The body of the guard dropped, leaving the rancid smell of smoldering flesh crumbled on the floor beside his already smoking companion. Melted tissue had dried on the uniforms which was now stained by blood boiled from the inside. The war still waged above in the streets. The sound of buildings being ripped apart and chunks of granite and marble flying from their holds in foundations had dwindled to a mere echo. Screams of the dying long since faded. Blood smeared the finely polished marble floors and streaked the tapestries that hung spaced with precision except for the few that had been dislodged from the trembling earth which only rarely was felt this far beneath the surface.
Stepping over the bodies of the guards, the killer brushed off debris from his finely woven cloak and elegant red silk shirt and moved down the stairs and into the corridor that led to the Vault of Shadows. The corridor was empty now. He found it odd to have two mortal guards protecting something they considered so important. Granted, the Exalted at the top of the stairs had proven quite the trial, but not having one down here seemed pointless. They had known why he was coming, and the army outside proved they knew that he was coming.
It seemed strange to him that his life had come to this. Less than forty years ago, it would have been him upstairs standing guard against what he now sought. He had been, and he knew this without the slightest hint of pride or condescending, the world’s foremost healer. All of that had changed now. Now he fought in a war on the side of darkness. On the opposite side of the conflict above was his closest friend from the days he walked in the light of the creators breath.
Here the battle would truly be decided. Those that fought outside didn’t fight for prize or reward though. They fought for their very survival and their perseverance could not be underestimated. Even he would never deny the will of the human spirit. Neither could his old friend. He knew the lengths that Ahliarin Nepharin could go and the punishment the woman could withstand. He had pushed those limits himself. She had actually given him pause for concern on his previous lack of faith in his brethren. He still had confidence though.
He felt a sense of poetic justice to a point and even a sense of pride for his friends cunning. Ahliarin was quite the tactician much to his surprise. The war with the dreadlords of the dark and the Exalted raged on above; lasting longer than he expected, but he got what he needed. He had made it to the Vault of Shadows. The secret he searched for was within his grasp; locked behind this door to be long forgotten.
He stood before the vault door in a state of reflection. For forty years he waited for this moment. Knowledge was to be shared for all, not to be hidden in the depths by those who thought they could control it. He felt a measure of anticipation crawl up his spine.
The vault itself was protected by magic but it would take little effort to remove the bindings. Reaching out he tapped his own powers, allowing himself to merge with the elemental waves. Patiently, as he was not in a rush, he went to work on the mystical bindings; today after all was his victory. Nobody had really expected any person to enter this room. The anticipation crawling up his spine had now spread throughout his entire body.
He worked at the layers of mysticism that enwrapped the door. Each of the five elements of life was delicately placed in twisting loops and curves in an intricate mass of confusion. He knew what needed to be done. He had long since performed a ritual that had let him see and study this room through Ahrimans Gift. He smiled as he slowly peeled away each of the elemental binds that covered the doorway. Then, it was gone.
He laughed a blood curdling laugh that echoed through the halls. Reaching for the door he twisted the long gold handle pushing the door inwards. Inside the room was extremely plain and void of decoration. They used it for storage of dangerous information. Information that they wanted nobody to access didn’t need an elaborate room. However, for how bare it was it still held a small table and chair off to one side and to the other a medium oak bookshelf filled with different volumes; perhaps the writings of the scholars who had done the research. On the wall in the back was a sword with ancient symbols on it. There was also a mace that looked to have spikes of bone. There were rods and cloth, axes and armor he recognized as orcish. Resting on a wall over the desk was the skin of an ancient serpent. Nothing in the room had even the slightest speck of dust. What drew his attention was the small artifact sitting on a marble pedestal in the center of the vault.
A small statue of a material he couldn’t quite identify, rested upon the altar. The statue seemed somewhat plain to him. It looked nothing like the twisted visage of the one which it was modeled after. It was smooth as marble but it was not of it. It was not quite steel and not fully stone. He had some experience with artifacts and foci but this seemed a little odd to be sealed away. This was what he was looking for though, that he was sure of. Unfortunately he had no understanding of the where to start with it.
He didn’t have time to think about it. Pushing his curiosity aside he stuffed the statue down into his pouch. It was time to go. He still took a moment to look at the bookshelf briefly.. On its shelves rested books with no markings, mostly journals pertaining to the research and function of this statue and other items stored within. He opened one of the books to take a quick look; his curiosity fighting back. The page seemed like everything thought by the scholar must have been crammed on the pages just by the sheer tiny size of the lettering. He focused his eyes, looking at the very fine print.
Several different attempts at using the statue of unknown origins have resulted in nothing. It would seem that those that believe it’s purpose of accessing the Aether have given up hope. I stand not so sure as I have spent time tracing it’s origins back as far as I possibly could. While the statue itself is not of Dae’mon creation, it is speculated that the it may be of a counterpart. One can believe that the statue itself has proved to be resistant to any form of damage.
“You can’t do this Arron.” The voice behind him had the ring of familiarity to it. He should not have stopped to look at the book. Was it fate that had the one person who knew him best be the one to keep him from this? Not that it mattered. There was nothing that Ahliarin could do that could stop him, he was touched by Ahriman, Master of Evil. That enhanced the power he already had.
Turning he dropped the book and saw his old friend, standing in turn with her forever faithful watchdog companion, Syke Vor’shen. She held the elements, ready to strike. The killer spat at that name however. Arron was no longer him.
“The man you knew as Arron died a long time ago, Ahliarin. Lan’drahl stands before you.” He spoke with a certain level of scorn mixed with pride. He had earned his title. He was first amongst Ahriman’s chosen and he would be addressed as such.
“Lan’drahl is nothing more than your sad delusions. You know what the Council said about this room,” she scolded. Anger ran through his mind, her insolence at degrading him boiling his emotions. He never used to let that kind of thing get to him, but he learned the value of pride.
“Who are they to say who has access to what,” he shouted. “This is my time old friend. A life spent working for something. Something that I now possess.” Who did the Keeper’s think they were to keep this from him? He pointed at the book resting next to his foot. “They didn’t even know what it did. The preconceived idea of what they thought it could do didn’t warrant locking it away.” Especially if it was tied to Aether.
“Arron,” she shook her head. “What you have is bred from pure evil. The very thing you swore to eradicate.” Again, more speculation on what she had been told. She had been converted fully. He remembered when she stood with him to question everything. Now, like all the others, she accepted what she was told.
“A different life we had then, Ahliarin,” he shot back. “Those were ideas of a dream long dead. Dreams that were for that moment. I have new ideas and new dreams and the way to them rests here. Even those that researched it thought it was tied to evil but not created by it.” His hand now rested on the statue. He didn’t want to risk losing it by weaves of child’s play.
The tower shook. Even here, beneath the foundation deep in the recesses of its archives the war could be felt. They both quickly recovered their footing.
“Your blood will be spilled before you can exit even one foot from this hall, that I promise you.” An expression crossed her face, but then was gone. It was all he needed though, he knew that face; a mixture of concern, betrayal and most importantly, fear.
Her beloved pet drew his sword. He had cuts and wet blood up and down his arms so he wouldn’t be at full capacity. Then, he licked one, leaving a small dropping of blood on his chin.
Arron Durin let aether energies fill him. This was his last obstacle and he would not be denied. He wrapped the doors to the vault in waves of air.