Fan Fiction

11 July 2005, 3:54 PM

The Lesser of Two Evils: The Final Hour of Mazzarin by Welly []

Mazzarin had all the energy of a starving beggar in boiling summer heat. He was starved because he, for days, had been surrounded in every possible direction by the enemy. And he was experiencing the extreme temperature rise because immense heat was the by-product of his hundreds of steel-melting spells. A curious wind funneled the heat directly onto his position, beating his red robes about in the fierce, spiraling air.

A small group of corpse-men shambled mindlessly towards him. Named Thrall by men, these twenty-four examples were survivors from a much larger mob. The group from which they came -- which numbered seven hundred twenty Thrall, one old measurement of a wave -- was the fifth of its kind to present itself on the blasted plains. Mazzarin hoped beyond hope that it was the last of its kind.

Taking in a lungful of the piercing air, Mazzarin advanced into the mob with the enthusiasm of a dying elder. He wanted this to be over; he needed this to be done. Perhaps if he finished these last of the Thrall, the iron clad giants which prevented his escape to the south would depart. Then he could return home.

A touch of the sorcerer's thin saber sent Thrall pieces sailing across the plain. Before the last one fell to his blade, he agonizingly sensed with his battered, yet still magically enhanced sixth sense, that another massive wave was headed in from the northeast. This would not be over yet. Much still had to be done.

Inside the next wave, he sensed a presence. One that he was sure had been destroyed. One which he had just dealt with, months before. The presence was even darker than the last time he sensed it.

The sixth wave of the enemy split into small groups. Those split into smaller groups still. The force spread out in a wide, thick semicircle. Mazzarin moved quickly so he would not be encircled again. To do this, he knew he had to move directly into the melted mass of enemy which he had already destroyed. He did not look forward to the experience.

He approached the enormous pile which had been the first and third waves. His initial response was teleportation; when they had gotten close enough, Mazzarin carried them into the sky with his magicks. They fell, and fell, and fell. And when they landed, the impact in unison with bizarre winds sent much back into the cursed cardinal sky. It rained flesh and steel; an axe head almost split Mazzarin's skull as it descended from the air. One of the surviving Thrall was split to the sternum by such a falling weapon. Yet the monster still moved forward, following its companions. Such was the enemy that Mazzarin faced.

The great archmage climbed a hill of more dead enemy, which rested on the gentle sand slope upon which they were dispatched. He had destroyed these using different magicks, but the results were similar. He descended that hill, and turned to view the others. The groups of the sixth wave were condensing, now. Heading for him. Attempting to pin him against a massive sand mountain in the southwest and the stone and iron guardians of the south.

In a surprise maneuver, Mazzarin summoned his physical energy and ran furiously back up the horrid hill and through the glowing, shimmering pile of dead. Turning, he found his trick had worked. The Thrall were standing in a great line, and before they could scatter and regroup, Mazzarin unleashed one of his most powerful magics into the mob. Amid the chaos, he charged with his saber. The explosions stopped, suddenly, before he could kill many with his sword. The sustained blasts of that magic were necessary to continue the charge. He looked, and noticed that the Thrall which were supposed to be detonating were actually yards apart. The presence that he sensed just minutes before had commanded them to separate, thus foiling his magicks.

He fled the mob. The magic had not done nearly enough, and the enemy was becoming too organized for his swordsmanship. No one man could defeat him with a sword, but that says nothing for an enormous mass. Concentrating with all his strength, he projected the same magicks into the crowded rabble near the center. Near the presence.

The sound of the exploding corpses urged him on. He used another dispersal dream, and another. He spun to the great sand mountain, causing the monsters to follow. Since their commanding presence was occupied with the explosions, it was unable to stop the Thrall force from following. This caused them to bunch together, where the dispersal dream power worked its magicks best. Soon it began to rain fetid flesh and steel yet again.

He charged towards the devastated nucleus as Thrall exploded at his sides, cutting down any that stood in his way, dodging the effects of his own magicks. In a grunt, Mazzarin spoke to the presence.

"Prokroustes, you bastard dog, I have you now. And this time I'll make sure it is done."

Mazzarin felled a wall of guardian Thrall with a particularly fierce, if not draining magic. What was behind them caused him to halt. Instead of Prokroustes, a great thaumaturge of darkness, he found something somewhat different. Mazzarin had succeeded in killing Prokroustes three months prior. What stood -- rather, floated -- before him now was a Shade: an abomination created by only the darkest of powers. It had his same wicked smile of Prokroustes, if not partially melted.

Though Mazzarin stood dumfounded, he did not let his guard down for a moment.

Prokroustes spoke, "Indeed, my friend; there is much more to this than meets the eye."

Mazzarin exhaled a halitus of blood and doubled over for a moment, as the Shade's wicked magicks tore about him deafeningly. He spoke words of power that nullified the magicks, which left him briefly disabled, too. Looking back up into the Shade's eyes, he knew this would be a tough fight. Mazzarin could battle any Shade with guaranteed success, but in his present condition, he had truly no idea who would be the victor. And all around him, the remaining Thrall were closing in.

The hot winds slammed directly into him yet again. Prokroustes must be controlling the winds, he thought. Soon it would be over. One way, or the other.

Mazzarin tapped his hidden inner strength, something men do in only the most desperate of moments. Then he knew he was a fool for doubting himself. He lifted his enchanted saber and charged toward the Shade, before the Thrall would get any closer, knowing this would be his victory. No one could best him with a sword!

Before he was one yard away from Prokroustes, the Shade's mouth contorted into another sickening grin. It raised its arms and transported itself away.

"Craven madman!" Mazzarin shouted. "You're only hurting yourself, damnfool pawn! You're giving me time to regain lost strength. I suppose even the Shade Prokroustes is as cowardly as the man to whom that carcass last belonged!"

Mazzarin used only his blade and body to cut through the thickness of remaining Thrall. When one raised its axe, the sorcerer cleaved it before it could gain momentum. When one crept in from behind, he flung his foot backwards, high into the air with exhausted yet powerful muscles, and took its head clean off its rotted neck. Not many survived the dispersal dreams, yet in the heat of battle they seemed to be in the thousands.

Mazzarin detached himself and let his skills take over. He watched his sword tear apart one Thrall after another after another. He forgot his pain, and for a moment, who he was. In that moment he was simply his sword.

After the last of the enemy was gone, Mazzarin collapsed in a heap of ruined humanity. He then remembered his pain and who he was. And who he was fighting. He realized that it was blood, not sweat, that stung his eyes, and that he had sustained enough wounds to cause the deaths of fifty normal men. And it was not his robe that he felt brushing on his neck. It was his scalp.

But he did not want to acknowledge the force behind the Shade. For all Shades answer to higher powers. Three months ago, Prokroustes answered to no one. Sometime soon after his death, his body was brought back, with a mind of greater malignity inside it. This new monster did answer to someone. No doubt someone far more powerful. Someone that Mazzarin pushed out of his mind, out of his thoughts. If Mazzarin acknowledged this someone, it would break his already injured spirit. He could only hope that this someone was not there.

Unfortunately, someone came. This second presence stood as stone amid a seventh wave of Thrall, which stumbled and climbed over the slippery, piled dead. Mazzarin saw this presence, The Watcher, and at last he knew the number of his days.

He was not possessed by anger. Nor fear. Nor even despair. The Watcher stood at the top of the hill, towering above his shambling army. To his left was Prokroustes. All around him, the Thrall advanced toward Mazzarin. He seized the last his inner strength and drew forth the will that made him the greatest Avatara in all four ages.

Mazzarin threw all his magicks, in unstoppable volleys, directly at the Watcher. They exploded around the man, the nearby Thrall simply vaporizing in the hail, Prokroustes consumed in blue flames and fleeing, the air itself shrinking away, replaced by the telltale massive void and vacuum which always appears whenever far too many magicks are unleashed. Yet the Watcher endured, and began walking calmly toward Mazzarin. About ten feet away from the marching Watcher, Mazzarin had been absolutely drained of all his best magicks.

Though spent of his sorcerous abilities, Mazzarin still had fight left... no man could best him with a sword. He raised his sword and abandoned his self. They exchanged blows. The Watcher's blows were like the waves of the ocean: all-encompassing, deceptively forceful, and ceaseless. The dark master slapped Mazzarin's saber around, but nonetheless was taken by surprise a few times; though he was run through and slashed repeatedly, he delivered much more damage to his opponent. The Watcher grew tired of the swordfight. Using a spell similar to Mazzarin's, he melted his foe's enchanted blade right through the Avatara's hand.

For the first time, Mazzarin was bested in a duel. The end was now inevitable.

Mazzarin collapsed from the sheer pain. He lost control, shouted, and coughed up tissue and blood. But he did not back away, and did not beg for mercy. In fact, he eventually stood and faced the Watcher. Having neither sword nor sorcery, he had only the strength of his own will.

The Watcher was almost surprised by the spirit which Mazzarin exhibited. He felt a twinge of the closest thing to pity a monster could experience. He almost did not want to strike down a man of such power and strength of mind and body.

The Avatara stood, barely, holding his butchered left arm with what remained of his right. His breathing was erratic, for his lungs had been pierced numerous times. The little blood that remained inside his open veins and broken arteries was there only because passive, protective magicks held it there.

The two men stood and watched one another for a moment, the only presences on the entire scarred plain. The Shade had already fled far to the southeast.

Mazzarin looked into the darkness of the opening in the Watcher's goat-horned helmet. He could see little of the man's face. Visible only was his ragged red hair, flowing out from beneath the helmet onto his enormous bare chest.

Mazzarin was staring at the face of his death.

The Watcher walked over slowly. He waited a moment, and almost with hesitation, spoke to Mazzarin. A sea-deep baritone voice said, "Take solace that it is finally over." He then buried his sword into Mazzarin's chest and quickly drew it out.

The Avatara slumped to the ground like a heavy, soaked rag. Not a sound came from his lips. The Watcher turned to step away, reaching for his belt.

The dark sorcerer's own magical sense was still aware of the presence. Mazzarin. The Avatara was not dead. He spun around in abject disbelief. He stormed over to the man, and as he did, Mazzarin made a sputtering sound.

In open-mouthed awe, the Watcher kneeled over the Avatara. He then said slowly, "Mazzarin, let go. It is finished." With that, he delivered a blow of such terrible ferocity that, even if seen, could not be believed.

As the Watcher rose and again reached for his belt, he noticed something. A faintly glowing light, inside Mazzarin's exposed chest. Inside his torn heart. Which was still beating.

"Utterly mindbending!"

The Watcher's words, usually slow and controlled, now contained the first true hint of surprise.

The light was a dense, powerful, self-sustaining web of protection spells, wound into one seemingly indestructible orb. He straddled Mazzarin and grabbed for it, but his hand and arm were flung away. He applied magicks to it, but they were absorbed like water on a sponge.

"Listen to me... this must end now Mazzarin. It is over!"

Mazzarin struggled hard. He choked down blood and muttered his response between spasms.

"It is not over! It does not end now! I will...." He trailed off as he watched the silhouetted figures of the iron clad stone giants disappear beyond the far southern hill. The Trow certainly believed it was over.

But Mazzarin still clung to life, albeit as barely as any one ever could. It wasn't over. Not yet.

The Watcher's new tone disappeared. He spoke slowly.

"I have used almost all of my resources for this, Mazzarin. Why would I come here, now, with my largest force, to trap you?" He answered his own question before he took another breath. "Because I want to? Because I have to? Think about my motives, Mazzarin. There is much more to this than you know."

Mazzarin could not understand why both the Watcher and his Shade insisted on that.

In the northern sky, opposite the direction in which Mazzarin was facing, a small blot of darkness appeared. It was miniscule at first, but grew in size quickly. As it did, it assumed the form of a long funnel of twisting darkness. It scarred the red sky. After a moment, the Watcher sensed it. He lifted his eyes from the Avatara's broken face. And he was scared.

Then Mazzarin sensed it. He slowly angled his riven neck to observe. He too became terrified. It was coming for them. It was coming for him.

It must be a trick, Mazzarin thought desperately. The Watcher is creating this illusion so I might let my guard down. Yes, that must be it, he thought.

Slowly, the Watcher asked, "You see it now, Mazzarin. You know how far this goes."

Mazzarin could not take his eyes from the evil grandeur of the ever-growing blackness in the sky. He detested it. It was no trick. It was his greatest enemy. But he could not stop staring at its grotesque beauty.

"I suspect you knew all along. You just didn't know when. Now it is clear for you, Mazzarin. Now you see that the time has come." The Watcher lifted his eyes again from the transfixed man to the approaching god.

The funnel began to thicken and widen in the sky. It's edge seemed to stop above them. It began to change, to twist onto itself, a turbid mass of energy which concealed a presence far beyond any mortal and the two men above which it hovered. It made not a single sound, but the two men's ears were pounded with the noises of an ancient diety awakening from a periodic slumber.

The Watcher then spoke what Mazzarin had now understood.

"It is the Leveler, and he has chosen you."

Mazzarin, though his spirit was battered and mind was nearly broken through exhaustion, was cognizant enough to be aware that it was the Leveler that had come, but was so traumatized by injury that he did not stop to wonder why the god had come.

Then the Watcher's words sunk in; then he knew. The diety had chosen him to be its host. He would be used to usher in an era of utter destruction and death. His very body would be the vehicle of the same darkness which he had worked so hard to vanquish.

Mazzarin slipped into despair. He had failed. His whole life had been for naught. This moment was the very moment he always suspected could never be possible. Yet, here it was.

The Watcher again spoke, and his words again shocked the Avatara. More so, this time.

"Mazzarin, I did not come here to deliver you to him."

The funnel of blackness slowly descended to them. It seemed to shape itself, trying to form something. Eventually it succeeded: a black hand with five clearly visible fingers appeared. The rest of the cloud formed an arm for the hand, the limb was stretching out of the hellish heavens, the rest of the body obscured by the sky.

Upon being told that the Leveler was coming for him, Mazzarin had assumed that the Watcher was there to somehow bring about the god's passage into the world by defeating him. He had assumed that the Watcher was the god's pawn.

He was wrong.

"I came here... to stop him."

As the Watcher completed the revelation of his purposes, an enormous clap of thunder left the hand in the cloud and shook the plain. Every grain of sand was touched by its immense force. The hand and arm then moved slowly into the sky, as if it was winding up. Like a snake preparing to strike.

"You see, Mazzarin, it must truly end now."

He did see. He could not allow such a calamity to befall humanity. With the Leveler in possession of all his knowledge and power, the damage done would be irreversible.

The hand in the sky struck. It descended towards the two men like a million tons of speeding stone.

"You are no good to him dead."

Mazzarin gave the simple command that unwound the spells which preserved his life, voluntarily making himself vulnerable to the Watcher. Then, the Leveler's massive hand seized Mazzarin, but not before the Watcher had laid his own hands upon the heart of the fallen Avatara, slaying him and thereby negating the influence of the ageless diety.

In an instant, the colossal hand whirled away in an inexplicable, muted shock, leaving shrinking wisps of black vapor in its wake. Amid the rubble of hundreds of rent Thrall strewn about the desert, Mazzarin lay dead and the Watcher remained kneeling, totally motionless. Mazzarin had chosen the lesser of two unspeakable evils the moment before his death.

Though the Watcher had prevented the Leveler from seizing Mazzarin, he had plans of his own for the Avatara. Soon, the Watcher's own sorcerous process began. Mazzarin's riven face took on a pale hue, his wounds shrunk into wizened scars, and his skin wound itself like tight leather around his bones and what remained of his muscles. Then, the monstrous shadow vomited forth from underneath him, and his body, shivering violently with the tremors of Undeath, slowly floated, spinning, several feet about the ground.

Upon reaching a point in midair, the body suddenly ceased all of its turbulent shaking. It's eyes flipped open, flinging off two crusts of bloody flesh, and proceeded to survey the surroundings. A deep rumble bellowed from the chest of the dead Avatara as its body, slowly hovering, righted itself in the air. The Shade Mazzarin was born, and he and his master departed from the forever blasted landscape of the desert. Along the way, the Watcher sheathed his cutlass and finally drew from his belt one of eight beautiful shortswords. He handed it to his new servant upon cresting the final sand dune.

On the horizon, side by side in a straight line and each holding those identical, gorgeous shortswords, floated the Watcher's other Shades. In unison they nodded to acknowledge the presence of the newcomer. Mazzarin returned the gesture to Nym, Cormorant, Cailleac Bheur, and Periphetes, but completely ignored M?ller, Sciron, Streicher, Hoess, the still-smoking Prokroustes, and the others.

The new Shade pondered the reasons why the Watcher did not want the Leveler to reincarnate inside his former living self. The Watcher and the Leveler had an alliance during the god's previous incarnation... did they not have similar goals? Did the Watcher so eagerly want Mazzarin as a Shade for himself, instead as the Leveler Incarnate as his master? Or was the man simply eliminating competition, so that he himself would have to be the next host for the diety?

Mazzarin would have his answers sooner or later, for although he ran out of time moments ago, he now had ages ahead of him. He inspected his new shortsword and rearranged his robes accordingly. By force of habit, his hand rose to straighten his hair, but touched only a stone cold skull with tiny bits of scalp still stubbornly attached.

He took a quick glimpse at himself in a puddle of muddy rainwater. He almost immediately swung his head away in a moment of realization and despair. Mazzarin became slowly aware that although he saved the world from almost definite destruction, he would be doomed to spend the ages of Unlife bent with hatred for for living. Like those before him, he bitterly vowed to never again near any reflective surface or body of water. With superhuman strengh, he squeezed his new shortsword more and more tightly. The more force he applied, the more durable the deceptive shortsword appeared to become, and the more he shook with anguish and rage.

Invisible to him, a broad smile gradually spread out beneath the obscuring helmet of the Watcher as they traveled on through the dusk.

~ You have reached your journey's end ~