[This story first appeared as part of a contest Jezebel had up. I wanted to preserve it here]
Dr. Septimus Proudie looked on as the women tended to the stricken boy on the bed. He was in the city of Neverwinter, several miles from Talongrab, in the heart of the Alterac region. The boy laid sprawl on the bed, a ragged cough drawn from him. His high brow tinged with sweat that matted into his short, dark blonde hair. The boy wore no shirt, his skin pale. Veins that appeared blackened began to change and fade to a normal soft blue, barely visible beneath the skin.
Proudie’s gray eyes went from the boy to the women, the boy’s mother and sister, who stole narrowed glances at the Priest before returning with concern at the boy. Proudie nodded and turned from scene, he was a few steps past the kitchen table when William, the boy’s father, met him with a concerned expression. “Well?” He asked.
“I have cleansed him of this sickness, but I he has been quite drained of whatever afflicted him. I cannot make any promises to you, sir.”
“But you are a doctor, a Priest.” William was a few inches shorter compared to Proudie. His hair was kept long with a thin brown beard that hugged at his jaw with a thin strip that ran vertically from under his lip and met the rest of his beard. He might been shorter, but the steel in his eyes was resolute, and Dr. Proudie found it hard to meet the man’s eyes. “You say a couple other families have been afflicted by this? When did it start?”
The man inclined his head towards their front door, “Walk with me?”
Dr. Proudie nodded and gestured to allow the man to leave. He sneaked a glance backwards towards the open back room where he heard a sob. He hoped he had brought comfort, if anything, to the family.
Spring had come, and while the city of Neverwinter always seemed to avoid the heavy snows, the chill of the mountain had swept across the area. The morning was cool and gray with never ending clouds that rolled across the region. Behind Proudie, he could see the the other distant farms of a constantly expanding Neverwinter, while ahead of him, past the cabin he stood at and the chicken coops that William owned, Proudie could see the forests near Neverwinter. Their paths shadowy, flanked by the grays, greens, and browns of the formidable boughs. He saw little light, if any, penetrate that place.
“It’s happened here, though I hear the city has a few cases. There is dark magic afoot. Young people, lured from their homes by something.” William’s face grew hard as he spoke, “Now it has gotten my son.”
“When did he vanish? When did he return?” Proudie asked.
“The day before. He and his sister went out hunting into the woods. She says they were split up… which is why I told them never to go in there. Not without me-” William had flushed red and calmed when Proudie held up a hand: “Be at peace, sir. At peace, please.” Proudie took the man’s arm, his gray eyes met those burning brown eyes and Proudie held on until the man settled and continued, “That very night during a rainstorm, Jacob returned to us. He was flushed and sickly. If it wasn’t for the dark lines in his veins I would have suspected it was but a cold from the storm. What do those lines mean?”
“Like you said, sir. Dark magic is afoot.” Proudie looked to those woods and asked, “What else is out there?”
“Woods, sir. Maybe some Frostwolf encampments, but they tend to avoid this area.”
“You also said the outlying farms have been getting it the worst?”
Proudie could hear William’s voice behind him as he stepped towards the thin, claw like limbs of the forest. “Yes. The Roarks, the Caskeys… they’ve a boy and girl who are sick. The people in town were young as well. What do you think, Eagle?” He asked.
“I think I may be gone awhile.” Proudie turned back to the man. He was now a few steps short of the forest, “If I’m not back in a day, then start rounding up some folks. This is not going to stop until it’s settled.”
“What would be looking for? Horde? Something else?”
Proudie felt a hand of chill brush against him as his eyes scanned into the darkness of the woods, “I would say something else… but it could be one in the same. Trust me, you’ll know when you come upon this… evil.” Proudie waved over his shoulder and walked into the woods.
Dr. Proudie took to the main paths with measured steps to avoid the low hanging vines, the wickedly long limbs that would snap or swipe at a man. He was glad to wear reinforced trousers and thick travelers boots that could handle thorns or nettles that he passed through on the overgrown trail. What little light there was on that cloudy morning had been filtered until whatever natural light had managed to pass through the thicket was so dim that it illuminated mere spots on the forest. There was a luminescence amongst the oaks and walnuts, distant willow wisps that flashed and played to lure the unwary traveler to their doom. There also appeared to be an almost eldritch light from a blue mist that hovered above the wide gray trunks. Its light was shadowy and, to Dr. Proudie, unfriendly. It was a reminder to him that he was in some other place that was not the mundane, a place where red eyes could lurk behind any tree, though he saw none. If he was but a man, his heart might have beat faster. Septimus Proudie took it all in with a tense calm. He walked the length of the trail until the trail ran out, when he had no trail he pressed through low floral walls of bushes with a profound snap and crunch of sticks and leaves. He felt drawn into the depths of the forest. He was no druid, he could not hear their song or cry, but he could sense something, the chill that continued to linger onto him.
Ahead of him was a clearing in the trees where the dull light of sun shafts broke through and illuminated what appeared to be a tranquil glade. The grass was long, a touch of blue that was so faint that it required Proudie to take the scene in whole to see the colorization. A cabin stood at the center of the clearing with hewn logs that were fit snugly into place. There was a small pond that ran a few yards from the property that fed off into a stream that continued into the forest. The coolness, the foreboding had tapered off, though Dr. Proudie felt a underlying tension settle around him. He winced as his boots broke through the trees and crunched through the grass, as if he was disturbing the whole world.
He crossed the grass and came to flat wooden plank that spanned the stream. He could have stepped across between the banks, it was that narrow in spots, but he used the plank as directed out of some sense of decorum. He stood in front of the cabin, noting the broken front windows and half-ajar door. It appeared that leaves and sticks had enmeshed in the thatch roof porch that buffered between the outside and the cabin proper. Dr. Proudie snapped one of his fingers, a touch of will that required little of him to conjure caused one of his beads to glow. He frowned as he looked at the bead. I’m showing off, he thought to himself. Rather, he did not like to seem he was showing off his command of the occult, he pressed passed those feelings and proceeded through the porch and into the cabin.
He found the usual assortment. One crude table, a few crude chairs, some hanging lanterns that were burned out. The family who decided to take up lodgings in the middle of the Wood had at least managed to get an iron stove, some pans, and a plate or two. The dining area was also connected to a sitting room which included a long dead fireplace, a pair of rocking chairs, and a couch where she was laid upon. The woman was long dead, her hair bone white, though her skin belied the hair, it was rather fair and soft, though the ravages of atrophy had begun their work. Her dress was pulled and her chest was exposed with several cruel peck marks around her breast.
“What are you doing here?” A woman’s voice caused Proudie to spin and face another woman who leaned against the door frame. Her eyes flicked low, to whom he guessed was looking over the dead woman he had discovered. Then back to him.
She wore red cape over a brown dirndl dress with an white underbodice. Her hair was either dark brown or black, depending on the shades of gloom or light that struck her. She had soft, lightly tanned skin which gave her an exotic look for the Alteraci area. Her fingers were slender as she gripped the frame and looked at him. “Who are you?” She asked.
“I could ask the same.” Dr. Proudie said. Both of their eyes were brown, they stared at each other for a moment.
“I live here with my family. Just managed to come back today to find… all of this.” She said.
Though there was a softness in her voice, a touch of helplessness, her eyes had an intensity that kept his hair on end. Still, he bit his lip and said, “I am sorry. I do not know what happened here.” He gestured to the woman and said, “I have not found anyone else, just her.” He stood aside as the young woman brushed past him to tend to her family member. Though a Priest, he had a difficult time approaching and offering comfort as the woman sobbed. It was the coolness in the air, it kept him on edge. “Were you with anyone else?” He knelt and listened to her wail and sob. A distant tinkling drew his stare as he saw, perched on a broken window near a cabinet with a washbowl was a raven cackling and shifting on the window sill. He narrowed his eyes at the bird as that sharp beak reminded him of those wounds.
“Can you tell me about anything that happened here?” He reached and touched the young woman’s shoulder.
“I went out with my brother to fetch food… we got separated and it took me sometime to get back.”
“Did you find anyone, see anything?” He asked. His hand was firm on her shoulder. She stiffened as if stricken, then relaxed, her form half-turned towards him and her arms reached for him. He drew her close and hugged her, blinking as she weeped into shoulder. “I didn’t see anything… I… I don’t know…” Her breath quickened and Proudie hugged her close. He was torn between wishing to comfort and the sensation of tension that continued to linger. Nothing seemed to break it or the cold.
“You survived… and I’m going to get you out of here.” Proudie said.
“I survived…” She said.
“Yes, but we must leave.” He pulled away and faced her. “There is a danger in the wood right now. I plan to take care of it, but I need to get you to safety.”
“Please… just… wait…” She clung to him, her legs refused to move though tugged as he did. He paused and looked into her soft brown eyes, the way they blinked and pierced into him. She had a firm jaw and round chin, which she tilted up to show her soft, tanned neck. She blinked in surprise as he felt her hands draw around him and she leaned forward, crushing her lips against his. He felt a sudden pressure as her left hand enmeshed itself in his black-and-silver hand, which she gripped and pushed crushing the two together. Her teeth sunk into his lower lip that as he grabbed and jerked her away from him cut into his flesh.
The sudden pain, the taste of blood, it had begun to stoke a fire that as both brown eyes met they were burning. Him with a deep seated frown, her with a lascivious smirk, “I am a survivor. Then again, never trust a survivor until you find out what they did to stay alive.” With a blink, a reddish glare had replaced her brown eyes, she threw hand and with a cackle conjured energy from the aether that was purple and black. With a step she hurled the bolt towards him as he brought his hands up. His own will concentrated before him form a barrier that the bolt crashed against. The impact of which felt like a cannon striking his chest, sending him backwards through the open door, his body half-turned as it struck the door frame and sent him sprawling to the groundside in a heap of dust. While the paint was lessened by the shield, he still felt a distant stung. It was nothing compared to the anger he felt.
He heard her voice, the whispers of feet on the porch: “I normally sup upon younger specimens. But I think I can fit an older man into my palate.” He saw her pause mid-step as the smoke cleared. Her eyes widened as she no longer saw a pale man with long black-and-gray hair and bead. She beheld a large lupine figure with sets of claws jutting for hims large hands.
“I see you’re not a normal plaything.” She said, then smirked, “Send a monster to catch one?” She asked.
“Why?” Proudie’s voice was bestial, but clear. Even in his Worgen state he talked with the elocution of an educated man.
“Why?” Her fingers smoothed down the front of her dirndl, “My beauty… my youth… my life. I have to feed somewhere. I, who have lived through the years of Perenolde and Wolfheart… I who have stalked these lands feeding on mortal youth and love.” She grinned and said, “Maybe you should join me? Become my servant.” She kissed the air and said, “Be my love… you were quite the kisser.”
Proudie shook his head and said, “Never.”
“Well then. Let’s pell mell, my dear. If not in the Light. Then hand-in-hand to hell!” With a wild grin she drew up her hands and conjured more of her dark essence.
Proudie stalked at her his great legs kicking off the ground. He dodged one blast, caught the other in a shield and held it before he redirected the blast to the ground with the sound of a thunderclap that shook the earth. She drew her right hand back, her fingers wavered as another orb of darkened colors flocked and swirled. In turn he drew his right while his left continued to extend and keep up his shield. He was a knight on the eldritch battlefield, absorbing what he could and attacking with his will. He moved in close, and as that blast flashed out he returned with a ball of light that clashed towards the middle. Sparks of conflicting energy spat and fluttered into the breeze. He could see her eyes widen as continued to come to her, despite the heat that singed his fingertips, the ache that rolled up his shoulder. He could see on her end her chest rise and fall rapidly in either terror excitement.
Their eyes locked, while his eyes burned, he maintained a sense of cool and calm. In the great conflict, he was the ice, the patient one. Her eyes burned and flicked wildly between their hands and back to him. She was the fire, she threw her all into her blast, and while he matched and was slowed, he continued to approach her.
Both members broke off their energy attack. The whiplash cut through trees and burned into the ground. Smoke drifted through the clearing as one parts fair, one parts foul. As they broke he felt the sudden sting as her void laced fingers stabbed into his side. His muzzled gritted as he looked into her smile, “Like you said!” He cried. “Hand-in-hand!” He jammed his claws suddenly into her. She let out a wail that caused his ears to ring, the yell increased as he jetted holy flames into her body. He answered her yell with a howl as her chest began to glow and she burst into flames.
William had been good on Septimus Proudie’s order. For by the time the Doctor emerged, he came upon the farmer and several other men and women preparing to march into the forest with their dogs, crossbows, guns, and torches. Proudie saw hey they looked upon him. Even though he had returned to his human state, he imagined his eyes were still wild and blood covered his robes. He carried two things. In his arms was the body of the woman. As he said, “I couldn’t find anyone else in this forest dwelling family. Does anyone know them?”
A few voices confirmed and offered a name that he did not recognize. He was grateful when a man stepped forward to take the body. “We’ll make sure she’s buried, what else did you find?”
Proudie lifted what was left of the Witch’s head in the air. Her soft tanned skin had blackened and roughened from several burns his spell had caused within and without her. Her eyes had burned out and in small patches, pieces of skull could be seen. He tossed the head to William. “The witch is slain.” He cleared his throat and clutched at his side.
“Are you okay, sir?” William reached a hand to the Doctor.
Proudie waved him off. He said, a forced smile, “She put up a hell of a fight. But I’ll be fine… if someone could fetch me a carriage, I would like to head back to Neverwinter Township itself.” He was glad they said yes, that they had left him be. He did not want them to see his beads, the glowing purple beads from all the shadow he took out of himself. Those beads would be disposed of later, with people like him who would understand.