Amazingly I am still writing this. Believe it or not this plot is going somewhere.
|As she walked down the hall, Misty quickly looked over the Archmage's list again, "Esoteric Magical Theorums, Choram's Bestiary, Pyrotechnics, and The Primary Principles of Magic," she read aloud. To think of the years she had struggled to teach herself the few words she had known, and he had given her this gift in minutes!
Misty headed down to the kitchens. She had to share this with Kris! She found her friend up to her elbows in soapy water with the other scullery maids, scrubbing breakfast dishes. Before she could say a word to her, she was enveloped in a giant, floury hug.
Misty smiled up at Kris' mom. "My lucky little Misty! I am so happy to see you. You are still too thin! You make sure that new master feeds you properly! Not like that stingy pig of an uncle of yours." Cook Nan sat Misty at the table and bustled away, only to return with a plate heaped with fresh warm rolls. "Here, eat, eat. You, Kris, you will help Misty today with her new duties. You go clean up while I talk to her." Nan smiled at Misty. "I will give Kris this day with you. You will be moving on soon with that fine new master of yours, and I know she will miss you much."
"Thank you!" the two girls chorused together, and Kris ran to change out of her stained work clothes. Misty sank her teeth into a soft roll and sighed. Nan made the best bread in the kingdom of Roscetta!
"You are well, yes?" Nan eyed Misty. "You know when your apprentice time is over, if you are not happy, I will have a place for you here?"
Kris came bouncing back into the room. "Of course, she will come back to us, Momma!" she answered for Misty.
"Come on, Misty! Let's go before she changes her mind and has us both scrubbing floors! Bye Momma!" She giggled, snatched a roll, then seized Misty's hand and pulled her up and out the door.
"So where are we going, Misty? Will I get to see the Archmage close up? He's so handsome, but those eyes of his give me the shivers."
"He's sent me shopping! For books! Oh, and clothes, too." Misty waved the list. "And you will never guess what he did! He magicked me somehow so I can read. I bet I can read as well as any clerk now! I've always wanted to be able to read better, and just like that, he fixed it for me!"
"Oh, reading..." Kris sniffed. "I don't think I'd like a mage messing around in my head just so I could read. I'd ask him to magic me gorgeous so James the first footman would notice me! But clothes--now that will be fun! What do you get to buy? Well, besides a new dress." She looked Misty up and down. "That uncle of yours probably hadn't given you a decent dress since your aunt died when you were thirteen!"
Misty giggled, "Well, my last gown pretty much fell to pieces right before Kai's eyes. So I am under strict orders to buy a new one. No, more than one. He said to make one of them red! So two dresses, I think!"
"Kai, is it now? And what, pray tell, were you doing with Kai that made your dress fall to pieces?" Kris teased, bringing a blush to Misty's face.
"Oh stop, Kris! Nothing like that! I am just his personal servant!"
"You are sweet on him!" Kris crowed. "We will have to pick out the most gorgeous red dress he has ever seen! He won't be able to take his eyes off you."
Misty just laughed. Kris was such a hopeless romantic. "Oh, Kris! As if the Archmage would ever notice mousy little me. But maybe in that red dress I could catch James' eye, even without being magicked gorgeous!"
"Hey! I have dibs on James! You find your own man!"
They headed out through the postern gate and down into the market square. They paused in front of a small dressmaker's shop.
"I should get the books first. They are what the Archmage really wished for."
"No, no," Kris teased, "I do believe there was also a request for a red dress. And look there in the window--it is perfect for you! Momma and I shop here. This dressmaker does beautiful work, and she'll do it quick too!" She hauled her reluctant friend into the shop.
Before Misty knew it, she was up on a pedestal in the middle of the store, draped in the red dress from the window, being fussed over by the seamstress and her assistants. The seamstress quickly adjusted the fit, so it hung on Misty as if it had been created just for her. Misty admired herself in the mirror they produced.
It was such an impractical dress, with its fancy embroidered bodice, long flowing sleeves, and long, narrow skirt. Misty loved it, but felt a pang of guilt.
"Kris, I just can't think he meant for me to buy a dress like this! I'm supposed to be his servant, not his dance partner at the summer gala! I can't buy this with his money!"
"But Misty, every girl needs at least one nice festival dress. And all he said was red! Look at that gorgeous embroidery--it almost looks like little flames flickering down the front! Perfect, considering that temper of yours!" Kris teased.
"What temper?" Misty growled and lightly punched Kris in the shoulder. She turned back to the full length mirror, admiring the flickering, fiery embroidery and her resolve broke. Briefly she imagined the look on Kai's face when he saw her in it. She had to have this dress.
"Besides, the alterations are done--it would not be right to refuse to buy it now! And you did get that ugly brown wool dress to work in, too."
"You win!" Misty laughed. "I'll take it!"
In the end, Misty smiled blissfully as she tucked her package of gowns into her shopping basket. Kris had been right; she had not had so much as a new petticoat since she was thirteen, and now she had two new gowns. Although the red still felt like a terrible extravagance. But Kris was right, he had said to get a red one.
"Ribbons next! You need ribbons for your hair! Something to match that dress!" Kris dragged her further into the market.
Chattering nonstop, Kris flitted like a magpie from table to table, drawn by every bright and shiny object. The crowds were large today, still swelled with folks who had come for yesterday's festival. There were a large number of Gorangan priests as well, their rusty brown robes standing out like a blight amongst the brightly dressed shoppers. Misty shivered at the sight of them. The priests were always trying to gain converts, threatening dire predictions of doom to those who did not heed them.
Unable to draw her friend away from a table displaying racks of brightly colored satin ribbons, Misty called that she would be back, and headed to the bookseller's tiny little shop on the corner. The door closed behind her, shutting out the noise of the street. She began searching the rows of books for the Archmage's choices. She had just found the last one and paid the bookseller, when the door opened and someone entered behind her.
The sickening smell of something left to rot in the dark spread through the shop. The bookseller backed away, gagging. Misty turned, white-knuckled hands clutching her basket. A Gorangan priest stood in the doorway, its filthy brown robes stained with rust-colored marks; its drawn hood concealing its face in shadow.
"Repent! Cast away those blasphemous words you carry. Join us in everlasting life, or die in agony when the Scourge comes for you!" Its voice hissed from within the dark recesses of the hood.
Misty backed slowly away from the Gorangan fanatic. It stalked towards her, reaching out a bone white hand, eerily like her nightmare. The foul scent of it rolled over her, choking her breath away, as it reached out and seized her arm. "You are the one! Our master wants you, girl!"
The bookseller burst between them. "Now, see here! I am tired of you Gorangan scum coming in here and harassing my patrons! Out! Get out now or I will call the guards!"
"Little man," the priest hissed, "You will be the first to die!"
As Misty stood watching in horror, the priest thing's hand stiffened into a talon and it ripped out the bookseller's throat. Blood pulsed from the gaping tear, splattering across her face. It turned to advance on Misty, once more stretching out its dead hand.
A low keen choked in her throat. Pain raged through her head, only to be suddenly cut off as something inside her head shifted. The vision of a bottomless well of fire filled her mind. She threw her hands up and the fire leaped from her mind to form a crackling ball in her hands. "BURN!" she screamed, thrusting it at the monstrous priest. The creature's robes were engulfed in a burst of white hot flame. Misty dodged around it as it tore at its burning clothes, and she fled out the door. Flames leaped from the burning fiend, spreading rapidly, turning the store into a blazing inferno behind her.
Kris was standing just outside, with a red ribbon in her hand, staring in shock as the glass window shattered from the heat of the flames within. Speechless with terror, Misty grabbed her hand and hauled her behind the ribbon stall.
The dark priest burst from the burning shop, his body still ablaze, and uttered a loud screeching cry. As if this was some kind of signal, the streets erupted into chaos. The brown-robed priests seemed to be everywhere, and where they were, people died. The crowds were butchered as they fled in a panick toward the safety of the keep. Peering out from under the display table, Misty saw an old woman fall, trampled to death before her eyes.
"Momma! We have to get back to Momma!" Kris wailed.
Misty shook her. "Come on, follow me!" Still dragging her basket, Misty dodged from stall to stall, staying out of sight until they reached the edge of the market. Misty paused there in dismay. The entire main road between the Keep and the market was a solid mass of brown robes. They stood like a wall of death, black knives glittering in their rising and falling hands, as they slaughtered the helpless townfolk who crowded against them trying to break through to the safety of the keep.
"There's no way through!" Kris sobbed, clinging to Misty.
Another wave of brown robes was coming up the market square, led by the tall priest from the bookseller's shop. It was now a walking horror, its body nothing more than a mass of charred flesh and bone; its head a blackened skull. Flames continued to lick over its body, forming a fiery aura. It tossed people and tables aside as it moved forward, clearly searching for something. Misty whimpered as she realized--it was searching for her.
Misty smelled smoke. She peered upward to see black clouds beginning to fill the sky. She could see flames leaping from rooftop to rooftop. In the dry summer heat, with no one left to fight it, the town would be razed to the ground.
The undead priest came nearer. Misty hugged Kris close. "Be quiet, Kris, please!" and Misty concentrated hard on her best trick, wondering if she could hide them both. "No one can see us, no one can hear, we are not here, we are not here," she whispered fiercely. The throbbing pain in her head was blinding. "Not here, not here. We are not here!" Waves of nausea passed through her, as she struggled to hold the spell. Then the priest shoved the sheltering table away. Kris screamed and jerked out of Misty's arms in panic. She was instantly seized by the tall priest.
"You are mine!" It roared in triumph, its head the grinning dead skull of Misty's nightmarish vision. It seized Kris' face in its cold hands and lowered its terrible mouth to hers in the parody of a kiss. Kris jerked in violent convulsions, clawing in a frenzy at the hands that held her imprisoned. Then she went limp, falling to the ground in a heap,as the tall priest collapsed in a pile of dust and bones and empty robes. Misty smiled and started to relax her spell as Kris climbed to her feet. Kris shook her head, and turned about, scanning the market place. Her old friend's eyes passed over Misty, unseeing. Flickering flames glowed in the empty sockets. Misty shrank back in horror.
"No!" croaked Kris. Or rather, the thing that once had been Kris. "The wrong girl. I took a puny human girl." It threw back its head and screamed in frustration. "The chosen one was here! I felt her presence, so close!" Again its flaming eyes searched over the ground.
Suddenly a whistling gale of wind smashed through the market place, bringing with it billowing dark clouds. With a loud crack of thunder, the skies opened up and rain poured down. Misty reeled with exhaustion, sorrow, and pain, but redoubled her litany. "I am not here, I am not here," as raindrops mixed with tears on her face.
A sheet of lightning struck the wall of priests blocking the market road, leaving only blackened scorch marks where they had stood. A roar went up from the Keep as the Baron led a charge of cavalry out of the gates, cutting down any priests that had survived.
The horrible monster that wore Kris' body snarled. "I cannot face him yet. Without the powers of my chosen one, I am still too weak. But the full glory of the Army of the Scourge approaches. We will be back!" It threw back its head and let out another shriek. At that sound, all the priests retreated, vanishing back into the shadows of the devastated city.
Misty collapsed on the muddy ground, vomiting violently. Blinded by the pain, she struggled up to her feet and made her way slowly to the keep, staggering as she picked her way through the mud and the masses of dead and dying townsfolk. All around her she could hear the wailing of the wounded and dying. She barely noticed when the storm ended as quickly as it had begun. The baron's soldiers moved over the field of slaughter, searching out survivors and herding them into the safety of the Keep. One of them approached her.
"Are you injured, girl?"
She tried to answer, but all went black.