Book 4, Chapter 23 - Last Light of a Setting Sun

As Cloudhawk warred against Natessa, Wyrmsole and the old drunk were at one another’s throats. This was a far more interesting conflict.

Wyrmsole was a man of bitter expression and frail build. Far from the bearing of a soldier, he looked more like a man who’d been imprisoned in a mine for years on end. His opponent was a withered, wrinkled drunk with a lame leg and an obscene look.

From the looks of them, there was nothing special about these two haggard men. In reality, however, they were once very strong and tremendously influential in the world they’d abandoned. One was the Companion of an army of demonhunters, and the other used to be hailed as Skycloud’s War Saint. They had long known about one another, their opponent’s personality and skills, so they were in a stalemate even before they started the confrontation.

Wyrmsole stared at what had become of the once-glorious War Saint and sighed emotively. “I wouldn’t have believed it before I saw with my own eyes. Even someone like you could become… like this.”

“I lost that fight fairly. No complaints.” He punctuated the assurances with a wry chuckle, then continued dismissively. “I’m sure you know very well what Arcturus Cloude is capable of. You used to be one of the ones he trusted most.”

Something unnatural flashed in the depths of Wyrsmole’s eyes. The old drunk’s words had struck a nerve. “The past is the past, and maturity brings clarity – no more need to be said. He is insane. Evil. Our shared enemy. You are on the wrong side. Helping the Elysian forces is to stand with him. You should pledge yourself to the Conclave.”

A former Templar leader had a resounding reputation. As impactful as the Crimson One himself! The former War Saint would see his own power grow if he chose to work with them, but more importantly, a luminary like him openly supporting the Conclave would add tremendous pressure on Skycloud. After all, he had once led the holy warriors of the Temple – he was once perhaps the mightiest warrior in all of the Elysian realms, and a representative of divine authority.

The old man’s lips curled into a grin.

“In attempting to murder Ravenous Tiger, you have shown that hate remains in the depths of your heart. Standing before you is an instrument that could help you achieve your goals.”

Wyrmsole was solemn, his tone and bearing even, presenting himself as an honest and harmless. messenger. He earnestly supplicated himself before the old drunk in the hopes of winning him to their side.

But the cripple was growing impatient. “And if I refuse?”

Disappointment clouded Wyrmsole’s stricken face. “Then you will never succeed in killing Ravenous Tiger. You are no threat to me, and to persist is only repeating old mistakes! The Conclave of Judgment is the only power that can face Arcturus. Only we can bring salvation to humanity. Is it not better to rouse yourself in the service of a great cause, than to wither away in a mire of decadence and self-pity?”

“Horseshit.” The old man irreverently picked at his ear. “You think your helter-skelter mob can achieve anything? I may be a shadow of what I used to be, but I’m not blind. I’ve suffered a lot out in the wastelands, learned a lot too. And one thing I learned is that life should be about the pursuit of happiness. If we’re going to fight, then let’s fight. I’m tired of talking.”

Regret filled Wyrmsole. The old man no longer had Skycloud in his heart, but the pride of a War Saint was part of his bones. He was willing to wander the wastelands as a vagrant, but he would not bow to it. After all, no matter how far he fell, a man of strength remained a man of strength.

Wyrmsole respected the old man. He resolved to show it by ending his pitiful life with his own hands.

Since revealing himself in their war against Skycloud, Wyrmsole had pitted himself against the stars of the younger generation. In none of those clashes had he called on his full strength, nor had he intended to kill these misguided youths. After all, his quest was to lift up the future of humanity, not bring it low.

They were still young. They could be convinced.

Wyrmsole had a son about their age. He was a father, though never really acted in that capacity. Instead he’d chosen another path, the one that brought him here. The guilt he felt for abandoning his child was like a cancer inside him, and it ached that much worse when he saw the hope for humanity’s future blaze across the battlefield. He couldn’t help but hold back.

This old man was different. He was a soldier of the old guard, a saint who had fallen from grace. Even though he was not the man he once had been, the cripple was a Skycloud legend.

Wyrmsole could show compassion to the younger generation, but not to him. It would be an insult to treat him as lesser. Besides, he had outlived his usefulness. And old institutions were hardest to tear down to their foundations. Facing an opponent like Vulkan, he was determined to show the breadth of his character.

He waved the standard held tight in his grip. Fires rose all around.

“Very well,” Wyrmsole cried out among the roaring flames. “Before the day is done, your head will adorn our flag!”

He launched into the air, rising several dozen meters while the standard flapped valiantly at his side. The sky burned in its wake, stark against the frail light of dark and painting the clouds above an angry red. The flames gathered together into reptilian forms, dragons of fire that writhed around their master.

What a spectacular scene – a beacon of fire in the early dawn, shocking to behold.

Those forest dragons that had drawn near were frightened by the surge of power. They kept their distance, wincing against the flames. But the old man stared at his foe with an ineffable fire of his own smoldering in the depths of his eyes. His metal walking stick came alive with a shimmering halo that covered his body.

He looked like a divine avatar, bathed in holy light. His gnarled and hunched body stood tall in defiance. A battle fervor he hadn’t felt for a long time filled him.

Air combusted around the crimson priest, hot gusts causing his standard to flap. Angry red dragons undulated around him, leaving fire and smoke in their passage that formed into a giant vortex. A stifling power rose with the maelstrom, filling the forest.

This was his path, one he’d chosen. It left him with scars and memories too bitter to recall, but the path of the betrayer – sacrificing his pride and glory – was not one he regretted. His conscience was clear.

“The Skyfire Banner. Can it really set the skies ablaze?”

The buffetted heat turned the old man’s face red. His mind recalled a scene from long ago.

It was him. The dignified leader of the invincible Templars. The man who warriors once looked up to as their War Saint. One of the mightiest fighters in all the realm.

He had spent most of his life surrounded by that blinding glory. Then, all at once, he was cast into darkness – a forgotten vagrant wandering the wastelands. Once he had led the Templars far and wide, before learning his own friend was murdered by a treasonous disciple and there was nothing he could do. A long time ago he had stood at the peak of the world, and now he was a ghost aimlessly stalking its gutters.

That long-buried disgrace bubbled back to the forefront of his mind. 

Was the War Saint dead? 

The old drunk closed his eyes. Six whole years he’d spent drowning himself in alcohol. What was the use of this husk of a form he kept dragging from place to place?

He’d had his heart set on death when he stole into Fishmonger’s Borough. Kill Ravenous Tiger, and let the city guards cut him down. That had been the plan – an ignoble period to this farce of a life he lived. But circumstances conspired to even steal that from him. Neither he nor his failed disciple died that day.

But he thought on it for a time, and it was good he didn’t die. What a worthless death, a shameful way to go.

He still desired to die, but wished to see his life snuffed out in glorious fashion. A final period to his story was inevitable, but he was now determined to see that last sentence carry weight.

Was cremation good enough?

No!

The old man’s eyes popped open. He stood in the heart of a firestorm, with a blazing sky descending his way. A smile spread his cracked lips. He did not fear, did not cower – he attacked.

His assault ruptured the shackles that had held him back; tore through the barriers he built around himself.

From the shell of Dawnguard’s light, a spear of illumination shot forth. In an instant the beam pierced through the firestorm. It was powerful enough to run through the storm without impediment, to strike at its heart – the banner in Wyrmsole’s hand.

The forest all around them was enveloped in flames. So intense were the flames that the enormous trees turned black like dried kindling. 

Vulkan’s attack struck Wyrmsole hard enough that he was flung back several meters. Blood spat forth from his mouth. When he righted himself, his shocked eyes turned back to the old figure standing in the sea of fire. “You strength… it’s like it never left you!”

The nimbus of light around the old man gradually faded. He almost stumbled as exhaustion washed over him. That strike had been the most he could muster.

His alcohol-stepped cells were beginning to reawaken, but the old man knew the truth. After fermenting for so long, even with the aid given to him by Autumn, this was it – the last light of a setting sun.

How much longer did he have? A year? Half a year? 

It would be enough!

For much of his life, the former Templar had lived his life for glory and for the mission. At the end of his days he’d taken the opportunity to live in freedom, doing and going where he pleased. What did he have to regret?

Fires continued to rage around him, lethal and hungry. He risked being burned alive or suffocating if he remained for much longer.

“Stop fighting! Let’s get the hell out of here!”

Cloudhawk blinked into existence beside him. He didn’t expect to show up in the middle of a fucking apocalypse though, and now wasn’t the time to play with the barefoot zealot either. He looked for a way out.

Wyrmsole saw that the two were preparing to run. “After them,” he shouted to his subordinates, “Don’t let them escape!”

Yet even as he shouted the orders the sound of conflict could be heard from several directions. One of the missionaries came racing toward him. “No good. The Elysian army and the Highwaymen are both here. We’re outnumbered and fighting on several fronts.”

“Damnit!”

Wyrmsole didn’t think they’d get here so fast, but it wasn’t unimaginable when he thought about it. Their battle could likely be felt through the whole forest. It would be hard to ignore. It was only a matter of time before others players came to interfere.

Nothing could be done about it. They had to do what they could to hold the Highwaymen and Elysians back.

As for Cloudhawk and the drunk? They were a troublesome group, but not enough to cause Adder any significant danger. After all, Adder was no ordinary man. He had to have faith that Adder could handle things on his own.

Cloudhawk teleported himself and the drunk back to the grassy clearing with a series of jumps. Dragons flew by overhead in sizable groups, a fact which made him spew a few choice curses.

Most were headed toward the forest, but a few were still nearby. When they spotted the small group trying to pass the grassy expanse toward the Godtree, they swooped in to attack.

Fortunately Cloudhawk and the drunk arrived in time.

Together they quickly dispatched a dozen or so of the dragons that got close, and in that time closed the distance to the Godtree. Autumn led them to a passageway made out of roots, which she claimed would lead them to the mausoleum. Everyone squeezed in.

Dragons screeched in protest outside, but the opening was too small for them to enter. They clawed and roared at the entrance but were forced to remain outside.

 

Previous Chapter Next Chapter