Just to reiterate, for those fanfiction writers who like this story, I don't want any fanfiction coming out of the Road of Legends. Please respect my wishes on this - I am sharing this story so that those who are curious about where Demonsbane came from can read this for themselves. I am not opening up my pet universe to other writers. There are two full-length novels set in that world already written, and fanfiction for this showing up could cause complications in getting them published at last, particularly since they are already under consideration by a publisher.
Anyway, when we last left our hero, he was about to try to kill a major demon...
Copyright 2000 Robert B. Marks, all rights reserved
Zartran and I recruited two adventurers to join us in our quest. The first was Bulran, a short and stocky thief from Zartran’s homeland. He had claimed that he had a great deal of experience with traps, and that he was skilled with a short bow, so we decided to let him come along.
As I had promised Otar, we left on the dawn, riding some horses the Ealdorman had donated to us from the town guard. We crossed the bridge quickly and made our way into the mountains. As we traveled, we found several skeletal remains, the bones twisted and broken.
“Was there a battle here?” I asked.
Tylena shook her head. “The monsters forage at night. Sometimes, an adventurer is stupid enough to be outside alone at that time.”
“Otar called this place a sort of battlefield,” I pointed out.
She looked at me and shook her head. “This is not a war fought in grand battles. If it was, we would lose.”
Zartran grinned. “He’s new here, my dear. Soon enough he’ll catch on to what is happening.”
I saw Tylena glower when Zartran spoke, and then turn away. I suppressed a smile; it was nice to know that I wasn’t the only one the wizard annoyed occasionally.
It was probably midday by the time we reached the catacombs, but with the cloud cover it was difficult to tell. As I dismounted, I glanced around. There must have been an ancient stone church here once, but it had crumbled to dust ages ago. The weather-worn ruins reminded me of some ancient skeleton.
“The entrance is this way,” Tylena said, tethering her horse to one of the ancient walls. I followed her example and then followed her. She led us into what must have once been an alcove, but now was simple three ruined walls. In the rough hewn stone floor gaped a dark staircase leading into an abyss. Even as I looked, though, I could see a flicker of light right at the bottom.
“That’s the entrance, is it?” I asked.
Zartran stepped up and looked down the stairs. “It’s a hole,” he said, “leading down.”
“There’s some light,” I pointed out. “Somebody’s down there.”
“Even demons need to see,” Zartran said calmly.
“Unsheathe your weapons,” Bulran instructed. “And from now on only speak in whispers.”
I blinked. Bulran had been so quiet that for a moment I had forgotten he was even there. When I thought back on it, I guessed that would make him a good thief.
I unsheathed Taelrysyn, the blade sliding out of the leather. I looked around to see Zartran and Tylena both holding long, shining swords, while Bulran took out a bow.
“Did anybody else bring a shield?” I hissed.
They all shook their heads. “Too much bulk,” Tylena stated, her voice low. “Speed serves me just as well.”
“I need my other hand for spell-casting,” Zartran explained. “My magic is gestural and verbal.”
“I’m going in,” Bulran said. “Follow where I walk.” With that, he climbed down into the abyss.
I shrugged and followed.
“How large are these catacombs?” I wondered out loud, making certain my voice was a whisper. We had been walking for what seemed like hours, our way illuminated by the many lit torches hanging on the wall. The dusty, dry air was complimented by the smell of decay, and for the thousandth time I wished that I could have just stayed in town.
Bulran turned to me, his dark features flickering in the torchlight. He and Tylena had been leading us down; we had already gone down two staircases, and I could no longer tell how deep beneath the earth we were. Perhaps by luck alone, we had been able to avoid running into any monsters. I had no confidence, however, that this good fortune would last.
“There is a large chamber that way,” Bulran hissed, pointing in front of us. “If there is a demon of darkness here, I think that would be where he would stay.”
“I am in agreement here,” Tylena whispered. “You two just be ready to kill him when the time comes.”
“We’ll be ready,” Zartran stated quietly. “Between his sword and my magic the demon doesn’t stand a chance.”
I looked up, giving a silent prayer to the Eternal One that Zartran’s words would be true.
We crept a bit farther down the corridor before Bulran held up his hand. He quickly made a signal for absolute quiet, and snuck forward. I looked at the others for a moment, wondering what was happening.
Suddenly, Bulran was beside us, whispering. “Two guards, each in an alcove, looking bored. One trap, now disarmed. The room is closed off with a wooden door, no windows. If we move quickly, we can take the guards by surprise.”
Tylena and I looked at each other and nodded. We began to slowly creep forward, weapons at the ready. I found myself sweating at every footfall, praying that a loose stone wouldn’t give us away.
There was a clicking beside me, and Tylena cursed under her breath. Before she could say anything, the guards were upon us, yelling warcries.
I only had enough time to see the guard’s hairy form hurtle towards me before I blocked a blow from an axe with my shield, and then struck out with my sword. I heard the blade crunch through metal and flesh, and felt it stop at bone. The monster screamed in agony, and I silenced it with a quick thrust.
I turned to help Tylena, only to see her dispatch her enemy with a decapitating blow. The foul beast’s head landed at my feet, the horrible eyes staring blindly upwards in hatred and shock.
“So much for stealth,” I said.
She shook her head sadly. “I got caught on a loose stone.”
We strode up to the door the creatures had been guarding. As Bulran had said, it was a heavy door, not revealing a thing of what was behind it.
“Bulran,” I called. “Are there any traps on the door?”
The man jogged up, cursing under his breath. He knelt by the great oak door and began to examine the lock. “You should have tried to sneak up on them,” he grumbled. “It wasn’t that hard.”
A great sword blade suddenly crashed through the door, taking Bulran through the head. The thief gurgled for a moment, and then went slack. With an unholy cry the blade was withdrawn, and the door was smashed open, crushing Bulran’s body.
“We’ve found our demon!” I called. “Zartran, get up here and do something!”
My heart sank as I beheld the creature. It was huge, glowing eyes regarding me with a malignant stare. In its clawed hands it bore an enormous sword, carved with ancient runes. “I smell flesh!” it bellowed, bringing the blade to bear.
Tylena barely blocked a slash that crashed through the wall, sending sparks flying. The demon pulled his blade out of the gash in the stone and grinned. With a sinking heart, I realized that my shield would be useless; it may have been made out of parchment for all the good it would do me.
A ball of flame sped down the corridor, impacting harmlessly on the demon. The creature merely smiled and held out his hand. A glowing orb flew down the corridor, Zartran barely able to dodge out of the way before it exploded behind him.
I dropped my shield and truenamed my sword, the blade suddenly springing to life with a song. As I held it, it sang to me of battle and glory, of the light of the Eternal One. As to whether I wielded it or vice versa, I will never know. The sword and I were one being, striking out at the demon. With a crash Taelrysyn sheared through the rune-carved sword, coming to rest in the demon’s flesh. The creature howled in pain, and my blade struck at its heart, silencing it at last. As we watched, the creature burst into flame.
I truenamed Taelrysyn, and the blade became quiet again. For a moment I was sad, for the song had been beautiful, and held me in thrall. In that moment, I had been truly happy.
“We should go,” Tylena said quietly. “We’ve done what we came to do.”
I nodded, a tear running down my cheek, wanting to truename the sword again. But Otar had warned me, and I desired to leave the catacombs alive even more.
We began to walk back down the corridor, stopping to gather Zartran, who was only just recovering from the shock of the magic used against him.
“Did we do it?” he asked.
I nodded. “Let’s go back to town.”
I would like to say that we managed to make it back without incident, but it would be a lie. We were waylaid twice on the way back up, and Zartran finally proved his worth. While we were pinned down by a group of creatures wielding crude bows, he shot some magic at the roof, caving in the tunnel and allowing us to escape.
All things considered, it was a miracle that our horses were still where we had left them. I had thought that we would have to walk back, just like Argela and her unfortunate husband. However, the slaying of the demon must have left the denizens of the catacombs in disarray, for we were not accosted once we got into the open air.
We made it back into Harodam just as the last of the little sunlight that could peak through the clouds faded into dusk. The first place I went was to Argela’s room, where I found her lying morosely in bed.
I sat down and took her hand. “We killed the demon,” I said quietly. “Your husband is avenged.”
“Thank you,” she croaked, and then broke into tears. I held her close to me, letting her cry on my shoulder. Her wound would take a long time to heal, but it would heal; I only wished that I could be so lucky.
I had just finished eating a small meal at Tiligar’s when Zartran and Tylena rushed in, and pulled me away. It had been only a day since we had killed the demon, and I had been carefully considering my options. Although I had never thought I would end up saying it, I was considering staying to fight for the Eternal One.
“We have some serious problems,” Tylena said. “You’d better come see this.”
I stood up and walked outside. “This had better be important.”
“You could call it that,” Zartran said.
We made our way onto one of the crumbling walls, and my heart missed a beat. The landscape was alive with monsters, all making their way towards the bridge. Even from where I was standing, I could see that they were armed.
“An army,” I said, trying to feel anything other than dread. “At least four thousand strong.”
“They’re here for the sword,” came a familiar voice, and I turned to see Otar standing beside me. “Look at who leads them.”
I looked where he pointed, and my heart fell even further. At their head was a demon, even larger than the one we had killed.
“That is Deathshadow,” Otar said. “He’s actually mentioned in the book you brought me. I’ll see if I can find something that we can use against him.”
“How many men do we have here?” I asked, the soldier in me beginning to take over.
“We have three inns, in each inn is about twenty adventurers, so that makes sixty, along with some three hundred guardsmen and some siege equipment.”
I shook my head. “I’ve fought in shield walls larger than that. We’ll have to abandon the town.”
“Absolutely not!” Otar roared. I blinked, for it was the first time I had ever heard him raise his voice. “If we abandon this place, then the Damned One gains a foothold, and we lose the war. If these demons can muster an army of four thousand with just a catacombs, think of what they could do with land. Those kingdoms out there fighting their pointless wars would be overrun in an instant! We hold here!”
I grimaced. Deep down in my heart, I knew that Otar was right. Still, we were outnumbered more than tenfold, against an enemy with the darkest magic at his side. I had faced better odds at Varasin.
“Zartran,” I said, turning to face the wizard, a plan beginning to form in my head. “Can you destroy that bridge from here?”
The wizard nodded. He muttered something under his breath and raised his hand in the direction of the bridge. With a great roar and the smell of incense, three balls of fire leapt from his hand and impacted on the bridge. The bridge burned for a moment, and then fell into the river.
“Otar,” I asked, my hopes finally beginning to rise. “Is the other bank within the range of the siege equipment?”
Otar sadly shook his head. “I wish it was.”
I looked glumly at the army coming towards us. My plans had been smashed, but at least I had bought us some time. Now I could only hope that the courage of the men in the town would make up for what the demon had in numbers.
The collapse of the bridge only slowed them for about three hours. They began to cut down some of the sparse trees around them and build a new bridge. Zartran tried to destroy it, but the demon had erected some sort of magical shield, and the wizard’s spells merely fizzled against the new construction. The guards’ attempts to slow them with bows and arrows met with the same failure, the shafts striking some invisible barrier.
I watched glumly as they finished their bridge and began to cross, careful to break their step lest they bring the bridge down again. I cursed; Deathshadow was smarter than I had hoped.
I heard some footfalls behind me, and I turned to see Otar rushing up the stairs to the battlement. In his hand, he held the book Argela had stolen from the catacombs.
“I think I have something that will help!” Otar puffed. “Just give me a minute to catch my breath.”
I looked out at the approaching army. They had secured our side of the river, and were beginning to advance upon the town. “We might not have a minute.”
“It says in the book that Deathshadow killed a spirit of light in single combat in the first war,” Otar began. “Do you have any idea of what that means?”
“It means that he’s even more powerful than we thought,” I said grimly. “This is not encouraging.”
“It means that you can fight him in single combat!” Otar pressed. “If you can kill him, it will disorganize the army, and we can win.”
I leaned against the parapet. “What’s to stop them from just getting angry and storming the walls anyway?”
“As a rule, creatures of the Damned One can’t stand each other,” Otar replied. “Only the power of a demon could unite them into an army like this. Trust me: kill the demon, and the rest will fall.”
I frowned and looked back at the approaching monsters. Unfortunately, it was our best chance; there was no way we could withstand a siege against this foe.
Deathshadow waited until he had surrounded us before showing himself at the walls. My impressions from afar had been all too correct; he was huge, every muscle speaking of tremendous power. His eyes glowed with a malignant red light, and his clawed hands flexed around the hilt of an enormous sword.
Zartran, Otar, and Tylena stood beside me on the battlement. I looked at the warrior maiden, only to find her nervously grasping the hilt of her blade.
“I have come here for the sword!” the demon roared, his voice shaking the stones we stood on. “If you give it to us, we will only kill half of you! If you resist, we will send all of your souls to the underworld!”
I stood on the parapet, holding Taelrysyn aloft. “I am Edgewulf, keeper of the sword,” I shouted. “I challenge you to a duel! If you can defeat me, you may have the sword!”
“I really hope you know what you are doing,” Zartran muttered beside me.
“Why should I fight you?” Deathshadow demanded. “All I have to do is raise a finger, and my army will crush you! Your decrepit walls couldn’t stand against a single charge by my forces!”
“Play on his vanity,” Otar suggested calmly. I looked at him for a moment; how he could remain calm at a time like this was beyond me.
I looked back at the demon. “Are you so weak,” I shouted, “that you need an entire army to take a sword from one man?”
There was a moment of silence, which I spent praying quietly to the Eternal One that the ruse would work.
“I accept your challenge, mortal!” the demon declared. “Come down and meet your death!”
I looked at Tylena. “Get a shield wall ready; if I manage to kill that thing, you have to get me back inside.”
“We’ll be there,” she promised.
I walked down the steps, trying to push down the fear swelling in my breast. As I walked, I truenamed Taelrysyn, and the sword came to life in joyous song. The music flowed through my soul, and in that moment I became one with the sword.
The gates opened and I stepped out to meet Deathshadow, Taelrysyn held before me. The demon muttered something under his breath, and I heard a strange, quiet music coming from his own sword. On any other day, I would have been terrified, but with Taelrysyn’s song a part of me, I felt only joy.
With a great warcry, the demon and I met in combat.
I blocked a slash from the demon, the force of the blow strangely muted as Taelrysyn rang with the impact. Its song became stronger as it thrust out, barely blocked by Deathshadow. Faster than I could have moved alone, the sword counterstruck, drawing some of the demon’s blood.
For just a brief moment, I thought I saw fear in the demon’s eyes.
With an unholy scream, he attacked, forcing me backwards towards the town wall, Taelrysyn fending off each blow. I ducked and dodged as Deathshadow struck, lodging his sword in the wall. With a quick stroke, Taelrysyn cut into the creature’s vitals.
The demon cried out in agony, dropping his sword and falling to his knees. Taelrysyn’s song became overpowering as it struck down, taking Deathshadow’s head from his shoulders. The demon’s body burst into flames, the blood searing the ground where it fell.
Abruptly, the town doors opened, and Tylena led a group of twenty guardsmen to surround me. I took my place in the shield wall as the monsters attacked, screaming for vengeance. I heard the thudding of the catapults, smelled the sulfur as their missiles exploded in the demonic ranks. Taelrysyn sang as it slew monster after monster, and as it did, we made our way back into the town, the door closing in front of us.
I truenamed my sword again, and the song faded. A tear rolled down my cheek, and for a brief moment I would have given anything to hear the blade’s song again. I made my way up to the wall, where the sight made my heart soar.
The monstrous army was in disarray. Some of the ranks were spending themselves against the wall, while in the back many were fleeing. The middle of the army was a scene of chaos, as the monsters fought each other, all the while being pummeled by the catapults.
I sighed in relief. Although the battle was far from over, we had won the day. The fighting went on for another couple of hours, and by the end of it the corpses of hundreds of monsters were piled against the walls, but finally it was over.
As the last monster quit the field, it began to rain.
The next day I arose at the dawn, to actually see the sun rise in a clear sky. Around me, adventurers, guardsmen, and those few townspeople who had stayed through the years of darkness gaped at the sky in wonder and awe.
Otar ambled up beside me and smiled. “You and your sword swayed the balance, Edgewulf. The battle here is won.”
“So does that mean the war is over?” I asked.
Otar shook his head. “The struggle between the Eternal One and the Damned One is never over. Light and Darkness will always be in opposition. However, this battle has been won. There will be another battlefield, but with luck it will be far away from here.”
I nodded. “Then my work is done.” I held out Taelrysyn to him. “Take this, and put it somewhere where the Damned One can’t find it.”
Otar blinked. “You’re not staying to help in the struggle? We may have won, but the catacombs still have to be reclaimed. Tylena is leading the adventures there tomorrow. There’s a lot of work still to be done.”
I shook my head. “I have been at war for the last twenty years. Every year I became deader inside. The only time I’ve known joy in the last ten winters was when the sword sang to me, and it sang of battle and destruction. I’m tired, and I need to rest.”
Otar took the sword, a frown on his face. “I will take good care of it, and it will be ready for the next battle. Where will you go now?”
I pointed to the west. “I have heard of a monastery only a few leagues from here. I think I will become a lay brother there, at least for a while. Perhaps it will give me some peace.”
Otar nodded, but his expression remained glum. “May you find the peace you seek, my friend.”
I left that morning, and by nightfall I was a lay brother of the Order of the Eternal One. I think, in the end, even though it surprised him, Otar understood my decision.
Like Argela, I was wounded deeply, although far deeper than her. And like Argela, although it will take a long time, my wound is healing.