by Shawn Odette
The king is dead! A new power rules the land, only a lost descendant can defeat it.
The dark-haired woman looked exhausted. She stood over a sturdy oak table, gazing down upon the objects placed upon it, long curls spilling past her shoulders. The servant scanned the room for hiding places. Her mistress, the queen, was quite capable of handling herself, but she did not have the same talent for controlling the natural forces.
'Was she still queen,' she thought.
The king fell in battle days ago. The palace is all but lost. Only the remnants of the palace guard still fought in an attempt to expel the invaders, but that would not last much longer.
The queen cleared her throat, tearing the maid from her contemplation. She met her steely gaze only a moment before casting her eyes to the floor. She felt her face flush with shame at the thought of abandoning her lady. Human or not, she held the dignity and poise of a ruler. She loved her queen. She conceded, not for the first time, she would lay her own life on the line to save her if it came to that.
“Have the children left?” asked the queen.
“Yes, my queen,” answered the maid, bending her knee in a curtsy.
“Good,” answered the queen, “they should be through the tunnels and well into the forest by now.”
Something heavy smashed into the door hard enough to knock dried mortar from the arched doorway. Muffled voices outside the room clamored with excitement.
“It looks like I finished just in time,” stated the queen, prepare yourself, Kirin.”
The queen loomed over her servant.
“You have been faithful to the very end."
The servant girl's eyes rolled wildly like a panic-stricken steed.
“Hold it together, Kirin, you will be spared the horrors of what awaits on the other side of that door,” said the queen.
The queen closed her eyes and raised her arms then, a second later, brought them down, pointing them at the maid. A bright light shot forth from her fingertips. The maid opened her mouth, the beginnings of a scream pushed through her lips as the light enveloped her. And then, she was gone.
“Be well, Kirin, and may your god guide you on your task. The realm depends on it.” whispered the queen in the now empty room.
The pounding on the door intensified. It cracked as something heavy slammed into it again and again. Smoothing her dress, she stood in quiet dignity as the door first splintered and then shattered into fragments, revealing a mob of grotesque creatures; their leather armor creaking as they hopped up and down with excitement.
“Get out of the way!” came a woman’s shrill command from somewhere out of view of the open doorway, “I said move you filthy creatures, let me through!”
“She said MOVE!” boomed a deep, gravelly voice.
A great hand grasped one of the gray-skinned creatures and flung it across the room, smashing it into the stone wall. Then another, and another, until the frog-like things scrambled to clear a path.
The queen looked on with disgusted curiosity. The creatures were Barrowags. They lived mainly in secluded swamps, but never near human settlements. Not for the first time she wondered how they were coerced into taking up arms for her adversary?
Her unspoken question was answered when she saw the large, muscular creature that was knocking them out of the way with barely an effort. Twice the size of a grown man, it approached upon massive pale legs that ended in hooves the color of darkest pitch. Its blood red eyes scanned the chamber. A sadistic grin spread across its face revealing yellowed, fanged teeth as it stepped into the room; Its ram-like horns nearly scraping the top of the massive doorway.
In one hand it clutched an enormous sword, longer than the tallest of men, and in the other, a limp lifeless body of a Barrowag. Its eyes locked onto the queen’s and held her gaze. A plump, auburn-haired woman elbowed past him.
“Get out of my way, fool!” spat the woman.
The woman stepped in front of the beast and flashed the queen with a triumphant, mirthless, grin.
“I can understand how someone as foul as you would associate with filthy little creatures like the Barrowags, but what twisted bargain did you make in order to gain command over that abomination,” the queen asked disgustedly as she pointed to the huge creature?
“Do you like my pet, Corinth? You don’t mind if I call you Corinth, do you? After all, majesty, highness, and queen are all my titles now. My pet, here, is a Rakir. I have two more just like him.”
"So that is how you control the Barrowags," Corinth stated.
“They are completely under my control and help keep the Barrowags in line. As for what deals I have made, that is none of your concern but what you should be concerned with is how painful I will make your death. My trophies, or perhaps you may think of them as the bodies of your dead husband and his siblings, are missing. Stolen from me! I want them back. Oh, and I want the whereabouts of your children. Give me these things and your death will be quick."
“You'll not have my husband's body, nor the others,” said the queen, “You robbed me of the opportunity to give him a proper burial, is that not enough for you? And as for my children, you will not have them! You can do your worst to me.”
As if this was a signal for permission, the Rakir dropped the lifeless Barrowag and raised his thick bladed sword above his head. The red-haired woman raised a hand without so much as looking at the creature. A twisted smile came to her lips.
“No, I will handle this."
“You will handle me, Frensa?” Corinth asked with a bemused smile, “Do you forget that I am a Cadarian. Do you forget that my kind is able to manipulate the natural forces around us? You humans lack that ability. Even your pets cannot do such.”
As she spoke she forced the air around her to solidify into a transparent shell, protecting her from physical attack.
“So, no, I will not tell you where my children are, nor will I allow you to live now that I finally have you face to face.”
Corinth reached out with her hand, drawing the warmth from the air around her, compressing it into a ball of flame. The auburn-haired woman looked on with an amused smile on her plump face.
“This ball is about the same color as your hair. Let’s see how good it looks on your head,” taunted Corinth.
Corinth created an opening in her barrier of air, just large enough to cast the flaming ball at her opponent, then quickly sealed it back. The sphere sped toward the other woman, and nearly at the point of impact it stopped, held suspended in mid-air.
A vicious smile flashed across the fire-haired woman’s face. She reached out, and as she touched the ball of fire, it vanished.
“How could…but that…that is not possible!” sputtered the queen.
The red-haired woman sneered, her face looking like some grotesque mask, the words spitting out like venom as she spoke.
“Oh, but it is possible. You ask what deal I made for the three Rakir, well you are about to learn. Where are my trophies?"
Corinth remained silent.
"Where are your children?"
Again, no response.
A sudden rush of solid air smashed into Corinth’s barrier, smashing it into oblivion. Corinth’s eyes widened in shock.
“No, that can’t be! How are you able to do this?” asked the queen incredulously, “What have you done?”
"Where are they?"
Corinth gathered herself, locking her adversary in a steely gaze.
"I will not tell you."
A blast of bitter air froze the last word on Corinth’s lips, engulfing her with pain. She tried to shout but her body became rigid. The chill penetrated deeper into her body, advancing ever so slowly. She could neither move nor speak. She attempted to gather the warmth from the air to counter the freezing cold that was solidifying her body but she could not concentrate. Every second seemed like an eternity with the pain intensifying the deeper the freeze sank in.
Her battle training failed her. The attack took her completely by surprise. She knew she was finished. The only comfort she took was in knowing she had completed the ritual just in time before the monstrosities broke into the chamber. Her husband and his siblings' essence was extracted and placed into the objects that still sat upon the table. Thankful she completed that task, all she could do now was hope Kirin did not fail in hers and her children would avoid capture.
Corinth's vision slowly began to fade. Frensa's smug gaze locked onto hers. She watched the stout woman grap a mace from one of the Barrowags. She tested its heft, smiling contently as she approached.
"Now, Corinth, it is time for me to take my place as the new ruler of this kingdom."
The freeze finally solidified her to the core; life left her.
“And by the way,” she spoke to the queen’s now lifeless, frozen body, “I no longer wish to be called Frensa.”
With all her might, she swung the mace. The impact shattered Corinth’s body into thousands of fragments that skittered across the marble floor.
"I will be known from this day forth as the Red Witch.”
The Red Witch dropped the mace, its smooth metal head clanking noisily on the hard floor, and quickly surveyed the room.
Her eyes fell upon the items setting upon a table; a long, thin-bladed sword, a heavy, golden battle axe, a slender, green quarterstaff, a silver ring with a red ruby cut in the shape of a six-sided star, a slim bladed dagger, the blade black as pitch, and a helmet made from a strange blue metal.
“Take these trinkets and pass them out to our generals as trophies to commemorate our victory,” commanded the Red Witch, and then to herself in barely a whisper, “Antash will be pleased. Now to restore him to his former prominence.”
“As you command it, my master,” obeyed the Rakir.
She turned, and walk out of the room, the Rakirsh collected the items from the table and followed behind. With the room vacated, the Barrowags swarmed in to collect the frozen remains of the dead queen and carried them off as trophies of their own.