Time's Decay

Chapter One


The swamp buzzed with the sound of life. Cicada's, crickets, bullfrogs and kingfishers sang the song of Terras's southern swampland. The ancient cypress and willow trees leaned over the lush, algae coated water as if old tired men, staring at their reflections and wondering where the years had gone. The few patches of solid ground amongst the marsh where marked with statues, inscribed bits of stone, and more trees. Some of these statues where of the Three, some of large, armed one eyed creatures, great heads tipped with a quartet of spines, that resembled the Liberty spikes of punks in our world. Serrated blades where clutched in their hands, and expressions of pride and dignified ferocity where etched on their fanged, cycloptic faces.

All these smaller bits of artistry surrounded in a circle a large citadel, stone mingled with massive, ancient cypress trees. It was without roof, and shaped in a large crescent, being the symbol of the Malidant, the people of this part of Terras. It's large entryway was without door; merely a large arch, it's stone frame etched with eyes and other runes. Through it was a lowered amphitheater, that while still frequently used, was overgrown with vines and vegetation. This was the way of the Malidant, to build their structures and buildings, not in defiance of the surrounding nature, but in tandem with it.

A ring of stone pews surrounded a strange alter, shaped as a downward facing crescent. A lone figure stood at the dias, his great back to the open archway of the Citadel. The mohawk of spines protruding from his blue-fleshed skull indicated him as one of the beings depicted in the statuettes and the etchings upon the walls of the crescent moon temple. A Malidant, denizens of this quagmire nation. Amphibious and towering, they had dwelt in these swamps nearly as long as the Dragons had lived in Terras. In fact, none were certain they had not been there just as long. The rest of Terras was not quite so interested in the history of the Malidant as they where in the mythology, most of it rather unflattering.

Which was why the Malidant King, Shadorsis, was there that day. The citadel was used as a place of worship at the week's beginning, end and middle, as most holy places in Terras where, to give praise to the Dragons who governed that sacred cycle. It was also used as a citadel and place to worship Maliss, Goddess of Wrongful Persecution Nature, and the Moon. Priests would tend the swamp's vegetation, leave food for the animals, bring comfort to the persecuted and downtrodden, and praise the moon, performing moonlight spells and gaining sustenance from it's rays. Maliss's stories where sang of and told to children and the elderly alike, and her persecution and story was displayed in the blue, green and yellow stained glass of the citadel's windows. It was the day after the week's beginning, so Shadorsis Cevalion was quite alone. Initially. The scraping of an ironed boot upon the carved granite brought an end to that solitude.

Without turning, the King spoke. "Greetings, my unknown companion. Against my better judgment am I here. I pray it will be worth my while, and worth the while of my people."

"Shadorsis Cevalion." The newcomer intoned with respect. "Bringer of prosperity and peace to a nation without ties to the outside world, and plagued by victimization by it. Breaker of the seal placed upon your kind in retaliation to the actions of your father, Ultithereal, by the Elven King Tahl. It is an honor to meet you."

"I would say the same, if I knew who you were." The towering creature, a broadsword and a half tall, said as he turned. Even as he did so, he felt the expenditure of Magirust, making itself known as a tingling in his body. He tensed for an attack before his intuition sensed the spell as one of defense, not offense. He faced the Citadel's only other occupant, to find his features obscured by a swirl of runes and mystical fog. "Nonetheless, you seem almost as interested as I in ending the stigmatization of my people, and that is enough for my respect. Tell me, how would you intend to alter centuries of discrimination? What could I do so that the rest of our country will trade with us again? Peace I may have brought, but our people are not as prosperous as they once were. We survive on the resources provided here by the land and water, and occasional trade with Goblazea. Yet our resources here dwindle, and I fear the retribution of the elves against the Goblins would be terrible if they knew of our arrangement, no matter how minute and covert the trade we undergo is. I will not risk another Endra for our own prosperity."

"You impress me Shadorsis. Those of knowledge and limited discrimination whisper of your intelligence and compassion. To risk the poverty of your own race to avoid the persecution of another is truly selfless. Endra was a dark day for Terras, and the display of the true face of the elves. But times have changed. The elves are slightly less volatile and merciless as they once where. Still arrogant and conceited, no doubt, but there are always exceptions that prove the rule. I am one of these."

Shadorsis' single brow raised over his large canary hued eye. "An elf? Meeting a King of Malidania?" His laugh echoed through the citadel, a strangely pleasant sound from such a beast-like figure. "You impress me as well, elf. Clearly there is no trap to speak of, and you are sincere in your desire for peace." Shadorsis squinted, intelligence flickering in that large eye. "Yet there is something more about you as well. Your use of magic is quite adept. Such a distorting spell seems to be taking no toll on you whatsoever. And due to your assurance that you have the ability to dissipate the prejudice against we swamp-folk, you must be highly placed in Zeideran society."

"You do not disappoint, King. But all assumptions on my identity must be cast aside, despite your natural curiosity. All you need to know is that I intend to help you. But before we commence, I am as curious as yourself about a certain matter. Your breaking of the Zeideran Seal, which prohibits Malidant from the use of Magic, has been rumored in certain circles. Thankfully it has not reached the ears of the elven politicians, or there would have no doubt been repercussions. I wonder, is it rumor? A spread story to build your own legend? Or have you truly discovered a way to break such a powerful curse? And if so, how?"

Shadorsis laughed again, a trifle bitterly. "Ah, the Zeideran Seal. One of the greatest abortions of our time. Punishment of a nation for their justified retaliation to injustice. As for my breaking of it, what do you think? What do you sense in my form?" The Malidant inquired, spreading his arms out. The elf studied the towering King, clad in a strange hybrid of robe and armour. Chain mail sleeves hung loose about powerful, claw tipped arms. A shimmering set of plate armour adorned his torso, a midsection nearly as thick as some of the surrounding trees, inscribed with two crescents facing each other, and a full moon betwixt them. Layered tassets covered his lower body, imbued with a loin cloth which ended in an upward facing crescent, an inversion of the altar behind him.

Power emanated from the Malidanian King, that much was certain. But this did not mean he had broken the Seal. The Seal simply stopped the use of magic, it did not cease the magic from flowing through his blood. "I cannot be certain. I am sure that great energy flows through you, but whether or not you are able to use it or not is beyond my knowledge."

"Aha. This is good that it cannot be ascertained with a glance, even by a fellow magister. I will give you a hint." Instantly, the concealed elven man felt the tingle of magic use, and nodded in appreciation as the concealment spell he had adorned to himself dissipated, the energy he had exerted sucked from the space it occupied and drawn into the Malidant King. This was precisely what he had predicted Shadorsis would do to display his abilities, dispel the illusion charm, though the manner in which he had done it, by actually absorbing the expended Magirust, was completely new. He had come equipped with a mask, carved from darkwood and faceless save for holes for the eyes in preparation for his spell's dissipation. His attire was less grandiose than Shadorsis expected. Merely browned cloth robes.

A scowl crossed the Malidant's face. He did not like being predicted. Especially by one who knew nothing of him. But still, though the elf had been prepared for this particular display, Shadorsis relished the surprise the elf displayed that he had actually been able to achieve it. "So it is true." The elf said simply. "You have broken the Zeideran Seal. There would be heavy punishment by the King should he discover this."

"Are you threatening me, elf?" Shadorsis said softly, his eye flashing. There was a deep rage inside the King, the elf knew now. This anger was not spoken of in the tales and rumors surrounding the myserious Lord of the Marshes. "Few have the gall to threaten a Malidanian King. None of those few survive it. Would you like to join the ranks of the dead?"

"Not threatening, Shadorsis. Merely making an observation. I must ask; how?"

At this, the Malidant's rage melted into barely contained glee and self-confidence. "Oh, I think you'll like this. I meditated, long and hard to find the answer. Scoured my imagination and mind to think of some solution. I have spent most of my reign as King attempting to discover a means to break it. The Seal's presence has haunted me all my life. To feel the power within me and be unable to use it. I would see citizens of my country return from treks to Endra for supplies wounded and dying, victims of assaults driven by prejudiced hatred, and be unable to heal them. I would feel despair and loss, uncertain of my people's future, and be unable to ask the Gods for divine guidance in the form of prophecy. Etchings and constructions which the other people's of Terras undergo through means of magic, we must do through manual labour, at the expense of our lives and health. We are made to suffer for 'crimes' of a past generation. The magic was a part of me, and it became my life's goal to reclaim it."

The Malidant's voice quickened with that anger and passion as he recalled his past. The times as a hatchling, where he would sit for hours, trying in vain to make something move with magic, to cast a fire spell, to heal scratches suffered while playing in the swamps. He would sit, scrunching shut his eye and clenching his mind until tears poured down his face and his brain throbbed in agony. He and his childhood friend, now his General, Seils Burkin, begging the Three for mercy and salvation from the elven curse.

"It was only a few years ago that I broke it." Shadorsis continued, hope and happiness blossoming inside him as he recalled his moment of triumph. "The curse was cast to prevent Malidant's from using magic, correct?"

"Indeed." The elf mused, fascinated by the story, and stricken with horrified empathy at the suffering of the Malidant. What would he do, if his own talents were so suppressed? If a piece of himself was locked away? Disgust at his own people bloomed in him as pride bloomed in Shadorsis.

"So I wondered, how does the Seal know that we are Malidant's? Through our bodies? Perhaps, but perception of the body and the being must come from the mind. So do you know what I did, elf? I meditated, all the while, imagining myself as an elf. I had to make myself believe it. It was a challenge, one that took me a full year to properly accomplish. Eventually, I snapped entirely into the mind-state, forgetting the spines on my head, the fangs in my mouth, and my towering being. I saw myself as this elf I invented in my mind, and in that moment, as long as I believed I was the elf, the Seal broke. As it did I abolished it upon my true self, and then reverted back, entirely my own being, and free of the sick chains your kind placed upon me."

The elf stared in awe at the King of Malidania. "Incredible." He whispered. "So simple, yet so brilliant." Shadorsis nodded in modest agreement. "The Magirust running through your veins must have tormented you, inactive and unused. The Seal was placed by several of the strongest magister's in the Eclipse Tower, the Archimage included, though he did not have his entire heart in the act, it was strong enough as to be obscene."

"You've no idea what obscenity is until you have it inflicted upon you in such a fashion."

"Yet you devoted your life to breaking it, and have succeeded. Others have been driven mad attempting such. Magical criminals, other frustrated Malidants. Only you have succeeded." The masked elf shook his head in wonder.

"I could not accept such an injustice. I was but a tad when it happened, and had already been practicing magic. When I was robbed of my abilities, which where the very definition of my self..." The Malidant stared bitterly off at one of the ivy-coated walls of the citadel. "It did very nearly drive me insane. My Gods granted me the ability to use magic. Not an elf. What right did they have to reduce me, a child? I didn't march on Zeideroth. After they took my only path from me, there was no way I could not have done what I did next. I resisted. I fought. I bled. I screamed, I writhed upon the ground, and finally, I concentrated. Most of my life was consumed. Yet I still found the time to rule and care for my people when I took the place of my father. You elves can't even do that by itself, with little other tasks to preoccupy you."

"Not all are free from preoccupation." The elf said quietly.

"So you ponder then." Shadorsis said, with respect in his deep and rumbling voice. "What do you ask of me?"

"Come!" The masked mage invited, sweeping his arm in a gesture of welcome. "And I will tell you."

Shadorsis fell in step with the mage and they walked from the citadel. And as they walked, the elf gave the Malidanian King his mission.