Master of the Blind God

John Owen Skinner

The plains of Elil spread out before Jokai like a marble countertop, stretching unbroken into the distance, pure and white. Nothing moved upon the plain, nor were there any features to break up the monotonous terrain. It was nothing but a long, lonely stretch of land, devoid of life save the high-flying eagles that were pinpricks of black in the glassy sky. Holding a hand to his forehead, the man peered into the distance, trying to discern the edge of the endless, ashen expanse, but he could see nothing more but white dirt touching the horizon.

In all honesty, it cannot be said that the sight disappointed him. Jokai had spent the greater part of a week trudging through the sludge of marsh and swamp, and he was glad to be away from the sucking mud and the steaming offal. His people had no name for the swamps through which he had trekked, but he surmised that was only because none had ever dared to enter. Had they done so, a thousand names would have sprung to mind, each more condemnatory than the last. It was impossible to view the blackened and twisted vegetation, or to breath the thick, putrid air, and not imagine a thousand maledictory names for the tainted place.

With a heavy sigh, the big man hefted his pack, tightened his grip on his bronze-bladed spear, and set off at a trot. The fleshy red sun already approached the western horizon, and he wished to cover as much distance as possible before the chill blackness of night forced him to stop.

Moving with a stride that ate up the miles, he made what could be considered excellent progress if there were any way in that forsaken land to measure progress. Alas, with no landmarks, and nothing but flatlands as far in any direction as the eye could see, it was impossible to tell how much distance he had covered. That fact alone was somewhat discouraging, but Jokai knew he was gradually growing closer to his destination. As the sun slid drunkenly below the horizon and the sky deepened into purple, he was forced to arrest his progress and make camp, aware that things crawled the plain during the night that did not show their faces to the light of day.

With no trees, nor any scrubs, as a fuel source, the traveler was required to do without the warmth and safety of a fire, and he cursed himself roundly for failing to consider that before he began his journey. Still, there was nothing to be done about it now, so after a repast of bread and smoked meat, Jokai curled up on the ground, blanket drawn over his body, clutching his spear close. If something were to assail him during the night, it would be impaled as quickly as he could awake, for his reflexes were as fast as his muscles were powerful.

The night passed uneventful, though he awoke with pain and stiffness in his joints, a direct result of the bitter cold that cloaked the land when night stole upon it. With morning, however, came warmth, and by the time he was ready to continue his voyage, his muscles had relaxed and grown strong in the morning sun, and he resumed his trip with vigor. If he was correct, he had three days left of travel before he arrived at the tower of the warlord Xuthal, and the closeness of his destination infused his step with a certain nervous energy that we feel when we approach our goals near enough to see them in our mind’s eye.

The sun sank once, then twice, and on the third day, Jokai strode into the sun with a strange foreboding that weighed upon his brow. Every so often, a chill would shiver down his back, so intense that he would gasp and break stride. When this would happen, he would cast about, searching land and sky for the cause of the sensation, but as always, there was nothing about. Each time, he would grip his spear tightly and grit his teeth, forcing himself to continue. It was said that Xuthal commanded magics beyond human ken, and that he could summon unknown things from black abysses when he so chose. It was said that he could kill from afar, and so each time he felt an icy hand on his spine, Jokai had to force from his mind the idea that the warlord was trying to enspell him, safe within his fortress. If that were true, there would be no point in continuing his journey, and Jokai was determined to see it through.

The fearful episodes took their toll, but they did not dissuade the man from his mission, and he had put another dozen miles behind him when he finally sank to his knees, exhausted. Rivulets of sweat, blood red in the dying sun, ran down his bare torso, and he gasped in great lungfuls of air. Jokai lifted his face to the setting sun, letting its final rays bathe him in their fading glory, when another feeling of grim menace, more awful than any before, washed over him.

This time Jokai knew something was near, and that it drew closer. He could neither see nor hear anything that would warn him, but some sense, hidden deep within the primeval human mind, told him that something approached, something that meant him harm.

Momentarily overcome with fear, Jokai remained still, the hot sweat turning to ice water as it ran down his body. Minutes bled into one another, until he no longer knew how long he had waited for the nameless horror that approached him. He shivered in the heat of the sun, bloated and purple before him, creakily setting itself below the horizon, his knuckles bone white as he gripped the spear as if it were the one thing that could save him from the unknowable and awful fate that awaited him.

He was suddenly struck by a blast of sand, and nearly pitched backwards in shock. The unexpected incident, so mundane and banal, broke him free from his fear-induced trance, and he stumbled to his feet, cursing and wiping the grit form his eyes. When his vision returned, he saw something standing before him, perhaps ten feet away; an awful black thing that he could never have imagined existed on the same world as man.

The body of the animal, if it was indeed an animal, stood nearly three feet tall and was shaped vaguely like that of a bird, but it was no bird that belonged on Earth. The thing had no legs, for one, nor did it have feathers, but its long, spindly appendages seemed to impersonate the idea of wings. Perched upon an impossibly long, impossibly thin neck was a bulbous head that leered crazily at him, with a face that brought to mind the naked face of a vulture and the features of a man. Features of a man crazily distorted by madness and evil, but the features of a man nonetheless.

Words stuck in the man’s throat, but loathing and terror gave way to anger, and Jokai demanded, in a clear, loud voice, “What are you? In the name of all the gods in the heavens, tell me!”

The creature rasped and grumbled, its fat head bobbling on a neck too reedy to possibly support it. It eyed him with a dark look of menace, its fat lips drooling some noisome substance, and Jokai was almost sick to look at it. Its eyes, pale and white, peered hatefully at him above its flabby cheeks, regarding him with a look of both revulsion and contempt.

“I am the Servitor of Xuthal, He of the Awful Truth, Advocate of Fthogguxil,” the creature intoned. Its voice was that of bones cracking in the jaws of the hyena, or the groaning of the dead interred too shallow. “You are a fool to seek the Master. The shadow of Nyogtha lies upon you. Turn back, turn back! Or death shall be your fate.” The creature descended into a fit of croaking that might pass as laughter to a being that had never heard the laughter of men before.

“Never!” Jokai could not recognize his own voice as it cried out, impassioned as it was. It was not the voice of a man overcome with fear, but that of one who has stared into the darkness of the netherworld and found only a burning, flaming fury. “Your master will pay with his blood for what he has done! He has destroyed my people, and for that, he will die!” Never has a man spoken with such passionate intensity, such feeling.

The creature only cackled again. “Poor fool that you are, you cannot see your fate is decided already. All who stand before the Master must die, for he commands the second sphere, and against him are all men impotent. Iä! Iä! Master, another sacrifice approaches! Shukt Xuthal ie throdag Vthoggu!”

Jokai, driven to frenzy by the creature’s monstrous laughter, hefted his spear and charged the beast, his face fixed in a rictus of rage. The Servitor of Xuthal was caught quite off guard, and the thing whipped its body backwards in a flash, shrieking in hatred as the man drew near. The foul thing tried to take flight, but Jokai, incensed as he was, was too fast, and the tip of his spear found the creature’s breast even as its bony wings struggled to find purchase in the still air.

As the weapon touched the monster’s oily skin, there was a great thunderclap, as if lightning had struck stone, and Jokai was thrown off his feet and stunned by the sheer force of it. His muscles were frozen in place as waves of agony roiled through his body, and he screamed to the sky in his pain.

As suddenly as the pain had struck him, it departed, and Jokai sat up to watch the black shape disappear into the sky, moving with the speed of a satanic thunderbolt. The agony had left him entirely, and his limbs moved as easily as if nothing had happened. Mystified, the warrior cast around for his spear, but found only a smoldering length of charred wood, the bronze head shattered by the titanic force that had been unleashed. A thick, acrid odor hung in the air, smelling of fire and decay, and the man forced himself to his feet. He could not make camp here.

By the time the sun crept into the sky the next morning, Jokai was already on the move. The visitation by Xuthal’s lackey was proof that he was getting close, and his fingers itched as he trekked across the plains, eager to wrap themselves around the sorcerer’s throat in an iron grip. Giving more spring to his step was a massive hill blotting out further sight at the edge of his vision, far across the dusty plain, and somehow he knew his destination lay just on the other side of that hill.

As the sun crawled across the glassy expanse of the sky and the heat beat down upon the traveling warrior, the hill grew larger and larger in his vision. The sight renewed him, and his shuffling trudge was replaced again by a rapid trot, so eager was he to reach the conclusion of his journey. The grit and the heat did not stay him; he put his head down and charged onward, immune to the effects of the energy-sapping warmth of the plains at high noon.

As afternoon melded into evening, Jokai reached the foot of the hillock. Pausing to wipe the sweat from his brow, he gazed upwards, mentally gauging the obstacle’s height. It was no more than a hundred feet high and sloped gently, covered in the short, coarse grass that covered the rest of the plain. To the right and left it curved away from him, forming a half-circle with Jokai standing on the outside. It should take no more than half an hour to reach the top, the same to reach the bottom on the other side, and he would make camp there.

The warrior took a minute to catch his breath and wipe the grit from his eyes. Stretching his tired muscles, rolling his shoulders, he took stock of the situation. His spear had been ruined by the creature he’d encountered the night before, but he still had his sword, a short, wide-bladed bronze weapon meant for stabbing, with a chisel tip and a pommel of leather. Jokai clutched the weapon reassuringly, smiling grimly as he hefted the weight of the sword in his fist. Soon, he would plunge that sword into the dark wizard’s chest, and his people would be avenged.

With a deep breath, he started up the hill at a trot, taking easy strides up the surface. The hard-packed dirt gave him good purchase, and the pinnacle, such as it was, approached rapidly. Even so, the hill sloped more profoundly than he thought, and he was soon covered in a sheen of thick sweat, sucking breath loudly through clenched teeth. By the time he reached the top, he was worn out, but it was not physical exhaustion that caused him to fall to his knees.

Before him, within half a mile, was the tower of the warlord Xuthal. It stood straight and black, like a titanic nail, shooting into the sky in the middle of an empty plain. From his vantage point, Jokai could see that the hill he stood upon snaked around in both directions so that it formed a perfect circle, with the mammoth tower standing in the center. If he’d had a bridge, he could have walked over it to the roof of the structure, as it was no higher nor lower than the ramparts of earth that encircled it.

It made no sense to him. Why would someone build a tower, surrounded by walls of earth, but short enough that those in the tower could not look out past the fortifications protecting it? If the tower were fifty feet taller, it could afford a clear view of the surrounding countryside, flat as it was, for miles, but the way it was constructed, unless there were scouts on the top of the hills, the inhabitants of the tower would not see an approaching army, much less a single man bent on revenge.

Encircling the tower, at a distance of perhaps fifty feet, was a low wall made of the same featureless black stone, standing perhaps a mere five feet tall. Again, Jokai was at a loss to explain why someone would bother to build a wall so easily scaled. The warlord was either arrogant to the point of folly, or he was as powerful as it was said, in which case, he had nothing to fear from the swords and armies of mortal men.

Squinting in the dim light, the warrior could make out what appeared to be sentries making their rounds about the outer wall. A few minutes of careful observation revealed four such sentries, each of who was easy to see for the gleam of his chain mail shirt. Their movements seemed carefully synchronized, as a guardsman would pass a given point every five minutes, suggesting it took twenty minutes to walk about the perimeter of the wall. This would give a burglar ample opportunity to slip past unnoticed, presuming there were no other sentries on the inside of the walls, and from what Jokai could tell, there were none.

Jokai had intended to assault the tower in the morning, but upon learning his destination to be so close, he was overcome with the desire to enact his revenge as immediately as possible. Accordingly, he turned and took a few steps down the hill away from the tower, so as not to be seen, and proceeded to take his supper. Those there seemed to be only a few guards at the tower, Jokai knew he could not approach the edifice without being seen. Thus, he decided to wait until the sun had fallen entirely below the horizon and make his approach under the cover of darkness. His hands itched with anticipation, and it was all he could do to force himself to lie down and rest.

After what seemed an eternity, the sun slid gingerly behind the hill, and soon twilight was replaced by utter and complete darkness. Rising to his feet, Jokai took a rapid inventory. Speed and stealth were essential, and so his pack, with his food and various sundries, he left behind. If he survived this encounter, he would return for them. If he did not, the vultures and the rats could have what food he had left. Double-checking each leather strap, the man stole to the top of the hill, threw himself onto his stomach, and began to creep downward as fast as he could.

Bizarrely, sentries carried no torches, no any source of light Jokai could see. The only light, in fact, was that which flickered in the windows of the topmost floor in the tower, and that was a pale, sputtering illumination that would serve no use as a spotting-light. Surely the sentries were as blind as he in the darkness! Even so, he would chance nothing, not this close to his goal, and so he remained on his belly, slithering through the dirt like a snake, slow going that it was.

Time crawled forward slowly as the warrior’s blood pounded in his temples. He wanted to stand up and run, shouting his battle cry as he did so, slaying all that stood between him and his quarry. But he was no match for four men in mail shirts, and there was no way to know how many more dwelt within the darkened tower, so he wisely stayed silent, half crawling, half crouching, like a panther stalking its prey.

Gradually, the distance between the hunter and his victim diminished until he reached that outer wall, grim and black in the darkness. The still of the night was broken only by the measured tread of the guards’ footsteps, and a faint, somnolent voice coming from within the tower, too far off to be clearly heard, but clearly chanting or reading aloud. Jokai pressed his belly to the ground, perhaps twenty feet from the wall, and waited patiently for the nearest guard to make his round. If he were to be seen, he would be forced to fight to the death, as there was nowhere to escape. If Jokai ran back the way he came, he would be easily tracked, and he knew not what was before him. So he waited.

By and by, a sentry approached, precisely when Jokai had anticipated. The man strode through the darkness boldly, as if he feared nothing despite his near-blindness. Jokai could make him out only by the reflection of the pale glow from the tower reflecting dully off the man’s mail shirt, but he could see clearly enough. The guard walked without hesitation, without fear, gripping a bill with a blade of burnished steel. His pace was precise, his posture perfect, his poise like that of a man who fears nothing in this world. Jokai was impressed in spite of himself, for he would surely be less self-assured in the near blackness of the night if he were charged with keeping safe his master’s tower.

As the man marched by, he turned, and in a fraction of a second, Jokai got a look at his face in a good light. Only an act of supreme willpower kept him from gasping at the sight, for what he saw was no man, similar though it was. The being masquerading as a man lacked both visible nose and mouth, and its skin was a dusky red rather than the sun-worn tan of the people in this part of the world. There was something sinister about the creature’s eyes as well, but if asked, Jokai could not have articulated what it was. All he knew for sure was that this was no man.

For a moment, all thought of vengeance were gone as the warrior crouched silently in the humid darkness, shivering in horror at the thought of what he had just witnessed. It was one thing to meet a monster of the abyss that cruelly mocked all forms of ordinary and healthy shape, such as the Servitor of Xuthal, but to know that some of these fiends could pass as a man! That was unconscionable, an affront to everything the word “man” stood for or brought to mind. What chance had anyone against a foe from beyond the farthest horizons that could nonetheless disguise itself as an ordinary man?

Moments passed, and dread fear gave way to steely resolve. Now, more than ever, Jokai was determined to destroy the wizard at all costs. Never could he suffer to let such a dreadful enemy exist, one who could call forth the kinds of awful things he had encountered in the past few days. He would destroy Xuthal, not only for himself and his people, but for all the people of Earth.

Newly resolved, Jokai waited a moment more, then launched himself into a crouching run, keeping low yet still moving as fast as he dared. Within moments he reached the wall, and planting his hands firmly onto the stone, he vaulted over it and landed in a crouch on the other side, holding himself absolutely motionless except for the rise and fall of his chest. There was still no sound save the crunch of the sentry’s boots, far off now, and the low, throbbing voice coming from within the tower. After a moment, he was certain he had not been detected, and began his final approach to the tower.

There were no more guards within the limits of the wall; there was in fact nothing at all. Not even a blade of grass grew in the hard-packed dirt, and there were no buildings or fortifications other than the tower itself. Jokai did not waste time pondering this, but later he would wonder anew what purpose the tower served if there were no defenses built within its expanse, no buttresses or palisades to protect.

Staying low and moving quickly, the warrior reached the tower in moments, hardly daring to breathe. He was close enough to actually touch the domicile of his hated enemy! This he did, to draw reassurance that he was really as closed to vengeance as it seemed, but at the touch, his hand recoiled. The tower was built of the same black, slick stone as the outer wall, but something about it felt wrong. The ebony stone, so black it could be seen only as an absence of light, seemed to throb in time to the eerie music beneath his touch. He put his palm to the tower once more, and this time he was sure of it. The rock beneath his hand pulsed as if it was alive and he was feeling the building’s heartbeat.

For the second time that night, Jokai broke out in a cold sweat, chilled to his very core. What manner of alien rock could produce a sensation like that of a beating heart? What kind of black magic was used to create this damnable place? Crouching in the darkness, one hand frozen to the side of the tower, the other gripping his sword hard enough to turn his knuckles bone white, he shivered despite the heat of the night. How could he fight an enemy whose very home possessed unearthly power? How monstrously dangerous must the tower’s owner be? Little wonder it was said about Xuthal that he knew things, did things that were beyond the comprehension of mortal men.

Eventually, the fire of vengeance overcame the icy chill of doom, and again, the altogether alien aspect of his foe filled Jokai with renewed determination to destroy the warlock, granting a new vigor to his limbs. Steeling himself, the warrior began to creep ‘round the tower, looking for an entrance, determined to creep in through a window or, if need be, storm the front door.

Time crept by with infinitesimal slowness, but after a period, Jokai came to realize he had been circling the tower far longer than it should have taken to circumnavigate the entire edifice. Nowhere had he seen a door, nor even a window or arrow-slit except near the top of the tower. Puzzled, he scratched a symbol in the dirt, and when he next came upon it, he knew he had gone ‘round the tower in itself entirety without finding a single point of ingress.

Overcome with disappointment, the man collapsed at the foot of the tower. He had come so far, braved so many dangers, seen so many things which filled him with horror, only to bump up against something as impenetrable, and improbable, as a stone wall. The surface was too smooth to scale, and far too hard to pummel his way in. It seemed as though his quest for revenge had been derailed by something as simple as a perplexing lack of a door.

Had Jokai thought of it, this fact explained the pathetic defenses elsewhere around the tower. Why build a wall to protect a tower that could not be breached? There were no doors to batter down, no windows crawl through. The tower was safe from attack for the simple fact that there was no way in.

At the moment, however, Jokai was not thinking of defenses or sieges. Instead, he was crushed beneath the weight of despair, the impossibility of carrying out his sworn mission too awful to bear. He sat in the dust, alone and miserable, elbows resting on his knees, head hung low. He felt like a worm in the dirt, useless and weak. Never, not even when he had discovered his village raised and his people murdered, had he despaired so deeply.

Who could say how long he sat there in the dirt, misery and despair flooding his mind with cold awfulness? In the utter blackness of the night, nothing moved, nothing changed to mark the passage of time. Perhaps the wizard's inhuman guards saw him as they marched past, perhaps not. It did not matter. All that mattered was that he had failed in his holy mission.

With a start, Jokai realized he was no longer alone. His head shot up, and he saw the outline of a man standing before him. The warrior cursed himself for being so careless, for letting someone sneak up on him in such a dangerous place. Leaping to his feet, he demanded in a voice that shook with grief the identity of the interloper.

"I am Xuthal," the figure answered simply.

Suddenly, all the despair of a moment ago was lost as a burning rage burst upon Jokai. He had seemingly failed in his mission, only for his target to come out of his impenetrable tower and stand before him, unarmed, as if daring the warrior to slay him. Snarling with fury, Jokai reached into his belt and tore his bronze sword from its scabbard. Raising the weapon above his head, he took a step forward, intent on bringing the blade down squarely upon the socerer's head.

For only a moment, the world went black and Jokai was overcome with a peculiar sensation of being lifted off his feet, or perhaps it was the earth that fell away from him. At any rate, the sensation lasted only briefly, and as soon as it passed, the warrior completed his savage downswing, only for his weapon to pass through empty air.

Jokai staggered forward, the force of the blow combined with the sudden surprise of finding his foeman standing out of his reach causing him to lose his balance. As soon as he had regained his footing, he charged forward, sword lifted again, rapidly closing the distance between the dark warlord and himself. But revenge was not to be his so easily. The figure spoke a line in a broken, cursed language he could not recognize and Jokai found his muscles frozen, seized by some mighty force that would not permit him to move even an inch.

"So, you have come to slay me, Jokai of the Nemedenes?" The voice was a deep baritone, full of mockery and dripping with contempt, that echoed off the hills and came back upon itself, lending an otherworldly characteristic to the cruel words.

"How do you know my name?" The question was shouted, boiling with rage the warrior could barely contain.

His interrogator chuckled, a deep and awful sound that seemed to rise up from the ground itself. "I know a great many things, fool. I know things you could not imagine to be true, even in your most fantastic nightmares. If you are lucky, perhaps I might share some of my knowledge with you."

"You can keep your damned knowledge, blasphemer! I am here for your head!" Jokai could not explain why he could speak yet not move anything else, but, truth be told, he had not even noticed. So incensed was he that Jokai had not even noticed he was no longer standing outside the tower where the wizard had appeared a few moments ago. Now, however, he saw for the first time that he had been transported without his knowing it, and his words froze in his throat.

The men were standing now atop the tower, a flat expanse of ebon stone beneath their feet, rather than the dry soil of the plains. The stars glared balefully at them from the cosmos, twinkling with a vile and malicious light. The moon was enormous in the sky, a waxy disc that shone full upon them, illuminating everything upon the tower-top but Xuthal himself, who seemed cloaked in shadow despite the unearthly illumination. At each edge of the circular tower, the roof ended abruptly, falling desperately into space, and Jokai somehow felt that if he were to plunge over the edge, he might never stop falling.

The sorcerer laughed, perhaps sensing his victim's sudden realization. "Do you now see? The laws of nature that you know are not the laws which bind me, simpleton. It is simple for me to bypass them when I so choose. That being the case, what," the wizard chuckled again, a chilling sound that cut to the warrior's bones and froze him with their awful intent, "what do you expect to do with that?"

No longer paralyzed, Jokai glanced down at the sword gripped in his fist. Against an enemy who could whisk a man a hundred feet in the air as casually as one might brush the dust from his breeches, the gleaming weapon seemed woefully inadequate. The warrior's grip tightened around the hilt and his teeth ground together in frustration, and he shot the wizard a look so foul that even Xuthal seemed momentarily taken aback. It was only a temporary reaction, however, for quickly the vile warlock regained his mirth.

"Ahh, see, now you begin to understand. The only question, then, is whether I shall kill you myself, or if I should cast you into my tower for The Blind One to do with as he wishes." The wizard's voice bubbled with merriment, his shadowed face hovering in the darkness like a specter's grim visage.

"You've enslaved a blind man? Wretch, is there no end to your depravity?" Jokai snarled as ferociously as a hunting cat, and at the moment was even more dangerous than one, but the malice in his words seemed only to amuse his foe further.

"Nay, not a man, but a god. One of the Old Gods, the things that came to Earth before man was born. He dwells below us, a prisoner of my power. Perhaps I should let him devour you; I imagine it would certainly be entertaining."

What kind of man could enslave a god, Jokai wondered? Perhaps this fantastic villain was no man, but a monster from the gulfs of space that had taken the form of a man, like the faceless red things that guarded his tower. Or perhaps he served some other god, one of the dark and evil gods who were unknown among the Nemedenes, who had granted him such power that he was now the greater. He shuddered at the thought that he might be facing an enemy whose power was greater even that of a god; the only mystery was why he had been permitted to survive as long as he had.

But vengeance is a primal power, a power greater than magic, perhaps. The mystic fear assailing Jokai was beaten down by the smoldering anger of his vengeance, and with a cry, he leapt for his adversary, intent on shredding the wizard regardless of whatever sorcery he might conjure up. He must have looked fearsome indeed: the starlight glimmered off the burnished blade held aloft in his right hand, his face a grotesque rictus of hatred, his left hand reaching to grasp his enemy’s throat. A lesser man may well have cowered before the mad assault, but the warlord Xuthal merely lifted his hand and spoke.

“Geb'l-ee'ht a’if ng’anthg…” The words tumbled from the sorcerer’s lips, words no living man had dared to pronounce, word that froze the charging warrior’s blood with their awful music. They were not words that any man of this Earth could have imagined, but rather words from some alien world where the mode of speech is entirely different from our own. The eldritch words crashed and gamboled and exploded in the air, and Jokai felt as if the world had gone mad and he was spinning helplessly through the cosmos, a prisoner of a language that could not exist.

“Eloi ai’mth rhoz…” Only a few feet separated the two now, both intent on delivering the ultimate destruction upon the other. One man was moving like a charging bull, face contorted in fury, yet his eyes glazed with terror. The other man was calm, standing his ground, unarmed, but with an outstretched hand, chanting in the bizarre alien language that so terrified his foe. Each knew that whomever struck first would also strike last, for if Jokai could not hope to survive the spell his enemy was weaving, nor could Xuthal hope to withstand the flashing sword that cut the night in seeking his head.

“Gab’alt ogthred s’ai Vnogg!” And with that, the incantation was finished. A burst of light exploded from the wizard’s palm, and Jokai was engulfed in flames. The warrior screamed mercilessly as he flailed to and fro, gouts of greasy black smoke rising from his body, until he toppled off the edge of the tower and plummeted towards the ground. Even then, he screams refused to subside for hours afterwards, as the supernatural flames scorched his flesh slowly, slowly, until there was nothing left but ashes.

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