Vicissitudes in the Dark Woods (pt. 12)

As sun rose at their backs, Telfor and Vahkragg were already several hours into their third day of travel. Feeling the warmth on his neck, Vahkragg pauses for a moment to look back across the long road they had travelled from Verwich. At their current pace they expected to arrive in Capital before nightfall, the journey had been swift with neither bandit nor monster but for some reason the large man simply couldn’t shake this feeling of dread that had hung over him since they’d first laid eyes on Verwich.

“Vahkragg?” Telfor’s voice echoed loud in the quiet of the morning, “What’s wrong?”

Unable to put his worries into words, Vahkragg simply pushed them to the back of his mind and shrugging his pack, turned his back on Verwich. The time to act on those concerns had passed, now he could only trust in his companions.

***

“They will arrive in Capital tonight, after that I won’t be able to scry them again.”

High Priestess Nella nods, those who didn’t know or her people her would think the news angered her. Her large jaws distort the shape of her face, built to be able to bite and kill, for more flat-faced people her resting expression can seem startling. Having spent scarcely a week with her, Oliver still hadn’t gotten over that initial discomfort.

“Thank you, Oliver.” Her gentle, but otherwise normal voice another layer of strangeness, “And the others?”

“Rubin has just awoken from his illness, he’s with Pan now. Edda expects they will be coming to visit you today. The Necromancer is with Edda now.”

“When will we know the result?”

“Edda told me that she’ll have the girl here before the others arrive.”

“You seem less certain.”

Oliver shrugs silently. The corners of Nella lips upturn slightly, provoking Oliver to suspect, as was often the case, that she knew more than he did. And of course, she did. Since escaping his first captors, Oliver had been free for hardly a day before wandering into this new cage.
After barely escaping death at the point of Pan’s dagger, Oliver had managed somehow to survive his flight through that demon infested woods and decided that taking refuge in the second largest city of the Kingdom was a good idea. What’s more he’d managed to find the one Inn in the city where they were waiting for him. The Valiant Retreat, he thought he’d chosen it because of it’s out of the way nature. After entering, he’d been attracted to the girl, Lily, and with boldness completely out of character for him, asked for a room with a view.
He’d awoken that night after sensing the magic being sucked from the ether, just in time to feel Edda’s spell bind him. What followed was a blur, but when he came to, he was in the ‘care’ of the Temple of Atyx. They knew exactly who he was. It should have been impossible, but they did. They promised they could protect him from both his Father and the Earl. Since then he had become the High Priestess’ personal sorcerer, using his magic to help orchestrate bringing his original captors into a trap even he didn’t properly understand.
He had no love for those bounty hunters, but even more he despised being used as a pawn like this. The one gift his mother had ever given him had been to send him away before he was trapped by it and now here he was.

“If that’s all you needed from me?”

Nella stared at him, “Yes, that is all for now. I shall have you sent for when our guests arrive.”

With a bow, Oliver left Nella’s office. He hated it here at the Temple, everyone was so dour and serious, and every drop of magic was constantly being drained from the air making the ether feel lifeless and sickening. The areas he was permitted to go were always eerily quiet when not filled with prayer or hymns. He had no issue with Atyx, but his house was not where Oliver wanted to spend his time.
With nothing better to do Oliver returned to his usual routine of walking the cloister. The arched halls and garden were the only pleasant place in the Temple, despite their unfortunate overabbundance of priests, monks, and whoever else the Temple keeps. With a weary sigh, the sorcerer settles down on the grass in the sun. Eyes closed, hoping sleep might help with the boredom.

***

“Zsófia… Zsófia. It’s time for you to wake up.”

Words coated in soft magic destroyed the darkness which had suppressed her consciousness. A sickening feeling, waking without having been asleep, Zsófia opened her eyes and seeing Edda, reached for her magic only to find it would not come. The shock at not being able to find it, like trying to walk only to discover you have no legs, sends Zsófia into terrified despair. Backing away from the older woman along the floor, she finds a wall barely inches away and with no more options she covers her eyes and wishes to be somewhere else.

“I know you must be frightened, and confused. I am sorry for the deception, but it was the only way I could help you. You carried a powerful curse within you, a seed of your Horned God’s corrupting influence, like what I removed from your companion, but much more entrenched and powerful.”

The words made sense, they were enough to draw Zsófia’s attention, but still she feared the woman who had attacked her with magic. While Edda paused, Zsófia looked up from behind her arms to face her, an invitation to continue but not yet acceptance.

“I was able to remove the malediction from Rubin, because it was still immature. Yours is so deeply enmeshed with your being that even here, in Anir’s House and far from the forest, it was all I could do to isolate it. I wish I could have asked your permission first, but if He knew, He would have protected himself.
The Horned God still lives in you, but he cannot touch you, nor can he perceive you. But also, you cannot draw upon your magic without weakening his bindings. I have temporarily restricted your access to the ether, just long enough for you to meet the one who organised this. If you will swear not to call upon your magic until after this meeting, I will lift the binding. Will you?”

Zsófia nods. She didn’t understand most of what Edda had said, but she was scared. She wanted her magic back, even if she didn’t use it, being without it made her feel helpless and still shaken from Edda’s assault, helpless was the one thing she didn’t want to feel.
She couldn’t even feel the ether shift as Edda formed the magic to release the binding, but the moment it was, everything the old woman had said immediately made more sense. As the ether flowed back into her, she could sense the twisting black presence inside her. Uncertain how she’d never noticed it before, it horrified her and left her feeling sick all over again.

“I’m sorry I couldn’t do more, my dear…” The old woman sounded genuinely heartbroken and Zsófia realised that she’d forgiven the older woman and desperately needed to be held.

Clambouring to her feet, Zsófia threw herself into Edda’s arms and the old woman hugged the girl tightly, all of her usual hardness gone in place of a motherly warmth.

“You really scared me,” Zsófia spoke flatly, unable to put her emotions into the words and still form them. With no answer good enough, Edda just held the poor girl as silent tears ran down her face.


Featured art credit: Sunrise – Maurice Sapiro

Author: Zairron

I'm writing to build a habit, practice, and be creative.

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