Dusel rose from the bloodied sand and stumbled to his feet, staring about him. Thousands of armored soldiers—clad from head to toe in thin-plate armor—littered the arid plain, their blood staining the sand crimson. Like him, Dusel’s comrades wore white plate armor with golden gilding, the various pieces arrayed with diamond-shaped plates that shielded the more vital areas. Flexible metal sheets covered their joints, crafted with metallurgy that involved imbuing the metal with transmutative properties. With their helmets on, Dusel couldn’t tell if they were men like him, or elves.
His gaze shifted to the fallen enemy ranks mingled with his dead allies. The men of the Cheserithean Empire wore a variety of armor-types dyed in various colors, accenting the bloodied sand. The qui’sha, however, wore identical armor. Each qui’sha had an elongated helmet at the front, allowing room for their snouts. Their armor was scaled with sharp points and spikes. Qui’sha looked wicked in that armor, although they also looked wicked without it.
Weapons littered the battlefield, their sharp metal gleaming with a deadly light—energy called magic.
A sudden pang of sorrow struck Dusel’s heart. Despite his years of battle, he found the corpse-littered plain a horrific sight.
This was not the first time Dusel had walked away the sole survivor. It was becoming commonplace, and not because he was a coward. Dusel fought valiantly, and died often.
But death never lasted long with him.
He turned from the dead armies, searching the crimson sand for his fanisar. The staff-like weapon lay nearby, next to where he was slain. The fanisar was as long as he was tall and a dull-platinum color. It was much like the channeling staff used by mages, with a groove all along one side. Of course, the weapon could be wielded as such, but it was capable of so much more.
Grabbing the fanisar, Dusel pressed on two oval indentations near the staff’s center. Crimson light formed along the ends of the weapon, becoming glistening blades of razor-sharp metal. Both blades gleamed red, surrounded by an aura of annihilation particles.
With fanisar in hand, Dusel picked his way across the battlefield. Other parts of the plain were a mismatched mess of grass and sand, the result of Alliance Transmuters. It was their plan to leave this place desolate after the battle, a warning to all who defied the Kaldean Alliance and the Lords of Metal.
Across the horizon, a beam of light sped skyward. It pierced the multi-hued sky above a rising ridge, but soon disappeared into the void beyond the stars.
They did it! he cheered, grinning beneath his helmet. Finally, Cheserith is ban-ished. Without their god this war can end and Kalda can be at peace. Hope filled Dusel, and he hastened toward the ridge.
He soon descended into a level basin, finding more blood-soaked battle-fields. Unlike where he had fallen, not all here were dead. Groans and pained cries filled the air in a dreadful cacophony. Explosions of magic echoed in the distance. Those eruptions were accompanied by shrilling roars, undoubtedly the cries of gangolins or tarrasques. Those beasts were commonplace in this theater of war. They were devastating creatures, especially when enthralled by draconic mages. The Lords of Metal were said to be the only ones who could coerce such creatures, though some claimed that the elven conjurer, Hasernal, could control a gangolin.
Beyond the last battlefield lay a city of considerable size and partly in ru-in—the capital of the Cheserithean Empire. It was where the light had beamed skyward. Though the city was vast, Dusel knew the place where the beam originated: Cheserith’s Palace at the capital’s eastern edge.
Luckily, it wasn’t too far away.
It took Dusel an hour to reach the palace, at least what remained of it. Cheserith’s Palace had sat on a mound, surrounded by beautiful gardens and hemmed by elegant crimson stone walls. But now, the palace grounds were desolate. Spires of rock replaced trees and grass was now sand. The palace walls were toppled, strewn across the ground in pieces. The mound was also destroyed, and in its place was an enormous crater.
Faint pale-blue light shone from the bottom of the crater. Soon, Shem’rinal appeared from a misty cloud, standing in the air and looking down.
“What is he doing—” Dusel flinched. A glint of red shone beneath Shem’rinal. Impossible! It couldn’t be the Amulet, could it? Scrambling, he dashed into the crater, skidding down its sides.
As Dusel neared the crater’s bottom, his fear was realized. His eyes wid-ened as he gazed upon a white-metal amulet on the crater’s floor. The upper half of the amulet consisted of seven curved petals surrounding an eye-shaped slit that held a large, faceted ruby as the iris. In the lower half of the amulet, three draconic talons extended downward, gripping a polished black sphere. Within the polished sphere, tiny bright flecks gleamed from seven spirals. It was the weapon that had turned the tide of this millennium-long war—the Amulet of Draconic Control.
“It can’t be,” Dusel groaned, dropping to his knees beside Shem’rinal. He reached shaking hands toward the amulet, but before Dusel could grab it, Shem’rinal spoke.
“Unfortunately, the Amulet of Draconic Control still remains. But our Enemy has been exiled. The Irum’mak’sha succeeded.”
Still kneeling, Dusel braced one hand on the ground and turned toward Shem’rinal. “But this… this will bring folly to us all.” His voice shook with horror.
Shem’rinal gazed skyward. He looked young, as if in the prime of his life. His face was thin and his chin narrow. Pointed ears peaked from his blond hair. Though he looked like an elf, Shem’rinal wasn’t elven. He was unique, the only one of his kind—a being composed of pure magic and life, inseparably connected.
“You undoubtedly speak the truth, Dusel,” Shem’rinal said in a calm tone. His words were tender, a reflection of his kind, paternal nature. “I am glad you made it here first.”
“What?” Dusel cocked his head. Did Shem’rinal not want the other leaders of the Alliance to know about the amulet? This wasn’t what they had planned. It was meant to be sealed away with Cheserith, lost to all of Kalda, forever.
“You know the division among the leaders of the Kaldean Alliance, Dusel. Sealing the Amulet with our Enemy was the only compromise. But now…” Shem’rinal said with a sigh, finally turning from the sky.
Dusel felt overwhelmed. One war was over, but would another conflict begin? Could the Amulet of Draconic Control sunder the Kaldean Alliance?
“The elves fear its power,” Shem’rinal said, shaking his head. “They don’t trust that humanity won’t turn it against the other dragons. If Ilvina got her hands on it, she would destroy it. That act, however, would enrage Esil’ha and the other golden dragons. They see it as a symbol of victory, something to be revered.”
“What are you suggesting?” Dusel asked, wary of the answer.
Shem’rinal sucked in a deep breath, although he didn’t need to breathe. The gesture was an emotional reflex. “You might not like what I have to say, Dusel. I’ve come to a decision by myself. Any attempt to decide its fate by democracy will only lead to division. And, this world has seen enough war…” He paused, and then sternly stared at Dusel. “You must take the Amulet.”
A sudden pang of horror struck Dusel. That notion was traitorous. Why trust one man with such a thing? Oh, the peril…
“I sense your trepidation,” Shem’rinal said with a grin. “You know all too well how power can corrupt one’s soul. But a virtue resides within you, one that tames greed and lust. Some would call it righteousness.”
Dusel turned away, but was drawn to the amulet’s gleaming. What would he do with such a powerful thing? And how would the others react? The weight of that responsibility became heavier. He almost couldn’t bear it.
“You are a Guardian of Kalda, Dusel,” Shem’rinal urged. “A keeper of truth and might. You’ve been tried in the fields of battle and have proven tenacious. I trust whatever you decide is right. Now, you must hurry, before the others arrive. I sense a cessation.”
Dusel’s hands shook again as he reached for the amulet. He grabbed its woven chain and donned the powerful jewelry. It hung heavy around his neck, but the emotional weight of his charge made it feel like a millstone.
He turned back to Shem’rinal, who was now standing at eye level with him. “What will you tell the others?”
“I’ll think of something.” Shem’rinal said, chuckling and clasping his hands behind his back. “Just disappear for now. We can talk once our world settles.”
Dusel cocked his head. “That could be centuries.”
“Perhaps,” Shem’rinal said, “but you’ll still be around. That ring of yours does more than just revive you on the battlefield. It will prolong your life.”
Another pang struck Dusel. He had tried to ignore ideas like that. When his ring was first bestowed upon him he wondered if it could do such a thing. He had feared that everyone he loved would vanish. Shem’rinal had just verified they would. The world would change and fade, but he would remain.
“Do not fear, Dusel. You will adapt. It may not seem so now, but immortality can be a sweet thing.”
Dusel doubted that, and turned from Shem’rinal, climbing up the crater. He wanted to run, like a little child frightened by something he didn’t understand. Yet he understood all too well the burden placed upon him.
He paused at the crater’s rim. The desolation of war spread across the horizon. Smoke rose in patches across the vast battlefield, accented by the occasional eruption of magic.
My sacrifice could stave off more carnage like this, Dusel thought. He took courage and brought a hand to his chest, touching the Amulet of Draconic Control.
What would he do with such a powerful thing? He couldn’t destroy it. That would be foolish. Yes, the Amulet of Draconic Control could strip the most precious gift of mortality, moral choice. But it was a necessary evil to win this war and finally bring peace to Kalda. Such a thing shouldn’t be destroyed, nor should it be kept intact.
That left only one option.
Dusel uttered an incantation and focused his mind, mustering white-blue particles of concealing magic. The magic surrounded him and he vanished, as did the amulet’s glow.
Now invisible, Dusel stealthily left the decimated palace. He turned, walk-ing away from the battlefields. The burden Shem’rinal had placed upon him became lighter with each step as he reluctantly accepted the perilous charge of safeguarding the Amulet of Draconic Control.
When the weight of responsibility finally lifted, he stopped and turned, looking back to the land from which he’d come. To his surprise, he couldn’t see the bloodied battlefields, or the ruined capital of the Cheserithean Empire.
He was alone. Forsaken. A vagabond.
And yet, he was empowered. His weighty responsibility had refined his soul. He was purified. Renewed.
Dusel glanced toward the invisible amulet around his neck. “I am your Guardian now,” he said, touching his gauntleted hand to the jewelry’s sharp points. “I will insure your safety.”
With that, Dusel continued across the ravaged wasteland.