The Dark

Interlude: Forging the Iron Soul

Becoming a man once more

Written by Luke

Kegan raised his hand to block the sunlight from his eyes as he walked out of the pyramid prison. The days of torch light made the bright afternoon sun nearly unbearable, but the battlemind gritted his teeth and made due. He was alive now, thanks to his friends. The incident with the medusa concerned Kegan more than anything else in the prison. He had thought his body and mind strong, strong enough to overcome any obstacle. Yet, the medusa overpowered him and turned him to stone. It was unacceptable to leave his friends in such a dangerous position. He was thankful that they managed to befriend the cushani in their time of need. From the way they spoke, he was helpful, though a bit odd.

As the group gazed back at the prison, Kegan turned to the group as they collected their things to travel back to town, “I…” he started to say but stopped. He wasn’t sure how to bring up the subject of leaving to his friends. Could he leave them to face fate without him? He could not bring himself to put them in such danger again.

Belgarde cocked his head to one side, “Everything ok, no?” he said with a curious expression, but Kegan simply shook his head. The rest of the group stopped what they were doing and all turned their full attention to the battlemind. He frowned slightly at this as he hated public speaking, even in front of friends. He was a battle hardened warrior, not some politician.

The big man gave a sigh. “No, no it isn’t. I have…I need to do something, find something to help me,” he said quickly. As confusion touched their faces, the battlemind quickly added, “I know there are more things to be done and I want to help, but…I…” he tried to say but fell silent as he couldn’t find the words.

Soveliss snapped his fingers as a look of remembrance came across his face. “I almost forgot! You needed to go see that guy! You mentioned it earlier and it slipped my mind,” he said and then looked to the group as the battlemind tried to hide his confusion. “Kegan and I spoke one night during watch. He needs to see a guy about his mind stuff. Help him be stronger or something like that.”

The group nodded their understanding and gave their support to Kegan before going back to their packs. The bard made his way over to Kegan and put his hand on his shoulder with a big smile. “It’s okay. Just find what you are looking for hm?” he whispered, patted his shoulder and walked off. Kegan watched the bard wander off to join the others as he pulled out the Orb of Vyrellis and began talking with the group about some mission to the Feywild that would need some extensive research before jumping into so Kegan could finish his business.

Kegan turned his back to the group as he picked up his pack. His back shielded his misty eyes from the rest of the group. He couldn’t let them see his emotional thanks for letting him do what he needed to do. The question was; what was needed to be done to make him stronger?

Kegan looked up at the massive monastery that was nestled into the mountainside. A winding set of stone steps carved out of the mountain made its way to a single entrance at the lowest level of the complex. There was no sound of inhabitants from the building, only the rustling of flags in the mountain winds. Kegan looked back down at his hand drawn map to make sure he was in the right place. The landmarks all appeared to be correct, but the monastery looked deserted. “Great,” he mumbled to himself and stuffed the map back into his pack.

The mountain winds gusted heavily as the battlemind began to make his way towards the entrance to the monastery, forcing him to bring his cloak closer to his body to cut the chill. He was good at ignoring pain, one of the best. He still didn’t care for the cold though. It made his teeth chatter.

After making his way up the stairs, he arrived at a large, iron-reinforced oak door. A large iron knocker in the shape of an eagle’s claw was on the center of the door and well worn, but from the elements more than actual use. The battlemind reached up and used the knocker three times as he had been instructed to by the old psion he met five days ago in a small fishing village.

Craag was an old, cranky man whom he met during his travels after his escape from the Forzen. Through the fiery temper and abusive language was a soft-hearted man who tried to help Kegan with his problems when he could. When Kegan showed up at his doorstep after his escape from the pyramid, the old man gave him an earful of foul language and get-the-hell-off-my-doorstep attitude. He then smiled and invited Kegan inside the small cottage where Kegan retold his recent adventure inside the pyramid. Craag fused over the details, as usual, and eventually told Kegan of an old master he knew that had learned to take absolute control over his body with his mind. The master was able to focus his mind to such a degree that he could transform his body into anything he wished. Such ability could help with the petrification that Kegan had suffered.

Pulling his mind back out of its reverie, Kegan waited at the door for an answer. He waited for two days in the chilly mountain weather for an answer to the door until at last, the door opened to reveal a boy of not more than ten summers. He was dressed in simple robes and sandals. His head was freshly shaved and was adorned with multiple tattoos of various tribal designs of animals. He looked curiously at Kegan for several silent minutes and then bowed his head and said, “Welcome Kegan. I have been waiting for you.”

Kegan blinked in surprise but then quickly cursed himself for being surprised. The boy was a psion after all. He could probably easily read his mind like an open book. The battlemind bowed his head in return. “I have come to learn from you,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone.

The boy gave a gentle smile. “You already know what I have to teach your Kegan, you must learn to understand why,” he said and stepped out of the way of the door.

“Once more,” commanded the boy as he sat cross-legged in front of Kegan, who was lying on his back at the center of the courtyard. The battlemind grunted his acknowledgment and then braced himself and concentrated. His body quivered, and then his skin began to harden, changing colors from flesh to metal. It was slow at first, starting at his chest and working outwards. A giant boulder then appeared six feet above him and dropped with crushing force.

Kegan tried to keep his focus on his body transformation as best as he could. He had been hit by the boulder so many times now, he was finally able to project his resistance to the pain outward and prior to the pain. The clarity he gained after pushing past the expectation of pain was a breakthrough. Normally, pain was something to be ignored and endured. It kept him focused and his mind centered. It had never occurred to him to take the next step in the progression of pain tolerance. Craag had told him that by projecting the mental resistance to the rest of the body, one could become something harder than flesh.

The first time Kegan tried, he turned himself into a statue, but found himself unable to move and frankly, unnerved by it. Once he was able to recover, Craag told him that stone was a perfectly acceptable element to become should one wish to resist pain. Kegan argued that he couldn’t fight if he was a statue.

As the training continued, Kegan learned to better project his resistance and transform his form into something more flexible, living iron. The form was somewhat frightening at first, though Kegan quickly grew to like the form. His current stumbling block, however, was maintaining the form under constant assault. Craag decided that the most efficient way for Kegan to learn was to drop boulders on him.

As the boulder rolled of Kegan’s body, the iron skin quickly faded as Kegan struggled to maintain control over his body. The iron swirled about his flesh for several moments until it stabilized and covered his body once more. The battlemind groaned as he sat up and then was whacked in the chest with a stick by and Craag said, “You must concentrate more.”

Kegan started to rub his chest when a booming voice echoed throughout the monastery, “Craag! I’ve come for you Craag!”

Kegan immediately got to his feet and moved over to his shirt to put it on. “Master, who is that?” he asked, but the boy simply looked to the sky with a neutral look to his face. “My old student has returned for his final lesson,” he replied and began to walk towards the common room. Kegan moved to walked just behind Craag into the room where he immediately went to a trunk which contained his sword and armor.

Craag looked to the hallway which led to the front entrance and moved to stand at the center of the room. “Remember to concentrate,” he told Kegan without looking at him.

The battlemind began strapping on his armor as the thunderous thump came from the front door. “Of course master.”

After finishing with his armor, Kegan took hold of his sword and shield and cracked his neck from side to side. He dropped into a defensive stance and waited as the front entrance continued to take punishment from the battering ram outside. When the door finally gave way, the sounds of men running in armor flooded the hallway followed by the soldiers themselves. They were dressed in mismatched armor of leather and chain and wielding various melee weapons.

The soldiers swarmed through the common room, some heading straight for Craag while others flowed around the master and charged Kegan. The battlemind easily parried the first sword swing and adjusted his shield position to block the second. The third soldier came right in front with a sword thrust that hit the breastplate solid but caused no damage. Kegan grinned as he quickly sized up the opponents surrounding him. He focused his mind to augment his speed and with three quick slashes, all three soldiers fell to the ground with gaping wounds.

The battlemind quickly turned his attention to Craag to see if he was able to handle the large onslaught of soldiers charging him. To his surprise, he saw Craag was wielding a sword made of pure energy, and his flesh was completely covered in iron. He waded through the opposition like a ship through calm waters. The soldiers’ swords and hammers bounded off his iron skin leaving only scratches. Craag’s own energy sword replied to the attacks with swift strikes that sliced through the enemies’ armor like it was paper. Within only a few moments, the initial charge of soldiers had been dispatched.

Left standing alone in the doorway was a towering mind flayer dressed in black leathers with a purple sash lined in silver marking him as one of the Forzen. Unlike most of its kind, this one had an athletic build and carried itself like a training warrior. Its tentacles twitched in anticipation of meeting its former master. “Master Craag, I have waited a long time for this,” it spoke, its speech grating on the ears to Kegan.

The boy, his form still one of iron gave a formal bow to the mind flayer, “I see that you have yet to truly learn the lessons I taught you Sslisslak.” Craag replied, his tone neutral but carried the power of a master scolding his student.

Sslisslak cringed a bit at the reply but held his ground. The battle of minds had already begun. His former master was still as powerful as he was back during his training but the mind flayer knew he could beat him now. His continued training with the Forzen had expanded his abilities tenfold, more than Craag would ever teach him. Yet, the iron guardian method was still beyond his grasp. He hated his former master for holding the power from him and now he would take what was rightfully his.

Kegan watched the psionic battle play out. Though he could not physically see the assaults and defense of each combatant, he could feel the powerful thrusts and agile defenses of both minds go back and forth. The battlemind grew frustrated with his inability to help as he was never very good at external use of his psionic powers. Instead, he got a good grip on his sword and charged the mind flayer with a battle yell.

The mind flayer raised a hand towards Kegan as he charged across the room while keeping his eyes on Craag. A blast of psionic energy erupted from Sslisslak’s hand, hitting Kegan squarely in the chest. The blast blew the battlemind across the common room and out into training area. He hit the ground with a resounding crack as the stone beneath him broke away.

A minute passed before Kegan came to his senses. He was slow to get up from the blast as his whole body screamed in protest. He quickly leaned on his training and began to block the pain and tried to transform his body into the Iron Guardian. His efforts were less than perfect as only patches of iron would form. After slowly standing up, Kegan looked to the common room and saw the mind flayer advancing slowly out of the room and onto the training area. Its tentacles were covered in blood and writhing in pleasure.

Kegan looked beyond the mind flayer and saw his master sprawled on the ground, a large hole in his head. Anger clouded his judgment and his thoughts. Walls of iron formed around his mind as a white halo manifested at the crown of his head. “You will pay,” he growled at Sslisslak and readied his sword.

Quickly coming to a stop, the mind flayer studied the partially iron covered human curiously. Craag apparently had finally taught someone the ways of the Iron Guardian, or at least, partially trained someone. The iron was incomplete and wavering as the emotions of the man flowed wildly. Sslisslak then studied the human’s face as it looked familiar to him. A moment later he remembered Kegan and his training as a battlemind. He had heard of his escape and later success as a mercenary. He had not expected to find the infamous deserter, but he did plan to bring him back to the Forzen. The reward would be substantial.

The mind flayer drew its own crystalline sword and leveled it at the battlemind. The two then commenced battle. Swords clashed and blood flowed from both warriors as the battle worn on. Kegan felt his body strengthen as the battle continued, the nicks and bruises faded from his mind completely, leaving him fully mobile. Ssslisslak, on the other hand, began to grow concerned as the battle waged on. He had underestimated the shear power of a full fledged battlemind. Everything he tried to throw at the human was resisted or bounced off his armor and iron skin. He knew that, in order to beat him, he had to destroy his mind. He could not devour the mind as the iron skin prevented the favored maneuver. That left a mind attack as the only means of success.

As the mind flayer began to assault Kegan’s mind, he first found a wall of stone. Amused by the attempt, Sslisslak easily burrowed through the defense. Excitedly, he slipped through the defense to destroy the human’s mind but was surprised to find another wall, this one made of iron. Standing before the wall was Master Craag, his hands clasped behind his back and a satisfied expression on his face. Sslisslak sputtered to a stop and gasped. “Not possible,” he stammered and pointed at the image of Craag and tried to blast it away, but the assault had no effect.

“You have not learned your lesson student. You have failed your last test and now punishment must be administered,” the boy stated calmly. He brought his hands forward and slowly brought them together in front of him, clasping his hands tightly together. As he did so, Sslisslak grabbed at his head in terror and pain.

Physically, Sslisslak screamed, grabbed at his head as he did in his mind. His sword fell to the ground, shattering into a million pieces. Kegan paused in his assault for a brief moment to register that the mind flayer’s mind was broken for some reason he did not know. He then moved forward, bringing his sword in an upward arc to cut across Sslisslak’s body. The force of the blow knocked the mind flayer to the ground as blood flew in a high arc across the training area. Kegan’s body whirled around with the force of the swing, bringing his sword down to the ground where the tip ran along the stone. Sparks showered from the contact with the stone as the sword ran its collision course with Sslisslak’s head.

The screaming stopped, for which Kegan was grateful. He paused for a moment to catch his breath and looked up to the sky. “Thank you master,” he whispered. The large man looked down to the beheaded mind flayer and then to the training area. More Forzen soldiers had begun to file into the area, their swords ready. A look of shock quick spread among them as they noticed their dead commander at Kegan’s feet.

Kegan slowly cracked his neck from side to side and raised his sword and shield. “I’m ready,” he said calmly.

Act 3 – Pyramid of Shadows



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