• Published 24th Nov 2012
  • 8,749 Views, 447 Comments

Paladin's Cross - Sage Quill

The chronicle of Twilight's journey through a land under siege by darkness and corruption. Her only protection from the undead and yet darker forces lie with her new companions and a champion of light sworn to defend her. But will it be enough?

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A Candle in the Dark

"In the chaos of the ever turbulent world, change is the only constant."

A sharp clang of metal on metal rang out as Morenth swat the skeleton's axe aside. His sword guided the strike harmlessly to the side as he reversed the momentum on his weapon, slashing for the undead's midsection. Dawnbringer sang as it cut through rough cloth and bone alike, the holy enchantments in the blade igniting the abomination in a pyre of purifying flames.

He had no time to celebrate his victory as another clumsy strike came for his shoulder. It met only his shield as he raised it in defense, hooking the crude axe's blade over its lip.

With a twist of his torso Morenth pulled the axe from the attackers bony hand while at the same time burying his blade in its head with a crack. The strike was too deep, and Dawnbringer was stubbornly imbedded in the corpses skull. He grunted in dismay as precious seconds were lost trying to remove it.

A skeleton warrior took the advantage as its notched sword cut deeply into Morenth's back, biting through both his cloak and leather back harness.

With a roar of righteous fury Morenth took his sword in a double handed grip and heaved it around to meet his foe, blade and immolating corpse as one. They collided with bone shattering force, the corpse slain by Dawnbringer igniting the remaining skeleton as they crashed together.

As the last of the undead was dispatched a deathly silence fell over the battlefield. A silence that Morenth knew meant nothing. There were always more of the unholy beasts in places like this.

The ancient forest had grown tall by feeding on the blood of countless battles that had been waged in the aptly named Bloodwood. Now it feasted on the scores of the newly redead, if not slightly charred corpses Morenth left in his wake.

The forest, however, wasn't what the paladin was interested in. It was for the tomb that lay somewhere within its dark boughs that the holy knight had traveled within the forest's cursed borders.

Morenth doubled over as the pain he held back overcame him. The wound on his back was not the first he had sustained in the melee, and not the worst. He dug frantically through his belt pouch until he withdrew a small corked bottle filled with golden liquid.

His gloved hand was soaked with his own blood as he clutched tightly to the amulet he wore around his neck.

He uncorked the small bottle and poured its golden contents greedily down his throat and braced himself against what was to come.

Every cut and gash that covered his body began to burn with white hot agony as the wounds started to close on their own. His bones cracked painfully as fractures healed themselves, and through it all he whispered silent prayers to his goddess.

Morenth let out a final gasp of relief as the process ended, bringing the amulet he carried to his lips and kissed it in silent thanks. He felt the cool metal of the finely crafted relief of his goddesses' chosen form.

A unicorn.

Nobody in his generation had even seen a unicorn, not at least since the days of his forefathers, if he had any forefathers.

"As fictitious as unicorns perhaps," Morenth mumbled under his breath as he trudged his way through the foreboding wood.

He had been traveling for a fortnight, and was running low on supplies.

His body ached from almost constant exertion as he spent his days searching and his nights fighting, leaving little to no time for rest.

"As Yuelith guides me," Morenth chuckled as he spoke his own personal mantra.

As if called by his prayer the walls of an ancient fortress came into view against the backdrop of the forest's shadows. Its stonework was scarred and riddled with holes from some long forgotten war. Vines crawled up the sections where nature vied once again for supremacy.

Morenth walked under the half-collapsed arches of the outer keeps gate, finding himself dwarfed by the vast portal. When in use it could have played host to traffic three carriages across, and twelve lengths high should a merchant wish to test the limits of plausibility. The moon cast a shade of impenetrable darkness into the maw of the structure.

The paladin's musings were cut short as the scrape of metal on stone and the moans of undead horrors caught his ear. He hadn't planned on meeting resistance this far from the center of the structure, and any hope he'd harbored for short respite flew from him in a wave of righteous anger.

"Whatever calls itself the master of these halls, know this!" Morenth shouted, working himself into a fury as he readied Dawnbringer for the coming melee, "I bring the light of Yuelith to this forsaken place! Now burn with the fury of the rising dawn!"

With a roar, the paladin charged into the din of pooled shadows.

Dawnbringer, sensing the animated abominations, glowed with anticipation at the prospect of feeding the never-ending hunger of its holy fire. Its light illuminated the sickly yellow bones of walking skeletons and the grey decaying skin of horrifically malformed ghouls, the latter of which met Morenth's charge with shrieks of hunger.

The closest of the shrieking ghouls was met with Dawnbringer's blade, smashing as well as cutting through its disgusting face as its head ignited.

Morenth continued past the corpse without pause as the ghoul's funeral pyre illuminated the whole of the once darkened portal. Five strides from the main body of the host he whispered another silent prayer to his goddess; to be the instrument of her wrath.

When his charge met the first undead there were no tactics, no martial skill, not even the expert swordsmanship he had perfected from a young age.

There was only anger.

Instead of parrying, Morenth traded blow for blow, losing himself in his rage as he accepted vicious cuts and bludgeons from ruined weapons.

Dawnbringer cut wide swaths of flaming death as its wielder roared shouts of defiance, denying any wound to slow his sword arm.

As the din of combat died and the last of the undead was impaled upon his sword, Morenth couldn't stop himself as he let loose a fit of mad laughter.

It was cut short by a hand grabbing at his ankle.

The paladin shifted from insane mirth to deadly anger instantly as he drove his sword through the back of the downed ghoul. Flames erupted from its body as it flailed, wailing as the necromancy that animated it was consumed by holy magic.

A stink rising from the immolating corpse forced a wince from Morenth as he fought against his memories in a losing battle. The screams of loved ones from a life he'd never known flooded his thoughts.

As always they were accompanied by the ever present, suffocating heat of fire.

He hastily dug through his belt pouch, withdrawing another of the small bottles of restorative potion and desperately downed the contents.

This time Morenth welcomed the pain as his wounds sealed shut, drowning out his emotional turmoil with physical agony as his focus.

His painful memories washed away along with the searing heat of the alchemical substance mending his physical hurts. Slowly, he took a fortifying breath before spitting the remaining blood out of his mouth, and fixed the looming keep with a hateful glare. The number and strength of the undead would only grow as he drew closer to the center... and his purpose.

'Only two left,' the paladin thought morosely as he took stock of his remaining potions.

Duty won over hatred, though not without great internal struggle as Morenth realized he couldn't triumph over the full strength of the combined host.

Only with great reluctance did he choose a route that would, with luck, get him past the bulk of the undead horde unnoticed. The parapets would at least limit the amount of foes that could surround him at once, and give him a direct route into the center of the keep. From there he would work his way down into the catacombs.

Morenth clicked his tongue with the eager anticipation of the completion of his purpose. Even if there was an army within the walls of the fortress, it would matter little. It still had one fatal weakness- his target.

"Uh, Twilight are you sure about this?" Spike asked as he looked over the edge of a sizeable tome at the lavender unicorn, with obvious apprehension.

Twilight sighed in exasperation, for what seemed like the dozenth time that day.

"Yes Spike, I'm absolutely sure. Now hold the book steady."

The baby dragon rolled his eyes but went unnoticed, his head obscured by the oversized burden as he attempted to lift it higher for Twilight to read.

She scanned the pages, flipping through them at a rapid pace.

"You know, you could just ask the princess to teach you," he suggested for the third time.

"Spike, I couldn't possibly ask princess Celestia to teach me. I don't think she even suspects that I've used dark magic. If I were to ask what the limits of a spell she never intended to teach me were, she'd immediately find out that I'm studying it and tell me to stop," the lavender unicorn said, her stress rising with every word until it was bordering on panic.

"Well, maybe she'd have a point, Twilight," Spike said, the worry evident in his voice, "All this dark magic stuff is kinda creepy, if you ask me."

Twilight blanched at the thought of being denied a whole new field of study.

"Creepy? CREEPY!?" Twilight asked Spike rhetorically, her voice rising in volume with every word. "A previously undiscovered field of magic is within ponykind's grasp and all you can call this new facet to magical theory is 'CREEPY'!?"

Her eyes had dilated by the end of her rant, and she was huffing through her snout in the way only ponies could.

Spike was about to argue but decided to quit while he was ahead. When Twilight got like this nothing could stop her.

"Well yeah," he continued, "Just don't do anything too dangerous. Okay?"

"Don't worry, Spike, when have I ever not been able to master a spell?" Her voice softened as she looked under the tome to offer her assistant a reassuring smile.

"That's what I'm afraid of," Spike muttered under his breath.