Corvin of Marra's Sorrow
Corvin followed the glowing path through dry, dead trees, the Pale Sun hanging low in the sky behind him. His preparations had been careful, spells jostling within his mind, each pushing at his will, urging to be spoken and made real. With an effort he quieted them; as the sun lowered toward the horizon, so too did the effect of Sunset Reveals a Trail in Sand, and it would be unwise to traverse this forest with no clear guide of the way ahead. Hanging in the air before him, tiny crystals of silica glimmered, reflecting the dim light of the setting sun. They scattered as Corvin moved through them, motes of dust eddying in the wake of his passing.
The path that led to this place had been unusual, to say the least. Homes in Satyrine had been disappearing, one by one, and at first the supposed-inert weapons of the War were thought to be behind it. Of course, the city itself was mutable, though not at such a rate has had been experienced in this case, nor in such a sporadic manner, affecting diverse areas of the city, and surgical in precision. As the count of disappearances mounted, a number of Vislae tried to follow the threads, to find a common cause. For months, nothing had worked, and still people and homes vanished seemingly at random.
One day, a young girl had broken the chain of failures. She dreamed of a tall cloaked figure stood in the middle of a crowded street, head and shoulders above the masses swirling around it. It would turn its unseen face to watch certain others as they passed, and would occasionally reach out a hand toward one, and that person would evaporate, becoming mist drawn into the figure's hood. Upon waking, she found she could see things unknown to others. Some people and some places seemed thin to her, and grew thinner, eventually disappearing altogether. Several Vislae had used this foreknowledge in an attempt to be drawn into whatever destination awaited the disappeared. No-one had heard from them again.
Corvin, a member of the Order of the Vance, took a different tack. He knew the truth of spells: that they are alive as us, and have thoughts, abilities, and — crucially — they had loyalty. They existed outside of the normal order of living things, and could not be consumed as living things might. Knowing this, he bound a spell of seeking to a building that had become thin, and he waited. When the house had vanished, he followed the pull of his spell, and it led him to the demesne of the Pale Sun, and the edge of a dense forest. Here he sat and waited for the sun to make its way across the sky, and as the light began to dim, he invoked the spell, casting a handful of sand to the wind. The sand caught in the air, carving a path of glittering diamonds that led deeper into the forest, showing the way to the spell he had set as bait.
Now Corvin's path was growing dim, the sun behind him dipping below the horizon. His pace quickened; he did not want to find out what specters lurked in this forest after nightfall. The trees around him began to take on menacing forms, cracked and burned bark leering down at him. As he hurried forward, the last rays of the setting sun glimmered off the path, then the glittering sand fell, dead, to the ground.
Corvin cursed, and began to run forward in the direction the path had been headed. His destination had to be close now, surely? Darkness closed in around him, and brambles seemed to writhe out of the ground, hampering his progress. Soon he found himself irretrievably lost.
“Corvin…” A voice, from somewhere to his left, whispered his name. Corvin turned his head this way and that, but could see nothing, no-one that might have spoken.
“You are alone and far from home, Corvin, in a cold and dark place,” the voice continued, soothing and sinister. “By your hubris you chose to come here alone and unaided, believing that your own renown would increase by… what? Some brave errand? Would you return with the head of a legendary horror clutched to your breast? Or perhaps you thought you'd return at the head of a line of children, rescued from some ignoble fate?” The voice chuckled, low in its throat.
“Dammit, where are you?!” Corvin spun, the voice seeming to come from all around him, as though the trees themselves were speaking, taunting him. “Who are you?!”
“Do you not recognize my voice?” came the softly mocking reply. “You should, I think. We have spoken at length, you and I, on topics varied. Together we have plumbed the depths and scaled the heights of magic. We bent unwilling spells to our whims, coerced others. Together we charmed the Tongues of Frost, wooing, cajoling, enticing…”
“I… Embrae?” Corvin was incredulous. “You are not dead— why would you walk the dead lands beneath the Pale? You remained at Marra's Sorrow, studying with the Order's library there. You could not be so easily parted from your precious books of forgotten lore.”
“Is that so?” the voice whispered like a wind through the trees. “All things must change, sooner or later…”
“Hah! You would not,” Corvin spat. “Never have I known you to give an inch. You speak to me of hubris, you who deemed it your birthright to bend others to your whims, who believed that the worlds should mould themselves to suit your conceits!” Corvin reached out a hand to a dead tree, steadying himself, leaning to look around it. “You would have the entire Order relocate rather than venture into Pale alone. I swear, even should you die you would have Queen Xjallad make you a home in Satyrine, rather than leave your accustomed comforts.”
A hand closed around Corvin's left wrist, pulling him away from the tree, and crashing into the thorns and brush even now twining around his feet. The tree stepped forward, and it was no longer a tree, but a tall figure, cloaked in shimmering dark grey silk. It reached up two hands and brushed back its hood, revealing Embrae, blond hair twisting and writhing like flames.
“Are you so sure, brother? How well you think to know someone you haven't seen for eight years now.” A wry smile twitched at the corner of Embrae's mouth, “I have ascended to greater heights than you can know. What I want I can simply take, whether it lie here, or in Shadow, or even in your sainted Satyrine.”
Corvin glared up at Embrae's mocking smile. “You? You are the cause of the blight attacking the city? Eating it away, piece by piece?! Consuming the very souls of its citizens? And for what?”
“To live, brother. With great power comes great need, a need that must be filled.” Embrae looked down on Corvin, sprawled below him, with naked hunger. Corvin scrambled backward, trying to gain his feet and failing, clothes tangling on briars and thorns. “Relax, brother,” Embrae smiled down, “you should not fear my touch. Already you are in the Pale; soon you will feel at home here as I do.”
Corvin wrenched his right arm from the brambles' clutch, flicked his wrist. From his sleeve slid a contraption of wrought gold, which clamped onto his hand: In his palm rested a circle etched with arcane symbols, with arms reaching out to the first joints of his fingers and thumb, wrapping around each of them. He raised this hand and spoke his spell, brought fingertips in to touch the gold disc, then threw them open. A flash of energy, hot and bright, surged from his body, leaving a coppery taste in his mouth. All around him, the grasping undergrowth was reduced instantly to ash and blasted away from him. Embrae, too, was pushed back; caught off-guard, he tumbled backward over a dry tree root and fell heavily amongst cinders.
Embrae snarled, his hair writhing. He began to mutter a spell, and his robe moved oddly, flexed under him. Corvin, leaping to his feet, wouldn't allow the invocation to be completed. Raising his hand to the sky, Corvin summoned the Crows That Feast On Those Unprepared, and thrust his arm downward at Embrae. A chorus of croaks and shrieks preceded a black buffeting rush of avian bodies. Embrae's words were cut off, and crows began fighting to feed. Corvin turned his back, looking around, wondering how he would make his way out of this accursed place.
A sudden fluttering of many wings startled him, and Corvin turned around. The crows, as one, had taken flight and gone. In Embrae's place was a humanoid figure seemingly carved of ebony or obsidian, jet black, its face a smooth, featureless mask, yet still clad in that dark grey silken cloak. Corvin stepped backwards, unsure of himself, and the figure lifted from the floor, pulled up by its chest, and rotated until it hung upright, arms at its sides, its feet hanging limply a few inches from the ground. An arm reached toward Corvin and he felt a pull within his chest, saw some miasma trail outwards and toward that blasphemous new figure.
Corvin raised his hand and sent forth a torrent of flame, but it was simply absorbed, drawn into the figure's outstretched hand. His heart quickened, his breathing became heavy, and he tried again the spell that would send his opponent tumbling backward, to no avail. That sensation of pulling came again, increasing in intensity, and with it came sudden, blinding pain. Corvin screwed his eyes shut, let out a yell of frustration and effort as he threw everything he had into a great outward thrust of arcane energy. There was a sensation of spinning, of duality, and for a moment he seemed to see himself from the outside, his hands thrust toward his new point of view, a flowing torrent of wind making him close his eyes again and raise his left palm to cover them.
Somewhere, something buckled and then broke. Corvin opened his eyes and looked at the vaguely humanoid form in front of him crumble and settle into ashes and dust. Looking around dispassionately, he selected a route, eager to be away from here, to be home in Satyrine once more. Setting his feet upon the ground, he raised his hood up over his head, its delicate material smooth and cooling on his fingertips, and he strode back in the direction he had come.
A small winged creature fluttered down from the branches high above, watched him go, its head tilted. It hopped forward to the pile of ashes, considering it a moment. Its beak darted out, tapping, delving, questing amongst the dusty remains, until it struck something solid. It gripped, and hopped backward, dragging it out of the grey mound, stabbed at it more, now holding it in place with a foot, gripping with its beak, wrenching off a piece. A snap, and it hopped back again, adjusted its grip, and flew away with its shiny prize, leaving behind an intricately carved golden disc with five thin arms, all bar one surmounted with a clasp that might fit around a finger.
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