The Price of Freedom, Chapter 11: Power

Aefion hacked and slashed wildly with his sword. Streams of black blood sprayed where it cut into tough, sinewy limbs. Numerous fanged jaws clamped down on his body and he could feel the bite of poison as it entered his bloodstream. If he didn’t act now, they’d be ascending within the hour. Spreading his arms, he closed his eyes.

Once again, he was standing on the windswept plain. This time, however, the wind howled; responsive to his needs. Thousands of red wisps streaked across the sky, like a hailstorm of fire. Wading through the shifting seas of grass, he reached out with both hands and snatched the strands of power as they came arcing overhead. He pulled in more and more, gathering the energy to his will. He became like a child, trying to catch dandelion seeds in the wind. He could feel the power as it filled him, feel it straining his senses. His hands were soon full of sparkling, crimson energy. Knowing that to take too much would overwhelm him, he breathed in, drawing the wisps into himself and expelled them. Emptied, he began to gather more.

Cassandra panicked. She lashed out with the axe, hacking into a monkey’s neck. A sense of elation filled her, easing her panic slightly. But it was short lived as more of the creatures jumped on her, their claws and teeth digging into her body. She fought back a scream as pain coursed through her. Was this how it would end? Had she escaped Tenegrin’s prison only to be killed by a host of spider-things?

A flicker of scarlet energy faded into existence around Aefion and Cassandra. It shimmered like a translucent bubble with sunlight shimmering off it. Expanding outwards, it burned and incinerated the Spider Monkeys where it touched them. Bursts of orange sparks lit up the dim forest, illuminating the pines in hellish flashes. The carapace kept expanding, and the black-furred monsters retreated from its searing glow, shrieking in rage. They scampered back and forth, looking for a means to reach their prey, even probing experimentally. This only enflamed their limbs and sent them dashing away with screams of agony.

Cassandra gasped as the red light enveloped her. The poison was purged from her veins and her wounds closed, leaving nothing but clean, smooth skin. She blinked and sat up. Looking to her side, she watched Aefion dragging himself laboriously into a sitting position. His eyes remained closed. He was concentrating very hard, she realised. Striding forwards, she raised the axe above her head.

‘Hungry? Taste this, you little bastards.’ The blade sliced through the carapace as if it wasn’t there and plunged into a monkey’s chest. Heaving the axe back, she grinned as a flower of blood blossomed there. The monkey shrieked and fell, its multi-jointed limbs thrashing in its death spasms.

‘Not so hungry now, are you?’ Cassandra laughed, hewing at another monkey. The creature tried to jump backwards to evade the blow but it collided with another. The axe drank deeply.

At last the carapace stopped growing. It was surrounded by a fence of hairy, black fiends, all raging and waving their arms in confusion. Cassandra swung her axe in destructive arcs, careful to keep within the carapace’s safety. The forest floor became drenched in blood and covered in blackened corpses. She looked back at Aefion. He was sitting cross-legged and his face was peaceful. Turning back to the creatures, she knelt and took a good look at one of them.

It squatted on its eight, shaggy limbs, the multiple joints bending in pulsating rhythm. Seeing her staring, the beast opened its maw and issued a shrill screech that sounded like a cross between a horse and a dying pig.

Then it leapt straight at her.

Instinctively, she stepped backwards, her eyes widening in horror but the monkey burnt itself to cinders as it crashed into the carapace.

‘Cassandra,’ Aefion cried, his hand reaching out towards her. She detected a hint of anxiety in his voice. ‘The energy will not hold for long, especially if they start sacrificing themselves. Give me your hand.’

She walked back to him and clutched his hand. It was warm to the touch and she sat down next to him, her eyes on the monkeys.

‘What are you going to do?’

He didn’t reply. His eyes flicked open to reveal shining red orbs, and his hair fluttered about his face as if blown by a gust of wind. The colour of the carapace rose to a crescendo until it was painfully bright and more bursts of sparks exploded around its edge.

Gripping Cassandra’s hand tightly, he expelled the spiritscape energy.

A massive, fiery corona expanded outwards, turning everything in its path to ashes and shaking the pine trees with its thunder.

When the last traces of energy had disappeared, leaving only a steadily falling curtain of ashes, dust and pine needles, Aefion slumped to the ground. The red light faded from his eyes and his grip on Cassandra’s hand loosened. The sky above had darkened and she could see the glimmer of stars.

‘Luvios Tel Annoros,’ she murmured, kneeling and closing her eyes. A small shimmering of blue light danced around the immediate area before disappearing. Extending a minor Ward spell would give them protection through the night. Giving a contented sigh, she settled down against Aefion’s body.

Here they would rest and continue at dawn.

The first golden rays of sunlight broke defiantly through the dense pines and illuminated the sleeping elf and his companion. It was a rare moment in Darkroth, when the sun’s warmth reached beyond the forest’s edge. A slight zephyr stirred the strands of Aefion’s hair and he opened his eyes. The events of the previous night came back in a flash and he breathed in, deeply. He knew if it hadn’t been for Cassandra’s aid, perhaps they would’ve ascended. The power had drained him, and he realised that her warmth and passion had, in addition to giving him the ability to protect them both, also given him enough rest to heal his spirit for the coming day.

Turning his gaze from the slivers of sky, he was met with a welcoming sight. He was leaning against the trunk of a tree, with a beautiful, young woman snuggling up against him. Her hair was dishevelled, her breathing peaceful and steady. For a moment he looked at her, wonder in his gaze. But he knew this couldn’t last. She was a human. He didn’t understand why he felt this way.

He sighed, and stroked her hair affectionately. She was very striking, for a human girl. Rubbing the sleep from his eyes, he shifted his body. Cassandra began to wake, blinking at him. For a moment they looked at each other, their faces close, breathing in each other’s auras.

And then they were kissing, hands exploring; groping; pulling at clothes. Cassandra’s lips tasted like strawberries and Aefion realised the full extent of the thugs’ desires had been only to ravage her. They had not kissed her once. He felt aroused by her touch; her breasts against his chest; her hands tearing savagely at his breeches.

Aefion’s hands were wrapped around her, and she felt his warmth. Laces came free beneath her fingers and then the passion began.

The pine trees looked on under the lightening sky, silent witnesses to this bout of ecstasy.

The sun was mid-journey. The two naked figures slept serenely, partially covered by the elf’s scarlet cloak, occasional flickers of blue light highlighting the ward protecting them.

Aefion was the first to wake. Carefully, so not to disturb Cassandra, he slipped away from her. Pulling on his clothes, he disappeared into the forest.

When he returned, lacing up his breeches, he looked up to see Cassandra smiling at him. She stood dressed and ready, her axe shaft resting over one shoulder.

‘Are you quite finished?’ She eyed his breeches. Her spirits seemed lifted, and Aefion was sure he knew what it was.

He felt his cheeks reddening. Picking up his swordbelt, he buckled it on, checking the scabbarded sword. Rolling back his shoulders, he stretched and yawned.

‘Are you?’ He laughed, good-naturedly, buckling his cloak around Cassandra’s shoulders. ‘It will keep you a little warmer. Let’s go.’

Cassandra reached out to take his hand as they strode towards the gap in the trees. He hesitated. Before he could form words she grabbed his hand and yanked him forwards like an impatient parent towing a child.

‘Come on, silly.’

As they emerged from the forest and began a sprint across the plains, Aefion gritted his teeth and his eyes flashed red. It was time for Tenegrin to suffer.

The Price of Freedom, Chapter 11: Power

Andy Bain

Hobart, Australia

  • Artist
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