Sunday, June 30, 2013

For Wilfred!

Good evening internet! IamsosorryIhavenotpostedastoryinawhilepleasedon'teatme.

Lereahl was bored. For the past week, he hadn’t been able to find his usual misfit band of compatriots down at their usual haunt, The Mooneared Badger. So, he now found himself in the company of several others, traipsing through a Gate and into a thick, lush forest. The only face he knew among those around him, was the thickset druid Tarloch; his dinosaur companion stalked silently behind him, a few inches taller than all of them. Eolderin was a druid also. He was of average height for an elf and messy, sandy blonde hair hung in front of his bright green eyes. A longbow was slung over his back and a needle sharp bone dagger was at his side. He had objected furiously to Lereahl’s accompanying them at first. He apparently had a vicious hatred of humans, making Lereahl, who was a human-elf hybrid, even lower in his eyes. The last member of their party looked to be a completely ordinary man. He was black-haired, pale-pale skinned and about as tall as Lereahl. He had introduced himself simply as “Frank”. Not much else had been needed to let them know there was something off about the fellow.
They’d gone a little way into the forest without any sort of confrontation. The only movement they saw in the dense brush was the fluttering of leaves and swaying vines.
“Ow,” said Frank, making the group stop and look back at him. A stick had poked him in the eye. Tarloch sighed and looked up at the canopy. His expression turned into one of a frown.
“Vines moving,” he said in his slow, deep voice.
“It’s just the wind,” snapped Eol, sneering at the human.
“No. Vines moving. Like snake,” the druid said, pointing up into the trees.
Lereahl looked up in alarm. He didn’t much like snakes. But Tarloch was right. The vines above their heads were curling and twisting in a rather lifelike fashion, swaying curiously towards the travellers. Eol grunted derisively and scampered up the nearest tree trunk.
“Uh, I don’t know if you should do that,” called Lereahl as the elf disappeared into the leaves.
“Shut up, half-blood!” called Eol.
He’d only climbed as far as the first few branches when the vines he had come to see whipped out and curled themselves around his legs. Eol shrieked and grabbed onto a branch as the vines tugged at him. He was still screaming as he hastily pulled his dagger out and hacked at the binding tendrils. With a hiss, the vines released the elf and he tumbled to the ground, looking dazed.
“Well. I won’t say I told you so, but I must compliment you on your lovely girly screams,” said Lereahl, his grey eyes glittering in amusement. He offered to help the elf up.
“I was not screaming,” Eol snapped, batting away the proffered hand. “I was simply breathing high-pitched.”
Lereahl and Frank sniggered.
The group headed north. The lush forest broke suddenly upon a small, pebbly lake shore. A thin mist hung over the water, slightly obscuring the far bank. Eol ventured slowly down to the water’s edge and dipped a toe in. He squeaked and fell back.
“Damn that water’s cold!” he hissed.
“Wuss,” muttered Lereahl, who had turned away, a small sack in a hole catching his attention. He surreptitiously opened it to reveal a dozen or so glinting gold coins. The bag was in his pocket as quick as winking. When he turned back, he found the others arguing over whether to retrace their steps or not. They hadn’t noticed yet that ice crystals were creeping out from the edge of the lake.
“Guys, look,” said the rogue, pointing this out. They all quieted and watched as the ice spread rapidly. They pulled their cloaks closer around themselves as the temperature dropped and the lake’s surface froze completely.
“Cross lake now?” offered Tarlcoh.
“We could. I daresay the ice will thicken in a few minutes, judging from the speed at which the lake froze over,” said Lereahl.
“Who go first?” asked Tarloch. He, Lereahl, Frank and the dinosaur looked at Eol, who was still rubbing his chilled toes. He looked up, feeling their gazes on him.
“Uh... I’m not going out on that ice. No way,” he said shortly, glaring at them. Frank stepped forwards, a mildly menacing look on his face.
“No, no, no, no,” said Eol, rapidly backing away from the cleric. Frank grinned evilly and went to shove the elf. Eol however, stepped nimbly out of the way. His cry of triumph however, turned to a cry of dismay as his sidestep took him out onto the frozen lake. He slipped and wobbled over the ice, eventually coming to a standstill, arms thrown out wide for balance. There was a sharp crack and Eol was gone, falling through the thin ice with a shriek. Out of the rend in the ice came a hissing cloud. The mist formed into a vortex of ice and snow and then into two hunched, humanoid figures with glittering, icy blue skin and white eyes. The larger one screamed at the travellers. It was an unearthly sound, like fingernails on a blackboard. They rushed the companions, landing heavy blows. Lereahl leapt back and fit and arrow to his bow string, loosing it fast. A second quickly followed the first and struck the smaller of the ice elementals in the shoulder. It keened and slashed angrily at Frank. Torlach’s dinosaur was snapping at the larger one as it aimed for his master. Torlach himself had his hands turned to the sky and was muttering rapidly under his breath. With a blast that took their breath away, a jagged bolt of lightning shot from the clouds and hit the larger ice monster. It reeled back in pain, but still stood. It roared at Tarloch and charged him again. Tarloch raised his hands and muttered the words again, drawing a second sizzling bolt from the sky. This one was enough to blast the elemental into a million tiny shards of ice. Seconds after, Lereahl nailed the smaller elemental, his arrows shattering the creature’s icy hide. The strange, cold mist curled and withdrew and the ice on the surface of the lake melted and disappeared. Eol took great, gulping breaths of air and came swimming slowly towards the party. He hauled himself up the pebbly bank, shivering and glaring at Frank.
They’d had to turn around and head back the way they came anyway; the forest had been too thick to penetrate past the lake. The forest to the south of where they’d stepped out of the portal was thinner and eventually gave way to a cold, grassy plain. Ahead of them, they could see a figure lying in the grass. They approached slowly, to find an armour clad centaur lying very still and bloodied. At first they thought he was dead, but when Eol knelt to check if he was breathing, the creature coughed, blood flecking his chin. Eol was quick to offer him a health potion. Several of the centuar’s wounds were instantly healed by sizzling white sparks of magic and he was able to pull himself to his feet.
“What’s your name, friend?” asked Lereahl.
“Wilfred,” replied the creature.
“What happened here?” asked Eol, looking around at the crushed, bloodied grass. Here and there were chunk of rotting flesh.
“I was part of a troop – there was around thirty of us – hunting the creatures of the night.”
Lereahl sniggered, but Wilfred continued.
“There has been something of a plague of them in this part of the world. We do not know why. Would you two-legs be kind enough to help me back to my camp and my comrades? I am sure I can find more medical supplies there.”
The camp was deserted. Signs of hurried packing were apparent and the leather of the tents flapped with lonely sounds in the chilly wind. They moved through the camp and eventually came across a bunch of hoof prints leading to the south.
“There are no supplies left here. Would you honourable fellows help me find my troop?” asked Wilfred, looking off into the dark forest to the south.
“I’d love to!” said Eol, hurrying forwards. Tarloch however, shook his head. He’d had a small, discontented look on his face since they’d found the centaur lying helpless on the battlefield.
“No. Tarloch will not,” he said. “Wilfred, time is up for you. Beast so close to death must die. Only right. Is way of nature.”
The centaur looked taken aback. Lereahl rolled his eyes. The druid often went on like this; he’d seen it before. Lessons from Tarloch’s past had taught him that souls close to death had to die. ‘Twas why the druid despised the undead. To him, they were the most unnatural things on all the planes.
“You can’t be serious. Please, just return me to my herd. I am sure they have medicine for me. I can fight again, I assure you,” said Wilfred slowly backing away.
“Yeah , human! Keep your filthy paws off the pony!” said Eol, stepping in front of the centaur. Lereahl just wandered away and began pocketing anything valuable left in the camp. He knew not to get between the druid and his prey. Frank on the other hand was nodding pensively, considering Tarloch’s words.
“You’re right. The weak have no right to live on any longer.”
“Death and spirit shall be reborn anew. Life important,” said Tarloch, grabbing the violently protesting Eol by the shoulders and pulling him away.
“Can I do it?” asked Frank, grinning evilly. Tarloch nodded.
Frank stepped towards the quailing centaur and stretched out his hand. The death-touch was a mighty weapon. As soon as Frank’s fingers brushed Wilfred’s hairy arm, the centaur crumbled into dust.
“Nooo!” Eol threw off Tarloch’s restraining grip and rushed towards the pile of ashes. “Wilfred...” He knelt in the dust, looking dismally at the pile that had once been the noble centaur – then began stuffing the ashes into his bag.
The group journeyed further into the forest. The trees here were sickly looking; grey and diseased. There grew a strange, eerie feeling as the sun began to set. A sharp wind brought the smell of more decaying flesh. After disabling a cleverly disguised pit trap in the middle of the road, the group spotted a troop of centaurs in the distance. Eol burst into tears and ran towards them. Tarloch, Lereahl and Frank ran to catch up with him.
“They killed Wilfred!” Eol was shouting, pointing at the druid and the cleric. The centaur warriors looked utterly bewildered. Even more so as Eol ripped open his satchel and began throwing grey powder at them – Wilfred’s ashes. One of the gruffer, more dangerous looking ones stepped forwards. He glared at Eol as a puff of ash landed on his shoulder. The elf quailed under the glare.
“Wilfred? But he fell during out last battle. Why do you disrespect his memory like this?” he growled.
“But – he – they – Wilfred...” Eol’s lip quivered. The burly centaur turned to the others.
“You two-legs shouldn’t be in this forest. Why have you come?”
“We are Planeswalkers,” said Lereahl. The centaur’s frown turned into a grin. No more explanation was really needed.
“Well, well. Planeswalkers. Fancy helping a little?” he asked.
Everyone but Eol nodded. The elf pouted and looked at them all.
“Fine, I’ll help too,” he said finally.
Eol looked around carefully. It was nearly night. The centaurs were bunched closely, their backs together, the Planeswalkers ranged around them. Through the shadowy trees came the first rattling growls. Squinting, the warriors peered through the trees, setting eyes upon a shuffling horde of the undead.
“For Wilfred!” cried Eol, firing an arrow into a rapidly shambling skeleton.
Tarloch was using a different strategy now. He was muttering again, but this time, his skin began to glow gold. His shape seemed to ripple and change. He swelled in size and then suddenly, an enormous brown bear was standing between them and a hissing mummy. Tarloch rose up with his new, towering height and collided with the undead creature, smashing it twice and then grappling it with enormous forepaws. Lereahl was able to dash around behind the bandaged creature and sink two arrows into its sandy back, severing its spine. The mummy crumpled beneath Torlach’s weight and the bear roared triumphantly. Around them, the centaurs, Eol and Frank were finishing up the rest of the zombies. Lereahl strode up and patted Torlach on the head.
“Nice job, Whinnie the Pooh,” he said, a sly grin on his face. He withdrew his hand quickly as Torlach snapped at it in annoyance. They were distracted however by a sudden, horrific screeching. The sky was suddenly full of huge black wings as a skeletal dragon swooped down on the pair. Eol and Frank had a new opponent too. A huge, fat zombie staggered out of the undergrowth, roaring in hunger and fury. It launched itself at the elf and human as the undead dragon snapped at the half-elf and the bear. More, smaller black, bony dragons were pouring from the sky, snatching up the centaurs.
Tarloch roared and lunged at the dragon’s head, scoring great gouges in the rotting flesh. Tarloch’s dinosaur companion was whaling too on the creature. Lereahl was peppering the rancid hide with arrows.
Eol drew arrow after arrow and sank them into the fat zombie he and Frank dodged the grasping claws of the swooping dragons. Frank’s normally passive face was creased in concentration as he tried to turn the huge zombie to his will. The creature however, was much too strong. Eol, seeing Frank’s failure to bend the undead behemoth, pulled out a flask of acid and hurled it. The flask connected with the side of the zombie’s head and shattered, melting off half its face. The zombie however, just kept coming. Eol loaded arrow after arrow and finally just shot the zombie’s head off. The enormous body quivered and simply fell over.
The dragon was furious after being repeated smacked in the head by furry paws and lunged at Tarloch. The bear however, was ready for the attack and was able to crush the undead dragon’s skull beneath his paws. Tarloch’s dinosaur, unaware the enemy was dead, continued to attack its spine enthusiastically.
When the dust settled, the Planeswalkers realised that they were all alone. Every single one of the centaurs was either dead or had been carried off by the black dragons. They looked around at the corpses sadly. Tarloch however raised his nose to the wind. He had sensed some greater evil living deep in the darkness of the woods. He was still a bear though and was not able to communicate this to his companions, so he dropped down onto all fours and with a stern look at the others, began to shamble off into the forest. Eol looked at Lereahl and Frank and shrugged.
“Where’s he going?”
“Dunno. But he seems to know what he’s doing. C’mon guys, we’d best follow Paddington Bear.”
They moved silently towards the clearing. The three figures wore black hoods and chanted in low, eerie voices to the beat of their pounding scythes. Beneath their hoods, their eyes glowed white and pupil less. Frank gasped in awe as a dark portal appeared in the middle of the figures. Slowly, a glistening, spiny black leg rose from the shadowy hole, followed by the sharp carapace of a huge spider-like demon. Lereahl was first out of the shadows, firing arrows into cracks in the fiend’s armour.
“Get ‘im Sir Bearington!” yelled Lereahl as Tarloch charged the demon. Tarloch’s dinosaur and Eol leapt into the fray too as the black-robed men turned on them. Eol sent an arrow into one of them. The hooded figure hissed in pain and sent two balls of pulsing white magic right back at the elf.
Tarloch smacked the screeching demon’s spiny claws away and shuddered as it lunged forwards and sank its fangs into him. The dinosaur crowed and leapt onto the creature’s shiny back, scrabbling at its eyes. The demon howled and let Torlach go. The bear stumbled back, now muttering low words with healing powers. With the demon distracted and Tarloch no longer bleeding, he was able to slip under the shining carapace. With a powerful blow, the demon’s head came clean off and its body jerked, twitched and rolled over.
Lerehal was now able to assist Frank and Eol. They were faring badly. Eol had been hit just a few too many times with magic missiles. Lereahl took one out in one shot, and then with the next, killed the sorcerer Tarloch’s dinosaur had just pinned to the ground. Eol had just fitted another arrow to his bow when Frank sauntered up and lopped off the last sorcerer’s head. Eol looked devastated as the robed body slumped into the grey grass.
Tarloch roared triumphantly standing over the dead demon. The ursine sound echoed through the forest but soon faded into a dark silence. They all turned quickly, weapons raised as they heard sudden crunchings and rustlings in the scrub behind them. Bow strings tightened and creaked as the sounds grew louder – but the companions sighed in relief as the creature emerged. It was the centaur leader, looking very battered and bloodied. He looked from them to the slain demon and back. His expression was grim but relieved. The companions lowered their weapons.
“Where are the others?” asked Eol.
“Dead,” sighed the centaur and his gaze shifted towards the great black demon again.
“Oh,” replied Eol, his face falling.
“Do not worry. They fought and died well. They shall rest easy knowing that you have slain the root of the evil that has been growing in this forest. We thank you for that. Now the healing process can begin,” the grizzled creature replied, bowing his head.
“We were glad to have helped,” replied Lereahl, bowing solemnly.
They looked around, realising that the shadows were growing lighter. The gloom was lifting. The sun was rising. Already they could hear the chirping of returning birds and the tiny green buds of new leaves on trees.

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