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Severed Shadows Continues...
Seandar could still hear the battle between Barclay and Meryl. He started to circle around the maddened soldier. With the shadow latched to him there was surely no way to help him. But as he moved the shadow seemed to drive the madman to intercept. Seandar still gripped his dagger, and now he realized he must use it. Though the shadow drove him on, the man continued to swing with wild abandom. Reckless and random, his madness actually made it harder to predict where an opening would appear. Evading, looking for that opening and trying not to trip over pieces of Gemkray, Seandar had a chance to look closer at the shadow. Within the swirling madness of black fury was the soul of the gnoll warrior. And that soul had a desperate vengeance coursing through it, driving it to attack Seandar through the militia man. Desperate and dying, he realized. The gnoll was fading as its body burned behind them, but the shadow still held power. As the gnoll started to disappear, the shadow seemed to sink deeper into the body of the militia man. Fearing what that might mean Seandar lept forward, begging fate to guide his hand, and managed to avoid a beheading while plunging his dagger in the man’s heart. The shadow recoiled from the body, as it collapsed in death. Angrily it lashed out at Seandar but the circlet on his brow flashed brilliant silver for a moment and the shadow retreated. Blades continued to cross in the darkness beyond. In the direction the shadow had fled.
As the gnoll burned and its soul lost its hold in the material plane, it seemed the shadow was no less malevolent. Like a vampire, the shadow was the body which housed the soul of the dead gnoll. Unlike the body of a vampire whose soul is ripped away and sent to the afterlife, the shadow held enough dark power to seek a replacement. And like water seeking the easiest path to the sea, so the shadow sought the most vulnerable soul to steal. It found its target in Samuel Barclay, but things did not go as expected. Attacking the man whose emotions and grip on reality were frail in the face of this disastrous night already, the shadow used its maddening presence to weaken him, and sink deeper into his being. But upon trying to extricate the soul from his body and continue its existence as a shadow demon, the man proved stronger willed than it first believed. Suddenly the pull was on the shadow, and it was drawn fully within him. Barclay screamed and flailed, twisted with agony and swung wildly at Meryl.
Seandar rushed through the trees just in time to see the shadow absorbed completely into the raving captain. Meryl dodged and parried for dear life as the vicious and powerful swings kept coming with no apparent thought behind them. Suddenly Barclay stopped. His screaming, his swinging, even his heavy breathing just stopped. Meryl was fully entrenched in battle with him, and unlike their first confrontation, she was prepared now to kill or be killed. Barclay’s lack of action left an opening a mile wide and Meryl took it. Leaping forward she used both hands to plunge her sword between the articulated steel plates running down his torso. Sliding upward between the armor, she felt the sword come to a stop somewhere near the base of his neck, cutting into the spine.
In a manner Seandar had seen so often of late with Gemkray, Barclay merely gazed from the blade transfixed through his body, to the woman holding it. Meryl was wide eyed. Seandar shouted for her to run, but there was no time. Barclay gripped her by the throat, and with agonizing and deliberate slowness he drove his own blade through her chain shirt and into her gut. She screamed, jerked on her own sword, struck his darkening face, but nothing phased the man who used to be her captain. His body was still solid as a stone within his armor yet at the same time hazy like a midnight mist, a cloud of smoke. His skin swirled and drifted away, fading like a smoke signal but never depleting his presence.
Barclay tossed Meryl to the ground, forcing her to slide off his blade, but leaving her own wedged between plates and skewering his body. Seandar was nearly choked on his own sense of grief and guilt when Barclay turned on him. Wordlessly the new abomination glided through the shadowy forest, flickering somewhat like the blazing firelight that snuck through the dead branches.
Seandar knew he was tempting fate in far too many ways, but he had no more choice now. For the second time that night he reached out with his mind to the power worn on his brow. This time his self preservation helped align the circlet to his will. Remembering the light he’d created earlier, Seandar began to force such a spell again but the circlet gave him something more subtle and more final. Drawing in oceans of power, he condensed it all into a single point of light, as though containing the brilliance of the sun itself in the palm of his hand. He focused and the light did as he bid, moving into the blade of his dagger, shining so bright as to blind any who looked upon it, yet contained in the blade itself. It was almost as if he knew the light was there in the blade despite its inability to escape from it and illuminate the forest.
The shadow creature that once was Samuel Barclay also sensed the light, and for once there was caution in its approach. But approach it did, still fully intent on killing Seandar, or worse. They met amidst the trees, and it was brute force against sheer agility. Seandar was a blur of motion, dodging and feinting and circling his mutated creation. Barclay swung hard and fast, still a master swordsman and still intelligent if highly insane. Seandar’s tricks would not last long. Barclay was learning them quickly.
Each strike from Barclay forced Seandar to back away and surrender the offensive or be cut in half. A furtive glance showed Meryl fading from consciousness in a pool of her own blood. Seandar was desperate, he struck like a viper and slipped away, but never was he able to sink his blade into flesh. Always he hit steel plate or was driven back at the tip of that sword. Barclay watched the blade like a hawk and would not let it touch him. Seandar came at him with a series of swipes, to get Barclay on his heels and force a heavy sidelong swing. As the blade came Seandar ducked instead of dancing backwards, stepping close to the beast. As he’d seen, Barclay was more than strong enough to halt his strike and reverse immediately, and though it looked like Seandar couldn’t possibly duck or parry the powerful blow, he leaned backwards, head nearly touching his heels as the sharpened steel flew by again. Planting his free hand on the ground over his head, he continued into a back handspring, flourishing his cape across Barclay’s vision as he rose back to his feet. Barclay, was not fooled by the cloak, and the shadow man let his swing continue wide in one hand while his other shot out around the cloak and caught Seandar’s knife hand in a chilling iron grip. Still impaired by the cloak, Barclay raised Seandar off his feet by that grip expecting the enchanted knife to be useless in the same hand. He was already swinging his sword back one more time, to cut his suspended opponent in half when he realized there was no knife in that fist.
Seandar’s cloak was wrapped neatly about his off hand, which he’d dropped the dagger into on his back handspring. With a cold sense of victory he rammed the blade into the gap between plates caused by Meryl’s sword, still buried in Barclay’s chest. The dagger found its home right next to that sword, directly in the once human heart, and oceans of energy spilled free from the blade and burned away the shadows.
Barclay dropped Seandar to the forest floor and staggered away. His hands worked as though kneading the empty air, but he couldn’t direct his arms down to draw out the dagger. The swirling smoke of his body began to burn away, leaving gaps of luminescent brilliance that slowly bathed the forest around him. Bright beams shot from eyes and mouth and nostrils, from the holes in his chest and soon from every inch of his skin, so bright they even shone through his clothes and armor. When the smoky essence of shadow had boiled away completely, the light too faded. His body collapsed and there was nothing but a slightly charred corpse of a man.
Seandar had no time to celebrate, for victory would be hollow indeed if Meryl perished too. He bolted for her side, still holding the power of the circlet. He checked her breath and it was shallow but there. With a quick sigh of relief he moved to her wound and carefully pulled away the edges of her torn chainmail shirt. She sucked in a sharp breath and her eyes shot open. She looked at him with pain but said nothing. In the dying light of the burning gnoll body, Seandar could barely discern the black blood from the gaping wound. Meryl’s face was whiter than his, and rivulets of blood spilled from her mouth. He knew she shouldn’t even be alive. He thought of Gemkray and hesitated. Then he made his decision.
This time the circlet was uncooperative, as it almost always was when he truly had need of it. Seandar felt the strain, as it was with the village but worse. He pushed through and drew power, more and more. He commanded with all his will, and the circlet’s silver engravings gleamed continuously, growing brighter even as the black metal seemed to darken and drink in all other light. The forest turned to a strange and stark contrast of silver and black with no middle ground. Even Meryl, lying at death’s door in his arms, was a vision of light and dark. Seandar took that power and directed it into her. He felt her soul, like he could put his hands on it and caress it or tear it out if he so desired. He timidly let himself touch it, and realized it was his own soul that stretched out in contact. The brief moment left him shaking and vulnerable. But she was leaving her body, and this world. He reached out again and held her there, ignoring the intimacy so he could concentrate on mending her body.
Muscle fibers fused together and skin knotted closed. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Seandar was aware of the strain. He was approaching the edge and if he pushed any farther he would die. But he wasn’t done. Meryl still would not survive, not unless he finished. He continued to force organs and tissue to heal. Suddenly he collapsed, and there was only blackness.
|Severed Shadows Part 3||Severed Shadows Part 1|
|Severed Shadows Part 5||Severed Shadows Part 12|
|Severed Shadows Part 10|