potent and terrible. Travel to Dragon’s Folly dropped off as quickly as it had started, leaving the plague dragon peacefully to his eternal slumber.

    Even so, there was nothing to deter a determined explorer from travelling to the valley, as William had discovered. Half a dozen Alerarian merchants had given him the same advice, that it was would be his own folly to pursue his quest. But William had remained steadfast in his determination and the merchants had gladly accepted coin from someone they already considered a dead man.

    It had taken time to put this excursion together. Two months simply scouring the Keeper’s library for the necessary components to the ritual, another two to find suitable companions for the endeavor, then another two to gather what he needed and to make the trek to his destination. But time and effort meant nothing to William as long as it brought his goals closer to hand. Now, finally, after half a year, the revenant sat atop the final ridge, looking down into Dragon’s Folly with a studious eye and a palpable air of excitement.

    Foul winds rose from the valley to carry the scent of corruption all the way up to William’s refuge. Even this far from the basin, the corruption lingered around him, subtly pressing in from all sides, seeking to draw him down into its unwholesome embrace. A thick, sulfurous haze coated everything down in the valley, not quite thick enough to be mist, but still thick enough to flow around the stony terrain within it.

    It wouldn’t be pleasant dipping himself into that sea of pestilence, but the shadow of great Arztschlange beckoned him, even now, from deep within the valley. The beast was barely more than a skeletal frame at this point, but William had firsthand knowledge of how truly ferocious an elder dragon could be and he had no doubt that Arztschlange had been a true nightmare. But it wasn’t the ancient bones that drew William here with such determination. It was the haze, and Arztschlange’s function as the source of it, that truly called to him.

    Though it was cloying an unpleasant, William didn’t fear the dragon’s corruption. Any infection that got into him would quickly be burned clean by his regenerative capabilities, a function of the essence of creation within him reverting him to his basic state. Staying alive in that mire wasn’t William’s problem, it was keeping the other two members of his party alive long enough to enact the ritual that worried him.

    William couldn’t use magic himself, perk of another of the major essences which had been wound into the fabric of his being. Unfortunately, his current prey could only be accessed through a portal generated in a place with a sympathetic link. Since he was currently in pursuit of the so-called Horseman of Pestilence, William had found no better place that Dragon’s Folly in which to conduct the opening of ways.
    "I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me." - Call of Cthulhu

    David vs. Goliath: History's first recorded critical hit.
    JC Thread - The Bitter King

  3. #3
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    “Go forth and do my bidding…” a disembodied voice echoed through the recesses of Ioder’s mind. “Retrieve my heart, make me whole again…”

    A letter wrapped in worn linens, the typical parcel. Yet this was anything but typical, never did Ioder imagine to be contacted the Revenant. It had been near a year since the angel made his way to the Tular Planes, and longer since he'd been in exile. He left behind the world it took years to built, the Monarchy and the Risen both left their own devices and under the rule of Alfe. He was a confident leader and more than strong enough to command their loyalties, even if through fear and blood.

    Ioder's life now belonged to the Queen of Exiles.

    In less than a fortnight Ioder had made way to Dragon’s Folly and made contact with William. It took him by surprise to be contacted by the Hellspawn, not since Moonwing had they spoke. But bound by his word Ioder had no choice but to lend his aid to the efforts. It wouldn't be easy, but killing a legend never was. He was as Ioder remembered stoic, intense and to the point. William was excited to bring an end to the Horseman Pestilence and Ioder in turn to be invited along.

    He must have known of Ioder’s business and also that the soul of a Horsemen would fetch a lofty sum. If Ioder didn't know better he'd have thought that the Revenant was issuing a challenge. A wager even, who can slaughter and maim to claim the prize at the end. Though the masses were mostly soulless husks of wandering flesh and meat Ioder figured he could give William a challenge.

    He soared high above in the Troposphere watching with hawk's eyes the valley below. Not yet had the action begun. Still he waited patiently on patrol, ready to act on William's signal. His job was to keep an eye over the valley and relay enemy positions and movement to the others. Needing to remain unidentified while on reconnaissance Ioder assumed the form of a Aleran Buzzbird, the native bird of prey to the region.

    With a wingspan of fifteen feet, a long jagged beak made for tearing and ripping, and two powerful sets of talons Ioder was swift and deadly. As he rode the valley’s winds his long sleek black feathers danced with his every arc. Below he could see straggling thralls along the sloping rises and falls. Whatever may come to pass the others better be ready for a fight.
    Last edited by Ioder; 06-20-16 at 02:50 PM.
    There will be blood.

    (09:19:09) Max_Dirks: (whispers) nah I've read your stuff, you're trash like an emerald isn't a ruby

  4. #4
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    Arztschlange inspired awe even in repose.

    Vast and foreboding, the lonely bones of the ancient dragon held their eternal vigil in the depths of the foul valley. A noxious miasma emanated from the remains of the great beast, swirling and eddying in sickly, scarcely-visible tendrils. Atzar Kellon suppressed a gag, the fell stench overpowering even outside the vale. He stood near William peering into the gloom, their goal. He had learned quickly that idle conversation was neither a strength nor an interest for the revenant. So he looked on in silence, fingertips correcting a wind-blown strand of long black hair as it strayed across his face.

    Their mission was simple in scope: create a way into the realm of the Horseman of Pestilence and kill him. Atzar would use his magic to establish a link from Dragon’s Folly into the fell land. Once he completed that task?

    Withstand the corruption and survive.

    When William had approached him, the wizard accepted the undertaking with little hesitation. There was danger, but he trusted his strength; he could take care of himself, and perhaps others if need be. And the potential reward matched the risk. He knew, as did the world, that the domains of dragons bowed under the weight of the riches they held; if not gold and jewels, then the scales and bones of the beast itself. And if he earned fame and goodwill for cleansing the world of a danger? So much the better.

    He fought back another gag, this one accompanied by a brief feeling of nausea. He needed to do something about the rancid aura surrounding him. Already it threatened to overturn his stomach, and they hadn’t even entered the haze yet. Fortunately, the capabilities of magic were varied, and the mage had an idea.

    A pocket of fresh air coalesced around his face, and greedily he sampled its sweetness. It didn’t completely block the pestilence, of course. Faint traces still assaulted his senses, and the foul embrace of the fumes made his flesh crawl. And it required focus. It drained only minimal energy, but he would not be able to defend himself and maintain his bubble at the same time. Sooner or later, he would be forced to face the full brunt of the miasma.

    But for now, it made life just a little easier, and it was with a higher spirit that he waited for William’s signal to advance.
    Last edited by Atzar; 06-28-16 at 06:30 PM.

  5. #5
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    Shadowy fingers grew long and thick across the valley as the day wore on. Patience wasn’t one of William’s strengths, but neither was foolishness. He sensed as much impatience in his companions as he himself felt, but knew that it would be their own folly to enter the valley too soon. All three of them knew what the plan was, and what needed to be done to bring this plan to fruition.

    As he’d explained when he’d recruited Atzar and Ioder, William’s homeland was a nation that revered the spiritual essence. Fundamental conceptual forces, it was taught, each had an essence. Through deification these essences could be given form, features, and will. Offerings made to nature, for example, resulted in the spiritual personification of forests, rivers, and vineyards in the form of protector spirits or elemental guardians. In Amra, William’s homeland, deification of the essence of nobility had given rise to the church of the Lion, the spiritual figurehead for the entire nation.

    These personified spirits, he’d gone on to explain, were linked to the essence from which they were formed and could draw power from it. Spirits of nature could control and protect their lands, while the noble Lion of Amra could give strength and fortitude to his worthy chosen. Because the spirits were created from symbolic deification, the more symbolically defined a spirit was, the more closely they were tied to their essence and the more power they had available to them. Symbolism meant everything.

    William had made the determination that the being known as the Horseman of Pestilence existed as a personification from the essence of corruption. He’d learned of the Horseman during the time he spent with the contingent of the Knights of the Apocalypse that’d been assigned to the Ixian Knights. Though the faction had ultimately failed in its duties and had faded from Althanas, they had planted a seen in William’s mind. Pestilence was a being who’d had an entire army of worshippers sacrificing themselves in its name, believing the Horseman would assist them in bringing about the end of the world.

    “So very noble of them,” William thought, “but all that useless faith will only serves make me stronger.”

    That would have been the end of William’s supposition had he not found a passage in the Tome of Kal’Necroth during its translation. The sorcerer had put a great deal of effort into studying spirits and had discovered that the duality of the beings meant that they existed on both a spiritual and a physical level. Their physical bodies could be slain, just as any other creature could, and the power they drew from their essence could then be manipulated. One couldn’t kill the corruption itself, but they could kill a symbolically powerful representation of it.

    William hadn’t enjoyed having to explain so much of his origins to his companions, yet he had begrudgingly realized there was no other option. Even as strong as he was, William knew that he couldn’t kill Pestilence by himself. And as intrigued by the prospect of power as Atzar and Ioder both were, neither was foolish enough to blindly accompany William.

    “It should be happening any moment now,” William thought as he eyed the lengthening shadows. As if on cue, William felt a faint trace of the evening’s wind stirring around him. The trace turned into a stream as the cold night air rose behind the Mountains of Dawn and chased the sun towards the horizon. Soon enough it had built enough that it poured off the ridge and into Dragon’s Folly, stirring the mixture with building intensity.

    “A living sea of corruption, the first symbolic link,” William said, breaking the long silence. “Ready yourself, mage. It’s time.”

    William took a last breath of fresh air and plunged into Dragon’s Folly.
    "I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me." - Call of Cthulhu

    David vs. Goliath: History's first recorded critical hit.
    JC Thread - The Bitter King

  6. #6
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    It was the stillness, Atzar decided. Aside from the freezing cold and the poisonous haze and the fact that he could only see roughly a stone’s throw in any direction, it was the stillness that unnerved him most. Up on that ridge looking down into the valley, there had been wind; frigid, but wholesome. It spoke of movement and life. Dragon’s Folly harbored nothing but death and decay, and the surrounding mountains blocked out even the tiniest breeze. His personal air pocket allowed him to breathe, but tendrils of toxic fog still caressed every inch of exposed skin. Chills of revulsion shot up his spine, and he jammed his hands deeper into the folds of his thick gray cloak. He questioned the revenant’s plan. He was a wizard, and with the title came myriad useful tricks. But if the stories were correct, and the mist really did turn the afflicted into zombies… he didn’t have a solution for that one. He could only hope that his bubble was barrier enough to keep him human.

    Doubt and regret grew in his mind with every step. Perhaps William never intended for him to make it out of the valley alive. The mage served a purpose: getting him into the Realm of Pestilence. Perhaps the mutant knew that Atzar would fall somewhere in this abyss. Most likely, he didn’t even care. William didn’t have a reputation as a sweetheart, after all.

    The slope gradually leveled out as they reached the bottom of the valley, but the dragon’s corpse was still a considerable distance away. They passed a pool of viscous, green liquid. He had heard of the substance; Green Sap, it was called. It emanated from the rotting remains of Arztschlange; whether flesh, blood, entrails or some combination thereof, the mage did not know. It didn’t look precisely as he had expected. The mention of ‘green acid’ had brought to mind brightly-colored, bubbling goo, but this stuff was just sludge, pungent and inert; more like pond scum than the science experiment he had envisioned.

    Useful in the right hands, but Atzar was no chemist. He walked on, giving it a wide berth.

    William held up a hand, signaling a halt. The wizard took a long, grateful breath from his air bubble to calm his nerves. Then he listened, and after a moment his ears picked up the reason for their pause. A faint, rhythmic shuffling noise broke the stillness. The wizard knew the reputation of this place, of the guardians of the great dragon’s final rest. They had no friends here; he grimaced and steeled himself for battle.

    He peered into the gloom, a whiwlwind of thoughts raging in his mind. Part of him observed clinically, waiting to discern ‘what’ and ‘how many’ so he could work out a plan of attack. But the other part, the more human part, watched with only dread, knowing that whatever emerged from that mist could very well be his future.
    Last edited by Atzar; 07-08-16 at 11:48 AM.

  7. #7
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    “We’re surrounded, mage. Be ready,” William grunted. He moved cautiously, trying to remain silent enough not to draw too much attention from the shadowy figures surrounding them. Though most wrote William off as an uneducated brute thanks to his vicious nature, he had spent a lot of time in quiet study over the years. During his intensive research into the reports that the few survivors of Dragon’s Folly had made, William had discovered that the undead creatures in the valley were sensitive to sound, as their dragon progenitor had been.

    William moved around to put his back to a cracked boulder, making it harder for the fungal zombies to reach him en masse. He blinked tears from his stinging eyes and gauged the distance from their position to the silhouette of Arztschlange’s corpse. Judging from the scale of the great beast’s remains, there was still at least half a league between it and them.

    William cursed silently and looked skyward as he heard the cry of a hunting bird. Ioder was circling overhead, though William couldn’t see him through the thick rolling fog. The creature was supposed to be scouting ahead and using its piercing cry to herd the zombies away from their position. But he and Atzar had been forced on a wide detour to get around a particularly large puddle of Green Sap and even with a buzzbird’s eyes it was likely that he’d lose them. Now, instead of leading them away, it seemed the creature was leading the zombie horde in their direction.

    “Damn that fool,” William hissed, then cursed again as a particularly foul patch of air filled his lungs and bit into him, forcing a barking cough. He bit down hard on his lip to stifle the rest of the noise, hard enough to draw a line of glowing blood, but the damage had been done. Several fungal zombies turned towards them, drawn buy the noise.

    William barely had time to react as the first of the zombies stumbled out into view from behind the sheltering boulder. This particular specimen was unfortunately enough to still resemble a human, though only barely. Patches of sickly fungus sprouted in patches all across the length of its body, and one side of its head, most of the neck, and a single shoulder had all been subsumed by a single bulbous gray fungus. Sickly tendrils spilled out the remaining side of its mouth, twitching as the creature emitted a high pitched whistling shriek upon seeing William and Atzar.

    “So much for the stealth approach,” William spat and lashed out with the razor edge of his warscythe. The obsidian blade sliced cleanly through the zombie’s chest, but instead of falling into two pieces, as a creature of meat and bone would have, the creature’s body stumbled and slammed into the boulder before falling over. Roots and veins of twitching vegetation burst from the wound, spurting a thick brackish liquid across William and Atzar. It was one of the worst smelling things William had ever had the misfortune to be doused in, with a reek of rotten flesh mixed with fecal compost which had been left to ferment in the sun on a sweltering day.

    William retched involuntarily, then fought the urge back and struck out at the creature a second time. Others were coming in fast, angling on the noise that they were making. William grimaced as more fluid sprayed across him. At his back, Atzar was muttering something, doubtless using his magic against one of the creatures that had come up from the other side. William hoped the mage could handle himself, because he had more than enough to worry about on his side.

    “Damned undead,” William swore as he knocked an approaching trio of zombies a step back into the fog with a back swipe of his scythe. He had to remember that wounds which could incapacitate a mortal were nothing more than an inconvenience to these plant creatures. In evidence, the first zombie continued to try to stand, through William had split both its head and guts open. William frowned and slashed at the creature a third time, the angry strength of the blow finally parting the zombie from its unlife.

    “Ioder, down here” William roared, hoping that the creature could hear him overhead. These things were tough, and if there were as many of them as it sounded, then William and Atzar would need all the help that they could get.
    "I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me." - Call of Cthulhu

    David vs. Goliath: History's first recorded critical hit.
    JC Thread - The Bitter King

  8. #8
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    Unease threatened to swell into true fear. William called for Ioder, but received no reply. The shapeshifter had failed in his assignment, and the two down below bore the consequences. "More chicken than buzzbird, it appears," the mage muttered darkly.

    Dragon’s Folly was as close to Hell on Althanas as Atzar had ever experienced. His eyes watered and stung, no longer protected by his life-saving clean air. Williams’ brutal butchery released a gut-wrenching stench of concentrated death, yet that was only the secondary reason for the mage to hold his breath. Teeth clamped resolutely shut, lungs already starting to ache, he wondered vainly how potent the toxic mist was. The revenant had researched the valley beforehand. He had told him that exposure to the mist wasn’t immediately lethal - only prolonged inhalation would cause irreparable harm. Still, the wizard was unwilling to gamble any more than he already had.

    A hideous horror emerged from around the boulder. Atzar took an involuntary step back. A human and a dark elf had been intertwined, a terrible mash of foul fungus and fetid flesh. A few limbs had been lost or devoured during assembly; it advanced with an awkward, three-legged shamble. Arms reached, fingers clawed, faces gaped soullessly.

    The ice Atzar launched was not an attack so much as a reflex of revulsion. Several jagged projectiles shot from outstretched palms. Noxious mist eddied in their wake as they slammed into their target’s chest; muted notes of crystal signaled impact. The monstrosity staggered and fell, liquid decay bursting from new wounds. Slowly, mechanically it rose to its feet, showing no awareness of the damage inflicted upon it. Another zombie emerged behind the first. Human in shape from the torso down, pallid grey vines erupted from its neck, its severed head suspended above amidst gnarls and fungal blooms. Both monsters advanced.

    Unsatisfied with the results of ice, the wizard turned to flames. Three sharp cracks echoed through the valley as incandescent orbs of fire blasted ghouls backward. Smoking holes marked fungus-rotted chests, and Atzar had blown one of the heads off of the double zombie for good measure.

    The attack bought the wizard a slight reprieve, and he used it to momentarily recreate his pocket of fresh air. He inhaled great gulps, relishing the relief they brought to his lungs. The wizard chanced a glance back toward William, noting his companion in similar peril. He had felled some of his adversaries, and that inspired some hope in Atzar. The zombies weren't indestructible, after all. "Any tips?" he asked tersely. "I can't keep these bastards on the ground."

    He turned back to see his two playmates rising again, illustrating his point. And sounds from the mist indicated that more lurked ever closer. Atzar set his teeth. He couldn't kill them, but he could keep them at bay. Inhaling deeply, he savored one more fresh breath before once again discarding air for ice and fire.
    Last edited by Atzar; 07-10-16 at 01:38 AM.

  9. #9
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    “That cowardly boil on a hag’s ass,” William spat an invective towards the departed member of their crew. He had expected a certain level of treachery from Ioder. The creature’s nature demanded it. But he’d expected the betrayal to come later, when there was more at stake. Ioder has either been overestimated, or else vastly underestimated. Either way, William and Atzar needed a moment of reprieve from the press of rotting fungus creatures to form a new battle plan.

    “Push them back, mage,” William barked and switched his grip on his scythe. Instead of slashing at the creatures, which was proving frustratingly ineffective, William slammed the body length haft of the weapon straight into a group of them. Even the zombie’s constitution meant little against the revenant’s strength, and zombies flew back from William one after another. He knew he was only buying a few moments, as the creatures were merely being added back into the ranks of the advancing horde, but it was something.

    And then William’s hand plunged straight into a melon sized mushroom growing out of one zombie’s bloated chest cavity. The swollen flesh swallowed his hand past the wrist, encasing him in a semi-liquid rancid coolness. William’s hand plunged further into the creature, carried by the force of William’s attack, and he panicked at the thought that his whole arm would simply plunge straight through the creature’s chest. Then the obsidian haft of the scythe hooked a splintered rib and the creature forcefully spun away from William.

    William had been in enough fights to know how to recover from such an error, but the stumble had carried him away from the safety of the boulder that was keeping the zombies off Atzar and William’s backs. All too quickly, William found himself mired in a sea of putrid flesh. He was tough. But he doubted that even his supernatural physique could survive being torn apart by a horde of mindless dead. Not that it would come down to that.

    The moment William was buried in undead flesh he’d unleash the force of his wrath in an explosion of liquid fire. Doing so would destroy the creatures, but this close to Atzar it would almost assuredly kill the mage. And even if the man somehow survived he and William would be in no position to continue pushing towards the Sickly Horseman. William would survive, but he’d be a failure.

    That was something he couldn’t allow.

    “Atzar, aid me,” William snarled, his voice easily carrying over the shuffling but silent press of zombie bodies. Though his magic was ill suited to destroying the creatures outright, Atzar seemed to be able to throw them aside with some manner of ease. William could only hope that the mage could keep it up.

    The two of them fought together, combining lashing blunt spell strikes with bludgeoning force to bring William back to the relative safety of their defensive position.

    “This isn’t working,” William growled as he joined his companion. “We can’t keep this up forever.” Aztar nodded, his concentration too focused at the moment to reply. “I’ve got an idea, but it’s risky. I think I can clear the area but you’ll need to get as close to me as possible. If it doesn’t work I think it’ll be too late to fight back against all of them.”

    “Do it,” Atzar said.

    William dropped his scythe and grabbed the mage, crushing him into a tight embrace. With his other hand William reached up and gripped the handle of a massive cleaver of forged dragon bone. The cleaver was enormous, almost as large as William himself. It would have been a ridiculous sight to see on any other warrior, but William hefted the weapon as easily as he had his obsidian scythe.

    There was pent up power in the raw bone cleaver, an echo of rage that the ancient dragon mother had itself possessed. William felt that power coursing throughout the bone and, crushing Atzar against the boulder as tightly as he could, released it.

    A torrent of phantom blades surged from the weapon, wildly spinning and slashing at everything that was more than a hands breadth from William and extending twenty feet away from him. The effect was devastating to the zombie horde.

    Nothing larger than a fist remained of anything within five feet of William, and even the stone of the boulder was slashed and scored in hundreds of places. William himself was covered in a wave of vile spray which had burst from the slaughtered zombies. Even so, the zombies furthest away were already beginning to stir back to life, and there were even more of them approaching from the mist.

    “Let’s get out of here before they surround us again,” William said, spitting out a gobbet of stringy puss. He bent and retrieved his scythe out from under a mound of dead slurry.

    “We can make a more effective defense at the dragon’s corpse.”
    Last edited by Revenant; 04-20-17 at 08:35 PM.
    "I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me." - Call of Cthulhu

    David vs. Goliath: History's first recorded critical hit.
    JC Thread - The Bitter King

  10. #10
    Member
    EXP: 91,535, Level: 13
    Level completed: 11%, EXP required for next level: 12,465
    Level completed: 11%,
    EXP required for next level: 12,465

    AP
    55
    GP
    6,985
    Revenant's Avatar

    Name
    William Arcus
    Age
    Mid-30's (apparent age)
    Race
    Revenant
    Gender
    Male
    Hair Color
    Black Stubble
    Eye Color
    Molten Fire
    Build
    5'11"/178lbs
    Job
    Freelance Murder Machine

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    “Toss it all,” Atzar mumbled as he stumbled away from the rock. Watery tears ran from his puffy, reddened eyes and he blinked furiously to clear them away as his eyes locked onto William. The world swam around the creature’s blackened form, but Atzar couldn’t tell if it was the shimmering mists moving or if it was simply something to do with the pounding in his own head. He’d been careful to keep his air veil up throughout the skirmish, but even still the valley’s poison might be affecting him. He forced his mind to still its spinning and reinforced the pocket of air around his nose and mouth, hoping that it would do a better job of keeping the pestilence out.

    With that out of the way, Atzar finally took a moment to take in the effects of William’s rampage. He studied the layer of gore covering the revenant nearly from head to foot. The fluids that the fungal zombies had secreted looked none too healthy and he was glad that William had taken the brunt of it and not him. There had been a small army threatening to tear them apart only moments ago, and now there was nothing but bloody mud and sticky corruption stretching as far back as he could see into the toxic soup. It seemed surreal to him that so much damage could be done in the short amount of time that they’d been in the valley.

    A sharp stinging pain pierced the foggy haze in his mind and Atzar realized that he was injured. A quick glance told him that it was nothing significant, only a few wet ribbons of blood seeping from half a dozen places where William’s spectral blades had nicked him. The demon’s tight embrace had spared him the worst of the assault, but here and there a razor line of force had sliced through his flesh.

    “We need to go now, mage,” William barked impatiently. He reached out to shake Atzar from his reverie, but the mage instinctively drew back and snapped a magical whip of water at the demon’s outstretched claws. William scowled at him in annoyance but Atzar simply returned the look defiantly.

    “Toss it all,” Atzar said again. He moved around away from William, being careful to avoid the larger chunks of still-twitching meat as he made his way to the clear ground on the other side of the slashed boulder. Once more on solid earth, Atzar took a moment to straighten himself out, calling on a stitch of his power to seal his wounds against the valley’s toxic atmosphere. Eyes drifted back towards the valley’s entrance as he worked. He strained to get a look at the escape, but try as he might there was no way that he was going to visually be able to pierce that much of the fog. Instead he focused on the sounds coming back from the way they’d come. Silence was all that greeted him.

    It would be so easy to cut and run as Ioder had. Sure he’d taken William’s money, but that was an easy enough action to remedy. But even as he thought about escaping, Atzar knew that it was something that he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to do.

    William stepped up beside him as he finished binding his wounds, a grim look on his face. “Last chance,” he said, his voice all steel and resolve. “They’ll be back to surrounding us if we don’t move, and I’m telling you now that the only other method I have of clearing that many of them out isn’t going to go as well for you as the last one.”

    Atzar grinned at him, sharp white teeth glowing through the air veil. It wasn’t some fanciful notion of honor that kept him at William’s side, or holding to the bargain that he and the demon had come to. It wasn’t even the potency that their little endeavor promised to give him. No, Atzar decided, it was something fiercer and more primal, something about the life-or-death struggle that he built a fire in his blood that nothing else could. Despite the choking air and the frenzy of the last several minutes Atzar couldn’t remember the last time he had felt this alive and excited.

    Atzar turned back to William and pulled his magic tightly to him with a gesture. “Alright demon, lead the way.”
    "I have looked upon all that the universe has to hold of horror, and even the skies of spring and the flowers of summer must ever afterward be poison to me." - Call of Cthulhu

    David vs. Goliath: History's first recorded critical hit.
    JC Thread - The Bitter King

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