The mad scientist Horneg twisted the simple but beloved copper ring on his right ring finger, deep in thought as he stared out the small window in his laboratory towards the looming Asnor Mountains.
"Are you even paying attention to me!?" snapped the wicked mage Xanthal. "I didn't fly all the way here on a smelly dragons back just to listen to you whimper over that worthless dead wife of yours! Forget about her Horneg! She's a corpse!"
"NEVER TALK OF SHANDRIL THAT WAY YOU BEAST!!!" Horneg roared as he rose from his chair with an aura of evil power. A blinding ripple traveled from Hornegs hands to Xanthals chest like a wave and sent him flying across the small laboratory, crashing hard on his back in a messy pile of splintered wood and shards of broken glass beakers.
"I'm s-s-sorry Master Horneg. I didn't mean to offend you, it won't happen again." cried Xanthal, wiping a trail of blood from his eye.
"See that it doesn't, you rogue…" grumbled Horneg. "Ever since we were banished from Medievia City, you've been coming up with these dim witted schemes to take over the entire realm. What makes you think this one will work, numbskull?"
"Well, my dear Horneg, I hope you won't take offense but I have been conducting experiments with a few of your specimen. I brought two of your animated gargoyles to my island laboratory and surgically combined them with several fearsome beasts using my revolutionary technique." Xanthal pleaded excitedly. "Horneg, I tell you, the results were alarming! The hell-born creatures chewed and thrashed through a dozen of my assistants before I could cast a powerful charm spell on them." Xanthal reported gravely. "I wanted to gauge the power of these horrid elite warriors so I pitted them against several of my sturdiest beast-men. Sadly, the poor wretched beast-men were ripped limb from limb and gutted inside out as soon as I released the furious gargoyle monsters." Xanthal said as he stared wide eyed at the dirty stone floor. "Now! Back to the plan! As you know master, the foul mercenary Shadowclaw has built a fortress just a phase away from your impenetrable keep! My contact in Trellor City has telepathed me stories of the mountains of treasure and powerful soldiers that reside inside this fortress. If we charm these new beast-gargoyles that I have assembled, and accompany them to Shadowclaw, we WILL take command of his army and his gold! Our ghastly formation will simply float in through the front gate, horribly maim anything in our way and demand what is wrongfully ours! And if Shadowclaw doesn't like it, I've got two blood thirsty abominations who can change his mind!"
"YOU FOOL!!" hissed Horneg. "Do you honestly think that Shadowclaw has masterminded one of the most powerful empires in all of Medievia by letting blithering magicians like you walk in and overpower him?!" Horneg questioned commandingly. "Those gargoyles are unpredictable wild animals! Your weak magic will only tame them for a short period, and when they break loose, hells violent fury will be released on your pitiful island!" Horneg cursed. "You're lucky, putrid Xanthal, that I do not cast a malediction on you right now that reduces you to a stinking pile of ashes!"
"Well, I, err, uh, what I meant to say was…" Xanthal stammered.
"What you meant to say was that you came here to beg me for my brilliant leadership and iron fisted control of the gargoyles to take your foolish scheme and transform it into a working plan!" stated Horneg proudly.
"Umm, yes, that's what I meant to say master…"
"Indeed. Just remember that the only reason I'm helping you is because Shadowclaw and his soldiers have been plaguing me with their incessant drunken laughter and incoherent caterwauling for years. Also, he borrowed my Blade of Grass Cutting and never returned it!" Horneg complained. "He'll pay Xanthal! Don't think he won't pay!"
"Excellent, Lord Horneg! The realm will never even know what hit them after the unstoppable union of Xanthal and Horneg is realized!" Xanthal screamed. "I will recall back to my headquarters and create a portal to transfer our gladiators here as soon as possible! We can invade tonight under the cloak of darkness!"
"Just make it happen." Horneg calmly replied, as he gazed out the foggy window. Towering above the lush green trees was the ominous Fortress Shadowclaw, taunting the elder wizard from his dusty laboratory.
"My island!!! Horneg, it's been ruined!!! Those awful, vile creatures massacred all the inhabitants! It looked like a battle zone Horneg, there were organs hanging from all precipices and the floor was painted red with blood throughout the tower! It's terrible Horneg, just terrible, what have I done?! I've created devilish monsters!" Xanthal cried exasperatedly.
"QUIET!!! Xanthal, you absolute fool!!! You'll attract a pack of banelars, screaming like that!" ordered Horneg. "Now, step aside, I will take control of the situation."
"Oh, thank you, your excellence. Your superior magic will save us, thank Lord Vryce!" Xanthal whispered, tears running down his face. "Be very careful, Master Horneg. As soon as I exited the portal to the Island I spotted the massive gargoyles climbing out of the western well, with the limbs of the sober Malanese clenched between their steel jaws. Poor Malanese! If only I had listened to his wisdom this would never have happened! Then, hungry for more blood, the monsters scanned the area and their cold eyes locked on me, that is when I fell back into the portal. You must do something Horneg, you're the only hope for civilization!" Xanthal pleaded.
Just then a violent crash sounded as something huge attempted to cross through the portal. Thinking quickly, the wise Horneg closed his eyes, bowed his head, and softly uttered a few arcane words, as Xanthal looked on horrified. Just then a concave energy field crackled into place in front of the portal. With a loud explosion of friction, the two massive gargoyles flashed out of the portal, and crashed head long into the fresh energy field. Horneg quickly chanted several more words strung together like music and watched satisfied as another crackling energy field took shape behind the gargoyles. The two energy fields fused together quickly, imprisoning the demons in a close cell of electricity. Finally Horneg had a chance to examine exactly what had been done to his once lovable gargoyles.
The large beasts had skin of gray stone, with the blood of their victims seeping into the cracks. Standing at least eight feet tall, the monoliths weighed well over a ton each. Their bodies were stout like the trunk of the Great Tree near Medievia City. Horneg looked at the face of one of the monsters and recognized the twisted, grim features that he had always known, but the gargoyles now had a beard of dried, caked blood from the many demonic feasts they had enjoyed. Arching his neck to make eye contact with the terrible creation, Horneg suddenly felt very ill. The mischievous, simple eyes that he remembered had been replaced with dark red, swirling orbs of hate and untainted evil. These were not any derivation of the harmless, simple-minded puppets that once whimsically roamed the halls of Hornegs infamous keep. These were demons summoned from the deepest, darkest pits of hell.
With blurred vision and blistering fury Horneg turned to Xanthal who lay weeping in the wet grass. Tears run down the masterful wizard's harsh, wrinkled face as he clutched the young mage around the throat and lifted him to his feet. "…you…sick…BASTARD!!! Look at what you've done! You've created monsters! You summoned demons from hell and unleashed them in Medievia! I'll KILL YOU!!!" Bands of electricity began to erupt throughout Xanthal's frail, convulsing body. A mix of saliva and blood started to boil over and seep out of his mouth and onto his chin as Horneg tossed him to the ground in a heap. "I will be no part of this gruesome creation of yours. First I am going to banish these wretches to an abandoned plane, and then I am going to imprison you on your sorrowful island for eternity, do you understand me Xanthal?" Horneg said, composing himself.
"y-y-yes" Xanthal barely managed to push the word between his shivering lips. With a cryptic word, and a touch of his hand, Horneg enveloped Xanthals crippled body in a blue white aura, healing his wounds and reinvigorating him. Xanthal stood up quickly with an evil grin spread across his face. "I didn't want to have to play this card, Horneg, but you've left me no choice. I have discovered something that I am certain you will be interested in. It has something to do with your lovely wife Shandril." Xanthal said with the cockiness of a young thief.
"What are you rambling about you fool?!" Horneg said, noticeably shaken at the mention of his deceased wife.
"I have finally done what you could never do, wise Horneg, I have resurrected a corpse!!! Through a pact with the devil, I now posses the power to give life to the dead, Horneg do you know what this means?
"My Shandril…" Horneg whispered from another place in time.
"That's right you old man!" Xanthal sneered. "Now, if you do not control these beasts that I've set loose in a siege on Shadowclaw, I will not give new life to Shandril!" Xanthal barked, cackling evilly.
"You've left me no choice, wicked Xanthal. Let's go, I want to finish this quickly." Horneg spoke, with only one goal on his mind. And so, the wily Xanthal finally found the chink in the bold Hornegs armor. With a few unchained syllables, Horneg instantly dropped the shield surrounding the bloody warriors and ordered them to march in time in front of Horneg and Xanthal. With a word, the entire party vanished from vision and began their fateful journey towards the mighty Fortress of Shadowclaw.
Meanwhile, in his chamber, the powerful Commandant Athugavia was preparing a rallying speech for the forces as a chill ran up his spine. He had felt this same chill every time that some rag tag group of mercenaries, and there were many, had tried in vain to overrun the invulnerable fortress. He felt especially uneasy on this occasion, whereas he usually felt invigorated at the chance to use his finely tuned army in a total defeat of the horribly under qualified enemy. Athugavia stood up from his desk, quaffed a couple of sight and battle enhancing potions and wielded the long, heavy hammer dubbed "Jawbreaker." He walked briskly from his chambers to the stairway just in time to see two humongous gray gargoyles barreling towards him, outlined in glowing white auras. Athugavia had never experienced fear, except for maybe when he was in the company of the hideous Hamentor, but right now he was staring death in the eye and it scared him terribly. Athugavias arms trembled furiously as he brought the head of his hammer down with great power on the skull of one of the beasts. At the same moment, the other gargoyle thrust its stone fist into the chest of Athugavia like a battering ram. Athugavia fell to his back and coughed a stream of blood out of his mouth like a geyser. The victim of Athugavias sole offensive thrust winced for a moment at the crack in its stone skull and then leapt on top of his victims writhing body like a wolf who had cornered its prey. With no more than a set of shattered rib bones to protect it, Athugavias heart proved to be an easy feast for the bloodthirsty gargoyle. Athugavia strained as though he was about to let out a blood curdling death cry but could only muster a few muffled whispers before he choked his last breath.
Thinking quickly, Xanthal recited a spell that caused the excited party to quickly dissipate from unaided vision. "Let's wait here for a second" Horneg whispered to Xanthal as he cast a spell that sealed the widening crack in the head of one of his gargoyles. The elder mage pulled in a long wind of air, folded his hands across his chest and directed his gaze up the stairs. "There is a tall, slender man standing up there several flights wielding a wicked looking broadsword. His hair is the color of weather beaten granite, but age has not withered his possession of extreme power. I can feel that he has great strength and is quite proficient with his unforgiving blade. We would be wise to exterminate this warrior quickly before he deals any damage to our already small army." Horneg spoke softly to Xanthal. "Just follow my lead."
"Yes sir" Xanthal answered respectfully, in awe of Hornegs composure.
The mighty duelist Ventaur stood tall on the sixth floor landing of the twirling staircase as he peered keenly all around him. He sensed that something was wrong, he felt that the Shadowclaw Empire had already suffered a great loss due to the impending force and unless he stopped it, the fortress would fall. Ventaur tightened his death grip on the hilt of his long, black blade, entitled Anarchist, as he noticed movement around the corner. As if out of thin air, two creeping mammoths lumbered towards him with deadly intentions in their eyes. Ventaur bellowed forth an ear splitting battle cry as he violently swung his blade down upon one of the beast's shoulders. With a bone tingling metallic twang and loud crack one oversized stone arm and one warped piece of black steel fell to the floor. Ventaur stumbled backwards, in terrible agony, clutching his shoulder; a throbbing pain pulsated down his arm, leaving him petrified with anguish. Just then, a hunched over figure surrounded by a cloudy black aura entered the room chanting cryptic phrases. Horneg and Ventaur looked each other in the face, one, the look of a man about to die, and the other, the look of a man possessed, as Horneg thrust both arms towards the crippled warrior Ventaur. The wispy black cloud traveled between Hornegs outstretched arms like a bolt of electricity between two poles and hardened into a glimmering nebulous wave. The arc of energy accelerated as it left Hornegs arms and slammed into Ventaurs body like a charging cavalry. When the smoke cleared from the sudden conflagration, only a pile of smoldering ashes remained where Ventaur had lay moaning moments earlier.
Xanthal trembled in awe at the majesty of the mighty Horneg. "W-what was that Horneg?" Xanthal pleaded. Horneg paid no heed to the foolish questions of the nervous Xanthal. He had his drooped eyes locked on the scene of the injured gargoyle stumbling about; heavy sided where the remaining arm hung low to the ground. "The poor, pathetic beast…" Horneg sighed.
"Oh!? I'll take care of him Horneg!" Xanthal eagerly chimed in. "Get back to work you clod!" Xanthal ordered the confused mammoth. Xanthal kicked the beast hard with the toe of his boot and began hopping around on one foot, howling in pain.
"You insensitive dolt!" Horneg knocked the asinine Xanthal to the side with a mighty thrust of his arm. "I'm sorry, …for this" Horneg pleaded with the ignorant monster, now lying on its side cycling its legs as if it were running. Horneg placed a glowing hand on the face of the crazed gargoyle, whispered a few words, and stood up slowly. The gargoyle was motionless as its over proportioned frame slowly faded into the hard rock floor, leaving nothing but a scattering of gray dust.
This tranquil scene was quickly thrown into chaos, as the steady roar of a panicked mob became audible. A horrified scream could be heard as some timid manservant or soldier made each grisly discovery. Ventaurs inhuman battle cries had sent the entire fortress into hysteria. Now commanders and soldiers alike ran about, tripping over furniture and each other, not knowing where to flee. The bold Fortress of Shadowclaw had been transformed into a sanitarium whose inhabitants foresaw an incoming meteor.
The wise sorcerer Horneg, composing himself, gathered his pawns back together and cast a spell of mass invisibility upon his miniature army. He quietly led the jittery Xanthal and awkward gargoyle up the twirling staircase, closer towards his necessary destination. Horneg walked up several flights of stairs without incidence, besides the screaming soldiers who ran about, oblivious to the impending danger to their respected leader. As he rounded one corner near the top of the fortress, Horneg quickly spotted a strikingly beautiful woman standing directly in their path. "Does she see us?" Horneg thought to himself. Quickly, as if he had no control, Hornegs eyes met with the glimmering eyes of Calime, the mage of Shadowclaw Fortress. Hornegs vision became blurred and he suddenly felt an intense love for the beautiful apparition floating before him. "I must protect Calime…" Horneg dreamt. A flat hand landed broadly against Hornegs weathered cheek, causing him to open his eyes wide and shake his head to clear his mind. Following the hand down to his own arm, he quickly discovered who had delivered the slap of awakening. "She tried to charm me…" Horneg told himself, mystified. The ancient magician looked up just in time to follow a shimmering white sonic boom from Xanthals arms to his own chest.
Thinking on the fly now, Horneg spun around to stand behind his still charmed gargoyle. He quickly cast a spell of sanctuary on his breathing blockade and began hurling shockwaves in groups of two and three at the spellbound Xanthal. The inferior mage was quickly brought to his knees allowing Horneg to thrust a massive breath of wind at the staggered mage tossing him to a far corner of the room. Now Horneg coaxed the charmed gargoyle to walk closer and closer to the offending temptress who continued to spray razor sharp icicles into the chest and abdominal of the massive shield. Finally, with one defining collapse of two clenched fists onto the cowering body of the overpowered sorceress, the unexpected battle was over. However, she did have the final word in the skirmish as an intense tongue of flame rebounded from her lifeless, mangled corpse and scorched the body of the victorious titan. While the giant gargoyle recoiled and growled from the momentary sharp pain, Horneg cast forth a glistening blue shield, which cut off their progress from the panicking soldiers below. There was only one direction to go from here, and there was not much room at the top.
"I-I'm sorry Master…" Xanthal managed to whisper from his landing place in the corner of the protected room.
"Your mind is weak." Was the only reply Horneg granted the shamed spell caster. "Where did the gargoyle wander off to? We need to move on quickly, our destination is only one floor up, but the legions of soldiers below are beginning to think rationally." Just then, the stone gargoyle loped into the room, gnawing on the head of a leopard…
"Wait! You fool! Come back here!" Horneg hissed, visibly unnerved.
"Can't you see that there is no one here? They must have fled when they heard our path of destruction. Sometimes you are too cautious Horneg…" Xanthal proudly orated as he tried on a handsome pair of baggy, corduroy travelling pants. At that moment a pair of red eyes blinked in the shadows behind Xanthal, about three feet above his head. Before Xanthal even turned to look at his nightmare, the undead executioner Hamentor thrust a flurry of magical projectiles at the unsuspecting Xanthal. Xanthal's flesh was shredded quickly and the exposed bones were chiseled by the second wave of frosty shards before Xanthal could crawl under a pile of heavy titanium chest plates to protect himself from the killing blow. Xanthal lay there vomiting blood all over his newly acquired garments as he prayed his last requests for forgiveness to Lord Vryce. Without having to be commanded, the towering gargoyle marched towards the radiating zombie, Hamentor. The ghastly beast easily plucked flaming limbs off of the rotted body of Hamentor but made the mistake of devouring the silently screaming head. The rotten, plagued visage of Hamentor sent an array of viruses and diseases quickly circulating through the sturdy body of the hardy gargoyle, inside out. Apparently, the stone skin of the beast offered no resistance to disease, as the powerful warrior cracked the brick floor by falling to its knees. Suddenly, the impenetrable stone gave way to a slimy gray substance, which slid off of itself to the floor. After several moments, all that remained of the potent crusader was a smoldering puddle of retched gray ooze.
After this harrowing sequence of events, Horneg stood alone in the shadow cloaked room. For the first time in this bold attack, Horneg was afraid, he would have to fight alone. It wasn't that Horneg did not have the strength to defend himself, it was just that he had never been in such a serious campaign before. The ghastly Hamentor had appeared out of nowhere in the pitch black air of a Medievian night and Horneg sensed that some other lurking agent of evil was behind him and could strike out at any moment. The soft sound of determined footsteps from behind crept into the elderly mage's wrinkled ears as he let out a tiny, childish yelp. Without time to flee, the always sharp minded Horneg uttered several arcane words and was surrounded by a crackling aura of red fire. In an instant, Horneg tasted salty blood throughout his mouth as if he had just quenched its aridness with a ladle full of thick seawater. A dull pain relayed its agony through Hornegs body originating in the small of his back. Horneg spun around quickly to see a slight, intense man crouching in the darkness. The man was visibly anguished. Harsh flames had licked all the exposed parts of the crafty thieves and had molded his clothes into his leathery skin. The old thief sat there in a puddle of black blood, struggling for each breath as he gripped a black dagger tightly, sometimes weakly swiping it at the chill midnight air in front of him.
After casting several spells, which bathed Horneg in a turquoise aura and sealed the grievous wound in his back, the wizard surveyed the scene around him. In one spot, a musty gathering of rotten brown-gray human body parts lay scattered about, giving off a wispy trail of smoke. Nearby, from under a heavy pile of stacked titanium armor, a large pool of blood moved slowly towards the lowest part of the stone floor, and from the river of blood's source, the sounds of a man in agony resounded through the cold air, sending chills through Hornegs body. In between these two ghastly pieces of aftermath, there was a gut wrenching puddle of bubbling gray ooze where a proud gargoyle warrior once stood. Suddenly, thinking of what he had animated the stone gargoyles for, Horneg felt a sharp twinge of remorse. How could a man of such strong will and constitution allow himself to be swayed by a weak, conniving man like the pitiful Xanthal? Horneg was angry now, angry at his current state.
Off to the side Horneg heard the collapsing of several large plates of heavy metal followed by the rubbing of wet flesh against the rock floor. He looked down with hate at the retched man below him.
"Horneg, look, look at Shadowclaw…He is dying…" Xanthal struggled to push the words past his trembling lips. "Come over here and help me, we can finish him off…" Xanthal coughed and a dark red string of blood leaped out of his throat and onto the floor in front of him.
The distinguished Horneg walked over to Xanthal in slow motion. He could see himself acting out the scene from a loft several yards above in the starry sky. Horneg watched with satisfaction as he lay a meaningful hand on the bloody forehead of the evil Xanthal. The young mages look of relief surely turned to a look of fright as he noticed the determined intention in the elder wizard's mysterious eyes. Xanthal barely managed a soft whimper before all the skin slunk off of his weakened body in one bloody, wet sheet, under the touch of Horneg. Xanthals exposed bones separated and clattered to the floor into a small, unspectacular pile.
Horneg did not laugh, he did not cheer, and he did not cry. He simply turned to look at the one remaining life at the top of Shadowclaw Fortress. Lying on the floor, with his face resting in the blood of others, the regal Lord Shadowclaw lay unconscious. His skin was charred black and puss seeped out onto the floor to mix with blood, bile, and human waste. The expression on the once royal warlord's face was that of a neglected baby. The man who once commanded the ultimate respect of elite soldiers now lay in the fetal position in a cradle of blood, puke, and shit. Struggling to make things right, to reverse the wrong he had committed, Horneg bent down and held Shadowclaw in his arms. The wizard knew that he would never be the same man when he felt the last vestiges of life seep out of the limp carcass.
Horneg regained his feet slowly, he felt like he was just waking from an awful nightmare into the harsh truth. The acts he had committed were heinous, but the life he would have to live with the knowledge would be one thousand times worse. And for what? Horneg asked himself. Ahh, Shandril. It seemed almost silly to him now. He had done all this for the corpse of his long dead wife. He had taken the lives of so many other just for the splinter of hope that he could resurrect his beloved Shandril. In a strange way, Horneg had dedicated all these awful murders to the memory of Shandril. She would not have wanted it to be this way. Horneg now saw the extent of his mistake, it had all gone horribly wrong. Perhaps the same taint of madness that made Horneg believe this plan would come together in the first place gripped his mind again as he stepped towards the edge of the top of Shadowclaw Fortress. Or perhaps in that one clear moment brought on by the death of Shadowclaw in his arms did Horneg finally realize that Shandril was gone forever in peace, and for what he had done for her further desecration, he could never forgive himself. But let this speak for the character of the wise Horneg, as he tumbled towards the forest below he was not afraid, he only thought of the smiling face of his young wife Shandril. The glimmer in her lovely blue eye was the last image processed in the ancient mind of Horneg before it was embedded several feet deep in the lush, green, forest floor.