SEE ALSO THE LILITH GALLERY, THE ART HISTORY ARCHIVE & THE LILITH EZINE.
The Lilith Bloodstone Series
Sample: One to be Reckoned With
A wasteland, Sandora concluded of her surroundings. The Taltos’s eyes rolled over the landscape marked by dead and withered trees and frost covered thistle bushes. She was certain she had travelled through this land before, many years before, and remembered it as being lush and green and filled with wild flowers. A village of elves had made their homes here in the trees, if she recalled correctly.
No more, obviously. Sandora could only conclude that something evil had come to this place, and although it may have simply been her senses overreacting, she felt a chill along her spine. Her hands twitched and her eyes darted among the snow covered trees.
“Death stalks this place,” muttered the snow tiger beside her. His muscles moved and flowed over his nine foot long frame, all seven hundred pounds of him moving through the forest like some ghost of nature. Or at least, he would have weighed seven hundred pounds if he had been real, and not merely Sandora’s spirit guardian.
The tiger had been with her since birth. On most occasions, he was invisible and only she could see him. Sometimes he would appear and use his impressive size to scare away potential threats. On very rare occasions he would even become corporeal and defend her with tooth and claw.
“Tell me what I don’t know Vajik,” she muttered sarcastically, referring to the tiger’s ancestral name, the one he had borne while still mortal.
The tiger growled sharply but did not respond.
The pair kept walking and slowly came over a small hill to look down upon an elven village. Or what was left of it.
Vajik’s hair stood on end and he emitted a low growl.
The village, of what had once been thick oak trees interwoven with stone walls, and roofs made of thick bark, was burnt. All that remained was the crumbling stone walls and the burnt stumps. The wind shifted and Sandora caught the scent of decay.
“I don’t think we should spend the night here,” Vajik grumbled.
Sandora nodded dumbly. “We should at least take a closer look.”
Thats when they saw the sign, a mere post shoved into the ground and a board nailed to it. The Taltos ran closer to have a better look, while the tiger followed more cautiously, eyes and ears alert.
“A warning to all travellers,” she read aloud. “This land has come under the curse of a malevolent elven spirit, and all those who travel within will surely die. Signed, Ivan Ivyriver, Ranger of Eveningdale.”
“A ranger hmm?” muttered Vajik.
“Whatever spirit lurks in these woods is more than a match for him,” Sandora said slowly, her throat tightening. “And thus more than a match for even us.”
“As Taltos, it is our sacred duty to seek out and defeat this spirit,” the tiger growled.
“Oh, we will. No doubt about that old friend. But we’re going to need help with this one. Someone who knows elven spirit’s I surmise.”
“Thats true, we only know a great deal about human ones. Is there really much difference though?”
“Does it matter? We shall learn more in the near future, but in the meantime lets get out of this cursed place!”
Raelean sighed and scratched his head. Several tangled blond curls fell down into his face and he pushed them back in annoyance. The sigils on the page blurred before his eyes and he realized he was getting too tired to study. He swore and shoved his book under his pillow, wondering if the jokes about osmosis actually were true.
No sooner had he snapped his fingers to turn out the magical light over his head, then there was a knock at the door.
He swore again, in elvish this time.
“Open up!” said a female voice. “Its Lilith! Hurry up!”
Raelean swung out of his hammock and opened the door with bleery eyes to look at the necromancer standing in the hallway.
“You said you’d come to the temple with me, remember?” she said, her eyes displaying no hint of annoyance. Raelean suspected she had actually anticipated his forgetfulness and enjoyed reminding him.
“Isn’t it a little late to visiting a temple?”
“The nuns keep a constant vigilance. There’s always people awake there, morning noon or midnight.”
Raelean groaned and rubbed his eyes. “Don’t we have a test on divinations tomorrow?”
“The professor is sick. He left a couple hours ago, and left a note on his door saying he was going to some health resort to the south. The test is cancelled until he returns.”
“Sick huh?” He muttered, eyeing the necromancer. “How convenient, isn’t that?”
Lilith laughed and giggled. “Interesting idea, but no, I wouldn’t do that.”
“If it weren’t for your father being a paladin, and indeed the founder of this temple, we would have thought this child was yours out of wedlock,”muttered Sister Francine. She eyed the necromancer’s face for a moment and then looked back to the babe cradled in the necromancer’s arms. “Imagine someone simply ditching a babe on your doorstep! I’m still having problems just thinking of whom the poor woman must have been thinking!”
“Probably just as appalled at the situation as you are,” Raelean muttered, crossing his arms and looking away from the pair sitting in a church pew. He studied the architecture for a moment and then rested his eyes on the stained glass windows, in particular the one of Sir Phoebus Bloodstone, paladin and defender of the realm.
The sister ignored him and continued to complain, going into a well-rehearsed speech about the sins of mankind and in general saying that promiscuity leads to the Black Rose. He resisted the urge to laugh when she said ‘Black Rose’. He himself considered it to be something entirely different than the symbol of evil and corruption that everyone else thought it was.
The Black Rose was death.
Or at least as far as Raelean was concerned, an incarnation of death, manifested in many ways. He could write the nun an essay on the whole concept, but to show it to anyone... Few people even used the phrase, unless they were priests or mages, some people even considered it swearing.
The dark window looked down upon Raelean with glass eyes. For a moment the elf saw a glimmer of Phoebus’s personality in there, the strong will and shrewdness. Phoebus was a man to be admired and reckoned with, even when it was only a glass window.
A door opened to the back of the temple, and Raelean heard two pairs of footsteps coming closer. One was booted and echoed. The other padded softly and was barely detectable to anyone without elven ears.
He turned and saw a cloaked figure stop in the entrance, hard boots ceasing.
The soft padded ones continued.
Raelean swallowed and tried to concentrate on where the sound was coming from. He was certain of it, there was someone else who had just entered the temple.
The figure cleared their throat and pulled back their cowl so their face could be seen. “Excuse me sisters,” said a clear feminine voice. “The local inn is filled up for the night, I was wondering if I could beg upon your hospitality?”
Raelean frowned and reached into a pocket for some powdered silver. He held it up and sprinkled it into the air, while muttering a few quick arcane words.
The snow tiger materialized before him, looking at him sharply with two sharp green eyes. A silent growl came from its throat, as if in warning.
The elven boy swallowed. The tiger had to be easily six or seven times his weight, was less than a yard away, and only he could see it.
“Sure, I’ll just get you-” started the nun.
“You can stay with me and Lilith,” Raelean declared sharply, wondering what the heck he was saying before he even finished spitting out the words. He tried to smile but his face was still glued to the tiger before him. His hands were shaking and he hid them behind his back.
Lilith looked at the elf, confused more than she was concerned about sharing her room with a complete stranger. Then she noticed his shaking hands and looked back to the figure in the door.
A woman, easily older than Lilith, but still with the vibrance of youth, stood in the doorway. Judging by the feather’s framing her fair face, she guessed her to be a Taltos. Thats nothing to be afraid of. Unless he wasn’t afraid...?
Lilith smiled and hid a grin. Raelean has a crush. That’s a first, she thought. And for a human no less? Sheesh, she groaned inwardly. Boy was she going to have fun teasing him about this.
She never got a chance. No sooner were they out of earshot of the church than did Raelean turn about and point straight at the tiger, sprinkling a handful of silver dust over it and causing it to come into view for everybody.
The tiger moved too quickly for Lilith to recover from her shock of a huge seven hundred pounds of ferocious killing machine suddenly appearing out of nowhere. It leapt on top of the elf and buried him beneath its weight.
“Vajik!” cried the Taltos woman and grabbed the tiger by the ear and giving a yank. “Stop that right now!” she said as if she was scolding a child.
The tiger growled and glared, but nevertheless stood up, revealing a very squashed and bruised elven boy.
Lilith had to remind herself to breathe. “What’s going on here?” she gasped, and helped the elf to his feet.
The Taltos looked about sharply, checking to see if anyone in the dark street had noticed the incident. They could hear a patrol of guards coming from the north. She swallowed and looked for an exit. “Quickly! Into the alley!” she hissed.
The tiger leapt past her, bouncing off a crate and into the darkness of the alley. The Taltos was not far behind
Raelean clutched Lilith’s arm and yanked her along with him, ignoring her protests and confusion.
In the silence and darkness of the alley, they four waited, Raelean staring at the tiger, and the tiger glaring back. The patrol passed by, boots thumping and armour clinking constantly.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve elf,” muttered the tiger, his voice deep and annoyed.
Lilith’s eyes widened but she stayed silent. This time it was Raelean who would do the talking.
“And what about walking into a temple under the cloak of invisibility?” demanded the elven boy.
“He’s a spirit tiger,” the Taltos muttered simply. She looked at Lilith and then back to Raelean, seeing that she had their attention. “He’s a spirit guardian carrying the soul of one of my ancestors. He serves to protect me in times of need, but otherwise stays invisible all the time, usually just offering advice and warnings.”
Lilith listened dumbly. She had never heard of such a thing, but then again she wasn’t an expert on Taltos to begin with. She knew they revered their ancestors and that they were all vowed to the destruction of undead and evil spirits, but beyond that she knew nothing.
Raelean shook his head, but his eyes never left the tiger. “You still shouldn’t be going into temples anyway. Most of them have wards against such things.”
“I have no choice,” Vajik growled. “Where Sandora goes, so must I.”
“Intriguing,” said Lilith, feeling unsure whether she should be speaking. “I’d love to learn more about this. I study necromancy, and benevolent spirits are something of a rarity. Can you tell me more?”
The tiger looked appalled, as if he had just been stuffed and stuck over a mantlepiece to be admired and studied. He opened his mouth to speak, but couldn’t think of anything so simply shut it again.
“Sure,” Sandora replied with a glance at Vajik. “Perhaps you can even tell me if you know where I can find some information on malevolent elven spirits?” She looked at Raelean.
The elf swallowed. “There is only one kind of malevolent elven spirit that I know of.” He looked, eyes dry but looking like he was going to cry. “And that’s a banshee.”
“Banshee,” Lilith read aloud, holding a book aloft. “Human’s have a similar form of undead, called a groaning spirit, and the name banshee is sometimes mistakenly called that. The banshee is the glowing spirit of a female elf so evil that they have damned themselves to undeath. An evil woodland creature who’s touch can slowly kill a person, and who’s keen is so terrible it kills everything with ears. They are non-corporeal, and thus can’t even been harmed with silver weapons. Banshees can sense living creatures miles away, and use that ability to track them down and kill them.”
“To heck with stabbing her with your father’s dagger,” Raelean muttered. “If you even get that close before she keens.”
Lilith closed the book and looked across the room where Sandora and the tiger lay on a heap of blankets. “Not many people have gotten a chance to study a banshee’s wail, for obvious reasons. Thats why there’s very little known about them, other than the fact that they’re very rare.”
“Are they similar to any other forms of spirits?” asked Sandora.
Lilith smiled broadly. “Ghosts, haunts, poltergeists, phantoms, spectres, wraiths, and a dozen other spirits.” She pursed her lips and thought about it for a moment. “Probably the most similar is the haunt, but it drains its victims or possesses them. Banshees may even be able to possess people. its just that nobody has ever lived to tell the tale. When it comes down to it, no other undead have a power like groaning spirits do.”
“No other undead, you said?” Raelean muttered and looked up. “I suppose sirines don’t count?”
“A sirine’s song is used to charm, not kill.” Lilith frowned and brushed some hair away from her eyes.
“Still, its similar.”
“The similarity ends with the fact that you can block your ears with wax to avoid a song, but a banshee screams a lot louder than a sirine’s song. You’ll still be able to hear her despite the wax.”
Raelean sighed and looked at Sandora. “I guess we can’t really help you then,” he muttered and stood up. “Good night you two.” He paused and looked at the tiger. “Three.”
Lilith awoke in the middle of the night to someone crying. She looked about in the darkness and then reached out with one hand to brush the curtain aside, letting in some moonlight from the window. She stopped and watched the shadows, letting her eyes adjust to the light.
Sandora was rolling about in her quilts as if in pain, tears streaming down her face. She moaned softly and whispered a name.
The tiger looked at Lilith, his green eyes glowing in the darkness.
“Does this happen often?” asked the necromancer.
“Too often,” growled the tiger softly.
“Whats she dreaming about?”
“Her parents dying. They were killed by a blood-drinker.”
“Maybe. Nobody’s quite sure.” Vajik fell silent for a moment and looked away. “The bodies were ripped to pieces after being drained. Vampires don’t do that.”
“Succubus perhaps? Some kind of demon?”
Vajik’s eyes narrowed to slits. “What would you know about succubi?”
“I banished one not long ago.”
The eyes widened momentarily. “You’re more impressive than I thought. Perhaps Raelean isn’t the only one to be reckoned with.”
“What do you mean?”
“Raelean has wits. He knew I was there, perhaps it was his elven hearing, maybe it was instinct. And then there’s his aura...”
“Aura? What kind?”
“Of power. You have it too, but his is unusually powerful.” The eyes narrowed once more. “Is he very good at his studies?”
“Oh definitely! The headmaster thinks that he’s perhaps the brightest pupil they’ve ever had!”
“Or heard of, I’ll wager,” muttered the tiger.
“What do you mean?”
“A silence spell should do it,” declared Raelean. “Nobody will be able to hear anything within the globe of silence, let alone her keen. Then its just a matter of me using the Magic Jar spell to dominate her and force her into a gem for containment.”
“Magic Jar?” Lilith said in disbelief. “Are you sure you have the skill to cast such a spell?”
“It will be tough, but I’m sure I can do it. I don’t have to take over her body in this case, so I only have to memorize part of the spell to force her spirit into the gem, and just cast that part. If I can’t, then we’re going to have to rely on your’s and Sandora’s skills. Although Vajik makes the most sense, because he can’t be injured by her.”
Lilith sat there, stupefied. She glanced at Vajik, and the tiger’s eyes met hers knowingly.
They were sitting in a tavern booth eating breakfast, Raelean’s treat. Only the tiger, who didn’t need sustenance anyway and was invisible to everyone else in the tavern, remained silent during their discussion. Lilith couldn’t even guess what silent thoughts were churning through his head.
“I could try it on Vajik, if he’ll let me, just to demonstrate, but I don’t have a gem to trap him inside,” Raelean muttered lowly, not looking at the tiger. He was still bearing bruises from his scuffle the night before.
“If you don’t have a gem, how do you expect to defeat the banshee without it?”
“We need to find her lair. I’m sure she’ll have gems in there somewhere.”
“Intelligent undead do have a tendency to collect wealth,” agreed Sandora, who seemed to like the plan. “And I can find her lair using some divination spells to my gods.”
Lilith frowned and then brightened. “It looks like I may get my chance to study banshees then. When shall we leave?”
The threesome continued to talk and discuss, and even laugh a little. Meanwhile a tear rolled out of Vajik’s eye and dropped to the tavern floor unnoticed.
Sandora sat in her trance-like state for a long time. Vajik had disappeared altogether, and Lilith could only presume he was escorting her in the spirit worlds. What lay in those shadowy realms on a distant plane of existence, she wondered?
Was it a totally different concept than what we viewed as existence here? Was it more thought and energy than matter? Was there a hierarchy or was everyone equal? She wondered where her father was in that place. Was it all shadowy? Or did he exist in a place with more light?
Raelean poked her, disrupting her thoughts.
“What?” she murmured, not wanting to disturb Sandora’s trance.
“You looked a lot like your father there for a moment,” he muttered. “It was rather weird actually.”
Lilith shook her head and smiled. She brushed several strands of black hair away from her face and looked about the barren, dead landscape.
“Only thistles live here,” she murmured.
“Likely the only plants tough enough to survive with so much evil present,” agreed Raelean. He leaned back and looked up at the stars, watching as smoke from their campfire trailed upwards.
“She’s coming,” Sandora announced, her eyes opening abruptly. She stood quickly and reached for a lance she had carved from the long thin branch of a dead tree. “I suggest you cast your silence spell now Lilith. We’ll hold her off or drive off for tonight, and then Vajik will track her to her lair.” She knelt beside the lance and grabbed a hot coal from the fire with her gloves, ignoring the heat as she cast an enchantment upon her lance.
The necromancer nodded, not accustomed to taking orders, but nevertheless obeying. The crackle of the fire disappeared a moment later and sound ceased to exist. It was rather strange she concluded, to live without sound.
The branches swayed in the wind and she could feel the warmth of the fire to her right, but no sounds were present. She realized they wouldn’t be able to tell which direction the banshee was coming from until she reached there, and furthermore, they wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other.
Raelean touched her hand and the necromancer jumped, startled. He smiled and pointed into the darkness. She followed his hand and saw.
Fear crept down her spine and she wanted to run from this place. The aura of glowing energy that surrounded the figure that came their way was immense. It was black and grey and hints of green, and it swirled madly around the figure like a cape of rags. The elf amidst those swirls of evil would have been incredibly beautiful, had her face not been twisted with rage and her mother opening to shriek out spouts of black fumes.
No one had mentioned that ability, Lilith concluded, trying to observe as much as she could and ignore the panic spreading through her soul. She clutched at her father’s medallion under her scarf and began to pray. It was obvious that no one had thought it was important, but the necromancer’s experience with black fumes was such that it gave her nightmares.
Meanwhile Raelean was spreading a mixture of iron dust, silver dust and salt in a circle around their campfire, all the while chanting his spell. When he was done a wall of silver flames leapt upwards around the circle, only about a foot high, but their purpose was evident.
A circle of protection, Lilith breathed easier, and the fear inside her seemed to subside. It was obvious to her now that the creature before possessed some form of fear aura. She also knew that normally iron dust, silver dust and salt was used for three different types of circles. Raelean must have been wanting to be extra sure.
The banshee paused a dozen feet away from the group. Her eyes narrowed and went from one person to the next, and then fixed on Vajik, as the tiger strode forward, teeth bared in a silent growl and muscles rippling and tensing. The banshee sneered and opened her mouth, letting out what must have been a keen, but all the threesome sensed and saw was the black fumes being spit out.
Vajik flattened his ears as if annoyed by the sound, the only one outside of the sphere of silence and thus the only one able to hear it.
The banshee stopped, as if confused.
Vajik padded forward slowly, as if stalking his prey.
Sandora levelled her lance, which was now glowing a deep red colour from the enchantment.
Raelean only smiled and playfully held up a handful of silver dust.
Lilith realized they were attempting to intimidate the banshee, but were too afraid to step outside the circle. Not sure what else to do, she closed her eyes and concentrated on a spell that would let her see into the mind of the banshee, perhaps learn more that way.
In her mind’s eye, she saw a black aura surrounding the banshee, the banshee’s eyes closed. As she came closer, forcing her mind towards her, she felt the black tendrils fleeing from her touch, and she came closer still.
The banshee’s eyes opened abruptly and Lilith could hear a hiss of anger in her mind. The black tendrils surged forward, attempting to create a protective wall around her, but Lilith’s hand flashed through the tendrils, snapping them easily.
And suddenly she was in. She could see images, and feel the banshee’s thoughts. Evil, malignant thoughts. Hate and pain, scorned love, a family of elves dying, corruption feeding upon itself as the elven woman saw herself slowly grow more evil and vile. And then the sun, the sun was beating down on her, yet it was the middle of winter. Everything churned slowly, faces, words, thoughts, madness crept over Lilith and she realized the banshee was trying to force her out of her mind by using lots of confusing images. Then she saw an image of herself, the white-robed necromancer, lying prone before the banshee’s feet. She saw herself slowly growing withered and grey, her skin falling out and her flesh giving way to bone...
Lilith screamed, ending the spell and falling backwards on to her bedroll. No sound came from her throat, but she continued to scream and cry, cry like she had never cried before. She tried to get control of herself, and looked up with tearful eyes at the banshee.
The elven spirit sneered and seemed to snicker.
Lilith swore despite herself. Without thinking, she grabbed a burning brand from the fire and leapt forward, running to the edge of the circle of protection and throwing it wildly at the banshee.
The brand passed straight through of course, but the fire burned away the tendrils of darknes, and for a brief moment pain crossed the banshee’s face.
Vajik growled and leapt, his ghostly claws sinking into the banshee’s flesh, and his teeth tearing into her side.
Sandora jabbed her lance forward, striking the banshee in the shoulder, and blue fire spewing from the tip.
A sprinkle of silver dust later, and the banshee backed away from group, gagging and backhanding the tiger away from her with supernatural power that sent Vajik rolling.
She took one last sharp look back at Lilith and then fled into the darkness.
Vajik rolled to his feet and padded several steps before looking at Sandora.
The Taltos nodded.
The tiger bared his teeth and ran off in chase of the banshee.
Lilith tried to catch her breath. She waited a minute, looking at her shaking comrades. Motioning to them to do the same, she stepped outside of the sphere of silence.
Raelean nodded and stepped out too, Sandora following.
Lilith took a deep breath and grinned. “She can’t stand the sunlight, and she can only use her keen once per day, and even then only at night. I say we attack her during the day, when she’s most vulnerable.”
Where night had engulfed the group like some great black void of inpenetrable evil, day was much calmer, and to Lilith, nowhere near as frightening. The heavily frosted thistles glistened and were actually quite beautiful during the day, whereas in night they had been sharp talons reaching out and waiting.
The lair Vajik had trailed the banshee to was a massive old weathered oak tree, quite dead, but still standing strongly. It loomed over the forest with its many spreading limbs, still looking quite alive except for its lack of leaves. Hidden high amongst its boughs was a house, not a very big one, but a house it was nevertheless. Not all of it was attached, some of it sprawled to other branches, connected via rope bridges.
It would have looked like a very pleasant home, were it not for the black and grey vapours that hung around the branches like a different kind of foliage. They seethed and seemed impenetrable, blocking out the sky behind with their sheer opaqueness.
Raelean tested the rope ladder with his foot, and looked up the length of the ladder to where the front door, which was actually a hatch in the bottom of the house, lay resting upon a huge limb.
“I’m tempted to just burn the tree down,” growled Vajik.
“Gem’s can melt, and it would seem wize to try and get them first. Especially since we need them so much,” muttered Lilith. She swallowed a tiny amount of fear, but there was still plenty more where that came from. “How do we get past the vapours?”
Raelean shrugged. “I’m hoping a light spell will drive them away. Circles of protection won’t work here, its her center of power. The vapours are meant to keep out the sun obviously, so they might also be effective versus light spells, who knows?”
“How about dispelling them?” asked Lilith, trusting in Raelean’s judgement.
“We might as well be trying to dispel an artifact. This is her center of power afterall.” The elven boy seemed to be reconsidering his plan. “How about positive energy?” he asked, looking to Lilith.
“The sun and light is forms of positive energy. Lets stick to those until we learn more, okay?”
Raelean nodded and looked at Sandora and the tiger. The Taltos shrugged in response and opened a pouch, from which light flooded from it. She pulled out a brilliantly glowing piece of quartz and tossed it upwards into the boughs of the tree.
There was a momentary bright flash as the quartz reacted with the black foliage. The foliage disappeared, but more foliage seethed back into where it had just occupied. Quartz dust drifted down from above, sparkling in the sunlight.
“Doesn’t work, more just takes its place,” growled Vajik.
“Yes, but it lessens the amount in other areas,” the elven boy pointed out. “Keep doing it.”
Sandora pulled out a handful this time, and threw them hard up into the boughs. This time there was a loud crack, like thunder, and sparks flew. The foliage took longer to spread back into place this time.
Raelean climbed up the first several rungs of the rope ladder. “Now do it straight above me,” he called.
The Taltos nodded and tossed a handful up. Again an explosion of sparks. One of the rope rungs caught a spark and started on fire.
Raelean continued upwards, grabbing a handful of snow and extinguishing the fire.
“Keep going,” urged Lilith. She wrung her hands and tried to think of something useful for her to do. That’s when she saw the banshee emerge from a window high up the house.
The banshee looked down at the Taltos, and then turned to glare at Lilith. She didn’t see Raelean straight below her, there was too many branches in the way.
“Here’s where we come in,” growled Vajik loudly, bumping the necromancer’s leg with his tail.
The daughter of a paladin nodded and spoke several arcane words and held up a hand. Four blue bolts of energy sizzled away from her hand, arcing towards the banshee.
The elven spirit tried to dodge about the bolts, but they merely turned and followed, striking her and only seeming to annoy her.
It was a start, Lilith believed.
The banshee groaned, and sounded a bit like she was crying. She looked much less threatening during the day. No glowing essence, merely a translucent figure surrounding by a protective armour of black vapours.
Another explosion of sparks, this one closer to th banshee, drove her upwards and above the tree. She looked downwards, evil glinting in her eyes, and then turned and dove straight towards Sandora.
Vajik waited and tensed. Sandora must have knew what he intended to do, because she immediately knelt down so that when the banshee was closer enough to the ground, the tiger leapt over the Taltos, catching the elven spirit with his talons, and then dragging her with him out of sheer momentum.
The banshee screached as she was pnned to the ground. Vajik roared in her face, and for a moment the two seemed to be at a standoff. Then she swatted the tiger across the face, her supernatural strength making up for the tiger’s superior bulk.
The tiger rolled and came to his feet with a hiss.
The banshee was about to advance, both hands glowing with nimbuses of black sparkling energy, when a bolt of silver energy caught her in the side. She glanced back at Lilith, seemingly unperturbed but levelling a glare colder than the frost on the ground.
The necromancer swallowed and started to cast another spell.
Vajik meanwhile had taken this brief opportunity to get closer. By the time the banshee looked back to her opponent, the tiger was in mid-leap, and descended upon her once more, claws and fangs tearing away.
Raelean emerged from the house above triumphantly with a waving a blood red ruby that only Sandora noticed, only to find the rope ladder below him to be burning upwards again. Black tendrils were creeping back into place, scarcely feet away from his head. He glanced at Sandora, who dropped her pouch and held up her last glowing quartz.
The elven boy shook his head, knowing a single quartz would not get him down to the ground anyway, and the Taltos seemed to understand.
She spun and threw it at the banshee instead, it sparking against the banshee’s black armour. Then she picked up her lance and began to enchant it once more.
A tendril of black evil touched his hand, and out of shock the elven boy let go of the rope. He fell down, his cloak catching on a branch and then ripping just as quickly. He landed on one foot and heard a snapping sound as something in his ankle broke. He groaned and slumped against the base of the oak tree. The ruby lay several feet away, out of reach.
Lilith meanwhile was trying unsuccessfully to keep her distance from the elven spirit, who seemed quite capable of holding of all three opponents. Twice now the banshee had struck her, and she felt fiery numbness in those spots, almost like frost burn.
Vajik and the banshee would exchange hits frequently, but seemed to be impervious to each other except for the momentum and force of their attacks which sent them flying.
The Taltos faired much better, keeping her distance and keeping her now green glowing lance in between her and the banshee.
Raelean groaned and tried to stand, tripping on several raised roots of the tree. He fell forward and reached out for the ruby, caught hold of it and held it tightly, refusing to let it go again.
Looking up he began to chant his spell and stare intently at the banshee. He could feel something inside him churning and growing, spreading down his arm and seeping into the gem. He could feel the ruby throbbing between his fingers as he clutched it. He started to speak louder and louder, until the very last syllables of his spell became a scream.
The banshee turned at the sound of the scream, and her eyes widened.
A moment later she vanished, an obsidian amulet dropping where she had stood.
Inside Raelean’s mind he saw a plain of grey wheat. blowing gently in the wind of his thoughts. Surrounding him was a red nimbus that glowed strongly and smoothly.
The elven spirit turned towards him, her face not twisted with evil and hatred, but soft and beautiful. Tears ran down her cheeks as she studied the elven youth before her. The black tendrils around her were scant and barely covered her female torso. She seemed unaware of her nakedness before the boy.
“Thou hast two choices,” Raelean declared, speaking elven, his voice deeper and wiser sounding than it was in real life. “Flee this world and remove thy curse upon this forest, or I shall trap thee within the ruby for all eternity.”
The elven spirit nodded with understanding. “Very well. I will not fight thou here.”
“And why not?”
“I can sense that you are one to be reckoned with,” she said slowly, her green eyes sharp. “Will I be able to sense the outside world from within the jewel?”
“No, thy spirit will be caught in stasis.”
“My existence is one of pain. I cannot go anywhere without feeling the pain of my existence. Suicide was my choice in life, seeking to escape from my pain. I shall take the imprisonment. I shall feel no pain there, correct?”
“Correct,” Raelean replied.
“And then thou will destroy the ruby, and my soul will be ripped to pieces, and I shall cease to exist.”
Raelean looked at her sharply. “Why do thy wish me to do that?”
“Because I don’t want to exist anymore. I’m tired of all the pain. If by some chance that someone releases me from the ruby, then I shall resume my painful existence. Destroy me, and I shall never harm anyone again.”
Raelean reached out and brushed away one of her tears. “Very well.”
Raelean awoke to a roaring fire. It was night now, he had been asleep for a long time. The powerful spell had worn him out thoroughly, and then pain in his ankle never ceased. He opened his hand and looked at the ruby still clutched there.
Lilith lay beside him, sleeping peacefully, her body pressed against his for warmth. She had likely to thought about prying the ruby from his hands, but perhaps had realized that he was deep in discussion with the spirit.
Across from the fire, Vajik and Sandora lay together, the tiger awake as always and watching over them. He caught the elf boy’s eyes through the wavering air above the flames.
Raeleans eyes watered and he held up the ruby. He paused and looked at it for a moment, thinking. With a sigh he tossed it into the flames and watched it amongst the coals as it cracked from the heat, and then melted slowly into glowing red sludge.
He looked back at the tiger again, who seemed to be smiling, and he smiled back. He turned back towards Lilith and nestled down next to her, tucking her quilts around both of them more tightly and then kissing her fiercely on the forehead.
Above them the oak tree blew in the chill late autumn wind, leaf buds growing as if predicting a warm winter.
Lilith hugged Sandora closely and smiled as she let the Taltos go. She paused and scratched Vajik’s ears, knowing that he didn’t really feel pain or pleasure, but it was the thought that counted. It was a gesture of affection.
A gesture of affection, thought Raelean, watching. Kisses were a gesture of affection, they only felt good because of the symbolism behind them. He came forward and handed Sandora three vials they had found in the banshee’s house. “They will keep you from getting frostbite,” he explained. “The banshee had no use for them obviously.” He hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.
Sandora blushed a bit, unused to such affection, and kissed him on the forehead. “We’ll come back and visit sometime, and should you ever need aid, you can contact another Taltos, and they can send us a message via the spirit worlds.”
The necromancer raised an eyebrow, realizing that the speed of sending such messages across the globe was indeed useful. She smiled and looked down at the obsidian amulet in her hand.
The pair walked out of Academy’s gates and turned down the street, the tiger fading from sight.
Raelean turned to Lilith, smiling. “Have you found out what the amulet does yet?”
“Yep!” she declared. “Its the cause of all those vapours. They weren’t part of the banshee’s own power, simply the result of the amulet. The enchantment however, is quite interesting and I’ve shown it to Headmaster Kerdrimm. He said it was our duty to destroy such an evil artifact, but then I suggested the possibility of reversing its effects, making silver mists instead.”
“He liked the idea, so he’s going to assist. Changing the enchantment will actually be easier than destroying it,” she explained. “I’ll probably use a stone-turning spell too, to turn it into white marble.”
“Whats the point of that?”
“Symbolic,” Lilith shrugged. “Kerdrimm said magic was very symbolic in many ways, and it helps the enchantment that way.”
“Symbolic,” murmured Raelean. “People are also very symbolic.”