By Bailey Dixon
Date: February 27, 2021
Ch. 4II

Magenta leaves rustled in the wind, whispering the ghostly chorus of the Edgerealm’s forests. The gusts were warm against my face, gently blowing back my blonde locks. It felt as though the elements were caressing me, running their fingers through my hair and relishing the softness of my porcelain skin. It was a primal experience, exciting and unnerving. Silver-barked trees reached their twisting limbs outward as if they too felt the need to touch the innocent girl who had wandered so close to their grasp. Their pink leaves shook from the breeze, quivering with anticipation. Deep, dark orifices adorned their hollow silver trunks, looking like eyes and mouths all at once—I felt watched by these letching spirits of feral nature, as though they salivated with sap, intent on swallowing me into their gaping maws.

Clutching an amber pendant, I watched it glimmer in the half-darkness that the canopy caused. The beating sun could not penetrate the thick skin of pink foliage above me. Inside the amber heart of the pendant was a small lock of hair. Dark and curled, locked inside a chrysalis of time—it belonged to a boy, the son of an Arbiter. Iit sensed him nearby. It wanted to be whole. It was the last fragment of innocent soul, a soul that had grown a man, a man that had grown a demon. I saw the great half-sunken temple in the distance, through the scattered trees at the forest’s edge and felt the amber grow warmer in my hand. As more of the sinking black building came into view, the pendant shone brighter. Placing the pendant back around my neck, I drew my sword in preparation and looked down at the mythril rope that wrapped around my waist. Glowing, flowing, waiting to snare its prey.

Rising from the swampy purple grass ahead was a towering monstrosity of black marble, beset by veins of silver. In stark contrast to Farheim’s angular architecture, this was a mass of rounded domes, ornate spikes and a thousand thin and snaking pillars. Its obsidian surface drank in the sun, reflecting no light, but its silver capillaries glittered with a haunting beauty. The marsh was soft beneath my feet, forcing my heavy boots deep into the violet undergrowth. A massive archway greeted me at the building’s entrance. If there had ever been a door to that foreboding temple, it had rotted away long ago.

Despite the burning summer sun outside, not a single ray entered the temple’s foyer. I was immersed entirely in shadow, blind to the layout of the mysterious mausoleum, except for the diminutive sphere of light that emanated from the amber pendant. My steps were cautious as I made my way in the dark but suddenly a unearthly light began to fill the corridor. A soft turquoise glow, spilling forth from several swarming fireflies, brought the enormity of the temple’s interior into view. Through the swathe of luminescent insects I saw that the black and silver walls were decorated with eerily lifelike statues. Each depicted, in stunning detail, one or more stone figures entwined in acts of carnal passion. I was both shocked and stirred by the scenes that displayed themselves along the wall. Something seemed to sway my step, a subtle force pulling me from one statue to another, as though each were calling me to join them in their play… Then a low, ghastly moan broke the quiet of the dead temple. Snapped out of my daze, I clenched both hands around my sword’s handle and pressed on into the green twilight, toward the monstrous sound.

The lengthy corridor opened out into a cavernous hall where a huge firefly hive hung from the domed ceiling. Buzzing with life and light, it was far brighter than the rest of the building, making the hideous creatures that wandered the hall painfully visible. Clad it decaying robes, humanoid figures shuffled about on deformed limbs. Their arms were distended and clawed at the nails, their ribs emaciated and their eyes shrunken and pale. These were Empty Ones. Former warlocks who had been possessed by Shadows and had their life-force drained, now knowing only an insatiable hunger. A hunger to feel. A hunger to feed. In exchange for magical power they had offered the Shadows their mortal body so that the spirits could once again experience earthly pleasures—but that power is fueled by the burning of one’s immortal soul, and now the warlock’s were spent. They knew no restraint, their gluttony for power left them a husk of humanity. An empty shell of withered, bloodless flesh. A walking corpse possessed of an unquenchable thirst for the life-force of the living. Luckily, they had not seen me yet.

Stepping forward quietly, I felt my boot connect with rubble, and gritted my teeth as the loose debris rattled along the floor, echoing loudly in the chamber of the dead. Four pairs of pale eyes focused on the intruder in their midst and widened at the sight of their next meal. A bloodcurdling wail rung out through the air as the first of them stumbled toward me, followed closely by its three companions. Jumping back, I drew my sword’s hilt into my chest, locked my feet in place and drove the blade under the jaw of the oncoming demon. The point burst out the back of its crumbling skull and it fell into a broken mass as I pulled the bloodied steel free with a swift kick to the monster’s chest. I didn’t have much time to react to the two that were now bearing down on me but I thought quickly enough to drop to my knee, swing with all my strength and cut their legs from under them. With tortured rasps, they barrelled to the ground. They were not defeated but they would be down long enough to allow me to deal easily with the fourth. As it staggered forward, this one bigger than the rest, it swung a large misshapen limb in my direction. Bringing my sword up to meet it, the blade cut into the flesh but became wedged. While I wrenched it free, the beast took another swing and knocked me down. Still gripping my sword, I rolled to dodge its gnarled fist slamming into the stone floor. With the Empty One bent over, I seized my opportunity—swinging my sword upwards full force, I cleaved clean through the demon’s neck, decapitating it. Listening to its heavy carcass collapse onto the ground, I made my way over to the two crawling cadavers. I stamped down one of their outstretched claws and drove my blade through its crown. Then I finished the last of them off in the same grisly fashion.

Pulling a piece of cloth from my pocket, I wiped the sword clean of the creatures’ black blood. That’s when I spotted the ornate door at the hall’s far end. Purple light pulsed from behind the cracks. I felt the amber pendant grow warmer. Running my hands along the silken surface of the mythril chain, I readied myself to catch my quarry.

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