<------------Previous Chapter Eladrin: Dawn Chapter Five Marques were annoying pests to most people. The size of a human toddler, with long, lean limbs of corded muscle and enormous hands and feet, they were almost comical in appearance. Their torsos were pot-bellied, usually bare to the elements because of their general disdain for clothing, they could shift pigments in their bodies on a subconscious level to allow them to blend into their surroundings like demented chameleons. This, combined with their disturbing proficiency with sneaking about, made them able thieves.
The one piece of clothing they always wore, no matter what, were their face masks. Carved from wood, bone, or even stone, the masks of one tribe differed vastly from the masks of another. Be it a carved smile, a symbol on their forehead, or oddly shaped eyeholes, they were easy to distinguish from a suitable distance away when compared to Marques from a few forests away.
They typically wielded heavy clubs, crudely whittled from fallen branches. Sometimes they had bows and arrows, though these were primitive to the extreme and little more than sharpened sticks animal tendons strung between particularly bendy sticks fired that.
To be blunt, an attack from a group of Marques was a mild nuisance and nothing more.
Melfice knew this. And he understood this.
But as he stood there by Elena, flinging bolts of flame from his crackling fingertips, he could only swear at the snarling rats as they charged in seemingly endless waves at him.
Wheeze had caught up to Skelly just as the first troupe of Marques had, cackling as he took a long lunge and drop-kicked one through the tree line with nary a grunt. He’d even been smiling as he’d done so, winking at Skelly as he passed him.
Then he’d been peppered with over a dozen arrows, a third of which had sunk into his chest and stomach.
He wasn’t smiling anymore as the other Marques, wielding clubs littered with nails, had closed in on him bellowing shrill war cries.
Needles had rushed in to render aid while Elena intercepted Skelly as he’d stumbled and fallen into the snowy earth. Melfice had run up alongside her, casting a weak barrier spell over her and her patient to shield them from any wayward arrows. While that felt like it’d been hours ago, Melfice knew it was only a few minutes.
“How is he?” Melfice asked, pulling energy from the surrounding air. Eladrin was a world of magic, and as a wizard they trained him in how to take that natural power and funnel it into useful abilities.
Skelly groaned as Elena pulled the last arrow out with one hand before pressing her other, glowing with divine energy, over the ragged hole as it gushed blood. “Stable, but I think they poisoned these arrows!”
Melfice grunted as he pushed more energy into his shield, five arrows clattering against the nearly translucent protection. “Not surprising, we’re close to the marshes. It going to be an issue?”
Skelly, partially sitting up, reached feebly into a hip pouch as Posnev’s two heads whined. “Shouldn’t be. I bought some general antitoxins from an apothecary. She said they would be effective against most of the toxic fauna found in the swamps.”
“And if the arrows are coated in viper venom?” Melfice asked, skimming down a page detailing his next spell.
Skelly frowned. “Then any treasure you find will be divided four ways, rather than five.”
“Don’t even joke!” Elena snapped, glaring at Skelly. “I have a spell to slow the effects of most poisons. Give me a minute and I can cast it!”
Melfice tuned the two out as they continued to bicker and watched as Needles cut the throat of another Marques that had climbed onto Wheeze’s back, only for two more to move to his side and swing at his knees. He let out a pained cry and dropped down as one struck with a resounding crack.
“Prince of Flames, call upon your furious servants and guide this lash to strike down those who would harm me and mine!” Melfice intoned, eyes crackling with arcane energy. Springing from the tips of his index and ring finger, a lash of smoky embers grew and uncoiled. Stopping at nearly twenty feet, he willed it to animate and swung it out towards the pack of two-dozen Marques hounding his comrades.
The length of sparking embers seared into the hides of four Marques as if they were made of wet clay, blood spurting out in wide arcs as the wounds opened their internal organs to the dim light of the evening air. Two didn’t even cry out in pain, dying instantly, while the other scrambled to flee from the dangerous spell. One lost his left arm at the collarbone, dropping and wailing as he tried to hold his blood and seared lung inside his chest.
They cut the other off at the knees as the burning coil wrapped around his gangly limbs, snapping them like dry reeds. He hit the ground with a grunting wheeze; the air knocked from him in an instant.
Wheeze rolled his shoulders and swung out with a wild slash of his already gore-caked longsword, cleaving through two more Marques as they closed in on him. He backed up to offer what aid he could to Needles, who’d whipped a pair of slim daggers from his boots while taking a knee and pitching them into a brave Marque as it closed in on him.
With some breathing room, Needles called out. “Wizard, now would be the time for something more impressive than a bloody smoke whip!”
Melfice scowled, partially at the poor description of his mastery over the elements, the rest over the fact that the simpleton was right. Nearly thirty Marques had formed into small groups near the forest’s edge and were peppering them all with their crude arrows. While Melfice’s barrier was keeping him and Elena safe while she worked on Skelly, Wheeze and Needles were having to physically grab a struggling Marques to use as shields for the rain of death every volley.
Helped thin the numbers though, so there was that.
“Okay!” Melfice shouted back, flipping into the back section of his grimoire. “Give me a moment, this spell is a bit tricky!”
A dull roar came from the wooded area, earning a flinch from Skelly as his face went white. “We may not have a minute… that was a Render’s call!”
“What’s a Render?” Elena asked as she closed the last of the druid’s wounds.
The answer came crashing through the edge of the forest, knocking over two young trees with resounding crashes.
It stood tall, taller than any troll or ogre Melfice had ever read about, and three times as broad. Its skin was slate gray, pitted with hundreds of scars and old wounds that had healed over poorly, and crude tattoos that looked little better than pictograms by a visually impaired child. It had no neck, it’s head jutting from between the massive shoulders. It bore no eyes and had jaws large enough to fit a wolf into if given the chance, lined with dozens of needle-sharp teeth that jutted up from violet gums erratically. Its arms ended in three massive fingers, hooked claws tearing great gouges in the earth as it bounded forward like an ape would.
It roared a monumental challenge, stopping some thirty feet from Wheeze and Needles to ball its meaty fists and pound the ground in a plain tantrum. The mild tremors that Melfice felt from nearly one hundred feet away told him this thing was stronger than any natural beast should be.
“That,” Skelly said, grunting as he stood up, “that is a Render.”
“Holy Hell!” Elena swore, shaking her head. Overcome with a sudden feeling of dread, she took a hesitant step back. “What do we do?”
Skelly spat out a growl as he flexed his hand, his sleeve sliding out a long-handled short sword that shimmered in the dim light of the evening. “What we do,” he said, breaking into a charge with Posnev, both heads baying, “is kill that monster before it kills us!”
Breaking through the barrier without so much as a backward glance, Melfice watched Skelly join the fray with a heavy strike against the back of a cheering Marques. The blade sizzled against the creature’s skin, shattering bones and rending muscle enough to drop the pitiful foe in a crumpled pile of blood and pain. Posnev leapt onto a group of three teeth and claws gnashing and cutting into their flanks with enough violence that the minute demi-humans barely shouted, let alone defend themselves.
Elena, resolute that her allies were now all in, stepped forward and slipped a hand over Melfice’s shoulder. “Give me the control over the barrier, I’ll keep it up.”
He nodded, relinquishing the draining spell. He didn’t know if she had the skill or expertise to maintain it for long, but he only needed it for perhaps thirty seconds. He was already running his finger over the old script he’d copied from one of the older books of war spells he’d “borrowed” from the Master’s Library in the Basalt Tower in the early hours of one morning while the rest of the apprentices exchanged gifts for some silly human holiday.
Wheeze pulled Needles to his feet, whispering something to him that earned a stiff nod from the other man. They then broke apart, sprinting away from the clump of Marques that’d swarmed them as Skelly hacked into them like a man possessed. Melfice could see the Primal magic roiling off the old druid and knew that he was doing something that would quite the sight to see if he pulled it off.
Elena groaned as the barrier spell switched over to her, the strain more than the young priestess had been expecting. Still, she maintained it, wincing as she pulled more energy from the surroundings into the spell. Another half dozen arrows bounced off the shielding, showing it was still strong.
The Render roared again before dropping into a loping run, charging headlong towards Skelly. It trampled three Marques archers that didn’t have the good sense to get out of its way, squishy pops loud enough for Melfice from this far away told him that the pitiful souls likely died before they even realized what had happened. The Render howled as it rapidly closed the distance, rearing up into a partial leap as it closed in on Skelly just as the druid dispatched another two Marques that had tried to flank Posnev.
The druid, now wreathed in the crackling blue energies of the world’s natural magic, met the beast in a it’s headlong charge with a bellow of his own. He swung the blade, both hands white-knuckled as he gripped the long handle of the sword, intent on cutting into the belly of the Render as it dropped onto him.
“No!” Elena cried, worried for Skelly as the two collided in a thunderclap of claws and magic.
Melfice felt the barrier flex and weaken because of her distraction, but didn’t care. The boom that had been released from the two meeting had almost blown him back, and he was almost done with his spell and needed to maintain his own concentration.
The snow blew back as the two fought, Skelly raining down vicious strikes into the resilient hide of the Render with the now glowing sword. It crackled with blue lightning, each blow issuing a crack of thunder and the force of a lightning strike as the energy arced off the metal and into the beast, the round, and Skelly himself.
Skelly didn’t seem to mind as he also was wreathed in the arcing energies, a protective field that electrocuted the Render every time it slammed him with its titanic hands. The show of natural magic absorbed the blows, which should have torn Skelly in half, though even Melfice could see the strain that Skelly was now under as he soaked the rage of the beast.
Blood seeped from his ears down the sides of his head, and his nose was running free with the crimson essence. He shook from uncontrollable tremors, and patches of his skin were darkening as if he was slowly being cooked alive.
It was killing him.
“He can’t keep this up!” Elena shouted, losing control of the barrier fully.
But Melfice didn’t care.
He dropped his grimoire; the book swinging down to his thigh by the thick chain attached to his belt, and thrust his hands out, fingers splayed wide.
And the very air burst in flames before him.