The Dark Forest Witch
(Warning, this one is a little adult in the beginning so you can skip this one or look at Diaphanous' look on the card.)
The elven woman awoke in her inner sanctum, her mouth tasting like blood and raw meat. Her tongue danced along her teeth, peeling away pieces of the meal she had the night before, before she opened her eyes. She was first greeted by her dreamcatchers, which had no traces of intercepted dreams in them. Next there were bones on the table across of her bed, along with a deck of tarot cards and some incense which smouldered still from the night before.
As she looked to her hands, she noticed the blood still clung to them as it did on her chest and stomach. Her eyes fell on the grizzled remains of her prey, a human male, about fourty cycles or so. He was tied down on her black table altar and much like herself naked as the day he was born and with a hole in his chest where his heart was ere it was consumed.
Despite his age, humans safe for the magical kind who aged very slowly much akin to elves, he still had a lot of stamina before her knife entered his chest and dug out his heart. She enjoyed the previous night before the meal and felt reborn afterward. The witch got up from her bed and walked over to her prey, a cold smile on her lips.
"The heart is always at it's peak during lovemaking, for it's two halves coming together to create a new whole." she quoted her old mentor." That is the moment when you strike, to gain the most mana out of the blood and flesh."
She licked her hands, still tasting some vaint traces of mana, before she went to wash herself. She had to go to a meeting after all. After she dressed herself in her clean green robe, she snapped her fingers.
The doors of her sanctum opened as two Tree friends entered, one carrying a bucket of water. Their bark was dark and covered in ivy, a complete contrast to the light brown, almost golden hue of their relatives further north. Without delay they undid the straps of the human male. One of them carried the human almost motherly out of the room as the other went about cleaning the blood of her black altar.
The witch did not care for those menial tasks and went about relitting her incense and taking her deck of cards. After shuffling she placed the deck down and drew only one card. The card she drew was curious.
"The death card...." she muttered." Great change is coming...should be good news for the council." With that she placed the card back down and went to her animal bones. She picked them up and ruffled them before letting them fall. This time the omen made her frown. The pattern indicated great risk, this was more disconcerting.
She placed the bones back neatly and walked outside of her sanctum as the one Tree Friend continued cleaning the altar.
Her outer sanctum had the looks of a small house, the inner sanctum looking bigger on the inside than it was possible on the outside, which was set on chicken legs.
In the distance she saw one of her servants toss the human corpse into a hole before it began to cover him with earth and dirt.
Meanwhile another walked over to her and bowed deeply as it offered her a traveling satchel and her staff.
The witch raised her head." I will be gone for a few hours, make sure none of my possessions get disturbed."
The creature bowed deeply and remained so as she walked away from her home.
A hour later she arrived at a ruined elven village which fell at the start of this so-called Second Blight War.
King Halmadir decided Winter Garden to remain derelict so the elven people lived more closely together up north in the case of another Blight invasion so he could protect them better.
There was a large garrison however at Smithswell at the relighted mana pool and Widegrove where a statue was made in memory of his human friend, whom she had foreseen would die in that place.
She was not alone in this destroyed place however, for two humans were there. Unlike her previous prey however, these were to dangerous to even attempt to attack. Both had white beards and dressed like blue pilgrims. The elder was smoking his pipe peacefully while the other looked over the place of massacre. Where one looked positively ancient with his whit beard' size that would even make a dwarf blush while the other looked only a bit older to the poacher from the other night. Then again she knew he was about a century old, only born shortly after the end of the War for Sanctuary at the beginning of the one hundred year during war of the Second Blight.
The younger wizard turned and motioned to the Witch to his master.
"Master, Lady Yaga has arrived." he said.
"Oh really?" the elder Wizard replied and looked up from his large floppy hat, his ancient eyes peering at the Dark Forest Witch." So she has."
"Gentlemen." she mock courtesied."How wonderful to see you both. You've only aged a little bit compared to last time."
The younger wizard frowned." We don't all eat people's hearts like you do, witch. What poor soul did you devour this time?" Before she could retort he received a slap from his master' wooden staff.This made the witch smirk.
"Let it be, Tim." the elder wizard said. The wizard known as Tim rubbed his head and scowled at her." It's Timothy, i'm not twelve..."
The three waited for a few awkward moments as more spellcasters arrived.
One was a half-elven male who was greeted as a old friend by Tim. The half-elf was dressed much like a warrior, in bright green cloak, leather armour and a metal helmet, but there was no mistake to those who knew magic or had it coursing in their bodies. Being so close to him made the hairs stand on the Witch's arms. It seemed Thorgal Jr had some extensive training in King Halmadir's court.
He was still young according to elf or even half-elf years, so he could still be persuaded, the witch thought to herself. The lure of power was there, beneath the kind smiles and pleasant noises one made to friends. The night he lost his parents was the one that pushed him to the darker side of magic. Her side. A new apprentice was exactly what she needed. Seduction might work, his human side would make it easy. She folded those thoughts away for later.
The witch kept her distance from the three and kept to herself.
Finally, close to noon the last four members arrived. A human female in a blue robe, beautiful by their standards, with her eyes blazing blue. An Enchantress, Lady Isolde, the Witch knew. Along with her was a old Gnomish druid along with his younger apprentice, both dressed in a green robe embroided with vines and small diamonds. Derren of the Ivy Climbers clan and Dagda, she seemed to recall Derren having saved then Prince Leopold from a dragon just over a century ago. And at last was a orc Shaman Priestess, this one she did not know. The witch kept an eye on her, she hated surprises.
"We've arrived." Isolde proclaimed." Have the wards been set?"
Tim checked it mentally. "They have been, Lady Isolde."
"Then let us proceed." she bowed her head and turned to the old wizard." It's good to see you again, old friend."
"Likewise, Isolde. You look lovely as the day you left the Academy." the old wizard smiled and doused his pipe." But we haven't come to reminisce."
"That is true." Isolde nodded." I've come here with news of the Blight. This is Tannaka Bloodrain of the Beastmaw Clan."
The orc female nodded and stepped forward." I come from the Iron Crown where my clan is combatting the Blight as we speak."
"The Iron Crown...that is on the other side of the continent." Dagda rubbed her chin." Why did you travel this far, orc?"
The orc female threw a vial on the soft ground in reply." This."
The midday sun fell on through the leaves, revealing the pale green vial. Those without magic would have thought nothing of it, but those in the council fell a shiver run down their collective spines.
The Witch was the first to pick it up." It's a sample of the Blight venom....straight from the Gray of the Citadel that caused the first Blight War in Bucktooth Pay centuries ago!"
She was only a young apprentice back when she heard the tales of the First Blight, how it ruined much of the lands of Bucktooth, Queenspark and Gryphon's Peak. Even now those lands were still healing.
"Where did you find this, lass?" the druid asked.
Bloodrain shifted uneasily. "I found it in the hands of one of my own in East Vail...my Warchief send me there to burn the bodies there while the rest of my warband fought off the Horde to defend a dwarven canon and the refugees it protected. He was about to distribute it in the water supply when we stopped him. He was about to start another Blight after it killed so many of our clan." The witch saw anger in her eyes.
"Did he say why he did it?" Tim asked.
"No." the orc shaman replied.
"Why?" Tim asked once more.
She turned to face him. "Because I threw a spear in his throat when he attempted to pour it."
"Furthermore." Isolde quickly added to the orcish brutal honesty." I found a old smashed up vial in Sorcerers Crown in Queen's Maul after it was put down six months ago. Similar traces there."
Derren chuckled before she could reply." Beautiful, just beautiful..."
"I do not think this situation is very funny, Elder Derren." Thorgal said.
"I do, I think it's hysterical." the druid took out his own pipe and smoked." It means where the First Blight began because of the ravings of one madman, we now got a secret organisation starting up Blight Outbreaks all over Alundria. I found a smashed up vial myself ten days ago not far from the new well, dating a century ago."
"Why didn't you inform us before, Lady Isolde?" Tim asked." If you found the vial maybe we could've stopped future outbreaks."
"No, it is logical she didn't." Thorgal replied." Clearly if there is a organisation in play that spans across all of Alundria, she had to pick members of this council carefully."
"Even bringing this forward is risky." the witch replied as she passed the vial around." Whom did you tell of this?"
Dagda picked up the vial and tried to open to to sniff it but was stopped by her mentor who gave her a frown look as he passed it along.
This made the Enchantress frown." No-one, you foul creature. In fact I don't know who invited you."
"I did." the old wizard spoke up, much to the surprise of everyone else." We all operate in different fields. The realm of arcane magic, drawing upon the elements of nature, blood magic and so on. The Cyclops Priests work with the power of their god that created the Giants and humanity in his own image and the dwarves are experts in science...only together can we find a way to stop this from spreading."
"So why do we have no priests or dwarves here then?" Isolde asked.
"Because we've run out of time." the old wizard stood up." I've seen omens in the Citadel, omens I've seen before only once before, just before the first outbreak in Bucktooth bay."
The witch frowned when she realized how old this wizard really was.
"How do you mean, Master?" Tim asked." You mean you were there during the First Blight?"
"I was, back when I was called Tim." the old wizard replied." I fear these Blights are only the beginning. That a massive Blight will be underway in the North, outside of the eyes of the Council of Grays and the Citadel."
"So what do we have to do?" Thorgal asked." We cannot inform our courts and rulers, that would cause panic and war amongst the living.
"We must-" the elder wizard stopped as all the other spellcasters looked around. The Witch felt the same thing the others did, the wards had been broken. Someone had come in council grounds.
Her elven ears picked up rustling behind her. A fatal mistake. Without delay the witch raised her hands in the air and muttered dark words. Her eyes flared bright yellow as she sensed the would-be assassins around her. She opened her mouth as her assassins cried out in horrible pains as their souls left their bodies and flew towards the Dark Forest Witch. She consumed the souls, their energies feeding her mana even more. She dropped to her knees as she felt sated...but she knew her spell was not large enough.
But she now knew who had set up a trap." Goblins..."
"What?" Tim helped her up.
She turned to the human and held him by his shoulder." GOBLINS!"
Dozens of goblin assassins leaped out from the woods around them, daggers and arrows raised. Thorgal and Derren were the first attacked, but the assassins foolishly believed mages were not good at close quarter combat. The half-elf and gnome drew their sword and scythe and made quick work of the goblins.
Isolde tried to summon up her spell but it was to late. Dozens of goblin arrows flew and flew through the Enchantress' body. She was dead before she even hit the ground.
Tanakka Bloodrain was likewise felled by the arrows but the Witch saw her chest was still moving.
Timothy was deflecting goblin dagger strikes with his staff, proving to be a at least serviceable bodyguard to the witch. But he was not adept at close quarters and it was obvious these goblins would meant their death.
Who betrayed them, she thought. Who was the traitor....or was this all a trap?
"Come on, you gobbo bastards!" Derren stomped his feet on the ground. As he did roots began flying at the goblins, smashing or stabbing them. The gnome laughed until a lucky arrow found its way and flew through his skull.He to fell dead as Thorgal was starting to get overwhelmed on his side. Dagda cried out in horror before she picked up her mentor's work and trashed the assassins with the vines as a vengeful goddess of the forest. It was then the witch known as Lady yaga noticed that there was something strange with their attackers. They did not cackle, joke, mock or even speak. Goblins were the most talkative species on Alundria yet these creatures were deathly silent, as if they were warriors of some holy crusade.
But the goblins made another fatal mistake that night, they had forgotten the old Wizard.
The Witch looked to the wizard and saw mana been given form. The old human's eyes flared bright blue, the air around him crackled with power and energy. The skies above turned from bright and sunny to dark and cloudy. She could feel the magic coursing to the skies and anticipated the spell.
"YOU. SHALL NOT. PASS!" He cried and slammed his staff on the ground. A large, blue strike of lightning slammed the area in front of them that halted or even evaporated the green skinned assassins.
More still came however. Timothy did his spell, it was similar to his Master' and although impressive, his lightning was not even half the strength nor did it stop the waves, nearly a small army's worth.
"It must be a whole tribe of them!" Timothy shouted.
"That is a very plausible theory, though not one that can help us in this situation." Thorgal said as-a-matter-of-factly as he pulled a arrow from his side." Unless we have a large amount of coin to bribe their loyalty."
The voices of the souls she consumed started to scream at the witch. She had learned long ago to stop the pain from being overwhelming. Instead she absorbed their final thoughts." No, these monsters cannot be bought...they seek to bring death to all of Alundria." she turned to the wizard." To end the mortal scourge, the world must be cleansed. It is their sole thought. Their only reason of being."
The old wizard frowned before he turned to the attackers as he picked up Derren's weapon." Go now. I will hold them off."
Timothy blinked." Master?"
"Who-ever is behind this knows we are close to finding out. Find allies, stop the Blights from happening. Protect Alundria!" his old master motioned to the wounded orc and half-elf." Get them out of here, Tim. And take this." He handed the vial he received just before the ambush took place." Solve the puzzle, find the antidote."
The apprentice never disobeyed his master and he would not start. He pocketed the vial before he picked up the orc female as the witch helped the half-elf run. The witch turned to see the gnome still chanting as she used the forest as a weapon. Groaning annoyed the witch came down and slapped the angry gnome druidess out of her angry stupor." Your master is dead and so will you if you do not move, SO MOVE!"
The gnome glared angrily at the she-elf but did as she was told. There was so much anger in her eyes...it reminded her of herself at that age. She could not help but grin a little.
The witch saw the apprentice turn only once to see his master but the old wizard merely shouted at him.
"Fly, you fools!" he cried before he attacked their pursuers.
"Master!" Timothy cried as the orc he was holding was going in and out of consciousness.
"He is sacrificing himself to buy us time, fool!" The witch shouted angrily." MOVE!"
This snapped the younger wizard out of his stupor and the four remaining spellcasters fled.
When they arrived at the mana pool, the garrison looked surprised at the wounded spellcasters.
Thorgal took their commander by the arm." Grab a eagle and inform King Halmadir I must speak to him. Behind us is a army of goblins, treat them as hostile and eliminate them with extreme prejudice." He paused." Take some captive, I wish to interrogate them."
The Tactician nodded and relayed the orders as the witch ignored the weary looks from the archers and took a seat by the well.
Come nightfall the archers and Woodland assassins returned with a few goblin kills to their name and more importantly, prisoners.
The Tactician provided a escort as the prisoners would be taken to the palace's dungeons. Timothy the Wizard, Dagda the Druid and Tannaka Bloodrain the Shaman returned to the ambush site with a heavy guard and took the bodies of the fallen spellcasters with them for proper burial.
If Halmadir felt remorse the deaths of three of his peers, he did not show it. He was preparing the eagle to fly to King Halmadir's palace. His ears twitched when he heard the witch's arrival. He did not look away as he prepared his mount." You wish to join me." he stated.
"Yes." the witch replied." I have knowledge of the goblins stored inside my mind, I can aid you in this investigation...and help you convince your king. I did help him get his crown, in a manner of speaking."
The half elf turned around as he raised his brow." Your fortune telling merely showed the future. You did nothing to stop the death of my parents or warn the king of the terrible burdens he would have to lift. I do not think your presence will be tolerated in the palace."
The witch smirked. This child liked to act like he had no emotions, but there was a boiling well inside She needed to get close to this High Elf mage, become friends, show him the true path to power. It would take time but if done well, she would have her perfect apprentice and the perfect tool to fight the Blight.
"Then I will have to do my best." she smiled." The old man said to gather allies, why would you start discarding one away? One who has used her magic to save your life today, magic that can be very...beneficial to the cause. You do not know the dark arts like I do, Thorgal the younger. Your investigation needs my expertise. It would be...illogical to cast me aside."
The half-elf contemplated this and eventually nodded." Agreed. You will ride with me."
And so the witch flew off with the High Elf towards the royal palace.