DRUID — Part 1
Wind rippled like ocean tide, Senam’s fair hair sea foam to be tossed about in the gale. The breeze abated, the leaves stopped chattering. For a moment, Senam was motionless a stone, hoping to hear the voice of Sylanna, the Earth Goddess, in the quiet. His pointed ears tingled, trying now to catch even the faintest echo of a voice now, but nothing was forthcoming. With a sigh, the young elf returned to his tome. He stared intently at the measurements of dittany and wormwood, the proper motions to be made over a sprig of Asphodel, each inked not from his lessons taken with meticulous care. He spoke words of power as he gently added the right amount of crushed mistletoe into a bowl, and stirred it together with the soil from the base of a yew tree. Placing it in the east point of his chalked pentagram, he felt he was ready. Muttering a word from an ancient tongue, he, he felt power rising in him.
There is no word for where you feel it, if you feel it inside yourself at all. It’s like wind rising from beneath you, only more solid, or perhaps like speeding through incorporeal water. Whatever the sensation, it was growing stronger in Senam. It was all around him, through him, in him. The power climaxed, and as it did, Senam’s voice shouted, “Weliam anateio fa hasamfa giana jeridea!”
For a moment nothing happened.
Then all at once, a sprout, a tiny sapling, began to push its way out of the soil, leaves growing, roots digging into the earth. Senam had tow work hard not to give a boyish whoop; in fact he did give a relieved chuckle, his face changing from a stern look of concentration to a wide grin. And then the tree, which was about a foot tall, began to wilt. It curved in upon itself, leaves falling off and becoming hard and dry, within moments the tree was dead, and Senam fell to his knees, cheer warped into a sob.
Senam did not know how long he knelt there, face buried in the grass that caressed his pale cheeks, he only knew that after a time, there was a hand on his shoulder. Senam, feeling a salty sting as a tear was dislodged and fell onto his arm, raised his head. The face that looked back at him was full of sympathy, though it gave him a flutter in his near broken heart.
“I feel awful, Tiana,” Senam choked out.
“Well,” she said, speaking slowly and choosing her words with care, “At least a tree grew this time. Isn’t that something?”
“Yes,” Senam replied, “But It feels worse now then when it did not work at all. I feel like I killed that tree, like I brought it into the world only to send it out again.”
“But Senam, It’s only one spell. Look at that thesis you wrote on breaking shield spells, your teacher said half the ideas were brand new to him. Look at that beautiful healing spell you pulled off, you were the first to master it.”
“I can only break and heal other breaks though, I’m supposed to be a Druid,” Senam said, his head slumped across his chest. “Druids should be more connected to life and nature then to speed up what nature would do herself, in time.”
“Are you determined to be sulky?” Tiana asked.
“Yes” Senam replied stubbornly.
Tiana could not help but to grin, despite her friend’s sadness. She sat down beside him and leaned an arm across his shoulders. His head fell against her silky auburn hair. For a moment, nothing moved but the wind, which was gently whispering in their ears. Then
“Tiana, you’ve given me an idea!” Senam said, for he thought she had. “Here, help me set up!”
For a moment the shoulder was silently screaming for Senam’s head to rest on it again, and then it was moving an arm that was arranging a sprig of dittany. Most magical objects had not been changed, so the task of resetting the spell was easy. With a final check to see if everything was appropriate, Senam moved Tiana and himself out of the circle.
“I think I’ve got it right now,” Senam muttered, and, calling again on the magic, he said, “Jeridea fa giana weisa heil un anataio kaelain!”
A tree sprouted up again, and like the first made it to a foot before it started to wither. When it did, however, it blossomed again, pushing up with more magnificence than ever. When it reached three feet it slowed, and began to grow slower, with proud limbs branching out, roots furrowing the ground and starting their exotic dance with the soil.
“It worked!” Senam shouted, allowing himself the whoop of joy he had had in his chest for quite some time. “I combined a healing spell with the core enchantment, and it worked! Thank you Tiana, thank you, thank you, thank you thank you thank you!”
“I didn’t do anything though,” the elven lady said as she bent down to examine the new tree, grinning at her friend’s exploits.
“You made me think of a healing spell, I never would have thought of it myself. I’m surprised I could get it to work, though.”
“Well I’m not.” Tiana declared, turning to him and smiling. “I knew you could do it. You can do anything you set your mind to, Senam.” And before he could do or say a thing, she pressed her lips to his cheek. She could feel heat flooding his face just before she skipped away, hair bouncing as the sun began to descend into the horizon.
That night, it all went wrong. Senam was eating in his room, slowly letting the juice of an apple run down his chin. He was pondering much. He told himself that he was pondering the concept of combining spells, and when that stopped working he told himself he was once again trying to connect to the mysterious force some Druids spoke of, a magical field connecting the heart and mind of the forest, but that stopped working to, and he accepted that he was thinking about Tiana. It was a quiet summer night, to early in the year for the insects to spread like poured honey, and to late for midsummer’s night celebrations that had carried on for weeks. Senam was about to consider going for a stroll, perhaps down to the library or out to the Herb Garden to replenish his stock of dittany, when the dreaded sound of a conch shell echoed through the trees. For a moment, all was silent, and then a horrible cry, a shriek in the night like the fields of punishment themselves loosed upon the earth. It was a woman’s cry, a woman’s last cry.
Furry surged through Senam. He knew he was being foolish, there were hundreds of women in the city, but there was still a chance it had been the cry of Tiana, and if so, Senam would avenge her. Her or any member of the city. Fetching both staff and bow, and wondering vaguely which would be of more use, Senam darted out the door, sprinting across the water that separated the small island he lived on from the Home Ash, a beautiful and large tree that housed most of the population. It was on one of the higher bridges, from where you could see most of the west side of the City if you had the right angle, he looked down. Breaking though the gates bellow, scrambling over walls, or even gliding through them, were hosts of the undead. For a moment, Senam could not move in the horrible shock of first seeing undead creatures. Skeletons with badly crafted helmets and swords hacked at the smaller wooden dwellings, vain in their insatiable attack on the little huts. Zombies lurched their way up the streets, swinging clubs and cleavers at those who raced out of burnt or toppled huts, or were chased out by ghosts and other horrible creatures. Warriors wielding swords and battle hammers swung at the creatures, only to find that when broken into pieces they could move into more places.
“Quite an army, no?” said a voice from behind Senam. With a jolt he turned, and there he beheld a huge and malevolent bat. It was grinning, and for a moment Senam was frozen as the bat melted and twisted into the shape of a vampire. The unearthly grace of the horrible creature filled Senam with the same feeling of tingling senses and quivering ears he had come to acquaint with the presence of Tiana, though this time it was far from pleasant. The vampire grinned, a toothy grin that made Senam’s whole body shiver. Numbly at the back of his mind he felt he should do something, like hit the vampire with his staff, or kick him, or do something to stop him grinning in that seductively hungry way. All he could do was watch, however, as the vampire opened his mouth and laughed. The laughter seemed to crack the air; it was so indecent, so evil.
“You know, this is all really unnecessary,” The vampire said as he stopped laughing. “We could change all of you, you know. There need not be so much destruction. A few moments pain, a powerful spell, and everyone here could join our power; join in the eternal beauty of death. I could start with you, even. Would you like that? And just think of it. An elf, already with senses greater than many sentient beings, plus the power of vampirism would be one of the most powerful creatures. You could fly like a bird, live in luxurious manors, and it would never end, you would never grow old, never die. What do you say?”
A voice in Senam’s head was shouting, Say no, Say no! Run, Run, Run, Fight Fight Fight, Killkillkillkillkill! . . . Or at least do Something to get control of the situation! But another voice was tempting him. Eternity, living for that long, with such power. And necromancers are powerful spell weavers, think of the knowledge you could gain! The spells you could master! Without planning it, Senam found himself lowering his staff, found himself nodding, found the vampires cold hands wrapped around his arms. “It will be only a moment of pain,” the Vampire said, “And then you can do anything you set your mind to.” This was the Vampire’s mistake. As it licked its fangs, as it prepared to sink them into his neck, Senam heard the echo of the same words both friend and enemy had spoken.
“You can do anything you set your mind to, Senam.” And before he could say a thing she had placed her lips...”
The voice was Senam’s, and though he was only half sure it would, a bolt of lightning jumped from his staff straight into the vampire’s chest. With a shriek it released him, and both staggered back as the force of the spell pushed them apart. The Vampire clutched the posts of the bridge, panting heavily. When he spoke, there was little of the silky tone and sepulchral seductiveness there was before. Instead, the lifeless quality of his undead form showed through. “You are a fool, to refuse my offer, for it will not be offered again. The day will come when you and I will meet again, and that time, your little hocus pocus will not save you!” And without further ado, he became a bat and flapped off. Senam drew his bow and took two shots at the vampire before he lost sight of it, though neither hit.
Senam wanted now more than anything to lie down and rest, but the battle still raged bellow. Running the rest of the length of the bridge he entered the fray, staff swinging back and forth, toppling any foe he met. He finally reached a quiet spot where some of the elders, including his teacher, were quickly discussing battle plans. His teacher looked up as he entered, and without a preliminary ‘Hello’ said, “Senam, go to the school and look after the little ones.”
This was such an unhelpful task that Senam responded indignantly, “The little ones? But sir, I can fight! I’ll go anywhere I’m needed, I’ll –”
“You will do as you are told!” His teacher bellowed, white beard quivering with anger.
“Do as you are told!”
“Yes sir,” Senam said disconsolately, and walked off.
There seemed little point in the task. The littluns were quite calm, believing all the shouting to be more festivities like last year’s. A few older ones were a bit feisty, and mildly annoyed about not being let to join, but a few sharp words prevented them from trying to get out. It was insanely aggravating for Senam to hear the sounds of the battle still raging bellow me and not being able to do a thing about it. If I had only been able to fire bolts of lightning into enemy lines, Senam thought, but everything was melee now, he could have hit his own kind just as much as the undead forces. He did at least have a birds eye view of the confrontation, however. Though it was hard to tell in the near darkness, the tide of battle was slowly pushing the necromancers out. With a jolt of fear, Senam saw the Vampire who had spoken to him earlier standing on a burning house, shouting orders to his troops. Arrows and spells flew around him, but he was shielded by a powerful Dark Enchantment of some kind. The worst bit is I think I might know how to get at it, if only I could get in there! I know that kind of shield, that’s one of the ones I studied for my thesis! I know exactly how to break it! Though I suppose others are trying. Two parts Aconitem and Essence of...
Senam’s musing was interrupted was interrupted by a tug at the hem of his robes. Looking down, he saw a small elven girl, no older than seven, holding a teddy-bear and staring up at him beseechingly through wide eyes.
“Yes, Ylthin, what is it?” Senam asked tiredly.
“Master Senam, why does Kamfeial get to go to the party when we do not?” the young elf asked.
“Kamfeial does not get to go to the party,” Senam said blankly.
“Then why did he say he could?”
“I do not know, please tell him not to make up foolish things.”
“I can’t!” The little elf cried in frustration. “You said we weren’t to go outside, and he’s outside!”
“Well then... What?!” Senam said, turning, fully alert now. “He’s gone? When? How? Where?”
“He went down about three minutes ago. I didn’t get him in trouble, did I?”
“No,” Senam said, “You may have helped get him out of it. Stay here, and tell the others not to leave!” Senam grabbed his staff from its resting place by the wall and sprinted down the steps, hastily placing a spell of confinement on the door and hoping he would not have to use much magic. His hope was rather dashed. Kamfeial’s footprints showed the eight year old had gone straight into the fray, at which point they were lost and trampled. Muttering words he hoped no high priest would hear him saying, he put on himself the strongest warding off spell he could think of and prayed he was not about to die from magic exhaustion. He then pushed his way through the mass of fighting bodies, noticing that there seemed less of the undead then there had been before. This gave him a bit of hope, though he still had no idea where Kamfeial was. His run through the crowd was erratic, and in reality he was simply going in the hope of something, anything that would lead him to his missing charge. Eventually he reached a point where the fighting was scattered. Firing a quick round of arrows at the enemies he could, he leaned against a tree to think. Okay, calm down. You don’t know where Kamfeial is. I said calm down! The vampire. You know where the vampire is, and you know how to break his shield. If you can’t find Kamfeial you may as well do that! Senam paused, phrasing the words of the spell he would use, and then spoke the words in his staff. The carved lily on the end glowed a dull blue, and Senam hopped and prayed to Sylanna that he had got the spell right, as he would probably have only once chance.
“Great Sylanna, give me courage, to melodize the unharmonious, to calm the discord, and to put the light in the leaves,” Senam prayed in the ancient custom of his people as he rushed towards the house where he had last seen the Vampire. Vampire Lord, if he commands such armies, Senam thought. I must be mad! Yes, I am definitely mad. I am randomly racing into combat with a potent Undead General, and all I have is a stick with carvings on it. Oh well, should be fun.
Senam reached the house, and fear and relief mingled in his feelings as he saw the Vampire was still there. And then he stopped. He was almost speared, blasted a bolt of magic at the zombie attacking him and then went back to staring in stunned disbelief. Somehow, in some way that not even the mages in the south could have predicted with all their charts and mathematics and calculations of probability, somehow Kamfeial was in he hands of the Vampire. For a heart stopping moment, the young druid looked up at his charge, praying he had not been... turned. He had not. He was struggling, though the monster that held onto him seemed to take little notice.
Come on, do something! He simply did not understand why, assertive in most things, he was suddenly unable to do anything when the vampire was around. And then a memory, a half lost echo from a book he had read when he was younger than Kamfeial, floated from somewhere into his mind.
...And vampire’s aura,
of menace and fear,
freezes the mortals
who approach too near...
He had until now regarded such books as human tales, silly stories to frighten little elves. But now that he felt he knew, he felt the aura falling away, and a new determination filling him. He took a step back, and then ran forward, pushing himself upwards onto the roof of the burning house, noticing dimly that the fire was only a magically constructed illusion. Before his feet hit the unharmed thatch on the roof he fired his spell at the Vampire who had been taken aback by Senam’s abrupt appearance. There was a shattering sound and the aura hanging around the hated Undead lord vanished. Senam felt suddenly much stronger, and a cheer from bellow indicated that some other good had come from the shield’s shattering. While the Vampire took a moment to regain his composure, he spoke with the same sepulchral voice he had first employed.
“Ah, Senam, we meet again. Much sooner than I thought, I admit it, but we meet again. And this little child means a great deal to you, does it not? Let us see, I suppose now you will be wanting him back, no?”
Senam pointed his staff at his opponent, though he had no clear plan as to what he was going to do now. To attack would mean to risk hurting Kamfeial, and that was something he could not do. He decided to bluff it out though, and said, “Stop reading my mind, it was far creepier the first few times, but now it is just an old hat!”
The Vampire’s eyes narrowed. “An old hat, is it? Well, I doubt that you know that I was planning to spend some money on new apparel, these are last life’s garbs, you know, but perhaps I could instead help set this little child up with a small manor and a Succubus I know.”
“That’s Not... Completely disgusting... He’s eight years old, for Sylanna’s sake! He’s hardly old enough to wave a wand, let alone, well, er... He wouldn’t know what to do with a succubus!”
“And you would?”
“Kill it on sight, of course!”
“Come now, some of them are quite talented at–”
“Shut up! How did I get into this discussion? Cut the chatter and put Kamfeial down!” Senam, trying still to think of a way to keep Kamfeial from death, or a worse fate, could not help but notice another wave of reinforcements on the horizon.
“You seem annoyingly persistent,” The Vampire said, with a hint of aggravation slipping in between his sepulchral speech. “Very well, if you are going to be a conversation killer, then I will be forced to cut to the chase.”
“Then you’ll let him go?” Senam said, taken aback.
“After I have made him one of the bloodthirsty brethren, of course.” The vampire said, and proceeded to bend toward Kamfeial’s neck.
“No! Don’t! Please, I’ll do anything!” Oh, fires of Sheogh! Worst choice of words I could have used! A smile and a gleam in the Vampire’s eyes showed Senam that he had made a very deadly mistake indeed.
“Anything? You would do anything for the child?” And the vampire began laughing, laughing so horribly that Senam was surprised the world was not breaking at the seams. He began once again to feel the dark aura around him, the creeping feeling of decay and loss. No! Nonononono! Say no! “Er...”
“That’s what I thought. Your high elder is in the highest room on the tallest branch of your home ash. Kill him, and I let the little one go at once.”
“But, but, but, but I, what... You can’t expect me to kill my leader! My liege lord, my protector my, my, my king!”
“Oh, no, I can’t. But you can. You can cause the death of your king, or you can condemn the little one to eternal destruction. Your choice, and I’m waiting for an answer.”
Senam waited for a moment, though he knew his response was inevitable. Eventually, after finding no way to avoid it, said, “Fine. I’ll do it, but the little one will not be harmed, and you will let him go the moment I come back?”
“I can see I am pinned down. All right, I will let him go, and he will not be harmed before then. You have two hours before the little one passes into eternity, so you better move fast.”
“What!?” Elnair exploded as Senam explained his predicament. “You can’t honestly expect me to just stand still while you kill me!”
“I know, I know, I messed up,” Senam started, “But-”
“Messed up? Messed up! You didn’t just mess up; you’ve made a right [unmentionable words] of it!”
“I know, but-”
“And the problem is, if I don’t let you just kill me, I will be known forever as the elf that stood aside and let one of his civilians be taken into the ranks of the necromancers! What in the name of Sylanna do you expect me to do about it?”
“No, don’t speak. I’ll summon your teacher; he will know what to do about you.”
“No need,” Said a deep voice from the doorway. Magnificently resplendent in a twelve pronged antlered helm of the deer with a staff glowing like green fire, Senam’s teacher bowed through the door. This was not out of any particular reverence, he was almost of the same standing as King Elnair, but because his deer headed helm was too large for the door frame. “I have been listening, and it seems clear what must be done.”
“If you are going to favor your student in an attempt to gain the throne-” Elnair started, but was cut of as Tailnel said, “On the contrary, it is best for all if you do die, King Elnair.”
A very, very loud silence (save the interminable battle below) resonated in the room. Then Senam said, hesitantly, “You think it would help, sir?”
“It would not help us directly,” Tailnel said, “But I do have a plan. There lies somewhere in Ashan The Book of Life, which teaches the secrets, among other things, of resurrection, though for the spell to work the body will need proper preparations. My plan is as follows. Senam, you will put this poison-” here he removed a small vial from his robes “And administer it to your mead, my king. You will drink it, and die almost at once, with only a small ache in your throat. We will smear pig’s blood on a sword, and Senam will present the sword to the Vampire. The vampire will release the child, and once he is vulnerable again, we will shoot him. The battle should be ended not long afterwards, we have reinforcements coming from the west. Tomorrow, you, Senam, will set out with a contingent of troops to find The Book of Life. We will use its secrets to resurrect you, King Elnair, and all will be normal. You, my king, will benefit from this because you will be hailed as a hero who sacrificed himself for a child. Senam, you will benefit because you will not be killed for letting a vampire kill a child.”
“Are we talking about The Book Of Life spelled capital T-h-e capital B-o-o-k capital O-f capital L-i-f-e, or the book of life spelled T-h-e capital B-o-o-k o-f capital L-i-f-e?”
“Capital T-h-e capital B-o-o-k capital O-f capital L-i-f-e.”
“And what will you get out of it?” Senam asked.
Tailnel, who seemed to have been waiting to be asked, responded, “The Book of Life would deeply aid us in the restoration of our, ah, theologically divine forests. We would learn much, and have a bargaining tool if we ever needed to deal with the Wizards to the south. Also, after this battle we will be severely weakened in numbers, and every child is important. We have no option but to agree to the vampire’s demands.”
The silence stretched horribly, as the three elves contemplated the magnitude of the proposition.
Twenty minutes later, with an oversized broadsword in hand and a strong feeling that things would all end in tears, Senam found himself once again on top of a house speaking with a Vampire. He had run all the way, partially because his nerve was going so fast it would outstrip a phoenix, and partially because Tailnel had left, shouting something about a Lich Lord or something, leaving no one to back Senam up if there was trouble. He hardly doubted that the King’s poisoned form would go unquestioned once found, and prayed fervently to Sylanna that Tailnel would survive to corroborate his story. Some how he had made his way to the two entities on the roof top, and, after having told a wild tale of stealth and assassination, demanded that the Vampire uphold his promise.
“Let’s see, you kill the king, and for that silly thing, I let your little one go. That was the arrangement, no?”
“Correct. Uphold it. Now.” Senam’s patience had gone with his nerve, and the long day had worn him out far too much. He was not in the mood for haggling.
“All right, the little one is... let go!” and without further ado he dropped the little elf over the side of the roof. Everything was moving in slow motion, the entire universe seemed centered around the falling figure. Senam, hardly sure whether he was in a dream or if some horrible nightmare had become real, felt himself diving forward, reaching in the hopes of grabbing something, anything that would prevent the little child from meeting a very unpleasant end. The ground, however, was advancing towards the little elf far quicker than could be defined as helpful, and a sickening thud seemed to already be resonating in Senam’s brain before the real one. Hands scrabbling, Senam finally managed to snag a small corner of Kamfeial’s robes. For a moment the world was moving normally again, and a rush of triumph momentarily vanquished the sick feeling of terror echoing all around Senam’s ears, and then, the most horrible sound, a sound to echo over the screams and bellows of war, a rip. Senam’s horror and slow motion world snap back into existence and Kamfeial’s robes tore, and he tumbled the two stories down the side of the house. An anguished scream tore from Senam’s throat, but there was nothing he could do. Kamfeial’s body was unceremoniously crushed by a passing Zombie, and Senam’s whole body shook as he lay there on the sloping roof. Tears, the salty things he had been trying to hold back since the beginning of the battle now began to slip down Senam’s cheeks. After all that, all his work, his spells and schemes and terrible moments of fear, Kamfeial was dead. Mocking, derisive and cruel laugher was resonating from the Vampire’s throat, once again cracking the air to pieces. Senam, his whole body still not quite recovered from shock none the less now had one thought burned into his mind. Revenge.
“Yes, It hurts, doesn’t it, little elfling?” The Vampire asked, still chuckling so horribly Senam wanted to strangle him. In fact, a number of things he could do were quite clear, but the Vampire was speaking again. “You see, this is why we who have passed over are joyous: because we do no have these feelings you mortals crave, despair, anguish, terror, loss? It’s all gone for the dead. You could have had the same thing, if you had accepted my offer, but you miscalculated, and thought that I would not take revenge on your... impudence. But no more of this, I am weary of you, and wish you to go away.”
Senam’s mind was still racing. How to kill an opponent who had at least a hundred years to practice his technique? And then it hit him. The Vampire, for all his talk of life and death, still had a weakness: He was partially living. Thus, killing him again would demolish him permanently. But how? An arrow would have no power at this range, and his magic reserves were far too weak to do much more than make the staff glow. He would have to use the sword. Praying once again that he would know what to do, he stood up.
“I’m not the only one who miscalculated. You used Kamfeial as your shield, but now you have none. And I’m going to smite you for it.” The vampire’s eyes widened as he realized his mistake, and he tried to pull his sword from his belt. Before he could, however, Senam’s sword was up, and with a shout of “For Kamfeial! And for Irollan!” he had swung it into The Vampire’s Heart.