A Deadly Quest
Part 54 of Quest
& Part 8 of Irene’s Solo Quest: A Game of Death
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Screams tore a raw throat
fury’s echoes shake tower
an unnatural birth
Irene half crawled, half fell down stairs that twisted round and dwindled into gray oblivion–or rather the ground floor–far below. Fist-sized crystals placed at head height every five steps threw steady light in the windowless staircase.
On the first landing she encountered a gauntlet of dismembered bodies. Congealing blood slicked the stone work. She sank her fingers into the grooves between the granite blocks and inched herself upwards until she stood on the heaving ground. She leaned against the wall and hiked up her skirt as the stench of blood and death squeezed her stomach, forcing her last meal to rise up. For a moment she clung to the wall and fought down the urge to throw up.
The tower started swaying. What happened? The Battlecrow flew down here not more than a handful of minutes before. What the hell was going on?
Dread tied a cold knot
each step forward tightened it
evil touched her skin
Using a wall as aid, she hurried down a narrow corridor lit by more glowing crystals. One hand covered her nose and mouth as she stepped around body parts where possible. She held her skirt bunched up to keep it from dragging in the blood, piss and feces released from bowels that had relaxed in death.
The trail of bodies led to the first workroom on the left. Inside a web of black power pulsed and the Battlecrow, in all its armored glory, was caught in it. Another woman lay curled into a fetal position within a power circle’s thick chalk lines–that throbbed with the same fell power. A black tar-like substance wept from her staring eyes, dripped from her nose and open mouth to pool about her blank face. One hand lay palm up and bone white on the stone floor and across it a black oval rested.
Panic sank needle-fine claws into Irene’s mind and she fell back a step, her heel jarring a corpse’s arm. Unnatural, a voice screamed in her head–her own mind voice. Unnatural…she had to run.
The tower shook and the stone work groaned from the strain. Her breaths came short and fast as she fell back another step, set her foot on a hard lump and stumbled over a torso. She slammed her back into the corridor’s firm wall, her eyes still transfixed by the horrific sight in that room.
The Battlecrow’s head turned a fraction so the eye slits in her helmet gave her a better view of the room and the stunned woman outside it. The magic draining her would not allow her to turn her head all the way but it was enough that Irene caught her gaze. The Battlecrow’s eyes didn’t sparkle with the cold light of distant stars, not like Prince Death’s eyes. Yet she was also a free-thinking aspect of Death.
“My dagger…” The Battlecrow sank to her haunches; her free hand pawed at a hilt but the articulated fingers couldn’t close around it. The spells leeching her essence held her almost immobile. Just moving her fingers took incredible effort.
Black eyes met Irene’s
not evil eyes, duty’s eyes
eyes that chose the slain
Woman’s eyes to lead
dead warriors from misery
to peace’s par’dise.
They were the eyes of a woman who undertook a sacred duty for the honorable dead. Those eyes loosened panic’s grip on Irene’s mind freeing her to think. As the gaze lock continued, everything outside those eyes faded to a blurry periphery. Was this what the slain experienced when the Battlecrow set foot on a battlefield? If so, then perhaps her coming brought them a small measure of the peace denied them in life.
Irene dragged in a full breath nice and slow centering herself. Whatever she did next would involve magic and spells required a clear mind. A couple more breaths had calmed er as much possible given the dead bodies scattered at her feet. Next she pulled up her personal shields. The warm slide of her magic sheathing her body banished the last dregs of panic.
A fellow woman was in trouble and no one else had lined up to help. Best she do something before the spell draining the Battlecrow completed whatever it was supposed to do. But what could she do? Her magic derived from the warp and weft of life; the antithesis of death magic. Touching that web of death would kill her. But if she didn’t, then the spell would complete its terrible purpose and something worse might result.
“My dagger…use it to free me…”
Irene’s gaze flicked to the blade in question. It nestled in a sheath at the armored woman’s side. Irene reached for the dagger but caution stayed her hand. Then a head shake from the Battlecrow herself.
“Your hand…cover it…”
Ah right, any armament possessed by the chooser of the slain would be rife with death magic. Hiking up her skirt, Irene wrapped its hem around her hand–thrice–then withdrew the blade. It sliced through the web of spells draining and holding the Battlecrow captive, freeing her. Turning the blade, Irene studied the remaining web and the spidery woman at its center, which had begun to moan.
The ground lurched under her feet knocking her sideways. A crow screamed and massive black claws grasped Irene, lifting her as the floor collapsed in a shower of masonry. The ceiling crumbled as the walls supporting it fell. The Battlecrow dodged blocks of diorite as she angled for the sky, screaming her defiance.
Battlecrow soars free
her savior in her talons
a ruined tower falls
not ‘fore Death made a new queen
an unnatural aspect…
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