Boledrian cast the runic seeds for a tenth time with the same result. Always the specter reigned above the Lady. Death over life. No divining with runic seeds was ever the same, with slight variations in the scatter. But this was different. The seeds told the same story every casting.
"Death will reign", creaked a figure from the shadows of the dark night. The voice belonged to the malicious spite-revenant that was his near constant companion.
Boldrian gathered the seeds and glanced about before rising, his worn robes tinkling with a profusion of amulets and talismans. An Inquisitor needs his insurances.
The narrow path upon which he stood was framed by great twisting trunks and branches of trees grown to form the structure of the storefronts and tenements that occupied this district of the city. Mostly refugees from the lands below; Azyrites mostly but many from Ghur where the Great Island had come to rest recently. Boledrian knew that with refugees came despair, and with despair came the breeding ground for the changling cults to recruit. The castings kept pointing him to this district with its eternal twilight under its twisted canopy.
Boledrian knew of the struggles that afflicted this district. A rise in a new plague outbreak that took one in five with a horrible death at the end. Swiftly the druids had reacted to the outbreak; loosening the Sisters and their malevolent spite allies, much like his spirit-path walking companion. After the pogroms that followed the denizens of these slums knew better to be near at Boledrian's approach.
He cast his shadow long down the road, sending a feeling to hear the spirit-song of the deranged tree-kin that acted in a way as liaison in this hunt for the tree-folk, though so far it had been of little help in acquiring information aside from occasionally terrifying their prey until Boledrian would end their miseries with a crossbow bolt of pure silver-elm. The creature remained distant to his callings, never giving voice to its intentions. He did not know if it was agent for the Sylvaneth or simply a mad spirit following him for its own inscrutable means.
As he made his way along the cobble-roots of the street a chill wind began to pick up. Slowly and silently the wind picked up into a low-moaning wail. The leaves and hanging talismans rattled and made apparent to Boledrian that something was askew. Hefting his rough worn crossbow with the action locked he made a slow advance down the road.
Though not a skilled practitioner in magic, he had developed a particular witch-sight that allowed him to track instances of magic to their source. In this particular instance, with this particular wind his witch-sight left a sickening feeling in his gut. Unfortunately, the spirit-paths his Sylvaneth companion traversed were invisible to his sight. He knew not if the vicious spite played tricks on him to unease his resolve or if it was something else altogether different.
Upon his waist the icon of Usirian began to glow a brilliant amethyst light as it confirmed what Boledrian had suspected. As he made the next step the gale picked up in such intensity that he was forced backwards off his feet and onto his back, his breath knocked out of him. The wail reached such a deafening volume that Boledrian's ears rang until the point of his eardrums bursting.
Flailing breathless and deaf to the world, the druid-seeker was unaware of the mists the swiftly filled the roadway and brought with them a chill that reached the bone. Boledrian grasp at his side, feeling a broken rib as he made it to his feet and became aware of his surroundings. He tried yelling but found his voice mute. He screamed and screamed but was unable to hear anything. Clawing at his deafened ears he caught sight of movements in the mists.
Not in the mists, but the mists themselves. Raising his head to look upwards he saw twenty feet in the air a wailing spirit of a woman. A banshee. A foul servant of the Great Necromancer had manifest and brought with it a host of tormented spirits. Ghastly hands reached for him, their screaming voices falling on deaf ears as Boledrian tried to flee but found himself trapped. With but one option left he grasp at the assortment of trinkets and icons he had about his person until he found upon a small seed that glimmered with an iridescent shell. Quickly he tossed the seed while muttering an incantation of growth. With a sudden and violent rapidity thorned brambles burst from the ground and seized on the wailing spirits one by one in a way that no corporeal thing should. Almost as suddenly as the vines had burst and grasped the host of spirits were the vines withered and died taking the spirits with them.
It was in this moment that Boledrian dove through the momentary opening and managed to land with a trained aim behind him. Without a moment to fire the host of spirits was descending towards him again he cringed back and gave into his primordial fear of death. As he sank to his knees in the face of a physical manifestation of his fate a tittering song began to play in his head. Though deaf he heard a mocking laughter hidden in the song. Out of the walls of branch and bole and canopy above came forms that gave voice to the song in his head. Creatures as much a part of the forest as it was part of them, that had given into the primal urge to kill and slaughter without need or want but simply the necessity of it. He found the creature that had secreted him since his assignment to this case and gazed with his witch-sight into its intention. Nodding he removed a series of vials from a bandolier about his chest which he threw into distance. As they shattered a red alchemical smoke rose into the air. Soon the Sisters would arrive, and they could curb the spites more malicious tendencies from getting to the innocents. The creatures descended from the canopy above and grasped futilely at spirits, occasionally raking and unfortunate soul when it manifests into solidity. Out of the walls of the very buildings they charged at the spirit hosts, clawing like crazed maniacs at the air in hopes of rending through a spirit as they made to attack. The banshee had begun to keen another song that was soon to reach its deafening crescendo as a javelin burning with green witch-fire struck her in the heart.
As the banshee gave its death wail and began to discorporate so too did the other tormented spirits that she had brought with her into this realm. The green witch-fire spread to the rest of the host and soon nothing remained that would have given evidence to what had happened. Disbelieving at his own survival, Boledrian stared where the spirit host had almost taken his immortal soul when the Sisters of the Thorn approached him. It was their sisterhood that acted as executioner when the Inquisition has need of a heavy hand. The sisters were all aelf maidens who had made covenant with an ancient being of the island or, so the legends said.
From their glowing fey-stag mounts the Sisters watched Boledrian for what seemed like punishingly long moments before the lead Sister raised her staff and a warm sensation began to overcome his ears. After it abated he began to slowly hear sounds again.
"Stand and be recognized," commanded the lead aelf with a voice that pierced his weak hearing.
"I am Boledrian Winterleaf of the High Council's Inquisition," he said with a weak flourish that displayed his badge of honor on his chest.
"Very well," the aelf witch said as she lead her mount to leave.
"We must find the coven of death witches at the heart of this Sister, you cannot just let these kinds of occurrences keep happening. I have cast my runic stones twelve times this night and each casting is precisely the same, telling that Death will reign over Our Lady."
At this the witch turned back at glared deeply into his eyes. The pupiless gaze bore deep into his mind and soul searching for the truth. Having found her answer she raised her staff and the other riders halted. With curt hand gestures she sent several of her sisters off in different directions and returned her gaze to him.
"We will aid you Druid but know this: our magic comes at a cost and we demand a greater title of children this year to compensate. Do you agree?"
"Of course, I agree, she-aelf. As by the oath sworn by our two orders. Now tell me what the root of all this death magic in these wastrel streets is?"
"A blood-leech has left its taint on this death magic; do you not see it with your witch-sight?"
"No, I have been a little uneased by my experiences of late," he retorted back.
"There is a trail, if one is keen enough to follow," she baited him.
Stifling his hurt pride for the miraculous return of his hearing he decided not to return insult. These aelfs were stranger than normal aelves and that was saying much. He knew they would muster forces wherever their whimsy might have sent for aid. But as with all their deal it came at a price. A price in innocence that would be high this year indeed. Those children taken are never seen again and no one ever sees them go. Simply vanish.
His spine chilled to think of his childhood and the myths that gave him nightmares as a child. "Let us begin then, lead the way sister."
The leader and two of her sisters lead Boledrian and a few of the lingering spite-revenants who seemed to be now literally shadowing all his moves. Of the five none where the one who hid from his perceptions. These were its drones, those so lost in the pursuit of prey that they were little more than shells of sylvaneth filled with the wrath of a wild beast barely held by the leash.
Boledrian would say that fear was part of his world and that he made a living of it, but that would be a lie. His career as an Inquisitor had been one of desk work and very rarely was he called upon for a raid. This was different, and his warrant was for a very real man, no ghost or ghast.
As the aelves lead the way to the presumed vampire's lair, a troupe of sisters arrived and rode to speak with the leader. After a curt exchange the riders split and rode down two adjoining streets. This had been the fourth such exchange in the past ten minutes and their pace had slowed considerably. The road had opened onto a plaza with a bubbling spring in its center. The water gave a slight luminous glow as it came out of the roughhewn pillar at the center of the shallow pool. The cobble-roots were worn around the circular area from a telling history of foot-traffic over the ages.
Of the other two roads that met in this square, the Sisters were present cordoning off those avenues. The lead Sister turned over her shoulder and gestured for Boledrian to approach. As he drew close he felt the hairs on his neck rise at the otherworldliness of these aelves, her eyes boring into his soul, seeking the truth as she had before. She was testing his resolve to ensure that he would not be a hinderance in the face of such things as the dead or the changlings. Though these beings were terrifying he knew the Sisters and even the spites were his staunch allies in this hunt.
“This is the residence deeded to Rand Sosenhal, the man whose name appears on your warrant. Suspect of Death worship a crime punishable by death,” she said gesturing to the door they faced.
From within there were no signs of habitation, without the refuse set outside or lights in the windows. As Boledrian cautiously approached the doorway he felt rather than heard the spite-revenants moving into position within the very walls of the building. Ready to strike when they deemed fit. Only if he could understand their spirit-song like he could other Sylvaneth then he would know what awaited him. With growing trepidation, he reached the door with a pair of dismounted sisters at his back, their staffs held at the ready.
With the third tackle he had the door off its hinges and the trio made quickly into a darkened parlor furnished with antiques from across the realms. He could make out the craftsmanship of at least three different Chamon artisans among them. A wealth belied by the façade outside was obvious for all guests to see. Though Boledrian doubted he would get a guests’ welcome once he met his host. Rand Sosenhal had made a fortune on the tormentuous periods in which the Island moved to new realms in which he could profit from acquiring priceless artefacts and pieces of art that he would then sell for a profit among collectors. The perfect position for a heretical cult to grow out of. Most of Boledrian’s past season of renewal was spent investigating Sosenhal and were his expenses came from and where they went. When he had set out earlier that evening he felt the strongest conviction he had felt in his life. Now that he was in the home of his first prey he felt a great weight of dread overcome himself. He was not sure if it was merely the presence of so many spite-revenants with their susurrating voices that always accompanied them or his trepidation at being at the end of the hunt.
He felt it in his bones, a deep hunter’s feeling that he knew his prey was close and he would make the kill. He had but one choice, he could not freeze up in the face of Death again as he had in the street. Cultists and daemons were one thing but the recent rise in Death cults had upset the strange form of balance that had formed in these tumultuous times as the Island shifted Realms so frequently. A recent Blink into Shyish had upset the natural balance of the Well of Renewal, or so the Ancients had claimed as they dispatched this latest series of warrants against men and woman like Sosenhal who had unique places of power in courts of the druid-kings of the Outer Kingdoms. Hundreds would soon meet a similar fate as his prey. He felt it in his bones.
The witch-sight showed the trail much more vividly in the halls and parlors of Sosenhal’s manse. Death magic permeated the place, proof of Sosenhal’s heresy. The Sister had mentioned a vampire’s taint on the summoning magic and that never boded well for men like Boledrian with hot blood in his veins. The trail led down a flight of cellar stairs that led to a sturdy ironoak door. Clearly Sosenhal was hiding something he wanted protected.
Reaching into a pouch on the small of his back under his cloak, Boledrian removed a small metal flask he carefully unscrewed and dashed its contents on the door. With another incantation of growth, the door began to bloom in all forms of colorful lichen that gave way to full fungal growths and mushrooms that deteriorated the door within a few moments. He stepped back to allow the spores to settle before he moved through into an antechamber with racks of hanging robes on either side. Many were missing giving evidence of what lay beyond the drapery that divided the antechamber from the main room.
The two Sisters moved gracefully from the entrance with their staffs held at the ready, a murmuring incantation on their lips. Boledrian followed with his crossbow held at the ready. Given the shadows around its perimeters the room was of the same constitution as the rest of the structures in this district with calcified wooden growths forming the foundations for the home. The center of the chamber was lit by a single brazier that blazed with an amethyst fire. Arrayed around the brazier were circles of kneeling, purple robed figures each taking part in a soft, whispering mantra that sent chills through Boledrian’s spine.
At the head of the ritual was a man with a portly figure and the bearing of a noble-born Azyrite. He bore a scepter crowned with a gibbering skull in one had who’s eye glowed with ghastly balefire. In front of the cult leader was a large stone sarcophagus that bore strange sigils engraved into its sides. The top bore the image of a resting man with his arms crossing his chest. A pungent reek that reminded Boledrian of a decaying corpse filled the air with its overwhelming aroma. As the lead figure noticed their entrance he shouted in alarm at his follower who ceased their chanting and began to rise to face the interlopers in their ritual.
The cultist drew a motley assortment of weapons from beneath their robes as they stalked to form a semi-circle around the trio. Casting his glance at the two Sisters who had accompanied him he knew they would be able to hold their own. Each began to sing out incantations of powerful life magic. Taking his opportunity Boledrian saw his chance. With the Sisters preparing their spells, he brought his worn crossbow to his shoulder and took aim at the cult magister. He took a deep breath like he had so many times in his practice. His mind cleared of outside influences and it became just him, the silver-elm bolt and his prey at its most vulnerable. As the bolt flew towards its target, it burst through the magic veils that protected him from harm. The silver-elm bore the purest of Azyr’s magic within its branches which found great power against the forces of Chaos and Death. Much to the unsuspecting magister’s chagrin, the bolt passed through his defenses and burst into his chest. As the wound opened blood began to pour onto the sarcophagus as he leaned over it as if to give his last bit of life forces to the evil thing that rested within.
As his attention returned to his surroundings he first noticed the shifting shadows that flittered just out of sight giving him confidence that they would soon be victorious. The Sisters had summoned forth a brambling briar with thorns long as a man’s forearm that sought out the cultist like a hungering beast. As the first vines grasp about their prey they began to constrict with bone breaking strength. Like powerful constricting snakes they bound around the cultists cutting deep gouges in their flesh and ripping limbs from torsos with their titanic strength. The cascades of gore drawn from the corpses of the slain momentarily rained down coated the room with sprays of life blood.
Out of the shadows and the very walls themselves came an insane spirit-song that was reminiscent of manic laughter. Spite-revenants began to stalk from the gloomy perimeter of the room even as several dropped from the ceiling to land amidst the rearmost cultist. Even in the face of such overwhelming odds the cultists seemed unfazed by the deaths of their comrades or even their leader. In response to the insane song of the spites they began a low sonorous dirge that seemed to fill the room. As Boledrian readied a second bolt of silver-elm, the spites launched their attack. As their spirit-song reached new heights they tore into the rough line of cultists that had turned to face them. The spite-revenants gave into their natural tendencies as they clawed and tore into their prey. Such wild abandon was not new to Boledrian but still it unnerved him.
He simply gazed at the unbridled slaughter before him. The wall of brambles had cordoned the two dozen or so cultists into a knot that the revenants tore into with gory abandon. Great fountains of gore followed every slash of claws, ropes of entrails and ripped organs being tossed aside like refuse. As the spites made their way through the cultist Boledrian stared in wonder as they simply allowed the spites to rend and tear their bodies asunder. Casting a glance at the floor he saw for the first time the sigils that had been carved into deep channels to allow the blood that had been spilt to pool around the sarcophagus.
A dry, rattling breath filled the chamber overpowering even the keening song of the spite revenants as they reveled in the gory remains of the cultists. The Sisters drew up in front of Boledrian as the lid of the sarcophagus slid to the floor with a heavy thud of finality.
Amethyst fog rushed out of the sarcophagus as an ancient creature rose from within. Piercing animalistic eyes singled Boledrian out in the chaos of the melee. It was a withered creature, long cursed with the Soulblight though malnourished from eons of confinement. The bloody carnage that had been wrought about the chamber had fueled a ritual that had awoken this creature from its slumber. With a creak of bone and stiffened ligaments the vampire raised its arms and with a rasping voice intoned a fell incantation. Wisps of the raw Death magic that emanated from the creature quickly speared out striking half a dozen of the nearest spite-revenants. They fell to the floor in agonized screeches as their heartwood began to wither and their bark turned to dust.
As Boledrian readied his loaded crossbow to fire at the fiend it launched itself with load creaks and pops of joints thrown into violent action. The spite-revenants responded in kind launching a viscous assault on the vampire. The questing vines of the Sisters’ magic wrapped about it only to wither and die from the potent curses enscrolled across it’s taut and leathern skin. With both the Sisters locked into maintaining their enchantments he had to act fast. Aiming for the Soulblight’s black heart he fired the silver-elm bolt as true as any shot he had fired from the weapon.
With a flash the pure celestial magic imbued in the silver-elm dissipated across the blood-leech’s wards. As the light cleared from his eyes he saw the first revenant lunge at the creature only to be swatted to the ground in a broken heap. Three more leapt upon it vengefully clawing at its head, arms, and back. The creature cried out as one revenant’s claws found purchase and tore a great gouge in its robes and back.
Issuing a bestial roar, the vampire wrenched the spite-revenant from behind him, smashing aside several more to make itself more room. The spite’s struggles were ended swiftly as the vampire tore its head from its shoulders in a fountain of amber sap. Throwing the ruined corpse into the onrushing spite-revenants, the creature vaulted an unnatural height into the air over the Sylvaneth landing lightly near Boledrian and the pair of Sisters. Forgoing the wall of choking brambles, the sisters summoned forth a coruscating ball of lightning that smashed into the vampire and sent it sprawling backwards into the waiting revenants. The treekin piled atop the creature as their spirit song reached new heights of madness and fury.
Boledrian readied his next shot as the Sisters moved to his side already summoning forth a new enchantment of crawling briars that sought to pin the vampire down. As the vampire gouged and clawed at the revenants the thorns struggled against the creature’s wards. Drawing in his breath he aimed for the creature’s eye and fired.
Crushing the heads of two spite-revenants together, the ancient fiend caught the silver-elm bolt in its head. The weight of the thrashing revenants and twisting vines held vampire pinned as the pure celestial magic within the wood burned within its skull. A wave of power rushed from the creature as it emitted a horrifying scream in its death throes. Rummaging through his various pouches and talismans he produced a small pouch which he cast at the melee. The vines continued to struggle against its wards as a flash of brilliant light blinded everyone who was not prepared for it. Frantically blinking to clear the after images from his sight, Boledrian moved to aid the two Sisters as he noticed a familiar presence moving towards him. It was the revenant who had shadowed him, bearing a pair of heads in his hands the cult leader Sosenhal and that of the ancient vampire still pierced by Boledrian’s bolt.
As the Sisters made to reign in the spite-revenants, Boledrian accepted the heads from the treekin, knowing that it meant great respect that it offered him the trophies. A strange pride welled in his stomach as he turned Sosenhal’s head over considering all the carnage he had witnessed and the selfless destruction the cultists had given of themselves to bring the fiend back from the grave. Such zealotry was on the rise in Arranoc since the last Season of Renewal had seen a flood of Death magic after the last shift out of Shyish. Wyrdfyre Cults and the Harbingers of Decay were one thing the city could handle, but the necromantic powers that had seen graveyards empty and druids to go mad and turn to the dark arts. The Inquisition needed all the help it could get.