232 Winters After the Reckoning
“Idiots…blind fools,” Archmage Nathaniel Daedriss hissed under his breath as he left the Council chambers. Large runed granite doors, swiveling effortlessly, shut behind him. They would just let her die because of some arbitrary rule made by mages centuries ago? He thought, fuming. No. I will not let these old hunched men decide my daughter’s fate. He gritted his teeth in determination, his eyes hard and focused as he rounded the corner to the next hall.
Clouded by rage, and not realizing how much ground he had covered, Nathaniel was already at the door to his chambers. For a moment he hesitated and took a deep breath. You don’t want her to see you like this. He relaxed slightly, and then pushed open the door to the sound of coughing and wheezing. There on the window seat, lying down trembling, was Samantha, his only daughter, with nothing but a vase of red-black flowers to keep her company. Hearing the door she turned and smiled meekly with what strength she had and said “Ah, it is you Papa…” She suddenly burst into uncontrollable coughing. Nathaniel closed the door and rushed to her side. Kneeling, he put a handkerchief to her mouth as red mist, blood and saliva, smattered the white silk cloth.
“It is alright Samantha, don’t speak, save your strength. You will get better soon…” Nathaniel said. He glanced beyond his daughter through the window to the setting sun. Soon he would take matters into his own hands, with the help of the night and shadows, when everyone in the city would be asleep. Lightly, he raised his hand above Samantha’s head, and weaved a simple spell to help her sleep, “Sleep now dear Samantha, Papa has a plan…” With that she slumped a little to the side and stopped coughing. She wheezed and trembled as she slept. Nathaniel put another blanket over her. Soon I will make you better…
⬖ ⬖ ⬖
Nathaniel sat in the flickering candlelight, watching Samantha sleep, her breaths uneven and labored. He hardly noticed that his hands were aching from being balled into fists as he sat in front of his desk. He looked above Samantha through the window. The moon was rising and the lights of the city’s residents were fading quickly, one window at a time, the flames being smothered. Now was the time to act.
Nathaniel rose from his desk that was littered with numerous books, unevenly stacked, all opened to specific pages, spells and magic to help cure Samantha. But nothing worked! he lamented as the rage began to boil anew within him. He quickly donned his cloak and before leaving knelt down to kiss Samantha softly on the cheek as she trembled in her sleep. I do this for you, he thought as he pressed open the door and closed it quietly behind him. Nearly sprinting, he made his way to the library, weaving between the many dimly lit halls.
Just as he had planned the halls were devoid of anyone. Everyone had retired for the night, but once reaching the library door, he noticed some light shining underneath it and some noise coming from within. He gently pressed the door open to reveal the massive space that was the tower library. Alcoves and vaulted ceilings, all filled to the brim with books and tomes. There alone, mumbling to himself, stood one of the newer librarians. Nothing a few words from an Archmage and maybe a sleep spell can’t fix, Nathaniel thought entering the library, making his way towards the murmuring librarian.
“New guy gets the night shift I assume, eh?” Nathaniel asked as he walked toward the sole librarian.
The librarian looked up startled, “Archmage Daedriss, what are you doing up at this hour?” he blurted out.
“Oh, just getting some books for a project I am researching,” Nathaniel uttered dismissively as he walked towards the section where the forbidden books were locked away.
“Those books are off limits without the council’s express permission Archmage Daedriss, but you know that, because they denied you access,” the librarian said, eyeing Nathaniel curiously.
Nathaniel turned to the young librarian and weaved a powerful sleep spell, but nothing happened. The librarian looked at him, shocked that he would try and cast a spell on him.
“Archmage Daedriss! How dare you try to subvert me and the council!? They will hear of this in the mor…” Before he could finish, Nathaniel flicked two fingers abruptly at him and the librarians neck craned itself 90 degrees, making the sound of boots on fallen autumn leaves, before he collapsed on the floor with a resounding thud, motionless.
No going back now, thought Nathaniel as he turned his attention to the cases containing the books that he needed, that she needed. The complex alarms and spells were far beyond anything he could meddle with even if he had the time, which he didn’t. I don’t have time for this, he thought as he wrenched open the bookcase and gathered all the tomes he needed to save his daughter. The looting of the section triggered a silent alarm, meaning he had very little time. Stuffing the books in a satchel, Nathaniel ran back to his chambers and bolted the door along with reinforcing it with a warding spell.
The door, blocked, bought him some time. They would figure out it was him soon enough. Nathaniel swept his desk clean of the books that were on it, each one falling and making resounding thuds on the stone floor. Once the desk was clear he pulled out the books he had just acquired and started leafing through them trying to the find the spell he needed.
All the commotion and noise roused Samantha from her fitful sleep. “Papa what is going on?” she inquired sleepily as she started coughing.
“I am going to make you better…” Nathaniel said just as a series of harsh knocks resounded on his chamber door.
“Archmage Daedriss you are under arrest for killing a fellow mage and subverting the council’s orders!” the voice beyond the door shouted.
“Papa what did you do?!” Samantha asked as she sat up in fear and shock.
“What I had to do! To make you better!” he said as he continued flipping through the pages of a book. The pounding growing ever insistent against the door. Suddenly stabbing his finger on a page in the book, “Here it is Samantha! Don’t worry you will be better soon!” Nathaniel quickly read the spell and began casting it on Samantha. She shrieked in pain as her whole body began shriveling and convulsing and in a flash of blue light her husk of a body fell back against the window. The blue energy then glowed and pulsed in the necklace that Nathaniel wore. In shock, Nathaniel stood there. He had used the wrong spell in his rush to save her, what have I done…
At that moment the door burst open. Nathaniel grabbed the books he had stolen, yanked up the satchel and dove for the window. Broken glass flew everywhere as he busted through, knocking over the vase filled with red-black flowers and leaving his life and lifeless daughter behind.
240 Winters After the Reckoning
As Jorel rounded the corner from the East side of the village and he could already hear the minstrels playing their tunes over the laughter and cries from the open door ahead of him. A small sign hung above the door, rattling in the wind, that said “Merl’s Tavern and Inn”. Not the most clever of names, but then again neither was Merl, Jorel thought to himself as he walked under the sign and into the tavern. As soon as he walked in wafts of freshly cooked duck and quail hit his senses and the music resounded in his eardrums almost deafening him.
“Merl! A glass of your finest wine!” Jorel bellowed over the minstrels’ song. Merl, a large portly man, was standing behind the bar, roared back at Jorel, “You can’t afford my finest wine Jorel and you never will!”
“Ah, then your cheapest, Merl!” Jorel tried to act like Merl’s banter hadn’t affected him, but he knew it to be true. Merl pounded down a mug of red liquid, frothing a bit at the top, onto the bar and Jorel gulped it down. “Another Merl!” he shouted slamming the mug down, “and keep them comin’.” Merl shook his great bald head, but poured another, which was also summarily drank in a few chugs.
The night went on like this until the minstrels packed up their instruments and left, collecting some coin on their way out. That is when Jorel, filled with cheer and courage from all he drank, stood atop one of the tables and said “I know you have all heard of the great white werewolf that stalks the woods, preying on the poor souls that wander out amongst the trees at night,” he said as he pranced around howling and snarling at the nearby patrons. “Or perhaps the ghosts that haunt Velestor’s old mansion, lost souls of beautiful maidens that took their own lives after being spurned by Lord Velestor,” he stood daintily and thrust an invisible knife in his chest, letting his tongue loll out as if he were dead. “But have you heard of… the Blood Raven? Hrm? He prays on little girls across the countryside, eating them whole, after he does who knows what with them, and leaves a flower in their place!” he shouted. “Wouldn’t that be nice to go into the girl’s bedrooms at night!” he gleefully cackled as he made thrusting motions as the tavern patrons roared, slamming their fists on the tables.
With that there was a loud thundering noise as a hooded stranger stood in the corner and slammed their staff upon the stone tavern floor. “The Blood Raven is not a joke, you drunken degenerate,” the stranger seethed through gritted teeth, “He is a vile creature that prays on girls that have turned 8 winters old for reasons you can not comprehend, ingrate!” Jorel, trying to stand proudly in defense of himself, but drunkenly overbalances and falls off the table, causing everyone in the tavern to roar with laughter, except for the hooded stranger.
“You have no idea what you are talking about. And to think of getting into a poor girl’s bedroom? You disgust me! I very much doubt you could handle any real woman.” The hooded figure whirled their staff around and sparks of lightning erupted and shocked Jorel.
Everyone grew very silent after that display of power, for the hooded stranger was a mage, and thus not to be trifled with or their authority to be questioned. The hooded stranger left the drunken crowd and proceeded upstairs, to a room for the night, making sure to spit on Jorel’s convulsing body on the floor.
Jorel slowly stopped convulsing, propped himself up on the nearest chair and shouted, “Merl! Another!” as he promptly fell back to the floor.
⬖ ⬖ ⬖
Sarah felt a shiver go down her spine, stirring her from her sleep, she reached for the edge of the wool blanket resting near her bed, and as her hand popped out from beneath the blanket she felt a chill wind blow in from her open window. She hadn’t opened the window. Bolting awake she clung to her simple woven blanket as her eyes quickly scanned the room. Everything was where it was supposed to be, but the window was open, letting a breeze in. Relieved, she got up slightly to close the window above her straw bed. That is when she saw them, two red eyes with black slits down them like a serpent, peering at her from the corner of her room. Shrouded in darkness, she saw only the eyes, unblinking in the shadows.
“Stop scaring me Trixxie!” she said, or rather tried to say. Her mouth made the motions but no sound came out. She froze, staring at the eyes that she thought belonged to her cat. “This isn’t funny!” she mouthed. Still deafening silence.
Terrified, Sarah drew a sharp breath in and screamed until she could feel her head ring from the sheer force of it, but nothing came out. In fact she couldn’t hear anything not her scream, nor the quickening beat of her heart, or the cool breeze that was blowing in from the night. In fear she heaved the window closed, so hard that the thin pane glass shattered, soundlessly, as it fell all around her.
“Shhhh…” she heard from what seemed like all around her in every direction, “don’t make this harder than it has to be…” The voice was cool and formless sounding like it came from everywhere at once. Kneeling on her bed, she held her breath and looked at the two red eyes as they began to move. Out of the shadows, not a serpent, but a cloaked man appeared, resting his hand softly on the bedpost, his cloak and hood were made from a silky black fur that bristled in the wind. “It is just you and I, Sarah. It will be over soon I promise,” the formless voice, coming from everywhere said. She covered her ears but, she still heard every syllable he uttered piercing her thoughts. But the man’s mouth did not move. She screamed again with all her strength, still nothing, not a single sound.
“Have you heard stories of ghouls and goblins in the night Sarah? Or perhaps of ghosts and werewolves roaming the woods at night, all stories to keep you warm and cozy in your bed, safe, at home,” the voice said. “Perhaps you have even heard of me?” The hood cloaked man with the eyes of a serpent reached into his cloak and out appeared a beautiful flower, black in the center fading into red on the edges forming the shape of a bird. A blood raven lily. Sarah’s face went pale, her face glowed slightly as it reflected the moonlight. She looked at the flower, He is the Blood Raven, she thought.
“Ah, so you have heard of me,” the cloaked man frowned, his grey speckled beard hiding the disappointment from Sarah. “Then you know what comes next, don’t you Sarah.” Sarah belted out one last fruitless, soundless, scream as her body was drained in a flash of blue light, leaving nothing but her withered frame behind, her mouth contorted in her final silent scream. The cloaked man softly put Sarah back into bed and, after twirling the flower in his gloved hand for a moment, put it down upon Sarah’s unmoving chest.
⬖ ⬖ ⬖
Jorel burst out of the tavern door, running for the horse posts, where he heaved and vomited all the cheap wine he had been drinking that night. The horses pulled back against their tied reins, clearly spooked, but he didn’t care. He sat there slumped over his own filth when the first rays of sunlight crested over the horizon straight into his face.
“Ahhh! Damn sun! Is it already dawn?” he yelled at no one in particular. Then he heard a shrill scream come from within the village’s market. Sobering up slightly, he stood and heard another more deep and guttural scream, coming from what he thought was the blacksmiths Boren’s house. He pressed his hands to his eyes trying to think…Didn’t their daughter just turn 8?
⬖ ⬖ ⬖
Anamor bolted awake to the sound of shrieks coming from outside her open window. I am too late, she thought as she donned her cloak and grabbed her staff while making for the door. Always too late. She went down the staircase to the tavern to find many of the patrons from last night passed out in various positions around the establishment, including Merl, who had evidently forgotten to chase them all out. Stepping between various sleeping bodies to reach the door she couldn’t help but think of the body she was going to find out there. Another poor innocent girl. She raged at the thought of it and slammed the tavern door open, rousing a few of the sleeping patrons.
Stepping out, the sun was just beginning to rise, making the thin layer of frost on the ground glow. Her eyes scanned around and she saw Jorel, the idiot from the night before. “Where did the screams come from?” Anamor demanded. Jorel in his haze, bending over to vomit again, pointed towards the town’s small marketplace. With that she left him there without another word and sprinted towards the center of town.
Upon reaching the center of town she could hear the wails and sobs coming from the blacksmith’s house. She quickly went there and found Boren Vrynor, the blacksmith, and his wife, looking upon the husk that was once their daughter. Her hands were holding a blood raven lily and the morning frost had settled on part of her withered face. Too late…always too late, Anamor thought looking upon the girl and her family.
Boren turned and noticed her, his eyes hard, but tear filled, and asked “Who are you?”
Anamor quickly replied “I am the mage tasked to hunt the monster that did this.”
His face grew stern. “Where in the hells were you when this happened to my daughter!?” He demanded. Like all the ones before him, they demanded what she could have done, where she was. What could I have done? She wondered.
“I am sorry, but I must act quickly if I am going to catch the man responsible for this.” she said. He nodded slowly, still quite angry, as she began to cast a spell in the room. A spark flew around and out the door. “I will catch the man that did this, I promise,” she said as she ran to follow the spark heading towards the fog that surrounded the woods nearby. How many times had she made that promise?
Boren stood for a moment, holding his wife as she sobbed, and looked at the metal horse he had made for Sarah for her birthday…
⬖ ⬖ ⬖
As the spark flew forward, Anamor raced through the dense woods, barely dodging tree after tree in the thick fog. She had been running for what seemed like hours, but the spark kept thrusting forward, and her with it. The fog was so heavy that she couldn’t quite see the spark, just the eerie yellow glow it emitted, but she charged on. Then suddenly the spark stopped and with it her chase of it. Pausing for a moment, all she could hear was the resounding sound of her heart pumping away to try and keep pace. No animals. No birds. Nothing. She stood still in the silence, but the spark did not move. She had found him! After all these years, he was nearby. She whirled her staff and a gust of wind erupted from it and swirled around her, then pushed outward, clearing the fog, revealing a labyrinth of moss covered trees… and him. His back was to her, his long black fur cloak billowing in the conjured wind.
“Nathaniel!” she shouted over the sound of the wind.
“Fitting they would send you of all people to hunt me, Ana,” he stated as he turned to face her.
The wind died down and they were left in a sea of trees, surrounded by silence and fog, hunted and huntress. Anamor was taken aback by how cold Nathaniel’s words were, how uncaring.
“You killed our daughter and then ran like a coward, to kill more, for what!?” she exclaimed. Her voice was shaking with rage.
“I didn’t kill her. I freed her from her suffering. She is right here, waiting to live again,” he coolly replied as his gloved hand tapped the silver and blue necklace that he wore. “Just a few more souls and she will be whole again… You hunt me?! But you don’t understand that I am going to save our daughter! I am close, so very close!” he shouted back in protest, his cool demeanor breaking, the passionate Archmage he had once been reemerging, but then his eyes grew hard and cold again.
“What you are doing is madness Nathaniel, she is dead and you killed her!” She replied, but she wondered, what if what he said was true, is there a chance? No, I must stop him she thought. Before she could utter another word, a voice spoke, “Mamma is that you?” Anamor stood paralyzed. It was her daughter Samantha. She could hear her in her mind.
“No, this isn’t possible, you died, he killed you!” Anamor whispered in protest.
“Mamma it has been so long! And it doesn’t hurt anymore!” Samantha’s voice rang in her head as the necklace around Nathaniel’s neck pulsed with blue energy.
He broke his emotionless face and smiled. “We have missed you Ana,” Nathaniel said, “come with us.”
“Yes Mamma, come with us!” Samantha said overjoyed.
Could it be possible? What sorcery was he playing with… she thought.
“No you are a murderer and my Samantha is dead.” Anamor said, weakly, as if trying to convince herself.
“Very well Ana,” Nathaniel said frowning. “However I can’t let you impede our work, not when we are this close.” With that he knelt, pressing his hand into the frosted ground. A shock wave rippled through the topsoil all around them. “This place was quite barren during the Reckoning. How do you think all these trees came to be? Hrm? They had to eat something, something shallow and in the soil…” With that a skeletal hand shot out of the ground, near Anamor, grasping at her legs, then another, and another. Skeletons were writhing and pulling themselves up all around her. Necromancy! She thought in disbelief, as he turned and walked into the surrounding fog, vanishing from her sight.
“No! You must pay for what you did Nathaniel, for what you did to her, to me!” she shouted. But he was gone and the dead were rising all around her. She spun her staff and frost covered the dead near her as she struggled to push forward. The undead surrounding her were clinging to every part of her body. She flicked her wrist and broke the decayed skeletal hand that held her staff, then with it she cast a shock wave that shattered the nearby undead. Yet more rose, clawing at her cloak and robes. “Where ever you go I will find you Nathaniel! For Samantha!” she shouted after him as the fog began to roll back towards her, the dead pulling her down…