Enemies, Rivals and Brothers

Marius’ plated greaves made a distinct striking sound as they clicked across the warn cobblestones that stretched out over the cavernous ruined temple. Steam belched forth from pits of lava, and throughout the cavern you could hear the sound of rushing water as a river within the cavern fed out to sea.

His thoughts were here, though he longed to be elsewhere. He wanted very much to be standing alongside Jade and the others as this very night they fought to defend Narrowhaven and yet he found himself here in this forsaken pit hunting his greatest enemy. Arimus. One of his avatars was hidden away in this place, and after weeks spent tracking it, he’d finally found it’s hiding place. When Jade had walked his dreams, explored his memories, each time he pretended to be unaware. He hadn’t attempted to counter Arimus during his visits because he was conserving his power for this battle, but to have that battle he had to know where his avatar reached out from. Marius had used her as bait. Even if he’d been careful and always protected her when Arimus closed, it was a dangerous game he played. As much as it did not agree with him authenticity was necessary so that the rouse was maintained.

A bolt of energy sailed down the narrow corridor and dissipated across his shield as he raised it to block and as he knelt behind its bulwark he heard the distinct screeching of imps, the low and guttural growling of gazers and the higher pitched growls of their new larva. He knelt in place a while longer as spells continually slammed into his shield and in time some of the magic made small smoking trails off his enchanted armor as energy splashed over the top and sides. Far from bothered by any of it Marius simply waited for their mana supply to run dry. As they closed within melee range he unleashed a torrent of chain lightning that tore right up the center of the crowded hallway. The same small wafts of smoke rose off his armor as he stood, a small cloud of ash permeated ahead of him and to either side the charred corpses of his attackers lay strewn in the hall. He moved through the center of the mangled bodies, catching a surviving imp as it tried to scurry away into the deeper recesses of the dungeon. Without pausing in his stride he shot a singular bolt of lightning that tore through its back and it slumped over dead.

He arrived at the mouth of a concealed staircase and then headed down into its depths. There was an altar on a platform carved from rock in the room below, one Jade had pointed out to both Lucius and Marius during a previous visit. It did strike him as odd that it should be there at all given that they did not find the practitioner at the altar during a previous raid, but he had not stopped to give it any thought until just recently. As he descended the steps he heard thundering footfalls as a trio of men clad in armor charged up the narrow staircase to meet him. The one in the front carried a shield, the two behind him pikes. Marius used his shield to glance off the thrust from one sword and one of the two pikes but the second pike hooked on the rim of his shield and the man attempted to pull it away. Dropping his sword beside him Marius quickly ducked, turned his head away from the wall and planted his now free hand against it. There was a sudden and violent release of magical energy as the explosion he conjured tore the stairwell apart, he barely had time to grab his sword before he tumbled into the cavern below. Sparks skipped off his armor as he struck the ground below, hard, and he barely had time to roll to the side as rubble from the upper level of the staircase tumbled towards him. It crushed one of the attackers and left another half buried. He struggled to get himself free and glanced up as Marius approached, he caught the downward plunge of Marius’ sword just above the bridge of his nose and it killed him instantly. The third staggered around the pile of rubble, clutching half of his splintered pike. He staggered towards Marius and threw the whole of his weight forward into a desperate thrust. Marius batted it aside using his shield, and cut the man’s arm off at the elbow. The man fell to his knees as Marius wheeled about and thrust his blade a final time through the thin back plate of the shoddily conditioned armor. Marius withdrew his sword from the man’s back and his gaze followed the subtle sounds of hands being brought together in applause along with soft laughter. There, on the steps of the platform Arimus’ avatar sat watching. No doubt controlled by Arimus himself, from afar.

Absent his hood and cowl he appeared the same as Marius in all aspects, but for the color of his eyes. That was not to be unexpected of course, after all, they were twins. "Ever the survivor I suppose I should have expected no less, but you’re not near as savage as you used to be." Arimus paused and smiled before motioning behind Marius. "What are you going to do about them?" Marius, not wanting to leave his back to his brother, instead did a half turn so that he could look left and right, and his back faced one of the cavern walls. On his right was a score or so of men dressed the same as the ones who’d met him on the stairs. Marius hurled a bolt of energy at Arimus who caught it, bare handed. After a few moments it dissipated in his hand and he raised it up so that Marius could see. Already the blackened flesh was beginning to regenerate anew leaving only the stench of burned flesh to remind either of them of the damage he’d done. "Impressive." said Arimus, pausing before he continued. "It seems you’ve remembered everything, so surely you haven’t forgotten the differences between us." He grinned as a bolt of energy formed in his hand and he hurled it at Marius. Marius moved out of the way and dove into the dirt, the men standing behind him at the ready did not. Marius averted his gaze as the cavern lit up with the intensity of the sun. The screams of the men, betrayed by their master, did not last long. When he got to his feet charred skeletons had fallen where men once stood, several set of boots had melted and fused with the stone and some had become not but piles of white ash.

People, nearly all living things, had been merely tools for Arimus to win his centuries long battle with Marius. Arimus, with a far larger portion of their shared power, always maintained the upper hand. If, as he had tried to do since the era of their first birth, he was able to rob Marius of his remaining power then he could return to their people a tyrant intent on ruling. They wouldn’t have him of course, but Arimus was far past ever seeing reason. Marius, long ago, accepted their exile and instead found Arimus’ sword at his back. Time and time again he had fallen to his brother’s mad schemes, time and time again Arimus had stolen more and more from him, but no longer. If Arimus’ avatar had the power to end him he’d have done it right there.

Marius rose to his feet and found the avatar was no longer in the chamber. The scent of burned corpses and melted metal was so strong it was all Marius could do not to vomit. He found a hidden tunnel beneath the altar Arimus hadn’t bothered to conceal. Cautiously he descended into its depths still ailing from his earlier injuries even if they were already on the mend, he took it slow. The catacombs beneath the altar were in disrepair and Marius struggled to make his way through them as he followed Arimus’ trail. Suddenly the catacombs began to shake violently and he heard the familiar sound of rushing water. Arimus intended to drown him down here and he’d fallen for his trap. Scrambling frantically in search for a way out the sudden rush of adrenaline made him forget his aches and pains. In the distance he saw a glint of light off of something metallic and raced towards it. As the water began to rush in behind him, pushing refuse, collapsed timbers, and mummified corpses towards him in a wall of death he reached a staircase that went up at a very steep incline. At its base a dead cultist, an axe at his side, gleamed in the light of a torch throwing from a landing at the top of the staircase. The water rushed towards him with a deafening roar. Marius heard a grinding noise as a plate above the stairs began to grind back into place. He snatched up the axe and wedged himself into the narrow staircase as the water began to flood the passage.

As he reached the top he wedged the axe in between the base of the landing and the plate, then scrambled through the opening just as the haft splintered and the opening closed. Marius quickly got to his feet, just in time to avoid the flat of an axe which he batted aside with his gauntlet. He was surrounded by four emaciated cultists wearing nothing but cotton armor each wielding crude weapons in poor repair. Even then, there was no mistaking their intent. Just beyond the encirclement he caught a glimpse of Arimus lighting fire to a series of scrolls and books, destroying evidence before he could make his escape. The Blade of the Unbroken Covenant, one of the six swords Marius carried. It was the only sword enchanted specifically for the purpose of killing man. One man lunged towards him before he could finish drawing his sword. Marius stepped towards him, inside his reach, and caught him square in the chest with his shield. When the man tumbled back to the ground Marius brought a plated boot down on his head, killing him instantly. The others around him backed away, hesitating only for a moment, but it was long enough for Marius to draw his sword. Marius picked the attacker closest to a display case and went on the attack. The man forgot his footing as he backpedaled and in one quick stroke his head rolled across the glass landing on the other side with a grotesque wet sound. Now, with his back towards an obstacle he prepared to fight them from three sides.

The first to charge him from the right caught Marius sword in the chest but before he could dislodge it four others pressed the attack. Marius nearly buckled as a mace landed square in the small of his back but pure rage and adrenaline kept him on his feet, the man recoiled for another swing as one of the others charged. Marius batted his blade aside with his shield as the man with the mace swung from overhead. His swing was far too over extended and Marius stepped back and managed to grab the man’s head. Using his own momentum as leverage Marius slammed the man’s face into display case. Shards of grime ridden glass embedded themselves in the man’s face and eyes as he screamed and the mace clattered to the ground. The attacker on his left, who had moved behind him, charged in attempting to wedge his dagger in the exposed plates of Marius’ shoulder. Marius brought his elbow back with thundering force and caught the man square in the nose, his face crumpled as blood poured from the injury, and dislocated his jaw. He fell back against the ground, dead. Marius grabbed the howling man attempting to remove shards of glass from his face and his gauntlet lit with magical energy. Smoke poured from the man’s ears as blood and brain matter oozed from his nose and Marius pitched him aside. He finally turned on the last man but didn’t bother to dislodge his blade from the first man’s chest as he advanced. The man thrust at Marius with his sword, and Marius batted it aside with his arm guard. He hit the man with the full force of his shield and the man lost his footing. Marius hit him again while he was trying to scramble back to his feet. Then again and again. By the third hit the man had stopped moving, but the blows did not. What remained of the body was little more than pulp when Marius finally finished. His shield lit aflame burning away bits of the man that still clung to the shield. He turned and removed his sword from the chest cavity of the first man, then finally faced his brother.

Arimus wore a wide smile. "There you are. That is the Marius I know, the barbarian, the animal. The more I take from you no matter what skills you manage to hang on to, how long before you are not but a brute incapable of speech? How long before you can remember so little that I no longer need to hunt you and the societies you fight to protect do my work for me? Even you cannot fight everyone Marius, and that is where I will always have the upper hand. You are little more than a monster who hunts monsters, but how long before you become the monster yourself? When you do, they’ll abandon you…" He paused "When you do… she’ll abandon you." Marius didn’t wait for him to mutter another word. He drove his sword straight into the avatar’s gut, and then pulled up. Arimus word’s faded as the light left his eyes. "I’ll send others this changes nothing… it would be easier on both of us if you would just surrender to me…" His mocking laughter rang out as he faded. Marius shoved away the avatar’s vacant husk and collapsed back against the display case. He still saw red, shook with the adrenaline and barely noticed the condition of his armor, scorch marks from spells, scratches dents and dings from weapons, and falls. His wounds were already mending but as he stopped for the first time in hours, he began to realize how much he actually hurt. Much as he wanted to go to Narrowhaven to see how it fared… he could not let her see him like this. Arimus was right. He was becoming little more than a monster who fought monsters. Even if he could continue to return, if he didn’t best Arimus soon then there would no longer be a reason to fight him.

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