Kowan drove his charged blade through the chest plate and into the guard’s chest. The sizzle of burning flesh filled the broad corridor with a sickly sweet aroma. The man, a member of the King’s Weard, slumped to the rough stone floor. I forced him to sacrifice himself for the greater good, Kowan thought, placing his hand over the heavy wood door. Just as Destrum forced me.

He hadn’t wanted to kill anyone other than the target, but his cloaking widget had power ducked at the worst possible moment and he’d been spotted. Fighting through the mass of King’s Weard had been desperate, even for a Technumage with his skills.

Focus, Kowan thought, drawing fully on his connection to elemental fire. He concentrated on a point, a space inside the complicated locking mechanism. As moments passed, Kowan had to shut out the sounds of approaching boots behind him. You have time. He could feel the power flowing out of him, binding the surrounding energy. The lock began to glow, first orange, then red, then white.

Finally, when he felt it was hot enough, he kicked the door. Kowan triggered a pulse through the leg of his combat suit’s augmentation system as he did so, increasing the kick’s force. The lock exploded in a shower of sparks and the door flew open, heavy hinges groaning.

“Stop!” a deep voice yelled behind him. When Kowan turned, he was confronted by the largest human he’d ever seen. The Weard Captain, he thought, remembering that armored form standing next to the King during the Festival of Union. The Captain was far down the hall, but brought up a heavy, tech augmented bow. Before Kowan even realized what he was doing, he raised a gauntleted fist and bound the elemental air before him. As the mass solidified, he grasped and hurled it at the Captain, using a pulse of his suit to speed it faster than any arrow.

Then the Captain’s projectile slammed into Kowan. He looked down in disbelief at the arrow sticking out of his abdomen. How did it defeat my armor? he wondered. Pain exploded the next instant and Kowan fought hard to remain on his feet. When he looked up, he saw his air mass had done its work: the Captain was motionless on the floor, ten feet back from where he had been standing. His chest plate was caved in and a pool of blood formed around him. Further down the hall, Kowan could see light dance off the armor of more reinforcements. Get the arrow out of you and finish the job before they get here.

When he pulled out the Captain’s gift, he saw a miniaturized cavitator built into the arrow’s head. How did he have access to one of those? And that bow? It looked like technumage apparatus. No time, Kowan thought, turning back to the doorway.

He rushed into the room, barely able to believe what he was about to do. Remember what Head Mage Destrum told you, he thought. Inside, the King blocked his path, frail body barely able to hold up his great sword. This was the closest Kowan had ever been to the sovereign. The demands of Technumage training were great and he’d barely left the grounds in the eight years he’d been there.

The King stared at Kowan, taking in his black technumage combat armor and augmented weapons before finally locking eyes. His gaze, though worn, still had power. “What are you doing here, mage? Why do you assault your countrymen? Come, show me your best!”

Kowan didn’t know what to say. He’d always looked up to the King, especially since he’d learned of his sacrifice during the war. He wasn’t here for this man and didn’t have time for a conversation. Before the King could react, he sprinted past the monarch, desperately looking for the bassinet Destrum had briefed him about. Then he saw it, across the room, along the wall next to the broad window. As Kowan charged, he raised his sword, imbuing it with the same elemental electricity he’d used earlier. The Head Mage had warned him not to even look at the newly born prince, that he was no ordinary child. “He will charm you, will fill your head with lies. All of your sacrifice will be for nothing. He is the child of his mother, a spawn of Darkness.” And Destrum would know. As head of the Technumages, it was his job to lead the fight against the force that had nearly killed the King and destroyed the Red World in the First War.

Kowan swung the blade towards the bassinet, the strike aimed to cut both it and the spawn in half. Before the blade could do its work, he stopped. You have to check, have to make sure! He carefully peered over the edge, catching a glimpse of something dark and scaly.

A scream made Kowan jump and he felt something glance off his neck armor. Spinning, he caught the Queen’s wrist as she brought a dagger towards his eye. “You will not kill my son!” she yelled, fighting against his grasp. Destrum had told him about this woman, how she had seduced the King, how the spawn of their union would bring about the Second War and destruction of Red World. “But do not kill her, at least not first,” Destrum warned. “Her energy will transfer to the Dark whelp, and then it may prove too strong for you. Kill the spawn first, then its incubator.”

Back in the hall, Kowan could hear more King’s Weard yelling about the death of their Captain. They were getting close. Hurry!

Thrusting the Queen away, Kowan looked back in the bassinet. His first impression was confirmed. It wasn’t a child. The spawn was a hideous, scaled creature with pointed teeth and huge, lidless eyes. The white iris-less orbs stared at him, mouth turned up in a snarl. Kowan had been too young to fight in the First War, but this was a small version of what all the stories had talked about. It was one of the things that had killed both his father and older brother. It was why he had wanted to become a Technumage. It was of the Darkness.

Kowan raised his sword again. As he brought the blade down, he screamed a battle cry, a remembrance for all those lost. His electrified blade sheared through the light wicker easily, cleaving the spawn in two. Kowan felt something strike him in the head, and he reeled back from the slain creature. When he looked around the room, he couldn’t see what or who had struck him. The Queen was still picking herself off the floor, and the King was leaning on his great sword, staring wide eyed at the smoldering bassinet. “You’ve killed my one and only heir,” he stammered feebly. “You’ve doomed Red World.”

Something was wrong. Kowan’s mind felt as if he had just woke from a dream. Nothing seemed real. Instead of triumph for having destroyed a threat to the kingdom, all he felt was dread. When he turned to look back at the dead spawn, all was red blood and pink flesh. It was human, a baby.

“No, no, no,” Kowan pleaded, “I saw it. It was Darkness.”

“What are you talking about?” the King snapped back. Kowan was too stunned to answer.

A spell, he thought, the realization striking home. Head Mage Destrum tricked me. He made me Darks’ pawn. And I killed the King’s only heir because of it. No one will believe me. Just what he wanted.

The Queen rushed over to the bassinet, hurriedly batting away pieces of smoldering wicker. Her wails of grief were too much for Kowan to stand. The King’s Weard were closing in. He could hear their shouts just outside the doorway.

The only way to escape was out the open window, but Kowan was torn. He felt guilty, felt he deserved the execution that would happen after his capture. Yet he was the only one who knew of Destrum’s corruption and treachery. If the Head Mage was left in power, Red World would most certainly fall to the Darkness. If Kowan lived, perhaps he could balance his terrible act by killing him.

Kowan ran towards the window and dove through. The sheer castle wall slid past, illuminated by Red World’s two moons. Soon, the wall transitioned to the canyon cliff. Kowan had just enough time to wonder if his combat armor would save him as he slammed into the river.

 

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Continue the journey with RIVERFATE: Kowan the Technumage (Segment 2).

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