Shadowsfall DDD Bryenton

as he flitted from shadow to shadow. Twenty-five had made it across the fused-glass plain without succumbing to the traps and the creeping shadows. Stories laced with nightmares. a paper demon with which to scare children. wrapped up in sealskin pouches beside darts. after all. the fat old Ghuram had underpaid. and they provided just enough light for that last lone clansman to read the inscription on an obelisk of white jade. It didn't occur to the Zengaji. He carried enough sharp artifice to inter an army. he was just another foolish Northern legend. inveterate grudge-bearers and merciless executioners.” − Archivist-Doctor Nyvar Xeng. Slicing wires and hooks lay flat against his skin. The fact that most demons were merely men with cruel tastes and some little sorcery made no difference. In retrospect. tucked snugly into his boot-tops and cuffs. It had sunken deep into the Clanfather's mind. I must note that they are at least excruciatingly polite. quick to anger. Zengaji existed to hack apart demons.The Zengaji are brutish. held out in the hands of shattered gods. down across the cracked-mirror plain of the Desolation. They were all that he had left now. Among the Ghuram he was called Grandfather Despair. an empire's ransom of gold and jewels propped up the throne of the Nameless One. This one was Zengaji through and through – 'a sword arm attached to some other useless flesh' as . down in the lee of a shattered statue. violent. The statues straggled halfway up the side of a sunken pyramid. There was every possibility that none of the Amber Scorpion Clan would come out of this contract alive. finger-needles and smoke globes.. To the Zengaji. elegantly curved like the shadow of a reed in the wind. Two razor fans – oiled. The Zengaji crouched in a dense wedge of shadow.. Arnaud had paid them good money. And the swords. In their favor. One now squinted through the green-tinted ossuary-light at the target Arnaud had set them. A brace of wicked little knives. Supreme Redactor of Sothris Instruments of death. if Arnaud's dusty scrolls were correct. It certainly never crossed his mind to question how and why creatures of sharp glassy shadow had slid out from the walls of the Old City to flense his Clansmen raw. It had damned them all. They were ribcages cupping globes of phosphor. into the crooked streets of the Old City. Zengaji lived to fight impossible monsters. sparking wisp-lights of glory behind his eyes. pity or the obstacle of morals. slitting the throats of the watchers in the dark. Zengaji standard issue – uniform. framing a doorway like an empty eye. It smoked. The eyeless colossus was one of hundreds. They kill without remorse. like the shimmer over a waterhole in the deep desert. to be sure – but that was the hook. The light of the ossuary torches made distance waver and stretch. But it was the stories which had reeled the Zengaji in.. to ask himself what power kept the green glow of the ossuary torches lit. Twenty-seven of the Clan had breached the perimeter of the Desolation. a triumphal avenue standing broken and gap-toothed down here in the core of the Old City. Or what force levitated the octohedral temple-liths between their ziggurat pylons.. That was where. soughing with a deep bellows-breath. The Desolation was more than three hundred years old. That was the way into the final chamber. however. slippery and smoke-blackened. the long-dead architect of the Desolation. of course. however.

and parry. MY CHILDREN! GONE! The Zengaji felt the world shudder as the last of the shadow-things slivered to pieces. And the thing which came thrusting up into the world from that hollow darkness was a thing of power. This was more like it! Three of the creatures rushed him – eerie in their silence. shattering glassy fingers. In the light of the witchfires the shadows of those marble gods were ugly things. See the shadows stagger. The ossuary lights flared for an instant. That being said. but the Zengaji could feel it tugging at his soul. Behind him the light upshifted . snarling behind his porcelain death-mask. and over the swipe of a scimitar hand. in that it was probably a death sentence.. A grinding sound rumbled inside his head. It wasn't just that the Art was the preserve of fat old men. and good Zengaji steel met the shadows with a slither and clash. An Excoriator Minor. cataloged it in the endless tomes of the Clan's weapons scriptorium. Sparks guttered and skipped. It was only open for an instant. They paid back his unstinting faith. as puzzle-pieces slid and locked. It was the antithesis of Zengaji honor. their footfalls popping and squealing like broken glass. unraveling the edges.. turning it into a roundhouse kick as he went. and they came loose with a sound like breaking lyre-strings. clenching – too slow. a crooked ten-foot obelisk with more dimensions than should have been possible. The weaponsmaster had told them (with the relish of an academic sadist) that the binding was done while the subjects were still alive. named it. He was already airborne as the eyeless skulls began to howl. this particular son of the Amber Scorpion Clan had a healthy respect for power. Shadow-glass shattered and fell. NO. hissing. outside of the world. and swing with the left.the scholar Nyvar Xeng once wrote of that warlike breed. There was a triangle of darkness cast across the stairway by the stump of a shattered monument. Shards scored the black paint from his porcelain cheek. tapered up tall and thin. He took the crooked stairs two at a time. He was at one with the moment now. stick-thin ghouls and unhealthy minds. and in that instant it fell away. a gulf as deep as the places between the stars.. Four of them. When they peeled themselves from the flagstones their jagged edges were cold and sharp. See them reel. Obsidian finger-blades whickered through the air.. A dusty wind spun down into the chasm as he brought his blades up to guard. They came for him. That it still existed was surprising. and ancient. Up. But it was the skeletons which placed it. howling mouthlessly in astonishment. pricking tears from the Zengaji's eyes. Sorcery. bound to the stone and to each other with a black iron chain through their eyesockets. pure and simple. It was frost-rimed. The air was sharp with the ozone scent of sorcery. already sliding across the cracked marble as their one-note song clawed its way up the scale and into pain. lords before the Desolation. Darkness that had been the absence of light became the absence of reality itself. shattering a pair of fragile ankles. hacking into wrists and necks. slicing. hunched and twisted out of true. Artifact of the Angan Empire. Runes shoaled and ghosted above and below its polished surface. spinning. but behind his mask the Zengaji smiled. That it still functioned was vexing. It was carved from granite. and steaming. Cracks ramified. snapping the bonds of sanity and reason. Block. His kind hated sorcery. Down. They came to kill. feathering away little memories. spinning in a poised pirouette.

sheared neatly in half as the beam scythed across the chamber and flickered out into an emerald haze. up into registers beyond the human senses. He put them up anyway. Molten stone missed his face by inches. too. levitating in a pall of dust as it rotated around its axis. and a beam of energy split the air. Now! Steel shattered them. Otherworldly flesh. Stone bubbled and dripped. Light coalesced and intertwined. And in the strobe-flash instant between inception and incineration.. The prey-thing had vanished.. It saw him. The spirits which powered the nekrological engine would certainly want to prolong his suffering. That is. and the imbalance will tear the thing apart. whipcrack fast. Indeed.” He pushed back off the face of the obelisk. Eight hollow eyes searched the darkness. The Excoriator Minor loosed a beam of force the color of firelit jade. Stone shards scattered wide. Nyvar Xeng had some choice words to say about that. then strobe-flash purple. Sorcerous. Witchfire dripped from eight crucified hands. It had all the time in the world.. They were notched and pitted now – useless. time was just a minor inconvenience to it. Splintered against steel-hard bone and sorcery. It zigzagged down the stairway. Light crawled and twisted around the obelisk's crown. A dozen colossi fell. through mummified sinew and dry cartilage. The Zengaji looked at his swords as he landed. Zengaji died fighting. What had the weaponsmaster said? “Never touch the runes.. down tight behind a fallen statue.green to white. Zengaji died with swords in their hands. if it doesn't tear you apart first. Light collapsed in on itself. spitting his contempt. Dust roostertailed and billowed in the jade light. the warrior came up out of cover screaming. When he heard the hollow howl of the skulls again. Even a pair of the finest battle-blades wouldn't be able to stop the transfixing beam of the Angan war-engine.. if the damned thing was the toy of sorcerers. those notched and jagged swords swept low. slicing deep. . Cold Zengaji blades bisected one hollow skull. Stone hissed. accompanied by that grim inhuman howl. or met their gods in shame. The Excoriator moved slowly. Light upshifted with the sound of agony. blades flashing defiance. nacreous skin. barefoot. scissoring something as thin as a dying whisper. It hardly mattered. It was gone. Rippled Zengaji steel hacked through bone. drunken in the air. a solid rod of death slicing stone and shadow to ribbons. leaving the soles of his boots behind as two blackened stains. It was a fragment of glassy shadow – flesh of the things he'd so recently slain. It would play counterpoint to their own. Never let them burn into your skin. But it was listing. framed in the incandescent eye of the Excoriator Minor. But Zengaji were raised from birth to fight impossible odds. chains pulled tight between them. prolonging its life by a few more seconds. They held it up in the path of that raving light. spilling witchfire from within.. chewing up the marble. Cracks ramified through the rune-etched stone as the light began to build again. The Zengaji hardly dared to breathe as he leaned out around the statue's ornate crown. The thing was cold enough to burn. Destroy the bones.

it was a cylinder of neatly cut stone. The door sighed. until he could pick out the eyeless faces of individual Angan nobles and their conquered slaves in the stonework. Zuris O was unfamiliar with the nuances of such emotions. Zengaji. Clanbrother Zuris O. There was no answer. fat old Ghuram spellweaver that he was. Grandfather Despair. The Zengaji understood.The Excoriator's beam reflected from it in a web of crazed. The door beckoned. A narrow bridge curved out over the abyss – glass the color of smoke licking out toward a central dais. Clanbrother. an octohedral chamber which blurred away into shadows above and below. It was everything Arnaud had promised. his ruined swords clutched tight in his fists. then.” he said. But tell me. All twenty-six of them. On it sat the throne. his eyes twitching left and right in the gloom. masters of the known world three hundred years ago. How long had he sat in this seething chamber. Would it be trite to tell you that I've been expecting you?” The man's voice was dry. cold – rasping with disuse. hair-thin filaments. The Lamenter. Did your poor Clanfather teach you that little speech? I'm almost flattered. All nine hundred and thirty-seven who have ever come to my city to die. Desra. Arnaud. The inside of the pyramid was dressed in glossy green-black stone. nekromancer. smoking. “And a courteous greeting to you as well. up the face of the pyramid. He picked his way through the broken remains of the Excoriator Minor.” Was there regret in his voice? Remorse? As a Zengaji. Lord of Bones and Ashes. carved with the eagle-wolves of the old Angan Empire. Step by careful step. The Zengaji crossed the threshold. “Commend yourself to your gods. a figure in beggar's robes considered him. Khani. “Very nice. across the pyramid and the stairway – across the whole sunken gallery. but they echoed hollow in the vast and empty chamber.. From that high-backed seat. ghosting away to nothing. Witchfire flared and spun out wide. Yeeran. The Zengaji let his mirror-shield fall. dressed tight without mortar or ornamentation. if any will have you. a storm of slicing emerald fire. long pale fingers steepled before a weary face. For an instant the meshwork played across the nekrological engine. Then it flickered and died. “It's the nine hundred and thirty-eighth who will kill you. coward? Show yourself! Show your face before you die!” Proud words..” The man on the throne arched one eyebrow. inclining his head in a little genuflection. The dais levitated on a pillar of pale green witchfire. The Zengaji stopped short of the bridge. this power-focus? How long had he been alone? “You know my name?” “I remember all of their names. silent as smoke. . sliced clean through across twenty-three distinct axes. Its lintel-piece was an eagle with the head of a wolf – more Northern madness. measured theirs in power. The Anganesse. Zuris was sure he'd been practicing the gesture for many long centuries. Mirthless. “Anything else? Have you got any more for me. measured his wealth in carats. His smile was tight and predatory behind his porcelain mask as the obelisk fell to pieces. why kill me at all?” He chuckled. Sick.

but you're the first who's made it this far. but still. “But Zengaji always die with a sword in their hands. Oily tin / lightning / snow – the smell of sorcery. grinding edge on edge. Zuris O. grumbling like far-off thunder.” “You are the clan now. robed in seamless white. It peeled apart in veils. bringing his blades up again. For once in his life the Zengaji had met his match. fey. So I think I owe you something..” “You owe me nothing but your. Cobra-quick. Yes.” There was pity behind his words.. gnashing steel. his blades blurred to liquid in the dark. The other was just as grotesquely perfect. Fascinating man. A complete prick of course. feeling the ache in his forearms bone-deep from impacts like hammer blows. But. but older. One was pale. Darkness coiled. He'd come this far. Darkness rose up to meet him like a wave. He knew it was no use. The Lamenter. Tired. and his eyes were sunken deep in bruise-purple sockets. A mane of tawny hair straggled across his face as he hung in his torment. Runes etched hot across the air. thank you kindly. I've had quite enough of it.. And the darkness rolled back..” The Lamenter left his swords hanging in the air and rolled the kinks out of his neck.” His fingers twitched. After all. where they dripped and ran across his cheeks. beautiful in his suffering. His tears. aquiline and stern. were thick and black as oil. His ruined swords struck sparks from the Lamenter's blades as they spun and skirled and chimed. cynical pity. He'd felt the warmth of their blood as it spattered his skin. smooth and cold. Barely.. I suspect. Perhaps they weren't as foolish as the Zengaji had assumed. One last chance. That little smile danced upon his lips as he pressed in. hanging from their bleeding hands. Observe. The Zengaji held him. you know. He let the swords take over. pinned to the air. quicksilver-smooth. revealing two glowing figures nailed to the walls of the pyramid. An alabaster youth crucified. You'll die because the Clan demands your blood. vital. Darkness hissed and looped and struck. His powers were whispered of in tones of dread by every credulous fool in the North. . predatory. “You'll die because we promised your death to a paying client. heart pounding. Here.” “Oh. He measured his stance. Zuris could see that he was ageless – his skin was like pale wax. I do like a little exercise. two slim black blades flying up out of the darkness and into his hands. But it was the dismissive little wave of one slim-fingered hand which did it. the fact that this man – this creature – even lived was legend enough. my death.. Grandfather Despair – he moved like a puppet. clasping his hands inside his sackcloth sleeves. empty red eyes blazing. close to the nekromancer's face. Walk away. half-masked in steel and armored for war. But the sardonic little smile on the Lamenter's face was enough to hold him back. don't they? I've read Nyvar Xeng on the subject. dark haired and silver-eyed. “You're the first. He broke away sweating.“And what makes you think you can actually do it?” If anyone else had asked that of Zuris O they would already have been trying to claw their intestines back into their belly. He'd seen them die.

Enough to keep people out. realities sheared and skewed. Zengaji. Waves of nauseating force tore through him.” Tectonic grinding now. They twisted up reality around them like crumpled paper. tearing the mask from his face. letting the darkness in. patting his cheek. To these two. “Peace. I earned it.They were haloed. I'll welcome death. The eyes of the captive gods transfixed him. But I'm tired. you'll replace me. All I need is release. pleading. Zuris. “Commend yourself to the gods.. Peace for three hundred years.. You got this far. “First.” . The Lamenter chuckled. Zengaji. Zuris O. “The young one gives me the power.” Those hands were working now. darkness boiling with laughter..” He leveled one finger at the old god. anyway... You're strong.. Enough to keep those who would worship HIM away. neatly quartering his soul.” The Zengaji staggered.. And all they need is a focus.” He felt the power intersect. He felt the axes of it meet. dropping his blades. the one the Northerners prayed to before battle. the war-god. But first. “You're young. “I'll gladly die when we're done. I bought it. They were divine. blurring the image of the Lamenter as he drew closer.