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We made it! The final installment of Severed Shadows!
And just in case you are sad to see it all ending, this one leaves it wide open to "Continue". :D
Flitting through the trees in the forest near Rocky Spring was a shadowy and nervous man. His poor farmer’s clothes were dirty and ragged. His face was smudged and hollow from lack of sleep. His lank and dirty blond hair hung down in his eyes, which twitched every so often. Perhaps it was fear, or madness, or both.
He was moving swiftly through the woods, he’d known them since he was a boy. There seemed to be no one else in the area, yet he had the manner of a fox fleeing hounds. His wary glances over his shoulder portrayed only empty forest, till finally he was there. A small clearing inside a thick copse of trees held the picked over remains of slaughtered gnolls a mutilated militia officer and one utterly charred corpse beyond recognition. Beyond the thickest set trees was another body. Steel plate armor and fine wool clothing, including a prestigious cloak, were wrapped about a nearly destroyed body that no man or woman of Rocky Spring could fail to recognize. Captain Samuel Barclay, the pinnacle of Rocky Spring, a bright and shining example of the greatness of the wider world, lay here unburied and unsung. His body was blackened, but unlike the gnoll corpse, it was not disfigured and charred. It was unlike anything they had ever seen, as though he’d burned from within. The village had feared to touch him even for proper burial rites.
Edging away and hoping his new benefactor would not show up, the little man thought to leave the cursed place. He turned toward his village and found a ridiculously tall robed figure standing before him. In the morning sun, the black robed man seemed more a shadow, a pitch black specter straight out of the villager’s nightmares. He screamed in fear and threw himself to the ground, crying and begging, rambling half mad promises.
The robed figure, a wizard clearly and not the shadow beast that had ravaged Rocky Spring, stepped over the prone man to study the body of Barclay. It was some time before the tiny villager had the nerve to open his eyes, and discover that his benefactor was observing the area with interest.
The pitch black robes had deep crimson accents, like a deep pool of newly spilt blood. So dark were they as to be nearly indistinguishable except where direct sunlight lit on them through gaps in the barren forest canopy. The gaunt figure towered over the short villager, standing maybe seven feet high. The shorter man couldn’t tell, since the thin frame of the wizard only made him look all the taller.
The wizard shoved back the hood of his robe, to show his completely hairless skull. Smooth, unmarred skin like aged ivory was stretched taught. Bald, no facial hair, no eyebrows, not even eyelashes grew on him. His face was skeletal, and too long, with a sharp nose and thin lips. His eyes blazed like yellow fire, like polished gold. It was nearly enough to collapse the pathetic commoner back to the dirt in fear. Before the man’s courage failed completely, the wizard spun away and entered the copse with the rest of the bodies.
“You say many a wizard has been through here? Seen the bodies?” his voice was angry gravel, not quite rasping but far from rich. What it lacked in appeal it made up for tenfold in otherworldly power. Something in it almost dragged the villager along behind him.
“Yy… yyess… yes sir, master Zeafrix. Mm… many have come. No one knows what to make of it,” it took all the man could muster just to speak.
“They wouldn’t. And the light in the sky, the power I sensed? What did they make of that?” Zeafrix spared the man his gaze, instead bending to the dirt and tracing the fragmented remains of a symbol scraped in the soft forest floor.
“Most waved it away as a simple spell of illumination master. They… that is, the wizard’s sir… they said the power was impressive but the incan… the inc… the spell was simple,”
Ignorant simpleton, thought Zeafrix and quickly extended the thought to those so called mages who would so quickly dismiss these events.
“Did they? Not a living man save me would have any knowledge of this magic, or the source of its power. Typical of those weak-minded guild fools to leap without looking, no research, preparation or divination. They may have gotten here first but the missed everything of interest.” He rose, his bony hand clenching into a fist. He was more and more filled with a strange blend of satisfaction and disgust. Thoughts swirled through his keen mind, spiraling like the symbol on which he now focused. He turned from somewhat circular ruins of the mystical symbol and glared his way past the trembling farmer. Purpose filled his steps.
With uncanny strength he moved to the corpse of Barclay and hefted it in one hand, gripped by the hole left in his chest between bent plate mail. Marching the man’s body to the center of the broken symbol, he casually kicked the charred gnoll corpse away to shatter against a tree trunk. Ash and unburned hair scattered and dusted the area in a morbid fog. The farmer hacked and coughed, grating on Zeafrix’s nerves.
Phasing the worthless cur out of his mind, he stooped again to the symbol. With a deft hand and great care he made smooth and sweeping strokes in the soil. His index and middle finger carved the earth with fluid grace like a scribes quill on parchment, filling in the missing pieces as though he’d drawn it a thousand times. His body veritably hummed with power as he finished.
The farmer, who was slow witted enough to be called such by his fellows, was just beginning to realize that he didn’t want to be present for whatever his new wizard master was up to. It was too late, for as he began to think of running Zeafrix whirled toward him and a bony hand shot out at him. It curled rigidly in the air as though gripping something hard, and the poor man felt icy fingers digging into his throat. Air and blood were slowly cutting off, but he found nothing on his throat to grasp and fight. He rose into the air, kicking weakly as he drifted over to the wizard Zeafrix.
Now bloodshot eyes bulged as he reached the wizard who gripped him by the back of the shirt. Still dangling in the air, they locked eyes a moment. That yellow hateful gaze was intense and controlling, demanding the farmer hold onto consciousness despite having no breath. As if from nowhere Zeafrix’s free hand suddenly produced a razor sharp dagger. The curved black blade slashed across the farmers neck, spilling blood across the corpse in the circle. Just as fast the dagger disappeared somewhere in his robes. Dying eyes widened further than should have been possible, the dirty face purpling with bruises all over and yet color drained as his life’s blood poured.
Zeafrix was watching with that hawkish golden stare, and just as the man died, his hand shot out like a viper. An eerie pale blue glow surrounded it, and he grasped something intangible in the air. With great effort he held the ethereal presence in place though it struggled mightily to journey on to the next plane. Tossing aside the farmer’s body, but refusing to relinquish his soul, Zeafrix then used his now free hand to rend the air with his claw like fingers. Arcane power filled his hand, and fingers pierced the fabric of the world, tearing a hole into another realm. Unexpectedly he glimpsed through that chasm a shadowy nightmare realm, but it held that which he sought. Within that realm he called forth another soul, reaching through physically and mentally to pull it forth.
The new soul also fought his power, futile as the struggle was, until it sensed the body in the circle. Allowing Zeafrix to guide it forward, the soul merged with the blackened corpse. It shuddered and spasmed, a raspy groan of pain emitting from it.
Zeafrix still held the struggling farmer’s soul and with one last heave of magical might he shoved it through his rent in existence to that nightmare world of darkness and fear and sealed the hole behind it. Unnatural screams filled his mind, bringing delightful goose bumps to his skin. He knew not what plane the farmer had been destined for, or to which he had just sent him. He only knew that he could not rob the realms of the dead of even a single soul without some compensation. Since those realms had not yet received the farmer, they would surely perceive the exchange as fair. So long as he didn’t pay such cosmic prices himself, Zeafrix was free to manipulate existence to his advantage.
The rousing body continued to thrash in pain, but slowly came to its feet and stilled. It did not press the boundaries of the mystic symbol, but looked with shadow eyes at the wizard. Its skin seemed to swirl and smoke beneath its armor, but the sunlight burned that black mist away wherever they met.
Zeafrix was utterly pleased with himself. Acting almost purely on instinct he had resurrected something heretofore unknown. The vague and incomplete references to this necromantic symbol had alluded only to shadows and terror. It had hinted at something without form. Whatever had happened to Barclay was new, altered. Nothing Zeafrix had studied was likely to compare to this. With a truly devious smile Zeafrix addressed his newest creation. “Welcome back Samuel Barclay. You are bound now within this symbol, but allow me to bind your soul to my will and I shall reward you with the vengeance you desire.”
It was the shortest of pauses before that which used to be Barclay dropped to a knee and bowed before its master. Golden predator eyes gleamed with anticipation as Zeafrix began to prepare further incantations. Power was out there within his grasp, and his new creature was going to sniff it out. Anyone in the way would drown in blood and shadow. The time for quiet searching through musty tomes was over. The hunt had begun.
|Severed Shadows Part 12||Severed Shadows Part 4|
|Severed Shadows Part 13||Severed Shadows Part 2|
|Severed Shadows Part 8||Severed Shadows Part 10|