Chapter 104

Chapter 104

Vulre , Chief of the Lukra'Dotreka'Suma

"RELEASE THOSE HUMANS AT ONCE!"
 

Hush had fallen upon the clearing the moment that shout emerged, crushing whatever noise had once been beneath a great and rumbling tone and pressure. The silence came with a sudden quickness, but then stretched on. Not even the wind seemed to dare intrude.

Though his heart was beating like a drum, and waves of fear were rushing through his veins, Vulre couldn't help but smile. Not just smile, but grin: wide and curling lips, that pulled back to reveal teeth that glowed in the torchlight. Vulre turned to those around him. Dozens of faces watched in the dimmly illuminated night, and none of them against him.

Never in a thousand years, had he thought this would be so easy.

Of all the reasons he'd brought these defilers here, Vulre never anticipated such a reaction: there would be no better opportunity than this. To all those that had once supported it, the imitator had finally revealed its true nature.

"Release them, you say?" The question fell like glass knife to strike, quiet and fatal as it ushered from Vulre's throat, all eyes in the tribe turned to stare as the once revered God. Letting the disbelief rise in his voice, Vulre asked again. "You ask me to release- to spare these humans?"

 

"The God does not ask, Chief of Elves. He does not need permission."

The reply came harsh, glowing orb of fire flickering with each booming word.

"Release those children and send them back to where they came. They will bring this village only suffering."

 

Vulre felt the unease around him building, swelling like a storm on the distant seas. The Tribe had many sects and many families, and many levels of faith: but this was far beyond any of those.

"You... You demand this? That I break the most sacred of vows that we of the Lukra'Dotreka'Suma have sworn?" Vulre cursed the name with a violent hiss, "You ask me to spare this filth! Beings whose very blood did shatter the world?"

 

"Do you dare to disobey me, foolish Elf?"

 

Though his bones shook from the strength in those words, Vulre turned: raising his hands to show the ceremonial knife high above as his smile widening further. The black glass glistening in the torchlight: painted deep crimson with blood. "My people! Hear me! Witness my shouts, for I stake my honor and name, my lineage and family: I claim this God to be False!"

Letting go of their bindings, Vulre roughly shoved the final would-be sacrifices forward, ignoring their yelps of pain as the humans crashed against the bowl. On their impact, the stone tipped from its wooden perch, heavy carved-rock leaning forward to pour its contents out upon the ground of winding roots with a flood of crimson. There it spread forward, a rolling tide flowing past what had once been massive cables of fiberous growth, carved and polished down by meticulous detail. Careful architecture that began to drink the swell with a desperate dry-thirst. Grooves and pathways filling along all-but invisible channels, slowly the patterns began to emerge as the blood rolled onward.

Even in the dim light of the torches, Vulre watched their passage reveal the lost language of a different era, ancient and terrible rites of necessity.

It had begun.

"A false god!" From the far back of the astonished crowd, a sudden shrieking shout broke free. Vulre recognizing it instantly as a youth- ears catching the voice, recognizing to which it belonged.

"A demon!" The shout was continued by another, this time recognized as the second son of Ancient Yules.

Finally, they came to his aid at last.

"It has come to lead us astray! To turn us from tradition!" Another voice broke through, old and gravelly, an Elder this time- again from the far back of the gathering. "It is a poison! A plague upon our Sacred Land!"

"It is a serpent of evil!" Yet one more shout joined in, more and more suddenly picking up as the sparks of the mob were lit. "A creature of deception! A false God!"

The original plan may have already been in tatters, but Vulre's smile only grew wider as further voices joined the fray. Shouts and denuciations that turned the crowd, and began gaining momentum. This was far better, far better indeed. The being atop that stump might be a terrible danger to any sect alone, but united the Village could have few rivals in strength.

From the deathly silence that waited in the space around him, Vulre could still see some of the faces turning: towards the God atop the ritual stump, back to Vulre, then back to the stump again. Nervous expressions, mouths working as if they wished to say something- anything, but were too afraid. Fear, terror, surprise- little blame could be placed on them: for how could they not be?

Drenched in the blood of ritual, Vulre's hands were stained, and much more deeply than the simple red on his skin. This was a moment of eternity. Ancient magics now swirled about the air, laced into a thick fog of aura and mystic while more blood still soaked along the grooves of the ancient carvings that guided them. In this, he was bound to something long-since forbidden.

Vulre acted not a power of the world, but a bargain of the soul. No longer was the ritual acting as a restoration to the seals that bound their Forest's Guardian to its service: this was the ritual of its very creation.

"Hear me, my brothers! My sisters! Long ago, when the world was broken: our fathers gave their blood as an offering to the flames of madness!" Vulre shouted to his tribe, willing their sights to rest on him and him alone. "And long ago, when our enemies came, our fathers took the world's beasts of hatred for their own!" Shouting above the loudest of the outrage, Vulre stepped forward to plant his heel heavily into the back of the closest human. Their gasp of pain a sputtered against the blood still pooling around them. "My people! This False-God has not only taken the place of our Guardian through deceptions and lies, but it has done worse! Our scouts have returned from the far forest, and for all the horrors they have witnessed: they have returned with this!" From the pouch on his waist, Vulre pulled free the sacred feather, raising it high with a blood-soaked hand, for all to see. "This beast has not only deceived us! It has slain our beloved god!"

The growing shouts of astonishment and disbelief were turning, fear shifting towards anger. Hatred directing towards the glowing blue scales that waited in the distance, he raised his weapon higher. Vulre watched the people of his tribe as their anger boiled to a barely contained hiss- ears twitching and fists shaking as weapons began to emerge within white-knuckled grips. Already he could see knives cutting against fingers and palms, trailing smoke of bargains offered to join that which had already been spilled.

As their blood joined his own, he smiled. It seemed they wouldn't need the cursed-ones and their wretched powers after all.

"SILENCE!"

The booming sound of words crushed into Vulre's chest, into his bones, into his mind with an impact so terrible it seemed to shake the ground on which he stood. From atop the Great Stump, it seemed that patience was finally at an end.

"You DARE to make such accusations? To threaten? To disgrace a GOD?"

Two flickering spirits, once small and insignificant, now floated beside the basilisk with a rage of color brighter than any torches. Both to grow, larger, and larger still, as a burst of burning green light erupted towards the sky with a sickening wave of power and sound.

"BRRRRRRRAAAAAWWWWRWRRRMMMMMMMM"

"YOU SHOULD BE THANKFUL THAT YOU'VE NOT ALREADY BURNED TO CINDERS!"

Reeling from the noise of those spirits, the ground began to shift beneath his feet. Piles of gravel, boulders and blocks were now sliding out about the base of the massive trunk, formed together. Shifting and slithering with disturbingly life-like movements to amass beneath the sculpture.

"YOU DO NOT KNOW WHAT HORRORS HE COULD BRING UPON YOU, SHOULD HE ONLY COMMAND THEM!"

There, a coiled serpent of rock turned towards him, body raising higher, and higher still: carried by the lifeless eyes of a massive stone frog. From its sides, further heads sprouted, each more hate-filled than the last as the monstrocity advanced upon Vulre and the humans at his feet. The many carved faces stareed at him, expressions twisting with rage, while behind them the voices of fire shouted.

"RELEASE THE HUMANS, ELF! SEND THEM BACK FROM WHERE THE CAME, AND THIS CAN STILL BE FORGIVEN!"

"Y-you-" The fear had taken Vulre, wrapping him up within its chill as the stone moved closer, and the heat of the green flames lifted into the darkness with the hair on his neck. How powerful did a creature need to be, in order to command such worldly strength? What terrors had it survived, in order to amass so many of the world's gifts? Somewhere within that terror, though, was resolve. Buried within the embers of anger and hate still smoldering- but more importantly: ambition.

So what if this demon was powerful? When Vulre took it for his own, that would only be a benefit.

"You see! My people, witness this heresy! Our so-called god threatens me! In defense of our enemies, the Forest's Guardian threatens the very beings which it has sworn to protect!"

"YOU FLIRT WITH FOLLY, FOOLISH ELF!"

The flames boomed again as the statue moved forward to strike, but Vulre continued- fervor in his voice only rising by the second.

"The god I know of would not have hesitated to slaughter these humans! Yet instead this beast raises effort to save them!"

"RELEASE THEM! BEFORE YOU ENDANGER US ALL"

The Flames shouted so loudly that the ground seemed to tremble, but Vulre turned without hesitation.

"I WILL NOT!"

Vulre shouted as he let the knife fly, glass edge cutting deeply across his own palm to join the blood below: swirling within the torrents of magic, life, essence and ritual. He could already feel it, the heat within his hand. Not of pain, of not flesh or bone: but soul. He was bound to it now.

"As the Ancient Rites demanded! Let it be done!" Vulre shouted, foot lashing out with a brutal kick to topple the last contents of the bowl forward, final splash of red pouring forward like a river set free of its dam- soaking the statues, the stones, the earth: running along the ancient grooves carved along the trunk's base. "The price has been met!"

"What have you-"

As Vulre watched, the growing spirits flickered, pushed back as if against a thick layer of polished glass atop the stump that muffled their shouts. Even with their ghostly forms, the weight pulled them down, pressing them in. The statue of stone, mere paces from where Vulre stood, slowed, then froze: immobile.

"You fools! Those humans are-"

The voice was cut away, silenced at once behind the fog of barriers now forming. Centuries since it had last been called upon, and yet he could see: it was working.

Vulre's grin turned to a wicked smile as the Magics soaked in along the ancient pathways, mana upon the air sealing tighter and tighter on the stump. Beside the false god, Vulre saw the warrior Imra struggle in vain fists pounding on the barrier as it began to slide in closer. Her shouts were muffled to the point of mute, and Vulre could see the truth plainly as she most certainly did: there was no escape. But such had long since been the way of the First Offering.

This was little different.

"BRRRRRRRAAAAAWWWWRRRRMMM"

Vulre reeled back with the show, hair rising with the feel of intensity along the air as he covered his eyes to avert the horrible crash of light and power which smashed against the forming barriers. A brutal green glowing like a tainted sun, as hundreds of cracks seemed to coalesce on the shrinking orb of mana.

Heat, power, intensity: It forced the ritual back, bending it beneath its mighty strength...

And then it failed.

The cracks of the barrier lasted only for an instant, before molding together once more: reforming stronger than they were previously. Where fear and astonishment were first held, Vulre now felt laughter rise in his chest as he watched another blow strike, and fail as the serpent struggled, twisting in vain as it unleashed its desperate fury. Such efforts could only make the end come quicker.

"BRRRRRRRAAAAAWWWWRRRRMMM"

It was futile.

The blood had been spilled, in order and rites. There was nothing the beast could do now. The bargain had been struck, and soon the creature would be helpless. Unable to defend itself, unable to resist the blood-ritual's true purpose.

"You see! My people, this is not a god at all! It is but a demon with its power contained! An imitator and embodiment of falsehood! A beast who wished to trick us!" He shouted, turning to the crowd pointing his knife at the humans. "Our god would never spare these children of the First Men! Our god would never forgive them for the deeds they brought down upon the world-"

"IEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!"

A spray of blood erupted, seemingly from nowhere, covering Vulre's chest and face with a violent burst. With loud thump beside his feet, Vulre turned towards the source, his eyes widening with horror.

The terrified face of Elder Yules stared back from the ground, face still half aware, eyes still blinking in disbelief.

"Who dares!" Vulre barely brought the question before another cut of the wind swept past him, his feet just barely pushing body aside as one of his warrior rushed towards the source- only to be toppled to the ground in two pieces. "Who betrays us? Who spills this blood now? Speak and I shall strike you down!" Uncertainty rising, his free hand grabbed at the the humans, pulling the unwilling participants like shield towards the sounds of struggle beyond the torchlight. "Speak! Damn you!"

"AHG-"

Another warrior fell, arm still clutching at their weapon landing not three paces beside where Vulre stood, and the orange flames of torches soon follow: falling to the ground with a rough scattering of sparks and light. They hissed and crashed, lights extinguishing

"Huaaaarrr-"

Another body fell, their weapons flying- glass blade landing in the dirt: covered in gore.

The panic quickly began rising anew as the warrior's instinct within him forced his body to turn and raise his knife towards the coming danger, a century of training, learning, perfecting- all to move just so.

Sparks and pain were his only reward. A horrible shattering that travelled down his own weapon, and up along his arm as Vulre intercepted an attack by the thinnest of margins. With a terrible "crack" the blade of his fathers burst to ten-thousand pieces in the night air, shards flinging themselves off into the darkness of the clearing.

It would defend him no more.

"Who dares?" Vulre screamed as the darkness beyond the ritual's torches seemed to fit upon a silence of deathly still. His people had fled, his warriors had fallen. In his moment of triumph, someone had come to steal it all away.

Desperately reaching with his unwounded arm, Vulre stepped back as he dragged up an unwilling human shield, ignoring their struggles as he turned- trying to face his opponent. Where were the rest of his warriors? Where were the shouts? The rising crest of the ritual and violence sure to follow? He had made the Elders each rouse their entire bloodline! There should be full generations of Kin, ready and awaiting their signals to strike the final blow upon the beast, but instead there was nothing.

"WHO DARES!" Vulre shouted once more, pivoting towards the sound of footsteps, warned only soft crunch that walked on without a single care for the bodies and blood upon the ground.

Then, Vulre heard the voice.

<You God-damn Elves and your filthy pagan magics.>

A foreign tongue cut through the silence, words slipping in between the muffled cracks of the False-god's futile attempts to escape the ritual's seal.

<Who in the bloody hells do you think you are?>

A flash of steel whipped through the air at impossible speeds- not the slightest hesitation held for the living shield still positioned between its arc and Vulre's own flesh. Eyes widening, the Elf Chief only had a bare instant of pain and awareness before a second flash of agony burned at his throat, throwing his vision in a horrible spiral which offered but a single glimpse of the being who struck him.

A tiny flash of recognition, before the world went dark at the feet of a human swordsman.

Before death took him, with his blood running rampant along the grooves and routes of sacrifice, Vulre heard the cruel and hate-filled words of a language he did not know.

<Those younglings belong to the Wayside Guild.>