Betrayed

I need it.

A young, adolescent woman pushed against a wind of her own making as she approached the Eastern Meditation Circle. Every step was critical, as her cleated boots dug into the frosty soil of the plains. Yet when she came close to falling, the wind was there to push her upright.

Now, however, it was pushing her away. It was manifesting her own inhibitions and fear.

He should give it to me without much convincing.

She stopped where the dirt gave way to windswept rock, ice clinging to it in flat tendrils.

The shape of the rock was circular and swirly. It was shaped by the wind of her own meditations. All was the wake of a vortex. And at its center, there was a circle of undisturbed rock. Its grain was undisturbed, free of erosion and blemish. Whenever she used it, it was the calm eye of a storm.

A cloaked figure sat floating above it. Their face and hair was covered by a hood, and they were turned away from the adolescent. The cloak was black with gray smudges.

Knowing it was time, she breathed deeply until she was more relaxed. This brought the wind closer to a halt, so that she could be heard.

"It is I: Arianwen," she spoke into the cold, brisk air. Such an asset, she thought. "I have come for my scepter, my teacher. I have great need of it, Master Vollomeer!"

"Ahee ahee hee hee," high-pitched laughter pierced the evening air. This was not the smoothly rasping voice of Vollomeer.

"Master Vollomeer?"

The cloaked figure, still floating cross-legged, turned around in mid-air. The impostor's hood shadowed their face.

The icy pillars around the Eastern Meditation Circle seemed to lean forward with interest. And above, the first stars began to appear in the evening sky.

Arianwen grew impatient, and thrust one hand forward, ushering a gust of wind to blow the hood off the unknown figure.

The skin was speckled and gray. White hairs grew scarcely and raggedly, combed back with split ends. An understated nose flared, and thin lips twisted into a smile of sharp teeth.

"By Belendar's Forge!" uttered Arianwen. She was most frightened by its eyes. They were blank. No iris. No pupil. All white and overly veined. What is this creature?

"Gaaaah!"

It lunged at her, still floating above the ground. No feet visible beneath the cloak. Pointed fingers swung at her as she veered to the side, slipping on one foot.

I could make quick work of this threat if my scepter had not been forbidden from use.

Drawing upon her need to survive, Arianwen cast forth an overpowering chill in the air. It sucked all the sparse moisture from its path as it sped towards the creature. It was a wave of cold, a projectile of warmth-dispersal and condensation.

It hit the floating feet of the creature that had attacked her, encrusting it with ice and weighing it down. Now, it struggled to float as it came around again.

Focus, Arianwen! she urged herself.

The wind was harsh against Arianwen's scarf-clad face, and her eyes began to water as she attempted to evade the creature once more.

Its claws grazed her skin and she cursed to herself as she sent a second chilling blast towards the creature. From its open mouth and gnashing of teeth, from the hunger in its eyes, she knew it craved her flesh.

The blast missed. Instead, it hit one of the frozen pillars, causing it to break and then freeze back together in mid-fall.

The creature shrieked its gaunt head in her direction and she covered her ears.

Then, she clapped her hands together in anger and sent the nearest moisture whistling together in sublimation. Icicles flew like thrown daggers and pierced the creature's chest.

It fell, feet frozen and heart stabbed by ice. There where it knelt, it coughed up black blood upon the Eastern Meditation Circle. And then with one hand, it guided the shadow of a pillar to grapple Arianwen's feet.

She fell onto her gloved hands, which she thrust out just in time to stop her from hitting her head against the rocky ground.

The shadow had come alive, as if the lack of light was a solid form. And it tightened around her as the vile creature clenched its hand and shrieked once more, black blood dripping from its serrated teeth.

Arianwen waved her hands frantically, fingers dancing, and the pieces of ice that had cracked from her fall were sent towards the creature's face as it loomed towards her hungrily.

It howled in pain as the shards dug into its face.

And when the shadow let go, Arianwen knew the creature was dead. Yet to be sure, she stomped her cleated boot against its neck, using the wind to keep the blood from splashing her.

Have I lost my scepter forever?

With her other leg, she kicked it. And as the body rolled, she saw the tiny, black avian wings protruding from its back. In that moment, Arianwen felt a terrible sense of betrayal.

She knew this defiler of the circle had been a servant of her teacher, a calculated trap. However, it remained a mystery as to why he had not tried to kill her for himself. Surely, he had business elsewhere, as he often did in recent days.

No doubt, Arianwen could expect more horrors in store as she and Jeremi sought a portal out of Winterealm.

 

The End

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