A warrior's quest to save a baby in the woods from a coven.
|The Poxtown Tavern was busy, as it always was that day of the week, and so a large crowd gathered to watch the duel in front of it. Inside the circle formed by the crowd, but away from the duelists, a beautiful woman with long, dark brown hair stood. She wore a silk white dress, and large ruby earrings, rings of sapphire and diamond, a necklace with solid emerald sequences, and a silver and gold bracelet which looped along her wrist two times, then swooped in the direction of her elbow, terminating in a blunted blade on her forearm. She was the Duchess of Fade, which was located in the neighbouring kingdom of Omnetsy. She gazed with her blue eyes on the two rivals for her. She was comfortable and evidently ready for some entertainment.
You are an evil person, thought Dasiel, as he watched his foe, his sword raised. You are a coward, a cheat and a liar; and I am pure and good. Their swords clashed and Dasiel immediately took the offensive, slashing at his opponent, who blocked. You are a slayer of children; a pervert; and a heretic, thought Dasiel, and with anger he thrust at his opponent’s heart, but the other blocked and diverted the blade at the last moment. Still, Dasiel’s opponent bled from his arm. But, but… oh Heaven, oh Angels. Dasiel dropped his sword and grabbed the sword-arm of his opponent, and twisted it with his great strength. His opponent dropped his sword and cried out in pain. Dasiel hurled him to the ground and picked up his own sword. He stood before his opponent. “Death! Death!” the crowd chanted. He looked at the Duchess of Fade. She smiled at him and looked very beautiful. She held up her fist, then turned it upside down and put her thumb down. Dasiel put his sword back into its scabbard. The crowd groaned. The beautiful Duchess stormed off. Dasiel walked back into the tavern. He was staying on the fifth floor.
In the middle of the night, Dasiel suddenly awoke. A massive shadow loomed over his bed. In a moment Dasiel swung his sword at it. The room was suddenly extremely bright, brighter than any day that Dasiel had ever seen, and the handle of Dasiel’s sword was burningly hot. Dasiel dropped it and it fell on the bed; the blade was simply gone, and Dasiel knew that it had melted. Dasiel shaded his eyes instinctively and looked up at the form.
It was a tall, beautiful woman with long brown hair, and large white, feathery wings. She was nude. “Dasiel,” she said. Her voice was as clear and sharp as a mountain spring. “The life you have led has been selfish and callous. You have acquired glory and conquered women, and yet you are still utterly unhappy. I offer you a chance to do something that is truly pure, truly good. Do you accept?”
“I accept,” he whispered.
“There were seven babies born last month. They were not born by any human: They are each one as much an angel as I am, though they have no wings. Your world has sunk into depravity and darkness, and though kings appear to rule, the real regents are demons which few will ever see. These seven babies will, if they survive, lead the world from the swamp it is now in, and establish peace, virtue, and joy. Yet, they are each one in peril as we speak.”
“First, go to Savara, whose soul is chaste. She is in the Grayhawk Woods in Omnetsy, near the center of the northeast part, in a white tree with seven branches and seven knots. Bluebirds are her guardians, and so they may remain. But there is a powerful coven of witches and warlocks in those woods, and through their dark arts they have learned of Savara’s presence and seek to sacrifice her to increase their power. You must slay the members of the coven, for if even one survives, they will be a danger to Savara.”
It should be easy enough to find, thought Dasiel as he walked through the woods. Every tree I’ve seen so far is brown. He spotted a deer far off through the trees; it was apparently injured, and could not stand. As he drew closer, he noticed a young woman stroking it. She was blond, her hair cut to shoulder length. She was a rare beauty. She was clothed rather lightly, the weather being hot, in a green fabric that resembled velvet, and yet seemed with the strangest grace to have some of the characteristics of a bush. Rather than straight, its surface subtly extended regularly, and yet remained smooth, except in a few spots, where isolated thorns were apparent.
As Dasiel approached, the woman laid the palm of her hand on the creature’s hind leg with exquisite gentleness. She removed her hand, and the creature sprang up, shook itself, and ran off into the woods, apparently in the best of health. The woman raised her head and met Dasiel’s brown eyes with her blue eyes just as he passed the final tree that separated them.
“You are new in these woods,” she said. “I take it you are only visiting.”
“Yes,” he replied. “My name is Dasiel. What is yours?”
“Sheziana. On behalf of the trees and animals, I welcome you to these woods.” She smiled warmly as she spoke.
“I take it that you live here.”
“Yes. Is there anything that I can do to help you? Perhaps you require guidance.”
“Well…I am a little confused. I am trying to go northeast: Would you remind me what direction that is?”
“I can do better than that: I can lead you northeast as far as you require. The woods are calm, and I have nowhere to be. I must warn you, these woods are dangerous. Witches and warlocks dwell here; with the help of the trees and animals, I can help you to avoid them.”
“Can you lead me to them?”
“They are crafty, and they move from place to place, and use their magic to hide. I do not think that I can; and besides, they terrify me. Why would you seek them? They are very cruel and dangerous.”
“Suffice it to say that, while I do not like it, I have very important business with them.”
“I will lead you northeast,” she said weakly, “but that is all.”
“Thank you, Sheziana,” he said, smiling warmly at her.
“Are you a vegetarian?” Dasiel asked her, as she ate berries by the campfire. It was late in the evening. He gazed into her eyes.
“The animals are my friends.”
“But aren’t the plants your friends as well?”
“Yes, but the plants do not mind.”
“Interesting,” he said. They maintained eye contact, and it was like swimming. He rose and walked to her, then sat beside her. He put his hand on her cheek and kissed her.
“Where are you going?” she asked, her head on his heart.
“I’m…going to see someone.”
“The witches you mean?”
“Them…but someone else as well.”
“Jog the hermit?”
“Peculiar,” she said, yawning. “I know of no others in these woods.”
“She is newly arrived,” Dasiel said softly. She looked at his face. He laughed. “No, I have no such interest in her. I am more like her father, you could say.”
“And when you’ve found her? What then?”
“Then I will see the witches.”
“And then?” He looked into her eyes.
“I have a mission Sheziana. A mission more important than you know.”
“What mission? Why can you not stay here with me?”
“It’s a secret,” he said. He averted his eyes. “You may come with me, though I will travel all over the world. But you will most likely die, because my work is very dangerous.” Silence fell, and they passed off to sleep.
“Sheziana, we must part here for now,” said Dasiel. A week had passed and they had crossed the majority of the woods. “I will seek the coven soon, and you do not want anything to do with them. But I will meet you before I leave these woods. You can tell me then whether you accept my offer; I know it is not a good offer, but it’s the best that I can do.”
“Let me go with you: I will help you seek the witches.”
“No,” he said, not knowing why. “I must meet my friend alone. In a week I will be in that great cave there, if I am still alive, and we can talk then.” He kissed her. “I love you.”
“I love you too, Dasiel.” He waved, and walked away.
For five days he sought the coven, but, as Sheziana had warned him, he was not able to find the slightest trace of them. He changed his focus to finding the baby instead. He was, by then, in approximately the correct section of the Grayhawk Woods. He patrolled through long lines of trees, keeping his eyes peeled for a white tree with seven knots and seven branches, among the brown trees of the woods. That very evening, as he was considering turning in for the night, and indeed returning to the cave in order to meet Sheziana, he saw it. In many ways, it was the same, rather slender shape as its neighbouring trees, but it was as white as ivory, and had seven large knots in it, ascending up the tree like stairs to the heavens. He counted the branches; they numbered seven. A bluebird flew towards the tree, and landed on the top branch. Dasiel laid his foot on one of the knots, hugged the tree, and began to climb.
It was late in the night. Dasiel lay in his woollen tent, his eyes closed and his breathing utterly relaxed, apparently asleep. In fact, he was awake and sharply alert, and his left hand gripped the handle of his sword beneath his blanket, the cool blade of which touched the skin of his bare leg. He was by the white tree, waiting.
He heard the tent’s flap open, and sprang at the intruder. He was momentarily frozen by what he saw; it was not a strange witch, but Sheziana, holding a lantern, in the entrance to his tent. “What!?” he said, his rage mixing with confusion.
“Sshh,” said Sheziana, clearly unnerved, but smiling weakly. “My love.”
“No!” he shouted, and he pushed her aside and jumped out of the tent. Two shadows lurked at the bottom of the tree. Dasiel lunged at one with his sword, slew it, and swung at the second. A dagger flashed in the moonlight, and Dasiel readjusted his aim, and removed the arm of his assailant; with his second movement he beheaded the shrieking shadow. He heard a sharp hiss, and felt something large slither quickly up his leg. He beheaded the massive snake which bared its fangs at him, coiled around his waist, as if it were his belt that was attacking him, and his leg was freed. He rolled and a crossbow bolt struck the mud where he had stood. He threw a knife as he rolled, and a shadow fell from high in the tree to the ground. A shadow slashed at him with a sword, and he barely blocked with his own, and battled the strength of his assailant, who was trying to overpower his grip on his blade. He felt things crawling up his feet and shuddered in spite of himself. He kicked out the feet of his opponent, who tumbled on the ground, and he swung around and impaled another shadow through the heart. The shadow dropped a dagger. Dasiel guessed that it was Sheziana, though it was too dark to tell for certain. He felt bites on his skin, and tore at the spiders that crawled on him with his bare hands. He felt pain and weariness from their venom. For fifteen more minutes shadows appeared and lunged at him, and he slew them one by one.
There was relative quiet; the hooting of owls, the croaking of frogs and the movements of wildlife could be heard. Dasiel leaned against the tree, staining it with blood, which he was sorry about and yet felt helpless to prevent. He had several wounds, and venom of deadly spiders ran through his veins. He was not certain that he would survive, and he hoped that he had killed all of the witches and warlocks. It had broken his heart to stab Sheziana’s. He fell into a sleep involuntarily, as he leant against the white tree with seven knots and seven branches, in which Savara cried softly.