“Prelude”

by Merric Blackman

“Prelude” is copyright 1994 Merric Blackman. Permission is granted to distribute and copy this document for non-profit purposes.


His pursuers were gaining on him. The young man scrambled through the marshes, slipping and sliding on the unfamiliar and treacherous terrain. A plea went through his mind un-uttered. He needed all of his breath for running.

Behind him, the swamp demons — fell things of ooze and malice — gibbered and mimicked his failing motions, as they effortlessly moved across the much. The man knew that he couldn’t escape capture for much longer. He’d been lucky to remain free so long, but his luck deserted him as beneath his foot a chunk of mud slid, and twisting in a vain effort to prevent an accident, he fell into the water with a loud splash. Around him, the swamp demons came, ready to grab the escapee, and take him back to their master.

Hiding in a stunted tree nearby, a single forest sprite saw the demons haul the man out of the water. ‘Pretty,’ she thought, peering at his mud-encrusted features, and her wings blurred into motion. The demons now held the man by the arms, and were dragging him away, deeper into the swamp. Suddenly one of them jumped, and with a curse smashed the demon standing just behind him with a fist, knocking the second into the water. Much cursing in their strange tongue ensued, quickly turning into a free-for-all. The limp body of the man was forgotten, lying half-submerged in the brackish water. The sprite reappeared in the tree, and considered what to do next.

From across the marshlands, a voice bellowed out undecipherable words laced with power. The swamp demons, although embroiled in their brawl, were not immune to the power of that voice. One by one, they sheepishly rose to their feet and looked around for the man. Finding him, they once more picked him up and began to move off again. The little sprite, so delighted with how her plan had been working, jumped up and down in her tree, cursing the demons. Enthralled as they were by their master’s voice, the demons paid no attention and dragged the man father into the swamp.

Finally exhausting her store of taunts, the sprite sat in the tree, wondering what she should do to save her ‘pretty man’ from the ‘ugly demons.’ After a small amount of time, the demons not yet gone from sight, she blurred into motion again, and vanished from the swamp in the blink of an eye.

The man remained unconscious while he was dragged across the swamps, towards a ramshackle hut. A man in black robes, unkempt and unwashed, stood outside the hut. He was grinning from ear to ear.

“So you’ve got him at last!” he chortled, looking from the captive to the demons. “Persistent fellow, was he? Never mind, never mind. Bring him inside the laboratory. Let’s see if he’s suitable.”

The demons dragged the man inside the hut — which by a magical trick was much larger inside than the small shell it appeared to be — and laid him upon a stone altar, stained with things best not thought about. The necromancer giggled insanely, and with a few words and gestures, bound the man to the stone.

“Now wake up, my dear! Can’t keep the wizard waiting, can we?” the necromancer cackled, slapping the face of his captive. Moaning, the man slowly awoke.

“Wha…” groaned the man, as consciousness returned.

“It speak! It speaks! My lovely one, it speaks! Does it have a name? Does it have a name?”

“What’s going on?” muttered the captive to himself, ignoring the babbling fool near him. His eyes narrowed as he scanned the contents of the room. “A necromancer,” he stated. His color improved as he regained strength from some unseen source.

“Does it have a name?” the necromancer queried once more. Then, in a deep, commanding voice, totally at odds with his appearance, he commanded the young man bound to the table: “Tell me your name!”

“Tavlon Seeker,” said the captive — and gasped.

“Excellent! Your power will indeed aid me! Tavlon Seeker, by the dark…”

Tavlon turned his full attention on the necromancer, who continued to chant and gesture, the motions of some dark spell. “You know the words of command!” he cried.

The necromancer paused, his concentration broken, and his stance once more altered. “You should not know of… But my lovely’s not even a magus! How does it know of words? How does it know? …tell us, my lovely one!”

“You always were blind, Dakker,” said a new voice. “And deaf too, it would appear. It is fortunate that I was summoned — your foolishness should not be allowed to proceed.”

In the doorway stood a woman of great beauty. In her right hand she clasped an oaken staff, about which a tendril of ivy clung. “Did you not hear his name? He is a Seeker, one of the greatly blessed of my people. One whom you have captured and now prepare to sacrifice in your delusions of gaining greater power.”

“Lovely one!” cried the necromancer, turning to the woman. “So you return to Dakker! Give Dakker a…” With a jolt, his posture altered, and his voice became more threatening. “Leave this place, Keeper. You are not welcome here. Leave or perish!”

The lady’s eyes widened, and she instinctively formed a mystical shield around her body — just in time, as the necromancer breathed a jet of flame which fanned out around her body. With a gesture of her hand, she prepared to do battle, beginning a spell to summon her allies.

On the altar, Tavlon relaxed his body as he looked around the room for something which would aid him. The necromancer’s laboratory was full of rickety shelves which were laden with preserving jars, which were filled with the corpses of strange beings, and other foul objects. Tavlon smiled as he noticed the sprite also perched on one of the shelves, staying out of the battle.

“Little one,” he called to her. The sprite glanced nervously at the spell-battle which was quickly forming, and then came to Tavlon’s side. “Do you see that jar?” he asked, pointing to a precariously poised jar upon the shelf just above Dakker’s head.

The sprite smiled and nodded, grasping the man’s meaning, and her winds blurred into action again. Hovering above the jar, she began to heave on the jar, trying to tip it onto the necromancer.

Tavlon shut his eyes and concentrated for a moment, then opened them, speaking a short charm. Power flowed from him into the sprite, and with new-found strength she heaved the jar onto the necromancer’s head. Dakker, distracted from the spell he was casting, half-turned to see what had happened.

It was the chance that the woman needed. Grasping ley-lines of power, she called for aid, and aid came. The hut shook, several shelves collapsing totally, as something large arrived outside the hut. A deep voice boomed through the hut, as the arrival spoke. “Lady Kylara? What service do you require of me?”

Kylara smiled in triumph. “Galariel! Thank you for coming, old friend. We have a necromancer who needs to be taught a lesson!”

Dakker paled at these words, and stepped back into the wall. “I… I…”

Tavlon and the sprite stared around the hut in wonder as plants suddenly began to sprout and grow within its borders. Dakker screamed in fury, but was powerless to stop the power of the Liege. The hut’s walls cracked and fell, the roof splintering into nothingness before hitting those below. Even as the necromancer watched in horror, a new forest sprang into being where once had been swamp. Tavlon eased himself off the stone altar, then limped towards Kylara, the sprite perched on his shoulder.

Kylara faced the necromancer. “Your time here is over, Dakker! Leave this place!”

A crafty look entered Dakker’s eyes, and he grinned mockingly up at Kylara. “Over? We’ll see, Keeper! We’ll see!” He looked over to where the Liege stood, considering the necromancer calmly. “Galariel! A curse on you! You’ll see my way before your end! You’ll see my power before you die!” Kylara moved her hands up in a countering gesture, but Dakker had already turned away from the Liege, and studied the young man who stood near a great tree, the sprite perched on a branch near his head.

He seemed to realize something, and gave out a mocking laugh. Then his form blurred, and the necromancer was gone.

Kylara studied the muddy form of Tavlon, and gave him a gentle smile. “It seems that I reached here just in time.”

“Lady.”

“Come on. We’ll get you to a place where you can rest, and then tell me your story. I’m curious to know why Dakker wanted you so badly.”

Galariel spoke in reply, “He is your successor, Lady. Can’t you see how greatly the power burns within him?”

Kylara once more looked at the young man. She nodded. “You’re quite right, Galariel. I should have noticed this before. I’m getting old.”

“Successor?”

“Tavlon — that is your name, isn’t it? — I am the Keeper of the Great Forest, and the people within. I had feared that there would be no-one to succeed me, but it seems the Mother has sent you to take over when I leave.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Lady. I don’t think I’m anyone special.”

“And my name — Tavlon died when his people died. I’m no-one anymore. Just a lost elf; nameless.”

Kylara looked upon the young man with pity. “Then what should I call you?”

“Does it matter? Elf will do. I’m just another elf.” Despair colored the young elf’s voice.

“Not any elf, Master,” said Galariel. “The ELF. Your power burns brighter than any other I have ever seen.”

“Whatever you want. But all I want is rest.”

“Then we shall provide you with a place to do so.”

The small party moved off, and soon was lost to view and hearing. Below the earth, a voice cursed those above, but none could hear it.