Written: 2014

Setting: High Fantasy

The spring wind blew and green leaves danced through the air, twisting and winding their way throughout the sky. Each leaf had its own path to pursue, its own story to develop and its adventure to unfold as time passed. The leaves neither thought about nor controlled where the light wind blew them, they merely followed it along, beholden to its whims as each leaf was thrust this way and that.

Some passed above great mountains, towering mounds of rock and ice that thrust like spears into the atmosphere. Still others passed through great sheets of sand, barren sloping expanses of dust and rock that possessed little of consequence. One particular leaf found itself above bright green treetops. Their canopies flush with the color of the new season. That leaf eventually drifted through the canopy, finding a hole in the forest to finally land on the ground below, among the dirt and the plant life. There it rested, surrounded by the tranquility of the forest.
A boot crushed down next to the leaf, sending bits of mud flying away from the indent that it left behind in the ground. The man connected to the boot continued down the forest path. To his left and right were trees that stretched up well beyond what any human could hope to reach, with their dark brown bark providing guide stones that the man followed deeper into the immense forest.

The wind blew through the nearby branches, giving rise to a low murmur that served as the backdrop to the entire forest. For all the life present in the enormous forest, there was a curious lack of active wildlife. It was entirely devoid of small mammals bustling for food, or larger animals attending to similar activities. There was merely the man, and the shifting branches that surrounded him.

Enshrouded in a midnight black cloak, the man showed little of what was underneath. Sturdy brown boots peaked out below, just long enough to take the next definitive step on his path. The hood lay over the man’s face, giving it a dark cast. He had dark brown hair that peaked out in places out of the cloak’s embrace, with deep brown eyes that looked old and weary. The man’s face showed few outward signs of age, but there was a heaviness on his features, as if he was weighted down by some large burden. There was a grim set to the man’s eyes that said he would bull right through any disagreement that stood in front of him. The set of his purposeful stride left him at a brisk pace until he finally came to the end of the path.

In front stood a small entrance to a cave. The door was finely carved into the rock, with ornate engravings surrounding its entire border. The symbols seemed woven directly into the stone, almost as if someone had pushed with a paintbrush and then just- drew. Ornate as the doorway was, it gave way into an abyss, a vanishing darkness that hinted at a long and perilous journey. The man just smiled, boldly strutting straight through as if he had no care in the world. As he passed through the doorway, the blackness seemed to swallow him whole, as if he belonged to it, or it claimed some kind of possession.

Long winding hallways eventually led him into a large room. The room was taller than he could see. Darkness hung like a fog, obscuring the ceiling and the towering stone pillars that supported it. These stone pillars had similar engravings to the doorway before. They indicated a certain age, and a power associated with such age. The man stopped a few steps into the cavernous room, his feet silent, despite an echo that should have existed.

“There’s no use, Devin.” The man in black’s voice was quiet, but somehow it carried throughout the entire room, every intonation perfectly communicated. His voice was dry, almost bored, and his tone- amused.

Out behind one of the pillars, a shadow seemed to detach itself and stood alone. It was a man, breath ragged, looking as if he had just outrun all manner of hell and storm. He wore a tattered and broken garment, that if unscathed would match the man in black’s cloak perfectly. The newcomer had blue eyes, wide with exhaustion and resignation as he looked at the man who had spoken. Long blonde hair adorned his head, and what may once have been considered beautiful was now littered with dirt and twigs.

“You are the strongest of us, Elendar. You must know that he is mad.” The man, Devin’s, eyes slowly gained determination as he continued to speak, straightening as he did so. “He may even become a match for you,” Devin’s hands formed into fists as he finished, staring defiantly at the man before him as if to emphasize his point. “And when that happens the whole empire is doomed.”

Eyes flashing mildly with anger, Elendar nonetheless retorted in the same low voice he had used before. “Whether Oberin is mad or not, it will become more clear with time,” his voice carried the same quality as before, spreading across the entire room as clear as day. Elendar’s expression, however, was no longer amused, though his voice retained a tinge of it still, “Your judgment comes now Devin, what you have done in the past cannot be excused. By our order’s commandments I will finish you here, finally.” He paused. “Surely,” he said slowly, a smile creeping up on his face, “You will accept this fate?”

Suddenly all the fear and trepidation returned to Devin’s form. A deep breath he took, to steady himself, and then he stood firm, back straight and head tilted up to match Elendar’s. His blue eyes retained the fear they had before, but his new found determination made his gaze flinty with resolve. The air surrounding the mysterious man began shimmering, and sparks flew as a fire was kindled from nothing, winding around him like a live snake, throwing off pockets of light into the shadows of the large, dark room. The flame grew larger and took the loose form of a great serpent, which faced Elendar’s comparatively small form and let out a monstrous hiss. As soon as it was fully formed, the burning beast burst toward its small opponent at a blistering speed, that to match a snake’s when it finally catches its prey.

Time turned to molasses as the serpent got closer to Elendar. The air between the two of them seemed to be taking on form, a kind of smooth dark appearance, streaked with narrow pockets that fire burst from violently. This fire had a malevolence that the flame serpent’s could not match. It was a heavier fire, one that held more power in its white-orange depths. It pulsed and the air rippled, as if it was resisting some tremendous weight struggling against it. Slowly, all around Devin and the flame avatar, air began to crack and seemed to tear open, allowing the dark form to coalesce.

The substance was almost as that of scales, or plating, with the bursts of flame coming through in lines along the legs that took shape. All around the serpent this phenomena continued, until the vast room was half filled with the terrifying visage of three great beasts. Each one resembling some monstrous wolf, but with the distinct ears of canines. They began to growl, and Devin caught a glimpse of one of the beasts’ teeth. They filled its mouth, each one sharper than the last, and every single tooth larger that his torso.

The molasses dissipated with the last of the air releasing its burden. The room smelled of sulfur, and a heat that did not burn, yet managed to permeate every pore and bestow a tremendous promise of what would come of being burned by these beings.

The serpent immediately recoiled as soon as it was able, and both the flame beast and its partner waited cautiously. Devin knew, with the release of these creatures, that he had no hope of survival. His best was worth a try, however. With a cry he drew more flame to the serpent. Its flames danced even farther and it burned hotter. A tornado surrounded Devin as his serpent gave a piercing hiss, the tornado suddenly looked akin to hordes of flaming serpents, winding in a cycle unending. Finally he released the power, and Devin’s flaming serpents all descended on the surrounding hellish beasts with a roar, bringing all of the accumulated fire and power to bear in every direction.

There was a silence. Small bits of flame danced on the floor before fading, and Devin waited for the result of his attack. A small portion of fire surrounded him, and he made it brighter to view the effect his strike had. Instead of illuminating the beasts from before, a suffocating night surrounded him. Of Elendar there was no sign, and the darkness began to creep in on him. Looking frantically around, eyes searching wildly, burning red eyes stayed at the edges of his vision. The floor began to warp, and it depicted him, flame aloft around him, with dozens of hounds slowly approaching him. Still, he could see nothing. The pillars shifted, and he began to see hounds on the stone, as if they were climbing down from the ceiling. The darkness continued to edge in closer and closer, the edges of his vision narrowing.

The flame went out. As the last of the darkness crept in, the man let out a scream of agonizing terror.

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