Same copyright notice as the rest — characters belong to their respective creators, and the story is free to distribute for non-commercial purposes.

The Fall of the Forest Cycle (Sep 22, 2010)

This is one of the longer chapters, and arrives at just under three thousand words. This is also unfortunately the last part of the story I possess — my ancient print copy having been lost to the ages. I’ve been contacted by a fellow who may have the fifth part, and we’re in the process of arranging a transfer.

If I do come into possession of part five, I will certainly post it here.

On a side note, “loosing” is used correctly here — more often than not it’s confused with “losing.” The heroes haven’t misplaced the Beast, they’ve released him.

The Loosing of the Beast
by Joe Helfrich and Merric Blackman

Being the fourth part of the “Fall of the Forest” cycle.

Morgan pushed open the door to Canticle’s tower and stamped the muck off his feet. He’d hated leaving the tower while Canticle was away–there was no telling what that Imp had done to his study–but he knew that the tower was perfectly capable of defending itself from routine marauders. And when an old friend calls for help, you don’t argue.

An imp–no, the imp, the one that took such joy in tormenting him–was sitting just inside the door. It snickered.

“Little demon,” he asked. “What is so amusing?”

“Mawthter angry with scribe.” It seemed to think that was very funny.

“Oh? Why? Has Canticle returned?” The Necromancer would probably have been upset at Morgan deserting the tower, but Morgan could certainly explain his actions to Canticle’s satisfaction…

“He returned and left again. He wasn’t happy!” The little imp scrambled up the staircase, cackling gleefully. “We’ve got a visitor!” It stopped and looked back at him. “Coming?”

“Visitor? What visitor?” Morgan started up the stairs, wondering just who Canticle would have left alone in the tower. Turning into his workroom, he was surprised, but pleasantly so, to find the room intact. Then he heard the soft, strained breathing coming from his adjoining bedroom.

“Oh, by all the gods.”

“This is for you!” said the imp, handing Morgan a small piece of paper. “Bye!” IT scurried out the door and down the hallway.

Morgan stared at the paper. “Morgan:” it read, “I trust you have an explanation for this?” Canticle’s distinctive flourish marked the bottom of the page.

On the bed, pale and thin, lay the unmistakable form of the ELF.

Morgan fell to his uncle’s side, his mind reaching out to prove the ELF’s aura even as his hands ran over the fevered brow. Morgan’s fears were not dispelled as he made the first, tentative contacts with the ELF’s mind. The normally tightly maintained wards were in disorder, and his bonds with the land were all but shattered.

What happened? Morgan wondered, and in this intimate contact, the thought summoned a stream of memory from the ELF’s mind. Events flashed through his mind randomly, and his own mind was nearly overloaded by the experience.

“Dear lord, what have I done?”

“Indeed, Morgan, what have you done?” Canticle stood in the doorway, the gremlin perched on his shoulder.

* * *

“I should have been there. I should have been with him!”

“Morgan, you left him when you became my scribe. I thought you had no ties left to him. What aren’t you telling me?”

Morgan glanced at his new teacher, wondering if what he had to say would upset him. “You knew I studied with the ELF before I came here. But… I did not tell you the full story. He is my uncle.”

“I see. So you are his successor. I had wondered.”

“He’d warned me that the time of the prophecy was coming, but I couldn’t stay. I was sure I’d have time…”

“Time for what?”

“Canticle, please don’t ask me about it. I have an oath to keep, but I’ll not speak of it further. I promise it does not affect you.”

Canticle studied the young apprentice and scribe, wondering just what he had gotten himself into when he accepted this particular student.

“Very well,” he said at last. “There are other problems we must address. As I’m sure you noticed, Morgan, his life is being sapped by a spell.”

“Yes, I did, Canticle. I’m not blind.”

Canticle glanced at Morgan. “This is not a time to be flippant. The spell which saps the life from him is one of his own casting: a forcefield. He’s got something contained, and I’m not sure we’d be able to catch it again if we let it go. But the spell’s killing him. Morgan, what do you think we should do?”

“I’m not sure. Can we determine what it is he holds trapped?”

“I tried that, both with spell and by more physical methods.”

“You mean you went there then. Well?”

“I couldn’t reach it. My othersight was blocked, so I tried to get there on foot. It was near the Varaies Falls, whatever it was, but I was assaulted by several minor demons. I could’ve defeated them, but I didn’t want to leave him unattended for too long. As you can see, his life hangs by a thread.”

“There’s no way we can help him, then?”

“We could break the spell, but I don’t want to do that. Too many variables. And I can’t infuse him with more life, either. You could do that, but even then that’s a temporary measure. We’ve just got to find out what he’s trapped.

“Morgan, I’d like you to stay with him. I’ll try to reach the Falls, and find out what’s going on there.”

“Alright. Good luck, Canticle.”

The necromancer nodded to Morgan, and left the room, his cloak swirling around him. Morgan sat by the bed, took the ELF’s cold hand and studied his pale face. Images swam through Morgan’s head of happier days, of days spent growing up in the Great Forest and of the first spells he had learnt, taught to him by his uncle. But those days were over now, and his uncle lay dying before him.

Sounds came drifting up the stairwell of Canticle preparing to depart. A clatter of brooms on the stone floor gave Morgan a small smile–one of the gremlins had obviously opened the wrong cupboard. Canticle’s cursing confirmed his suspicions. He only hoped that it was his personal nemesis which was now on the wrong end of his master’s ire.

A change in the ELF’s shallow breathing drew Morgan’s attention back to the bed. His uncle’s condition was worsening rapidly–the ELF was dying. He called for Canticle, even as he began tapping the land-lines for the mana needed to save his uncle’s life.

Canticle rushed into the room as Morgan completed his spell-weaving and life rushed back into the ELF’s body. “What is is?” asked the necromancer.

Morgan continued to watch his uncle’s form. “He’s failing. The forcefield he’s holding up just started to draw energy out of him at a fantastic rate.” He looked up at Canticle. “I saved him with a spell of healing, but he won’t survive much longer.”

“Then we’d better break that forcefield. It’ll snap once he dies anyway, so we’ve nothing to lose.” Reaching out, Canticle channelled a surge of power into the spell-thread linking the ELF to the forcefield, and was gratified to see it snap.

Almost immediately colour came back into the ELF’s face and his breathing steadied. Morgan and Canticle exchanged a look–they hadn’t hoped for improvement this rapid. Spell-threads wound about his body, infusing life into the battered form. After about fifteen minutes, during which Canticle and Morgan stood watching, his eyes opened and a smile brightened his face.

“I made it!” he said, his eyes focused on Canticle. “Thank you, my friend.”

Canticle gripped his hand. “I wouldn’t want to lose you, Defender. What happened? How did you come to be in such a state?”

The ELF frowned. “I’m not sure. I know I fought the Beast, and trapped him somehow… I’m sorry. I can’t remember. What happened? I know I confined him, but how?”

“With a Forcefield,” said Morgan, moving towards his uncle. “We had to break it to save you.”

The ELF’s head turned to fully face his nephew. “Morgan.” The ELF’s voice was a hiss. “You idiotic boy!”

Morgan’s temper flared, “I saved your life, uncle! Don’t thank me for it, will you?”

“After you almost ended it, Morgan! Why should I bother? Why didn’t you listen to me?”

“Perhaps I’d listen to you if you tried talking to me, rather than just giving me commands from on high.”

“I never told you to do something without a reason, Morgan.”

“Then try telling me why, uncle.” Morgan turned and left the room, the door slamming behind him. Canticle looked back to the ELF.

“Fool,” whispered the ELF, his eyes crossing to the door.

“What’s going on?” asked Canticle, a little confused by the exchange.

“When we fought, the Beast informed me,” sarcasm darkened his voice, “that it was one of my own that had released him. Morgan was that one.”

“And you would believe it? Surely it lied to you?”

“No, Canticle. It told me enough of the truth. I’ve spent most of my life fighting such beings, and I know their kind. They’re arch-deceivers and masters of twisting the truth to suit their ends, but Morgan was dabbling in forbidden lore. Whether he realizes it or not, he was the one.”

Canticle considered this, and discarded the line of thought, concentrating instead on the present. “We’ll worry about him later. What of the Beast?”

“I’m not sure. If you’ll wait a moment, I’ll take a look.”

The ELF moved in to his mage-sight, examining the lines of power which drifted through the room. Unlike his home, there were few of green magick, but he quickly found the ones required, and bound them into a spell. Canticle waited patiently as the ELF sought for his foe. Then as the spell-weaving completed, Canticle gathered his own powers and began another spell, focusing it through the crystal lens at his belt.

The ELF’s farsight roamed the lands of the Great Forest. He was saddened by the destruction done to the once beautiful forest, but could find no sign of the Beast. Eventually, after about fifteen minutes of searching, he broke the spell. Canticle took the lens down from his eyes and considered his friend.

“I couldn’t see him anywhere,” said the ELF.

“Nor I. Perhaps you banished him after trapping him in a forcefield–but were too weakened to release the forcefield of your own accord?”

“Possible, I suppose. No. It’s too unlikely, and we can’t risk it. He’s still out there somewhere. But what do we do when we find him?”

“May I suggest something?” asked Canticle. The ELF nodded, and the two wizards began to discuss a way of destroying the Beast.

* * *

Morgan stood on the path leading away from the tower. Morgan found little reason to stay in the tower and suffer the ELF’s scorn, and he felt sure that their relationship would not improve in the short term.

Suddenly, the swamps at his side erupted, and huge form rose up from the muck. “Greetings, Spellweaver.” The voice was low, and gravely but familiar.

“Galariel? By the gods, what has happened to you?”

“I too, serve a new master. I rejoice in the lands which gave him birth, before I go to join him in the final assault on the Great Forest.”

“The Beast! The Beast has corrupted you!”

“I suppose he has. But I don’t care. I am free of serving that pathetic ELF, and I can enjoy the full use of my power. You understand, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?” Morgan asked, even though he already knew the answer.

“Have you not been seduced? Are you not one of the Beast’s own?” Somehow, the corrupted voice managed to be sarcastically innocent.

“No! I am my own. Now and ever!” And Morgan tapped the power of the lands around him, casting the spell that leapt into his mind.

But the spell had no effect.

“You see? You try to drain my energy, to bolster your own. Is that the way of your revered uncle?”

Morgan said nothing, but concentrated on another spell. The energy tore through him, and he cried out in pain, but the spell had its desired effect. A Treefolk erupted from the swamps beside Galariel, but changed by the darker arts, twisted and gnarled. The fight was short, and although the Treefolk was destroyed, the Liege too, was dying.

“Even your forest magic is corrupted,” it choked. “You are of the Beast, as well. No longer are you the ELF’s. My master shall triumph, and you shall be at his side.”

The ring on Morgan’s finger flared brightly, and the energy bolt slammed into the former servant of the forest.

“You are partially correct, old friend. No more am I the man my uncle wanted to be.” He reached to the energies around him, and was elsewhere.

In the distance, a lone figure staggered along the path, the tower before it serving as a beacon.

* * *

Canticle and the ELF were roused from their discussion by a banging on the door. Canticle looked at the ELF–not many come to his tower–and he rose and made his way to the landing. The ELF sighed, and rose from his chair. They had not been able to find anything that would stop the Beast, and he hoped that the interruption would bear good news.

“Enter,” Canticle spoke, and the door opened. Into the tower stepped a pale elven warrior, fearfully looking around. “What are you doing here?” asked Canticle, and the warrior looked up at the Necromancer.

“My Lord,” he stammered, “I was sent to beg your aid against the Beast.”

The ELF moved behind Canticle on the balcony, and spoke to the messenger. “Jae? What’s happening?”

Jae’s eyes widened. “Master! You’re alive!” he exclaimed.

“Yes, I’m alive. Now quickly, what’s happening?”

“Lord, we’ve been attacked by the forces of the Beast, and the Bramblewood has fallen,” Jae quickly recounted. “Larissa ordered the evacuation, but we can’t all get out. Guardian Tysche was slain in the initial assault, and things have become worse since then. We need your help!”

“And the Beast itself?”

Jae looked puzzled. “No-one’s see it, Master, but we know it’s there.”

Canticle looked at the ELF. “It seems we are fortunate,” he said.

“Indeed. Canticle, will you come with me?”

“Of course. Did you think otherwise?”

The ELF smiled and made no reply. Instead he began the spell which would take all of them to the Heart of the Forest. But his chanting failed. “Canticle,” he whispered. “I can’t take us to the Heart!”

Canticle studied him. “Perhaps you lack the energy?”

“No. This is something the Beast has done.” The ELF’s eyes widened. “Curse me for a fool! The Beast has entered the Great Forest!”

“Then we leave by carpet,” said Canticle. A few gestures later and an ornately patterned carpet hovered before them.

“A Flying Carpet!” exclaimed the ELF, studying his friend. “Where did you get it? We just might make it!”

“I hope so,” replied the necromancer. A gremlin shut the door behind them muttering to itself.

* * *

The Great Forest appeared around him, and Morgan dropped immediately to his knees and rolled to the side. He knew the precautions that would be used, the defences that were in place. He had helped to create many of them, after all.

An arrow flew into the ground where he had been only a moment before. “T’quessa chalamisa!” he cried. “One of the blood comes in peace.”

“If only I could be sure of that, Morgan.”

Morgan stood, casually brushing a leaf off of his cape. “Well met to you as well, Larissa.”

The elven maiden stood there, staring at him.

“The Beast is loose, Larissa. I’m here to help you.”

“What if we don’t want your help, Morgan?”

“This is not the time for this discussion, Larissa. You are not in a position to refuse any help, if the Great Forest is to survive.”

“I would rather it be destroyed than to be tainted by your magic!” The crowd of Elves and Dwarves that had gathered behind her murmured agreement.

“I can control this, Larissa. It is my motives that are important, not my methods.”

“A strange position for one who has taken the name Spellweaver for himself. Is a tapestry not affected by the colour of thread the weaver uses?”

“Do you deny then, that all the arts have a place in Domina? That all may be used, and controlled, to the good of all?”

“No. Only that the Black arts are more difficult than others to use for good purposes. And that haste to use them will be the downfall of any mage. If a thread is used before its dye is dry it shall stain not only the threads around it, but the hands of its user. And that stain may never be washed clean. Think on that, Spellweaver.”

They stood for a moment, their gazes locked. Arguments passed between them, both knowing the others without them being said. Finally, Larissa broke the silence.

“I loved her too, Morgan. We all did.”

“Enough of this! I leave now to repulse the Beast. Will any of you come with me, or do I go to battle alone?”

Larissa bowed her head. “I am sorry, Morgan. Once I would have done so without a second thought. But I cannot take this risk. Black Magick cannot save the Forest. Only the magick of Life can do that.”

“You are wrong, Larissa. My magick can aid the Forest, where yours proves useless.”

Larissa stared at Morgan, realizing the futility of the conversation, and then turned and began to make her way back to the Heart of the Forest. Morgan waited for a little while longer, then started moving in the opposite direction, seeking the Beast.

* * *

“Lord Morgan?”

Morgan turned to see a group of young Guardians standing nearby. Their leader, an elf of about Morgan’s age came forward and knelt before Morgan.

“Ullias?” queried Morgan, surprised at the sight of the Guardians.

“We saw you talking to the Lady Larissa, and… we feel that you are right. Force must be met with force–Black Magick with Black Magick. And we have come to pledge allegiance to you.”

A slow smile appeared on Morgan’s face. “Then come with me. We’ll stop the Beast together.”

“Yes, my lord.”

The group moved off through the wood, seeking the Beast.