Druid's Tale

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Chapter Twelve Fire and Ice.

The cathedral like space echoed there footsteps eerily as they began to move across the space.

“We do not seem to getting any closer to the perpetrator of this farrago Serin my dear.” Tesler said a tad irritated.

Horren was far from comfortable watching Serin once again draping herself over Lancelot.

“No that’s true Holy Sister nor are we any closer to finding a logical reason for their actions.” Serin replied.

“Does there have to be one? Perhaps the enemy gets some sort of perverse pleasure out of seeing us suffer.” Horren replied as calmly as she could which was difficult when her whole being wanted to drag Serin away from the Knight and do him some serious damage. She was jealous, jealous as hell and she had no idea how to handle it.

“That’s a possible motivation I suppose but I don’t think it’s the main one.” Serin mused.

“Serin over here I think I’ve found something?” Darius called out in the murk.

Somehow, in the vast gloomy cavern Darrius and Lorren had become separated from the others.

“Where are you? There’s a stupid question if there ever was one.” Serin tried to penetrate the gloom. “Keep talking we’ll try to home in on you.”

“We’ve found a group of people here, six of them, a family.” Lorren called. “They say they are lunch for some beast or other.”

Slowly the group appeared out of the gloom.

Six figures huddled on the ground. Four were awake while the other pair was lying covered with blankets on the floor. All of them were pale and dejected, defeated and awaiting their fate.

Horren and Darius were standing at the ready at the back keeping their eyes out for trouble.

“Sir Beresford would you and Lancelot take up guard while we investigate please?” Tesler asked.

“I’d be glad to do so Sister absolutely charmed.” The old man bristled with pride. “Come along young man.”

“Are any of you hurt?” Tesler asked with deep concern.

The eldest a young woman in her twenties looked up and with a croak replied.

“No my lady we have no physical hurts.” Her voice was as grey and defeated as her visage.

Horren cleared her throat nervously before asking the question they all wanted answered.

“My friend said that you are waiting to be eaten can you say what by?”

“It comes, it comes soon. It has already taken many of us, perhaps it will take our two dead members, their bodies are still warm.” She replied dully.

“Whatever it is we will deal with it. All of us are armed and fit enough for the fray.” Tesler said fiercely. “We can not take the dead with us I am afraid but if you stay with us we will get you to safety. That is a promise.”

Serin knelt by the woman and gently lifted her to her feet.

“I am sorry to press but we need to know what we are facing?”

The group comprise of two young women and two children, a boy and a girl.

“Why are you even here?”

“Our men folk rebelled against the Oligarch to free us from his depravities but he knew they were coming and slaughtered them all.” Serin was obviously puzzled and not a little spooked by her emotionless reply. “We families were condemned to this layer of the inferno to be fed to the soul sucker, the breaker of bones.”

“Yes but…”

“Leave her my child you’ll get no further information out of her, her mind is almost totally destroyed.” Tesler advised. “We more forward with those that are able forming a defensive circle.”

Lorren and Darius moved silently to the front, weapons drawn. Lorren waved them forward.

For fifteen or so minutes the group made a painfully slow progress forward.

“Do you have any ideas to what the woman was referring to?” Horren asked Serin as she sheltered the girl in her skirts.

“No I don’t, and I don’t like the feeling it’s giving me. Holy Sister, do you have any inkling?” Serin was watching the others as they moved.

“No, no more idea than you do child. I know of many of the Devils and Demons from my studies but none that fit what little we have.” Lorren signalled a halt and pointed urgently ahead. “But I think we are about to find out.”

Lorren and Darius faded into the gloom on either side of them in an attempt to out flank whatever was coming.

“What are you doing?! Back to your camp, slaves!” The words roared into their heads unspoken by any tongues. The grey family turned and began tiredly to obey.

Even Horren found herself turning back.

“No my children fight it, fight the desire.” Tesler called hoarsely. “I defy your compulsion, my mind is my own!”

Sweat beaded Tesler’s face but even she took a step backward.

Hanna was the worse affected as she seemed to babble almost incoherently.

Slowly they returned to the camp with its ramshackle covers.

“Show yourself so I may now my enemy!” Tesler called.

Two figures slowly advanced out of the gloom. A seven foot thin figure was leading a hulking brute of a man on a chain.

“Does this satisfy your curiosity? Are you any the wiser?” The voice echoed in their minds.

The creature was totally bald with a curious mottled skin; its eyes were huge and dark. Where its mouth should have been a mass of tentacles hung down writhing like angry snakes.

“I know you.” Serin said quietly. “My brother spoke of you.”

“Should I be flattered?”

“No I don’t think so. Your people are slavers of the dark paths, stealing what you can from the other races. Physically weak you have to have others to do your work for you.” Serin was warming to her theme now. “Mentally you are powerful and can even control others but after awhile they are burnt out and useless.”

“Did your brother tell you how we feed?” Serin shook her head. “I thought not. We feed on your mental energies, on your living brain. And I see a feast before me.”

“You are on your own with none of your people to back you up. You’re a coward like all your people. How did you come here?!” Serin positively barked the question.

The creature took an involuntary step backward instinctively.

“I was spirited here from where we were raiding the surface. Wherever here is.” It replied a little less sure of itself. “Your mind is unlike the others. It is slippery and evades my strongest grip. What are you?”

“Nothing, just a disciple of nature in all its forms.” She replied. “We are all trying to get out of here, so instead of fighting why not join us, together we stand a better chance of survival? What say you brain sucker?”

“There is no escape, I know I have tried. This plain of mist and darkness is infinite in every direction. If this is a cave I have yet to find a wall.” It signalled to the man squatting at his feet and released his chain. “Destroy them!”

With no sign of Darius and Lorren and having Hanna incapacitated the three remaining women lined up before their foes with Lancelot and Beresford taking up point, though how much use they would be in a fight as they stood there shaking their head to clear them.

Serin withdrew both of her swords and flexed her arms as the brute shortened the distance.

“You made a mistake my friend we are not unarmed like these poor souls.” Serin danced forward and with economical flashes of her blades cut the man’s chest shallowly before twist out of his grasp. “Don’t kill him unless you have to it’s not his fault.”

Moving rapidly the telepath descended on the first of the slaves. The slaves did not flee they just stood there as if in some sort of stupor.

The creature grabbed the youngest and clasped her head to its mass of tentacles. They plunged into her skull and literally sucked out all the electrochemical nutrients from the grey matter within. You could say it ate her brain.

In seconds it was done its skin beginning to take on a healthy pallor the body filling out.

Tesler swept her double handed mace at the hulking brute’s legs in an attempt to up end it but to no avail it simply bounced of.

Horren’s wooden club ricocheted of his bald head with a solid thump that should have knocked him senseless but did nothing of the sort.

Only Serin was making any headway, opening numerous small cuts on his torso. She danced around the figure for a few moments before she became aware of tentacle mouths feeding frenzy. Several grey bodies lay at its feet, evidence of its work.

It was far healthier than when they had first seen it and was radiating a glowing light as it continued to soak up power.

Serin glanced back at her two companions in their neat clothes even though the hulking man had ripped at them with sharp clawed hands.

“Don’t attack him!!!” She yelled.

“What!!!” Horren yelled back as both she and Tesler simultaneously crashed their weapons into he’s skull.

“He’s not real, he’s an illusion.” Serin began running toward the feeding slaver as it got closer to the bemused Hanna. “Don’t believe in him and he’ll fade away.”

“That’s very difficult to do when he’s trying to kill you my dear.” Tesler panted back.

“But we will try. You take on Mr Hansom there and try and disturb his concentration it will make our lives that much easier.”

As she drew near the feeder swung round to face her its eyes glowing a bright blood red.

“Time to feed.” Its voice thundered into Serin’s brain causing her to stumble but not slowing her impetus much.

The tips of its feeding tentacles glowed blue a moment and a ball of crackling electric energy appeared in front of it before speeding toward Serin.

Serin flashed the swords in front of her face just in time to impact with the ball of lightning. Its energy danced over the blades turning them red hot as it was parried to the floor with an explosive percussion that threatened to deafen everyone.

It tried again with a sheet of flame boiling out of it tentacles straight at Serin.

When the flames and after glow had vanished Serin was nowhere to be seen.

“Where are you?” The mind voice called out. “I know you are not dead I can feel you.”

“I really must stop rolling on the floor as I’ll get dirty and Sister Tesler won’t approve.” Serin called from behind the remains of one of the victims. “You really must control yourself you have a fiery temper there.”

Serin stood up and made a great show of dusting herself down.

The creature turned its head and another glowing ball appeared in front of it, this time of icy blue.

“What are you!!!?” It screamed in her head.

“No don’t tell me, you’ve tried lightning and fire now you’re going to use ice. You’re getting predictable now.” Serin leapt over the corpse and tried to shorten the distance between them.

Surprisingly the sphere wasn’t aimed at her when it was released but at poor Hanna.

With a midair twist that made her look as if she was running on nothing at all she thrust her blades into the path of the globe.

With a fearsome crack it exploded into fragments and released an arctic wind that covered Serin with inch thick frost as she crashed helplessly to the floor.

The creature swiftly approached and knelt by her head. Its long fingers forced her eyes open as it lowered the tentacles toward her face.

“Now I shall find out what you are. You could make an interesting thrall and what a food source you shall be. I could possibly break the barriers and return home.” The tentacles touched her face sending a searing pain through her like they were dipped in acid.

The larges pair slithered across to her eye sockets and began pushing down around them toward the optic nerves.

Serin screamed in absolute agony from the pressure and the burning was matched by Horren’s as she thundered toward them her club swinging to contact with its bald dome.

Suddenly the creatures head exploded spraying its grey matter everywhere before falling to one side wrenching out its probes with agonising swiftness.

“What kept you?” Serin yelled as Darius’s head loomed into view.

“Sorry we thought we were with you all then you vanished right in front of our eyes.” She crossed to the impaled creature and recovered her arrow. She made a sound of revulsion as the arrow came out with a sickening sucking sound.

“Oh lovely. What was this thing by the way?” Horren asked as she reached Serin.

“I don’t know some sort of mind flayer or mind stealer. Something like that.” Serin got wearily to her feet to find her wrapped in Horren’s arms before she wandered off to check on her sister. “It had a good grasp of tactics though by getting our most powerful out of the way. It scrambled Hanna’s mind and drew you off.”

A sotto voiced argument had started taking place between Horren and Lorren while Hanna was complaining bitterly of a thumping head ache.

“Leave me alone its nothing to do with you!” Lorren snarled.

“I’m your sister, it’s what sisters do.” Horren was beside herself with concern.

“Yes you’re my sister not our mother, now leave me alone!!” With that Lorren stomped off a short distance weapon drawn.

Horren sighed and wandered back over to Serin.

“Are you alright darling?” She asked giving Serin a kiss.

“Yes other than a few grazes and cuts.” Serin told her. “What was that all about Horren?”

“I can’t tell you my darling it would be unfair to Lorren.” Horren was worried about her sister. She sighed once again. “Not yet at least.”

The mist had faded away to reveal a relatively large cavern but nothing special. In one wall stood four doors each with an arrow sign, one pointing up another down and a pair pointing right and left, though strangely the ones with the arrows pointing right or left were the central pair.

Darius ran across to join Lorren as she walked heavily toward the doors.

Something clicked in Horren’s mind as she watched the pair before glancing back at the cloth covered bodies, and with rising panic she spun round and threw her club straight at Darius’s head.

“They’re not Darius and Lorren!!” She yelled. “No limp!!!”

Darius danced lightly aside from the hurtling club with a growling roar.

Serin didn’t question Horren observation but jumped to the attack with a will.

Hanna reacted also, pulling the sheets of the covered figures on the floor to reveal their two missing members.

“Raska!!” She yelled pulling a wand from her belt.

An arrow whistled passed Horren’s head as she went for the one holding Lorren’s image.

“What?!” She screamed sweeping up her club and blocking the copies blow.

“Raska, mimics.” Hanna yelled back. “Sister try and rouse this pair it will break their link. Don’t trust the other survivors they are Raska too.”

The other survivors turned as one and growled their eyes turning into cat like slits.

“Lancelot, Berisford take on Lorren’s duplicate, Horren help me.” Serin yelled with a back hand slash to Darius’s head. “Hanna try to do something to hold of the others.”

Horren swung her club at the archers arm making her dance back a step straight into range of Serin’s flashing swords. The figure that looked like Darius blocked them with her bow making in useless in the process as Serin cut it into pieces.

Unarmed Darius with uncharacteristic agility leapt away from them her skin splitting apart revealing a tiger striped humanoid within as Tesler woke the real Darius.

The air around the creature rippled to reveal a powerfully built figure that looked to all intends and purposes like an erect Tiger.

Horren kept up a series of sweeps with her club forcing the creature on the back foot as Serin darted in with lightning fast strikes of her own. The creature was lithe and equally fast and several times nearly caught Horren with its steel tipped claws.

Serin caught her foot on a piece of discarded flesh and slipped crashing to the floor.

The creature took a flying leap like cat after its prey at Serin its mouth open showing its fearsome array of teeth.

“Get of my wife!!” Horren screamed in horror smashing her club into its side with rib cracking force.

The creature twisted and landed beside Serin screaming in agony from the blow. It lifted its paw up to deliver a killing blow to Serin but was forestalled by a dagger in its throat. Serin winded and bloodied had managed somehow to find the energy to thrust home the small knife successfully severing its jugular.

It crashed down beside her clawing at the blade imbedded there before with a spine cracking arch of its back it twitched its last and laid still.

“Are you alright darling?” Horren couldn’t see Serin’s face for blood that covered it unsure if it was hers or her assailants.

“Why do you ask silly questions?” Serin actually smiled up at her lifting her spirits no end. “Nothing I can handle, now help me up.”

The others were fairing no better with their adversaries. Lancelot and Berisford could only do a containment exercise with Lorren’s now exposed copy, whilst Sister Tesler was whirling her double headed mace around her keeping the female and juvenile Raska at bay as Hanna tried to rouse the real Lorren.

Back on her feet Serin assessed woozily the situation.

“Horren darling help the Holy Sister while I get behind them.” Serin made to start off but staggered instead.

“No!” Horren barked. “What are you trying to do get yourself killed?! You’re out on your feet, stay here and rest. You can call the strategy till you have recovered.”

Horren looked around the large space and came to decision. Swiftly she divested herself of her armour until she was naked before her lover.

“You haven’t the room Horren!!” Serin yelled over the din of battle.

“Yes I have, just.” Horren wiped her sweaty hands down her side before lifting them up to the sky. “Great Manito, spirit guide give me my beast to protect my friends.”

The change was instant and painful. One moment Horren stood there naked and the next there was a colossal brown bear in her place its head almost touching the ceiling. Horren roared out in her agony thankful that she had removed her clothes first as assimilating them would have been more painful still.

The shape shrunk down until it was the normal size for the bear form allowing Horren to lumber forward toward those attacking the Holy Sister.

Horren had total control of her new form revelling in its sheer physical power.

With a swipe of her massive clawed hand she smashed the female into the wall.

“Horren the others are trying to get behind you look out!!” Serin called.

A juvenile leapt onto Horren’s back and tried to get at her head with its claws. Horren reared up and fell backward crushing it beneath her weight before rolling back to her feet in time to parry the mothers attack.

It was claw against claw, fang against fang as the two women fought blood flying from their many cuts. The mother misjudged an attack and was swept up into a crushing bear hug that broke its spine. As she dropped the creature’s body the last of the young Raska’s pounced from her left. Horren could do nothing more than twist her massive head round and catch it in her mighty jaws. As it clawed at her face Horren reluctantly bit down feeling sick as the creature’s blood erupted into her mouth as she shook the body backward and forward like a straw doll.

As quickly as the metamorphosis had occurred it was gone leaving a bloodied defenceless naked Horren in its wake.

The three broken creatures tried to drag themselves toward the woman that had brought them low looking to exact some form of vengeance. One by one the light of life went out in their eyes and they became still.

Serin staggered toward Horren and took her blood soaked body in her arms and kissed her as Lorren’s duplicate fell under a flurry of blows from the newly roused Lorren herself.

All was quiet as Horren fainted away, they had won through but only just and at what cost?

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