The only response from the elementals to the arrival of the group was to intensify their attacks. This was something of problem because the elementals were so similar to each other in appearance that the group could not tell which was which. In any case, the two were changing position to rapidly to mount an attack even if Balthon was identified. Some of them watched in appreciation for the chance to see two such masters fighting was not common. Almost the combat seemed like a dance which neither could break. Suddenly, something disturbed the rhythm.
There was a flash of black light, and one of the elementals was sent sprawling into a nearby tree. The other turned to face the group and smiled. It was Balthon. A strange glow seemed to be coming from his chest, and he seemed overjoyed.
"That's the zetacomb," Avatara shouted in sudden realization, "somehow, he is using it to give himself magical powers. We have to get it away from him."
The elemental smiled and drew both his swords. Then, he spoke.
"You? I was old when your worlds were young. To me, the oldest of you is but a child. And you dare to challenge me! I have learned more and traveled further than you could even dream. I am far greater than you can imagine; in my youth, I destroyed a world! Can any of you boast of similar deeds?"
"I don't think that I'd want to." someone in the group muttered.
"That matters little, child." Balthon said. "I will still be around when all your worlds have faded. But for now children, you shall try to steal my prize. . .and shall fail."
Then, everyone moved at once.
This post has been edited by Selax : 17 August 2005 - 12:05 AM
When Wizard rode up to the front gate at Pynx, he wasted no time. He dismounted, leading his horse to the nearby stable, where a young boy was tending to several other mounts.
“Would you care for my horse here, young man?” Wizard asked softly. Though it was not noticeable to the boy, Wizard’s question was almost a plea. The group could be in danger even now, he had to hurry.
“Yes, sir,” replied the boy, with great respect. Then he continued, “How long will you be staying then?”
Wizard thought for a moment. He shouldn’t need too long, for he was a very swift reader when he used his full mental abilities. There wasn’t anyone here that he expected to recognize him either, save one. So he wasn’t likely to get caught up in idle chatting. “I don’t really know that,” then he changed his tone, gesturing towards the horse he had just dismounted, “if you do a very good job of caring for him, I’ll pay you two oboloi (sp?).”
The boy lit up, “Really?” Wizard nodded with a smile, and the boy turned to his tasks enthusiastically.
Inside, Pynx was well lit, and it had a certain warmth about that one couldn’t quite place. Firstly, Wizard spoke with Lindus, who, to Wizard’s surprise, remembered him. After a brief conversation he headed on to the dining hall.
It was lunch time by then, so every body was crammed into the inadequate room. Most of the occupants were students, but Wizard did spot the occasional master sitting at a table discussing the day’s lessons with his or her students.
In the corner sat an elderly man. He ate peacefully reading the book that lay open on the table before him. This would be the librarian. Wizard headed in that direction getting a glance from a student here and there. Most of them, as Wizard expected, believed that he was just an old student coming back to visit, which in a way, he was.
When he reached the corner, Selinus did not even notice, until Wizard stood in front of him, blocking his light. The old librarian looked up, met Wizard’s eyes, then proceeded to examine him up and down.
“Do you know who I am?” Wizard asked suddenly in a soft voice.
“Well, with that beard, you have the look of a master mage. And judging by your age I’d say you probably graduated as a mage only a few years behind me.” Selinus paused then his expression went gleeful as he spoke, “I know, you’re -” it continued to go something like that for about the next minute. After Wizard had already been put to at least a dozen different names, he was able to get a word in.
“You’re still just as forgetful as you were those many years ago,” Wizard reminisced with a smile. The memories flooded to him then, of the days when he himself was a student at Pynx. It was some 20 or 30 years past now, but Wizard could still remember it clearly. He came to Pynx to learn ways of human magic, since he only knew telepathy and telekinesis. Disguising himself as a young man, using his power over his mind to alter his appearance, he enrolled. Unfortunately, because he never developed beyond the simplest of spells, he was forgotten by most of the teachers as a failure. During his time there, though, Wizard did come to know one master well, and that was Selinus.
“I wasn’t that forgetful in my younger days, so you can’t be as old as I thought,” Selinus spoke, snapping Wizard out of his thoughts.
“I’ll help you,” Wizard looked into Selinuses’ eyes, bringing forth some memories.
“Wizard?” Selinus questioned, somewhat surprised.
He nodded in response, “Hello, Selinus. It’s been a long time.”
“Please do sit. If I may ask, shouldn’t you be in your 40’s now?” Selinus asked incredulously as he looked over Wizard again.
Wizard smiled, “No, I’m quite a bit older than that. I was not entirely powerless when I came here those years ago.”
“It would appear not.” Selinus hesitated, pondering the possibilities, before he continued, “Oh, yes, sit, sit,” he said gesturing anxiously at the chair oppostie him. “So, what brings you? It can’t be a social call.”
“You are direct, but I guess I do need to hurry if I can,” Wizard said, almost to himself as he settled in the chair. “All right, I need to use the library. There is something that I must look up.”
“Ahh, you and the library. You spent so much time there that you almost didn’t do anything else, like eat or sleep,” Selinus mused. “What is it that you would like to know?”
“Have you ever heard of something called the ‘Zetacomb’?”
“Zetacomb, zetacomb,” Selinus repeated quietly to himself, as if to jog his memory. “Ahh, yes, I think that it’s just an old myth. You know, like all the others. ‘He who finds it will be given unimaginable powers’,” he quoted in a deep, teasing voice then laughed.
Wizard, too, chuckled about it.
The next couple of days, Wizard spent entirely rumaging through papers, scrolls, books, and more books. He found mentions from time to time of stones and artifacts, but nothing he could find seemed to describe what they were after. He took note of all the references and committed them to memory, but beyond that, he could find no things of interest. He even examined all the books behind each hall door all the way up to the eighth degree.
On the last evening he was there, Wizard sat brooding over some prophecies. Most of it seemed to be gibberish. It was then that Selinus entered small, well-lit room. “Still didn’t find anything, eh?”
“No,” Wizard shook his head. “It would appear that the Zetacomb just isn’t recorded anywhere.”
“It may not be. Then again, we don’t have everything here. Land King Hall has a library and most other places do. Most of the judges have built up a rather impressive collection of books for themselves, and there are a lot of others who may have books we don’t, you might want to keep that in mind if you’re going to be traveling abroad. But still you may not find anything.”
“Yes, it’s too bad, but I may not.” Wizard sat thinking for a moment, “I guess I’m just finding myself wondering ‘What’s the cache’. I find it hard to believe that this “Zetacomb” is really good. You know?”
“Yes, I know. And there may be a cache or there may not. It’s been my experience that wisdom is just as iimportant as power if not more so, just look at history.” Selinus winced slightly as he spoke, “Tavara was intelligent and powerful, but he was power-hungry. He wished to be immortal, and it probably cost him his life.”
“But we don’t know that, he may be alive now.” Wizard objected.
“Well, I doubt it, but anything is possible. The point, however, is that it was his lack of wisdom that took him down that path. The tyrants that once ruled the land were very formidable, but they were, in my opinion, not very wise. Most people with power don’t know what to do with it. They only want more. Those with wisdom know how to use what strength they have to the best of their ability, and they are the kind of people that win, that change things. Like the people who overthrew the tyrants, and now look at what we have.”
“Selinus, my friend, you are very wise,” Wizard said with a smile.
“And, Wizard, my friend, so are you,” Selinus spoke while laying his hand on Wizard’s shoulder. “The zetacomb may be good or it may be evil, but I believe that if you use your wit and your wisdom, you’ll be able to use it.”
Wizard thought about it, then spoke again, “But what does it do? Why is it so important?”
“The zetacomb? I expect that you ought to know that better than I. Well, at least why it’s important.”
“You’re the one who’s after it aren’t you? It’s as important as the reason that is making you search for it. As for what it does, I can’t say either of us know right now, but I expect that when the proper time comes, you’ll know what it does and what to use it for.” Then Selinus yawned. “Oh, it’s getting quite late. I hope this little talk helped you.”
“Oh, it did. It helped me a lot. This trip was worth it just to visit you, and you have proved to be the only reason why I came.”
Selinus had started to walk out, but when he heard the last sentence, he turned. “Why is that?”
Wizard chuckled lightly, “I came to seek information on the zetacomb, and you have provided me with more than any book could have. Thank you.”
Wizard stayed the night, and at dawn, he set out. He swung up into the saddle with a wave goodbye to Selinus and the stable boy.
He hoped that the group would have the zetacomb by now. It wouldn’t be long before he would find them again. He rode onward, stretching his thoughts out in front of him to find any trace of them. In front of him, to the east, the sun slowly rose over the distant horizon.
Hoping that Balthon had the same problems with magic that Selax had, the mages in the group all attacked him with whatever spells they could think of.
Or rather, they tried to.
What actually happened was that when the mages began to cast their spells they felt their mana draining. As soon as they stopped casting, their mana began to return.
"What is going on?!" someone yelled.
"Children, that is one of the many virtues of wielding the zetacomb," he laughed before continuing, "but I think that I'd prefer to kill you with the sword. Now, will do you still presume to dare challenge me."
As he spoke, Avatara, Gin, and Martel lunged at him. Whirling his swords at incredibly fast speeds, Balthon passed between them. Somehow, in that mad melee, his foot found a rock. Balthon (like Selax) was a shapeshifter and suddenly his foot was another hand from which the rock flew at one of Avatara's legs. Avatara easily overleapt the stone, but Balthon's hand changed back into a foot that flew towards at the same leg. Avatara realized that Balthon somehow knew of the injury that his ankle had sustained at Catamarca and was trying to take advantage of it.
Throwing himself backwards, he barely missed the kick and quickly rolled back to his feet. He blinked in amazement as he saw that Balthon was now holding off Tej and Medoc in addition to Gin and Martel and still dodging the arrows that Moonshadow was shootin at him. Something is wrong. Not even Selax is that fast , he thought. Then, he guessed what was happening.
"He is using the zetacomb to enhance his speed," he shouted to the others before leaping back into the fight.
Balthon was calm, completely centered and focused. These men were good, but they had not the experience that he had and were not of the Children of Air, who devoted their lives to the sword and had great physical advantages. With their variance in strength (including their magic ability), some of them would be a match for him one-on-one; some two-on-one. It infuriated him to think that some of them could normally stand up to him in single combat (though there were few that could do that with the sword), but he knew it was true, depending on the circumstances. Under these circumstances, he was sure that he could defeat them all. It was, of course, not just the zetacomb that gave him his powers. It taken a journey (which was now over since he had the zetacomb) of eternities and many other means of preparation to obtain the magical powers that he had so desired.
He raised his hand and a wall of energy flew towards Moonshadow. She managed to protect herself from the worst of the attack, but because of the great power of the zetacomb she was thrown into a tree and stunned for a few moments. In those few moments, Balthon threw five rocks (which he had picked up over the course of the fight) at Avatara leg. Avatara again overleaped the attack. With both Moonshadow and Avatara distracted for just a few seconds, Balthon used his magically enhanced speed to grab at Medoc's staff but missed because of Medoc's foresight. Never one to waste a move, Balthon leapt up and spun in a circle with the point where his hand had grabbed at the staff as the center. Medoc ducked, but Balthon (above Medoc for a moment) blasted him to the ground with another magical wall. He sent another wall of energy at Martel and Tej and threw them back.
Avatara lunged back into the fray, and Balthon leapt up and flew at him, overbalancing him and causing his ankle to twist the wrong way. Balthon now found himself facing Medoc and Moonshadow. He lunged at the still recovering Medoc, shapeshifting so that he had eight hands grabbing at the staff. If Medoc had been fully recovered, he might have been able to dodge, but he was still winded from the magical blast, so Balthon grabbed the staff and used it to throw Medoc into Moonshadow.
Martel rushed him, and they simply stood exchanging blows for the next few seconds. In a few moments, Balthon's enhanced speed enabled him to score a blow on Martel's arm and knock him back. He lifted his head to laugh, but the move was his undoing.
While the others distracted Balthon, Tej had worked his way quietly around so that he stood behind Balthon. Knowing that his skills alone would not enable him to defeat Balthon while he still used the zetacomb, he had come up with a desperate plan to knock the zetacomb away from Balthon. Changing his own form into that of a Hippogryph, he lunged at the glowing spot in Balthon's chest that marked the zetacomb. Balthon broke off his laugh and spun with a snarl.
Tej careened into the zetacomb and sent it flying out of Balthon. Balthon howled as though part of him had been ripped away. Dazed by his flight through the elemental, Tej was not able to get clear fast enough and was whacked into a tree. Balthon started to advance on him but stopped as he realized that without the zetacomb he couldn't take them all. He turned, leapt into the air, and flew up.
A streak of black hurtled after him. Balthon looked down to see Selax rising after him. He checked his flight and dove upon his pursuer. High above the group, the two elementals once more engaged in combat. If slightly slower (because both had calmed), it was still very impressive (and still moved at a very high speed). There were attacks, retreats, shapeshifting on both sides, kicks, punches, parries, and the fighting forms of long dead races. However, neither seemed able to gain an advantage on the other but only seemed able to go in a repetitive cycle. After what seemed like hours, both simultaneously realized that they would never solve their contest this way. Balthon set about thinking about a way to escape, but Selax set about thinking how to break the cycle. It suddenly occurred to him that there was perhaps one desperate way to break the cycle; however, it would most likely be fatal. He considered this and shrugged.
He threw caution to the wind and lunged forward. Balthon, still deep in his own thoughts, instinctively stabbed threw Selax's unprotected chest, but in that motion he left himself vulnerable and Selax ran his sword through Balthon's heart.
"NO! It can't end like this! I can't die!" Balthon wailed one last time before falling. Both fell and smashed into the ground just in front of the group. One glance told the group that Balthon was dead, and, as they watched, his body began to dissipate until only his swords lay on the ground where he had been. Glancing at Selax, they realized that he still lived but would not last much longer. Moonshadow ran over and began to use her healing magic.
It was a near thing, but two hours later Moonshadow declared that Selax would survive. Hearing this, Selax insisted that they set off the next day. The others agreed because somehow they knew that they would be in great danger if they lingered.
By noon the next day, the group was off. Before they had left, Selax had made a marker where Balthon fell; it read: Here fell Balthon: betrayed and murderer of an entire civilization, one of the eldest of living beings and one of the last Children of the Air. Selax walked slowly still weak and lost in his thoughts. From time to time, he stopped to look at Balthon's swords and to remember his past. Then, he would shake himself, remembering that the past was gone, and he must move on as he always had. The group headed south, glad to be heading back to Cademia at last.
Behind them, the cloaked figure watched. The time was not yet right. Soon, master would be revealed, and all Cythera would be ended. For now, the figure and its brethren would wait.
If anyone wants me to make any alterations, please let me know.
Avatara, should I post Balthon to the Character Info thread or the Character Info archive (seeing as how he is now dead)?
So ends the Team Story Shadow Games.
Thanks to Desert Fox (the TS's creator) and all who participated and hope to see you all again when the next TS starts!