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Degorram

Degorram's Desk

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He opened his eyes when the droplet of dew fell onto his cheek with a barely audible *plip*.

 

Above and all around him was an indistinguishable green and brown blur. In his ears his own breathing was loud and even. The sound was so startling that he paused mid-breath and listened to the silence that muffled his ears. A low steady throbbing sound began to grow in his ears and through his body and suddenly with necessity he sucked air back into through his mouth, drowning out the sound of his heart again with breathing.

 

Slowly more noises joined the cacauphony: varied high squeaking noises that warbled and shifted in tone, a rustling noise as something moved near his body. Multiple shadows, large and small, darted over his head. His vision was clearing.

 

There were leaves above his head. Gradually their veins and lightly bedewed surface came into focus. Soft sunbeams, warm with the life of the leaves, filtered down and dappled his face. He could feel the small spots of heat touching his skin as if an acutal creature were curiously reaching out to him.

 

He sat up and looked around him. The forest was deep and old, the trunks as wide as towers and the space between them covered with soft mosses and ferns. Nearby a silent creek trickled down over a rocky path, sending sparkles of light through the air as the sun hit its wandering surface. Birds flew from branch to branch, their songs making the forest alive with sound. A fox was trotting through the foliage a little ways off, his nose pressed to the ground in search of mice and milipedes.

 

His body had been settled between two thick roots of a tree. The tree's lowest branches made a canopy over him, like a protective shade concealing him from unkind eyes. And sticking from the muscle in his thigh like a miniature tree itself was a filthy, bloodied arrow shaft, its fletchings clumped with detesful grime.

 

Immidiately the pain that had been banished away by the peacefulness of the morning flooded back into his body, causing him to cry out suddenly and startle the fox into a stance of watchfulness. He leaned back against the tree and bit down on his wrist, wishing to crush the pain away. Squinting through watering eyes he looked back at the wound and swore under his breath. The arrow was obviously of goblin make, but the black sticky substance it had been coated with was unknown to him. Gingerly he reached out and daubed a bit onto his fingers; as he pulled them away the goo stretched into fine droplets like the innards of some insect. Raising his fingers to his face he sniffed the substance delicately and received the most potent shock he had ever drawn into his nose. He coughed and reeled, his vision growing black for a split second before he disgustedly wiped the reek onto the ground beside him. What a smell! He was surprised the fox had not smelled it and fled his presence.

 

Looking up, however, he noticed the fox had disappeared. The birdsong had faded and the forest was now as devoid of life as it had been full only moments before. The change was unsetlling but obvious. Something was out there.

 

Urgency forced him to turn and raise himself slowly on his good leg, but pain forced his lungs into overdrive and his heavy breathing filled the forest with its unwelcome sound. If the smell of the arrow did not alert his foe, then his noise would. Leaning against the tree, as if he would gather strength from its resolute power, he gripped the arrow shaft and pushed it further into his leg.

 

No fear of gathering unwanted attention could keep his agonized scream from squeezing past his clenched teeth. He felt as if his jaw would break with the force of his bite, but the arrow was through his leg now. He was halfway to being rid of the cursed thing. It was a thick shaft. It would be difficult to break.

 

It took every ounce of his will to live to force the shaft to break just above the point where it had entered his leg. Another cry of pain and he tossed the fletching away and, reaching under his thigh, gripped the now exposed arrowhead and drew the rest of the arrow from his flesh. He was dizzy as he pulled a bandage from the pouch on his belt and tied it tightly around the wound. With a jerk he settled the knot and the stab of pain that followed the pressure cleared his head and his eyes.

 

Though it was time to move, he realized the importance of checking the rest of his body for wounds. His arms moved well and the skin of his head and ears was intact under his fingers. His ribs were not broken, nor did he detect any injuries to his back. Pulling of his black jacket he slipped his shoulders through the wide neck of his undershirt and let it hang about his waist. There were no large bruises to signal any internal bleeding. A few small abrasions on his chest and abdomen were the only sign of damage other than the arrow.

 

A sharp crackling in the trees caught his attention and he whirled around, staring intently at the trees behind him. The forest was thicker behind him and the shadows plentiful. He turned again and slipped his jacket back over his naked chest, leaving it open. There was no time to fasten the buckles.

 

Limping away as silently as he could, he headed for the creek and began to follow its path.

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"Izaan!"

 

He looked around behind him as the general rode up on his horse, his armor clinking against his weapons. The sky was clouded with smoke and storm clouds, and the hills all around him were covered in mud and tar. To the east the toes of a large forest poked up from the ruin of war, peaceful, silent, terrified of the chance that the battle would extend into its sacred halls.

 

"Yes, General?" he replied, casting his cold stare onto the man who he worked for. As a mercinary he owed the man very little. But as a friend, he owed him his life.

 

The man on his horse glanced behind him and then leaned over so that Izaan could hear him. "I appreciate you showing your respect in front of my men, but it really isn't necessary when we are out of hearing. I would prefer you just use my name."

 

"What is it you want, Phre?" Izaan asked testily. He turned away to watch the dark horizon. Their foes would be swarming those rocks in a matter of hours and many would die. He was in no mood to talk.

 

General Phre sensed this and knew from many years of fighting alongside his dark friend that he despised chatting before a battle. His insensitive manner of brushing off unwanted company had ceased to affect him years ago. "Are you prepared for what is to come?" he asked solemnly. "What am I saying. I know you are, but I am concerned for my men. And myself. We held them off the first time, but they will have reinforcements, and we do not."

 

Izaan looked back up at the General and frowned. "You fear an ambush?"

 

"I fear a rout," he replied. "We are abysmally outnumbered, underfed, ill-provided for by those who wish to cast us about like pieces on the board. The men are disheartened. They will fall to the least amount of pressure."

 

"If the battle starts to turn against you, then retreat," Izaan said. "You may be able to save some of them in those forests. Save your men and sacrifice a few miles of this barren wasteland that you are throwing your lives away for."

 

Phre glanced at the distant trees and shook his head. "The fairyland will not repel goblins for long."

 

Izaan turned and faced the man, impatient. "What is it Phre?" he asked. "What do you know that I do not? What have your eyes seen?" For a long time his friend did not respond, and Izaan turned back to the rocks south of them, squinting in the stormy dusk to make out any movement other than the flutter of tattered flags that littered the body-strewn field.

 

"They have a new weapon," Phre replied. "I can smell it on the air. It is a foul, filthy sort of treachery that I fear will be our doom. And I want you to leave."

 

Izaan looked back, startled and immidately offended. "What?!? You wish to save my life and not your own?"

 

Phre bowed his head. "This is all there is for me. I owe a debt of service to my king. You do not, and I do not expect or wish to see you die along side our forces."

 

"You will not die!" Izaan spat, gripping the reins of Phre's horse passionately. The horse shied from him, jerking its head against his grip. "And I do owe a debt of service. A debt of service to you, my friend. I have not paid that debt and I intend to do so by seeing you off this field alive."

 

Phre smiled sadly. "You and your strange sense of loyalty. You hold to no kings, no laws, no lands, no boundaries of blood except those of friendship and honor. Today you fight when you should run. Tomorrow you will run rather than fight."

 

"I run from no battles worth fighting," Izaan growled, releasing the reins and placing his hand on the sword at his side. "My sword is a last resort; if I were to expend all my weapons on battles that I felt useless, I would be left only to my sword." He glanced up at Phre. "You know how I hate the sword."

 

The General drew his own sword and gazed at the watery blade. "A sword is a magnificent beauty," he said. "And you use yours so well I am amazed you are not more fond of it. Then again," he glanced at the leather bag that hung from Izaan's belt, "With such an arsenal of unique weapons, I too might grow tired of the sword."

 

"It is too slow," Izaan replied. "In the second that it takes to destroy one goblin with the sword, I could destroy two with my bow, or seven with a single one of these." He lifted the bag in his palm and the contents knocked against each other noisily. "You are distracting me!" Izaan cried, suddenly dropping the bag and whirling to glare open mouthed at his smiling companion.

 

"You are easily distracted when discussing weapons," Phre said, lifting his hand in an attempt to cover his smile.

 

"I will not leave," Izaan snarled. "No, I will not."

 

A horn behind them began to blow, filling the windy air with its mournful tone. General Phre and Izaan both turned their eyes to the south where just barely the ranks of a goblin army began to appear.

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Izaan turned away from the ranks approaching and began to walk towards the one hill the rose craggily above the rest. "I will serve better atop that cliff," he said as he passed Phre. "Be sure to pass my way should you need to retreat."

 

"Afraid we're going to leave you behind Izaan?" the General asked, his voice cracking as he stumbled over the joke.

 

Izaan looked back at his friend and watched him as he faced the battlefield, the wind pulling at his hair and cape. He was a strong figure, a man that men would follow. Izaan himself had felt this pull, this strength, that governed everthing that Phre did. He had walked at his side through the halls of the goblin cities, he had faced mountain spirits with him, he had seen the great fears and feasts of the earth. Through all dangers he had never faltered, until now. It unsettled and angered Izaan as only the unknown could.

 

"No," he replied as he continued to walk away. "I'm going to make sure you get out."

 

Phre bowed his head and sighed. Izaan's stubborn refusal to accept even what he himself knew had always been something Phre had struggled with. He and Izaan were very different men, and yet he admired his angry companion with all his soul. With one last look at the distant field, where he could see the haze of rain beginning to materialize, he turned his horse and galloped back to the ranks.

 

"Form ranks!" he yelled, riding up and down the line with his sword in hand. "Keep your positions unless I or your captains give the word!" The men scrambled to form their defensive wall as the sound of goblin horns began to waft on the thick air. "Do not fear this foe!" Phre cried. "Wait for the mark!"

 

Izaan reached the bottom of the cliff at a jog, pulling at the strings on his belt pouch as ran. He pulled out a clear marble and cast it on the ground before him where it shattered with a swirl of otherworldly fumes. His next step landed on the cloud which began to rise, lifting him to the top of the precipice. Stepping off onto the rock, he gestured at the cloud, rummaging in his pouch again. "Go."

 

He turned towards battlefield and from the height saw miles of goblin hordes pouring like blood over the land, their high-pitched shrieks carrying on the wind. As if in a nightmare he saw before him already their wideset faces, their inhumanly large eyes slashed only by thin, cat-like pupils. He pulled out a fistful of marbles and situated them between his fingers in rows, ready to cast them at a seconds notice.

 

The little cloud he had summoned only seconds before had reached the forerunners of the ranks and had turned into the shape of a dragon. It began swallowing the goblins, their bodies passing through its misty form and reappearing mangled, falling atop the heads of their companions.

 

Seeing his work, Phre turned and looked up at Izaan, a small smile touching his face.

 

Izaan dropped another marble at his feet and a clear liquid substance crawled up his feet and over his head, encasing him in a bubble. He blew out, and it expanded around him, creating a barely visible shield five feet in radius. Now he was ready. "Come little monsters," he breathed, holding his arms up in preparation. "Come meet my friends."

 

The goblins had gotten over their initial shock as the small haze dragon had slowly diminished and now charged towards the humans without fear. Over their heads a single crow flew, heading back to where they had come from.

 

"Now they know he's here," Phre muttered, again glancing up at Izaan's exposed position. He sincerely hoped the goblins did not have any weapons that might penetrate his orb. "Get ready!" he yelled, lifting his sword. The horseman at his side lifted a scarlett flag alongside him.

 

The goblins continued to run, their war screams now heavy in the soldiers' ears.

 

"Charge!" Phre yelled, kicking his horse into a gallop. The soldier thrust the banner forwards and the men burst forwards like a dam breaking from its limits, filling the air with their own cries of battle rage.

 

Phre had let the goblins get as close to his troops before charging as possible. Their momentum had been considerably slowed by the distance. They were also now in range of Izaan's attacks. Just as the distance between the two armies grew dangerously close, Phre raised his arm and pulled his horse up short. The red flag shot up and the men skidded to their knees, raising their swords defensively. "Now Izaan!" Phre yelled.

 

Izaan had already acted. A marble flew through the air and landed in the center of the gap that lay between the two armies. Flames shot out in two directions and cut the goblin army off. The goblins had no ability to slow down, and thus flew into the fires, their shrieks of surprise cut off by the flames that burnt them to ash instantly.

 

"Forward!" Phre cried. "Do not fear the flames!" And he charged his horse straight through the otherworldly conflagration to appear on the other side, unscathed. The goblins filled the air with their screams of fear and surprise as the army ran through, the fire following in streams that attacked them in groups. All throughout the battlefield, fire rained down on their heads.

 

"Die pestilence of the earth!" Izaan cried as he flung marbles into their ranks. They exploded and released the elements he had collected: water from the river Emul that surged and swept them into its embrace, icy blasts from the far north, the living darkness he had harvested from the depths of the earth. A monstrous golemn lifted itself under their feet and began crushing them with its fists, filling the air with its grinding moans.

 

The rain reached them moments after the first clash, turning the ground to a bloody mud that the armies sank into with every step. Bodies were claimed by the mud as they fell and were not seen again until some violent turning of the earth resurfaced them. Izaan threw a marble down that expanded into needles of piercing light. Some goblins fell blinded, others fell dead, their brains literally fried by the intense beams that had traveled through the open windows of their eyes.

 

At the back of the goblin lines, the crow landed and turned back into its goblin shape, bowing low to the large orc that commanded the army. "There is a magic wielder at the back lines," it grated, out of breath. "It devastates our army."

 

The orc snorted and turned to a hooded goblin behind him. "What do you suggest?" he asked the shavac. The goblin wizard reached behind him and took hold of a thick shafted arrow and bow, handing them to the orc. "This will pierce his protection," the shavac wheezed. "And, if I may commander, allow you to bring home a very prestigous prize."

 

"What mean you?" the orc boomed, narrowing his eyes.

 

"The wielder uses a magic I have never before sensed," the shavac said. "The master would wish to see him contained."

 

Understanding, the orc smirked and plunged the arrow into a barrel full of black, bubbling liquid. He handed the defiled weapon to the scout. "See that he survives," he growled. "Take down their leader. And order the release of the demons."

 

The little goblin bowed and scuttled away.

 

 

"Victory is ours!" Phre cried to his troops as the goblin army began to slowly retreat, running back with shrieks of fear. He turned his horse and waved his sword at Izaan. "Come Izaan!" he cried. "The battle is this way!"

 

Izaan waved and smiled. Phre had been wrong after all.

 

A whistling filled the air and Phre choked, blood bubbling from his lips. His eyes widened in pain as he looked down at the thick goblin arrow that protruded from his chest.

 

"NO!" Izaan bellowed, running to the edge of his cliff, eyes burning with rage.

 

Phre clutched the shaft of the arrow and looked up at Izaan, smiling softly as he fell from his horse.

 

Izaan shrank the bubble and leapt from the cliff, slowing his descent by causing pieces of ground to shoot up under his feet at every jump. He pulled out his sword and thrust it down the throat of the first goblin that got in his way, slicing off the head of the next. Reaching Phre's side, he pulled him into a sitting position. "I said no," he snarled. "Wake up!"

 

Phre opened his eyes wearily and coughed. "You can't always have it your way Izaan," he whispered. "Now go. My men will not follow you. We will bury this field with our bodies. I have seen it."

 

"You can't die in this place," Izaan hissed. "It does not fit you."

 

"I die with you at my side," Phre said, smiling. "It fits me. Now run." He pushed Izaan away violently when he didn't move. "RUN!" he bellowed and grabbed a nearby spear, pulling himself to his knees.

 

Izaan's scalp tingled and he whirled to see a goblin draw his bow back at him. He blew and the bubble expanded just as the arrow entered the air.

 

The arrow hit him in the thigh with a heavy thud that made him fall backwards with an agonized yell. It had cut through his shield without being deterred or deflected.

 

A highpitched howling filled the air and the men around him began to scream horribly. He could heard the brutal snarls and the sound of crunching jaws even from the back of the lines.

 

"Time to go," Phre whispered at his side, pushing himself to his feet with the spear he held onto. As he stood, another arrow struck him in the stomach and he raised his spear, hurling it with all his might at the archer who was impaled. Phre stumbled without his support, then heaving a few breaths, grabbed his fallen sword and ran into the battle.

 

Izaan threw a marble on the ground and the feeling of enormous hands enveloped him. The battlefield disappeared beneath him and all was darkness.

 

"Fly Izaan," Phre whispered as he saw the cloud vanish into the depths of the eastern forest. "Fly away from us." From behind the howls grew louder and the dying General turned to face an enormous dog, its flesh black and charred. Where it had separated he could see fires burning inside its body, and its mouth poured forth a constant drool of thick blood. Phre smiled and raised his sword. "Goodbye Izaan."

Edited by Degorram

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A sign on Degorram's door says thus:

 

"More to come soon! The shapeshifter is on two-day hiatus for scholarship competition starting friday."

Edited by Degorram

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Izaan fell against one of the mammoth trees and gasped for air, clutching at the hole in his leg. With every step the wound gushed forth a putrid mixture of blood and strong smelling filth. The bandage he had applied only an hour ago was soaked through and stank like a bandage left for eight days. Frustrated, he ripped the bandage off, shaking the sweat out of his eyes. His long hair stuck in strands to his sweating back and chest; he had taken his jacket off and tucked it into his belt.

 

As he paused to catch his breath he distractedly traced the woadish tattoos that covered his chest. The curls and strands that followed the line of his muscles were old, yet they had not faded: they were still as inky black as the night they had been sewn into his flesh. He closed his eyes and touched the one under his right shoulder. A static shock jolted through his finger, making him jump. "Good," he whispered.

 

The forest echoed with a distant howl and Izaan glanced over his shoulder wearily. He had been hearing those moans for several minutes now, each time growing closer and closer to his position. The dogs were fast, but not fast enough to outstrip him with ease, and he had been pushing himself to his limit in order to stay ahead of them. He had been walking like a drunkard, back and forth and over and over, daubbing his reeking blood on trees, hoping it would confuse the beasts.

 

"Run, Izaan.." Phre's voice was as unwelcome as the bitter taste of sorrow that flooded his mouth at the words. How long had it been since the battle? Two hours? Five? The stormy autumn evening had given way to a sunny spring morning, but in the forest Izaan wasn't fooled. A forest would trick you into staying forever if it could, and some were.

 

With a yell of anger Izaan ripped some leaves off the branch over his head and began scrubbing at the exposed wound. "Get out you damned slime!" he snarled huskily.

 

The branches of a tree to his right rustled and the creature poked its hideous snout into a beam of sunlight, its drool causing the mosses and flowers to shrivel and die. It snarled at Izaan's scent and stepped forward warily.

 

Izaan tore his sword from its sheath and screamed in the monster's face. "I dare you!" he bellowed. "Test me!"

 

The hound halted its approach and growled, eyes glinting with flames. From the trees two other hounds appeared, fixing him with the same hungry stare.

 

"Feel what it means to be in hell," Izaan whispered, pulling a marbel from his bag and throwing it at the closest hound with poisonous vigor. It exploded and an orb that shifted with the colors of oil enclosed its body. Through the transluscent barrier Izaan watched with angry pleasure as the creature was slowly picked apart by unseen knives until it was no more than a heap of oozing chunks floating in its own gravy.

 

The other two hounds shrieked with rage and charged Izaan. The first received his sword across its snout, but its teeth fastened on his arm in seconds, ignoring the bleeding wound on its face. The other knocked his legs out from under him with a swipe of its teeth. Izaan, his sword arm pinned but uninjured, kicked at the other hound, his feet landing as effectively as if he were kicking a corpse. It turned and took his head in its jaws, barking deafeningly. Blackness filled Izaan's vision and he fell limp.

 

--------------------------------------------------

A bird landed on a twig and observed the strange scene in its forest, blinking and cocking its head curiously. The once unmoved turf was dug up and scratched, spattered and smudged with blood. Near the edge of the forest lay a pile of remains that smouldered. A river of blood dripped from it and followed the falls in the ground, trickling slowly over the small clearing.

Edited by Degorram

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Two days the creature ran with him clutched tightly in its mouth. It did not stop to rest or eat but galloped endlessly over rocks and rivers. When he was concious he tried to grab the top of the beast's muzzle, hoping to gain a secure and steady grip. But when the creature sensed his awareness it would tighten its teeth or shake him about, forcing him back into his rag doll position. For two days he hung from its mouth, shaken into an unconsciousness that began to strengthen into a coma.

 

The hounds came to a stop outside a fortress that was surrounded by forest. The ground that defended its walls had been stripped of trees and scorched to reveal holes in the ground where the goblins resided. The building was too small to be a castle and too large to be a manor: its walls were tall enough to guard against the natural beasts that wandered the earth, but its doors were not made for war. Goblins bearing their thin spears patrolled the wall, shouting gibberish commands as the hounds approached the doors. They creaked open slowly and the dogs slipped through silently.

 

"What piece of rot is this?" a large goblin snarled as the hound deposited Izaan's body at the feet of its master, a tall grey man clothed in leggings and a tunic. The rock spirit stroked the creature's filthy coat, the muck coating its rough grey skin like oil. It turned golden eyes upon the man and touched its chin ponderously. "A gift from the first regiment," he grated, his voice as rough as the rock he possessed. "Or so my dogs report. To the green one, they say."

 

"Useless human," the goblin snorted with derision. "Too weak for sport, not pretty enough for a wall hanging. What kind of gift is this?"

 

"Do not take him lightly," the rock spirit said, straightening and wiping his filthy hand on the goblin's jerkin before tucking his ash grey hair behind his ears. "He is very ill. I assume that once he recovers he will prove to be the gift that has been promised." He leaned over to whisper in the dogs' ears and they walked stiffly away. "Now have him taken to the healer. We must make him presentable for the master."

 

The goblin growled with displeasure and grabbed Izaan's jacket roughly, dragging him through the dirt towards another part of the courtyard.

 

"Carefully," the rock spirit called. "Do be gentle." He placed his hands together and gazed at the place where the man had been lying, for there were sprouts of ivy growing where none had grown before.

Edited by Degorram

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The forest was deep and old. Its trees were several feet in diameter and coated with thick layers of moss, mushrooms, and tiny star-shaped flowers of all colors. Light barely reached through the dense canopy and trickled down like water through dust motes and mist in tiny streams of gold. There was no chatter of animal folk among the branches, no birdsong above the leaves. All of the forest was surrounded by an ancient hush that reached down into the very soul, prompting the same silence and reverence for the old ones who resided in the quiet.

 

Respecting this silence the rock spirit walked slowly through the maze of roots and mushrooms, placing his bare feet in just the right places. His eyes he kept on the ground, watching that he stepped only on grass, and his gray hair hung like curtains framing his thin face. The trees separated before him and brought him to a grandfather cherry that towered above the rest. A string beaded with feathers and stones, now faded with time, had been hung around its great trunk. The tree was just blooming and its delicate pink petals drifted to the ground like light snow. The rock spirit moved his way between the enormous roots and stood close to the trunk, his head bowed as if in the presence of royalty.

 

"Silvilan......" a voice whispered, and all the trees around rustled, groaning as their branches reached towards the cherry tree.

 

"I am here," the rock spirit murmured back.

 

The bark in front of him moved and a face faded through the moss, like a ghost's. It was followed by shoulders and arms, and a man emerged from the tree, his legs and waist still lodged in the tree's wood. His short hair -- white that faded into a dusky gold -- was moistened by morning dew and the petals of his tree settled there like jewels. He raised a hand and placed it on Silvilan's grey shoulder, his own skin the palest of greens. "Greetings friend," the tree spirit said, gazing just past Silvilan's face and into the forest. His eyes were silver with blindness.

 

"Are you well today?" Silvilan asked, his voice still hushed by the forest around them.

 

"Well," he responded softly. "I grow stronger. My father protects and nourishes me. With every passing day I feel myself pulling away from his hold."

 

"You will be able to walk again soon," the rock spirit said, gazing up at the tree. "It is good. There is more magic in this place as you grow, and soon it will take you back. We must finish the war first, Lahul."

 

"When this is all over," Lahul sighed, closing his unseeing eyes, "I will become one with the trees, once again. I will see them cover this land and the next. I hear their cries every day, Silvilan." He sucked in air and opened his eyes wide with horror. "I feel their pain as they die far away from here. My cousins, my sisters, they must not perish any longer."

 

"Lahul, I have come to tell you of a stranger who came to the fortress. My hounds brought him to me. He contains great power that perhaps we could use."

 

Lahul turned his eyes and connected them with Silvilan's gold ones. "Spirit?"

 

"Human, or so I sense him to be," the rock spirit replied. "His powers are far greater than any human I have ever encountered. He transcends legend."

 

Shaking his head, Lahul pulled back into the tree a little. "We can use no humans. The goblins we send back underground at the end. They will not disturb my forests. No, all humans must meet their end and pay for the deaths of my kin."

 

Silvilan put a hand on Lahul's arm. "Then he is a danger. You are alone in your skill of magic, Lahul. You must dispatch of him yourself."

 

The tree spirit nodded and turned his head up to the canopy. Petals cascaded over his face and he closed his eyes wearily. "Peace my friends," he whispered so softly that Silvilan knew Lahul wasn't talking to him. "Soon there will be no war. Never again." He lowered his face with a sigh and pulled himself away from Silvilan, disappearing back into the tree. "I will be with you shortly," his silent voice echoed, once again causing the trees to stir with love.

 

Silvilan turned and walked away from the tree. "Two thousand years you slept, Lahul, prince of forests. Two thousand years you were oblivious to the earth's pain. Coming back to us now to discover the crimes of man, you lead us to war. Grow strong, Prince Lahul, and shed your branches so that you may lead us in body as well as spirit." He turned back to face the tree that was now lit up in a wash of golden sunlight, the sight so peaceful that it woke the earth in him and called him to lie down and join its embrace once more. "Depart from heaven for just a little while, so that in this last push we may be rid of hell."

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The moment Izaan became conscious he sat bolt upright, sweating and shivering at the same time. He sat rigid for a moment, barely daring to breathe, every fiber of his being on fire. He knew someone had been there....

 

But the room in which he lay was empty and quiet. His muscles relaxed, the breath he had been holding in his terror rushing from his mouth all at once. He felt dizzy and weak, but whole and mostly unharmed. The wound in his leg throbbed. Gingerly he pulled back a corner of the bandage that had been wrapped tightly around his leg. The black ooze had been cleaned away and the infection had been stopped: beneath the bandage was a properly healing wound; it was gruesome still, but it was healing. Izaan knew his leg would be damaged for the rest of his life. As he moved a rustling sound and a tugging feeling at his wrists alerted him to the woven ropes tying him to the bed. The strands were long enough for him to move freely, but short enough that he could not get out of the bed.

 

Smoothing the bandage back into place he looked around the room. It was obviously that of a healer's. The tables and shelves that were pushed up against the walls were covered with books, glass instruments of alchemy, herbs, delicate grasses, mushroom caps, and other tools that he might have recognized at another time. The ceiling was a gallows, more plants and some dried animal carcasses hanging by strings from the slatted roof. A single candle burned on the small table that was next to his cot: it was almost out and the glow it gave barely reached to the corners, but there was a fire crackling in the far wall. Its heat reached Izaan and the shivering from his nightmare slowly dissipated.

 

With a sharp creaking and clanking noise - so loud in the silence that it made Izaan jump - the door opened and a dark skinned elf walked in, his hood pulled far over his eyes. His black leather armor was wet with dew, the pouches hanging from his belt full. A glint of red drew Izaan's attention to the shadowy face beneath the hood; he glimpsed a displeased grimace just before the elf turned away to place his bags on the floor.

 

"You seem upset by my presence," Izaan said blandly.

 

"Would you feel differently with a stranger in your bed and stinking up the place?" The elf turned his head as if to look at Izaan, but his face remained hidden. "The stench of Fever disgusts me."

 

"Do forgive me," Izaan said. "But you see I came here against my will."

 

The elf finally turned to face Izaan, piercing him with the glittering rubies that were his eyes. "Most of us did," he said softly. He pulled his hood off wearily and cast it into a corner, shaking out his moist hair. "Do not be mistaken, however," he said, sitting on a short stool near the wall. "When I say 'most of us' I speak on behalf of barely half a dozen souls. 'Us' is merely a representation of the physical creatures in this fort. The rest are either spirits or goblins." He glanced up at Izaan and looked him over, partly curiously, partly sadly. "You'll not be here long enough to participate in our happy group."

 

"Won't I?" Izaan asked, glancing down at the ropes that held him, wondering if he could break them quickly enough. The look in the elf's eyes had caused the shivering to beset his shoulders again.

 

"No," the elf said shortly, standing up again. "The last time the hounds brought a morsel to Silvilan's Forest, he was taken into the inner fortress and then promptly discarded again. There's a pile of rotting flesh at the border of the wood, and it's getting wider and longer by the day. It separates Silvilan's land from that he gave to the goblins." He stared into Izaan's eyes. "Past that, there's nothing but rock and holes in the ground."

 

Izaan frowned slightly. Either the elf was truly attempting to show him the futility of his position, or he was giving him a map. He took a mental note, but it was a small one.

 

The elf walked over to Izaan and lifted the bandage on his leg carelessly, as if he did it only out of a lack of something to do. "Healing well," he said. "It would have been better for you if it had gotten infected. An amputation would have been best. Buy you more time."

 

"You're convinced this Silvilan has brought me here to murder me?" Izaan asked.

 

"Oh yes," the elf nodded. "He'll get what he wants from you and then string you up for a few days. Or he'll torture you until he figures out he can't get what he wants, and then he'll publicly torture you to death. He has no patience for the physical world, and even less for the race of man. I am an elf; that is why I still live."

 

Izaan sighed. "Perhaps I was man once, but I am no longer. I should think that the wiser world of elves and spirits would recognize that."

 

"Oh I do," the elf said, and he poked one of Izaan's tattoos with a long, dark finger. "I've heard it's a painful process. However, Silvilan will not care what you are now. At your birth, you were man. At your death you will return to man's halls. In your fiber, your being, your very soul, you are and always will be man." He blinked. "Or so Silvilan believes."

 

"What is he?"

 

"He is a tree spirit.

 

*edit later*

Edited by Degorram

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