WILL OF SOULZ DEPTHS V.S. MYSTIQUE
The three men looked in quiet awe around them. A dozen mighty oaks stood in a perfect circle, looming over them like a silent jury. The deep shadows of the forest making the circle seem more like a cemetery than a clearing. In the center of the circle, a strangely beautiful but twisted tree stood. "What do you make of it, Reg?" One of them quietly asked. Regar, the foreman, scratched his bearded chin absently with one hand while he shouldered his axe with the other. "I don’t know." He muttered, more to himself than to either of his workers. To him the tree looked" disturbing. Something in the back of his head was quietly telling him something" But whatever it was, it was beyond him. He blinked suddenly, as if waking from a dream. "Doesn’t matter though. We don’t get paid to stand around." Gripping his axe with both hands he took aim and slammed the axe home. The crack of the axe biting into the wood made all three men jump as it echoed through the trees. With a grunt he pulled back as hard as he could, but the axe was held fast. Glanced around uneasily, Regar took a step back and turned to leave. He suddenly felt naked without his axe. "Tomorrow, we’ll come back and clear this area."
The other two men needed no encouragement and the three of them made their way to camp at nearly a run.
Unnoticed in their haste, thick sap, the color of blood began to well up around the iron axe blade. An unearthly wail tore through the circle, sending all living things that heard it running in terror. At the height of the keening wail the axe shuddered once, twice and the blade oxidized and rusted, falling to pieces in a matter of moments, the oak handle falling to the ground. Still wailing, the wounded tree began to shudder and twist, leaves falling away in a whirlwind, bark cracking and flaking to the ground. Suddenly the tree heaved and split, the naked form of a young woman falling to the ground. Her mouth frozen in a scream as her hands clawed the earth, blood pumping from the ugly gash between her breasts. Finally, the scream died down and she lay, panting on the forest floor, covered in sticky sap and blood oozing from her chest. As she gasped for air, the wound slowly began to close. In a matter of moments, not even a scar remained. The clear sap dried and flaked away, leaving her pale skin unmarked from either dirt or blood. Slowly she sat up, dark brown hair sprouting from her naked scalp and cascading past her shoulders in waves as she did so. Shakily she reached up and pushed her hair back, over her delicately pointed ears. Her hazel eyes opened sleepily. "Where" am" I?" She whispered hoarsely, her voice unfamiliar and rough to her ears.
‘You are the guardian.’ The trees whispered to her.
The druid’s eyes snapped opened as a flood of memories returned to her. Her life, her loves and her losses overwhelmed her for a moment, nearly causing her to faint. Then she remembered. "The joining." She whispered.
‘Yes.’ The trees replied. ‘You are the will of the souls of this land. You forsook your mortal life to become our guardian.’
" What is happening?" She asked, feeling the weight of duty settling on her shoulders.
Tiny green leaves fell from the treetops above, settling across her bare form and merging, forming a simple dress. ‘We are dying.’ The trees groaned. ‘The magic is fading from the land and we are being poisoned and slaughtered.’
The druid stood slowly and let herself feel the woods around her. Pain and loss flooded her mind. The cry of a despoiled land bringing tears to her eyes. Steeling herself, the druid forced her awareness out farther. Ugly iron and worked stone greeted her. "A city?" She asked aloud, a deep frown marring her delicate features. "A human city? How long have I slept?"
‘Ten hundred seasons have passed since our joining, Guardian.’
The druid’s frown deepened, her eyes troubled. "Then why was I not awakened before this?"
The grove shook, leaves swirled and danced around her in an intangible whirlwind. ‘By the time the threat was real, it was too late.
The magic had faded and left us too weak to call. Only direct threat could summon you forth.’
The druid nodded slowly, her slender hand going to the spot where the woodsman’s axe had bit. "Can we recover, or is it too late?"
‘We are weak.’ The forest moaned. ‘But with your awakening, we grow stronger. But it is not enough. The humans must leave, the land must be cleansed or we will die.’
The druid nodded slowly, her gaze falling to the abandoned axe handle. With delicate care she lifted it, the way a mother would lift a sick child. She could smell countless hours of blood and sweat on the smooth wood. In her hands, the axe handle writhed and twisted, lengthening into a short staff. Turning it slowly, she drove one end into the ground and closed her eyes. "Let those who would despoil the land, be claimed by the land." As her words echoed through the grove, tiny leaves sprouted at the top of the stick.
Regar rolled uneasily in his sleep, his nose itching horribly. Grumbling he rolled over and tried to scratch, only to find himself held fast. His eyes snapped open in alarm. "What-" The rest of his words were lost as the vines holding him fast surged down his throat. Gagging and choking he struggled with all his might, he could feel the vines wiggling down his throat, but he was held fast. Outside his tent he could dimly hear terrified wails and screams, cut off one by one, as the rest of his men were overtaken by the same vines weaving throughout the camp. Eyes bugging out, he twitched helplessly, his lungs filled with vines, until the darkness claimed him.
The druid opened her eyes, her face free of any emotion. "It is done. Their lives give strength to us." The swirling leaves settled around her, forming a deep, hooded cloak as she stood.
‘Rest now.’ The trees whispered, their branches swaying. ‘Gather your strength this night. For tomorrow will be difficult.’
The Druid nodded, suddenly weary, the effort of claiming the woodsmen had drained her more than she had realized. With a yawn she lay back, settling into a nest of leaves as the earth beneath her shifted to conform to the curves of her body. Clutching the staff close, she closed her eyes. "The city."
The fox ran harder than it ever had in its life, darting this way and that through the trees, it was a reddish blur. Behind it, half a dozen hounds barked and howled as they slowly closed the gap. The fox could almost feel the rapid thud of the dogs feet, hot on his trail. Suddenly, the barking stopped. Looked back in surprise and stopped. The hounds, every one, had stopped running and sat, panting heavily, their dark eyes looking past him.
The druid stepped out of the tree and looked down at the fox with a faint smile as it barked happily at her. In the distance, horns sounded. After a few moments, a dozen men on horseback surged into the clearing, cursing and yelling as they jerked their horses reins to avoid running over their dogs.
" You there!" One shouted. "What is the meaning of this? What have you done to my dogs?"
The Druid pushed her hood back and let her cloak fall behind her. Before the startled men’s eyes, her dark hair turned golden blonde in the sun and her pale skin tanned. "Run now, this is the only warning you will get." As she spoke, the hounds turned and growled at the mounted men, causing the horses to shift nervously.
The hunters glanced at each other uneasily. "I will not be told what to do by a witch with a stick." The leader shouted, drawing his sword. "Cease your petty magic, release my dogs and you will be spared!"
The Druid shrugged and raised her staff, pointing it like a spear. "As you wish." As one the dogs leaped forward, tearing the startled men from their saddles. Despite the blood and screaming, the horses stood stock still, calmed by the druid’s voice in their heads. When the last hunter lay dead, the Druid stepped away from the tree. One by one she touched her staff to the saddles. One by one the buckles and metal rusted and crumbled away, letting the leather straps and packs fall to the ground. Free of their bonds, the horses whickered quietly and trotted into the woods. As the druid strode away, vines sprouted from where the hunter’s blood had been spilled and started growing over the bodies, in moments nothing remained.
" Slave market starts in ten minutes!" The burly slave master shouted. "Workers, concubines, servants, only the finest slaves for your pleasure!"
The Druid pressed her way through the throng of humanity that flooded this place. Her once green cloak was now brown, the leaves having faded more and more the closer she got to the city. Now it appeared as if she wore a tattered beggars cloak and no one paid her any heed.
The sheer number of people, pushing this way and that, threatened to overwhelm her. Beneath their feet, filth and waste soiled the cobblestones. Starving and dying children and cripples lay in the alleyways, forgotten like so much refuse. The stench of death and iron made her stomach quiver with revulsion. Everywhere she turned, she saw misery and tainted living. She had remembered, when she was young, not even the worst human cities had been close to this squalor. These people had so far removed themselves from the cycle of life that they ignored the misery around them to the point where their own lives were irrevocably tainted by it. She had hoped, that by coming to the city she might find something redeeming, one small reason to try and find a reasonable solution, an alternative to annihilation. But to find this" Just being this close to the corruption made her weak. She could not feel any connection to the spirits here. Even the light of the sun seemed tainted somehow, the smoke from the forges and fires spewing filth into the air, preventing the light of the sun from shining completely through.
Staggering, she made her way farther into the city. One thing she knew, nothing could survive without water. That was one thing that she could count on, if she could only find it. After another hour, her efforts were rewarded. At the heart of the city was a fountain, though the site of it broke her heart. Even before she touched it she could feel the pain of it. Routed and funneled through metal pipes, any spirit that might have been in the water had been long since destroyed. Large stone tubs caught the water as it spewed from the orifices of various statues. Any beauty once held by these statues had long since been lost to grime and neglect. Winding her way towards the fountain, she dipped her hand in the tepid water. Only a faint glimmer of spirit remained within it, just enough to sustain life. No more, no less. Thankfully, that was just enough for her purpose. Plunging her hand into the water up to her shoulder, she let herself flow with the water, her consciousness expanding to the earth beneath the city. Much of it was tainted by the squalor of the waste and filth of the city, but as she pushed deeper, she found what she was looking for. Standing she stepped away from the fountain. Taking a deep breath she focused her energy inwards. Grasping her staff in both hands, she tapped twice gently on the stones, and then striking hard once, tuning into the spirit of the earth trapped beneath the cobblestones.
Over and over she repeated the rhythm, humming the ancient melody that would guide the spirits to do what she needed to be done.
Slowly, the earth spirit awakened, responding to the ancient call. The ground rumbled once in response. Then it rumbled again, and again, and again. Each time growing in intensity until the city was trembling at its very foundation. Around her, the city was in chaos, towers and walls collapsed, fissures opened up. People all around panicked and screamed as their world shook to pieces around them. Finally the Druid stopped, leaning heavily on her staff as the earth spirit settled back into its uneasy sleep. All around her, the survivors slowly came to their feet and began searching the rubble of buildings and structures for missing loved ones and to retrieve their possessions.
The druid opened her eyes slowly. "Let this be their first warning."
Brother Fenris had been praying when the first tremor struck. At first he had been mildly confused as to why the holy benediction seemed to be dancing on the plate in front of him. Then he had been surprised, when the temple walls began to tremble. Then he had been terrified when the statue in front of him shook, swayed and fell forward, directly onto him. And then he had felt nothing.
Far below him, beneath the catacombs of the temple, a single, sealed room sat. The tunnel that had once led to it had been long since buried and forgotten. Outside, the bricks were inscribed with glyphs of warning in a dozen languages. On the inside, glyphs of warding glowed faintly, throwing light on the stone and iron sarcophagus contained within. Magic held it in the exact center of the room, not touching any wall. When the first tremor struck, the room trembled slightly. At the height of the quaking, the room groaned and shivered, the glyphs flickering. With a tremendous crack the room split, spilling in earth and dust. With a flash the glyphs faded and the sarcophagus fell heavily to the floor, the iron bands stretching and the lid cracking from the fall. For the longest time, the room was still. Then, slowly, something dripped from above, splattering wetly on the lid of the sarcophagus. Then another. As more drops fell, the thick red liquid oozed into the cracks of the sarcophagus, disappearing into the darkness within. Almost immediately a hissing and popping noise began emanating from within. One by one the iron bands stretched and snapped, the stone lid shifting to the side. A skeletal hand, red with blood thrust upwards, grasping at the air.
Brother Fenris opened his eyes slowly, his head pounding. An impassive stone face stared back at him. Groaning weakly he slid out from under the statue and looked around. The raised base had saved his life, instead of being crushed under the marble monument, he had merely suffered a glancing blow. Pulling himself unsteadily to his feet he gaped sadly at the ruin around him. Nearly every hanging, tapestry, statue and other decoration had fallen from the walls. As he looked out over where the pews should have been he felt the breath knocked out of him. The floor was gone! Steadying himself with a prayer he stepped forward, not wanting to look, but knowing he must confirm his suspicions. With a strangled cry he turned away, his worst fears realized. The prayer hall’s floor had been carved from a single piece of marble. The tremors had cracked it into four large pieces and sent it crashing through the rooms below, the classrooms and studies for the acolytes. Crushing all those who had been unfortunate enough to be under it. "So many innocents"" He wept bitterly. He tried to console himself in the fact that with the weight of the stone they could not have suffered. A scraping sound caught his attention. Anxiously he peered over the edge. Could it be? A survivor? "Is there anyone there?" He called out, peering into the darkness between the slabs of stone. As he looked on in horror, a pair of bloody hands clawed their way upward.
" Reach for my hand!" He called out frantically as he threw his arm out desperately. The hands scrabbled about and found his, and he pulled back with all his might, grunting with surprise as he easily hauled up the slender, bloodied form.
" Dear god"" He whispered as he stepped back. "What in the world could have done this?" He fought back the urge to vomit, he could not tell if the figure before him was male or female, it looked as if its skin had been flayed from its flesh.
Dropping to his knees he clasped his hands and gazed heavenward. "Please, lord. Let this poor creature know your loving embrace. Ease its suffering and let it pass from this miserable world into your realm. In your mercy-"
The rest of his prayer was cut off as a bloody, skeletal hand grasped his throat. His eyes bugged out as the skinned figure sat up and fixed him with a steady, cold glare. "Kare dahen?" It rasped. At that point, Brother Fenris did the only sensible thing he could think of. He fainted.
Brother Fenris woke to a strange sound. It sounded almost like a cat lapping milk. Almost. Slowly he opened his eyes and sat up.
" Hede ja." A silken voice whispered.
Brother Fenris’s eyes bugged out and he turned in alarm only to find himself face to face with a coldly beautiful pale face.
" Teke zahe hen dar’eh?"
Brother Fenris gulped and tried to inch away, but she moved with him, keeping her face inches from his. "I don’t understand you." He stammered, falling back. She straddled him, her dark hair hanging over her breasts. Blood streaked her pale skin, but he could see no wounds.
The woman cocked her head to one side inquisitively, almost birdlike. Brother Fenris could now see her hair wasn’t just dark, it was matted with blood.
" Ne peveth dahen ethen?" She muttered, a thoughtful look on her face. She raised her hand. "Seneb gabe ethen."
Brother Fenris gasped as he felt something snap within his head.
" Do" You" Understand" Me" Now?" She purred, touching his forehead lightly with a sharp fingernail, drawing blood.
Brother Fenris watched in detached horror as she daintily licked the drop of blood from the tip of her finger and smiled.
" Yes. I do." He stammered. "What manner of demon are you?"
The woman laughed and grabbed him by the front of his robes, pulling him close. "I am no demon." She whispered as she moved her face closer to his, delicately sniffing either side of his neck as if looking for something. "I am flesh and blood, just as you are." She drew one razor sharp fingernail lightly across the side of his face for emphasis. "I was a servant of your order once. But we were in great peril. Our order was dying. Warriors from a distant land were sweeping through our temples, slaughtering all they found. The head of the order realized our numbers were too few. He did the one thing he could think of to do to save the priesthood from annihilation. He bestowed the power over death to one of his most faithful followers, an innocent, one who would not be" tempted by the terrible power. Me."
Brother Fenris took a deep breath, choosing his words carefully. "You are mistaken. No priest of our order would do such a thing. It would be" Blasphemous."
The woman nodded slowly. "It was. The more they killed, the more death they created, the stronger I became. It was not long before the armies were crushed, killed by our slain and their own fallen warriors. And though I brought victory, the church feared me. They were afraid of my power, afraid that they had no control over me. So they betrayed me. Deceived me and imprisoned me. Hiding me away from the world, from their guilt while I slowly died. And it was slow, I suffocated in the prison they put me in. But I did not die completely. Only the blood of innocents, spilled without malice or hatred, could free me."
" You are an abomination." Brother Fenris hissed. "A foul temptress sent to deceive me and destroy my faith. You are the Necromancer. The one whose name must never be spoken."
The woman frowned slightly. "Believe what you wish. It changes nothing." She placed one hand on his forehead and closed her eyes. "Jar fe jan j’eth pe. Za fe eth’he."
Brother Fenris screamed as a lance of white-hot pain shot through his skull and settled into his chest. "What have you done?" He gasped.
The Necromancer let him drop limply to the ground and stood over him, her chest heaving slightly. "We are bound now. You and I. What happens to me, happens to you. You are my servant."
The druid frowned a week had passed since she had called the earth spirit. The damage had been less severe than she thought. Repairs were well on their way to completion and the humans were going about their business as if nothing had happened. To make matters worse, she could feel the taint within the city growing stronger. Taking a deep breath she let her will become one with the land once again. The setting sun was warm on her skin, a gentle breeze ruffling her hair. Reaching out she planted one end of the short staff into the ground, leaving it standing upright. The staff glowed for a brief moment then the top portion shifted. The druid grasped it again and the top two feet came away in her hand, a line of holes forming on one side as she brought it to her lips. She played a single note, low and mournful. And the wind picked up slightly. Closing her eyes, she tried to remember a song that a dwarven king had taught her once, when she had stayed in his hall. The melody was slow at first, gradually picking up pace. The wind carried it down into the city.
Brother Fenris was in hell. All week long the wounded and dying had been brought to the solace of his temple. He had been allowed to minister to the sick, but those that were beyond his help went to her. He knew she would awaken soon, the suns rays shining through the narrow slits high in the temple wall were beginning to dim. With every death she seemed to be growing stronger. He blamed himself, for not being wise or strong enough to know how to stop her. He had tried to end his own life the first night, by leaping from the tower. He had lain there, broken and bloody for several hours before she had come to him.
" It is not that easy, my pet." She had purred as she straightened his broken limbs. "Do something this foolish and I will not save you again. I will drop you in a hole and leave you to rot."
Fenris had taken her to heart. By day, he went about his normal duties. By night he was bound to serve her needs. He found he could not warn anyone in any way, either through written or spoken word. The few attempts he had made had left him lying breathless on the floor in agony, the pain passing as soon as he desisted.
A strange sound suddenly caught his attention, a quiet flute melody. Cocking his head to one side he tried to determine where it was coming from, it seemed to echo from all around him, calling to him somehow. As he looked around he notice that no one else seemed to pay it any heed. To his shock the acolyte next to him suddenly collapsed, snoring. A sliver of panic gripped him. He looked around quickly, more and more people were falling asleep. There was no one who needed his immediate attention. Forcing himself not to run, he hurried up the stairs to where she had made her" lair.
" Mistress. Mistress." He called out. "Something is happening" I hear-" His words trailed off as he came to the top of the stairs and saw his mistress sprawled across her bed, her gaze distant. He shuddered every time he saw it. Nine gleaming skeletons kneeled, forming the bed. As she shifted and sat up, the ones she no longer lay on stood and moved. In a moment they had formed a throne.
" I hear it to, pet." She whispered as she reclines, long fingernails caressing the skulls at the end of her armrests. Three skulls glowered at him from over her head, as if in contempt of his living body. Despite his revulsion, she looked positively resplendent on the pale throne, a beautiful spider sheathed in black leather. "I know the tune well. It is magic, you hear it because you are bound to me and are now sensitive to such enchantments. Have no fear. It will only affect the innocent."
Brother Fenris’s face clouded. The innocent? He didn’t like the sound of that. Then again, he didn’t like the sound of anything that brought a smile to his mistress’s face.
As if she could hear his thoughts, she turned her gaze from the window to face him. "Something" Interesting is going to happen soon. Be prepared my pet. Be prepared."
Brother Fenris nodded but did not respond. This did not bode well at all.
The druid’s fingers danced over the flute as the melody worked its magic. As she played, a line children and young people danced past her, caught up in the music. As the music played faster they danced faster, whirling and twirling. When the last child passed her, faint sparkles of light began to dance around them. One by one, they turned into a small tree or bush, until not a single child remained. When the last had made their leafy transformation. The music changed slightly, the fast pace increasing more and more, becoming discordant and frenetic.
Brother Fenris clamped his hands to his ears, vainly trying to block out the now painful melody. At the window the necromancer merely smiled as she watched hundreds of rats, driven insane by the music, boil from the sewers and alleys. Soon hundreds of screams accompanied the music, creating a maddening symphony of pain.
Exhausted, the druid fell back, unable to play another note. The summoning magic had drained much of her energy. She could now hear the screams of hundreds of terrified voices. She imagined the swarms of vermin overrunning everything in site. Sitting up slowly, she touched the flute to the remaining portion of the staff, the two pieces joining seamlessly. Pulling the staff from the ground, the druid pulled her cloak low over her face and turned back towards the woods. As she walked through the new trees, the echo of the children’s laughter followed her.
" Wake up, my pet." The Necromancer purred quietly.
Brother Fenris winced painfully. For three days he had neither eaten nor slept as the plague of rats had wreaked havoc over the city. It had finally become so bad that he had been forced to close the temple. Not that it had kept his mistress from continuing her dark work. Teams of walking dead roamed the streets at night now, a macabre mockery of a guard force. All through the night they collected the dead and those too weak to fend them off, night by night, their numbers increased. She now had a veritable army at her command. He estimated almost a tenth of the city belonged to her and her dead. To make matters worse, nearly all the children had vanished. Some claim that they had danced out of the city, moments before the plague of rats had swept through the city. Others whispered darker rumors of them being devoured by the hordes. At this rate, the remaining people would soon join the ranks of the dead. He idly wondered what would then become of him.
" Get up." Her voice had shifted to a tone of command. He found himself standing, though whether it was through his own will or hers, he could not tell.
" What do you require of me, my mistress?" He rasped.
The necromancer frowned slightly as she examined him. "You have been neglecting yourself."
Brother Fenris shook his head wearily. "I think I may have fallen to the plague that the rats have spread."
" Nonsense." She snapped irritably. "I blessed the swarm with the plague, it would have no effect on you."
Fenris’s shoulders slumped in defeat. "The rats were yours, Mistress?"
" No." The necromancer replied with a faint smile. "I merely took advantage of an excellent opportunity. This little act of nature will speed things along quite nicely."
" Yes Mistress."
The druid was furious now. Although several small groups had filtered out, the corruption within the city had grown worse, like an ugly black boil. "Perhaps we have been too subtle." She murmured. Throwing her cloak to one side, the druid gripped the staff like a spear and drove it into the ground with all her might. Almost immediately the ground beneath her feet began to ripple and shift. Focusing her will outwards, the rippling shifted and headed directly for the city.
Brother Fenris gaped in disbelief. As he watched, thousands of tiny green tendrils seemed to sprout from every crack and crevice in the cobblestones. The plague had wiped out nearly a third of the population overnight. The necromancer’s minions now wandered in the daytime, forcing the remaining citizens to hide in their homes behind barricaded doors. Dead littered the streets, their numbers too great for the undead to easily bring quickly to their mistress. To his surprise, the vines seemed to ignore the buildings and stone works. Instead they latched onto the corpses, moving and not, and burrowed into them as if devouring them.
An unearthly scream nearly made him leap out of his skin in fright.
" What is the meaning of this?" The necromancer screamed as she stormed to the window. Her strength had grown considerably, she no longer cringed from the light of day. "Who would possibly dare do this?" She muttered under her breath.
" What is happening, mistress?" Brother Fenris stammered fearfully.
The necromancer fixed her dark gaze on him, her eyes blazing for a moment. Then she calmed slightly. "A wizard is attempting to destroy my army." She turned her gaze back to the city and scowled. "If it is war they want. It is war they will get."
Reaching into a pouch by her side, she produced a handful of ash. "Zehem ta Jekeh, kek he Semah ta dahen gemeste!" With that, she blew on the ash, sending forth a sooty cloud that descended across the city like a foul mist.
As they watched, the voracious vines withered and died as the cloud touched it. Anyone living unfortunate enough to be caught in the street fell to the ground choking as ash filled their lungs.
The druid screamed as the vile, deadly, magic raced through the vines back to her. Black lines traced their way up her hands and arms and she fell backwards, choking and coughing up ash. Summoning up all her will she expelled the foulness from her body. Rolling over onto her hands and knees, she vomited tendrils of inky blackness for several moments. Frantically she withdrew her magic, letting what she could not save, die off. The remaining vines retreating to the safety of the surrounding woods. Gasping for breath, she sat back. To her horror the tendrils still whipped about and writhed as if they were alive, as she watched, they raced back towards the staff and coiled about it like serpents.
" Sehe!" The druid shouted as she flung her hand towards the staff. Eldritch flame leapt from her fingertips and engulfed the staff, consuming the tendrils. When the flames died, the staff was left unharmed. Jerking the staff out of the ground she strode angrily out of the forest. In front of her, stones rose from the earth, forming a staircase. Never breaking her stride, the druid took the stairs one after the other. The next step forming just as she stepped to it. Finally, when she was just above tree level she stopped. And scanned the horizon. When she saw what she needed, the druid threw her head back and held her staff aloft. "Ya eth’hen dahen peveth hede!"
As her words echoed over the trees, the nearby clouds thickened and darkened. A deep rumbling issued from their depths as lightening crackled within.
" Meke eth’he hebe dahe!" She shouted, the wind sweeping her voice away. As the clouds rumbled overhead, jagged arcs of lightening leapt between her and the clouds. Holding the staff horizontal in front of her, the druid released it, leaving it hovering in mid air. Throwing her arms skyward she reveled in the power of the storm and sent its wrath to the city. As the storm’s fury increased, both the staff and the druid were swept up with it. In the heart of the storm the druid’s eyes reflected the wrath of the storm as lightening arced between her outstretched arms.
" I think you angered them, Mistress!" Brother Fenris shouted over the wind.
The necromancer shrugged, her hair and cloak blown straight back. As they watched, the storm unleashed its fury. Arcs of lightening smiting buildings throughout the city, while the deafening thunder shook the temple to its foundations. Wherever the lightening struck, ravenous white and blue flames sprang up, burning everything they touched.
" Have no fear, pet." The necromancer shouted over the gale. "The storm’s wrath will not touch us."
Brother Fenris only nodded, too awed by the destruction to speak. Next to him, the necromancer’s eyes glowed, reflecting the flames that consumed the city.
Casting her gaze upward, her eyes narrowed. She could feel something living within the storm, driving it, guiding it. As she watched, most of the lightening arced from a single point within the storm.
A slow smile crept across the necromancer’s face. "A pretty little bird. Let’s see how well it flies."
Letting her eyes roll back, the necromancer searched for the nearest undead she commanded. A dozen rotting skulls turned and shuffled towards her, summoned by her silent call. When she had three dozen of them she opened her eyes and smiled. "Eth’he gabe, pevar dahen geruki." As the words rolled off her tongue, the walking corpses shivered and fell into heaps of flesh and bone.
Brother Fenris looked on in terror as the heaps shuddered and groaned, flowing together into four large puddles. Skin stretched and bones warped and twisted as the four puddles re-formed into four hideous undead monstrosities. Each stood twice as tall as a man, rotting flesh stretched over bones and oozing vicious fluids. Hollow eye sockets gleamed with unholy light and massive bat wings shrouded the apparitions like macabre cloaks. Four arms ending in raptor like talons clawed and raked at the floor as the creature’s feet dug in. Long tails tipped with barbs whipped madly about as the beasts hissed and spat at one another for several moments before falling silent and bowing before their mistress.
" Go, my pets." She jabbed one elegant finger towards the heart of the storm. "Fly and bring me the little bird who controls the storm."
With four unearthly wails, the beasts leapt up, breaking through the ceiling and took flight into the storm.
The druid’s hair flew madly behind her like a banner of war as she cast lightening bolt after lightening bolt down upon the city. Most of the buildings were in flames now. The remaining occupants fleeing for their meager lives. As she raised her arm to throw another bolt, she spied a dark shape speeding towards her. Taking aim, she unleashed a bolt of lightening fueled with pure hatred, obliterating the thing in mid air.
Before she could enjoy her victory, three other shapes crashed into her simultaneously. Lightening crackled briefly over the winged beasts, then died. In one ungainly heap they plummeted towards the ground.
The necromancer watched the tangled heap tumble through the sky. Smiling broadly when it crashed to the earth on the other side of the city. Almost immediately the rumbling of the storm stopped and a gentle rain began to fall. In minutes the fires were sputtering and dying. "To the victor goes the spoils, pet. Shall we reap our rewards?"
Brother Fenris sighed wearily. "Yes mistress."
Four skeletons marched in step, carrying a litter of bone. The necromancer sat upon her throne while Brother Fenris kneeled next to her, the shuffling of the skeletons making him queasy. As they made through the streets dead bodies rose unsteadily to their feet and bowed with the necromancer’s passing. By the time they were halfway across the city, the last of the fires were dying and a veritable army of undead shambled close behind them. Before long, they made their way to the crater where her winged creations fell.
The necromancer called her entourage to a halt and dismounted her throne, stepping daintily over the kneeling skeletons. She glanced into the crater with vague disappointment. Aside from shreds of flesh and bone, there seemed to be nothing left of their antagonist.
" A pity." She murmured. "I had so wanted to thank them for making my task that much easier." Turning back to her throne she beckoned Brother Fenris to her. "Come hither, my pet."
Head bowed, he shuffled forward. He knew what was coming next and welcomed it. Silently he made his final prayer to his god as he kneeled before the necromancer.
With a faint grin she placed her hand on his head. "Jave is hedar var."
Brother Fenris gasped and fell backwards as the pain shot through him once more.
" Take care my pet." The necromancer purred as she stepped over him. "You are released from my service."
Fenris pushed himself to his knees, gasping for breath. "You aren’t going to kill me?" He stammered in amazement.
The necromancer settled into her throne, a faint smirk on her face as the four skeletons stood. "Of course not. I told you. I was made by our priesthood. I have no more power over the pious than I do over the innocent. Only the wicked and the dead are subject to my will."
Fenris gaped in amazement. "But" What of my wounds? When you healed me?"
The necromancer laughed quietly. "I did nothing of the sort. We were bonded. When you are close to death I can bend the rules and use my life to mend your broken body. Everything else was your own mind." She winked seductively at him. "Belief is a powerful thing."
Brother Fenris sat back, stunned. No words could come to mind as he watched the necromancer leave. He looked at the rubble around him, amidst it all, the temple was the only building left standing. Above him the clouds parted. The light of the sun warming him and washing away the fatigue of the past few days. Eyes skyward he gave his most genuine thanks to his god for sparing his life. As he opened his eyes he noticed something in the sky, falling towards him.
With wonder he watched as a stick hurtled end over end and embedded itself in the ground at the heart of the crater. Almost immediately small vines and leaves shot up from the ground around it. As he watched the ground shifted and split, a pair of feminine hands bursting forth.
The druid pulled herself upward and shook the dirt from her clothes. Steadying herself with the staff she stood upright. Blinking in the warm sun, she cast her gaze about, the taint was gone. Though most of the city would be barren, the land would heal. The corruption had been cleansed.
In front of her a lone, haggard man sat, his eyes wide in awe. Slowly she raised her staff, holding it like a spear. "Do you intend good or ill for this land?"
Brother Fenris shrank back at the fierce intensity of the beautiful woman’s voice. Surely this woman was not the one that had destroyed his fair city.
" I am a man of peace." He stammered at last. "I live my live in service to my god and the guidance of those who seek it."
The druid nodded and lowered her staff. "This place has been purified. Live well, and you will survive. Tell your people what happened here and do not let them forget and lose their way again, or I will return with vengeance."
Brother Fenris nodded quickly, unable to think of anything to say.
With a weary sigh she placed both hands on the staff and concentrated her will once more. "Fe Dahen Shegeh sahem gabe he behe." As she spoke the last words, she cast her arms skyward and her feet sank into the ground. Her skin turned to bark and leaves sprouted from her hair and fingers. In moments all that remained was a vaguely woman shaped tree, and Brother Fenris.
The priest suddenly realized he had been holding his breath and let it out with a sigh. For a moment he wondered how in the world he would restore the temple, then he realized there was no one to restore it for. As he turned the sound of laughing children greeted him. Gazing past the ruined walls of the city he saw a group of children and young men and women staring in quiet awe at the temple. A young woman saw him and waved to get his attention. "Brother Fenris! What has happened here?"
Looking skyward, Brother Fenris smiled his thanks. "God has given us a second chance."
By: Jason Haley