|Image courtesy of David Pasco|
Perhaps the most enigmatic character in all of Aenya is the one who calls himself Nessus. He is known as the Dark Centaur, the Plunderer, and the Ravager of Worlds, among other things. With armies of bogren and horg at his command, towns and villages along the eastern border have been razed, including the homes of the Ilmar. Against those intrepid enough to face him, Nessus is said to wield twin obsidian sabers. He is also a master of the forbidden arts of the Zo, what in Northendell is called witchcraft. With merely a thought, Nessus can stop a man's heart, or control his body like a marionette. Or so rumor has it. Only one, however, has been known to have challenged Nessus and survived. In the annals of Aenya lore, The Dark Age of Enya, an Ilmarin boy faced against the centaur along the riverbanks of the Potamis. Their duel was short. Nessus, having cleft the young man's torso from hip to shoulder, left him for dead. But the boy did not die, for the Goddess, in the form of the phoenix, took pity on him.
Few can say where Nessus comes from, nor speak of his purpose, if there is any beyond a love for misery and destruction. As only a handful of men have ever seen him, the centaur is thought to be a legend. Natural philosophers have also suggested such a creature to be an impossibility, given the unnatural pairing of man and horse. Surely, witnesses have been mistaking a frightful warrior on horseback for a monster, for wherever fear is at work, nightmares will follow.
It was not until the Coup of Tyrnael and the reign of Zaibos, recorded in The Princess of Aenya, that some light was shed upon the mystery of Nessus.
Anabis was a scholar of humble beginnings, who desired nothing more than to learn of the Zo. The more he studied, however, the more he was intrigued by the possibility of immortality, something the Zo were said to have mastered. His research led him to Tyrnael, ancient capital of Aenya, hidden in the Crown of Aenya Mountains. There, he bid his time, hoping to gain access to the Compass Tower, the ancient seat of the Zo governing body and stronghold of King Solon.
When Solon's young daughter, Radia, became deathly ill, Anabis promised to cure her, but for a price. He asked not for riches or titles, as the king had offered others, but to remain as an adviser. Not long after, Anabis discovered many secrets, hidden in chambers lost for generations, but eternal life continued to elude him. It was not until he visited the royal stables that a clue presented itself. The unicorn was an otherworldly being, imprisoned by the king's ancestors ages ago, and did not appear to age. Having studied the ancient books, he knew also of "life essences," the map upon which all living things are patterned. It was what the Zo had used to create new forms of plants and animals. Extracting the essence from the unicorn's blood, Anabis hoped to become like it, immortal. But his reading of the text was limited, and lacking a complete understanding of life essences, he failed to isolate the property of eternal life, and was transformed into something more. Henceforth, he would possess two hearts, and two pairs of lungs, and two stomachs. He became what nature could never have devised on her own, a monstrosity, and in this new body, he adopted a new name.
Knowing that the king would not abide by what he had done, Nessus faked his own death, with the aid of his son, Zaibos. Rather than flee from the Tower, he hid in its lower depths, to further continue his studies. It was not long after that his lust for immortality turned toward something even greater. He had discovered the The Star Chamber, and at its center, the Fantastigate: Hub of All Worlds. The gate allowed the Zo to traverse both time and space, to any world in the universe, to any and all possible worlds. But the key was missing. Despite years of obsessive searching, no means of opening the gate could be found, and Nessus was forced to look beyond the borders of Tyrnael, plundering towns and villages near and far in a mad zeal to uncover it.
First and foremost, I'd like to thank my excellent friend, David Pasco, for this amazing custom.
Secondly, I'd like to point out that Nessus was prominently featured in The Dark Age of Enya, and also in the rewrite, Ages of Aenya, but his story needed to be cut. It was the most painful edit I've ever had to make, but it helped to streamline an already convoluted plot. Fortunately, Nessus makes a return in The Princess of Aenya.
In the deleted scene below, a young Xandr squares off against the Dark Centaur. Enjoy!
The centaur loomed heads over the youth, coming down with animal fury to sever his brash opponent from both the left and right shoulders. But Emmaxis moved with improbable swiftness in Xandr’s hands, joining the twin blades as Nessus met his own scowling countenance upon its mirrored surface.
Stepping away, the young monk drew the centaur into a wider circle, just as QuasiI had taught him, till Xandr’s heel touched upon dry soil, on the north side of the river, leaving the other’s hooves to splash in the current. The boy danced in dizzying loops, sprang and rebounded, lurched with deadly accuracy. Feet skirted sideways, tendons stretched low imitating the killing motions of the horned beetle. He could not manage to swing the sword around him swiftly enough, but rather appeared left of it, right of it.
“You are powerful . . . for a child,” the low voice rumbled. “Unfortunate that you were not born to us!”
The centaur was heavier than a warhorse, with limited lateral movement, made more so by the river coursing about him. The fact did not go unnoticed and Xandr acted to outflank his foe, to sink his metal into broad horse flesh.
Between man and monster, intersections formed and reformed with violent suddenness, tossing embers as their weapons came together. An exhaustive array of thrusts, parries and near misses showcased a plethora of arts, including the delayed counter, which was intended to lure Nessus into an overreaching attack. But reversals gave way to counter-reversals, and soon Xandr succumbed to thought, in how to compensate for the extra weight and length of his blade. Reach and force were its advantages, but whether the sword possessed any fantastic qualities, he could not tell; there was but the eerie, life-like quiver of its alloy and the constant drone in his head to kill, kill, and kill—if not Nessus—something.
Every fiber of the young nude’s muscle throbbed in defense. For though the centaur proved less agile, it offered no more advantage to Xandr than if he were fighting a windmill. Nessus possessed monstrous power, using hoof as elegantly as saber, fighting with a battle-hardened lack of pretense the youth could never counter. Each deflected blow weakened the pubescent warrior’s resolve, and it was not long before the two-handed sword chaffed in his palms and tugged at his spine.
With his hatred spent, Xandr’s grip loosened, and Nessus sent the sword spinning away. In falling, Emmaxis sank deep into a boulder at the river’s edge. Rebounding from the impact, the first of the centaur’s sabers flew back as the second cut diagonally, from hip to collarbone. Xandr’s torso peeled open. Blood pooled between his toes.
Hooves clomping through dirt and clay, the Dark Centaur began to pace the river. “What know you of Aenya in this paradise?” Between his outstretched fingers a sphere erupted, a ruptured surface of arid reds and cobalt. “You know nothing of hunger, of those who hunger . . . You do not even know the true wealth of this land. But wait . . . do you feel it?” he said, studying the air as if a change was taking place, “a chill wind blows from the East. Soon, your people shall know what we have known for millennia. Aenya turns slowly . . . but it does turn . . . and as the world changes so does the land, so will your lands be as ours, so does the light become the dark. Alas, when the darkening comes, that which we seek shall be no more.”
The red bearded face, and the gleaming black blades, and the rushing of the Potamis, it all became distant and unfocused, and Xandr wet his fingers into the fresh cavity in his breast, lifting the blood to his eyes. Each breath stabbed at him, a terrible reminder of life, and he felt himself plummet and the ground wheel about him.
“I could have killed you at any instant. But I am a connoisseur of torment, and I find it more satisfying to first crush the spirit. Idealism is, after all, so nauseating.”
Closing his fist, the projection of Aenya extinguished like a candle-flame, and his attention turned to the sword. “ . . . I have never seen its equal—a sword that cuts through solid rock—and the blade, unscathed, even against my sabers! An old relic, no doubt, from the age of the Zo. Perhaps this little duel was not completely fruitless.”
With all the might of his four legs, the Ravager of Kingdoms could not remove the sword. Emmaxis remained as though moored to the earth and at some length sank further into the stone. “It mocks me!” Nessus grumbled, the skull-face mirroring the convex of his daemonic eyes. “And this hilt, it differs somehow from before . . . What sorcery is this?”
As the blood ebbed from his body, Xandr could do nothing but watch the centaur curse and struggle. In time, the Chariot of Solos crept behind the greater moon, and the sky dulled to sullen shades of violet, and Nessus was no more. All the young monk knew was that the centaur had been and now was not.
Thought and understanding navigated dark regions in his mind. There was no sensation beyond the cold permeating his membranes without the comfort of a shudder. Resolved to this state, he welcomed the Taker’s embrace and the absence of being that lifted all pain.
But it did not come.
Oh Alashiya . . . What glory is in this? Was I not to be Batal? Has my life been a lie?
Moons mingled amid deities and stars drew ellipses in the sky. Leaves curled and twirled off sinewy stems, framing him in earthen colors. Seedlings broke through the soil and ilms pillowed under his limbs. A screech rent the abyss, and looking again toward heaven, he spied upon the great sword once more, its ghoulish face ever grinning, and sitting upon it now was a phoenix with feathers of orange, white, and blue. It was the icon from the mural, resonating with power, gravitating cords of fate and matter about its beak.
Planes and galaxies swirled in the phoenix’s eyes, and as it looked into him, all knowing, the black came down and he was gone.