Leila and Azmal survived their encounter with the assassin from the Nest of Shadows, Blackfire. The everyday bustle of life in Igstanpur returned, from the busy seaports to the crowded streets in the Grand Bazaar. The mysterious warrior with the metallic arm and odd eye named Zeke had arrived like a wild sea breeze, he protected the red-haired Leila and tiefling Azmal from harm and even left the Inquisitors at pause in confronting the young man. Zeke identified himself as Subject Zero, an odd designation that merits an answer, what sort of answers await Leila? Find out.
The trade winds from the seaport and the sounds of the birds foretold change in the weather, the people were busy and unchanged even after the events from the previous week. Zeke, with the hood of his dark brown cloak up, sat atop the rooftop of the Leila’s safehouse. His right eye remained covered by the raggedly patch, he wanted to soak in the energy of the city and enjoy the the view as well. Strands of blonde would peek out from the cloak as they were gently caressed by the wind.
“Are you going to stand there and keep staring all day?” Zeke shouted out. He knew that Leila had been standing not far from the roof access for the past half hour but declined to interact with her.
“I have questions,” Leila replied. Her crimson hair flew widely in the mid-morning breeze, her purple eyes remained transfixed on the mysterious stranger who appeared over a week ago under the fulfillment of a job contract. This same stranger had saved her and Azmal, fended off a powerful assassin from the Nest of Shadows, and even left the Inquisitors at a pause. She needed answers, at the the time desperation and survival trumped any opportunity for questions. But now, the danger was over and they remained.
“Ask your questions, I cannot promise I have all the answers you seek.” Zeke relayed.
“How do you know Elias?” She calmly asked.
“I rescued Elias from a band of mountain orcs not far from Hammerforge several years ago, it wasn’t long until we realized that the orcs were hired by the Nest of Shadows. We found the scout leader, convinced him to relinquish the job contract and walked away unscathed. Once we got to Hammerforge, we both met another individual, very influential to the area we found out but willing to pay for some small time adventurers to handle some work. Elias was quite brash, wanted to even take on a job to hunt after a Nest leader in a city not far from Hammerforge.” Zeke reminisced.
“Elias was never that reckless,” Leila countered.
“Well, the Elias you know has become a closeted magecrafter and gemologist, fixated on his trinkets and tinkering away in a remote mountain town. When he was younger, he was quite the brazen half-elf.” Zeke chuckled.
“Elias is nearly 60 years old, yet you look like you’re still in your twenties.” Leila observed.
“He was once a proud and young half-elf, but that was many years ago.” Zeke continued.
“Again, I find that hard to believe. How would you manage to keep a youthful appearance for so long?” Leila demanded.
Zeke turned around to his right, the right side where the eye patch rested began to faintly glow underneath. “Some might consider a bless, but in reality it is a felled curse that keeps me the way I am.”
“Veras asked you which Subject were you, what did he mean by that?” Leila hesitantly asked.
“It’s a long story,” Zeke replied.
“It’s not like you’re going anywhere anytime soon,” she reminded.
Zeke sighed before looking over at the silent determination within Leila’s eyes. “Fine, it all started…”
There was fire and distant screams, pillars of smoke rose high in the rich green valley. A young boy laid on the dirt road buried under the charred corpses of the other villagers. As he awoke, the pain became apparent but he held his tongue and avoiding shouting into the ash-filled sky. It wasn’t safe yet. But the pain was unbearable, the young boy had never experienced so much agony in his entire life. He began to lift the charred but limp limbs of the corpses off him, his blonde hair was drenched in mud and blood. Once he managed to rid himself of the dead weight, he realized why he felt so much searing pain, his right arm had been broken with part of the bone sticking out of the skin. The boy crawled his way out of the pile of bodies, looking desperate along the burning streets for any sign of life or worse.
The cries and screams died down, the young boy frantically searched the surrounding street corner, his emerald eyes full of fear. A carnal cry resounded down one of the streets, terror and dread gripped the young boy, springing his remaining vigor into action. The sound of leathery wings beating against the air could be heard approaching. Frantically, the boy clawed on the ground, reaching for some forlorn shelter that would allow him to esccape the present hell.
A bat-winged creature landed beside the pile of corpses, its hind legs squatted on the ground while its overbearing forearms caused an odd hunch over it. A bird-like beak with odd whiskers protruding outward, razor sharp teeth extended outward in jagged patterns. It stepped closer and closer to the boy, giving an otherworldly chuckle at the boy’s futility. The boy look over his shoulder as the creature approached, hope had died in his eyes as the promise of death stood over him.
Four bolts of blue energy assaulted the creature, pummeling it with arcane ferocity. The creature bellowed in anger as it shifted its focus to the direction of the bolts. The boy could barely make out the silhouette but could see the shape of a robed individual. Words of power were muttered and an emerald orb ejected from the mysterious figure’s sleeves toward the winged abomination. The orb exploded and landed on the wings of the creature, the sound as it flesh began to sizzle, it let it a painful cry. It hissed at the figure and went full charge at him with its claws, which were met by an blue aura that seemingly enveloped the figure. The creature in its frustration continued to swing its mighty claws but each time they were met by the odd aura. Another word of power, the ground shook from underneath the creature, the dirt shaped itself into what looked like a large oversized hand and grabbed the creature before it could react in time.
The creature seemed to speak in some unknown language at the mage, the robed figure stood looking at the creature before a series of words. The creature struggled to break out its bindings, runes and sigils formed out of blue energy encircled the creature before a pillar of light engulfed it. The sound of the demon’s distant cries could be heard for a good distance from the street intersection. Within an instant, the creature was gone from sight with only the faint echoes of its otherworldly cries. The boy breathed a sigh of relief, his body became fatigued and his will to move onward was stagnated by the relative blood loss and shock of pain.
The figure loomed over the semi-conscious boy, with a raised hand the boy could feel the tug of arcana coursing through him.
“You’re alive and safe boy. The village is lost, I can let you die here or if you wish to live, I can give you life. But know this, if you choose to live, your life belongs to me.” The figure’s voice was steady and low.
The young boy, delirious from pain, only wanted an end to this nightmare. An end of this moment of misery, but an inner voice beeseched him to live.
“I. Want. To. Live.” The boy muttered.
Another string of arcane words, an azure light enveloped the boy and the robed figure. Once the light faded, the two were gone beyond the village to a place farther than the young boy would ever know.
Screams. Pain. If the boy thought the pain from that fateful day from the village was anything, the new pain he felt was beyond mortal comprehension. The smell of incense and bitter liquids permeated in the air, the boy’s head was strapped tight against the flat wooden table, his arms and legs were equally bound. The figure loomed over him, waving its bony fingers and whispering more words of power. Scorching pain erupted from his broken right arm, the flesh had melted off the bone, the bone was slowly ground by the mysterious magic. The boy lost consciousness again, how many times he no longer knew or could remember.
Time passed, though the boy knew not how much of it had passed since that fateful day. The pain eventually lessened, either because he had become adjusted to the pain or perhaps it had to with the mysterious figure. Either way, the boy awoke and realized the pain was no longer present. He felt strong, rested even. This was his chance as he surveyed the empty chamber, he tugged and twisted underneath his bindings, the leather straps stretched and the sound of small tears signaled him to tug harder. The boy broke his restraints, noticing right away the metallic arm on his right. He did not have time to be horrified by foul play committed, instead he freed himself and tried to get off the table towards the doorway. As he stood, his legs gave out due to lethargy from lack of use for gods know how long. He had the strength to crawl his way toward the door and use it as leverage to stand up. Upon inspection, the door was unlocked, which prompted the boy to gentle pry the door open to check for any possible patrols or guards. There were none.
Using the walls to hold his weight up, the boy continued to navigate through the dark hallways, by the touch they were soft carved stone with a curved ceiling above. The boy realized his eyes were quite sharp in the darkness, perhaps he had become accustomed to a dark chamber and it naturally this held true outside of it. At the end of the hall, there was a break of light in the distance, the boy desperately clawed his way over to what opened to a larger chamber. Exhausted, the boy stumbled his way into the large chamber to find bodies scattered across the floor. Splats of fresh blood, the boy cautiously approached one of the corpses. It was a human male, not much younger than him, his eyes were clawed out of their sockets but the thing that preturbed him was the serpentine tail in place of his legs.
In the glow of the ambient light, the boy noticed something odd with his chest. Layers of scars, many of them had been healed while some were still fresh. Looking down he realized that he was taller than he remembered but most importantly that his feet did not resemble human feet anymore. Just like his right arm, his legs were also metallic from his foot to the shins. He did not understand, nothing made any sense. A torrent of memories and images assailed the young boy, the pain his head was too great and he out a cry. The robed figure appeared before the boy, silent and looming as ever.
“You have done well, you continue to amaze me. A worthy specimen.” The figure remarked, a voice cold and sinister compared to the first day they met.
A searing pain came from his right side of his face, his human fingers trailed along the edges and felt the ridges of scarring. A large bulge over his eye, it was different, it felt different. Uncertainty clung to him, a crippling fear as more new horrors continued to unveil themselves. Fatigue began to set in, the boy’s vision blurred into blackness, the footsteps of the figure inched closer muttering intangible words. Unconsciousness finally won out, and the boy once again was in a field of darkness.
Leila stood silent, her eyes looking down at the roof tiles on the building. It took a great amount of courage to look up at the man before her. His eyes had not faltered, they held a steady resolve that seemed unshakable.
“How did you escape?” She managed.
“The robed stranger had me under a powerful compulsion, but eventually I broke free his control but he escaped before I could kill him.” Zeke replied, a hint of quiet rage lingered in his voice.
“How long have you been hunting him?” Leila solemnly asked.
“Almost three hundred years, I wager,” Zeke divulged.
The weight of his words hung on Leila’s mind, three hundreds of loathing and most likely hatred. She marvelled at the man’s resolve and determination in the face of such unnatural horrors. This man had done much for her, she could understand why Elias sent him, and perhaps in some way perhaps she could return the favor.
“Where will you go next?” Leila inquired.
“Wherever the winds go, the road is long and full of perils. My prey is sly and hidden, unseen for nearly a hundred years. I will slay him with the very weapons he forged into me, maybe then I can finally die.” Zeke avowed, his glance seemed distant and beyond the rooftops of Igstanpur.
“Then it’s settled, you’ll need a partner.” Leila assessed, her cast a playful grin at the warrior.
“I’ll be fine, it’s not necessary. This is my prey, my hunt. I’ve done this alone for a long time now.” Zeke growled while glaring at Leila.
The crimson-haired woman continued to smile, “you must be quite bored being on your own, besides I’ved wanted to leave Igstanpur for a while now. So this isn’t just for you, it’s also for me.”
“Don’t complain to me if you get yourself killed,” Zeke protested.
“I can take care of myself,” Leila countered.
Zeke gave a sigh and returned to gaze upon the horizon from the rooftop of the safehouse. The sea breeze felt cool and inviting, where his next adventure would lead him only the gods of fate knew. He would exact his vengeance one day, even if it took another hundred years.
Alright folks! This is the end of our first Anthology from the Land of Magic – Subject Zero, thank you for following along this journey of some of the many characters that occupy Soladis, a Land of Magic. Please like, comment, and share. If you want to stay updated with us, please follow our Facebook and Twitter. We have an Instagram for behind-the-scenes Team BAJA D&D campaign goodies and for board game fun. If you want to help us out, we have a donate button, every little bit helps. Thanks again and look forward to Team BAJA Season 2 in the near future!