fantasy · fiction

Corruption

forest

They were already at it again; only this time, Quinn had her blade at Lord Bowren’s throat. At this point, Garen would have loved more than anything to say “fuck it” and let her finish him off, but they had a job to do, and that job required Lord Bowren arriving both alive and in one piece.

“Cut it out, you two,” he warned, his voice stern.

Naturally, they ignored him completely.

“Shut. Up,” she snarled, backing Lord Bowren up against a tree. Although she was a full head shorter than Lord Bowren, she was still an intimidating figure; while he was soft and a bit plump, with kind-looking eyes that belied his true nature, she was lean and muscular, with an angular face and sharp eyes.

“Quinn…” Garen warned again, careful not to raise his voice too much.

“We’ve been walking through this forest for days now. I’m telling you, we’re going the wrong way!” Lord Bowren was frantic at the sight of her blade, but still could not bring himself to be silent; even at the potential cost of his life, it seemed.

“We are not going the wrong way! If you complain again, I will slit your throat in your sleep tonight! Do you understand?”

“Quinn.” 

“B-but the reward money!” Lord Bowren yelped. “You need it!”

“Not as much as you might think.”

All right, that’s enough.

Garen lifted his left hand out from under his cloak and, with a lazy sweeping gesture, commanded, “quiet” in spelltongue. Instantly, the vocal cords of the other two froze, silencing them.

Quinn lost all interest in Lord Bowren, her anger now squarely focused on Garen as her lips moved fast to heap unsounded curses upon him. Lord Bowren, meanwhile, had retreated behind Garen, eyeing Quinn as though she were a rabid dog.

“Listen to me,” Garen lowered his voice to barely above a whisper, his hand still raised. “We are in dangerous territory. All of your squabbling will attract attention to us. Attention that we don’t need.”

Quinn opened her mouth again, but then seemed to think better of it, and turned away from the two men with a silent huff, sheathing her blade.

“I mean it,” Garen raised his voice ever-so-slightly to ensure Quinn heard him as she retreated away. “I will leave both of you silenced if necessary.”

Quinn whipped around and gave him a sarcastic salute.

He could do without the attitude, but since that was a lost cause, Garen decided to leave well enough alone and remove the silencing spell from both of them. Quinn disappeared in the brush, scouting ahead, while he walked several paces behind Lord Bowren, ensuring the rear was guarded. As long as they stayed like this, the next potential argument would not occur until their next break. The feeling that another fight was a foregone conclusion irritated Garen, but what could he do? Hopefully, they were truly only another day’s walk from Pellodia, and then all of this would be over.

The three continued their journey in silence for about a half-hour, before Garen’s ears caught the sound of a twig snapping behind him. He continued to walk, feigning obliviousness as he went over their options. If they were indeed being followed, they would have to either run, or fight. Garen didn’t know how far ahead Quinn was; only that it would take her at least a few seconds to join him in the fray. Lord Bowren would, of course, be useless, if not an outright hindrance.

Another twig snapped behind him, and this time, even Lord Bowren managed to hear it. The man froze in place and, in a quavering voice, whispered, “what was that?”

Too late to keep walking now. With a sigh, Garen strode up to Lord Bowren, grabbing him by the arm and keeping him close as he surveyed the immediate area. Everything was quiet, save for the occasional chirp of a bird. Then,

“Why have we stopped?” Quinn asked from Garen’s side. The sorcerer jumped, caught off-guard.

“Don’t sneak up on me!” he hissed. “…someone is following us.”

Just then, two hooded figures leaped down from the tree behind them, landing with soft thuds.

“What are you doing with these humans?” the one to the left asked in the elven language. His voice was dry, like dead leaves rustling together.

“What are they saying?” Lord Bowren asked, voice quavering.

“Shut. Up,” Garen whispered.

“There’s a reward for the fat one,” Quinn replied back in Elven.

“And the spellweaver?” the one to the right asked.

“My slave,” she replied, matter-of-factly.

Garen bristled internally, but kept his face neutral, pretending not to understand what they were talking about.

“Show us his mark,” they both said in unison, causing a chill to run down Garen’s spine. He had no mark of servitude. Quinn, however, did not miss a beat, and reached for his scarred arm, forcing his sleeve up.

“Come closer,” she said, beckoning them forward. The two did as they were bade, and approached. Up close, he could see the thin, black lines around their temples and eyes, where the corruption had settled into their blood, and made their veins stark against their paper-white skin. Quinn was just as pale, but she carried none of the corruption. Whenever they were in these lands, however, she painted her face to mimic the tragedy that had befallen her people.

Up close, of course, the paint was obvious.

The pair of corrupted elves were fast, but Quinn was faster; she plunged her blade into the chest of the one to her left, and twisted. The elf fell to the ground, awful gurgling sounds accompanying the blood that sputtered from his mouth.

The other elf dodged out of the way, sending a throwing knife at Quinn. Garen hit the blade with an ice spell just in time, coating its sharp corners and weighing it down, so that it landed a foot away from its target.

Before Quinn or Garen could react, the remaining corrupted elf had moved behind Lord Bowren, putting a blade to his throat.

“A-ah!” Lord Bowren wriggled against the corrupted elf’s hold, inadvertently pressing into the blade and creating a shallow cut across his throat. The corrupted elf tightened his grip.

“Be still, you fool!” Garen yelled.

“What are you doing in our lands, human!” the corrupted elf demanded in the common tongue.

Garen held up both of his hands, gesturing for the elf to calm down. To his side, Quinn cleaned the blood from her blade with a single flick, splattering the blood across the grass.

“We made a mistake…we were cutting through your forests to get to Pellodia. We should have gone around…we’re very sorry…” Garen took a step closer, hands still raised.

“Stay back!” the corrupted elf ordered, nearly stumbling as he retreated a few steps back.

“I will gut you like your friend, if you do not release him,” Quinn growled in Elven, and jerked her head towards the dead elf.

“Heretic! Traitor!” the corrupted elf shrieked in the common tongue, pointing his knife wildly at Quinn, while keeping his other hand firmly on his captive’s shoulder. “You do not deserve to speak the Queen’s language!”

He dared not take his eyes off of Lord Bowren, or the corrupted elf, but Garen knew Quinn was rolling her eyes.

True to form, Quinn laughed sardonically, before proclaiming, “I’ve been speaking my mother tongue long before your whore queen slithered her way into this world.”

“HOW DARE YOU!” the corrupted elf yelled, blade still pointed at Quinn. Despite the thin, spindly fingers of his captor being the only thing holding him in place, Lord Bowren was frozen, head tipped back as though the blade had never left his throat.

Quinn lowered her voice so that the corrupted elf would have to strain to hear her. “You, your kind, and your so-called queen are filth. Disgusting, wretched, addi-“

That was enough. The corrupted elf shoved Lord Bowren violently out of the way and lunged for Quinn, blade at the ready. She easily sidestepped out of his attack, but he recovered with surprising grace for one with a mind clouded by fury, following her movements and slicing upward for her belly.

The two traded blows back and forth, each narrowly missing the other. Garen considered his options, and all were bleak; if he stayed to help Quinn, that may be one corrupted elf down, but there were almost assuredly more on their way. He could escape now with Lord Bowren, but how long before this elf’s backup caught up to the two of them?

He knew that he could not fight a group of corrupted elves on his own, so he decided to stay, rolling up his sleeves and forming a fireball between his hands. He lobbed it at the corrupted elf as Quinn aimed another blow for his throat, hoping he would be distracted enough for the spell to land. Elves were naturally resistant to nature magic, but the corrupted elves had lost some of that resistance; perhaps the fire might be enough to distract him long enough for Quinn to find an opening.

The corrupted elf’s cloak took the brunt of the spell, and caught fire immediately. At first, the elf continued fighting, ignoring the fire at his back. Just as Garen was cursing at his luck, the flames must have finally licked at the elf’s skin, as he let out a piercing, animal-like howl of pain, and began flailing while desperately trying to remove his cloak.

Quinn continued her assault, unaffected by the fire consuming her adversary’s clothing, her arms passing through the flames as though they were nothing. The corrupted elf managed to continue dodging her attacks as he ripped at his cloak, but she was getting dangerously close to slashing his throat.

“Hit him again!” she yelled to Garen, swiping her blade towards the elf’s gut as he dropped his own and began yanking desperately at his cloak’s clasp with both hands. Seconds later, the clasp was undone and he threw the remaining scraps at Quinn’s face just before she could connect blade with flesh.

Quinn cursed; she was, of course, unharmed by the fire, but it was enough to distract her. She emerged quickly, but not quick enough; the corrupted elf had managed to retreat to the trees.

The fire had also begun burning away much of the corrupted elf’s clothing, but he seemed curiously unscathed at first glance. Closer inspection, however, revealed that his veins were now glowing a bright orange-red, like embers in a fire. Garen realized the corruption within his blood was burning.

Garen had formed another fireball, but by the time he had eyes on the retreating elf again, it was too late; the creature had already escaped into the darkness of the forest.

“…thank the Gods that’s over,” Lord Bowren whimpered. He had long ago curled up on the ground, in the fetal position, the moment the corrupted elf had let him go.

“Don’t count on it,” Quinn growled, marching over to him and hoisting him onto his feet. “We need to move. Now.”

“B-but, he’s gone!”

“…and he will likely return, with backup,” Garen spat, impatient with Lord Bowren’s slow wit. “We need to go. I will use a cloaking spell.”

For the first time in days, Garen saw worry in Quinn’s eyes. “…are you sure you have the strength right now? You’re sti-“

“We have no choice,” he interrupted her. “It will slow us down, but they will be less likely to spot us. No time for arguing…give me your blade, and get in close.”

Quinn hesitated for only a moment, and then handed over her dagger, dragging Lord Bowren over with her. Garen immediately sliced open his forearm, the words for the cloaking spell spilling fast, but clear, from his lips. After a few moments, the blood rose up and dispersed into the air around them. For a split second, the outline of a protective bubble could be seen, emanating from Garen. Then, it disappeared from sight, and so did the three travelers.

“We have to be quiet…” Garen was looking primarily at Lord Bowren as he said this, and then handed Quinn back her dagger. Already, he felt sluggish; this was too soon, after the blood magic he had worked two days ago. If only he still had his staff, things would be so much easier…

Quinn stared at him for a moment, and then threw her arm around him, letting him lean on her. Their height difference made it awkward, but it was better than nothing.

“Let’s go.”

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