Gary Baker, March 2012
Drel watched the tall rectangular box strapped to the altar across from his dark form with thick coils of rope and metal. In the dim candlelight almost no one could tell just what, exactly, the box was, much less what it might contain.
All they see, he thought grimly, is white marble and planks. It took serious concentration to not react to what he saw, however, with the obvious reverberations of panic exuding from within the planks like oozing sewage. Adding in the incessant smells of horror of the same origin, Drel came closer and closer to insanity by the minute.
Tall candles stood like stalagmites in the cavernous nightfall cathedral built deep into the mountains of Morrah, with flickering shadows of loyal cult members awaiting their prize that Nahuum would soon reveal. The man of the hour stepped up from the eclipse of shadow beyond the altar revealing an abnormally tall man with gruff biceps and ripped jeans from ages passed as a lowly farmer. His unblemished sand-toned skin seemed to reflect just enough light to make the appearance all the more startling, and he traced a finger along the outer edge of the planks while he walked around.
It was all a show, Drel knew, and soon Nahuum would have his cronies -- initiates the cultists would call them -- upend the box and remove the lid. But the proprietor would give the moment time to climax, allowing the crowd to frenzy and the contents to give in on one easy act of stalling.
Wincing with sympathy, Drel looked away from the sight of a living body within the confines of the box. He could tell by the size and, more particularly, the shape of the heat signals that only his eyes could see, that the person reaching chaotic psychopathy within the soundproof coffin was female. She was just small enough to fit inside, with some room to move her elbows and turn her head, and no longer young enough to pretend this could ever end well.
Yet what was worse, as the cloaked man in the crowd looked about, was that more than half of the members of the cult were men beaten by the hierarchical system to the point of mental insurgency.
And the woman within was a local lord's daughter.
The fact that Nahuum had taken her from her fluffed mattress a week prior to her fifteenth birthday, meant that she would see the dawning second quarter of her expected lifespan in the bestial candle-lit cavern. Yet, for the same reason, that was exactly why it had to be her -- Nahuum was creating savages, and for that he'd needed to take men and make them beasts by feeding them a scapegoat as pure as the heavens.
As Nahuum began his speech, Drel pushed forward as if trying to walk upstream in shin-deep white water; it was possible, but he had to fight to get closer and closer to his target. With the leader still droning on about life, death, and the rights of a man, the audience edged closer with Drel in expectation. Each man leaned forward as the cronies in white lifted the cask from the altar and stood it on end.
Drel only hoped they had placed it right side up. For if they hadn't, then things would get hairy and fast.
As it was, he quickly began flicking his fingers about at his sides as if playing invisible pianos at his hips, and tied off unseen berths of fire where the most reaction would be made. Then someone bumped him, returning after shifting away to shove him even harder with a vengeful anger. "Get back where you belong, gyp!" The man growled, as Drel turned to see the burly ox of a man cracking knuckles dyed with soot.
With an effort taking more energy than it should have Drel let the rising tempests go, and his tattered brown cloak settled back across his shoulders with a soft sush. Eyes wide, the blacksmith grunted his apologies and turned to make his way to a safer place. "Beg your pardon, Swami."
That was the nice part about being a nomadic augur, as rare as his kind were these days, the laymen knew what he could do with but a single thought. Yet not a one of them knew what he could do with a momentary movement.
Across ages augurs had been known for their past failures, leading to the 'War of a Million' that took more than a million years before the resourcefulness of humankind overpowered those born with an ability to control the elements. Despite what noblemen learned in their colleges and tutor programs about no living augur existing post-war, the laymen knew the truth. Augurs still lived -- but mostly in the dreams and lore of farmers.
Yet Drel was one of the last that had seen life at the end of the war. Him, and Nahuum; both men who had abandoned morals and aided the defeat of their own kind.
The cronies handed Nahuum a thin silver key that fit into a slot in the lid, and Drel scowled while he readied a delayed blast effect at his back and tied it off. "I give you...!" Nahuum called, with his deep resonating voice riling the men into growling wolves on the border to a land full of fresh meat.
He turned the key with a loud slack and men audibly growled as if shackled and starving with a feast in plain sight.
"Revenge." He cooed while stepping back to let the door swing open and reveal the woman inside.
It was then that Drel realized why he and Nahuum had become so distant -- politics. While Drel had always preferred peace to atone for his betrayal, Nahuum had turned to fight the men he claimed had 'turned him' to do the same.
With the quick glance that he got, Drel saw the pale-skinned woman jump from the box onto the stage and into the candlelight only to regret ever being born. Her near-white hair hung low, the exaggerated curls the only thing between lustful eyes and her bare chest, which was more than he could say for the rest of her form. A circular scar on her left breast revealed more than anyone around the augur could have realized, having been left there by an angry goat's hoof when she was four. Sarah Khelar, daughter of High Lord Khelar, had always been a pretty child -- but her beauty even now, after being tumbled about in a harsh coffin, was the greatest downfall that she could ever have asked for.
If her pupils weren't missing already from assuming herself buried alive, they were nonexistent now that she could see what lay in her coming future.
Knowing who she was Drel turned away, having gotten what he needed.
As if in defiance to his own thoughts, the anger dwelling deep in Drel's chest burst into fits of hellish wrath while the men around him monstrously pounced for her frailty. The tied off flares he had set up in an arc along his route to get there lit with thunderous blasts at the mental signal that he sent, splashing men sprinting for a piece of royalty in every direction. Just as quickly as it began the spell at his back released like a bowstring with a snapping thwack against his prepared muscles. He was airborne before he could blink and savages sailed passed beneath him.
He spun to send more flares with one hand toward those already nearing her, while ripping a purple-black bar of raw power from the depths of space with the other.
He landed more balanced, if less graceful, than expected and whirled to tear the bar through bystanders in his path as he made his way through the thrall. He lengthened the bar, and whipped the new staff through the many bow-staff forms from his days in the militia.
Crossing the Bridge became Crickets in the Grass. Waves Ashore swept into Long-shot Archer, and rounded to Harbinger's Fall before cresting into Dragons Asunder. Legs burst here, chests splished there and men that had flashed into beasts at the sight of one beautiful woman became pools of gore at his feet. His staff was an unending torrent of death, sailing through human flesh as if he were practicing on a foggy beach. Each man down fueled him, sending reserves of their energy into his core to use as a new source-flame within his heart. One savage down was one less able to make her wish she could just die.
At that he spun to face her, cowering in the coffin that she'd been released from with men finally reaching her. Their grubby hands reached for her body, meaning to draw out her death as long as she could fight and try to survive.
Then suddenly she was hidden from Drel's view as the men closed in on her, and her horrendous screams of terror told him they had torn her from her last place of hopeful solace.
Hatred and rage flowed from him like a boiling waterfall. Every vein surged with power, and he shot himself forward with a continuous burst, until at last he landed just beyond the last boulder to the outside world. He felt each hailing cry, each fleeting shriek, and with them came a scar in his mind for not having done anything but run.
As he stepped soundlessly out into the cold midnight air, he tried to forget the sound of her bawling caterwaul that ended in a loud echo of silence. Even the fauna of the thick jungle-like forest that now surrounded him like the cavern just had listened for something, anything, which could have deemed her salvation true. Drel thrust his left hand into his long lengthy brown hair while looking to the stars above, and whipped the staff into empty air.
It didn't even reach five meters before the power he had been using to make it ran out in a puff of black smoke.
"This had better be worth it." He droned to himself and turned to start downhill toward the town that rest in the delta ten miles away, while using magic on the stolen shinbone of a now-dead farmer to whittle a doll in the exact shape of Sarah Khelar. This was his new life -- find the kidnapped and prove their death by carving a bone doll in an exact replica that he could then sell to the family to give them a form of closure.
As he walked on he realized that it had never occurred to him to try saving them, if only to see if the mental rewards might be greater. "Just another case of my post-war stupidity." The augur breathed.
But the next time would be different, he decidedly declared.