A Heritage of Power 4: Jerik's Story 9.99:
by Fur and Fantasy
full contents and notes located at the bottom of the file
"Are you sure about this?" Elder Kora asked the lean Raccoon female next to him, her fur silvered with age as she knelt next to the scrying pool beneath the Tower of Divination and Necromancy.
"I'm sure, cousin," she nodded. "Thanik agrees ... he will be here with Scyress shortly. It may be nothing ... or even good news ... but we are sure that magic is involved in this. Powerful magic we can not leave uninvestigated." She explained, nodding towards the swampland visible in the scrying pool.
"Agreed," the ancient Wolf spoke as he entered the cavern, the sleek, relatively youthful and combat-fit feline form of Scyress only a half step behind him.
"So what's in the swamp?" Scyress asked, at ease with talking to Elders at this point in her life.
"To the best of our knowledge, nothing," Thanik explained. "Scyress, this is Melissa, Elder of the Divination school."
"A pleasure to meet you, Scyress," the older Raccoon said, inclining her head with respect for the outworld-necromancer. "And Thanik is correct. We haven't seen any creature within ... every time I come close to the center, my spells begin to unravel, so I suspect there is an anti-magic field there. Whatever it is, however, Thanik and I can both sense potent necromantic energy. This becomes even more interesting when you realize that this swamp is in the Blight ... and wasn't there last week."
"That is very interesting." Scyress nodded, now seriously interested. "The amount of power required to undo even part of the Blight is remarkable from all indications. So what do you want me to do there?" She looked around at the three of them. It didn't sound like the lead-in to her usual missions.
"Primarily, investigate it and see what you can tell us about the magic involved," Thanik explained. "As you might imagine, any magic capable of returning the Blight to livable terrain, removing the taint ... well, it would be invaluable, if it was reliable and something we could control. We would also like you to look into just what the intent of this is, if there is one. I doubt that the Blight is just spontaneously manifesting the magic needed to heal itself ... though stranger things have happened."
"Agreed on all counts," she nodded sharply. "I will go, though it may be good to have someone better versed in the actual magic of the Blight, or at least local Necromancy, come along for an expert opinion."
"Agreed," Thanik nodded, pleased that she had brought it up. "Have you worked with Mage Nemn before?"
"Not in the field, but I have consulted with him several times," Scyress nodded. "He seems quite aware of just how poor he is at combat, and his Defenders are good at what they do."
"Correct on all fronts," Kora chuckled. "He is, however, one of the foremost scholars when it comes to the Blight. We don't think he'd be a liability, and he is willing to go along. There is also a favor I'd like to ask of you. Apprentice Jerik is nearly at the point where he should become a mage, but his career choices make us rather leery of promoting him without at least one trip into the Blight with a more skilled mage to make sure he has the skills necessary."
"And I'm convenient with this mission," she nodded easily. "Has he been chaperoned before?"
"Not in the Blight, though he has worked with Mage Melinda before," Kora said easily. "He worked with her last month when she went to deal with those bandits working with the troll. He also has a fair amount of solo experience in the field for somebody his age."
"Is she still at the Academy?" She focused on the young Raccoon. "I would like to talk with her before we head out. I will take him, unless he is completely unprepared to be responsible. Though I am curious, what is his career choice that he needs to know the Blight so young?"
"He plans to start hunting some of the creatures there, and bringing slaves out of it as he can," Kora explained, editing the actual statement Jerik made a bit to make it more reasonable. "And yes, she is. She should be available before you go."
"Ambitious," she chuckled softly, though there was definite approval in her eyes. "I shouldn't be surprised, given what stories there are about him already."
"Quite ambitious," Kora chuckled. "And to be honest, I'm reasonably certain he'd be fine. It's just a matter of wanting to be sure; I'd rather he didn't go out and get himself turned into lunch for something nasty out there. There is one thing to keep an eye out for. If you run into skin-thieves along the way, be ready for him to be extremely aggressive. He's still rather cross about the one that almost got him."
"Noted," she nodded easily, then chuckled. "I can hardly blame him for that one. I'll be ready if it happens. Has he taken one out yet, other than the one his Defender turned to pulp saving him?"
"No, though more for lack of opportunity than any lack of desire," Melissa said, shaking her head. "He's been speaking with me about charms to detect them lately."
"He's smart, he studies, he plans, he's a team player, a natural leader and half-decent warrior with the instincts and stomach for combat ... if I'd run across him younger, I might try to take him on as an apprentice." Scyress shook her head. "They're very good traits in a hunter. I'll do my best to polish them while he's in my charge."
"Thank you, Mage Scyress," Kora smiled. "If he turns out to be trouble, please let us know."
"I will," she smiled slightly. "I expect he'll make the trip ... interesting ... even if he's not trying to. Is there anything else you do know about this swamp?"
"You should expect the creatures you find there to be stronger than usual; they've got more readily available food, and the living isn't as harsh," Thanik explained. "So while they might be less irritable, they'll probably be in better shape."
"Probably a higher concentration too, drawn in from the desert." Scyress murmured mostly to herself. "At least if what created this doesn't expel them."
"Which we can't be sure of," Thanik nodded. "And, of course, you're familiar with dealing with any area that suffers from a potent death-energy background. Anything that dies might need to be put down several times."
"A particularly good reason to send me," she nodded. "It is my specialty."
"Quite," Thanik chuckled. "As usual, you'll be compensated for your time and expense, and we will be interested in any undead specimens you can recover. If you would like, we'll make a casket of preservation available for your use, since I don't believe you have one of your own available."
"It would be useful if I find specimens for you," she nodded.
"Well, if there are no more questions, I think we can let you go get ready then," Kora said easily.
"Only one. Has Jerik, and their teachers, been informed yet?"
"They have been informed to be ready for an official mission prior to his promotion to mage," Melissa said easily. "We haven't told them where yet, but they are mostly prepared, and Jerik has few classes left at this point."
"Good," she nodded. "Will you inform him I wish to see his full preparations, including his Defender, for the mission in my quarters after lunch tomorrow?"
"With pleasure," the younger Raccoon nodded. "I'll also tell him it will be to the Blight," he chuckled. "He'll see you then."
"A swamp in the Blight, please." She chuckled before turning to leave. "I do want to see if he knows how to pack and what to pack, given what we know of the mission."
"So, what is it that Scyress wants to talk to us about again?" Colin murmured as he hugged Melinda from behind, the two of them waiting outside the Cat's door just after Melinda had knocked.
"Jerik and that mission he came with us on," she said, pressing back against him with a light rumble. "Mmm ... sounds like he'll be going with her on one to the Blight soon."
"Hard to believe it's just four years since we saved the both of them from that place, isn't it?" He mused.
"A little," Melinda chuckled. "Look at it this way, it just proved it's time to have kids of our own, now that the one we saved is growing up," she winked back at him.
"Maybe we should ask to barrow that statue of his," he nuzzled her as the door opened.
"Ah, good timing," Scyress smiled at them. "The food just arrived. Come in." She bowed politely as she stepped aside.
"Thank you," Melinda smiled, stepping in, Colin following her. "And we'll talk about that later," she winked back at him. "So, how have you been, Scyress? It's been a while."
"Doing quite well," she smiled as they settled around the oval table in the center of the room to the smells and sights of a carnivore finger food feast with plenty of exotic fruits, fresh breads and sweet mead. "I'm still looking for the right Defender. It's difficult to find an experienced one that wants a mage and doesn't have one. It's largely been business as usual. The names are new, some of the powers, but undead are largely what they were back home, and they are just as vulnerable to my powers. It's been very good to get out there and make a difference again."
It was then that Melinda realized why she felt everything was a bit odd here. Everything was curved, if it wasn't a circle or oval. The table, the chair seats and backs, the windows, the doors, the mirror, the artwork ... even the bookshelves had a wave to their front and the walls weren't flat. There wasn't a strait line in the place except for the books themselves, and those were organized so there were as few as possible.
"Is the decorating something from back home?" She asked Scyress.
"Yes," she smiled fondly for the unusual look. "My Order represents the cycle of live and death, the circular nature of all things. It's an outward representation of that."
"It's definitely unusual," Melinda mused. "Probably takes a little getting used to, but it's interesting in its way."
"It's what I know," Scyress chuckled. "But what I wanted to talk to you about is Jerik and Tomar. I'm their next chaperone, and I'd like to know more about them before I take them into the Blight."
"He's very cooperative, especially if you make sure he remembers he's not in charge," Melinda explained. "It's not that he tries to take over or put himself in charge, but if there doesn't seem to be somebody leading things, he tends to forget he isn't. It's a little irritating sometimes, but not too bad. He's good at following orders too, so you're not going to be fighting him to get him to do what he's supposed to."
"Good," Scyress nodded. "That I can deal with. I'm much the same way. It's not an uncommon trait in natural leaders and those who tend to work alone."
"He's the first, but not the second," Melinda nodded. "Another thing to keep in mind; soundproofing was the second enchantment he mastered for his tent," she chuckled. "Make sure you've got somebody inside saying it's okay to come in before you open up his tent."
"Oh God," Colin groaned, shaking his head and blushing brightly under his multi-colored fur. "Yes, definitely make sure of that."
"Even if they aren't fooling around, they're probably naked and grooming, and Jerik, for reference, wakes up like a Defender if you catch them asleep. Thankfully he actually wakes up fast so no one got hurt, but he attacks before he thinks if he's startled too badly." Melinda added. "Overall a good trait for surviving the Blight, but something to be aware of if you're a friend. You'll want to be sure Nemn and the others know about that too. Be a shame to have some sort of misunderstanding and somebody gets hurt."
"I will." Scyress chuckled. "Wouldn't do to give him a heart attack either walking into a show."
"Which they quite possibly could," Melinda agreed with a chuckle. "Another thing to watch out for is that he's worse than most mages when it comes to curiosity. If he doesn't have a reason not to, he'll tend to investigate anything odd he comes across."
"Which is where his cooperative nature becomes most useful." She nodded. "How are they about having what they need?"
"After the problems they had getting his staff made, very good about it," Melinda said with an easy chuckle. "They've had more than enough run-ins with not being prepared for what was coming at them. They're just lucky that we provide packs, or they'd probably be overloaded with gear."
"More likely they'd have gotten one," Scyress chuckled softly. "They are quite the useful item. Is there anything else you can think of about him?"
"Expect him to find any trouble in the area," Colin chuckled. "Or, more accurately, expect it to find him. Not sure what it is, but that kit's got a talent for being at the center of any trouble."
"Is he anywhere as close to as good at getting out of it?" She asked seriously.
"He's very good at getting out of it," Melinda reassured her. "He doesn't mind being rescued, but he and Tomar managed to not only be ambushed by an advance group of the bandits we were chasing, but managed to get loose and lead us to their hideout afterwards."
"Impressive." She murmured, honestly a bit surprised. "I think this is going to be a very interesting trip."
"Scyress, did you ever think it would be anything else once you heard that you might be taking Jerik along?" Melinda asked, the question an honest one for all the Collie was grinning.
"Oh, I knew he was a magnet for adventure. I didn't realize how much of one." She chuckled back over a mug of spiced cider. "He's going to make quite an impression on the Blight in the coming years."
"There are far worse things that could happen," Melinda mused. "By the way - if you can tell us, just what is it that's going on? We didn't get much in the way of details."
"We don't know much. There is a potent anti-magic field in the middle of a swamp in the Blight that wasn't there last week." She summarized what she knew. "Something is undoing the Blight, but it's heavily Necromantic in nature. Right now, we're just investigating. It could be a good thing, it could be something really bad, but anything that can undo even part of the Blight warrants attention."
"Most definitely," Melinda murmured. "I'm surprised we haven't heard about it before; something like that would attract attention, you'd think."
"It's only a few days old. News doesn't travel that fast, even here." Scyress reminded her with a chuckle. "It's only because of the Elder's scrying pool that we know about it yet. How is Tomar at his job?"
"Very good, and his confidence is improving," Colin said approvingly. "He used to be very unsure of himself, but he's mostly past the inferiority complex stage of the job by now. It's not uncommon, particularly if your mage is a good fighter."
"And everything says Jerik is one of the better ones for his age," she nodded. "Good. How's their teamwork?"
"As good as any Mage/Defender team their age, better than many. They've been sparing against a full combat mage with two Defenders for some time now." Melinda said. "They might not look it though. As you've said, Jerik is a good fighter in his own rights. They work together as a team, but it's not the usual tactic all the time. Jerik won't stay back behind cover if he knows he can or has to get into the thick of things."
"Not difficult to deal with," Scyress nodded as she spread preserves on a slice of bread. "It tends to be how I operate as well. Anything else?"
"Mmm ... just a thank you for breakfast," Melinda smiled as she and her Defender started to eat along with their fellow Mage.
"So, do we want to camp outside the swamp before we head in?" Nemn asked Scyress as they stood at the border between the Blight and the strange, dark swampland, the border as clear-cut and unnatural as any in the Blight. "We'll have more light and time to explore if we do, I imagine, but it's your call."
"An easier camp to make as well," she nodded. "We make camp here, head in at first light."
"Yes ma'am," Tomar nodded, starting to pull out the gear for their camp, Jerik helping him even as Nemn's defenders set up their two tents.
"So, what do you think so far?" Nemn asked the other Cat, pulling his hood back to reveal his black-furred face.
"He's easier to control than I expected." She nodded towards Jerik and knelt to set her a bottle filled with milky smoke down in the third corner of their site. "A good deal more realistic too, given some of what he's gotten into."
"This sort of work is three weeks of boredom and walking, and a few days of raw nerves and sheer terror," Nemn chuckled as Scyress unstoppered the bottle and stepped back along with Nemn as the thick white smoke flowed out to form a tent. "And he's learned it well, yes. You know, I'm surprise there isn't some attention here besides us ... not locals, but something that would undo the magics involved in creating the Blight would almost certainly attract the attention of other magical beings."
"They may already be here," she pointed out. "Or have been here. The locals have almost a full moon's head start on us."
"It's not the locals I'm worried about," Nemn admitted. "Do they have demons where you come from?"
"Yes, but they are extremely rare above something an apprentice's Defender, or likely an apprentice, could kill." She nodded.
"Rare, but so is a swamp suddenly springing forth from the Blight," he pointed out. "With any luck, nothing will happen. But I'd be surprised if some of the more powerful ones didn't take notice and at least send followers to check things out."
"Then we'll deal with them, or run and come back with appropriate forces," Scyress said easily. "Whatever is doing this may well be more potent than a demon."
"Granted," he nodded. "Just thought you should know what we might be looking at. Given the influence involved here, I wouldn't be surprised if we ran into death-fiends ... might keep it in mind when you're studying tomorrow morning."
"I will," she nodded and glanced at where the three Defenders were making short work of the fire, meal and tending to their armor and weapons while Jerik went digging in their bag of holding for something.
"I think it's about time for dinner," Nemn smiled and watched as Jerik and Tomar began their nightly ritual of grooming that started before dinner and finished well after they went to the privacy of their tent. "Shall we go?"
"Sounds, and smells, good." She nodded. "I really must find a Defender who can field cook."
"Or just somebody willing to follow you around that can," Jerik piped up with a grin as he started on Tomar's largely exposed expanses of fur while the Rohr worked on cleaning and caring for his new lacquered armor. It was lighter than his usual, but it wouldn't rust or rot in the swamp either.
"Have a hard time getting somebody as domestic as either of these two though," Shayna teased, Nemn's feline Defender smirked over at Jerik and Tomar. "You do realize we're marching into a swamp tomorrow?"
"Grooming isn't just about looking good," Tomar said, somehow managing to look both dignified and offended without anyone buying it.
"It's called social bonding," Jerik chuckled, not the least bit apologetic or embarrassed by any of it.
"There are more fun ways to do that," Shayna teased.
"Yeah, but most of them aren't really suitable during dinner," Tomar smirked back.
"Those are for when we get into the tent." Jerik chuckled. "Same as you."
"Maybe I should get you one of those kits," Shayna mused, leaning over to nuzzle Nemn lightly, the black-furred Cat chuckling and kissing his tabby mate lightly.
"Just remember that the attention goes both ways," he teased.
"You're no fun," Shayna pouted playfully. "Rekk? You're awfully quiet tonight."
"You're making up for it," the Bull smirked back at her over polishing his (weapon of choice).
"Well, if you guys are going to continue to talk, some of us are hungry." Scyress chuckled, enjoying the playful banter and teasing even as she served herself from the large stew pot that smelled of good meat, herbs and vegetables.
"Since when have we let talking get in the way of dinner?" Rekk asked, serving himself, Shayna, and Nemn, leaning back to eat as Tomar served Jerik and himself last. "Though, in all seriousness, we should be sure we get a good night's sleep. No telling what we'll run into tomorrow."
"Except that at the center of this is Necromantic and likely very powerful." Scyress nodded seriously. "It may or may not be trouble." She cautioned the Defenders.
"Necromancy rarely isn't," Shayna pointed out. "No offense."
"Yet you are traveling with someone who proves that assuming it will be is a bad idea." Scyress replied. "If you attacked me, I'd strike back, and rightfully so. It doesn't make me evil. This could be a Necromancer bent on healing, as I am."
"I'll wait until we see walking corpses to start a fight," the tabby said easily.
"We're just not going to be expecting it to go all that peacefully," Rekk concluded. "If it does, then great. But it's our job to be ready for trouble to start."
"As long as 'ready for trouble' doesn't become 'starts trouble'," she nodded in acceptance. "It would be good to have the Blight disappear to what it was."
"Especially if it took some time, and allowed the locals to get ready for it," Nemn agreed. "This place is a scar on Herath. It would be good to see that start to heal."
"I don't think you'll find many who disagree." Tomar nodded, his voice soft and lulled with the pleasure of a filling belly and the attention from his mage and mate.
"Going well so far, I think," Tomar mused as he and Jerik retired to their tent, the Rohr starting to groom Jerik once he'd stripped his robes and light armor off and lay down on his stomach with a welcoming groan.
"Yes, but in the morning is when the interesting part starts." He arched into the contact. It didn't matter that they'd done this nearly every night for years now, every time felt as good, emotionally and physically, as the first. "How are you feeling about the lighter armor?"
"Really hoping we don't run into anything that'll really put it to the test," Tomar admitted. "It's better than nothing, and it's nice and light, but I prefer the steel. Feels sturdier, and is, until we get to the point where we can put a lot of magic into that stuff."
"Even then, the steel would be better with the same enchantments," Jerik's tail made a lazy pattern that brushed up against Tomar often. "I'm hoping it doesn't happen either, but I've got an armor spell that might help. Not much now, but it should be a bit of extra protection."
"You save that for yourself," Tomar said sternly, kissing Jerik's neck. "At least the first one, okay?"
"Yes, mother," he teased, though he meant it and would. "I'm not the one in lighter armor."
"No, just the one who always wears lighter armor," Tomar chuckled. "On the plus side, if this place does spread out, maybe we won't have cause to go hunting in here as much in the future."
"As pleasant a reason as any I can think of to do something else." He murmured and stretched out languidly before rolling over to his back.
"Mmm... is this a subtle hint to stop thinking and keep grooming?" Tomar asked, making a point of teasing Jerik's balls with the brush before starting to work on his chest.
"Something like that," he purred and relaxed, enjoying the abbreviated grooming they had planned in favor or sleep.
"You know, now that we're in here, it's not so hard to believe this is still part of the Blight," Shayna mused as the group of six slowly made their way through the swampland. They'd entered it barely an hour before, and already they could see the influence she was talking about.
The plant-life, while it looked to be years old, had grown out in patterns that felt vaguely disturbing. Mangrove trees seemed to be leaning in towards them menacingly, and the general shortage of wildlife made the place disturbingly silent. It was dark too, the punishing sun of the Blight blocked out by the vegetation that reached up far above them.
"Agreed," Scyress nodded, her entire reality on alert. "Whatever undid the desert didn't undo the rest."
"No ... and there is something here," Nemn warned them. "Shayna, Rekk, alert guard, hunter's eyes."
"Yes sir," Rekk nodded, his ears swiveling above his head, his long, curved horns shifting slightly as he made tiny movements to his head to get the best sounds he could. Shayna drew a short knife, holding it flush with her wrist for easy use if they needed it.
Scyress quietly began to weave a potent combat spell to be ready the moment trouble hit.
Jerik heard too, and extended his Force-senses to seek out what didn't belong. He felt it in the distance ... two creatures that practically reeked of the same nature as the family's Demon that his father's early death had spared him. One of them a bundle of fury and hatred, the other sending a cold chill down his spine, like death itself.
"Demons." Jerik murmured, more to himself than anyone else, but Tomar instantly hefted CrestRider a little more firmly.
"What can you sense about them?" Nemn asked, reaching into his robes and pulling out the short, gnarled wand that served as his staff.
"One is full of rage and hatred, the other cold as death." He answered quietly. "Powerful, but I don't think powerful for their kind."
"One of them's probably a zovvut then ... nobody look it in the eyes, that goes double for you and your Defender."
"Yes, sir." The young pair said in unison. Both meant it too, much to Nemn's relief.
"I hear them," Rekk said quietly, brandishing his own massive two-handed sword. "Flames in the distance."
"I sure hope you're right about not being powerful for their kind," Nemn said seriously, moving his wand and casting a defensive spell around the group, runes glowing on the ground as a magical circle formed. "Everybody stay close together until we see what we're up against," he added, quickly casting a few other spells to aid the Defenders.
"They don't think much of themselves," he explained and cast the first of two armor spells for himself, then for Tomar, and prepared for a fight the likes of which he'd never seen.
"We have no reason to fight you," Nemn called out. "No reason, or desire."
The sound of crackling flames drew closer, a creature laughing madly from above them.
"Well! That should make this simple then," the high-pitched voice said, a branch bursting into flames above them just before it broke off and fell towards the group to be swept away by a wave of Jerik's hand.
The young tom closed his eyes and gave his chances over to the Force and the senses that could easily track these two.
"Well, what are you up to?" The voice asked. "Let's see how strong you all are," it crooned, cold fear washing over each of them. Tomar shifted his grip, taking deep breaths to calm himself. Shayna rowled low in her throat, looking up towards the voice and throwing her knife as she caught a glimpse of blue-white flames through the foliage.
"Ouch!" The creature snarled, just before it crashed down, ripping the iron knife from its arm and melting it in its grasp.
The fiend was tall and lean, wreathed in flames, eyes burning with hatred. It looked almost like a skin-thief set ablaze, its fingers extending into long, wicked claws.
"Palrethee; keep it back!" Nemn shouted.
Scyress shot a look at Jerik, grateful he wasn't looking. The last thing they needed was for the youth to go ballistic against this creature.
She brought her hands together, her black and silver staff centered on her body, and let loose a crackling globe of pure energy unlike anything a Mage on this world had used before to envelope the demon.
As the spell engulfed it, it let out a howl of pain; the semi-divine energy searing its flesh before sending it back to whatever Hell had spawned it.
"Behind us!" Tomar shouted, just as another tree fell towards them, a much, much larger creature stepping out and roaring. It was grotesquely obese, pasty, corpse-like flesh rolling along its body. Still, there was no mistaking the power of the demonic creature, or the powerful, bat-like wings that spread out behind it.
"Sweet Marash," Tomar whispered, barely remembering to lower his eyes from its burning gaze before reaching into his pack and pulling out a vial of alchemist's fire, hurling the mixture at the zovvut. The bottle burst on its hide, spreading burning pitch along its body, and it laughed, a low, terrible sound as it leaped to the side of the group, trying to attack Scyress.
Despite the significant size difference she blocked it's blow with her staff and intoned something in her own archaic language of power while Tomar charged forward to defend her, knowing Jerik was doing just as he should when something invisible slammed down against the demon's head.
The zovvut backed away from Scyress, starting to speak the words to a spell of its own. Tomar hacked at it with CrestRider, the blade biting through its skin and drawing forth thick black blood.
The demon howled, and Nemn signaled to Shayna and Rekk to make their moves now, while it was distracted.
The tabby darted around behind it, leaping up onto the creature's back and pulling out two daggers as Rekk moved in and thrust his sword into the fiend, its thick skin resisting the steel passing into it. The demon turned its gaze on the Bull, black smoke rising off of his body as its eyes burned, but Shayna drove her daggers into the orbs, earning a howl of pain as Tomar hacked at it again.
It also gave Scyress the time she needed to finish her spell. Her own eyes shimmered with silver and gold light as she shifted to face the demon.
"Face me, zovvut!" She demanded sharply.
The demon did just that, after grabbing Shayna from its back and hurling her into Rekk. Bleeding sockets stared into hers as it backhanded Tomar, knocking the Rohr from his feet, and came at her.
"Not good," Scyress muttered as she leapt out of the way of its blind attack and fired off a blazing series of energy orbs.
"*Jerik, buy us some time,*" Nemn whispered to the younger kit. "*If you can lift it, that'd be a good start!*"
"*I'll try,*" he responded and focused his efforts on lifting the massive creature with his mind. It had been a long time since he'd tried anything so heavy.
With effort, he managed it, though the creature's thrashing against his hold made it harder.
"*Release me!*" It ordered him, the force of a magical suggestion behind the telepathic command.
Jerik staggered back physically, fighting the command with what he knew would work; the risk to Tomar if he failed to hold the demon until the older mages did something that could get rid of it.
Scyress used the time to summon another ball of fierce light that ate at the demon's flesh before vanquishing it like it's smaller companion.
The moment the weight was gone from his grasp, Jerik swayed, then dropped to his knees in the mushy soil as his strength failed him for several minutes.
Tomar got back to his feet and hurried over, taking Jerik by the shoulders and supporting him as Nemn moved to help Rekk and Shayna.
"Scyress, do you have any spells to deal with wraith attacks?" Nemn asked as Rekk stood up, shaking his head to clear it a bit.
"Yes," she nodded. "Who needs ...." she paused as her well-trained gaze recognized the effects on Rekk and hurried over to help the large Bull. A quick spell later, and he was fine again, making sure that Shayna was as well after being tossed into him.
"Are you going to be okay?" Tomar asked Jerik softly.
"Yes," he nodded, even as he leaned uncharacteristically heavily against his Defender's armored side. "Just worn out. Lifting it took more out of me than I expected. Just need to catch my breath."
"We should probably find somewhere safe to rest for a while anyways," Nemn said. "I want to be sure there were no lasting effects, and check my notes on something."
"Up on my back," Tomar told Jerik even as he lowered himself fully to make it easier. He was grateful he didn't get an argument, but it also reinforced just how worn out the tom was.
Red-Wing moved cautiously, quietly, towards the camp. There weren't supposed to be any new arrivals in the swamp lately ... not that he knew of, at least. There had been the demons, but they weren't at all likely to be camping nearby. No, they were far more likely to have fled after the Enders had dealt with them.
Which meant the newcomers were of intense interest to the Hawk. He pulled his dark hood up over his head and crept closer, trying to stay hidden.
Meanwhile, Nemn and Scyress were conferring in her tent.
"I think the demons had a fight before we ran into them," the black Cat told her. "I don't know if you noticed, but the zovvut had a series of parallel scars that were relatively fresh. Claw marks of some sort."
"Makes it all the more likely that a person or group is behind this swamp." Scyress nodded. "The real question now is whether they're still alive or not."
"Well, the demons were leaving," Nemn pointed out. "Granted, it's possible they would have walked out afterwards, enjoyed the time away from Hell, but more likely they were unable to use their spells to leave for whatever reason. Which is what worries me," he admitted. "Palrethees and zovvuts aren't the strongest demons out there, but you saw them. Fighting them off wouldn't be an easy task."
"If the anti-magic is strong, which it likely is, we have three Defenders with us and both Jerik and I are competent fighters without our magic." Scyress reminded him. "It is something to be very careful of, however."
"Even without their magic, demons are strong fighters, but you're right," Nemn nodded. "At least whatever it is shouldn't be able to use magic against us either. So, we keep making our way towards the center after we break camp?"
"Yes. It's why we're here. I think Jerik's largely recovered. He just expended an incredible amount of energy in the fight."
"Agreed," Nemn nodded. "And Rekk seems to have recovered nicely; it's good that you -" He was interrupted by a sudden squawk of surprise from down below, and Tomar shouting back.
"Company!" The Rohr shouted.
"Disabled company, I think." Scyress actually chuckled as everyone hurried to see what was going on. They found Tomar laying on top of a mostly-obscured figure in a dark, hooded robe. Red, feathered fingers scrambled in the muck beneath him, the newcomer trying to drag himself out from under the adolescent Rohr's heavy frame.
"Let him up, Tomar." Scyress ordered evenly, curious about what had crept so close to clamp.
The Rohr stood, letting the red Hawk up, panting heavily.
"He was sneaking up on the camp when I came across him," Tomar explained. "Didn't bother asking questions first, around here. Not after the demons."
"No demon," he squawked in protest as he got to his feet and out from the Rohr's easy squishing range. "Just checking newcomers out. We weren't expecting you."
"Who are you then?" Nemn asked him. "We thought this place was deserted yet."
"No, not deserted." The Hawk shook his head sharply. "Enders make this, we come."
"Enders?" Shayna asked. "Who are they?"
"Very powerful," the Hawk said eagerly. "They ended the Blight, drove off the demons. Teaching us how to spread their power, bring in others."
"We would like to speak with the Enders." Scyress told him. "We are here because of this lushness. An end to the entire Blight would be a great thing." She played into his eagerness and story shamelessly.
"Yes, yes it would," he agreed, nodding. "I will speak with the others, see if the Enders will see you, yes?" He asked, looking around the group.
"Yes," she nodded, speaking for everyone. "We will wait here for word."
"I go then," the Hawk nodded eagerly, taking off as Nemn finished his silent casting of a tracking spell.
"That guy gives me the creeps," Tomar murmured.
"Not nearly as much as his Enders currently are," Jerik shivered. "He's ... not harmless, but just very excited and protective of this wonder." He looked back at Nemn when the older tom raised an eyebrow. "Compared to the Blight out there, it is." He motioned back the way they'd come. "A creepy wonder, but a wonder."
"I'll give you that," the black Cat nodded. "We should know where he's going fairly soon as well."
"And hopefully a bit more," Scyress nodded, then caught the look of displeasure on Nemn's face. "That anti-magic zone?"
"I think so, that or somebody dispelled it as a precaution," he muttered. "Should we wait for him, show of good faith in case they don't know what happened?"
"Set up an alarm spell around camp and wait," she nodded.
"He didn't have any expectation of them not wanting to see us, or that they wouldn't be friendly to us." Jerik offered. "He's just expected to ask first before leading new folks in."
"Which makes sense," Shayna nodded. "After all, if you've got a cult, I imagine you'd want some quality control."
"Would you mind setting up the alarm, Jerik?" Nemn asked him. "Silent. He might not have been expecting trouble, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't prepare for it. Cults can have this nasty way of not liking intruders, after all."
"Understood," the younger tom nodded and began his work, something he was fairly skilled at after doing it so many nights that month already.
Still, it was a sign that they trusted his spells, were willing to let him handle that part of things. A small sign, but a sign nonetheless.
A few moments later, the spell was in place, and they settled in to wait.
Without so much as a sound between them, Jerik pulled one of their grooming brushes out and began to work on what little exposed fur Tomar had, quickly settling the jumpy Rohr down.
The next hour passed fairly quietly as they waited for their new acquaintance to return ... if he would. They couldn't be sure what had happened. He could have been eaten by some creature they couldn't sense, or he could just be busy talking with his friends.
Or he could have been preparing an ambush.
Either way, the time passing did fairly little to help them calm down, except for Jerik and Tomar, who had the entire process down as long as they had a brush handy.
'Intruder' Jerik suddenly gave a quick hand signal and subtly motioned towards the east of their camp.
Tomar stood up, moving around to that side of Jerik as the Rekk and Shayna did much the same. They could hear something large moving around, now that they were focused on it. It was moving slowly, like it was trying to keep quiet.
Then Tomar caught a glimpse of dark red through the trees, and relaxed a bit.
'Plate-walker,' he signaled back to them. 'Shouldn't be dangerous if we don't give it trouble.'
"Then we don't give it trouble," Jerik gave a sigh of relief and everyone settled down again to wait on the Hawk's return.
The gigantic creature wandered towards the camp a bit, its massive, bald, wrinkled head poking out of the trees and looking down at the gathered Mages and Defenders, nearly twice as tall as Rekk from the looks of it.
Normally, there'd be a good chance that it would come after them, trying to drive off potential competition for what plant life there was, food it desperately needed to keep its massive body going. Most of its species had already migrated into the grasslands surrounding the Blight they were native to; presumably this one had wandered back in now that the swamp had returned.
Here, it seemed perfectly content to turn back into the trees, reaching up to pull down a branch, stripping off the leaves and casually continuing to eat as it wandered back off.
"You know, something that damned ugly doesn't have a right to look that harmless," Tomar chuckled slightly, shaking his head. "Especially not when it could rip any one of us in two if it wanted."
"Just a very good reminder that when something, anything, has what it needs, it's usually pretty docile." Jerik smiled slightly at the slow-moving pile of armor and claws. "Those are usually pretty vicious from my reading, but look at it when it has plenty to eat."
"They're hunted by practically every bounty-hunter in the Blight too, if they think they can get away with it," Nemn nodded. "The plates make excellent shields, and good armor when they're properly treated. A path I hope you don't choose to go down," he added, glancing at Jerik.
"Not in my plan." He responded simply but without a shred of deception. "I want to wipe out the monsters of the Blight. That's just ... an animal." He almost growled, his hatred of the 'monsters' brilliantly clear in his amber eyes.
"Good," Nemn smiled. "Too many people, Mage or otherwise, don't make a difference. Particularly not when there's good money to be made. Not many people care that they're one of the few things that keeps the razorgrass under control around here, that sort of thing."
"I'd kill one if I needed to protect us, or to eat, but it's not on my list of targets." Jerik nodded agreeably as everyone relaxed and tuned out Nemn's rambling about plate-walkers and the condition of the Blight in general. Only Jerik and Tomar really paid full attention to him, neither one giving up any chance to learn more about the land they planned to hunt and live in soon.
After a few minutes of a remarkably brief lecture, at least for Nemn, Jerik felt his spell go off again. And this time, he was pretty sure it wasn't an animal.
"Back!" The Hawk called to them, stepping into the clearing along with two others, their features hidden by their hoods.
"Have the Enders agreed to speak to us?" Scyress asked hopefully.
"They have," the Hawk said easily. "I am Rilk, these are Shen and Heth," he said, indicating the two behind him, who nodded politely. "They've been here longer than I have, but not too much."
"Excellent," Scyress nodded, noting that the three Defenders had finished breaking the small camp they'd set up to rest at. "You will show us to them?"
"Yes," Shen nodded. "Come quickly, and follow carefully. There is still danger here in the swamp, as you have seen."
The group quickly formed into their moving lineup with Rekk and Shayna up front, Scyress next, then Nemn, with Jerik and Tomar taking up the rear.
Jerik could feel as they passed into the magical dead zone that seemed to be at the heart of the Blight. They walked for nearly an hour, much of it spent in the strange place, achingly still and calm.
He hoped they didn't get in a fight; he couldn't be sure if even his Force skills would work, and was sure that his magic couldn't. He could tell it was making Nemn particularly uneasy, he still had a very dim awareness of those around him when he focused on to it, and he couldn't be surprised. Of the six of them, Nemn was the only one who really couldn't hold his own in a physical fight, and he knew it.
"How is it that the Enders brought this back?" the black Cat asked, indicating the swamp with his hand, "without the use of magic?"
"They used very powerful magic," Heth reassured him. "But They are the ones who decide if spells can be used close to Their domain. The fiends were powerless against them," he chuckled dryly. "But we are allowed our gifts, for proving our loyalty."
"Quite impressive," Scyress nodded, even as Nemn concealed a frown for the short list of what could do something like that.
A list that, at this distance, was very short, and very strong.
"What do they look like, the Enders?" Tomar asked, hoping to get a lead on what they might be up against.
"I haven't seen their faces," Rilk explained. "But they are powerful spirits, with glowing runes around their heads that spell the end of the Blight."
"Yes, quite powerful," Scyress nodded, a small knot forming in her stomach as she carefully hand-spelled out Q-U-E-L-L for the others, mindful to keep her actions out of view of their guides.
Nemn frowned as he caught the sign. He didn't know much about the undead creatures that Scyress suspected... but what he did know didn't leave them on the list of creatures that could do this.
"Soon we will be there," Shen told them. "And you can see the Enders yourself."
She nodded slightly, eager to actually find out if these were Quell and if they were something that would be requiring removal despite the good they'd wrought.
She had to wonder though; why would they have done something like this, if they were? Quell were hardly good beings ... from what she'd read, they were the worst enemy a priest could find.
But then ... given the legends of the being who had created the Blight, that might explain it.
"We are here," Shen said after a bit more walking. "Lay down your arms; the Enders mean no harm."
"Give them to Tomar," Scyress instructed them. "He will stay behind."
"I -" Tomar stopped as Jerik gave him a look that said it was okay, then nodded. "Yes ma'am," he said, taking their swords and staves, Shayna taking several moments to strip off daggers from a variety of places on her body. It was clear that Tomar did not like the idea of staying behind, but he allowed it.
"We have magical weapons that we don't want to lose to the swamp," Nemn explained to the others.
Tomar turning to leave, Heth going with him while Shen and Rilk led the others the rest of the short way in.
Their guides showed them to a broad clearing, though no sun shone through even here, the vast majority of the light blocked out by taller vegetation. Shen and Rilk knelt near the edge, both chanting quietly. No spell, though they didn't seem to realize it to judge by all the reverence in their voices.
Scyress and Nemn exchanged glances confirming what they both thought and the five waited. Before long, the swamp opened up, and Rekk swore softly under his breath as three pale white creatures rose up out of the muck. They were tall and gaunt, their faces obscured by what looked like hangman's hoods, glowing runes circling their heads in yellow, blue, and red.
"Who seeks to address the Enders of the Blight?" The creature with the yellow runes asked, standing slightly ahead of his fellows.
"I am Scyress," she spoke and stepped forward, placing herself as the leader of the small band, and bowed politely to them.
"Why have you come here?" Yellow asked her.
"Perhaps they have come to worship us, as the others have," Red mused.
"Or perhaps to interfere, as the foolish demons did," Blue added, looking a Scyress through his hood.
"Right now, you have done nothing to warrant either," she said simply, leveling her gaze on the three. "This swamp is a great accomplishment, if it is indeed you three that created it from the Blight, but I have seen nothing to prove that and I do not worship without good reason."
"We have unmade the Betrayer's work," Yellow explained.
"Not created this swamp, but released it from His treachery," Blue confirmed.
"The work of a God undone," Red chuckled. "The work of lifetimes, the dedication of black souls, all for naught."
"If it was not us who did this, then who?" Yellow challenged her. "Surely the Betrayer would not have seen His work destroyed. Surely He would not tolerate this, had He any power over us."
"You still have not shown me anything to prove you did this." She pointed out. "Only that you are smarter than those around you to take credit for what could be the natural degrading of his magic, or an item, or a creature that isn't you."
"Here, at the heart of our domain, we have undone all that he has done," Yellow pointed out. "However, perhaps we can demonstrate in another way...." The three of them raised their hands, focusing as the plant life at the far edge of the clearing began to degrade, quickly returning to the familiar, barren, dead life of the Blight in a small patch. It quickly grew over again, the three Quells ending their demonstration.
Nemn frowned mentally. This was entirely beyond the power of the creatures, based on what very, very little he knew about them.
It was Jerik who caught what was happening, because of how he looked at the world around him. Deep in the swamp, the Force surged and shifted, then settled back into it's nearly still state that was so unnatural.
"So why have you stopped where you did?" Scyress asked, acting more subdued than she really was.
"We require time and power," Yellow explained.
"Yes ... undoing the work of lifetimes is not an easy thing," Blue rasped. "We need allies, followers, to give us their power."
"To spread our word, turn the people against the false Gods and Betrayers," Red agreed. "With time, with power, we can make all the Blight disappear."
"A most impressive goal," she managed to sound suitably awed, though not cowed. "What kind of power do you need?"
"Willing students and followers, like these two," Yellow explained, indicating Shen and Rilk, the Reptan and Hawk still bowed reverently. "Followers to bring us students, people to learn our ways. Worship is the path to a god's power, but we offer much more than assurance that things will not be worse."
"You offer green land," she nodded with a motion around them. "It is more than most do."
"Yes," Red agreed, practically crooning the word. "You may return to your camp now ... return to us when you have had time to consider our offer."
"We will," she inclined her head and the group turned around to meet up with Tomar outside the restricted area.
"Thanks for making dinner, Tomar," Shayna said, sitting down inside Jerik's surprisingly spacious tent and taking a plate of finger food.
"Not much else to do while I waited," the Rohr chuckled slightly. "So, how'd it go?"
"We are dealing with undead, Quells specifically." Scyress said. "They are building up a cult around them. While the statement to end the Blight is in character for them, what these have managed is very much outside their normal power."
"There's something deep in the swamp that they're using." Jerik piped up. "I could feel it change effects when they made their demonstration."
"That could explain how they accomplished what they did, then," Nemn nodded. "If it enhanced their powers beyond the normal limits, would this be feasible?" He asked Scyress.
"Yes, in theory." She nodded. "It would take an incredibly powerful item, but it is more likely than a Quell managing this by just cooperative magic."
"Okay, so Quells are a bad thing, but is what they're doing wrong?" Jerik asked quietly, not completely convinced the bad outweighed the good here. "I mean, they have godhood aspirations and are building a cult, but they're also removing the Blight from part of the land."
"They won't stop at the edges of the Blight, if they achieve their goals," Scyress explained. "The only way they can spread this, unless their artifact changes their powers even further than it seems to, is be creating more of their kind. I suspect they're cultivating necromancers with the necessary hatred of the true gods to return as Quells after their deaths. Once they're done with the Blight, and slaughtering every priest they find who can't overpower them, they'll continue until they have cut off all worshippers of the gods of this world. And imagine what will happen if they reach the Academy with this field."
He shuddered and went quiet for a moment. "So how do we kill them for good?"
"Fortunately, they're not the sort of undead that are likely to return once they are destroyed," Scyress explained. "And if they did, they would have to start all over again. They should die again with enough physical punishment; not that different from taking out a zombie. The problem will be facing the cultists, particularly if we try not to hurt them seriously."
"So what are Quell weaknesses?" Jerik asked, his mind focusing on how to fight something with most of their combat abilities blocked.
"They're utterly helpless in sunlight, and I imagine that they're mostly focusing their powers on dispelling the Blight ... not sure how we would get sunlight into here, but it would be the easiest way to stop them," Scyress explained. "Once they were in the light, the field would collapse completely."
"But the only ways we have to get them into the sunlight involve using magic," Shayna pointed out.
"Not really." Jerik countered, thinking even as he talked. "As soon as they're stopped, the foliage will die. We can set fire to it by magic out here, or go in with alchemical fire to take out the area around them. Or simply a plant plague spell that works on normal transmission once it starts." He glanced up at Scyress. "Would the anti-magic shell affect a fireball cast outside it, but aimed inside it?
"I don't honestly know," she admitted. "Normally, no, but normally their powers only work on priestly magic, by blocking the tie between priest and the source of their powers. Here... that artifact is changing things."
"Maybe we just take the artifact away?" He suggested.
"If you have any ideas for how to reach it, I'm open to them," she said easily. "We could also attempt to overload their ability to stop all of it, I suppose. I'm not sure how far their powers are amplified, but there's only so much power a Quell can normally suppress."
"I can raise it from where it is in the swamp, but there's no way they won't know unless they're seriously distracted elsewhere." Jerik began thoughtfully. "Firebombing the space to get sunlight in is still likely to be easiest way to start."
"Especially if we can find a way to enhance it so that it will last ... or get it up higher. That might actually be the best chance," Nemn said. "Shayna and I go up above and hit the trees up high."
"I know how to make a form of sticky fire from what we have," Jerik offered. "It's not as good as I could at the Academy, but it should work. If we can spare the two weeks to get supplies from Ennina, I can make it very effective."
"I think we can spare it then," Scyress nodded. "We may be able to find some other things there that will give us other options as well ... maybe a way to persuade their followers that we aren't the enemy, even when we attack."
"That would make life easier," Jerik nodded. "It wouldn't hurt to have a few more warriors either."
"We'll see what we can swing on the budget," Nemn chuckled. "Well, it sounds like we've got a start then. We'll leave you and Tomar to your tent, and set out in the morning?"
"Sounds good," Scyress nodded and chuckled at the blush from Tomar that the other two Defenders got with their knowing grins.
"Welcome, Gatekeeper," the lean, silver-furred Vixen said with a polite bow as Scyress entered the small temple of the town of Ennina. "It has been a while since you've visited our temple," she observed, looking at the Cat with a curious cock to her head.
"And it is with trouble, as before, Godshand Emla." She bowed politely to the local priestess. "Have you heard of the swamp that appeared in the Blight recently?"
"We have," Emla nodded. "One of our hunters disappeared there as well, a Hawk named Rilk. I assume you were sent to investigate?"
"Yes, and we have met Rilk," Scyress said with a touch of regret. "A group of three Quells have found an artifact that has enabled them to suppress all magic in an area, including the magic that keeps the Blight what it is. Your hunter is among their new followers."
"Funny, I didn't take him for a particularly religious sort," Emla sighed, shaking her head. "Quells then, and some sort of artifact ... what do you know about them beyond that, if anything?"
"They're building a cult around them, teaching those who have any talent magic, probably Necromancy, so they come back as Quells themselves so the field can be expanded. They're giving a line about requiring sacrifices and power to expand the area where the Blight is no more, but the Blight takes over in moments when they are no longer enforcing its absence. The artifact enables them to block all magic, not just Priest magic as well. We're going to go back with some supplies to take them out. A few more warriors would be a real help as well, given our magic isn't effective either."
"I would help myself, if my powers would be useful," Emla agreed, flattening her ears back. "Unfortunately, they would suppress those as well. I will see if we can find any willing volunteers. Do you have any idea if it will be possible to save those they've fooled?"
"We detected nothing to indicate that it is not possible, except for the difficulties inherent in reaching cult members, especially those with such dramatic proof of their leader's powers." Scyress nodded. "The Quell spoke with us at our request, then let us go to think about their offer. Those who stayed are likely quite convinced of their rightness." She sighed. "And if it wasn't Quells or something similar behind the swamp, it would be difficult to argue that it wasn't the greatest miracle in generations."
"I must agree," Emla admitted. "If it weren't for having to go through the Blight to reach the place, we would undoubtedly have lost more. The Veil is not a particularly dramatic path, certainly not compared to undoing the greatest magical disaster in known history. You have doubts, don't you?"
"If I had any doubts that they would stop at the edge of the Blight, I'm not convinced it would be right to stop them." She admitted quietly. "As much as I hate undead, it is only their words that make me willing to destroy these three. It's not something I'm used to. I've only ever heard of the kind that should be helped instead of destroyed, a lesson in not jumping to conclusions too quickly. These spoke of becoming Gods themselves. Until then, I wasn't so sure they were evil."
"There are other exceptions on Herath," Emla reassured her, the Vixen reaching up to squeeze Scyress' shoulder. "Just remember what they are. Quells are not created out of simple death. They are creatures of raw, unbridled hatred. They might restore the Blight, they might even keep it to the borders of their accursed realm. But they would be as bad, maybe even worse, than the ancient curse that rules that place now."
"I've gathered that." She nodded seriously. "It's just hard to look at that lushness, the affect it has on the animal life, and do what needs to be done, knowing it will be destroyed." She paused, her eyes sad. "I think the utter ruthlessness I've witnessed from the apprentice I'm chaperoning is just as unsettling. He's no more local than I am, but he doesn't seem to have any issues with burning the entire swamp and everything in it just to get to the Quells. It should take decades to become that jaded."
"That is a concern," Emla agreed, frowning slightly. "He should have as many doubts as you, if not more. Are you sure that he isn't suffering from them, but simply hiding it?"
"No, I don't." She shook her head a bit. "I do know he was trained as a warrior before he became a mage and has already faced death and undead several times, so I expected some level of acceptance of death and destruction than from most his age from the Academy. The extent he's displayed is simply unsettling. If I didn't already know the swamp would be gone within minutes of killing the Quells, I'd be much more concerned, but he witnessed that when I did. I have not been around him much beyond this mission, so I am not sure if this is normal or if he only acts like this when he thinks it is necessary."
"You might raise the concern with the others with you, if they are more familiar with him. It's not right for those so young to be so cold about such things."
"Unfortunately, I know him better than the other three in our party, except for his Defender. I'm not sure if Tomar would answer truthfully or not. They tend to be extremely loyal to their mage."
"Ah, but they tend to be more loyal to what's good for their mage," Emla smiled. "Perhaps, before you go, have the Rohr come speak with me? Unless you'd rather handle it yourself."
"It might not hurt to have him talk to you either way," Scyress smiled back. "It would be good to know if he's bluffing the coldness, or even if he's not. He's along because he plans to hunt Blight monsters once he's graduated. If he really is that jaded already, he would bear watching."
"That jaded already, the Blight is the last place he belongs," Emla said seriously. "I would like to talk to him, if you have the time. Before, or after, your mission, either is fine."
"We'll be here a couple days gathering supplies and what warriors are willing to join us." Scyress inclined her head. "Perhaps after last meal?"
"That would be a good time," Emla agreed. "I'll have had a chance to speak to the people at tonight's service, and no rush to move on. You'll probably have volunteers to sort through by tomorrow."
"That will be most welcome. Thank you, Godshand." She bowed to the priestess before turning to leave.
"You know, Jerik has a truly devious mind when it comes to alchemy," Nemn chuckled as he and the others gathered for dinner that night on the group floor of the inn they were staying at.
"I'm just recreating things I know about," he ducked his head and blushed slightly at the complement.
"But you're creating them with local materials," Tomar pointed out, enjoying seeing his mate and mage blush like that. "And you do have a devious mind."
"Or simply one that thinks in ways most don't." Scyress winked at the youth.
"A bit of both," Tomar chuckled, nuzzling Jerik lightly.
"Yes, if he can keep his concoction stable, it should be much more effective," Nemn nodded. "So, did you find anything out?" He asked Scyress.
"The Hawk we met is from here, a hunter. The news quite surprised her." Scyress began. "She's going to ask for those willing to go with us tonight during service. We should have some help tomorrow. She'd go with us herself if she thought it would be any help."
"She would be." Jerik piped up, then continued at the curious look he got. "She's a priest, right? Even if she can't help with the actual fight, she'd be a big help when the fighting is over to heal the injured and probably to help talk sense into some of the cult."
"Well, after dinner, why don't you go talk to her about it?" Scyress suggested. "She wanted to meet you anyways."
"Umm, okay." He blinked in surprise. "She wants to talk to me?"
"Godshand Emla is one of the main contacts for Mages who work in the Blight," Nemn explained. "Given how close the town is to it. I imagine she wants to meet you before you go in on your first job."
"Oh," he nodded and relaxed significantly. "Did she have any idea how many cultists are from here?"
"She only mentioned Rilk," Scyress explained. "I imagine he's the only one from here, though I imagine they've got more than just the three we've met. We never would have seen them in there."
"They weren't close to us either, or in a big group." Jerik added. "That's a lot of swamp, and life, to try to tell them apart from at any distance."
"Especially in that field of theirs," Nemn nodded. "Here's a question to consider; are we going to try to recover the artifact? If it's beneath the swamp, we might not be able to reach it once we defeat them without having to dig down to it through Blight-soil."
"I have enough access to my former training to lift it up in marsh-soil." Jerik told him confidently. "I was hoping to get it before we defeated them, though that does mean you'll have to distract them for a while. Keep their focus off of me while I work."
"And it means we'll have to torch the swamp afterwards," Scyress murmured, frowning. "You saw what happens when they drop the field; it turns back almost immediately. Will you be able to do it through the field that they generate now?"
"I could track it, I should be able to sneak it and raise it. With a little luck, even get out before they're fully aware of what's happening." He paused. "The other option I can think of is to leave it there, defeat them, then use a little earth-magic to dig it up if one of us can't hold the swamp in place for a while with it."
"True, it's not like anybody else is likely to get to it before we could bring an earth mage out here," Nemn mused. "Especially not if we send word back by courier now."
"We can also camp there, guard it until it's retrieved." Jerik pointed out and got a nod of agreement and approval from Scyress. "Our tents are all rather comfortable even out there thanks to their enchantments and we can put the alarms as far out as need be to have them work."
"I think we have a plan then," Scyress nodded. "We'll make sure to get everything we'll need during the next few days."
"Excuse me," a young male Wolf asked, approaching the table. "Are you the ones looking into the swamp in the Blight?"
"Yes," Scyress nodded, looking up at him even as they all judged his condition and training. "Are you interested in helping?"
"Aye, I might be," the Wolf nodded. "Rilk's a friend of mine, and I hear he's gotten himself into trouble."
"Jerik, I think we can handle things here," Nemn said easily. "Why don't you go speak to the Godshand?"
"Yes, sir." The young tom nodded and stood, his and Tomar's empty plates left on the table as they headed out of the inn, listening to the conversation for as long as he could. He truly hated being left out like this, even if it was important. A Godshand was an important person, and this one he'd need to stay on good terms with for a long time.
"It's not because they don't want you there," Tomar told him, nuzzling his head lightly as they walked towards the temple in the sweet-smelling early spring air.
"I know," he reached over to scritch Tomar's lower shoulders affectionately, glad that they were unarmored so he could really touch. As important as the armor was, he drove him crazy on occasion. "I would have argued it if it wasn't important we talk to the Godshand."
"I'll bet you would have," Tomar chuckled with a smile. "But it is important, especially if she asked to talk to us. Never a good idea to irritate priests who want to talk to you," he chuckled.
"Almost as bad as irritating a diviner with a mischievous streak." He chuckled back.
"Quasma's blackmail material loses out to somebody who can do things involving the word 'smite,'" Tomar smirked as they approached the small temple people were still gathered near, candles lighting it inside and out. "C'mon, let's go meet her. Shouldn't take too long."
"Agreed, on all counts," Jerik smiled up at him warmly and continued to scritch the spot his Defender loved so much.
"Oooh...." Tomar groaned, then swatted him lightly. "Save that for our room," he winked, "we're about to be in a temple after all."
"There are cultures where that's the most appropriate place for it." He winked, but quickly settled down into a more serious mood, of sorts.
After all, while he knew there were some on this world where it was true, this wasn't one of them.
"Don't worry," the silver-furred Vixen who ran the small temple said reassuringly to a pregnant Rabbit who was speaking with her. "I'll talk to them and make sure they don't take Ken along, they're not that pressed for help."
"Thank you, Godshand," the brown-furred Rabbit said, relief clear in her voice as she bowed her head respectfully.
"You're welcome, Rina. Now just be sure you take good care of yourself, and follow the exercises I gave you. And go find your husband before he volunteers," Emla chuckled, the Rabbit bowing her head again and turning to leave, walking out past Tomar and Jerik.
"So, Apprentice Jerik Clawson and your Defender, I presume?" Emla asked them.
"Yes, ma'am." Jerik bowed his head to her respectfully. "I understand you wanted to talk to me?"
"I did; please take a seat," she offered, indicating one of the chairs that had just been used for the service. "I hope you don't mind talking while I clean up a bit?" She asked him.
"Not at all, ma'am." He nodded and sat down at the end of a row where Tomar could easily sit next to him.
Emla started to snuff out a few mostly burned-down candles, replacing them as she spoke.
"Gatekeeper Scyress came by here earlier," she explained. "And told me a bit about your mission and more general interests. Isn't it a little unusual for somebody your age to want to go into hunting the Blight?"
"Probably," he nodded. "It is the area that needs the help the most. I haven't found a place that ... resonates ... right with me yet to settle down and take on a protectorate. I don't like the Blight, but I look at it and I can see what could be. It might not be my place to fix it, but it's something I can take a step further."
"And yet, when you see what it could be, you're willing to destroy that to accomplish your mission?" Emla asked, turning to look at him directly, no accusation in her voice, no reproach.
He held still, trying to choose the right words to explain what the difference was.
"It is my mission." He said softly. "More, they're utterly insane. They'll strip all the magic from this world if they can, and they will if left be. They haven't healed the Blight; they've only suppressed the curse in part of it at the price of suppressing all the magic there. It returned within seconds of them lifting their focus from that suppression."
"How old are you?" Emla asked him, finishing her work by the altar and moving to sit down near them, moving one of the chairs to face them.
"Well, I would like to offer you a little advice," she said with a smile. "Remember that you're still young. You're doing quite well for yourself, from what little I've heard, but you have a lot of living left to do before you should have as much behind you as Scyress or I."
"Yes, ma'am." Jerik murmured, completely at a loss as to what she was talking about, but assuming it would make sense eventually.
"There's more to life than missions and learning," she clarified. "And some lessons should be learned a bit older. You're remarkably mature for your age, for somebody who's spent much of his life at the Academy at least. You need to remember to enjoy your youth, like you do with your mate. Does that make a little more sense? Or am I just seeing you on a mission, and getting the wrong side of things?"
"This is a mission," he hesitated, still not sure exactly what she thought she knew, or exactly what she was talking about.
"We do have a life outside of this, Godshand," Tomar said easily, catching on that Jerik was fairly well confused. "We're both a little intense when missions come up, Jerik in particular, but you wouldn't worry about it if you met us back home with our friends. Might worry about one or two of them, but most priests do that," he chuckled.
"I'll take your word for it," she chuckled. "Is there anything either of you'd like to talk to me about?"
"You would be of help near the swamp." Jerik focused back on what he did understand. "You know some of the cultists, and if you are like the priests I know, your healing magic will likely be needed when this is over."
"I do have some healing skills," she acknowledged. "It's about a week's journey from here, isn't it?"
"Yes, ma'am." He nodded.
"I'll think about it, though many of the town's warriors will probably want to go with you, and there's risk in leaving the town with weakened defenses for so long," she agreed.
Jerik nodded. "Just thought I should mention it, Godshand. That was all."
"Well, I should let you get back to the others then," the Vixen said with a smile, standing and bowing politely, Jerik and Tomar doing the same before they turned to leave.
"Hope I didn't speak out of turn," Tomar said as they left. "You seemed a little confused."
"Still am. That is the weirdest conversation I've had in a long time." He shook his head as they stepped into the fresh, clean air once more. "She heard something from someone that had her worried, but I still haven't a clue what."
"Who was probably Scyress," Tomar mused as they walked back towards the inn. "She's the one who talked to her, after all. As for what, my guess is that she was worried you might be a little too focused in everything, instead of just in the field. Maybe a little worried about just how focused you might be in the field too. After all, she doesn't know anything about us back home ... neither does Scyress, for that matter," he admitted.
"Probably," Jerik nodded, that he was still a bit unsettled by it all. "It just seems weird. She's seen how playful we are. If that's 'too focused' ... I really can't think of what relaxed might mean."
"Well, the Godshand opened up by asking about our plans for the swamp, and being willing to burn it away if that's what it took, that might have had something to do with it. I mean, do you think Quasma or Tessi would've agreed with that particular tactic so quickly?"
"If they saw how long it was going to last without the Quells, they should have."
"I'll give you that," Tomar nodded. "But it's not hard to see that a lot of apprentices our age, or even mages, might try to find some sort of a compromise, or argued that the Quells weren't causing any harm yet, and we don't know that they will. Odds aren't good that they won't, but a lot of our colleagues would still ask if it's right to destroy what they've made there."
"That's not our question to ask any more than I did." He shrugged. "It's Scyress' mission and call."
"I'm the last person who'd argue otherwise," Tomar reassured him with a light nuzzle as they reached the tavern. "Not everybody's as accepting of the idea of missions and superiors at our age yet."
"True," he admitted and found Tomar's sweet spot between the lower shoulders with an absent hand. "Looks like the adults are going to be busy for a while. How about we head up to our room?"
"Oooh, as long as they don't know we're back," Tomar rumbled, reaching back to rub Jerik's shoulder lightly. "Let's go."
"They've either moved, or they're hiding," Shayna said, returning to the camp along with two Cats who'd signed on to help out as scouts. "More likely hiding. Now'd be a good time to go for them; worst that happens is we trap them beneath the soil, and that can't be a bad thing."
The camp was easily twice the size it had been the last time they'd been here. Given that they had easily a dozen more warriors than they'd had the last time, including a full pack of five Wolves, it wasn't too surprising either.
"They can't have moved far," Jerik nodded to her as he prepared the harness that would old his score of sticky fire bombs while he was in the air throwing them. "The swamp would stay roughly centered on what caused it."
"Are you sure about this plan?" Tomar asked Jerik, unable to hide his nerves at the idea of letting his mage and mate out of his range for as long as they'd have to.
"It's the most effective way," he looked up and reached to draw him into a lingering kiss. "It will save a lot of pain and death. I'll come down as soon as I can."
"Just make sure you're still in one piece when you do, okay? I'm the one who's supposed to be going ahead and getting in trouble," Tomar murmured.
"I will. I have no interest in getting shot." He smiled and caressed Tomar's cheek before weaving the shape-shifting magic to turn himself into a giant eagle. While his armor and clothing merged with the new form, the harness with the bombs did not. He spread his wings and called on a strong Force-wind to help lift him into the sky.
"*Attack coming!*" Jerik called to his mate even as two other warriors on the ground called the alert as well.
"Go!" Tomar shouted to him, drawing CrestRider as the attack on the camp began. A small army of skeletal figures charged out of the swamp, rushing the camp as the cultists began their efforts to defend their strange paradise.
Jerik didn't hesitate; he soared high, out of the range of most magic and spells and began the assault he'd masterminded and brewed the weapons for. The first was uncorked and the fuse lit before he Force-lobbed it into the very center of the swamp.
Flying high above the foliage, his sharp eyes could see it shatter in the upper branches, the fire quickly starting to spread as he hurled the next one, focusing on where he could feel the strongest lack of Force.
He hoped that the Quells would be coming to the surface soon. If they didn't, then they could burn the entire swamp to the ground and still have to dig them up before they could get anywhere. He hurled another bottle, glancing down at the battle below.
The skeletons weren't much of a threat, especially not outside the swamp where Scyress had her full powers, but he could see that the cultists were putting their spells to good use; the five Wolves who'd joined them were already being knocked back by the undead throng and the debilitating necromantic spells being used against them.
It was a classic battle of numbers vs. skill and strength. So far, though, it wasn't desperate enough to call him down from his high place, but he put his vantage point to good use, giving as many hints as he could as to what was going on and occasionally interfering from range while he monitored the destruction of the swamp.
As he ran out of firebombs, the battle started to turn against the cultists, the crushed skeletal warriors barely slowing the larger group down as they moved into the swamp, pressing their advantage to move the cultists back away from their camp and the two wounded Wolves who remained behind.
From his vantage of well into the skyline, Jerik focused his attention on the artifact he could feel deep in the center of the swamp, and the block of earth that also contained the Quells. It took an incredible effort to drag the block of spongy, wet earth towards the surface, but he could feel the movement begin as the anti-magic field began to shift upwards.
He flew back, staying out of the null-magic zone as he struggled with the block of earth. The fire burned, peeling back the upper layers of the canopy and dripping down into the lower levels, spreading slowly, letting sunlight through into the middle of the swamp.
Where, with some luck, it would find the Quells shortly.
Far below him, on the ground, the warriors of the group kept fighting on the edge of the swamp. Their progress into the interior kept carefully in check by Scyress, Rekk and Shayna to avoid pulling the mages into the null-magic zone at the edge of the swamp.
Not that the cultists weren't trying; they were doing everything they could to try and get back under the cover of their Masters' shield.
"Get around behind them!" Rekk shouted, smashing his mace through the skull of a skeleton that punched its way up through the ground.
Rilk tried to cast a spell, but one of the Wolves lunged for him, tackling him into the muck and wrestling him down. Another of the cultists, one they hadn't met before, summoned a ball of blue flame to his hand and threw it towards them, but a young Vixen stepped forward, canceling the spell with a single word of power.
"Thanks," Shayna told Emla's apprentice gratefully. The older priestess hadn't been able to join them, but she had sent the younger Vixen along, and she was proving her worth against the quickly-summoned undead.
A moment later golden light expanded in a shockwave from Scyress, making the undead crumble and remaining to light the swamp in a glow similar to daylight that went largely unnoticed until one of the cultists cursed sharply after his attempt to summon more undead failed completely.
Just then, the swamp started to wither around them, rapidly falling into ruin as sun started to beat down on the battleground, screams of impotent rage echoing from deeper into the swamp and well above them.
"*Scyress!*" Jerik's mind touched hers, carrying a warning of exhaustion and the three Quell he was about to drop a few yards from her and the artifact that was about to land in the camp.
The three limp, lifeless, hooded bodies crashed into the hardening ground, and the battle stopped, the cultists staring in disbelief at their gods rendered helpless and the Blight back in full force all around them.
Tomar took the break to back away from the stilled front line and looked at Scyress for permission to go back to camp where his mage was landing roughly, though safely.
"Go," she nodded to him before turning towards the cultists. "These are not gods, they are undead, Quells. Their creation lasts only as long as they do."
"But... how?" Shen asked in disbelief. "The swamp was real... it was no illusion!"
"They had an artifact that allowed them to suppress all magic, including the magic that created and maintains the Blight. The only way to expand the area is to create more Quells ... by killing Necromancers who believe as they do."
"No ... that wasn't what they told us," Heth murmured, not wanting to believe it.
"What did they tell you?" Emla's apprentice asked him, kneeling beside the three Quells and stripping off their hoods, revealing faces long-since rendered unrecognizable by the passage of time and the dark magic that animated them. "That they could turn the Blight back into what it had been? That they had the power to undo the power of the dark God who created this place? If that is so, then why does mere daylight render them helpless? How could a mere apprentice lay them low, draw them out from where they cowered and hid while you fought bravely?"
"But ... but ...." someone in the group sputtered in a sick tone.
"You have been fooled," the young Vixen said apologetically. "I wish, dearly, that it was not so. Return with us to Ennina. You may return to your homes from there if you wish, but it would be shameful to turn you back through the Blight without a chance to rest and get some supplies."
"After this, you would do that?" Shen asked suspiciously.
"Some of you are our friends," the Wolf perched on top of Rilk pointed out, standing up and helping the Hawk up from the ground, embracing him once he was standing.
"And the rest of you were only doing what you thought was right," the Vixen agreed. "Were any of our positions reversed, many of us would have been alongside you, I am sure."
"Thank you," Rilk bowed his head, shame-filled but grateful all the same.
"Come on, let's get back," Shayna said easily. "Want to check on our mage," she chuckled, the entire group starting back through the Blight towards the camp.
"You're all right, aren't you?" Tomar asked Jerik, fussing over him near the edge of the camp, where he'd landed and just turned back.
"Yes, just beat." Jerik leaned gratefully against his mate. "Pulling all that up took a lot of energy."
"I'll bet, but it worked," Tomar told him, hugging him lightly. "We managed to get it taken care of before we had to seriously hurt any of their cultists too. Saved a lot of lives today."
"And a lot in the future," he smiled with a weary sigh. "Looks like everyone's headed back."
"Good," Tomar said. "Up to standing when you meet them?"
"Yes," he nodded with determination. "I've had enough lectures on over-exertion lately. No need to give'm reason to keep me at the Academy longer by actually passing out from it."
"Well, for what it's worth, I think you did great today," Tomar smiled indulgently, giving Jerik a quick kiss before helping him up, the two of them going to meet the group of nearly twenty coming back to the camp.
"Thanks," he reached up to scratch a bit of bare fur on Tomar's arm.
"Go rest, Jerik." Scyress scowled at him. "Tomar will bring you something to eat."
"Yes, ma'am." He ducked his head slightly.
"Don't look like I just chastised you," her tone softened. "You did very well today, but you're about to fall down."
"And here he was worried that if he didn't come out here with you, it'd reflect poorly," Tomar chuckled as Jerik headed for their tent. "By the way, the artifact's in our tent for now. Seemed the most secure location."
"Good," she nodded. "See him to bed, then join us to help make the meal."
"How are Jess and Vetin?" Emla's apprentice asked him quickly.
"Doing well, Lady Kera," Tomar said respectfully. "They've dressed their wounds, though it wouldn't be a bad idea for you to check on them." He turned and headed back towards the tent, though he was sure he wouldn't have to do too much to make sure Jerik did as he'd been told.
A bit of movement he wasn't expecting turned his head. The plate-walker they had seen before paused for a moment, looking over at the camp. After a moment, it snorted and flared its plates to keep the heat off of it as much as it could as it moved to more fertile grounds.
Tomar continued on to check on Jerik, privately hoping that the creature would do well once it was back on the plains outside the Blight.
A Heritage of Power 4: Jerik's Story 9.99: Blight Mission
Het Level is None Slash Level is Femslash Level is None Herm Level is Low
85 KB, Story is Complete, Series is Finished
Written April 7, 2006 by Rauhnee Ranshanka and Karl Wolfemann
Setting: Herath, Star Wars (Furry)
Primary Races: Avian, Bull, Canine, Demon, Enchanted Item, Feline, Kat, Raccoon, Rohr (Herm Wolftaur), Undead
Contents: Furry. Herm. Violence
Blurb: With Jerik almost ready to graduate to Mage, a section of the Blight has turned into lush swampland and he's on the team sent to investigate.
Disclaimer: All things taken directly from the sources listed under 'Fandoms' belong to the owners of those shows. No harm is intended and we're definitely not making any money. Now, the things we created are ours, and if you see 'Non-FanFic' up there, it's probably all ours.
Page Hit Count from July 14, 2007