Here it is, folks. The first chapter of the legend of the Warden and the Mage Knight is here. I hope you enjoy it, as I’ll be continuing to do it alongside my regular chapters. I must give special thanks to Sorin for rewriting my legend. He took the rough, choppy mess that I presented to him and refined it into what is is now. I hope you enjoy my legend, and I hope it captivates you in the same way it captivated me as I wrote it.
Of Heroes and Villains: The Legends of Koeleth
The West Warden and the Mage Knight
(Or the Legend of the Tainted King)
Chapter I: The Legend
The first of the tales I will cover is that of the Warden of the West and the elven Mage Knight, the inseparable duo that fought and vanquished the Tainted King, the grotesque monster that once threatened all of Koeleth. Though not as famous as the other tales I have mentioned, it nevertheless serves an important role in the history of Koeleth. The most notable feature, other than its focus on two–rather than one–heroes, is its historical accuracy. I must also add that it is one of the few occasions in which we find true heroes, whose selfless endeavors are just as noble in truth as they are in the legend. The greatest extent of its change is in the personification of one of the titular characters. Beyond that, the true events of the story unfolded largely the same as the legend tells. It also emphasizes the importance of teamwork, tolerance and open-mindedness, all of which were necessary to ensure the success of the Warden’s quest. Now, let us begin.
It is said that long ago Aidan Raptorbeak was a warrior of renown, famous amid the commoners for his steadfast defense of the weak. He was a rogue of great skill, but as he never used his techniques for his own gain, he became known far and wide as the Honorable Rogue. Instead he plied his trade on behalf of the unfortunate, stealing oft from the wealthy.
At this time, there came before the king a messenger from the south. “Most noble king,” he said, “There has been, in the south, an uprising. It has been led by an abomination most terrible. His name is the Tainted King” The king was greatly distressed by this news and sent throughout the kingdom for warriors capable of defeating the abomination.
At some length, one of the lords Aidan had once taken from said to the king, “I know a man who can do this thing you ask. He is a rogue of great skill and impudence. He has stolen from many nobles and has never once been caught.” The lord did not believe this but he wished Aidan’s death. “And besides,” he thought, “Should Aidan succeed, the king shall be in my debt.”
So the king sent for Aidan, offering him great riches if he would slay the abomination. Besides the treasures, the king offered also the hand of his daughter in marriage, a baronage, and a full pardon for all crimes. Aidan cared little for riches or power, and the beauty of the princess did not sway his heart. Yet he took up the challenge, for he was not shy of danger and the abomination threatened many, so he agreed to help the king.
Now after a time, Aidan came to the town of Silversin. Then, as now, it was a town known for its crime and debauchery. Aidan was not afraid, for he had done many a dangerous thing, and he chose to stop at the tavern to rest. He had only just sat himself down when he noticed a woman in the corner, an elf maid of great beauty. She was being waylaid by unsavory men, and Aidan, out of chivalry and honor, chose to save her.
Aidan defeated the thugs with ease and grace, saving the woman who now introduced herself as Neria of the Wooded Blade, a student of the fabled Sage of Anverlund. The sage was known far and wide for his great wisdom and mystical arts so Aidan asked to be taken to him. Neria happily agreed, for she had become infatuated with Aidan, and brought him thence.
The sage being grateful that Aidan had helped his student, told Aidan all that he knew of the Tainted King. The foul man had found a forbidden magic that could turn his blood into a serum. This serum could turn his victim into thralls, obeying the Tainted King’s every command. There was no cure, the sage explained, but he told Aidan of a magic formula that would protect him. So Aidan went and gathered the materials that the formula required and then spent some days while the sage made the potion for him.
Aidan thanked the sage and went on his way, but Neria went with him, for she could not bear to be parted from him. So she said to him, “Where you lead I will follow and I will never be separated from you.” Aidan knew his task was dangerous and tried to dissuade her, but to no avail. Neria gathered up her meager belongings and followed him onto the road.
Aidan went from village to village, slaying the thralls of the Tainted King as he went. One day, while he was liberating a village, his need became dire and he cried out for help. Out came a slender knight in the heaviest of armor and wielding a mighty sword. The knight slew all of Aidan’s enemies and then disappeared, as suddenly as it occurred. Thrice this happened, and when the knight had come for a third time, Aidan asked the knight to stay so that he could thank the knight. The knight said nothing and tried to leave, but Aidan was too quick and removed the knight’s helm. Neria of the Wooded Blade stood before him in the armor, for she was a mighty mage-knight. The two fought together then, going from village to village and slaying the thralls of the Tainted King.
At long last, Aidan’s quest began to come to a close, and the final battle drew near. In the Valley of Bountiful Plunder Aidan stood alone but for Neria. Together they fought the forces of the Tainted king. Blood spilled before the Warden of the West and the Mage Knight of the Highest Order. Such death was dealt that day that the valley was renamed the Blood Pool, and they say the red mud rose almost a foot. To this day, they say the valley weeps blood in the rain and one can still hear the screams of dying men.
There, in the middle of a river of gore, Aidan fought the Tainted King alone, for Neria was attacked by the King’s mighty general. Aidan and the King battled for three days and nights, and neither gained the upper hand until the bitter end. Yet in the last moment, when victory was at hand and Aidan had smote the Tainted King upon the scarred earth, the potion of the sage failed Aidan, and he was mortally wounded.
The story may end there but for the heroism of Neria, for she still was loathe to leave the side of the man whom she loved. And so the she-elf worked a magic the like of which had never been cast before, and certainly never since. For hours she toiled, and as her strength began to wane, Aidan awoke. Though the Koelings feasted, Aidan wept. He mourned the loss of his faithful partner and buried her in a great tomb, laying his own swords beside her in homage. Aidan wandered for a time, doing what he may, not letting the sacrifice of Neria be wasted, but never again did he take a partner. It is said that he departed from the land of Koeleth, never to be seen again. But whispers still arise from time to time. It is said that he went to live amongst the elves and that he lives there still, all these many years later, for the magic of Neria yet lives within him.
That is the legend, as it has been told throughout the centuries, but it is far from complete. Certain details have been altered, tailored to fit the tastes of an audience of Koelings. Now, thanks to the efforts of a friend of mine who wishes to remain nameless, I have acquired the real story. I now share it with you, with a narrative twist that will hopefully bring the characters to life for you.
“So, Aidan Raptorbeak,” the guard captain said to the rogue standing before him, confirming his identity by the brown tattoos curling around his face. “We finally have you right where we want you. Steal from the rich and give to the poor, eh? Hogwash! You’re just a petty thief.”
“A petty thief that just stole your keys, your coin purse, and your sidearm, good sir,” the rogue said with a bow, his shoulder length burnt orange hair and beard falling across his face in the process. “Never fear, I will return them. I merely wished to prove a point. In regard to my reputation, however, I am not a thief at all, if it is within my power to avoid such base crimes. I merely take issue with the oppression of the less fortunate. They are human, as are you and I. Yet they are treated as simple beasts. Surely you can understand why I might wish to aid them?”
“So you attack town guards, defame lords and ambush merchants? Tell me again how that is any better?”
“You exacerbate the magnitude of my crimes, Captain,” Aidan retorted, his dark blue eyes meeting the guards in a confident and defiant gaze. “I merely intervene when corrupt individuals take advantage of the underprivileged. If the guard did their job properly, such measures would not be needed.”
“Well, I can assure you, criminal, that this town guard does its job very well, and if you do anything out of place here, I’m going to nail you so hard you won’t be able to feel your ass for a week.”
“Such unbefitting language of an officer of the law. I believe that we have other business to attend to. Otherwise, I would not have freely walked into the guard barracks.”
“Right… The king, in his vast wisdom, felt that you would be a valuable ally in these troubled times. He is well aware of your ‘faults,’ as he so kindly put it, and is willing to pardon you in exchange for your cooperation. He is also aware of your noble disposition, if lacking in regard for the law, and is certain that you will find his cause most agreeable. Of course, there is a payment awarded for admirable service.”
“These terms are most agreeable. Continue.”
“It has come to the king’s attention that there is a certain abomination with dangerous powers running loose in the southern regions. The reports say he is building an army, with the intention of overthrowing the king. Just what we need, another crazy demagogue. The king wants you to exercise your infamous intellect to gather information on him and eventually dispose of him however you deem fit.”
“How does the king know this is a serious threat and not a rumor that has been exaggerated by superstitious individuals?”
“Several bands of warriors have reported being attacked by the soldiers in the abomination’s employ – people whose job is to fight when everyone else flees. Lord Heronslake himself barely survived an attack by a group of crazed men who claimed to follow this abomination. This goes without saying, but this is not going to be an easy week-long adventure for you. Here’s the official reports and the full information you’ll need. Prepare yourself for a long quest. And don’t expect help from the royal army or the treasury; the kingdom’s resources are wrapped up in all the other problems plaguing our crippled nation. I call bullshit on all those legends about Koeleth being chosen by the guardians. While it irks me to no end that I have to let a thief walk out of this room, I wish you the best of luck in your quest. If you fail, Koeleth could be in some deep shit. Well, deeper shit.”
“I assure you, good man, that I will not fail. If the king felt I was the man for the job, I shall not disappoint him. Now, may I take my leave?”
“Yeah, get out of here.”
Aidan bowed to the guard and then left the barracks to begin his quest. What happened next was just as the legend stated; Aidan sought out any information he could acquire on the abomination and his army. The reports given to him by the guard didn’t provide much information. Just as the guard had said, there were a number of attacks by the abomination’s soldiers on civilians, merchants, mercenaries and soldiers who were traveling the roads. The reports also stated that there was something off about the men and women who served the abomination, but it never clarified what. They would take a couple people from the party captive and flee. Some accounts mentioned that after the attacks, a member of the attacked party would inexplicably follow after the attackers in a manic state. Aidan decided it would be best to interview the reporting soldiers themselves. They added little to what he already knew, but what they did add was most interesting. One of their own men, who had accidentally swallowed the blood of one of their assailants, began retching and coughing. After a short time, he began to wander away from their position, collapsing after a few yards. When he awoke, he remembered none of it. This curious fact hastened Aidan on his journey. He immediately headed south to the afflicted regions. After several days of investigation, he learned that the abomination was a man known as Jorik Seraph, and his power was in his blood; specifically, the blood in his body acted as a parasitic entity in others. If someone ingested his blood, they would either be taken over by the blood or their body would reject the blood and they would die. Because of his ability to “taint” people, he became known as the Tainted King, and his blood slaves were growing more populous and aggressive. Aidan knew that, as one man, he could do nothing, so he sought out information on anyone who might be able to aide him. Though he did not get any pledges of support or resources from any nobles, mercenaries or other military entities, he did acquire a voluminous amount of information. One source, in particular, a young assassin who had the misfortune of being hired to kill Aidan, told him that there was a man in his hometown, Silversin, in Dead-Man-Walking, who knew of many forms of magic and might be able to help. The Sage of Anverlund was what the locals called him, but the assassin did not know exactly where he lived. Aidan handed the man over to the local guards and embarked on his journey to Silversin.
Upon arrival in Silversin, Aidan immediately noticed the depravity of the town. He had heard tales of the town, but they did it no justice. Every inch of the city was slimy and crooked. Not before he had taken two steps into the town, a pickpocket attempted to lighten his coin-purse. Naturally, it did not end well for the would-be thief. However, since there was no reliable law enforcement official in sight, Aidan punished the boy by tying him to a post, with the promise that he would release him later if he did not escape by some other means. Aidan spotted the local pub and made his way to its door, dodging and deflecting all sorts of villains on his way. Pushing open the doors, he found a bar full of drunkards, prostitutes and lowlifes. Picking his way through the bar fights, make-out sessions and drinking contests, the Honorable Rogue made his way to the hub of this den of dishonorable folk, the bartender.
“Excuse me, master barman,” he said as cordially as he could.
The bartender simply ignored him at first.
“Ahem, master barman,” he said a bit more loudly, so as to be heard over the crowd.
The bartender looked in his general direction long enough for Aidan to perceive that he was drunk.
With more gusto than his previous attempts, Aidan called out, “Master barman, I have need of your assistance!”
The drunk bartender glanced at him, poured beer into a mug, and slammed it down in front of him.
“There you go, the usual grog,” he blurted out to Aidan. “Now, leave me be.”
“You are mistaken, good sir. I require information, not…brew.”
“Wha’ could I possibly know tha’ you can’ bothah somebody else about?” he drunkenly slurred.
“It has come to my attention that living in this town is a knowledgeable sage. I was hoping that you could aid me in finding him.”
“You want teh find some ol’ geezah, so you come teh me? You mus’ be soft in the ‘ead,” the inebriated man replied as he poured a drink for another lost soul.
“I assure you, honorable sir, that if there were a more reliable source than a tavern worker, then I would seek it out. Experience tells me, however, that a person in such a central position as yours tends to keep abreast of the developments around them.”
“Sigh. Awright. I can’ ‘elp you, I ‘appen to know of an elf girl tha’ can.”
“I see. Where might I find this woman?”
“She’s actually ‘ere righ’ now. See tha’ tussle ovah there? Tha’d be ‘er,” the boozer mumbled, gesturing towards one of the many brawls. “Now, lemme drink in peace, will you?”
“Thank you, master barman. I shall be on my way. A kellon for your service.” Aidan placed a gold piece on the bar and walked over to the brawl. He noticed that a small woman who did indeed have elfin features was single-handedly fighting off a band of miscreants whose purpose was all too apparent. Despite her valiant efforts, however, the battle was slowly turning in her foes’ favor. Before he even had the opportunity to intervene, he was dragged into the fight.
“Don’t just stand there, you stupid bastard!” the tiny woman shouted. “Help me!”
This distracted a couple of the ne’er-do-wells, who, seeing the threat that Aidan represented, attacked him. Their clumsy assault made it all too easy for the rogue to simply dodge their blows, causing them to stumble into another patron of the bar, who did not appreciate the loss of his beverage. Having effectively eliminated two of the thugs, the gentleman thief moved on to his next target, grabbing another thug by the shirt and slamming him to the floor. While he was still low to the ground, he kicked the feet out from underneath another of the rapscallions. Now all attention was on Aidan, but it was a simple matter for the skilled acrobat and master of deception to get the intoxicated louts to fight each other.
“Yeah, let’s finish them off!” the elf shouted, but before she could do anything, Aidan hoisted her onto his shoulder, surprised at how light she was, even considering her size, and fled the bar before the confusion cleared up.
When they were finally some distance away from the bar, the rogue put down his confused passenger. Upon closer inspection, he saw that the girl bore a striking resemblance to the elves of legend, but Aidan could hardly believe that elves were real. She was significantly shorter than him, at least a foot, making her no taller than 5 feet. She had delicate features despite her obvious combat abilities, and her earthy attire completed her elven image.
“Why’d you pull me out of there? I had ‘em on the ropes!” the fiery young woman complained.
She turned away in a huff but warily watched him out of the corner of her eye. Aidan was struck by the fact that her hair, pulled back into a short, tidy ponytail, with bangs in the front, was a healthy shade of white, despite her relative youth. From the side of her face, he could also see her long, pointed ears and an icy blue eagle wing, half of a tattoo that covered her entire face. She turned back to face him, waiting for an answer.
“Well? What’s the matter? Are you deaf, mute or stupid? What’s got you so fixated that you can’t answer me, asshole?” she shouted grumpily, her sky blue eyes burning holes into Aidan’s head. Her lips, colored with the same icy blue as her tattoo, were curled into a grimace.
“…I apologize, madam. To answer your inquiry, you were outnumbered and seemed rather too exhausted to continue at the rate you were going. Perhaps my intervention was too hasty?” he replied, stroking his thick, full beard.
“Erm…no. No, I believe it was quite timely,” she sheepishly admitted. “For them, I mean! Yes, yes, that’s it…I would have walloped them if you hadn’t gotten in the way…Okay, fine! I may have been at a disadvantage.”
She scanned her rescuer from top to bottom, immediately recognizing the difference in height. The leather armor adorning his chest fit him well, showing off his muscles. She was not overly fond of the facial hair that encased his mouth on all sides and ran up his strong jaw and cheeks, but she was overall pleased with her ally’s appearance. She had observed something odd about his equipment, though. He was obviously a finesse-focused warrior, and yet he carried two full-sized swords at his sides, instead of daggers or short swords like most rogues. One of the swords was a skillfully crafted Koeleth hand-and-a-half, likely forged by a famed craftsman, and the other was an Arilese katana forged out of a crimson hued metal.
“Why’d you help me, anyhow? Don’t tell me you plan to keep me for yourself, you perv!” she blurted out with a look of horror on her face.
“Nonsense! I would do nothing of the sort, madam!” Aidan quickly reassured her. “As a matter of fact, I find such acts deplorable and would have likely aided you even without needing your assistance. Had I picked out your plight from the myriad other scuffles in the tavern sooner, I would have gladly helped you chase them off. I do have a substantial reason for keeping you safe, however, madam. According to the barman, you bear knowledge of the Sage of Anverlund, and I require his assistance.”
“Always Antony Anversborn, the great Sage of Anverlund! Everybody wants the Sage of Anverlund! No one ever comes to visit his ravishingly beautiful assistant, Neria Woodblade! Well, fine! I’ll take you to the old bastard. Right this way,” Neria spat as she turned and headed to the edge of town.