Shan pondered where her talents would best serve in the coming fight. As a mage, she was unparalleled, but as a goddess, there would be others better suited to front line combat. She decided to assume a place with those who had to remain on the sidelines, and if there was a need for a sneak attack, she would oblige.
Just as Shan gathered up her supplies into her sleeve storage, a sudden call came from her message mirror. The elf woman went quickly to answer it, thinking Nentanuk or Sul must be getting in touch with her.
She couldn’t have been more wrong.
A touch of cold, harsh energy reached her senses a split second before the mirror shattered, spilling out a roiling cloud of black smoke. Shan fell back, all of her connections to the forces of magic screaming at this intrusion. A figure rose out of the smoke: cloaked and hooded, but with cruelly barbed armor underneath. The only feature she could make of the face was a dull gleam, from bared teeth.
Even without the image amongst the smoke, Shan would have known the touch of that energy anywhere, anytime.
“Crul.” The name caught in her throat like a spiny fishbone. “How are you here?”
“I wanted to pay you a visit, Mother. Isn’t this the way you normally speak to lower beings from your special workplace?” He raised an outstretched hand to her, as if hoping the woman would reach out and connect with his foul smoke.
“Get out.” Shan growled, supporting herself with the table.
“Aw, and here I’d hoped for a better reaction. It has been so long since we’ve spoken.”
“And I hope there is another Turn before the next time!”
He made a tutting sound and dropped the hand. “Is that anyway to speak to your youngest child?”
“After the atrocities you and your ilk have done, consider it lucky I’m speaking to you at all!” She yelled. Behind her back, Shan’s fingers groped for anything she could use to break the message spell and get Crul out of her workplace. Every second his essence lingered here was dangerous.
“Bear in mind, Mother, they are your ilk too. Well, perhaps my wife isn’t, but she was one of your most prized students, once. I think that’s close enough.” A faint shrug briefly concealed the smile, but then it returned, and Crul leaned forward to emphasize the effect. “But on to more important matters. In truth, I came to thank you, Mother dearest. Without your predicted meddling, I doubt matters would ever have gotten this far on their own. Uniting Animkind with humanoid, well done! I truly appreciate all the lives you sacrificed for me - it almost makes up for abandoning us to my brothers’ tender mercies.”
“What are you talking about?” Shan asked, grasping an iron rod that lay on the table.
“Why, this battle! Such a gift from you, after all these centuries.” A sinking feeling began making itself felt alongside her anger, and Shan tried to piece together what her son meant.
“But- the armies- they’re going to stop you. They’re going to stop your followers, and bury you all over again!”
“That’s what they think.” Crul said smugly. “Which is why I commend your efforts, although you had no idea at the time. Thanks to your refusal to participate in the imprisonment of me and my family so many millennia ago, you don’t actually know how we were locked up. Allow me to explain it to you.
“See, we aren’t just buried underneath Koln. The vortice to Drakf is, which is why I decided to set up a fortress here, back in the Third Era. It was my travels to the plane of darkness that allowed me to truly understand what needed to be done with Sarant, after all. But when Sul and Lul came with their forces, they wanted to put us in a prison that wouldn’t need to be maintained. So, that little git Arnaten came up with a spell that put the five of us into the vortice, but then closed the doors on both ends. We’ve lingered here ever since, in limbo, but now...”
That sinking feeling had overwhelmed Shan’s entire body, and it was all she could do to remain on her feet.
“... Now there is a massive force gathered on our front doorstep, ready to do battle and spill blood. All that carnage, all that bloodlust, all that beautifully destruction only serves to make us stronger. When the fight reaches its climax, we will have all the power we need to free ourselves from this prison - and I wanted to thank you for falling into my plan so perfectly.” He bowed to her, and then the image in the smoke began to dim.
“No!” Shan cried, and unthinkingly she lurched forward, swinging the rod about, trying to do something to stop Crul, to stop this-!
A single tendril of smoke shot out from the mass, and dove through the center of Shan’s chest. Her yell broke down to a gasp of pain, and the elf woman collapsed on the floor of her workshop. The image of Crul looked at her passively.
“A pity.” He spoke, rage and hurt finally coming out with his speech. “We could have gone so far, you and I, Mother.” With that, the Dark Immortal ended his spell, and the smoke retreated back into the shattered remains of the mirror.Shan curled into a ball, all heat fleeing from her body, the numbness invading every muscle and limb. In a tiny corner of her rapidly succumbing mind, the goddess howled at the unfairness of it, screamed in frustration at everything that had gone wrong.
From Gathering Forces, the final installment of my Turning Point Trilogy. Shan is not having a good day, and the battle that has been the focus of every other character in the series is about to have a very unfair twist. /Evil grin
Still gotta get 'em published, though.