Day 65 of 100 Word Prompts: Pollution
The wind whipped through the pass, pulling Margaret’s hair over her head before twisting it and dropping it in a tangled heap. Far below her, nestled in the valley, legions of undead things tore themselves free from the earth through the black soil. At the head of the valley, a cloaked figure stood, swirling arcane energy about their well-practiced hands. She slung her bag to her side, producing the leather book that hummed beneath her fingers with divine power. She would deal with the necromancer. Beside her, Gillan’s eyes went wide as he acknowledged what she was doing.
“No, magic is not allowed here,” Gillan said, snatching the book from Margaret’s hands. Their black, windswept hair hung over their right eye, blocking the otherwise ice blue iris, but leaving the purple iris of their left eye exposed.
“No magic?” Margaret replied, her ears flashing with heat. She felt her blood begin to boil with rage at the audacity of what Gillan was saying. “What the hell are you talking about? Do you even see what’s happening down there?”
Margaret watched Gillan turn and look over the edge at the writhing mass of undead steadily growing in number. While she could see the fear in their eyes, there was something deeper that she couldn’t identify, something hidden.
“It doesn’t matter,” Gillan said, shaking their head as they looked back at her. “There is so much residual arcane pollution here. All you would accomplish is fueling the necromancer further.”
“I don’t use arcane magics,” Margaret spat back. “Do I look like a wizard? Do you think that is a spellbook? That is a holy book of my order filled with prayers.”
“You and I both know that there is little difference between the arcane and the divine,” Gillan replied, glancing down to the book where the sigil of Asindan shown brightly in gold leaf. “And, we both can feel the power coming from the pages in this book.”
“There are vast differences between the two,” Margaret argued, “Divine magic is capable of healing where the arcane is not. Now, give me my book back before I get angry. We can still stop the necromancer.”
“They are of no consequence in this area,” Gillan said, shaking their head. “I understand your inclination to stop the undead, but this is not the place to do it. There will be ample opportunity on their journey to Pollum. We don’t need to rush this, not here.”
“You will hand me back my book, or I will smite you where you stand,” Margaret growled as her face grew hot. She knew that her irises had vanished, replaced with the white light of her bloodline. “I will not wait to destroy these unholy creatures. The longer they exist, the more offense they cause to my god.”
“I can’t, Margaret,” Gillan said, standing their ground. “You and I both know that it’s not safe for you to call on anything from your god here. If you do, you will only surge magic through the area, and both you and your god will have claimed responsibility for fueling more resilient undead things.”
Margaret could feel the divine energy building inside her as her anger built. She felt something snap inside her and drain through her feet. Her gaze fell as the soil and rock around her flashed with veins of light descending into the valley.
“Margaret, no!” Gillan said, reaching forward as she tried to call more energy.
Far below them, the light continued to snake down, blindingly white as the power sapped from Margaret. It shot through the dead trees, illuminating the undead that turned to look up at them. The light didn’t stop when it reached the bottom, but instead, twenty of the undead became something between the black husks they had been and something divine.
The white eyes looking up at them made a shiver creep up Margaret’s spine as their mouths opened, shedding even more light. A cacophonous scream echoed through the valley, something not even close to whatever creature these divine undead had once been, but something grotesque and twisted.
“Margaret, you did this!” Gillan cried, pointing down to the mass of creatures that had begun running toward them. “I warned you not to use magic here!”
“I didn’t know,” she protested. “I can kill them. I will make this right!”
“You can’t stop them with your magic, Margaret,” Gillan said. “Any of it. We have to run. There is no other option now. Follow me.”
Margaret glanced over the side of the cliff to find the creatures significantly closer to them. They had covered a mile in only a few seconds and now clawed their way up the rock, smashing their hands into the stone as though it were of no consequence for grip. Her hand instinctively went to the hilt of the Lightbringer on her back.
“Margaret!” Gillan called from further up the path. “Let’s go! We can’t fight them here!”
Margaret shook her head and gritted her teeth as she released her weapon and turned away from the edge. The screams of the creatures grew ever closer as they ran through the pass leading out of the valley and into the Frolin Grasslands. They had only just reached the other side when the undead burst through behind them. Two grabbed Margaret as seven tackled Gillan.
Margaret, purely from surprise, reached back into the divine well within her, calling forth the protective spirits that guarded the holy people of her order. They appeared as they had every time previously, but this time she found the undead things released her not from the damage the spirits caused but because they snatched the spirits from the air, pulling them into their gaping mouths.
Gillan’s scream behind her drew her attention away as she spun and rushed toward her overwhelmed friend. Her breath caught in her chest as she slid to a halt only feet from Gillan. Their face was a mask of pain and horror as the creatures’ arms punched through their plate armor as though it didn’t exist.
“Mar-” they sputtered through the blood coming from their mouth.
“I didn’t know,” she whispered as an explosion of pain erupted in her lower back.
Falling to her knees, several of the undead creatures swarmed around her, still pursuing the protective spirits who, she noticed, looked terrified rather than determined. As another arm of the creature punched through her chest, life force drained from her along with the blood. The creatures’ screeches grew distant as the darkness began closing around her vision.
As she fell to her face, she saw a pair of dark boots step into her vision. A pale hand came into view as the swarm of undead ceased suddenly.
“Not yet. You’ll survive this day to see what you’ve done,” a strange voice that filled her with cold said as a surge of warmth passed through her as the world fell to black in her vision.
Margaret opened her eyes, unsure of how much time had passed, but the sun had set. There were no longer screams and chittering coming from the valley behind her. No odd creatures were surrounding her, consuming the spirits of her guardians. She crawled toward where she had last seen her friend and found only pieces of them scattered over a twenty-foot path down the mountain.
“I’m so sorry, Gillan,” she whispered as she backed away from the gruesome scene before her.
Margaret felt a hollow feeling deep within, a missing part of her that had torn away while she had slept. She knew it without trying, but she reached for the divine well that had always existed within her but found only cold and darkness waiting for her. The cold tore through her as though angry about the absence of the light.
Margaret shuddered and wrapped her arms around her shoulders as she pulled her knees up to her broken armor, and for the first time in her life, she cried. All the devastation she had witnessed, and the people she had saved. At the forefront of her mind, she could see every good deed she had ever committed undone before her eyes. She reached back for the hilt of her sword but found the sheath empty. The light within and the light without were stripped from her. The world was doomed.