How Killers Are Made
Joshua Olsen’s Cantrips & Catastrophies
A Magic: the Gathering Fan Fiction short story
Kas’ nose was filled with the stench of death as he awoke. Blood, burnt flesh….. some of the weaker Viashinos had voided their bowls at some point, most likely when claws had sheared them open or fangs split them apart. The potent combination filled Kas’ nostrils, helped to rouse him. Groaning, Kas cracked his eyes open, one only getting to a slit as it was currently a mass of bruised tissue. He looked about. Around him, the members of his Thrash lay dead, their eyes unseeing, their limbs bereft of movement, their bodies marked by fire and tooth and claw. Those same flames still licked the area, feeding on the last patches of moss and lending the cavern a glow of slaughter and destruction. Kas stood, shaky on his feet, using Tear’s haft to steady himself. At his feet was Raz’s body. Reverently, Kas laid a hand on Raz’s body, gingerly closing his remaining eye shut. As his hearing started to return Kas realized realised that the sounds of battle had not ceased. Someone was still fighting the dragon!
It was Elder Drassom! Kas must have only been stunned for a few moments. The chance to make a difference flooded Kas’ frame with fresh resolve, and he started to jog over to the titanic duel of legends.
The fight had cost the Dragon dearly, the combined efforts of the whole Thrash taking a heavy toll in blood.
Cuts and gashes covered its body all over, dribbling blood, not much at individually but taken together they made an impact. One of its rear legs was held protectively off the ground, clearly hurt. By some amazing feat, Drassom had managed to ram Slayer into the side of the dragon’s head. It had only slightly penetrated the heavy scales, but the wound was saving Drassom’s life, the pain causing the dragon to strike erratically and move slowly. Both Drassom and the Hellkite were breathing heavily. The Elder, with his weapon removed had taken a sharp piece of rock from the floor, and moved it from hand to hand like an expert knife-fighter.
Kas didn’t know why he said it. A small part of him knew it was probably fear. Distracted by the unexpected voice, the Elder turned to see Kas moving towards him. Surprise crossed his features.
“Run, youngling! Get out of here now!!!”
While its preys’ back was turned, the Dragon lunged. Teeth the size of spears flew at Drassoms’ back. Kas went to yell a warning, but it would have been too late. Warned by his long-honed survival instincts and the change of Kas’ expression, Drassom instantly dived to the side with no hesitation. Such a move had saved the Elder countless times in his life, but for the first time it failed, as the Dragon’s jaws snapped shut around his leg. Howling, Drassom was yanked into the air by the Dragon.
As the dragon increased the pressure from agonising to excruciating Drassom gasped in agony. He still had the jagged piece of rock in his hand, and with an incoherent scream Drassom dashed it against the Dragon’s head. His pain driving him into a frenzy of hate, Drassom starting pounding the rock around the Hellkite’s nostrils, where he could do the most damage from his immobile position.
“Come on! LET’S FINISH THIS!!!”
Kas watched in stunned awe as even mortally wounded Drassom refused to go down without trying to cripple his murderer. The Dragon shook its head to try widely, but Drassom continued to attack with the stone. One of his strikes landed somewhere soft and the Dragon hissed, spraying blood from its sinuses.
All of a sudden the Hellkite flicked its head and relaxed its jaws, launching Drassom into the air like a bullet, almost all the way to the cavern’s ceiling. As gravity began to take hold again Drassom turned himself in the air, shifting so that he was falling head first, the rock held in a two-handed stabbing grip. Below him the Dragon looked up, mouth wide open as it prepared to snatch him up. It was unsure what the Elder thought he could do, but if nothing it was going to be defiant. Kas knew Drassom was doomed, but perhaps the Elder could land one more blow on his hated enemy.
“RAAAAAAGGGGHHHH!!!!” roared Drassom.
With incredible speed, the Hellkite moved, its jaws once more snapping shut with bone-pulverising force, this time around Drassom’s head and neck. There was a tremendous cracking, and just like that Elder Drassom went limp, the rock falling from his hand without protest. The Dragon worried the body for an instant, ripping Drassom’s head off and sending his body to the floor in a spray of gore. By cruel fortune the body landing at Kas’ feet, spraying him in his Thrash-mate’s blood. It was thick and sticky, and Kas had to suppress the urge to scrape it off. But he had bigger problems.
With a terrifying rumble of contained fury the Dragon turned to regard Kas, the sole Viashino of the Flame-Thrash to still be alive. Wounded, with a sword jutting obscenely from its head and hideous lightning-bolt injuries to its chest and wing, the beast still lived, and it was determined to finish the last of the prey off. Kas gripped Rip and Tear so tight his knuckles creaked. It was time to follow his leader’s example. Time to die with his hands wrapped around a weapon and a curse in his throat.
Time for a last stand.
Impatient to get this last morsel out of the way and to retreat to its lair and hibernate away its injuries, the Dragon lunged. Kas didn’t possess Drassom’s reflexes or experience. There was no way he could get out of the way, so instead he flung Rip, his stone cleaver, at the onrushing behemoth.
It was a poor throw. Rip was about as aerodynamic as a Drake with no wings, only the Viashino’s raw strength allowing it any semblance of distance. Combined with the one handed rushed fling, Rip was never going to sail blade-first into the Dragon’s outstretched maw as Kas imagined in his mind’s eye.
Instead the throw went wide, sending the spinning blade perilously close to the dragon’s face. Following the instinct all creatures have when presented with an object flying at their eye, the dragon shut its eyes and twisted its head slightly to the side while trying to back away. This locked the Hellkite’s legs up and it started to skid as its weight and prior momentum worked against it. With a flinch-worthy crunch the Dragon’s jaws snapped shut centimetres to Kas’ side, sparing him for a moment. Time seemed for one impossible moment for Kas to slow to a crawl as the Dragon’s huge head slid by him. He could see Slayer glinting in the light for a moment, almost like its obsidian surface was winking at him. Just behind it was the Hellkite’s closed eye.
Strike now the blade seemed to say. This is your only chance.
Kas wrapped his hands tightly around Tear. His breathing was ragged, his body screamed out for rest, but his heart screamed for blood. And that was what he would get. Closing his eyes and grateful to the cosmic forces for this one last twist of the knife on the creature that had taken everything from him, Kas swung with all his might. He fully expected that this would be the last act of his life, but by whatever gods existed, he was going to give the hell-damned dragon something to remember him by. Kas swung. It was all down to this.
The Club swished aside the air with deadly force.
It was the shot of a lifetime. Any gambling man would have put his life savings on the club missing, or bouncing off a scale, or just failing to do any damage. Knightly orders on a dozen other worlds who had plied the soldier’s trade for twice the length of Kas’ whole life would say such a feat was impossible, and it was suicide to try. But fate, or luck, had other plans. The solid heavy stone head of Rip landed, not on the Dragon’s eye as Kas originally intended, but on the pommel of Slayer, jutting from the dragon’s head.
Like an oversized brutal hammer striking a brutal oversized nail on the head, the strike drove Slayer directly into the Dragon’s head. The force of the blow was enough to push Slayer through the Hellkite’s thick skull, where it kissed the edge of the creature’s brain, severing synapses and fibres by the dozen. “Brain damage” didn’t really cover it; “catastrophic cerebral trauma” was more on the mark. About the best that could be said for the Dragon was the parts of the cerebellum responsible for breathing and autonomous body functions hadn’t been shredded.
At once the Dragon reared up, screaming now in true terror. It clawed its head, brain overloaded with fiery pain. The dragon tried to think, but that was well beyond it ability right now. Dimly, the Dragon also realised it couldn’t feel its back legs. Or its wings. With a pained bellow, the huge creature fell over backwards with a massive crash that shook the mountain.
As the dust began to clear, a figure strode towards the prone Hellkite. It was Kas. He was holding Rip again, while his good eye was narrowed to a hateful slit. Without fear or preamble, he neatly vaulted atop the felled titan, striding along the huge length of Dragon to its chest. The Dragon’s neck and head lay against the edge of the cavern, propping it up so that it could see Kas approach. Damage to its brain had the dragon’s limbs spasming gently of their own accord, the beast was helpless. Kas came to a stop at the beast’s chest, his feet firmly planted as the expanse of flesh below him contracted in and out with wheezing breaths. Kas speared the Dragon with a glare of half-madness, a glare that promised great violence.
“You killed my thrash.”
Kas lashed out with his cleaver, hacking deep into the Dragon’s softer underbelly. The pinned predator howled in fresh agony.
“You killed them all. You killed my Shaman. And Elder Drassom.”
Kas’ cleaver rose and fell, widening the wound.
“All dead. Everyone I know gone. In a single day.”
Rip swung to the side, catching one of the Dragon’s forelimbs. Muscle parted beneath the serrated edge. Kas’ voice rose in volume as he took deeper and deeper breaths, his frame swelling with emotion and energy and his blows started to pick up speed as his anger spilled forth.
“YOU killed them! YOU took them from ME!”
The dragon bellowed at the top of its lungs, but could do nothing to defend itself.
“I saw them die! I will make you feel it! Everything you have done to me! You will feel everything! FEEL IT!!!”
Anger turned to Rage, and Kas saw red, the world turning as red as the blood of the dragon. As red as the blood of this Thrash-Members. All of Kas’ frustrations: the living in constant fear of predators and death, the indignity of being on the bottom of the food chain, the scrimping and hiding in cramped and uncomfortable valleys: it was all unleashed out in an avalanche of hate. Kas could feel himself losing control, and then that point was abruptly behind him.
“YOU KILLED RAZ! YOU KILLED RAZ! HE WAS MY FRIEND!!!!”
Muscle and bone, cartridge and tendon: it began to disintegrate under Kas’ cleaver. He wrenched the scaly skin apart with his teeth, ripping it aside to get to work deeper and deeper. Somehow the Dragon still clung to life, writhing feebly underneath him. There were tears flowing from the Viashino’s eyes, tears rooted in sorrow but grown beyond control with fury.
“FEEL IT! FEEL THEIR PAIN! FEEL THEIR DEATHS!”
He stood in pile of gore knee-deep, the dragon’s chest cavity a red ruin that would make a serial killer ill. Bone now splintered beneath Kas he lashed out like a butcher, buckling the dragon’s reinforced sternum. He was splattered with gore but it wasn’t enough. The need to kill demanded more.
“DON’T YOU DIE ON ME! NOT YET! YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO DIE YET!”
Another chop, and there before him it was: the Hellkite’s heart, a great crimson organ larger than Kas’ head. It was still pumping. Madness seized Kas: he was hungry, hadn’t eaten in days. All this running and fighting and jumping: his stomach demanded meat. Fresh meat….
With an unrestrained howl, Kas threw Rip aside and seized the heart with both hands, wrenching it upwards with strength of madness. Tubes and arteries resisted at first and then ripped free as Kas hefted the heart aloft. He bit into the heart, filling his mouth with the hearty taste of meat and his tongue with the copper of blood. Like an animal Kas wolfed down chunks of flesh, filling his crocodilian gullet with chunks of meat as he gorged.
As its living heart was pulled from it and devoured, the great dragon, mightiest of predators on the whole of Jund, arched in pain, letting out a scream that would have cracked glass. It was the death knell of a creature that had lived for hundreds of years, now cut short in an orgy of violence. Then there was nothing left to do but die. Kas felt it as the great body around him shut down, the great and stubborn life seep from the shattered and torn flesh, and he both revelled and mourned in it. The dammed thing was dead, but it was too soon: he hadn’t finished avenging his Thrash. There were bones left to crack and flesh to tear, organs to split beneath Rip’s edge. He wanted to pluck the dragons eyes and strip the flesh from the skull. To destroy, to crush. To unmake this beast. The rush of power was incredible, intoxicating and electrifying.
Finally, he was the biggest, the strongest. He has cast down the Dragon and fed on its strength! No more fear, no more hesitation! This was all he needed, the kill, the fury, the reward of destruction on a world that had given him no favours. He was a predator, not prey. He would hunt again and again, never grow hungry or back down. Kas tipped his back and howled, bellowing defiance and anger. He wished someone could see him now, injured but unbowed, covered head to toe in the blood of a great Hellkite, his stomach full and his victory glorious beyond imagination! Where was the Thrash? They had to see this! Drassom, and Raz….
The Thrash. Drassom. Raz. No.
Kas roared again, a bellow of pain so loud that he thought the whole mountain would collapse on him and end it all. Certainly it seemed like his world was ending: the heat in this corpse-strewn killing field was no comparison to the heat in his chest. It wasn’t the hot blood coating him, wasn’t the fire of anger, but something deeper. His chest blazed. Kas sunk to his knees. He’d done it then: pushed his body too far. Something must have ripped open, ruptured, bled out. So this was it then. Death just at the moment of triumph. The fire burned brighter.
Fury, determination and raw battle-lust combined in that moment, and a shimmering nova ignited within the simple being known only as Kas.
One moment Kas roared, a terrifying primeval declaration of hurt and dominance that he thought would mark the end of his life. The next moment there was a thunderclap of raw power and he disappeared, a shockwave of destructive force rumbling out from where he had stood to scar the rock walls with its progenitor’s passion for destruction.
The Viashino known as Kas was nowhere to be seen, as his blood-soaked elevation to a great power sent him hurtling through the dimensional cascade known as the Blind Eternities. Suddenly engaged with feelings and sights beyond mortal comprehension, a not inconsiderable slice of Kas’ sanity was at that moment blasted away forever in a storm of mental and emotional trauma. Truly Kas would never again be the individual he once was. But for those unfortunates who would find the Viashino later, dumped into their world though chance, he had gained much in its place.
He had gained raw power.
Which they would learn the hard way.
Five Years Later
The Cavern was still there, surviving earthquakes and volcanic eruptions with timeless indifference. The cavern had new residents now, the bones of the once great dragon that had died there now home to webs and spiders that secreted themselves in sockets and spaces. When the cavern was lit, not by the half-light of the glowing moss that grew along the rock surface but by a prolonged ochre flash, the monstrous arachnids scuttled away to their hidy-holes.
A Viashino stood in the great space, but it bore little resemblance to the youth once known as Kas. His frame had bulked out with muscle and growth, more than even Eldar Drassom had ever possessed. Nature fetishes and hunt souvenirs adorned the muscular frame, swaying slightly from the aftermath of the planeswalk. Long and ugly scars in various stages of healing adorned the Viashinos body, and the wurm-hide armour the figure wore was dented and scratched. Held within Kas’ huge bear-sized hands was a weapon as brutal looking and destructive as its owner: a great double handed executioner’s axe fashioned from obsidian edged with Dominarian bronze. Its haft was crafted from some dead beast’s spinal column shot through with living creepers that bound it together.
Kas looked around the chamber, as though trying to match up every surface with his recollections. Slowly, lost in memories, he strode over to the dragon’s skeleton that lay where it had fallen against the wall. Kas stopped before it, not so gently planting his axe in the rock before it. Once it was stable, Kas strode forward, between the huge spires of ribs till he stood where once he had ripped a Hellkite’s heart from its chest. It was here he knelt on the floor, planting a knee amongst the garden of bone. His eyes tracked left and right, as though expecting to see something, but when he has ascertained all was quiet and still he closed his eyes and spoke.
“Thrash. I don’t know if you can hear me. I don’t know if any part of you, your minds or your spirits or anything remain in the world of the living. I don’t believe it, to be honest, but in my time away I have seen…. such things. Things I wouldn’t have believed possible. So, here I am, because if there is but a chance…. well, you all deserve that.”
“I have travelled far beyond Jund, to places so different from our homeland. Places where the weak subjugate the strong under word-shackles called ‘laws’, places where the law of nature has been pushed back into corners. Surviving on them is….. challenging compared to the simpleness of Jund, but I make do. I will always make do.”
Kas reached behind his back, pulling out of a rucksack a long metal staff. Swaying from various parts of the staff were long, dagger sized bone claws.
“Every day, I think of your passing.
“Nixl, you saved me from that Goblin attack on Firespear pass.“
“Rond, you shared your haunch of flesh that day the hunt went against me.”
“Drassom, whose bravery saved us all a dozen times. “
“And Raz…. you were my greatest friend. I miss you still.”
With a heave, Kas planted the staff into the floor like a marker, sending the trophy claws swaying and clattering like a wind chime.
“In honour of you, the Flame-Thrash, I put at your resting place a tribute of blood for blood. A Dragon took all nine of you from me. And so from nine different worlds I have taken nine different Dragons’ claws, ripped from the beast’s dying bodies by my own hand. I hope that it gives you pleasure to know I have avenged you.”
Kas stood, appealing to the heavens.
“I have no Thrash to call my own, and the name of The Flame-Thrash will die with me. Our ways and tales are dead, but I hope to keep them alive through my titles, which I have given myself for lack of an elder to perform the ceremony. In them I shall keep all of you with me.
No Viashino has slain a dragon for a hundred generations as I have, and so I name myself Zek, Dragon-Slayer. I have been further than any Viashino has ever been, and soon I name myself Arr, Traveller. You may remember my as Kas, but the wider multiverse knows me as Arrkas Zek, and as I shall not be coming back here, that is how I want you to remember me too. Goodbye Thrash. The multiverse awaits. A banquet of treasures and challenges and hunts beyond my imagination, and nothing remains for me here. Just memories and ash. Be at peace.”
Arrkas took one long look around the chamber that had changed his life so much. Everywhere the ghosts of memory swam before them, coalescing as vaporous shapes that laid out the corpses of those who had fallen here. Sometimes, when he slept at night, he could still see Raz, lying on the floor dying, reaching out a hand to him. Could still see that instant when his friend slipped away.
A single tear slid out of Arrkas’ eye, and slid down his frame to kiss the dry floor. Arrkas shook his head furiously, wiping away the tear’s trail. There was no time for sentiment. His visit was done, it was time to be away from his home. Perhaps a truly challenging hunt would cure this moment of weakness from him. Either way, it was time to move on.
With a crack of his axe’s hilt on the floor, Arrkas Zek vanished from the chamber. It would be some time before the cavern’s spider population dared to peek out from their ambush holes. When they finally did, all they would find to mark the passage of Planeswalker many knew as Arrkas Zek, the Destroyer, was a simple staff planted in the floor, a forest of dragon claws gently clack clacking in the breeze.