Zoar woke with a start, the night’s events returning to her in an instant. The Reckoning completed, the celebration, and the hopelessness of defeat. Then the dream. Was it wishful thinking that brought her a sliver of hope through her sleep? But there was more to it than hope, there was a mission. There is one dear to me, take him and flee.
Preparation would begin immediately, a Devout stationed outside her tent would’ve heard her rustling and would require her to accompany them to the High Priestess’ tent. Zoar reassembled herself, making sure she was somewhat tidy and secured.
“I am ready,” she stepped through just as the Devout beckoned.
They arrived at the High Priestess’ tent, the Devout dismissed himself as he pulled the entrance open for her.
The tent was much larger than her own; decorated with bones and pelts, human and animal. Feathers hung from the ceiling and a fire smoldered in the center in front of an enormous pile of animal skins. The High Priestess sat in front of the fire, her usual appearance, visage hidden by her mane of wild hair. One amber eye pierced her darkness, it watched Zoar enter with unwavering ferocity.
“Young priestess, today must be a day you have dreamed of since you knew of your Reckoning,” she sat motionless, the subtle glow of embers on her ebony skin and hair.
Zoar said nothing, but stood a comfortable distance from her; were there any comfort when in her presence. An eerie silence leaned against Zoar as she noticed all outside sounds were gone.
“You are quiet, have been since the beginning of the trails. Tell me,” her fingers twitched over the fire, “why did you lie to me?”
Zoar hadn’t expected the question. This was an entirely different High Priestess than at the celebration. Had she been putting up a facade?
“No you wouldn’t say would you… it makes no difference to me,” something caught Zoar’s eye, a brief glint next to the High Priestess.
Growing uneasy Zoar spoke out, “I was unsure of what I had seen,” a weak answer but the only thing she could muster.
A grim smile pulled the High Priestess’ face taught. You are to do nothing priestess, her head cocked to the side in response. Sweat began to accumulate on Zoar’s palms.
“Vald has spoken to me little one,” her wiry frame became more bizarre with subtle twitches and fidgets. “She is displeased. Displeased with you I regret to say.”
A mock display of sympathy played on her half hidden face. Her feet spread and her back arched slightly.
“You have been found lacking, and… I will continue my reign as High Priestess.”
Zoar’s heart leapt, excitement was replaced immediately with suspicion. She watched her, and her body language didn’t reveal anything hopeful. You said you were faithful, she thought.
Suddenly the High Priestess pounced over the dying fire with a dagger in one hand. Zoar could only cover herself with her arms before they would collide. But no collision occurred, The High Priestess was jerked midair backwards spinning, and landed on her back pinned to her bedding.
Zoar watched as her devil clawed at her tearing at the High Priestess, but where there should be wounds there were none. Shrieking from both her and the shade continued as it pulled on her frame, in an instant it appeared as though her soul was being torn from her body and devoured. Thick foam coughed out of her mouth and she went still.
Petrified, she stood in horror as the monster turned to her.
She has fallen out of grace with our Master, I now extend to you my services.
Fear gripped her, “Wh- what’s to say I don’t end up like her?”
She was weak, we have been watching you and the Master is indeed pleased.
Running wouldn’t be an option, and there was nothing she could do to defend herself from such a creature. Something crept in, the reminder of why she feared the Reckoning to begin with. Becoming ruled by wickedness like the High Priestess and those in her tribe.
We could accomplish things you would never have dreamed of, craft a new terrain for this world that was built upon your standard.
“No,” Zoar said quietly, her heart pounding in preparation for the assault.
There is no other option child, I simply provided undeserved courtesy.
The evil burst towards her, slamming into her with shocking force. The air was knocked from her lungs as she hit the ground. Dirt and embers scraped her back as she was pulled towards the corpse of the High Priestess. Zoar tried to fight but couldn’t free herself, tried to scream but couldn’t get air in her lungs. The devil pinned her and opened its mouth that was bigger than her face and howled. The feeling of death washed over her as it cocked back for a fatal strike.
Then the darkness in the room was gone. The howl stopped inside the evil’s throat. Death receded as hope filled its place inside Zoar. Her unseen shackles loosened, raising her head she could see a light through the devil’s transparent body. The man had come back for her. He stepped forward inflicting excruciating pain on her captor, its body eroded underneath his presence releasing her and destroying the devil.
Zoar gasped in air one mouthful at a time blinking as white edged into her vision. She blinked it away, seeing the man pull back the tent entrance and stepping outside. She looked over at the High Priestess one last time, arms and legs burned where she had been held and her gaunt face sunken and gaping. Looking down at her own wrists there were no blackened scars or burns. She pulled herself to follow the man when she noticed her shoulder wound didn’t ail her any longer. The festering wound was gone and her shoulder unblemished.
Her eyes adjusted to the outside like, and to her surprise, the man was now missing again. Something else was shocking, everyone as far as she could see, was collapsed on the ground. I will put them into a deep sleep, she thought. Down in front of the tent was the stone altar, on each side Devouts were collapsed. Upon it laid a man dressed in black, gagged and strapped to the stone surface; a dagger sat next to him surely awaiting her to sacrifice him.
She rushed down looking at him still shocked at what had happened. His skin was pale white and brown long hair matted his deadpan face. He was breathing but unconscious. Should she free him? She wondered, while everyone else was incapacitated. Then it returned to her, I will break your chains… then you will go and do the same; take him and flee. The pieces fell together suddenly.
The straps snapped releasing tension as she sliced them with the dagger. The man was still unconscious, but who knew how much time the man of light had given her? Adrenaline racing, Zoar charged past tents and over bodies towards her small tent. In a matter of a few moments after she arrived her spear was in hand, an animal skin full of water, and her tent and belongings were bundled atop her back and she charged back towards the man on the altar.
She opened her skin and poured water on his, sending him sputtering upward swinging and disoriented.
“Quiet, quiet,” Zoar hissed.
The man rounded on her ready to fight from a sitting position.
“Where am I?! And who are you?!” his strange accent bellowed.
Zoar thrust the end of her spear into his face, “I said be quiet!” she whispered as loudly as she could. “I’m here to free you, we have to leave immediately.”
He saw the urgency in her face, for whatever reason he had to trust her because the alternative hadn’t been so appealing.
They maneuvered over the unconscious as quickly as possible, and Zoar noticed she saw none of the devils that possessed her people as they fled. Once out of the tribe’s settlement they slowed to catch their breath.
“Who- are- you?” the man asked between breaths.
“My- name is- Zoar.”
“What happened- back there?” he stood straight and leaned back stretching with a grimace.
“I don’t know really, how did you get there?” Zoar pulled her pack off and sat on it wiping sweat from her brow.
The man rounded on her with new found anger, “You savages ambushed me last night, I managed to kill one before they got their hands on me,” his eyes cast out as he recalled the events.
“I didn’t ambush you,” insult flared in her voice.
“Regardless,” he scoffed, “my sword is gone, armor, all of it.”
He turned his back to Zoar venting is frustration in private. They sat in silence for a few moments as they both gathered their bearings.
“If they are to wake soon, they will find her dead and you missing. A search party will be sent in all directions,” dread edged in her voice.
“Find who dead?” interest was struck anew.
Zoar’s eyes wandered away, “the High Priestess.”
“The High Priestess? How did you manage that? I’ve only heard stories of her wickedness.”
“I didn’t kill her, it was her familiar. It turned on her for some reason, I think she disobeyed it; tried to kill me after I was next to-”
“Next to what?” he interrogated.
Her eyes lifted to meet his, “I was supposed to be the next High Priestess.”
The shock made her regret saying anything. The man’s mouth gaped, and he didn’t seem to be someone who let himself gape often.
“Where are we going anyway?” she tried to redirect the conversation.
“We? I am thankful to Sendiil for His providence, but we are not going anywhere,” he turned and took a few steps trying to perceive anything through the thick Miasma.
“I wasn’t alone, someone told me to save you,” Zoar wanted to hold up her end of the bargain to the man of light.
“What do you mean you weren’t alone?”
“A man, dressed all in bright light showed me, he told me about you, told me to flee with you. Now you want to leave?”
Something registered inside the man, “What do you mean a man dressed in light?”
“I mean a man dressed in light, there’s no other way of explaining it,” she was back in the advantage.
“And this man told you to free me?” she nodded.
The man walked away and squatted, he ran his hands through his hair obviously thinking. She watched him, hoping his mind had been changed.
“So what is your name?” she asked breaking the silence.
His head came up, “Gilbred.”