Bruda Korlyn gripped tight to the mast of the tiny sailboat and squeezed his eyes shut. Wave after wave slammed the boat mercilessly as the storm fought to crush his will and break his mind. Seven days of horror at the hands of the sea had brought him to a level of panic he had not thought possible. Rumor of the Thrashing Sea had promised this dreaded storm. But no matter the risk, no matter the threat to his life, he was compelled to come here. He had a problem, an enemy beyond his reckoning, and this place held the only hope of his survival. Bruda had nothing and no one to pray to. So, with white knuckles, he held the mast and waited for the hell around him to pass.
On the eighth day, the punishing sea seemed to calm, but he knew better. He could see the waves rolling and ravaging, but his tiny boat no longer struggled. He loosed the mast and leaned over the edge to see the boat floating the air. He saw himself lifting from the water and he laughed. He looked to the storm he had survived and held his arms out over the raging sea.
“Not nature or man can thwart me! You have failed to bring down the mighty Bruda Korlyn!” he screamed with hoarse voice. He looked around him, seeing nothing for a long time until a vague darkness stretched out before him. He watched with dread fascination as it grew, and soon the boat dropped to a terrible shore.
It stood bold and harrowing before him, leering at him and hissing. The water that touched the jet-black stone bubbled and spat as it struck the ground. The stones stood jagged and sharp, each at odd angles that made blades of the ground here. They bunched in tight, giving no level foothold, and Bruda carefully began his trek. He fell many times, his hands searing as he caught himself on the ground. The stone hated all civilized men, strove to eat away at their bodies and crush their spirits. Bruda grit his teeth and growled. He knew no force could stop him. He grew impatient and felt the first licks of fury rising up around him.
The driving rain burned away as it touched the ground, creating a fog of steam that billowed up around him, yellow and infected. He held the corner of his cloak against his nose and pushed on. He could not stop. His dynasty depended on his grit, depended on his resolve. There was nothing he would not do to keep his prominence. He was a god back home. He would not let his nemesis steal that away from him. No matter the journey’s obstacles, he had to forge ahead. His hatred doubled and he pushed himself to limits he had no idea he was capable of.
After what seemed like weeks of fighting the terrain around him, he found himself at the foot of a wretched tower, comprised of white rock that insulted the black wastes around him. Defiant to the land around it, the pristine structure loomed over all with an air of jeering at the bitter land it dominated. Bruda collapsed on the front stairs and, with weary burned hands, pounded for admittance.
The witch that opened the creaking door looked as sour as the land she stood in. She sneered down at him and he looked up from his knees. “Have you a charm?” she croaked. She cracked open a cloudy eye as Bruda noticed the stitching that held shut the second. He heard something growl in the structure beyond, and green, reflecting eyes gleamed menacing. He heard, over the sound of the storm, a creature lapping its lips, and his blood froze. He reached into the bag in his coat and pulled the feather from within.
It was dry and black, dusty and muted in color, standing in opposition to any glossy raven feather or sparrow. He thought of the horrors he had faced in acquiring it. He was happy to be rid of it when she snatched it from his grasp.
Her drooling, toothless mouth greedily snapped up the feather and, in but a few seconds, it was gone. “Wait here,” she snapped.
“May I come in out of the storm?” he asked. His voice held a slight whine that he hated at once.
“No, fool. There is no reprieve for an outsider. You will wait here. No foreign foot may defile our confines.”
He nodded and she slammed shut the door. He curled up, his back pressed against the door, his knees drawn up close, his arms wrapped around his legs. He felt the bottle of blood press in tight to his chest. He tapped his breast and grit his teeth, knowing this was the only way.
Days later the door opened and a collection of cloaked figures stepped out. As the last of their feet touched the ground, the perpetual storm lessened to a light drizzle, and Bruda’s ears began to ring from the near silence. Their black robes were glossy and deep green, their black hats, tall and pointed. They looked at once to be a coven of witches and warlocks, and a religious order as well. He heard them chanting as they led him away, and he struggled to keep up with them.
They came to a flattened circle seventy strides in diameter. The cruel stone here had been chipped away to make a perfectly flat surface, where glowing glyphs of power and restraint had been carved. Within the circle, a monster stood, hammer in his fist, scowling at the order that flowed around the circle.
His bestial face snarled as he looked at them, one and all. “Come again to test me have you?” he snapped. A tall hat was taken off and a terribly scarred man looked imperiously down upon the beast.
“A master does not test a slave, Jealh, he commands him.” With that, the man unfurled a white glowing whip. With a snap of his arm, he lashed the beast within the circle. The creature screamed as the whip wrapped his body, and his flesh began to boil at its touch. Jealh dropped to his knees and the whip uncurled and was pulled back.
“I will—” it began to say, before another robed figure broke out in cruel laughter. “Make us no promises of the horrors that will befall us when you find freedom. Such oaths have grown tiresome. Simply drop to your knees and beg to do us a favor, or you will be thrashed within an inch of your life. Either way, you will beg. Beg now when whole, or beg after the lash. It is no difference to us.”
“How may I serve you?” the beast said, bowing low. He trembled with rage. When his eye fell to Bruda, so much hate was on display that the man nearly looked away. But Bruda was not one to turn his eyes from a foe.
“You will make for us a weapon of our desire,” the first man said with a grin. “You will do it now.” The circle of spell crafters lifted their hands and, from the ground, a blasphemous forge and anvil rose, steaming. It was an insult to all forges Bruda had ever seen, a defiled grotesquery that forced Bruda’s starving body to such levels of revulsion that he thought his empty stomach would throw bile and acid. He choked down his fear and disgust and turned his eye from the forge.
Jealh looked to Bruda with malice and snapped. “Does he have the materials?” Bruda pulled the bottle of blood and the clump of hair and handed it to the witch beside him. She floated it into the circle and the beast gripped it. He jerked the stopper and guzzled the blood of Bruda’s enemy. With a maw full, he tossed the clump of hair into his mouth and chewed. He sicked up an oozing charge and gripped it in his hand.
Bruda handed over a small bit of steel and it was floated to the beast. He walked to his forge and smelted. In moments, he carved his mold and he poured. The liquid steel glowed an acid yellow. He cooled the steel and began to pound out the weapon. As hammer struck steel, a whining cacophony rose that seemed the voices of demons howling. The beast worked for hours as it beat out the weapon. It beat with chisel and hammer to carve a likeness upon the piece, before cooling it one last time and tossing it to the ground at its feet.
The ground opened wide to swallow the forge and anvil. The witch beside Bruda floated the small piece of steel toward him. His mouth filled with saliva as it twirled in the air. It hovered before his face and he reached out and grabbed it. He looked down at his hand to stare at the coin that had been forged. Upon one side held the perfect likeness of his enemy. The other side boasted the man’s bloated face.
Bruda had done it. The coin of death had been crafted. He gripped it tight and turned for home, laughing.