Ok so "The Blade of Souls" is pretty patchy right now, this is 1/3 into the book.
|T h e B r u s h o f D e a t h ' s L i p s
Tristan returned from the entrance of the gorge with a grim look on his face. The sweat on his brow seemed heavy even for the unseasonably hot sun beating down over head.
"If there were any other way around I'd spare you all the sight ahead, 'specially you Lel'. A battle field's a ghastly thing in this heat." He then pulled from his pocket fistfuls of a dark shiny leaf. "These are from some sort of Eucalyptus bush, crush 'em and wrap 'em in a cloth or scarf or somethin' and hold it o'er your nose and mouth; it'll help with the smell. Don'a tie 'em on though, you'll likely 'ave ta wretch."
After making sure that everyone had something for the smell, and with one last sorrowful look at Lelianna, Tristan turned his horse and lead the way back to the gorge. The entrance was narrow, forcing them to ride single file at first. As they rode; Tristan at the front, followed by Zakarus, then Oridian, with Lelianna behind them, and Erin taking the rear; the grizzled old wizard continued to educate the boys on the matter of tactics.
"See 'ow narrow it is 'ere lads? Well farther on just a little it opens up inta a small bowl. The defenders picked their ground well, and were most likely badly outnumbered. But numbers don'a start ta tell in these close quarters until all the defenders are tired out and worn down; I didn'a 'ave time ta check the dead for allegiance, but I'll wager there's a good many more down there of one side than the other. The fact that nobody bothered ta clean it up at all says a great deal about 'ow many survivors there were... unless they were Reavers, Reavers care little for the dead."
Lelianna began to feel faint at Tristan's cold, clinical evaluation of the carnage she could feel crying out ahead. As they neared the place where the gorge opened up she could feel the horror continue to grow. Unable to take the excruciating outcries of hundreds of souls she leaned over and vomited noisily to the side of the trail.
Tristan turned, looking somewhat guilty; "Is your nose that sensitive lass? It's a few more turns yet, you should be able ta hear the scavengers first."
At this time Erin rushed to the girl's side, "Oh, how foolish of me! Tristan, the child is a healer. Touched first by Serina," turning to the girl she spoke softly, " I'm sorry my dear, this is the downside of the healer's gift. The empathy that helps so in healing both mind and body also leaves you vulnerable to others pain. Serina's gate is not my strongest, but I shall endeavor to shield you from the residual pain of this battle. When we camp I shall teach you how to shield yourself from such horrors," placing her hand on the trembling girl's shoulder, "for now try to focus on the sound of my voice and try to follow along in my chanting. The words have some power child, but remember it is Intent and Will that truly count in this. Try to blanket your emotions with your power, use the chant as a barrier between you and the pain. Come now; Padam mani hubis Rum." Lelianna nodded and after the first few repetitions she began to mumble the words along with Erin, each time her voice growing stronger.
Thus the party continued on around the last few bends, and as Tristan predicted they soon heard the rancorous sounds of scavenger birds squabbling over the dead. Shortly thereafter the canyon did indeed begin to widen. The scent of decay began to fill the air, sickly sweet and pungent, filling their nostrils with death and making their eyes water, overlaid weakly by the crisp almost citrus scent of the leave bundles. Coming around the last turn they finally came to the scene of the battle itself. Bodies littered the floor of the small bowl the canyon opened into. What little grass had covered the ground was trampled and torn, the sandy soil churned by the desperate struggles of the fight. The sand beneath the horses' hoofs was still stained with the dark brownish red of dried blood; the scent of it hung just below the corruption of the corpses, tangy and metallic. All around swarmed wasps, ants, and flies, a constant maddening hum; whose biting throng did little to deter the dozen or so ravens from tearing flesh and pecking eyes, trying to get the tastiest bits before the bugs, and fighting over the choicest pieces. The upper-most layer of bodies were already beginning to show gleaming pink bones, and everywhere wounds wriggled with pale maggots.
This was all too much for Lelianna, she leaned over and clenched her already emptied gut in a racking dry heave. Her concentration broke, the chant fading from her thoughts, and all the horror before her truly came flooding in. The dying moments of a hundred or more soldiers filled her mind; steel flashed before her eyes a hundred times, followed by blood and pain, men roared curses and prayers, some called for mothers or wives, and a handful of women's voices cried out among them; but in the end darkness claimed all. Triggered by Lelianna's heaving and sobbing both boys, first Oridian, then Zakarus, were busy losing their breakfasts on the ground when she cried out one piercing scream and fell from her saddle. Tristan reached to catch her but wasn't fast enough and the girl thudded into the bloody ground without making another sound.
Looking worried and guilty both Tristan dismounted and rushed to Lelianna to lifted her from the dirt. Looking into her glazed eyes he sighed, "The poor lass 'as gone in ta shock. She must 'ave lost her focus and been o'erwhelmed. I've seen it 'appen ta healers when they're weakened after a large battle; they're exhausted and drop their defenses and can'a hold back the pain. Gives 'em nightmares for weeks... but I ne'er seen it with less than a thousand or so dead." He looked wonderingly at Erin.
"Yes Tristan she will truly be a very powerful healer in time, perhaps the greatest I have ever known, but not if we fail to lose these hunters and reach Remiacor in time to meet the ship, few others will likely be willing to sail to Niruran at all, let alone through winter storms. Quickly, put her over the saddle and help me get her beyond the slaughter, at least up to the ridge. I will try to awaken her there while you and the boys learn what you can of this battle. I fear it is a sign of greater problems than our immediate pursuit."
Tristan draped Lelianna's unconscious form over her saddle and murmured a spell while gesturing in a broad circle before turning to the boys, "While I help Miss Erin with Lel' you two start searching for some sign of allegiance among these corpses; uniforms, insignias, a standard, matchin' tattoos even; anythin' at all that tells who they were and why they might of been fightin'. I know it's ugly work, but unfortunately if what Miss Erin says is true, and I reckon it's likely, you boys 'ill 'ave ta deal with more of this in the future. Now I've blanketed us all in a spell that 'ill keep the bugs off ya, but I don'a dare expend the power ta subdue those ravens; might be noticed; so you jus' leave 'em alone. There's a reason a flock of ravens is called a murder. I'll be back in a minute, and I want you, Zak, ta tell me 'ow the battle went." With this he turned and began leading his horse and Lelianna's around the edge of the slaughter and up the hill.
Erin looked over to the two boys, dismounted now and leading their horses around the battle field to send up the hill after Tristan. Oridian looked troubled and tired, his eyes searching the grim horror before them as though looking for meaning. Zakarus' face on the other hand was blank, his eyes filled with a dead emptiness she had hoped to see less often as he accepted the changes in his life and moved past Betsy's death. It made her wince inside to think of how much more frequently she'd been seeing it lately; she was afraid that his "death mask," as she thought of it, would one day come to be his only face. Sighing to herself at the necessities of fate she too led her horse to the other side and up the hill.
At the top of the ridge she sat down cross-legged and motioned for Tristan to bring Lelianna to her. He gently carried her limp form to Erin and lay her down with her head in the seeress' lap. As Erin cradled the poor girl's head she looked up to Tristan. "A little abrupt with the boys don't you think? This is nearly as hard for them as it is for sweet Lelianna here. They may not actually feel the pain of those dead, but deep down they are both gentle boys and I know this hurts them."
Tristan frowned at this, "When we first found these boys; and you were already certain that the signs were right, that one of 'em is ta be the Bladebearer; you asked me ta help you train 'em, not jus' in Wizardry but in war. Train 'em to win an endless war. Well there's more ta war than jus' fightin'. You got ta be able ta see these horrors o'er and o'er again. You got ta learn ta see past the death and find the purpose, the pattern, ta see it's place in the whole of the war. The why and the where must become at very least AS important as the who and the how. Believe me, if either of these boys is ever given command I'll 'ave done 'em no favors coddlin' 'em. If they don'a learn ta see beyond the battle and inta the war they'll be killed. If not by the enemy then by their own men, after they lead 'em inta a massacre. You know that Erin; I may be hard on 'em, but I'll give 'em the same teachin' any good officer of the Imperial Legions would get, I'm treatin' 'em like soldiers. The whole world 'ill be at war soon, and I intend that those two 'ill make it through ta the peace at the end. If any of us do anyway."
Erin nodded at this and sighed once more. "I suppose you're right, but I wish there were some other way. I worry so about them, especially Zakarus." She turned her head to look down at the boys, picking through the bodies looking closely for clues while avoiding the ravens, stopping every now and then when they couldn't hold back and the dry heaving shook them. "I fear he hardens himself too much, that he'll lose his humanity one day," at this she squinted through the sun to see better, "and I'm certain that the fact there are only ravens present is meaningful... In this area there should be vultures, lesser Corvus like crows, and maybe even drakes down there. That only the Lady's Heralds are here is important; I sense Her hand, but nothing of Her purpose..."
Down below the boys searched among the bodies. Tristan had been right again, it was ugly work. Up close the leave bundles did almost nothing to cover up the smell of death; the mixed smell of excrement, blood, and rot was gagging. It had been a mere few days since the battle from what Zakarus could tell. The insects had only been stripping the flesh for a short while, and the ravens had done only superficial damage to corpses they picked at. He did find it odd that only one type of larger scavenger was present; from what he knew of large kills in the wild there should have been many different types, all trying to skirt around the natural hierarchy of which scavenger gets first pickings. He also noticed immediately that the bodies were thickest in a rough semicircular mound right around the entrance to the bowl, with a few groups of bodies scattered back towards the hill. He also saw that the majority of corpses in the semicircle wore mismatched armor; while about half of the bodies farther out matched each other, or were at least armored in the same style. These cadavers he searched more closely, but could find no insignia or crest, though he did find small strips of what appeared to have once been blue and gold tabards caught on some of the belts.
Oridian also noticed the differences in armor, and the layout of the field, and so went searching in the semicircle for those in the matching armor. After searching several to no avail, and finding no clues among the more ragtag warriors either, he found the corpse of a woman with short thin dark hair and one startling blue eye. The other appeared to have been eaten by a raven; tiny white maggots already squirmed in the wound, and there were six long, nearly parallel, cuts on her face. As he searched her body for some sign of her allegiance, and found none, he thought he heard a slight weazing gurgle. Searching around for the source of the sound he saw a fly, which wouldn't come within six inches of him, land on the corpse's eye. It crawled there for a brief moment before it happened. She blinked. Oridian stumbled backwards with a yell, tripping over the body behind him. "Lady's Lips! She's alive! The damned woman's alive!"
Zakarus, startled by the yell, turned and sprinted toward Oridian, drawing his daggers from the sheaths on his hips. When he reached the scene and saw what had so frightened Oridian he laughed, his mask dropping finally to show a ray of hope through the obvious strain. The woman turned her head slightly at the sound and twitched an arm feebly in Zakarus' direction. She was half buried beneath three other bodies, so the boys each grabbed one of her arms, sticky with old blood, and tugged. Pulling her from beneath the corpses of her foes they carried her up the hill to Erin, being careful to hold her head up and keep the wound in the side of her neck closed.
Tristan turned from Erin to see the two boys laying down what appeared to be a bloody, battered corpse in front of her and recently awakened Lelianna. "What in Iar's name is wrong with you boys?! Zazs' Balls! I said I'd come down ta you, you didn'a need ta bring the bleedin' thing up 'ere for me ta see. You'll give Lel' another fit, when she's jus' barely come out the first one! Get that out of 'ere!"
"But Tristan, she's alive," Oridian gasped between breaths, having practically run up the hill with her. "She needs healing though, badly."
"She's been here at least two days, she should be dead, especially with that neck wound. At least one person survived the battle long enough to strip all the bodies of uniform, she's lucky he probably though her dead," Zakarus reported while nodding his agreement.
Oridian spoke up, "I nearly did!"
Zakarus continued, "Twenty some of them are wearing similar armor to hers and have been stripped hastily of some blue and gold cloth, tabards probably. I found just a few threads of it."
"Blue and gold are the colors of the Imperial Legion, this could be trouble... Aye, the lass needs healin', but I don'a think that Miss Erin and I alone are up ta the task. I can clear 'er wounds of maggots, though those likely helped save 'er from infection up till now; but the healin' I'm capable of takes time, and she's likely too weak for me ta save 'er."
"Mindera's gate heals naturally, remember boys? It's Serina's gate we need, but neither Tristan nor I has the strength," Erin said in a sorrowful tone.
At this Lelianna sat up weakly. "Let me," she spoke, her voice trembling softly, "I can feel her. All has not gone dark for her yet. All is not lost. Let this cursed gift serve a purpose," her voice was growing stronger again, "I can feel my gate Miss Erin; it's brimming with power, overflowing almost," she turned to Tristan, "Please, expel the maggots. I wouldn't want any inside her."
Tristan, mouth agape at her sudden confidence, nodded and turned to the woman. Muttering under his breath he gestured sharply at her. The maggots wriggled and squirmed out of her eye socket and the frightening gaping wound in her throat for a short time until they were all removed. Once the wriggling forms were gone Lelianna reached out and placed her hand on the woman's forehead. She then closed her eyes and began to hum. The melody she wove was one of sadness and pain at the first, but slowly it began to pick up and hope threaded its way into the song. Discernible power began to well up around Lelianna, all five of them were surprised at the vast pull of the energy flowing from Serina's gate. As the tone of the song became more joyful the woman's wounds began to fade. First the claw marks faded into six nearly parallel scars, then skin closed over the socket of her missing eye, the many small cuts on her arms and legs closed, and finally the slash in her throat pulled shut and healed over. As color returned to the woman's skin she gave out a great cry; as though in wonderful pain or terrible ecstasy; and convulsed, arching her back off the ground. She then reached up to clutch and hold Lelianna's hand, drawing it away from her forehead, and looked up into her eyes. Her one blue eye burned with love and she spoke in a soft voice that had once been melodic, now only beautiful in the same way as shattering crystal.
"I am Erzabet. You saved my life, and so I bind myself to you. I am yours milady."
Hearing this Lelianna smiled down at Erzabet and promptly collapsed backwards into Erin's waiting arms.