Blackmarsh was an empty and desolate piece of land in the eastern region with wounded rivers of murky water and occasional strips of wilderness, which seemed stable and safe, but would entrap and drag any daring adventurer down into the depths if they underestimated the danger of this place.
In this wild and unforgiving place there were few tribal settlements, many of them mysterious and powerful in their own right, yet there was one particular group of people whom none of the other tribes would ever offend or go against, known only as the ferrymen. An elusive people who came and went like the mist in Blackmarsh, ferrying any who could pay across the deceptive landscape with a guarantee of safety.
On this particular day, one such ferry was drifting across the almost stale river waters, infinitely nearing a certain island within the misty realm of Blackmarsh. Carried by the ferry were two men aside from the ferryman himself; one dressed in an exquisite white uniform that was miraculously unstained by the foul air and black mud, while the other wore a uniform of a more neutral gray color.
In the back of the ferry sat an ancient man, so old in fact that he could have been a fleshy corpse, holding onto the oar with a death-grip so tight it would crush a man’s arm. Despite this, his manipulation of the instrument was graceful like a leaf blowing in the autumn wind; ever-changing its position in concordance with the surrounding flow.
Staring into the misty unknown, the ferryman’s visage was nothing short of haunting. A pale grin intruded upon the undying face along with a hint of insanity in his milky white eyes; devoid of any pupil or iris.
As the ferry slowly reached its destination, it hit the muddy island and was still like a rock, held in place by the ferryman’s unnatural strength.
The two uniformed men said nothing as they rose and exited the ferry, upon which the man in gray turned and spoke to the ancient ferryman: “We will not be long ferryman, will you wait for us?”
He received only a terrifyingly pale grin as a response, as the ancient ferryman shoved off from the shore and faded away into the mist, leaving the two men alone in the deadly marsh.
The man in gray was about to open his mouth and order the ferryman to return when the white uniformed man stopped him with a hand gesture and a few words: “The ferrymen waits for no one, Seamus, not even the Order.”
Seamus backed down immediately and bowed slightly to his superior. “Of course, Lord Barkley, I apologize for my ignorance.”
Lord Barkley nodded, but said nothing more, as he slowly began to enter the inner region of the seemingly desolate island. His white uniform was unstained by any mud that it came into contact with, as if no earthly matter could touch upon this man’s person or his possessions, while he strode along leisurely in this hostile territory.
He was a stately figure; taller than most men, with a straight and laced attitude that spoke of a man of principle and dedication, one who had given his life to a pursuit of higher goals than most mortal men. This conviction was edged into his square face and solidified by his short dark hair cut in a soldier’s manner.
Seamus, on the other hand, was clearly of an administrative class. Carrying several bags on his belt, all filled with parchment and ink, as well as a pair of astute glasses that shaped his face into the paradigm of an assistant, dedicated and intelligent, he stumbled his way behind the austere figure of lord Barkley.
Seeing these two men enter a desolate place like this would make many wonder what could be important enough for two men of such obvious station here at the very edge of the civilized world. Nevertheless, these two did not let their steps be filled with arrogance or their hearts shaped by laziness; they knew that they were alone in hostile lands and the task given to them was of such grave importance that they were insignificant in comparison.
With such dedication they strode onward, confident in their vigilance, as they delved deeper into the dark green undergrowth that covered the innermost section of the island.
It was here that they came upon a lone hut, standing as a shaky monument to the scarce life of whoever had thought of living here in the first place. In front of the hut sat a broad-shouldered giant of a man; taller than even Lord Barkley with arms the size of tree trunks and legs like temple pillars. In contrast to his burly and muscular features, he seemed to fill the air with a certain belonging, as if this marsh was a part of him and he was a part of the entire world.
In front of this enormous man, Seamus could not help break his icy exterior and gasp in admiration, Lord Barkley however seemed unsurprised as he came to a halt at the edge of the primitive campsite. Here he put an arm across his chest and bowed deeply before saying: “It is an honor to meet you once more, master Grimlock.”
He spoke words of admiration but without flattery; in front of this man there was nothing except sincerity that was tolerable.
Seamus quickly followed suit and greeted master Grimlock in a similar manner. The master himself, however, did not even seem to notice their presence and spoke no words of response nor acknowledgment; he simply sat motionless in front of his hut, with a grand sword placed across his firm lap.
For a long time silence reigned, the two uniformed men dared not speak out of turn, and the master remained seated steady as a statue. Then, finally, the master’s eyes rose and locked themselves onto Lord Barkley.
“…I knew this day would come eventually… congratulations on finding me.”
His voice was hoarse and dry, as if he had not spoken for years, perhaps even decades, and had difficulty remembering how one did such a thing, or why such an action was even needed.
Lord Barkley shuddered inwardly, feigning strength on the outside as he responded to the giant’s words: “It has indeed been a long time, master Grimlock.”
He dared not insinuate any further than this, yet this alone lit up the eyes of the giant ever so slightly.
“…We have met before?”
Lord Barkley nodded: “Indeed Master, I was but a simple soldier in the Artificer army at the time, but I was present at Mount Cavador, during the final stages of the war.”
“…I remember you… “, The giant whispered ever so slightly, yet his whisper seemed to be more powerful than his voice and the ground trembled before it, “You are Barkley’s lad.”
“Indeed, great Master.”
“How is the old man?”
Lord Barkley swallowed as his dry mouth attempted to form an answer to the giant’s query.
“He died of his wounds shortly after the battle I’m afraid.”
“…hmm”, said the Master as he put a massive hand to his bearded cheek, “a great loss for humanity indeed… have you then inherited his title, boy?”
Lord Barkley smiled bitterly as he shook his head and said: “No, Master, I gave up my title and joined the 9th Order.”
“…And the order has led you to me on this day,” said the old giant and leaned forward ever so slightly, which seemed to hold the weight of the world in his every movement, “Tell me then, Boy, why have you come here?”
Lord Barkley hesitated for a moment, but then spoke his words with imprinted care: “The demons are stirring once again, master, the order requests that you return and aid them in the coming storm.”
The giant man gazed at and into lord Barkley’s very soul; tearing his hidden self up from the depths of his most private and inner sanctum, carefully examining him in a single breath which lasted an eternity.
“…I am old”, said master Grimlock, “I am no longer the man I used to be; my soul is withered and broken, my arms can no longer wield this grand treasure blade in battle, and even my seals been irrevocably locked.”
With a designated gesture, the old master swept outward with both his arms, enveloping the world in his embrace, and continued: “I have no more to give humanity, no more to offer Atlantis; I only ask to be left in peace.”
Lord Barkley bowed his head and hesitated ever so slightly before he said: “It is not your arm or your soul that the order requests, but your wisdom and experience, to lead and guide the order onto the right path. It is by the words of the Oracle herself that the Order is requesting your assistance.”
A short silence followed in which Lord Barkley dared not even lift his eyes to see whether there was any expression that would betray the old master.
“…So the old crone herself is behind this.
A sharp gasp came from behind as Seamus tried not to shout out in reproach at this disrespectful mentioned of the Grand Oracle.
Lord Barkley finally lifted his head and looked at Master Grimlock, trying to ascertain whether his words had any effect.
However there were no betraying facial expressions, only peace and patience reigned the curves and valleys of the old Master’s face. He then spoke in a whisper once again, making the earth and wind tremble with his every word: “I do this on one condition, and one condition only.”
Lord Barkley barely managed to restrain the surprised expression of excitement that briefly manifested on his face, but could not get a word in before the old Master continued: “If you cannot accept my condition, then I will walk away from here and not even the Order will be able to find me again.”
Barkley nodded his head continuously, and spoke with an excited pitch, “Whatever condition you put forth, the Order will comply without fail!”
“Hooh…” said the old master and narrowed his eyes slightly, “and by what right do you make such promises?”
Without hesitation, lord Barkley reached into his inner pocket to bring out a simple ornament made out of unimpressive wood and showed it to master Grimlock.
Behind Barkley, Seamus immediately knelt down into the muddy undergrowth and even the peaceful eyes of the old giant found a glimmer of respect as he observed the seemingly simple piece of carved wood.
“The grand seal of the 9th Order”, said Barkley, “Has been entrusted to me in order to prove the sincerity of our offer and our deep regard for Master Grimlock’s person and dignified service to humanity.”
Master Grimlock nodded, deep in thought, before rising like the tide, turning around and walking with determined steps towards the entrance of the hut.
“Then enter, Wing of the 9th Order, into my humble abode.”
Lord Barkley and Seamus shared a thoughtful look, before both men entered the unstable hut, which seemed incapable of housing a giant such as Master Grimlock.
As they entered they both shouted in surprise. Inside the hut, the space was many times the size of the feeble exterior, and the ceiling was two times the height of Master Grimlock. There were no furniture or decorations anywhere, only rock solid ground and a simple bedding in the furthest corner, seemingly unused for many days or weeks even.
Yet there was one thing within this spartan home that got the attention of both Barkley and Seamus, as they looked to the middle of the grand space, where a dark obsidian obelisk was raised, for some inexplicable reason. However it was not the unique piece of rock that caught their attention, but what was placed at the flattened top of the obsidian stone: there, a shallow crib was carved into the stone, and within this minor indentation, lay a small infant.
Both men furrowed their brows and looked up at Master Grimlock, who looked down at the small babe with a profound look of both sadness and joy.
“Master Grimlock, if I may, what on… “, Lord Barkley got no further before the old giant raised his bear-sized paw and stopped him.
“This is my only and last disciple”, he said with great care and emphasis on every single word, “I have granted him all of my technique, all of my knowledge and all that remains of my power; he is my legacy and my hope for the future, our future: as a species and as a world.”
The words rung into the minds of Barkley and Seamus, resonating with their very souls and making them tremble at their core, filling them with an endless sense of purpose and belonging that made them listen even more carefully as the Master continued:
“My condition is this: you will send this boy into the care of Olaf Half-Heart on the Northern Coast, and once he has been entrusted into his care, you have you memories of this erased and forgotten. No mention of this boy will be in your report, and no memory of him will remain; the Order will offer no support or aid to the boy, even if he should be about to die, there will be no intervention whatsoever, is that clear?”
Lord Barkley shuddered and then swallowed his nervousness, before asking with a quivering voice, “Are you sure that is what you want Master Grimlock? With the resources of the Order there is no telling how strong your disciple will become.”
“And make an arrogant piece of trash out of him in the process?” Master Grimlock spoke softly, but a tempestuous fury grew on his, otherwise, calm face, making both Seamus and Barkley pale and shake in fear, “I will not have my legacy tainted by the sin of leisure. This boy clawed his way into this world by means of which you cannot even fathom, and he will continue to do so as he grows and matures.”
The old man breathed heavily, and seemed to have lost a bit of his unworldly power, as he coughed and continued in a softer, yet demanding tone: “I have given you my condition, whether you accept it or not is up to you.”
Lord Barkley took one deep breath. Raising the small wooden ornament to his chest, he said: “I, Almander Barkley, Wing of the 9th Order, hereby solemnly swear to fulfill Master Grimlock’s demand; to render no aid to his disciple, and to allow memories of any member of the Order ascertaining to this deal be altered by master Grimlock personally. Until such a time that the boy will prove himself worthy of such aid, the Order will grant him nothing, and no mention of him will be given to the archives or the council. I swear this in the presence of both master Grimlock himself and my first, Seamus Pent, as witnesses, and with my hand on the holy seal of the 9th order of Demon Hunters: may the heavens strike me down and the seas swallow me whole, should I breach this oath in any way.”
To this Master Grimlock nodded solemnly as he accepted the oath. He turned and reach for the child, which seemed curiously quiet and unmoving, until the big hands enveloped it and removed it from the obsidian crib. Then, finally, it made a belching sound and opened its eyes slowly as if for the first time of its life.
Two oval-shaped irises of crimson red looked up at the old giant with curiosity, before smiling a delicate, toothless smile and reaching out with one hand to grasp the gray beard. Master Grimlock smiled and put a single enormous finger in front of the infant’s mouth and let it attempt to bite down on the hard flesh, sustained by many battles.
“You hold the heart of Lock, Little One”, said Master Grimlock with a smile, “May your will be powerful and your feet be steady.”
With a ceremonial gesture, he handed the baby to Seamus, who accepted the child with care and solemnity, ready to protect it with his very life should that be necessary.
With that the old Master spoke no more and quietly left, the two men following behind him as they stepped into the mist and left the old hut standing silently on its own.
As the men left, an eye popped open within the mist, then another one and another, until the area surrounding the primitive hut was filled with innumerable eyes, all looking in the direction of the men with gazes of longing and sadness. The wind came out of nowhere and carried the many whispers of farewell and adoration towards the leaving men, making two of them shudder in uncomfortable surprise while one sigh in regret, and a little infant raised both its arms and cried a reassuring laughter, as if all would be well.
Slowly, one by one, the many eyes closed and their whispers stagnated into a single strand of unwilling regret, until what remained was nothing but the misty air of the marsh and the careful splash of a ferryman’s oar.