Medievia Mudslinger

September 11, 2003

Showdown with the Beast by Zelgaddis



It's not easy being a dad. There are the responsibilities, the huge expenses, the chores, the-

"Daddy, will you tell me a story?"

-the stories. That's my son, Kyoot. As his name implies, he's, well, cute. But he won't go to bed without a proper goodnight story.

"What kind of story?"

"I don't know, daddy... any kind!"

"Okay, how about the one where I was in the depths of the Warrens of Moshata, and I roamed through, slaying mudvole after mudvole-"

"No! Dad, that's boring!"

"How about my adventures in the ant hills of Toshi?"

"Boring! Tell me a *good* story, dad!"

Sigh. I'm not going to get out of this one. Time to bust out the big guns. "Ever heard of Zeksagmak?"

"Who?"

Now this is no surprise. Of course he didn't know. It was before his time. But still, it seems so wrong that the greatest, most ferocious beast to ever roam the land should be forgotten such a short time after his demise. Truly, one must do what one can to remedy such ignorance.

"Why, only the greatest and strongest ruby dragon to ever roam the land!"

"Dad! Are you making this up?" His curiosity piqued, he said, "Because if you are-"

"No, no, no! This all happened. It's for real! And I was there!"


"They say something pretty nasty is on the way-" Chevtul said, staring up at the sky. There glinted in his eye a certain degree of wonderment that I'd never seen in him before. His visage was a mask of total veneration, stock-still. It nearly moved me to see the way his eyes almost glassed over at the chance to sacrifice himself to simply be a "part of."

I sighed deeply from my resting position next to the huge shimmering portal, not at all uncharacteristically. Let them have the thrill of the hunt, and the hide, and the glory. I remained here only as long as my debt to this man, this "glorious mercenary," was unpaid.

I'd heard reports of an epic battle unfolding below ground. Some of Medievia's finest adventurers, and some that were plain suicidal. I didn't have the stomach for the brutality that happened next in the story, but when someone says 'hundreds dead', the details don't really matter.

"So you're excited, huh?" I said, resentment oozing from every word.

He didn't hear me. Just that frozen expression on his face. That once chance to touch greatness. Could it really bind man so tightly?

A grimace began to cover my face as I pondered this for all of one minute. Gone were the sounds of life in the town that the House of Swords and Magic built as I sat, fixed in thought. Suddenly I was jarred back into reality as I heard the clatter of a sword's hilt, punctuated with the sleek sound of steel against scabbard. Then an eerie silence.

Silence.

No one would ever fully comprehend what happened next.


"Dad? Dad! DAD!"

"Um? Hu- what?" That was embarrassing. I must have lost it there for a second. Play it cool, play it cool. He's young. He won't understand. What should I say what should I say? I'm... I'm just tired son, Daddy needs his-

"The story? No one would ever fully comprehend-"

"Mmmm? Oh, right, right! Now, you're sure you want to hear this? It's not too boring for you is it?"

"What? No, no, NO! I mean, no. I... guess it's all right."

I nearly chuckled. He's as bad a faker as his old man.

"Now I'm not going to censor this for you, so if you have nightmares-"

"Daaaaaaad!"

"Just warning you!"

Children are so much fun sometimes...


My neck nearly snapped from the force with which I twisted my head around. I gritted my teeth, and felt the bolts of pain that surged up and down my spine as I craned my view upward to see the silhouette of a tremendous winged beast, stark against the burning hot sun. With one tremendous beat of its wings, it angled itself downward. It lurched toward us, dark crimson life spewing from it's cruel maw and talons, splashing gratuitously over its ruby-encrusted body. I knew immediately that most of that blood could not be his own. This horrible, twisted monster that nature so callously created was now not only unleashed against the rest of the world, but also furious.

"Come on, Zek, I'm ready for you! Prepare to taste cold steel!"

"Chevtul, shut up and move!" I shouted, as I sprang to my feet. "Ignorant blackguard, that thing's gonna kill us!" I grabbed a fistful of his collar and jerked as hard as I could, trying to drag his dead weight as far away from that portal as my rubbery legs would allow.

A few meager seconds later, the brute crashed into the earth, causing the street beneath us to seemingly come alive in a way no earthquake ever could. The sheer force rocked both of us off of our feet, sending us tumbling violently to the ground. It was far too late for those not fortunate enough to see Zeksagmak coming. The thunderous cacophony that swelled forth from the impact resounded noticeably for several moments thereafter. Instantly, the horrible Zeksagmak unleashed a sickening spray of flame that roasted civilian and hero alike. Little was left to tell the tale of those who, only a moment ago, stood to do battle with the beast. But those poor people... Women and children... poor, pathetic souls whose only sin was failing to look up.

I hoped they had religion. All of them. Because at the moment, the strength of man wasn't nearly enough to get the job done.

"What the hell do you think you're doing, Zel?!"

I glanced up at Chevtul, nearly surprising myself at the my own sheepishness. He was so close he could taste it. He wasn't angry at me. Well, he was, but not in the way I had come to expect from the adventurer with the shortest fuse in the business. That sheepish expression quickly turned to anger faster than I thought possible. "What am I doing? I'm saving your life! I'm keeping *you* alive, so I don't have to run around on your stupid adventures any more!" I held up my wrist to show him a glimmering diamond bracelet. "No amount of your stupid 'glorious' quests is worth this!"

"Give it back, then."

"With one installment left? Forget..."

Our only defense, a festive ticket booth, melted before our eyes as Zeksagmak's salvo of flame erupted forth from the creature's ruby gullet. The pain was unbelievable. Flesh melted away from bone, blood rising quickly to the surface of the mass of wounds, baking and congealing in a heartbeat. Had the inferno lasted a split second longer, death's icy hand would have cooled the burning at the expense of our lives. We would have been luckier to simply die at that point. We must have laid there, staring at the sky for ten thousand eternities before I could finally stammer out the incantation for that blessed healing spell. The dragon had generously left us alone, though in retrospect, he likely thought we, like so many others, were dead.

It was several minutes before we were finally restored to our old selves.

Strike that. We could never be our old selves again. We had tasted Zeksagmak's caustic flame... and we wanted more.


"Those were innocent days before that cursed Zeksagmak roamed the world, my boy. If only time could run backward, and things could be as they were before then... well, it's hard to know whether or not I'd choose to go back."

"Why, dad?"

My eyes turn downward at the floor as my vision begins to blur. "Because, son-" control it. Control. The boy can grow up in a world where he doesn't have to see what I saw. Don't force your emotions on him. "Because the goodness and light of the future can glow even more brightly now, against the shadow of the past. We know now that the Medievian resolve to fight that which threatens our ability to thrive transcends even the strongest hatred, that man's allegiance to his own is more tenacious than anything that could hope to tear us apart."

"Oh." It's hard not to smile when your son pretends to understand something that he, because of the sacrifices of so many others, can never know. He wants to make me feel like this is not in vain. And for that very reason, it isn't.


"Come on, enough of this!" I cried, springing drunkenly to my feet, shocked at how difficult the sensation of walking erect felt immediately following a near-death experience. Blades of pain pierced my shoulders, chest, abdomen, and face. Those confounded healing spells didn't do a whole lot to numb those horrid sensations.

He grabbed my shoulder. The shock alone caused me to whip around to face him. He was supposed to be the brave one here. "No." Chevtul waved his finger as a father would to a disobedient child. "I'm the leader. Me. Now come on, enough of this!" Chevtul said, staring into my eyes, sporting his usual deadpan manner. I had no choice but to follow.

Calm and collected even in the most dire of Medievia's days, it brought a smile to my face. Or, at least, it would have, if it didn't hurt so much. But a warm feeling washed over me, eventually finding residence in the pit of my stomach. It was more than the mana coursing through my veins and the scalding backdrafts of that beast's burning breath. The sensation wasn't altogether new, either.

Later. I'll figure it all out later. I need to stay here now, here; an ironclad grip on reality is all that I have to defend myself against this beast. I'm smarter than it. Or at least I can tell myself that. No. Don't underestimate it. Never underestimate it.

"Guys, thank the gods I found you!" a familiar voice cried. The tone was undeniably joyful, that much was made quite clear by the abnormally shrieking quality it carried. Chevtul recognized the voice's owner immediately. "Kunal? Kunal, you've got to get-"

"In on the action, I know! Do you see them out there? All those soldiers, these honorable men and women? The place feels like lightning is surging through it!"

"Fire, actually..." I replied, none too pleased to see anyone this young involved in something even resembling this fiery maelstrom. The boy was good enough with a sword and amiable to boot. However, many of the other arts imperative to his continued survival eluded him. These included both the whole of magic and common sense.

The young demonslayer flicked his thumb behind him encouraging us to follow him as Chevtul and I both worriedly scanned the area, fearing the dragon would soon be upon us. Suddenly, that youthful visage of Kunal's aged thirty years, and that expression of horror, melded with childlike wonder - burned forever into my mind. Those eyes, still twinkling as he stared down the hell-born beast. I cupped my hands together and channeled a mass of pure force at the beast's chest. My quickest, most potent spell, the shockwave, impacted against its gruesome body with a sickening dull thud.

Not even a flinch. Nothing.

"Zel, Chev! Get out of here, now!" Kunal wailed, grasping desperately for his sword, barely able to pull it free of its sheath.

"What are you-" That sharp pain in my chest re-awoke with a vengeance as Chevtul through his weight into me, bucking the both of us forward into a dead sprint. Still more agony, my knees screaming out for me to stop, chest heaving, near-punctured lungs pushing against tender ribs. I should take solace in this. The only thing as immortal as the beast itself was the pain it left in its wake. I have the pain. It is with *me* and motivates *me*. This pain is something that the accursed Zeksagmak had most assuredly never felt. The warm sensation in my gut pulsed, nearly waned, nearly went cold, as a new warm sensation played across my back. Not fire... definitely not fire. What then?

I staggered forward as I hazarded a look behind me. I had never seen a person cut so neatly in half before. Right at the hips, too. The tail must have made its way through the bone effortlessly. That warmth, the blood, had propelled itself all the way to the opposing tent, leaving a large dry spot vaguely in the shapes of our silhouettes.


"Dad, no!"

"What?"

"Tell me you made that part up! I- I mean... Kunal didn't deserve to die. He saved your lives!"

"I know, son."

"But in a way, I guess I'm relieved. People like him..."

Maybe the boy does get it after all. "May I continue?"


We ran blindly for ages, failing to see even one single living soul for longer than either of us would have cared to admit. We ran even after we slipped and fell and soaked ourselves in the still warm blood of so many, their shocked expressions burning themselves into the deepest, darkest realms of our memories. Surprisingly, it wasn't the deaths of those I knew that bothered me so much. They were good, honest, pure. The gods would pity them for their sacrifice. It was the lone girl, her remains partially fused to the entrance of the message booth, her still-draining blood fertilizing the charred flowers. Gone were the sweet smells of delicious streetside-peddled foods. Only the odor of death hung strong in the air.

And this girl, perhaps twenty years old, alone to the end. Nothing I could make myself believe would do. No one this young deserves this. What if she lost favor with the gods, and what if her ultimate sacrifice didn't appease them? The corpse is so mutilated... fresh enough that the blood still runs. It is far too late, and the situation far too dangerous to risk bringing her back.

Clearly, I wasn't the only one running blindly, as Chevtul and I collided headlong with another fleeing group. Feeble body collided with feeble body, sending us all toppling agonizingly to the ground.

"GET OFF! I'LL KILL YOU IF YOU DON'T, I SWEAR!"

Whoever he was, he was serious. His hand flew to his sword faster than I had seen even the most dexterous of heroes attempt. Spent and in total agony, there was nothing I could do. Nothing at all. Only watch in silent horror as the blade descended closer and closer to my prone throat. And then, nothing...


"NOTHING? WHAT DO YOU MEAN, NOTHING?" There are tears in his eyes now. Kyoot dropped the tough-guy act long ago. It was getting harder and harder to maintain, to simply just be there for him as this story unfolds before him.

"Son... I'm here, aren't I?"

"So... he didn't kill you?"

My head drops to my chest. How can I tell my own son, who idolizes me, that I deserved it? "It isn't quite how I make it sound. The punishment was befitting of my crime."

"How? He murdered you in cold blood!"

"True enough. But shortly before I arrived to aid Chevtul, I had done the same thing. I had been stalking Wittermark with a few friends, when I heard them talking about this plan to go fight some demonic dragon. It was suicide, I told them, but they wouldn't listen. They... I... They would have died if they had gone! I couldn't allow it, they were my friends, and I had to protect them at any cost. So..."

"...So?"

My heart nearly stopped beating. This innocence. How can I corrupt it by telling them that- "I killed them."

"What?"

"I killed them."

"H-how? How could you? Why would you?"

"I was alone with them, and we had cleared the forest out entirely. It was supposed to be last-minute training for the showdown with the beast. And, well, I couldn't let them go. I just couldn't. It was suicide! So when they weren't looking, I charged into them, knocking them to the ground. Didn't even see it coming. Salinador wasn't too much trouble. I shattered his vertebrae and ribs with several shockwaves to the back. The second, Gulacon, tried to pull me away, tried to restrain me, until he saw Salinador die. As he tried to flee, I impaled him on a wave of frost shards. My gods, when it was all done, I felt miserable. The way Gulacon's head dangled limply at one side after a stray shard severed his spine just below the skull. I couldn't believe that it was me. That all that blood was on my hands, when I *knew* in my heart, that I was doing what was right.

"Gradually, their corpses faded into the Medievian soil. They would be dead a while. Long enough, I had hoped, to keep them out of the thick of things. The gods would certainly pity their deaths enough to warrant rebirth into this world. Much more, I thought, than in the foolish pursuit of this demon-dragon. Just then, I got a message. It was the go-ahead from Chevtul.

"I know now what I did was wrong. I was willing to take their lives, their abilities to fight with honor, everything they had, so they could have the security I wanted for them. I wish there were more people with their kind of honor in this world. I have nothing, son. Nothing. No honor whatsoever. I wasn't there. I couldn't slay the dragon, couldn't restore peace and ensure safety in Medievia. Not for the future. Not even for the present. I'm nothing."

"Dad..." Kyoot! I had almost forgotten he was here. I can't believe what I just said. How could he understand? "Dad... I hate you."

"Kyoot! Kyoot! No! Please, please don't say that, Kyoot! I see, now! I promise. I promise I see! What I did was wrong, very wrong. I'm sorry, I'm so sorry... but please, *please* don't say that. Not now! If you hate me, don't tell me now. Please Kyoot, just lie to me. Tell me you still love me!"

"You're no father of mine. My father has honor..."

"I know I have no honor!"

"And he's brave..."

"Please, sto-"

"And he fights for what he believes in, not because he saw a few people die, or because he saw a dragon doing wrong, but because he knew all along he was right!"

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry! I know I was wrong! I know how evil I was and still am. There isn't a day goes by that I don't-"

"Shut up! You killed your friends, and most importantly, your *friendship*, because you didn't want them to do what was right, because it would be too hard for you if they died and never came back!"

I haven't given the boy enough credit. He sees things better than his old man does. I don't even know what to say. How do I even begin justifyi-

And that's it. He chanted a few words and he disappeared. My hope for the future has just vanished before my eyes. My son. I try to cast a spell of phasing, try to catch him before it's too late, but he blocks it. He's too far along in developing his clerical arts. If he doesn't want me to see him again, he can make it so. And there isn't a thing I can do about it.

He'll probably go live with his 'real' father. Someone who's had a hand in raising him. Someone who he can look up to. Someone with honor. Probably Chevtul. I could try to get there first, but what's the point? When he hears what I have done... what I have kept a secret for so long. A memory so painful, even the two men I killed had never uttered a breath of it to anyone. He'll never see me again either, and he *definitely* won't let me see Kyoot. What's there to live for?

I hadn't even noticed that I've been crying. Too caught up in my own loss, I haven't learned a thing. Zeksagmak won that day. At least, he beat me. He killed me. No, I killed myself. But what's the point, I'm dead anyway. That warm feeling, that glow in the pit of my stomach, whose understanding I put off until later, is dead. I killed it. I'll just add it to the long list of casualties I've already caused.

Some 350 brave souls fought and gave their lives and were born again that day. And I am not one of them.

So I'll pray. I'll just pray.

"Gods, if you're up there, give me your wrath that you *know* I deserve!!"

And then... nothing.

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