Chapter 29
Into the Devil's Hand

Ban Plateau, Byrn; Anno Regis 1286

"In the course of my studies, I have read about some of the cosmologies in other cultures. One of the most fascinating of these is the principle of a perpetual universal balance. One man takes a step to the east, so another man must take a step to the west. An old man dies,and thus a child must be born. This can be an encouraging notion. For instance, when a good man is lost, another will come to take his place. However, there is the disturbing and inevitable reverse side. When an evil man is vanquished, another will rise in his stead."
--Excerpt from the assorted writings of Mark the Guardian

Atop Ban Plateau, hovering amongst the ruins of Pandemonium, the warlock's Byrnan apprentice looked appreciatively on the scarred land the Marauders left behind them. He was happy to see his homeland in ruins, but it was not the true reason he came back to Byrn. He had come to claim the greatness denied to him ten years ago.
Thanks to his heightened magical awareness, he could feel the echoes of the battle between Kyrios and the Crystal Knight. He could feel the single sword stroke that brought his first apprenticeship to an abrupt end. In all truth, he was thankful to his enemies for leading him to his new master. The warlock was a sinister creature after his own heart, and even he was but a servant to an even greater master, an ancient evil more powerful than feeble human understanding could possibly comprehend. They were both fine examples of what he could become, but he needed some help to take the next step.
Though it had grown faint after all the years that had passed, a distinct trace of dark energy pierced the air for miles. The apprentice left the pile of rubble behind to follow the dark energy's trail. The Crystal Knight had been wise to aim northward, toward the sea. The trail would not last forever and then there would not be much hope of finding it.
The apprentice raced through the sky as fast as his powers could carry him without losing the trail. He dangerously taxed those powers by compounding several spells to boost his speed, heighten his sensitivity and mask his presence all at the same time. The effort would probably kill any of his peers, but that did not say much. The other apprentices were weak, unthinking drones who could never hope to match their master's power, much less overcome it. He had left them behind long ago and soon they would be like insects before a giant.
A sudden chill ran through his body. It was close. Glancing behind him, he saw that the land was barely visible on the horizon. He was in the open sea, much farther out than he had expected, but it was no great concern. He had the foresight to prepare a recall point, so there was no threat of being left stranded in the water without the power to make the return trip.
He raised a barrier and slowly sank into the water. Within his protective bubble, he could afford to shut out his surroundings and focus wholly on the ever strengthening emanations of dark energy. Further and further down, the sunlight could no longer reach. It was a domain of the darkness, the perfect resting place for it.
Once his feet came in contact with the sea bed, he expanded the barrier to give him more room to seek it out. Pulling back his sleeve, he plunged his hand into the moist sand, where it was waiting for him. The moment his fingers finally touched it, he could feel its power seeping into him. It accepted him as its new master.
Fueled by a rush of euphoria, the apprentice flew upwards, bursting through the surface to bask in the glory of his triumph. Ironically, it as the light of the sun that allowed him to appreciate his key to the darkness. It did not look like much, a simple orb of black crystal on a thin golden chain, but the apprentice was well aware of its power and significance. He was now a Pendant Bearer. He kissed the pendant and grinned broadly in freshly inflamed malevolence. One thought reigned above all others, so much that he could not help saying it aloud.
"Now you will truly suffer, Mark the Guardian."