Chapter 34: The Warlord

Jalen had been guarding the gates of Felwithe longer than any human had lived. His blade had seen no fewer than five hundred orc necks in his two hundred years of service. He had been guarding the Koada'dal city since it had been founded. As unexpected as it was, he died as he had always hoped, defending the city of the elves.

The guardian of Felwithe never felt the ethereal blade cut through his steel armor and sink into his back. The Daiku Hendin, Gandulak, let the blade slip free as the body of the high elf fell to the ground. Gandulak's face betrayed no emotion as he looked with white pupil-less eyes towards the gates of Felwithe. The ogre pulled his cloak tighter around his large frame and faded back into the darkness. The assassin peered out from under the black hood, his tattooed face hardly visible. In a few hours, the king of Felwithe would be returning from Kelethin. Then Gandulak would strike. The king would be well guarded but none upon the mortal world had seen the skills of a Hendin, a master assassin of Zek. He had no doubt that he would be able to dispose of any guards who might stand in his way. He had no doubt that the king of Felwithe would die this day.

Loral's vision of the demonic assassin shattered as a War Wraith tore into the priest's party. The cowl on the beast's face made Loral wonder what horror was being hidden that could possibly be worse than the rest of the demon's body. Loral was shocked back into the present when a swing of Moegid's axe severed the beast's head from its body with machine-like precision. A shower of thick black blood sprayed against the wall as the corpse fell to the stone floor. The ring of the steel axe echoed down the corridors of Drundor.

At the top of a large stone staircase, the war party engaged the Daiku Hendin Shadowmasters. Armed and armored in black metal forged from the mountains of the Plane of War, the Hendin attacked with the power of the giants of Kael who lived deep within Kael and also with the dexterity and accuracy of the finest elven swordmasters. Each swing led into three more, each feint led to a riposte that had their opponents clutching at their open bellies or slashed throats. Their white eyes burned with the thrill of combat but they never succumbed to the rage of a typical warrior. Only with the solid coordination of powerful warriors and the combined efforts of many spellwielders were the powerful guardians destroyed.

The adventurers were ragged when he struck.Some leaned heavily on their blades while others sat against the walls. A chill was felt throughout the party. An elven ranger narrowed his eyes and turned towards the dark hallway as a wind flowed past. A black blade burst through his chest. The blade pulled out and cut across, severing the ranger in half to the horror of his companions. Behind the cloud of blood was the grinning face of Vallon Zek, the master of assassins. A bombardment of arrows raced towards the god but before they landed, his visage split into five. Each acting independently, the shades of Vallon cut through the adventurers.

Loral watched in horror as powerful warriors were carved into pieces before his healing light could keep them alive. In a well coordinated feint, the adventurers focused their attacks on each shade in turn while the others were led down the dark corridors by quickfooted druids. One by one the shades were cut down by the raiding party. Finally, with teeth clenched in vengeance, another ranger of Tunare fired two arrows into the eyes of the son of Zek. The god fell to his knees and then face down onto the stone floor.

A great roar of anger rumbled through the fortress, numbing the bones of the adventurers and rattling their teeth. The mightiest warriors' knees went weak, hearing the immortal voice of war.

From deep within the center of the fortress was the first arena ever created. A den of combat, only the best warriors had ever been tested there and few of these ever stepped out. The raiders floated down onto the sandy floor with spells of levitation. The stench of centuries of decay tainted the air and the roaring flame of Rallos Zek's axe lit the arena. The warriors of the Cult stepped forward - Dachunker, Grongl, Slivereyes, Torray, and Tera - all representatives of different cultures but all the mightiest warriors of Norrath.

Bright red eyes of hate flared from within the black helm. His body was built from the blood of armies. His burning axe had been forged from the combined rage of one hundred thousand battles. Time slowed down for Loral as Zek's black boots cracked the stone under the sandy floor. With a huge throw, the burning axe soared. With a ring of steel on steel, the head of a human paladin tumbled through the air, a pinwheel of blood in its wake. Loral began chanting in time with six other clerics. A steady stream of healing energy filled the warriors, closing wounds that the horrible axe opened.

Loral gained confidence as the battle raged on. While the black armor turned almost every attack, many hit home. The healing waves of Loral and the other clerics flowed, keeping the attacking warriors alive. The sizzling blasts of fire and ice pelted the God of War. The battle was in their favor, until the dead returned to life.

Loral felt the ground under his feet break open. A rotting claw wrapped in a tarnished silver gauntlet reached out of the ground. All around the arena beasts tore free from the ground around them. Giant boars armored in gold burst through the rear lines of the war party. A score of the winged beasts they had battled earlier dove in, claws tearing into flesh. Quickly the creatures were rallied, taunted, and led astray by the arrows and spells of a rear guard. The slayer of Vallon Zek fired arrow after arrow, piercing the thick hide of a boar and tearing holes in the wings of the war wraiths.

The burning axe spun in the air around the God of War. The blades of the warriors cut deep under his armor. Black blood flowed from a thousand wounds. The female troll, Dachunker, crushed Rallos Zek's knee with a skull headed heavily enchanted mace. He came down hard on one leg and the keen blade of Slivereyes's sword found the edge of a plate and plunged deep into the Warlord's skull. The fortress went silent. The risen beasts stopped their assault and turned towards their master. The impossible had happened. Slivereyes pulled his blade free from the helm and cut again at the God's neck almost severing the head from its shoulders. The red eyes flashed one last time and then went out. The burning axe, still spinning in the air, plunged into the ground with a crack of thunder.Rallos Zek the Warlord had been killed.

Gandulak felt a psychic scream split his mind. Only his thousand years of training kept him from crying out. Something horribly wrong had happened. Twenty other Hendin, all poised outside of Norrath's cities, heard the same cry. Thousands of miles away the giant priests of Zek fell dead, blood streaming from their ears. Gandulak's skin grew cold. Something horrible had occurred within his home world. He drew a small ruby from within the folds of his cloak. He crushed the gem and blew the fragments into the air. A tear in the fabric of space created a doorway back to the Plane of War. Gandulak stepped into the rift and it snapped shut behind him. A minute later King Thearsis Thex came back from his meeting with the council of Kelethin, completely oblivious to the danger that had once stood only a few feet away.

Loral awoke just before dawn in the inn of New Tanaan. The fragments of his dream slipped away as his eyes took in the room's furnishings. He pulled the thick blanket tighter around him and let his eyes close. The king of Felwithe was safe as were the other leaders of Norrath's people. Rallos Zek had been slain and his assassins had retreated. Loral could afford another hour of sleep.