The sky grew dark as the war drums rang out from beyond the gates of the castle. Royal guards hustled back and forth along the top of the walls, pouring Greek fire into the vats to pour on the advancing barbarians. Flaming arrows blackened the sky and caused the flames to grow high while everyone watched in horror. One colossal in particular stood among a vast pile of bodies. As he watched the flaming barbarians start to crest the wall, a young soldier turns and looks him square in the eye. His mouth open in a yell.
"Ander!" a voice called to him in his sleep. "Ander, WAKE UP!"
His eyes fluttered open and he saw his younger brother standing at the foot of his bed. His eyes glowed with excitement and his mouth was curved into a wide grin.
"She's ready to marry!" he bellowed.
"Bristol, what on earth are you talking about? What time is it anyways?" Ander responded, knocking the sleep from his eyes.
"Have you been sleeping under the float willows again? You know the pollen makes you stupid. It's about 5 in the morning and Liabell has announced she's willing to take on a single suitor!"
Ander could tell his brother had never been this excited in his life.
"Aren't you a bit young to be trying to take on a wife, Bristol?" Ander said jokingly, now sitting on the edge of his bed tightening the knot on his shoes.
"I'm 16 years old, She's 22. It's not that far off! I'm sure she'd grow to love me." He pleaded.
"Be honest, you've got no shot with a woman like her. I'm the same age as her and I've got no desire to be rejected publicly. Furthermore, she's the King's daughter, there's no way she'd ever take on a common folk as a husband. It's not worth the trouble." Ander retorted.
"If mom was here she'd tell me to go for it. Why can't you just give me courage for once?" Bristol seemed frustrated. The glint in his eye was beginning to fade
"Well she's not, Bris. She'd fucking dead. Guess what? So is dad. So all you've got is me and I'm not going to send you on some fools quest to try to impress a woman who will never even know your name. There's no courage in chasing a dream that will never come true. Trust me."
Ander's anger was scary for Bristol. Especially since he could never match up to his brother. Ander stood at a towering 6'7 and weighed almost 400 lbs while he stood at a measly 5'5 and weighed less than 140 lbs. People always describe Ander as being blessed by the sky. There's stories that if he was to reach up as high as he could. He'd be able to pull down the heavens.
"Right, because Ander the Vengeful can really tell me about not being courageous." Bristol scoffed and walked away leaving Ander to stew in his own rage for a while.
It's been four years since the Eighth War of the Kingdoms where Ander earned himself that title. The third battle of the Eighth War had the enemy literally standing on their front porch. Bristol was all but 12 years old when the militia kicked down their door and dragged their mother, Treshna, and father, Vantow, out into the street.
Vantow was ordered to kneel to the invading militia and refused. In retaliation the invading troops publicly executed Treshna right in front of their home while 18 year old Ander hid in the back room with his brother. Hearing the screams from his mother sent Ander into blood lust. He kicked the pantry door open to make eye contact with his father just as the blade came down onto the back of his fathers neck. Severing his head in one clean blow. Ander let out a scream at the top of his lungs.
His anguished cry for his parents was said to have paralyze the entire battalion. Ander managed to gather up two axes in the confusion and in a dance of steel and blood he cut down his enemies like a man possessed. Before this moment Ander had never even held a weapon before let along used one to kill another human being. When the dust settled, Ander stood atop 7 men's slain bodies along with his parents. Although he was considered a hero, the people of Aretta still fear his rage.
Having been bestowed a title made Ander a knight by the eyes of King Talbod. He was given an ornamental suit of armor and a the set of crossed axes that he used to cut down the barbarians. In any other home these treasures would be displayed with honor. In this case, however, it sat in a pile in the corner of the barn collecting dust. He was also not required to pay taxes on his farm. This was a decree set forth by Duke Falltop because he chose to remain in his family home instead of moving to the lands that he was given as a reward.
Ander was never proud of the things he had done. He never saw honor in taking anything from another man, especially his life and although his immense size should have lead him to many victories in battle he chose to live a pacifist lifestyle. He spends many hours toiling on his small farm. He was offered to have a set of workers brought in to tend his fields by the King and he still refused. He had slaves sent to his home to rebuild it into a dwelling worthy of a knight. Ander sent them away with their freedom.
"Ander, the castle has asked all citizens to gather in the keep. We should make our way over there." Bristol said, standing in the doorway of the barn.
"That's fine, let me know when you're ready to leave." Ander said, not budging from the workbench he was tinkering at.
The castle gates stood open but heavily guarded. Every town in the kingdom was bearing down on the Keep for the announcement of Liabell's decision of who she's taking as a suitor.
"It's probably Lord Davidson from Asteron." Bristol said, hanging his head in sadness.
"The pretty boy do nothing? He got half the town destroyed by raiders because he was too lazy to raise a sword." Ander stated, speculative
"Right but he's also the wealthiest Lord in the district aside from King Talbod" Bristol retorted
"If she's going to choose a suitor based on his money then I have no reason to be here." Ander said as he turned to leave.
"Is that?--IT IS! ANDER LAICEPS!" a bellowing voice came from a top the throne. King Talbod stood with a grin a mile wide. "It looks to me like you don't intend on staying, I hope I could sway you to change your mind"
"Your Majesty. I apologize." Ander replied, turning back around and taking a knee.
"The hero of Aretta bows for no King. Stand with honor. You're loyalty to this kingdom will never be questioned." Talbod said, stepping down from his throne and placing a hand on Ander's shoulder. "I believe Liabell would be quite upset to see that you've left." the King winked,
"My King, I have no desire to see whom Liabell has chosen as a suitor. In my eyes, no lord is worthy to hold her." Ander was looking the King firmly in the eye at this point.
"My boy, that's why you should stay." Talbod winked again, walking back to the throne.
The crowd grew restless as King Talbod took the stage. He raised his hands in the air and the whole crowd immediately became quiet.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, as many of you may know my daughter Liabell has decided it is time to take on a suitor!" He lowered his arms while the crowd applauded. Ander stood solemnly while Bristol lost his mind.
"However, before she makes her announcement she has decided that a quest is in order to win her heart. The quest is perilous and will require a 4 man party at all times! The first leg is to travel to the town of Arcanus and acquire the Tome of Ever Living. Upon retrieval you must then travel to Congert and use the tome to defeat the necromancer called Azarus. This will be the hardest part of the entire quest, this is no normal necromancer. He revels in the misery of others. He will draw your skeleton out through your skin if your strength of mind is not completely intact. After he has been defeated, you must remove the gemstone from his staff and return it back to me. If you survive, Liabell will take you as her suitor." King Talbod looked up from his speech to see the crowd had fallen silent.
Fear fell stricken across the faces of the majority of the crowd.
"The name Azarus is synonymous with slavery, imprisonment and death. Congert has been a slavers town for damn near a century and I'll be damned if you'll catch me within 300 miles of there. I doubt anyone will have the stones to do this quest." A citizen near Ander whispered to his wife.
Bristol grabbed Ander's elbow and thrust his arm high into the sky before he could react.
"I see we have a volunteer!" Talbod took full advantage of the situation
"I didn't! Bristol-" The king cut him off before he had a chance to finish
"Everybody take heed, Ander the Vengeful has accepted the quest! Come up here my boy and receive the royal crest!"
A roar of applause rose from the crowd.
Bristol could feel a hole being burned into the side of his head as Ander brought his arm down and grabbed him by the shoulder and dragged him to the throne with him.
"My party consists of myself and Bristol." Ander told the king. "I do not have any friends or family to which I could have accompany us on this quest. Is there anyone who'd like to volunteer to aid us?" He said, turning to the crowd.
The roar in the crowd quickly hushed and the entire kingdom turned silent. The common folk all looked around at each other and not a soul raised a hand. The fear had come back and the people were beginning to panic.
The air around the brothers suddenly turned cold and heavy. A slow fog rolled over their ankles and another immense figure appeared in a flash at Ander's peripheral.
A masked knight stood shoulder to shoulder with Ander. His weapons were massive, both looked as if they required 2 or 3 men just to lift. In his right hand he held a giant claymore which emitted a golden aura, the blade was serrated for about a foot above the hilt. The hilt itself, however, was an ornate black dragon scale pattern with a red glowing gem embedded into the pommel, on his back was a shield that stood as tall as the figure himself, a large dragons head was stamped into the center of the shield, two more red glowing gems sat in the eyes and a hole about 5 inches across and an inch high sat at the center of the dragons mouth.
His eyes glowed an intense blue from behind the midnight black dragon shaped mask. Attached to the temples were 2 horns used as ornamental pieces.The shoulders are oval, narrow and quite large. A dragon whelp skull affixed to the right shoulder. The upper arms are protected by squared, layered metal bracers which sit quite well under the shoulderplates. The lower arms are covered by vambraces which have rows upon rows of small metal pieces, mimicking dragon scales as well as the breastplate. Not a single piece of exposed chain-mail could be seen besides in the hip joints. The upper legs are covered by pointed, layered metal cuisses and the lower legs are protected by greaves which have a spike attached on the outer sides for stability. A voice behind the mask bellowed "I will be your shield on this journey."
Ander squared off in front of the figure.
"And who might you be?" Ander questioned, squinting hard into the darkness of his helmet.
"I am Damien Tracris, I've heard tales of your heroics and this is the best opportunity I have to exact my revenge on that bastard." Damien said, his voice deep and a cold frost escaped the front of his helmet as he exhaled. "My entire family was killed and reanimated by Azarus while I was out battling his hordes of the undead. Then upon my return he had my family cut me down and brought me back as this... abomination. A 'Death Knight' he called me. I was under his spell for longer than I'd care to admit and finally I was sent to Arcanus to retrieve that tome but a cleric there cast a spell on me that lifted his control on me. From that moment on I made it my life's purpose to destroy him. Not for me, but for my family."
"I will NOT have a Death Knight in my party! Absolutely not. I'm sorry Damien, I cannot risk you turning back to a slave of the necromancer mid battle." Ander said stubbornly
"You understand the rage, Ander. You of all people should understand that this opportunity is something I must accomplish or else my family has perished in vain." Damien retorted.
"I will never fall under that monster's control ever again. I will not allow it. If I fall in battle my sword has been enchanted to reduce my body to dust. The gem's in my shield and armor have been imbued with enough magical energy that if I was to draw my last breath they would explode with the intensity of the sun. It will incinerate a battlefield in second. I assure you, young knight, I will not let you down." the entire stage shook as Damien dropped to one knee in front of Ander and the King.
"If I even have a hint that you're turning, I'll cut you down myself Death Knight!" Bristol said with a smirk on his face
"My King, It looks as if my party has been assembled. I do require some assistance from your armory." Ander said, addressing the king directly.
"Anything you need my boy." The king said generously
Ander, Bristol and Damien headed into the castle armory accompanied by the royal quartermaster, Forst.
"Our King has instructed me to let you have anything you may need for your journey. So please, choose your weapons and armor carefully." Forst said, eyeing Bristol up and down
"My boy, do you really think its smart of you to wield that sword?" Damien said, looking at Bristol who was struggling to lift a giant gold claymore that clearly was larger than he was.
"I will wield whatever weapon I want to. I'm perfectly capable of --" CLANG!
The golden sword flew six feet across the room. Bristol looked up in shock as Damien was sheathing his sword.
"What did you go and do that for?!" Bristol complained as he walked to where the claymore had hit the floor. "I'm going to give you such a whooping, your ancestors will feel it!" Bristol was now dragging the tip of the sword along the floor toward Damien
"You need a weapon that's fit for you." Ander interjected, taking the sword out of Bristol's hand and placing it on the mantle one handed.
"It needs to be something small and deadly. Agile yet hearty. Perhaps a dirk would be more your style? Have you considered any ranged weapons?" Ander suggested.