Thaina was not comfortable at night. It was not that she feared it – far from it – it was simply that with Sol absent from the skies, she felt lessened. She was in a way, for night was the time she had to focus most to call forth her divine powers. But she had trained for most of her life as first a Chaplain, and then a Pyromancer, and she had learned to overcome these obstacles.
This night, however, was particularly unpleasant, and she found she could not sleep. As she lay awake, she gazed round at this foreboding, Sol forsaken place. She was deep in Hellbourne territory, her and the strike force she had been assigned to. Everything here was a twisted effigy to life: the trees were grey, gnarled husks, the soil was black and crusted. The normal sounds of birds and bugs were absent, as none lived here. At least, no natural ones. She suppressed a shudder and recited a prayer to Sol. Pyromancers did not fear evil.
She gazed around the camp at the sleeping soldiers, envying their ability to sleep whenever and wherever they could. True, they slept in their armour, with their weapons by their sides, and at their Captain's call they would be awake and ready to fight in an instant. But at least they slept.
Speaking of their Captain, he sat himself just outside the clearing, his imposing form barely visible in the darkness. Thaina's gaze lingered on him for a while. His name was Khairn Karnan, but his exploits in the war against the Hellbourne had earned him the name 'Axe'. He had even saved the King, Jeraziah,from death at the hands of the demon known as Moraxxus. They said that he kept the head of the demon on a plaque. A formidable man.
They were accompanied by a scout by the name of Sarandar, though he was absent. He was doing what his kind did best, scouting forward, checking the perimeter, gathering intelligence. Thaina never understood what drew people to the life of a scout. She had known some to be deadly fighters and unsurpassed assassins; most though, died, and died fast. Most of them wore brown as well, a colour she found decidedly repulsive. Still, she supposed they had their uses.
The last member of the company had separated slightly from the rest, kneeling in some kind of meditation. He was probably praying to his own gods. Thaina snorted in disgust. She did not understand why her King had spared his life and certainly not why he had assigned him to this mission. He was a heretic, and he should burn as a heretic, but it was not her place to question her liege. Besides, his presence was made more bearable by her idle thoughts on how she would personally see the man burn once the war was over.
So lost in her thoughts of purging the heretic, it took her a moment to realise Axe was on his feet. She frowned and stood before she heard a faint rustling. Moving over to his side, she peered out in the direction he was looking. “What is it?” she asked. Axe did not answer.
Sarandar stumbled out of the darkness, one hand clutching his side, the other gripping one of his blades. Axe was there in an instant, catching the scout before he fell. “I...I'ms orry...” Sarandar murmured.
“Easy, lad, easy. What happened?” Axe's voice was calming, as he eased the scout onto his back. Lifting the man's hand, Thaina caught a glance of what was almost certainly a mortal wound; the red blood stain was spreading rapidly.
“They snuck up on me. Supposed to be the other way 'round.” Sarandar gave a small laugh, before his body wracked with coughs, blood spraying over his chin. “I'm s...sorry.” Thaina peered at the man's eyes, noting a strange flash of colour in them, and for the second time in her life, she almost took Sol's name in vain.
“Alert the men.” Axe shot her a questioning look. “They've put a Compulsion on him. It's an ambush.” As if summoned by her words, a volley of arrows thwipped from the darkness towards the two. Quick as fire, Thaina stood and swept her arm across. A brilliant blaze of flame spread out , turning the arrows to ash before they reached her and the Captain. Axe was on his feet not a moment later.
“To arms!” Those two words were all it took. The soldiers were awake and grabbing their weapons in an instant, forming a shield wall even as a horde of Hellbourne followers charged their position. Axe called out directions, organising the men. “Brace!” he bellowed, and the men dug their feet in just in time for the onslaught to hit them. The sound of impact was near deafening. The clash of steel, the grunt of men, the howls of the dying all combined to create a cacophony of violence and war. Axe himself stepped in wherever a weakness appeared in the shield wall, hacking and hewing until his men could shore it up, and he moved on to another.
Thaina stepped a little back from the wall, giving her room for her incantations, and sight of the battlefield – after all, she did not want to inadvertently burn her own men. Holy words of power tumbled from her lips and flashes of fire burst in the Hellbourne ranks, their unholy screams music to her ears. Thaina continued to invoke Sol's name, and between her and the soldiers – somewhere in the back of her mind, she noted the Heretic's absence – it seemed like they were winning.
She felt it, before she saw it. A corrupted surge of power, the desecration of what should be holy, turned to nefarious purposes. She was unable to voice a warning before the wave of energy struck their ranks. The front line was disintegrated in an instant, and the rest of them were flung back. Thaina spun and tumbled, landing painfully on her shoulder. She knew she'd dislocated it, but she was too dazed to care. Clutching for her staff, she looked up, her vision clouded. She saw a figure moving towards her. Dimly, she heard someone shouting orders for the men to get back in line. The figure held a glowing orb in his hand, an orb that pulled at her hazy consciousness, screaming a warning. She felt like she should know this man, this creature.
Clarity hit like a hammer blow, and her mind and vision cleared. The shock caused her to grunt, and the man laughed, a cruel, twisted sound. “It is good to see you again, Master.” His voice had changed, gained a harsh taint, but she could still recognise it. Zalak, her former pupil. He was a traitor who had turned to the Hellbourne, and worse, a thief who had stolen one of Sol's holy relics, the very orb he held in his hand now. She felt her face twist in hatred and fury. She moved to stand, but a bolt of power struck her and forced her back down. She resisted the urge to howl, but she could not move, the pain was so great.
“I wouldn't advise you try that, Master.” The title was mocking, and her fury grew. Ever since his betrayal, she had searched for him, burning with the need for vengeance. He would pay for betraying Sol, for betraying his people. He was a Pyromancer, a Disciple of Sol, and he had turned to evil, become corrupted! The very thought made her feel sick. She grunted as he booted her in the ribs, and despite herself, she gasped in shock when he stood on her dislocated shoulder. She looked up at him, and he grinned. “Not quite how you imagined our next meeting was going to go?” She wanted to scream. For the first time in a long time, she was afraid. “Now.” he said in that twisted voice of his, a smile tugging at his lips. “Are you ready to burn?”
Zalak's reactions were very fast. When the flash of light came, he turned and parried the first flurry of blows with the orb. It took a moment for Thaina to realise what was happening – the Heretic had appeared. He was lightning fast, the blows of his double-bladed polearm barely able to be seen, and he kept disappearing and reappearing in a strange flash of light. Zalak was parrying every blow, but he was on the defensive, being pushed away from Thaina and unable to get his own ripostes in. The Heretic scored a number of shallow blows on Zalak, the cuts glowing an unholy blue colour. She had heard about this, from the reports of fellow Pyromancers that had first hunted the Heretic. He somehow drained the soul essence of those he struck. She found herself equally reviled by seeing this magic in work, and glad to see it working on Zalak.
Thaina pushed herself to her knees. The fight was taking too long. The Heretic had the advantage at first, but she saw the orb glowing, and she could see the Heretic slowing. The orb would be draining his strength, adding it to Zalak's. The longer the fight went on, the less chance the Heretic would win. She had to do something.
The Heretic flashed again, but when he reappeared, Zalak was ready this time. A bolt of energy shot from the orb, catching the Heretic off guard and sending him flying back. He struck a tree, and plummeted to the ground. She heard him groan. Zalak walked over to him, a triumphant grin on his face. “You're good, I'll give you that.” He said. “But it was only a matter of time before I caught you.”
“Hey, Zalak.” Thaina called. He turned, a surprised look on his face. She grinned at him. Summoning every shred of her will and power she channeled. “Catch this!” Thaina glowed red with the power of Sol, and she saw the realisation hit Zalak. A huge bolt of flame screamed towards him, too fast for him to ward against. It struck his chest and there was a blinding flash of light.
When it cleared, Zalak was stood there, the stunned look still on his face, and a large smoking hole in the middle of his chest. He slumped to his knees, and then fell to his side. The orb rolled out of his hand. He was dead.
Pushing herself to her feet with a grunt of pain, she hobbled over to his corpse. Giving it one last look of disgust, she picked the orb up, before moving over to the Heretic. “I thank you, for your timely intervention.” He said. Thaina fought the urge to curse him. “Consider it recompense for your earlier intervention on my part.” She said, only just keeping the acid out of her voice. He laughed, and nodded, before gathering his staff and pushing himself to his feet. “Very well, Thaina Pyromancer. We are even.” He gave a respectful inclination of his head, and despite herself, she found she returned it.
“We've fought off the Hellbourne soldiers. It was quite easy after you put a hole in their leader's chest.” Axe had made his way over from the rest of the soldiers and stood there as if he hadn't just been in a brutal melee, wasn't covered in blood both his own and others, and didn't have serious burn marks from his encounter with the corrupted Disciple. Thaina laughed to herself.
“We best return and report. We can't continue this mission now that they know we're here.” Axe nodded his agreement. “But at least we got something.” She added, and lifted the orb. It would be difficult to cleanse, true. But it was something.