Tyria only heard the faintest sound to warn her of attack. Turning, she caught the Fell’s stomach with the swinging blade, disembowelling it. It kept coming, momentum propelling it. The extended claws sliced through the heavy leather of her jerkin.
Armour, she thought through the wave of pain that engulfed her. I need armour. She kicked the next attacker in the gut, and beheaded it. Lots and lots of really strong armour.
Hot slick blood spread through her cotton undershirt.
Keep moving, she ordered herself. Don’t think about them, about Reese, about anything. Keep moving. If you stop, you die.
The blob of light moved further out over the lake of blood and all around her the dark shadows, with claws as sharp as steel, writhed and thickened. Their own rancid blood pooled beneath her feet, and splattered across her face. She spat it out.
Abruptly the attack stopped. Breathing hard, Tyria turned around in a circle, trying to gauge their next trick. A figure coalesced from the darkness beyond her vision, a woman—or so it seemed until you looked into the inkpools of her eyes.
But do that for any length of time and you would be lost.
“Scion of Tyr.” The female bowed with the grace of a courtesan. “Chosen One of the Dark God, Mother-To-Be, we welcome you.”
Tyria stilled her heaving chest, drew in a centring breath before answering.
“Enchassa,” she said to the Fell enchantress, keeping her tones as even as possible. It would not do to let this creature read her, to let her see the desires or fears within. It wasn’t a name, but a title, for when they became so powerful they ceased to have names of their own. “Who would have thought your people would have so many titles for me?”
The creature smiled, the cunning behind that smile only partially masked by the illusion of beauty.
“We did not give these titles to you. Our god chose you to bear his child. One day you shall. They are not titles, but facts.”
Tyria wiped her sword clean on the Fell corpse at her feet, buying time for Reese, but also to see what the Enchassa would do. “Your cousins, the Fair Ones, have a name for me too. They call me Death’s Daughter. Il-M’Shandra.”
At the sound of the Fair One’s language many of the Fell shied back, chittering amongst themselves in their cursed tongue. But the Enchassa didn’t flinch.
“Yes. For all the bloodshed you have caused, Death’s Daughter is an apt name. You have no place here, Tyria, Scion of Tyr.”
“Perhaps. But here I am nonetheless.”
Reese struggled out of the lake behind her, carrying Elysse. His breath was strained, laboured. The brief glance Tyria allowed herself at her friends told her Elysse still lived, though she was locked in deep sleep, presumably by the Enchassa’s power. Reese trembled. He looked as if he was about to vomit.
“The blood. I can feel it burning,” he told her. “The magic…” He fell silent, concentrating on self control.
Blood and magic always went hand in hand. It was part of the reason Tyria had little time for enchantments and powers. Blood carried it, blood excited it and sometimes only blood could vanquish it. True Blood was not a title either. It was a curse.
And blood called the Fell. Even now they crept forward, hungry for Reese who was drenched in it and Elysse whose lifeforce they had already tasted.
Tyria bared her teeth and the Fell draw back. But still the Enchassa did not move. Her darker than dark eyes were like empty holes into the void.
“These two are our rightful prey,” she warned Tyria.
“You have no rightful prey.”
“Don’t we?” She waved her hand towards Reese and Elysse. “They came willingly. Elysse came to the pool to seek her true love’s face,” the Enchassa intoned in a sing-song voice. “Oh, she knew that villagers had disappeared, that we were abroad and she said she came to hunt for us. But she had heard the story. And when faced with the prospect of knowing for sure, she could not resist it.” The Enchassa came closer, approaching Reese like a cat stalking a mouse. “She saw you, her beloved… or rather she saw one of us. We picked your face from her head as easily as you might pluck an apple from a tree and we called to her with your beautiful voice.” The Enchassa reached out and for an instant it seemed she would stroke his face, but when Tyria raised her sword again, the hand froze in mid air. The nails slid to claws, glinting next to his skin. “Elysse leaned to kiss the image in the water, hungry for your kisses, eager for your touch.”
Reese shuddered, his eyes fixed on the woman in his arms. “You used me to trap her. It isn’t fair.”
His words sent the Enchassa into howls of laughter. “Fair?” She said at last. “We are not Fair, boy. We are Fell!”
The others laughed, a terrible snickering that filled the air around them, ran over their skin like the chitinous legs of insects.
“You are nothing but lies and illusions!” Tyria shouted, sick of their mockery, their derision.
“Perhaps,” the Enchassa said and the others fell silent, watching them. Her feral look turned Tyria’s heart to a block of ice. “But illusions are powerful, are they not? We all accept or project illusions. You think you are free? Time will tick away for you until our Master deems you ready and then you will be our Queen, Il-M’Shandra.”
“I’ll rot first.”
“Is that so?” She moved her hand in a single, fluid gesture.
Reese gave a gasp of dismay and recoiled from her side, staggering back with Elysse’s weight. Tyria glanced down and gagged. Her skin hung in ribbons, her bones gleaming white in the darkness. What remained of the flesh and muscles was rancid and grey. Maggots wriggled through her body.
It’s a trick, she told herself firmly. An illusion. All they do and say is a lie! But she could smell the decay! Her stomach heaved with the reek.
Tyria dropped her guard, just for that instant of doubt and the Fell seized her, shaking free her sword. It clattered against the rocks at her feet. Cruel hands fastened on her, securing her more firmly than any chains, their grip almost choking her. Eight or nine Fell, perhaps. Too many anyway. Too bloody many. As she struggled, they adapted their hold. If one weakened another took its place. When she tried to speak, a clawed hand slapped over her mouth and another yanked at her hair. Tyria couldn’t move. She could barely breathe.
“A case in point,” said the Enchassa with a self-satisfied purr. “Now, witness a real display of the power of illusion, Scion of Tyr.”
A wind sprang out of nowhere and Reese’s globe of light flickered in response to a stronger magical force. The Enchassa’s black hair billowed out behind her, rippling into shades of chestnut and copper. Her skin faded to pinks and cream, and she wore a white gown, a bridal gown. It only took seconds, but suddenly the Enchassa was gone, and Elysse stood in front of Reese, fair and whole again. Elysse, as she might have looked on her wedding day.
Reese glanced at the girl in his arms, a lacklustre imitation by comparison. The Enchassa stepped towards him, smiling that same predatory smile.
“Beloved,” she whispered. Even her voice was right. Tyria wouldn’t mistake Elysse’s voice, and neither would Reese. They both knew it too well and now the Enchassa had stolen that too. “My beloved Reese. I’ve had to wait so long and you have been so very far away.”
Tyria struggled, tried to rip herself out of the grasp of the other Fell. Their claws tore into her skin. They anticipated her every movement, quelling her escape attempt with brute force. Like a sacrificial victim before the knife, Reese stared wide-eyed at the Enchassa.
No, not him! Tyria’s mind whirled with the horror of it. I can’t watch this happen to a friend again. I can’t watch this happen to him!
The faces of those lost comrades flashed before her, men and women who had fallen victim to the Fell in the northern campaign. It was too much to be made see it again. And then what? What would they do when his soul and life’s energy was sucked dry and his blood had gone to join their reservoir of raw power? Magic like Reese’s would make them impossibly strong. They wouldn’t stop. Many people made their homes in the valley and beyond. Living, breathing people, made of flesh and oh so precious blood. Blood was power. It fed the Gods. It fed the magic.
Reese was drenched in blood from the chest down. Elysse hung in his arms like a rag doll, the glowing ball of light hovering above her heart. Drawn by the Enchassa’s power, Reese took a step forward and the ball brushed against his shirt, against the blood.
Tyria’s anger flared white hot and impotent. She reached out with her own small magic, blindly fumbling, looking for a way to stop them, to help, to do something, anything. But Reese was entangled in the Enchassa’s web, far beyond her help. Which left Elysse, locked in slumber. Tyria’s mind brushed against the spell, and small though her magic was, it was enough, for just a moment.
Elysse stirred, gave a moan of fear and her hands rose to touch Reese, her fingers encountering the magical ball. The globe of light flared blue for an instant and the spell fuelling it shattered.
© R. F. Long, 2009
Old Friends will continue right up to Christmas Eve, so come back to find out what happens next.