By Eve, with many many adoring thanks from me ❤
They all sat down in a circle on the ground, the ancient druid’s feverish body writhing on the bed beside them. As they closed their eyes, Laksha walked to each one, lightly touching them on the forehead sending them to sleep. Her whispered words brought their spirits into the mind of the druid. Cinder watched their bodies become still and their breaths become deep before sitting on Atticus’ bed and clutching his hand, anxiety etched into every line of her face. The wolf howled a low solemn sound as he stood watch from the door.
Light pierced through Kaia’s closed eyes, a familiar aroma of moist soil, wood, and exotic flora filled the air. The party’s eyes all slowly opened to find themselves at the treeline of a jungle, as if they had always been standing there and only now just realized. Kaia gasped and took a slight step back; she knew this treeline. It’s not real, she thought to herself, it’s not home. In the distance, a woman was crouched at the edge of the jungle, trying to see something within. Brown skin, white hair, piercing blue eyes, and a scimitar in hand, the team watched as a younger Kaia suddenly stood bolt upright, an expression of horror on her face at what she’d seen, and run straight between the trees.
“No!” Kaia cried out, watching her younger self dart out of sight. Rose, who had sensed an invisible forcefield surrounding the area, felt the hair on her arms stand on end as it burst like a bubble. Furrbles growled and pawed the ground.
“Where are we? What is this?” said Galavar, looking into the jungle. Kaia took two steps toward the trees, memory upon memory tumbling over each other in her mind. She looked over to the West, shot a frightened look at Rose, and took off in the direction of her village.
The party dashed in pursuit of Kaia, running across open plain. The air quickly changed from light to heavy. A darkness seemed to come over the sky, ash and smoke and screams winding through towards them. Kaia only ran faster as a village on fire, her village, came into view.
It was mayhem. The villagers were running in all directions, hunted down by cultists in black robes. Every house was set aflame, walls collapsing and windows bursting from the heat.
“Kaia,” Rose shouted, “It’s not real! It’s a nightmare! Just a nightmare!” Kaia pulled water out from her satchel in a panic, shaping it around the top of the house next to her. As the flames were quelled, a shudder of fear ripped through the party. They could manipulate the environment, which meant the environment could very well do the same to them. Kaia threw the water up into the air and over to the next house as Dave picked up a barrel throwing its water over a doorway to let some villagers escape.
A small group of children ran between the houses, screaming at the sight of six murderous cultists chasing them down. Kaia caught sight of one of their little faces, and in a burst of adrenaline upon recognizing them, she transformed into a bear, charging forward between the cultists and the children. She reared on her back legs, slashing the nearest black-robed villain to the ground. Rose shot crossbows into the fray as Furrbles sank his teeth into another. A giant spectral hand shot up from the ground, snapping a cultist in two. Dave’s staff and Vulgate’s force knocked two more aside. One by one, the cultists’ bodies exploded into ash, but one managed to evade death. He ran past Kaia, and just before she bit clean through his neck, swung his axe into the air and brought it down into a young boy. The ash from their deaths flurried to the ground as the horror-struck children looked up from their lost friend, straight into Kaia’s eyes.
“Why didn’t you save him?” they all said, and they ran from the scene.
Speechless, the party followed Kaia as she fought her way back to her house, clawing through cultists, shooting crossbows every which way, magical hands crushing enemies at every turn. No matter what they did, the villagers screamed at Kaia, “YOU DID THIS! You brought this on us! We are dying because of you!”
It’s not real, it’s not real, she repeated over and overbut a small voice wormed its way into her steady stream of reminders. What if this is what really happened? Isn’t this the reason you’re running home… to make sure you didn’t kill them?
Kaia slowed down, transforming back into her human form as she walked the last few steps to her hut’s door, somehow not on fire like the rest. Dave clutched a stitch in his side, breathing heavily from the fight. “Kaia, is this your house? Please tell us what’s going on,” he said. But Kaia didn’t have the words to respond. Every inch of her body was trembling with fear for only now had she realized the dial on her compass was no longer spinning endlessly, but instead pointing directly at her front door. She took a small breath, reached out for the handle, and pushed the door open into the living room. A giant mess awaited her. The floor was strewn with broken furniture and glass. A small kitchen to the left had been torn apart, knives stuck deep in the walls as if violently thrown. A wooden box had fallen from its shelf, the photos from inside jumbled, bent, and torn alongside it. She walked slowly to the far side of the room, towards the familiar spiral staircase to the second floor.
The party followed in her wake, past a room with a larger bed and muted decoration. Vulgate silently pointed to a spattered trail of blood that led from the larger room to a smaller room down the hallway. They entered it slowly, feeling Kaia’s anxiety pervading every corner. This room held a little cot, wardrobe, and children’s toys scattered across the ground. The walls were a light purple, and a small, white bedside table with a lamp and an unfinished drawing stood beside the bed. The room’s one window had been shattered; only sharp edges of panes remained, tinged with blood. They watched as Kaia bent down, reached under the bed, and pulled out another bracelet that resembled her own. The leather strap had been torn in two, as if ripped off its owner, and as Kaia held it in her shaking hand, they saw the dials of both compasses point to each other.
Kaia closed her fist around the broken bracelet and clutched the bed for support, her breath coming in shallow bursts. She dragged herself up to sit on the cot, feeling like her body weighed a thousand pounds. From the head of the bed, she pulled the soft pillow, covered in a familiar embroidered pillowcase onto her lap and buried her face in it, inhaling deeply. A small sob escaped her throat, and Rose moved forward, crouching beside Kaia. On the pillowcase Rose could see a beautifully embroidered name, stitched carefully onto the ivory material.
“Kaia,” she said softly, “Who’s Lelin?”
Just then, a high-pitched scream ripped through the air. A terror, so overwhelming, threw Kaia up from the bed. She forgot where they were, what they were doing, and why. She knew that scream, and there was nothing more important. Before the party could understand what was happening, Kaia was down the stairs and out the front door. Bewildered, but unwilling to separate from her, they followed in a rush. “LELIN,” Kaia yelled over and over, her eyes wide with fear. I’m coming. Hold on. Just hold on. She willed herself to run faster. Every scream tore through her like a knife as she followed them to a large central building. Kaia ran up the few steps toward the front hall. She threw the tall doors open and met a terrifying sight.
Across the large, circular room stood a tall, demonic creature with large red eyes, black hair, and black robes. In one hand he held a long sword. In the other, a little girl held two feet above the ground, tendrils of her white hair falling out of her ponytail, her piercing blue eyes filled with tears, and her small hands trying to free the scruff of her dress from the clutches of the creature.
“Lelin,” Kaia whispered as if all the breath had been knocked out of her.
Behind them, another Kalashtar man attempted to pummel his way through three tentacled, black-robed cultists. He yelled out Lelin’s name, as he knocked one to the ground. Kaia felt another wave of shock when she saw him. It forced her forward. She drew her scimitar, ready to fight alongside him once more until the end. She moved quickly out of the shadows as the man wrenched free of the cultists and threw himself toward Lelin. I’m coming, just hold on! Kaia thought as Lelin and the man stretched their arms out to each other. But it was too late. Lelin let out a scream as the creature pulled her out of reach, tossing her like a ragdoll against the far wall, while simultaneously cutting the man down in one fell swoop.
It was too much. Kaia fell to the ground and as if in slow motion, watched the blade slice across her husband’s chest, the blood pouring out from the gaping wound, and his body thudding to the floor where it stayed in utter stillness.
“KHATAZESH,” Kaia shrieked in agony. The demonic creature looked up, a slow, evil grin curling up on his wretched face. The three cultists flanked the creature as Kaia felt her party flank her. The sound of weapons being drawn echoed across the room. Kaia stood up once more, a frenzied rage taking over her spirit.
“Furrbles,” Rose growled, “Sic ‘em.”
The battle was fierce. Rose’s crossbows were launched across the room as Furbles lunged at the tentacled cultists with intent to decapitate and disembowel. Vulgate’s blasts of dark energy overtook the demonic creature as Dave swung his staff down on its head. Across the room Galavar’s Burning Hands spell engulfed the cultists in an escapable wrath, another pulled into the depths of hell by the chilled touch of spectral fingers. Kaia threw an ice knife into the fray of the cultists’ battle, watching it embed into the chest of one and explode into the face of the other. She ran over to Lelin, cradling the small, unconscious child in her arms. As Kaia grasped Lelin’s wrist, relief washed over her. Underneath the damage inflicted by a bracelet being ripped off, was a pulse.
A second later, yells from Dave and Vulgate shot across the room to Kaia. The creature had knocked them both down in a fit of fury. Kaia heard Rose call Furrbles in anger, and as they began to fight the creature, Kaia raced over to Dave and Vulgate, lying on the ground. She gently placed Lelin between the two, closed her eyes, and summoned a spectral being to heal all. A fox with many tails curled up near all three, radiating warmth, light, and magic. Moments passed as the blue light surrounded them, and Dave and Vulgate awoke. Seeing Rose alone, they jumped back into battle. But the demonic creature had had enough. Bloodied and wounded, he forced his way through to Kaia, raising his long sword high above his head with an angry shout. Kaia jumped up in front of Lelin, her arms outstretched barring the creature’s way.
As the sword was brought down, Kaia felt it pierce her armour. She yelled in pain but stood her ground, relishing the confusion upon the creature’s villainous face as he watched long, thorny vines shoot out from her armour and wind their way around his body. They twisted and curled, embedding in his skin like barbs, ensnaring him to her. In a final move spurred by pure hatred, Kaia wrenched her arms down to the side, bending to one knee, and tore the creature in two, straight down the middle.
As the ash settled and the vines wound back in, Kaia held Lelin once more in her arms. The party slowly walked over to her, as she lovingly cradled the young girl. Kaia placed a hand over Lelin’s heart and whispered a healing word. She felt Lelin stir in her arms and watched her little blue eyes open to look into hers.
“Mommy, you came back,” Lelin said quietly with a small smile. Tears slid down Kaia’s cheeks as she held her daughter closer.
“Of course baby, I followed the compass right back to you,” Kaia whispered, gently pushing Lelin’s bloodied hair out of her face. A large wound on Lelin’s abdomen was bleeding and her breathing was becoming shallower. Kaia bent her forehead down to touch her daughter’s and nuzzled her small nose.
“Don’t cry, mommy,” Lelin said and she reached up to stroke Kaia’s cheek, leaving a trail of blood down her face, “I love you.”
Kaia pressed Lelin’s hand to her face, feeling the trace of her small fingers. “I love you more,” she said, “and I’m sorry.”
“Mommy…” Lelin whispered, and her body turned to ash.
An emptiness stole over Kaia’s body as she laid curled up on the ground. She felt Rose’s and Vulgate’s arms wrapping around her as if she was an onlooker observing the action. An impenetrable silence racked them all. It wasn’t real, her mind made a final attempt. Yet, as the world faded to black and began to morph into the next nightmare, only one thought crossed Kaia’s mind: But it could have been.
An amazing story! Almost as stunning as the author ❤
Thank you Eve,