Outcasts pit their gifts against an ancient foe hellbent upon the destruction of the world
|She had no idea how long she'd lain there in the dark, curled up and weeping, yet she found both the dampness and the still of night lent a modicum of comfort.|
Her head hurt. Her ribs also. Her back as well. And she was pretty sure one of her hips had been dislocated after she'd impacted the tree and come crashing through the muck. Sebile drew out a trembling hand and probed her scalp with her fingers. The hair at the back of her head felt sticky and matted, but she could not tell if her hand came away full of blood or full of mud. Probably both. A coppery odor riddled with filth hung heavy in the air all around where she lay.
Her breath came in labored wheezes.
She uncurled and lay back, again considered the blanket of stars. She listened to the whispers on the breeze and the gurgle of the stream and was content that she yet lived.
Closing her eyes, she forced herself to breathe slowly and focused intuitively upon her pains until she found calmness and a reasonable amount of tranquility.
She cried out, rolled onto her right side and forced herself to her knees, teeth bared against excruciating pain. All along her body's length it felt as though she were shifting unnaturally. Her bones at her hip clacked and popped creating little lightbursts behind her eyes. She could hardly sit straight the pain in her back was so great.
Again, she forced herself to breathe. Again she found tranquility. Again she monitored the breeze, scanned the gurgles from the stream, this time with her hands folded atop her lap, drooling slightly yet barely noticing the spittle passing her lips, the blood dripping down her nose, the swelling along her lips and her eyes.
Sebile pulled the deepest breath she could manage and extended her fingers, forcing her fingertips deep as they could go into the softest soil she could find at her thighs. She closed her eyes and focused strictly upon the coolness within the loam.
"Breathe." she thought to herself. "Just breathe. Breathe and concentrate."
A bare spark, the briefest glimmer of energy blossomed at her core, pulsing to life in time with her heart. She drew herself into it. She gathered an ember from what remained of her being and expanded. The pulse became a drumbeat. The drumbeat began to surge. Thunder echoed through her head, and warmth coursed from her shoulders, down her arms caressing her and binding all she was.
Beyond her physical form, her breath became a breeze. The breeze began to gust until wind moved between the trees forcing the branches to shift and to bend.
Her body warmed, and her heartbeat strengthened. She grunted all at once and cried out extending her spiritual essence deep within the ground. Down and down and down past a breach of root and of stone, through mantle and through crust. She heaved lifeforce from the very earth. And it was given freely. It was offered proudly. Sebile drew it out and took it in with relish until she was satisfied.
Her joints cracked as her bones knit. Muscle and sinew reformed and her body consumed its injuries until she was whole once more.
Warmth consumed her until her vision assumed a reddish hue. Her mind cleared, and she could breathe without issue.
She withdrew her hands from the soil, replacing them in her lap and rejoiced in her new strength and her life reformed. She sat quietly while the wind died down and uttered a thankful prayer to Nyx and to Gaia, Nyx's daughter, all-the-earth, and to any of the others who might care to listen.
Sebile then stood in the dark and turned staring, gazing in the direction where the trees seemed most broken and the massive, beastly track that led to them. She listened and she sniffed the air, but all was quiet. It appeared as if order had been restored.
"That got out of hand way too quickly." she sighed knowing she would need to investigate.
As long as she had known Nimue, there could be no denying her special rapport with all animals. She fed them, and she cared for them. Nimue made sure all creatures remained whole. And above all, though she truly was quick tempered, Nimue was not prone to violence.
A sense of trepidation crept along Sebile's spine as she trudged away through the undergrowth in the direction she'd last seen the lightning and the last bough had fallen. And she was thankful for the night.
She came to a forest clearing fashioned from violence and tumult.
Across the end of the wide, torn track she'd been following, there lay a fallen pine. Sebile mounted and squatted along its length to surveil the breadth of unnatural devastation stretching wide before her.
She "tsk'd" several times, hands upon her knees, as she assessed the scene.
150 paces across, an almost perfect circle of scorched earth was all that remained of a once healthy forest floor shrouded in bracken, thorn, vine and weed. All along its perimeter trees had been toppled, both ancient and new, as if some central blast sent boughs and branches indiscriminately outward, roots all upturned and exposed.
Sebile concentrated intensely upon the scene but detected no life yet suffering midst the carnage. It was like a void within the clearing. There was nothing left living in there at all. Yet she remained atop the pine, and she strained for a sign.
A light breeze stirred the trees still standing. She shook her head; a sense of dread mounted within the beginnings of a tension headache blossoming along her neck, at the base of her skull and behind her eyes.
Off to her left, she noticed a flattened spot among the ferns and considered making a new camp. She noted another creek bed running farther back, but it was still acceptable and still nearby. She would need another place to settle, and the gods knew, she was exhausted. A myriad of purple and blue peeked between the branches along the horizon and with it came the morn. An hour or so was all that remained of the night. She would need to be quick as the light grew and the heat took hold.
The shadows were lengthening once again.
Somewhere within the blackened circle, there came a sputtering cough. Sebile wheeled and focused and found the scorched earth stirring a few paces closer to devastation's center. A ripped erupted and ash flew up into the breeze. She felt as a midwife might witnessing a moment of birth.
Soil began to flow and whirl and a chaos was cultivated. Again there came a cough, accompanied by a forced fit of wheezing and spitting. The chaos became a familiar maelstrom of spinning detritus born into a column around a single point. Then the whirlwind died and the dirt, sticks and ash flopped back to the ground in a pile.
And a pale hand appeared, clawing at the ground. It scratched and it dug and it flexed until it found firmness, and it pulled. A lithe, white arm stretched out of the pile, as if fashioned from pure ivory. Dead flesh against the silver of the moon, it slapped the earth and it pulled until a gasping face erupted.
Sebile noted the almost perfect teeth, and she heaved a sigh.
She bounded into the clearing, took hold of the flailing arm and heaved up an oblong face framed in a dirty, crusted tumble of perfect blonde hair. The bone comb traditionally used to hold it up had fallen askew but somehow remained entangled within blonde thickness.
Sebile yanked and heaved and yanked some more, until a naked woman pitched forward shedding soil and flinging black clods hither and yon. Another wracking fit of coughing followed. Sebile crouched over her back until the woman kneeled and doubled over in the final shadows.
"Morgana!" Sebile cried at the back of her head.
The filthy, lithe figure heaved once more and Morgana held out her hand as if to say, "I need a moment."
Sebile took a step back and watched the pale body wretch.
"Buh." groaned Morgana, "Bwa. Buhgth."
Sebile thrust and arm around Morgana's shoulders, gripping her under one arm attempting to help her to her feet, but Morgana cried out and slapped her away.
A familiar sense of dread and of foreboding overcame her, and Sebile found she was staring around, expecting abrupt crackles and bluewhite light. Sebile drew close. "We gotta get you outta ..." she hissed in desperation.
"No." grunted Morgana.
She shoved Sebile away, an act so sudden Sebile tripped and flopped down hard against churned black soil and ash.
"Ow. Damn. Ow." continued Morgana thumbing the dirt from her eyes. "We must help ..." she squinted and motioned back over her shoulder.
"What?" croaked Sebile.
Morgana pointed and turned away, and Sebile gasped at the dried, bloody gash running low and across one shoulder to the back of her neck. Within the rent of sinew and gore, she spied the telltale white of bone ...
"Help Nimue" choked Morgana, staring ahead and dropping to a knee.
Nimue. Sebile flinched. Her eyes flickered about wildly. She spun one way then the other fearing an attack. He chest tightened and her breathing retreated to a series of short gasps.
She probed through waning darkness, extending her senses in every direction, but try as she might, she still only detected this single life in the clearing and not another. The one doubled over in the dirt before her was all there was ... nothing else remained save a few bats or the restless squirrel or two.
"I don't ... I cannot ..." Sebile stammered.
Morgana spat and rubbed her eyes more vigorously. She squinted ahead again to that distant spot Sebile still could not discern.
"Dammit Sebile; you can and you will."
Trudge, trudge, trudge, trudge; her bare feet squished into damp earth as she approached the root system laid bare from beneath a toppled bough.
Blackest feet you ever saw, Sebile judged, slogging forward toward a heap of tattered rags interspersed precariously, impaled upon the pointy thicket meant to anchor another massive pine deep within the ground. Poor old tree. Sure, at home and at peace listenin' to the breezes, mindin' noone's businees but its own, and then we lot comes down on it. And now look.
Sebile turned back to look. She had crossed the expansive swath of desecrated ground in no time at all. She stood a moment and watched the black tendrils swirling all around and encasing Morgana as her sister struggled to regain her strength and her form. Sebile had pleaded to remain by her side insisting she could give aid, but Morgana had grown cross with her. And her fury at Sebile's reticence seemed to redouble Morgana's suffering in such a way, Sebile found herself almost forced to comply.
So she'd set out toward what she'd thought initially was a gray spot of sand, a light tear in a dark bank of earth. As she drew closer, she realized the edges of the grayness shifted, almost flowed, with the soft morning breeze, like laundry drying on a line.
Closer still, and the color took the shape of limp hanging fabric ... and now ... she could not raise her eyes ...
Sebile stared at her feet, the blackest feet in existence. She listened to the creaking of the pines and of the elms and of the oaks. And she watched the beginnings of the sunrise play along the ground where she stood.
A little while before, about halfway across the clearing, a faint tingling had bloomed within the base of her spine. The feeling had risen as she grew closer until the hairs along the back of her neck seemed to rise.
And now, she was where she was supposed to be, and she studied her feet. She simply could not look ... for shame or for fear of what she would find ... both in equal measure.
She tensed her shoulders, closed her eyes and extended, probing again for life-essence, but all remained still. Quiet as a tomb.
But wait; could that have been a flutter? Her eyes popped open, and silence resumed.
No. Most likely just the leaves rustling faintly with the rising sun just beyond the clearing's edge.
Stubbornly she stood idly, like some petulant child, until the beginnings of a headache pulsed around her temples and wetness welled along the insides of her eyes. A single tear rolled down her cheek, another found its way to the end of her nose. She gulped some air and slapped it away, knuckled her eyes hard, felt her lips protrude all blubbery.
"stupid" she muttered, choking back a sob.
She choked back a whole torrent of rising emotion, held a breath, and raised her eyes.
Nimue's feet were off the ground and hung limp, one moccasin dislodged from one heel while the other was missing altogether. Her feet seemed so frail. They were so long and gray and gaunt as if they belonged to someone living a thousand lifetimes. But they were also very dry and withered and appeared brittle as ancient parchment.
Sebile grew weary and allowed her gaze to rise.
Nimue's furs had been torn violently. They were ripped in countless places with open areas exposing great gouges in the flesh beneath. She was nestled deep within the root system as if she were clay pressed into a sieve. And she had been run through.
High Priestess, Grand Paramour to the one and only Royal Vizier, the Great Merlin was held aloft within an upturned tree, impaled twice through one arm, once through the side of her neck, her body and one leg.
Sebile gasped and covered her gaping mouth, her dread fears replaced by despair.
Choking back tears, she hitched a slow, tentative circle around the scene desperately hoping something might yet be done. But in the end, there remained nothing but long shadows and silence.
Sebile spun around, scanning the charred, decimated clearing for Morgana.
"HELP!!" she cried in anguish. "Help, oh Gods, please HEEELPP!" but Morgana was no longer immediately in evidence.
Sebile fell hard to her knees and wiped tears from her eyes and snot from her nose. She gulped back sobs and blinked around until her vision had significantly cleared. Folded her arms across her legs, choked back a few more sobs until the panic receded.
Slowly she held her hands out and extended her fingers, turned her palms upward and then methodically, pensively and slowly turned them over and flattened both hands against the ground. Within the earth, she would find the strength she so desired, she could pull it up, fill herself with power. She was hungry for it. She needed it. Needed it now.
Realization slammed into her suddenly, almost like that bull from Farmer Haddfield's glen.
It would be an abuse and no real strength could come from it.
Feeling defeated, she sat back and cupped her hands in her lap before slowly shutting her eyes and exhaling deeply.
"Dead." Sebile whispered raising her chin. "Can't believe ..."
A cold morning chill passed through her so suddenly, Sebile's eyes popped open. Her head snapped around.
Within the roots, there erupted a feeble bluish crackle, and Sebile realized, though glazed and inert, Nimue's one good eye was open.
"Not quite. Not yet."
A faint cackle sounded within the breeze.
(Beg pardon - this is a first draft and off the toppa my head without a proof --- apologies if it's a bit rough)