Outcasts pit their gifts against an ancient foe hellbent upon the destruction of the world
|She had no idea how long she'd lay there in the dark, curled up and weeping, but she embraced both the dampness and the still of night. Her head hurt. Her ribs also. Her back as well. And she was pretty sure one of her hips had been dislocated after impacting the tree and 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 was sticky and matted, but she could not tell if her hand came away full of blood or 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 ground she could find at her thighs. She closed her eyes and focused strictly upon the coolness within the loam at the ends of both hands.
"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 her pain.
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 herself deep within the earth. Down and down and down until a breach of root and of stone, of mantle and of 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 her injuries until she was whole.
Warmth consumed her until her vision assumed a reddish hue. Her mind cleared, and she could breathe again.
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.
At 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 pounded 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.
"Gotta get you outta ..." the sense of dread and foreboding returned, and Sebile found she was staring around, expecting abrupt crackles and bluewhite light.
"No." grunted Morgana.
She shoved Sebile away, an act so sudden Sebile tripped and flopped down hard against the churned black soil and ash.
"Ow. Damn. Ow." continued Morgana clearing the dirt from her eyes. "We must help ..." she squinted and thumbed back over her shoulder.
"What?" croaked Sebile.
Morgana pointed and turned to look, and Sebile gasped at the dried, bloody gash running down 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 dropping to a knee.
Sebile flinched. Her eyes flickered about wildly. She spun one way then the other fearing an attack.
Try as she might, she still only had sense of a single life in the clearing and not two. The one doubled over in the dirt ... the other was simply not there.
"I don't ... I cannot ..." Sebile stammered.
Morgana spat and rubbed her eyes more vigorously. She squinted ahead to some spot Sebile still could not detect.
"Dammit Sebile; you can and you will."
(more to come)