Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Paladin

              Meteorus crested the small rise overlooking the cave entrance. He rolled the strip of heavy leather from the soft belly of the dragonkin, wondering idly if it would provide an extra level of protection when used to patch his own rotting flesh. The ringing sound of a hammer striking home caused him to turn, a few more stitches in his back popped from the sudden movement. He groaned inwardly, the stitching on the patches on his back were always hours worth of effort to replace.
              The warrior spun to meet a pair of oncoming dragonkin. His noisy attack had attracted the attention of the ordinarily haphazard patrols and soon the lithe spinning figure was surrounded. "Cocky," Meteorus thought as he watched the deadly ballet attract even more participants. The warrior spun out of the crowd and placed his back to a nearby log, red hot and full of ash and embers. His armor was blasted and burnt, smoke trailed from his cloak, the sign of the Light burned bright on his shield. Meteorus' mind snapped back to a raging battle in a field in Tirisifal Glades, he shook off the vision, but the emotion remained.
              One of his knights was in danger! Unlike in the past, where he would have retreated with the rest of the baggage train, Meteorus now had the tools to help. Without thinking of his own safety, Meteorus tugged the folds of the nether into a wide spell, arcane energy twisted the heat from the air and large shards of ice and frost fell in a ring around the Paladin. The dragonkin who weren't able to directly reach the Paladin turned to face their new attacker.
              "Hmmm, should have seen that coming," Meteorus muttered before the freezing and running started in earnest.
              In the ensuing chaos of battle, Meteorus lost track of the paladin, until they found themselves back to back, finishing off their enemies. The Paladin stood, panting, healing himself. Meteorus stepped away and bound his own wounds. It was then that the Paladin began to speak, his words muffled by the faceplate of his helm.
              Meteorus knew he should understand the words, but that part of his brain seemed to be missing. He listened carefully. The tone was appreciative, and polite. The words, however, complete gibberish. The paladin turned to the face the opening of the lair. Meteorus turned to look with him. Meteorus nodded, and taking that as assent, the paladin charged into the cavern with a hearty roar. Meteorus stood a moment. Had, in the heat of the moment the Paladin not realized what Meteorus was? Was he just that focused on his quest?
              Combat was entered. Enemies were slain, a disused side chamber was cleared and both stopped to tend to minor injuries and replenish their mana reserves.
              The Paladin continued to chatter at Meteorus, who pulled his hood further down to cover his face. Meteorus nodded and grunted where it seemed appropriate, frustrated that the language, he was relatively sure, was something he had once understood.
              The closer they were to their goal, the more enemies the Paladin seemed to take on, running past occupied chambers relying on Meteorus' magic to slow and eliminate them. Meteorus felt the depletion of mana and tried to signal the Paladin to wait, but the holy warrior was every bit as berserk as an angry troll. With great regret Meteorus drained the mana from his bolt, and collapsed, weak and drained. He fought against the returning memories that spooled into his mind as the bolt of mana refilled. Not wishing to be lost in the random flotsam and jetsam of his past, he turned in place as the arcane fabric wove itself about him, trying to stay focused on...

              In the distance, on a small makeshift dais, Uther Lightbringer stood delivering a benediction to the knights of the Silver Hand kneeling before him, but not to him. They knelt, as did all of the baggage handlers, herbalists, tailors, blacksmiths and armorers who travelled with them, to honor the Light, to answer the call to fight back the undead hordes that were even now bearing down on the villages of Tirisifal Glades. In the baggage train, there was little hope of actually hearing Uther's words, but just being in the presence of their leader, sharing the same blessings as the Paladins who would face down great horrors wearing their armor and embroidered tabards, carrying their banners, fortified with their potions and meals, was enough. Not Meteorus' hand, a human hand, young but callused at the fingers and thumbs, reached out to urge calm on the jittery green-haired gnome who fidgeted next to him.

              "Seamstress," the Gnome whispered.

              "Garden Gnome," Not Meteorus responded.

              Meteorus groaned. There was no sign of the Paladin, and three hulking dragonkin were bearing down on him. A sense of failure almost overwhelmed him. There was no witty banter, spell and counter spell flew, fire mixed with the ripping and tearing of arcane. Meteorus dodged and shifted, somehow managing to remain standing as his stitches popped and sang, his patched flesh tore from bone. Not knowing exactly how, the skirmish was won, but the Paladin was still nowhere in sight. Meteorus ran down the corridor into an uneven rock filled intersection.
              The Paladin lay unmoving between two guards who seemed to be listening rather intently to the silence now coming from the hole in the rock where Meteorus now stood. They stopped bandaging one another to look up incredulously as Meteorus, not their friends faced them. Meteorus said a few quiet words and obliterated them with a ring of fire before they could move to stop him.
              The halls were quiet, save for the crackle of flames from the black dragonkin. Meteorus walked to the prone figure of the Paladin, unsure of what to expect, but prepared for the worst. He knelt next to the man, reaching out to place his clawed hand on the Paladin's chest. He felt no movement through the battered plate, only the heat of life, or perhaps merely recent battle. Meteorus reached up and opened the visor.
              Meteorus froze. The Paladin was young, his face smooth and unmarred with high cheek bones and a strong brow. A short thin growth of stubble covered his chin. A rapidly drying sheen of sweat gave the peaceful face a beatific glow. The Paladin's lips were full and, as Meteorus watched, slightly parted to release a shallow thin breath. Meteorus sighed. The Paladin was alive. Meteorus watched the Paladin, hoping to see the unconscious Paladin's eyes open. His awareness shifted to the patched and clawed hand that framed the young Paladin's face.
              "No," he whispered. "You should never wake to the sight of such as I." Meteorus gently closed the visor and stood over the Paladin. There was no blood, light fairly poured around the man. Meteorus stepped back into the shadows of the intersection, ready to defend the Paladin until he might stir.
              Two patrols were dispatched and dragged into the darkness, where Meteorus removed choice strips of their skin. While their leather cooled in his pack, the Paladin stirred.
              The Paladin and Meteorus looked at one another across the intersection. Meteorus raised his mug to the Paladin and drank his conjured water, feeling the energies wind back onto the arcane bolt in his soul. There were no memories this time, only the heat and stink of underground and fire and blood. The Paladin lifted his visor to drink. His eyes were a stunning blue, and clear. He spoke quietly while he drank. From the redness on the Paladins wet lips, Meteorus presumed it to be some fruity concoction. He smiled to himself, wistful, wishing he could once again taste such tastes (which he once a mere few years ago dismissed as "girly.")
              The Paladin stood, and slapped his visor home. He turned and pointed down the main corridor. Racing off into battle. Meteorus finished his water, and walked towards the sounds of battle. They progressed, the Paladin taking on the hulking brutes who would block their way, Meteorus taking down the casters and those that would run for aid. Surprisingly, they fought their way all the way into the Ogre's former meeting hall. The Dragonkin were apparently not using the large room. The Paladin rushed in and triumphantly raised the Ogre's tattered battle standard. He gestured at Meteorus and spoke.
              It was maddening to not understand the Paladin. It was like listening to a person talk in a dream. Meteorus knew the words, he was certain of it, but they hung in the air, hitting a barrier in his brain and bouncing off to become the sort of gibberish that if one could wake, one could understand, or so he felt. It was obvious that they had shared the same goal, and Meteorus smiled. The Ogres would have their battle standard, and that was what mattered.
              The Paladin fussed with the standard a bit, finally getting it tied to his pack. The banner waved behind him as he raced out of the caves, barely stopping to attack the dragonkin that followed on his footsteps. Meteorus made sure that none would return deeper into the cave system to call for reinforcements.
              Outside the caves, on a hill, the sun began to break through what Meteorus had assumed to be permanent cloud cover. The Paladin turned to face the sun and called forth his mighty charger. Meteorus walked over to a ragged saddle that looked like it sat on a pile of bones and discarded tack and harness. The Paladin turned to look at him. Meteorus whistled, Bluebell, the pile of bones, tack and harness, stood up under him, she rattled and clacked. Where the Paladin's warhorse shone of the power and purity of light, a purple miasma of leaking necromantic energy surrounded Bluebell. Meteorus noted that their barding, the blankets, was the same plaid of the holy orders of Lordaeron. The Paladin's horse's barding was gleaming as if fresh from the laundry. The same pattern hung limp and tattered and faded from Bluebell. The Paladin's mount nickered and shied a few steps away before the Paladin could bring it under control. The Paladin's gaze never left Meteorus. It was as though, now out of danger, the Paladin had looked at him for the first time.
              Meteorus clicked one clawed hand gently along the exposed spine of Bluebell's neck, and with his other pulled back his hood so as to erase the Paladin's obvious confusion. There was no mistaking the matted hair, the patchwork of flesh stitched to his face, one of the patches dangling to reveal a hole through which one could see molars. And his eyes, a custard gleaming yellow that even in the direct sunlight glowed with a sickly necromantic shimmer that was simultaneously bright and dark.
              Meteorus braced himself, but the Paladin merely sighed heavily and then looked towards the road. The Paladin kicked his mount into motion.
              Meteorus watched they young Paladin lean forward in the saddle, athletic and graceful at the same time. He had a momentary memory of a hundred such Paladins doing the same in unison, a memory, not an arcane bourne vision. Meteorus smiled. Bluebell responded to Meteorus's gentle nudge and raced after the Paladin, unable to keep up, as the power of the Light infused the bright charger's every step.
              "At least we won't get lost following that beacon."
              Meteorus stopped behind the Mudsprocket outpost. Bluebell collapsed into a pile outside the Library/Inn. Meteorus bantered with the Goblins a bit, allowing the Paladin to conduct his business with the Ogre in peace. Once the Paladin had left, Meteorus entered the outpost to pick up his few belongings, and to congratulate the Ogre on getting his banner back.
              The Ogre slapped Meteorus on the back, snapping the last few solid stitches holding his all ready damaged patches together. "Metal man say what great help you are. Now you two go deliver message to rest of dragons!"
              Meteorus pulled his robe taut to keep the oozing from his back to a minimum. "Sure, big guy, but first, do you know where there are a couple of mirrors I could use."
              "Mirror good idea, Little Mage not look so good." The Ogre gestured to his own face, indicated where Meteorus' cheek patch had fallen. "You got something on you."

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