Damian M. Salo
Out of unconsciousness, Damyen wearily awoke to find two muscular forearms carrying the bulk of his weight while his feet were dragged beneath him. His long blonde hair and his navy blue riding fatigue was covered in soot, and his limbs were bruised after being thrown from his steed while trying to escape the Rodanians. Not only had he failed himself, he had failed his friends whom he left behind in fear. Those friends were towed behind in shackles.
Accepting his plight, Damyen brought his heavy feet forward and staggered into a walk. His wrists too were shackled but remarkably his long sword remained at his side. This provided him with a glimmer of hope until he cast his eyes upon the tower rising above him in the night sky.
The Provincial Temple's, deft-defying spires and parapets, rose up into the firmament above. The tower was capped with a thirteen-point crown and the full moon had become a omenic halo. At the base of the temple was a flight of black marble steps where a ominous figure awaited them with a hooded cloak.
cavernous door that was hidden beneath metal-sculpted vines and underbrush that were welded to the iron walls.
The structure had six triangular arms composed of hundreds of circular spires and parapets that were reflected by mirror-like windowpanes. At its pinnacle was a lofty crown that was once a cauldron used to alert the north of any foreign attacks.
As the two friends marveled over its construction the doors to the temple crept open, and out came what appeared to be a military general flanked by soldiers. The sight of them was quite unnerving given Damyen's mission, but as they descended down the steps it became apparent that they were a hybrid of sorts. These priestly-soldiers wore a gray cassock with hood, and their sleeves were rolled up to reveal the size of their biceps. And surprisingly enough, they each carried a sword sheathed at their side.
T meets N
While Galaxius' party spent the next week seeking safe passage into the Wastelands, Tabithus spent his time recovering from an intensive operation to correct the injuries he sustained upon Cauldron's Peak. His first day back was spent tied down on a gurney. It when there that he went through the excruciating pain of having his dislocated jaw reset and his broken teeth filed down without anesthesia. The agonizing trauma was enough to make a sane person go mad, but for Tabithus it only furthered his tolerance for pain. By nightfall he returned to his quarters proudly wearing his freakish leather mask, concealing his terrifyingly new grill.
By the end of the week Tabithus was brought before General Fausto to account for his crimes. The tribunal was held privately in the Throne Room of the Provincial Temple, located halfway up the main tower. The six-sided chamber was constructed using iron-riveted columns to support the triangular trussed ceiling. The sun’s rays shined through smoked glass, turning the oxidized-iron floor a fiery red, and drawing to life the crimson banners that draped the rear of the throne.
The Provincial Throne of the Southern Arm of the Valorite Brotherhood was hewn from a meteorite that prophesized Raul’s return. Its shape was obtuse and jagged like coral. A large chunk was carved out of its center so that General Fausto could reign comfortably. Legend had it that anyone who takes their rightful seat upon the relic shall receive divine wisdom when passing judgment.
The General of Cassock Order was feeling a bit impatient. His bulldog face stared down the chamber doors as his buzzed scalp glisten with sweat from the arid heat. His sleeveless gray cassock allowed his meaty arms to rest on top of the surprisingly cold meteorite as he clanked his ruby red ring against it. When ready he called on his guards to bring forth his troubled brother-in-arms.
Moments later the iron doors swung open an in, entered Tabithus. The priestly, foot soldier wore his customary gray cassock, and his hood did its best to conceal his pasty, pitted face. He shuffled his shackled feet forward as he held his cuffed hands together in prayer like pose. However, his serpent eyes remained fixated on his superior when he bowed, breathing heavily beneath his mask.
When the doors were closed shut, Fausto commenced, “You are brought before me today for disobeying my orders. Your task was simple. You were to travel the open roads in search of finding new recruits to join our brotherhood. Instead, you decided to abuse the authority given to you by laying claim to a young lady and killing a whole lot of people in the hopes of covering up your tracks. To make matters worse you were arrested for the crimes committed, jeopardizing the orders ability to now recruit in the Morisot region.”
Fausto leaned forth in the throne, and duly urged, “But before I pass judgment I shall let you plead your case, and I caution you to do so in the most convincing way. Because the truth is I am willing to send you to the gallows in an exchange for restoring trust to a region where I can recruit hundreds of more soldiers.”
Tabithus knew the odds were stacked heavily against him; however, he had one thing on his side that gave him just cause for what he did. In between his heavy breaths, Tabithus said the unthinkable, “My Lord, it is with grave reprieve to announce that your orders were superseded by that of a higher power.”
“A higher power? Ha! Who else in this region has a higher authority than me?”
“…the Divine Spirit.”
Fausto balked at his claim, further insinuating, “Let me guess. Raul the Divine magically appeared to you so that he could command you to go and kidnap some girl?”
“That is correct.”
Fausto shook his head in complete disbelief as he rose from the meteorite throne. He descended the dais and with one hulking swing, he swatted Tabithus to the ground with the back of his hand. He then stepped over him and shouted, “I said to convince me, not to blaspheme thee!”
Tabithus lay defensively on his side with his hands protecting his injured jaw, admitting, “My intentions were never to disobey you. But when the divine spirit appeared onto me, he had commanded me to help him build an army far greater in strength than the Cassocks.”
“How dare you!”
The insult caused Fausto to pick Tabithus’ up off the ground and throw him across the chamber like a rag doll. As Tabithus rolled to a stop he found the general stomped on his ribs several times with the heel of his boot. But it did little to deter Tabithus from holding steadfast to his conviction, “What I am telling you is the truth!”
Fausto drew his dagger and knelt down upon Tabithus’ chest, seething, “Even if the divine spirit chose to build such an army, why would he choose someone as sickly as you to fulfill his will?”
“Because I have learned how to wield the forces of evil.”
Suddenly, Tabithus’ serpent eyes rolled back into his head, causing the steel columns to reverberate the power of fear that he now possessed. The spiritual force conjured from the depths of his condemned soul eventually caused his jingling shackles to snap free. The lowly foot soldier rose feverishly to his feet as Fausto immediately retreated to the base of the dais. It was apparent that his physical strength could not compete against the thickening air that now weighed heavily upon his shoulders.
When the general was finally brought to his knees, Tabithus, declared, “It is was my duty to see to it that the divine spirit receives his bridesmaids so that he can conceive a future lineage of giants to reign upon mankind.”
Tabithus let out a vile hissing sound, ready to attack! But just as he went to unbuckle his leather mask, he heard someone shouting near the entrance to the chamber, “That is enough!”
Instantly, the power exercised by Tabithus was lifted, causing the weight in the air to lift and the iron beams to hum silent. The lowly foot soldier then dropped to one knee as Nico marched towards them.
The emperor wore his black leather breastplate and matching kilt. His violet cape swaddled his muscular physique and the short swords that were sheathed at his side. His curly brown hair crowned his stunningly handsome features as his full lips drew a wide smirk after witnessing such a phenomenon.
“Well, what do we have here?” Nico remarked.
A deep rage began to fester within Fausto after Nico had found him in a very compromising position at the hands of a novice. He then pointed his balled his fist over at his subject, and vehemently attested, “His name is Tabithus. He is to be sentenced to death for going against my orders, and for boldly claiming that the divine spirit had sent him forth on a mission to kidnap innocent women in an effort to conceive an army of giants.”
Nico's interest was piqued by Fausto's claim and the fact that two pairs of shackles lay shattered at his feet. It was clear that this young man possessed some sort of divine power. His ability to shake the temple was all that it took for Nico to drop what he was doing from across the hall, and to storm into the Throne Room to find the source of his concern.
“Is this true?”
“Aye, I am just one of many who have undertaken this effort. But now that I find myself standing before you I now know what it is that I must do.”
“And that is?”
Beneath his mask, Tabithus’ foretold with his muffled voice, “I am to prepare the temple for the coming blood sacrifice.”
“Blood Sacrifice? It is time that I cut you down!”
Fausto had heard enough of Tabithus’ slithering tongue. He then unsheathed his dagger and attacked! He was only inches away from silencing Tabithus for good when he found Nico thwarting his attempt by clenching hold of his forearm.
Nico then bared down upon with surprising might, ordering, “Stand down.”
Fausto resisted Nico's attempt for as long as he could, until he finally lowered his dagger in roaring submission. He then stormed off in an angry fit while Nico continued forth in his discussion with Tabithus, noting, “The divine spirit had told me I would find you in such a bind. The question now is whether you will do my bidding?”
“I offer my life to you in exchange for your mercy.”
Fuasto rebuked his cry for amnesty, exclaiming, “My Lord, I have already passed judgment on this bastard.”
“Rightfully so!” Nico sparked. “However, he is no longer subject to your authority. He is subject to mine.”
Fausto balled his fist but managed to hold in his frustration by biting his lip. But seeing that Fausto was not pervious to his plans concerning the blood sacrifice, Nico signaled for the door.
“I shall like to speak to Tabithus in private. In the mean time I suggest that you make all the necessary preparations to secure the city.”
Fausto confronted Nico, calmly reaffirming, “My Lord, the city is secure from any potential uprising or surprise attack by the Imagians.”
Nico wagered with a wide smirk, “The city will be laid sieged to just as the divine spirit foretold. Therefore, if you do not heed my words and the city is overtaken as prophesized, then it shall be your life that I take.”
Fausto's hulking frame stampeded across the oxidized floor and exited the Throne Room after shoving the doors open. Nico then took his rightful seat upon the meteorite-carved throne as Tabithus listened to him from the base of the dais.
“Now that we are alone, did the divine spirit explain to you what it is that must done to perform the sacred rites?”
“Down to even the most minute detail.”
Nico was relieved to know that everything was in order but it appeared something else weighed heavily upon Tabithus' mind.
“What is it that seems to be troubling you?”
Tabithus looked over his shoulder as if someone were watching, and then said, “…it concerns the divine spirit's quest to locate a living relic that rests dormant in the depths of the earth below. This relic is sealed behind a portal that can only be unlocked by a certain magical key. This key was destroyed long ago to prevent the portal from ever being re-opened.”
The priestly-soldier recalled the night he snuck up upon Galaxius' party on the road south from Explorer's Inn. It was there that his super-sensitive ears honed in on a conversation by the fire. It was there that he learned the party was on expedition to find such an artifact that could potentially re-open the portal, stating, “However, it has come to my knowledge that there exists a Keystone Mold that can forge a duplicate copy of this long-forgotten key. By obtaining this mold we can then re-forge the key, open the portal, and retrieve this relic. Without it, Nico will be unable to ascend the Temple Mount and take up his earthly throne.”
Nico rubbed his chin as he looked upon Tabithus' with suspicion. He found it odd that Raul would bestow upon this stranger such divine wisdom and not him—his right hand man. And since he was not privy to such information he made it appear to Tabithus as if he were already in the know. If anything, Nico would pursue the Keystone Mold and when found, he would present it to the divine spirit.
“Where is this party now?”
“They are currently residing within these walls. But not for long…”
Nico arose from his throne, and ordered, “Bring them to me.”
“Aye, my Lord!”
Tabithus let out a faint cackle as he bowed. He then spun around on the backs of heels and marched towards the exit in his sinister brown, leather mask. It was time to track down and exact his revenge upon the very man that had did it to him—Damyen of Knightenvow.
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The Age of Lost Innocence
by Damian M. Salo
The Age of Lost Innocence and the Theory of Balance is a tale of three best friends who set off on an epic quest to the Holy Land. They are tasked with assisting Elder Emeral in discovering the meaning behind the Theory of Balance to thwart Lord Nico Donyan and the Great Reckoning--giving rise to Raul the Divine and setting in motion his plans to rule all of humanity.
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