For ten thousand years
the Citadel of the Lost had stood, guarding the pass from the Valley of
Drowned Souls. It held a position of some little strategic interest
in the eternally raging blood war, and as a result had been hotly contested
for on numerous occasions.
Today had been one of those occasions.
The valley was carpeted with the dead. Bodies lay piled six and seven deep. Severed limbs and piles of innards and entrails lay akimbo and mixed in. Little rivers of blood trickled their way farther down into the valley; the ground was already soaked with it. Tendrils of smoke drifted over the scene like ghosts of the dead, hovering over the broken and still bodies.
Overhead, the unblinking sun cast her scorching rays eternally downwards, illuminating the plain in a stark and unforgiving red light.
The air was still save for the crackling of distant fires and the moans and distant screams of the maimed and the dying. The putrid stench of rotting flesh mixed with the bitter scent of blood and the nauseating smell of burning flesh.
A figure picked its way through the carnage, stepping carefully to avoid the slippery gore. It was a man, or something like a man. As it drew nearer, features became apparent.
It was no man, although it was human in form. It was male, and armored in simple black leather armor. It was tall, though not overly so for one of its kind, standing just over six feet in height. Its skin was deepest jet black and its hair, which was long and tied back in a ponytail, was purest white.
Its face was elegantly beautiful, much like an elf yet subtly different. Its eyes were sparkling gold.
There was an aura of reserved power in the way it moved, with catlike grace and ease. And yet there was also a quiet sense of urgency, as if it were being hunted.
Quickly it made its way across the battlefield, negotiating walls of bodies and the wreckage of gigantic war machines, always alert for signs of danger.
Suddenly it was brought up short by the sight of something in its path.
A small, slightly wilted red flower. It had been trampled, and was missing several petals. Gingerly the fiend straightened it, gazing at it in wonder.
There are places where such things as these can exist.
"Going somewhere, dear brother?"
Slowly the fiend turned to face the speaker. Another stood there, so like the first that they might be twins. In build, in facial features, in almost every aspect he was the same. The only difference was that his hair hung loose, tumbling past his shoulders. And he wore a purple cloth armband on his upper left arm. And his eyes were cruel, so very cruel.
"Ariad," said the first.
"In the flesh," said the other with a feral grin.
The first sighed. "I did not think you would find me."
The second shrugged. "You taught me well, dear brother. Father is very concerned about you. You left without even saying goodbye." He tsked disapprovingly. "That's very bad manners, Atrios."
The first said nothing.
"Father feels you may even have decided to abandon the family. That's just not done."
"He sent you for me? Surely such a task is beneath your standing."
"I requested the task personally! Dear Atrios, gentle Atrios... I always hated you, brother. You were the first born. You were given everything! And look what you've become." He shot the first a disgusted look. "You're soft, Atrios. There is no room for weakness among us."
The first said nothing for a few moments. "I pity you, Ariad."
The insolent grin returned to the other's face. "Save your pity for yourself. You'll need it when I bring you before father. I am here only to bring you back. You can come willingly..." - his smile widened - "or not."
"I have no wish to fight you, Ariad. You know I am the greater warrior between us."
"Ah, but I am not alone, brother!" The second fiend snapped his fingers with a triumphant flourish, and suddenly a group of creatures came from hiding, encircling the two. These were not manlike in form at all, but rather slavering beasts, hideous and malformed.
"I was aware of their presence, brother," said the first. "Go home, Ariad. Tell our father that I am dead. Take my place at his side. Do not waste your life here."
The other considered. "Yes," he said at last. "Yes, you are right. That is what I shall do. After I have made certain it is true."
"Do not do this, Ariad. I ask you once more to let me pass in peace. Take my place. It is yours. Do not force me to slay you."
The second shook his head violently, unsheathing a wicked-looking sword and stepping forward. "You underestimate me, brother, as you have done all your life. And this time you will pay for it in blood."