“Great and Powerful”
Written by Aaron McQueen
Illustrated by Jennifer Lange
Copyright May 11th, 2018
This story is dedicated to my family, my friends, and my most generous subscribers, whom I have listed below. Without their help, support, and contributions, this production would not be possible.
Asterious held his shield in front of his chest and tightly gripped his sword. General Del Rossi stood behind him. The floor was red with freshly spilled blood.
The general opened his mouth in horror.
“They killed them.”
Asterious nodded as his face grew solid with rage. Across the broad white chamber rose a many-levelled dais, rising to a platform high against the wall. Its steps were strewn with the bodies of the “chosen” people. Their blood was still spilling from their wounds.
The gods appeared to have exercised all of their creativity in murdering them. Some were missing limbs, others their heads or eyes. Still more appeared to have been…bled, cut hundreds of times across their skin and finally left to slowly exsanguinate on the floor. He trained his eyes up to the top of the dais.
There was one left.
The last one.
The creature loomed over his butchered servants, surging with power harvested from their fear and blind devotion. Light and fire crackled over it skin, cutting the very air to ribbons.
Del Rossi spoke low under his breath.
“You’re sure you’re ready for this?”
“This ends here. We’ve come too far to flee.”
He turned, smiling rakishly.
“Besides, there’s no way back.”
He pointed and Del Rossi turned around. The door behind them was gone.
Nathanius dove to the right as an arc of light slashed across the rooftop. It cut a swath directly through the spot where he’d had been standing. He hit the ground with a thump and drew his knife.
Asterious ran forward. The creature turned on Polly and began to cast a spell. Its voice boomed. The incantation resonated in the air as a huge gust of wind rose up, blowing with all the strength of a summer monsoon. Polly sprang away but it was too late. The wind caught her and she was hurled from the roof. She screamed as she fell out of view.
Nathanius drew his knife. The blade flashed with magic.
He shook his dark chain violently and swung it over his head. Black snakes of shadow surged out in every direction.
Nathanius braced himself as the slithering cords lashed out, swinging wildly in a vain effort to parry the incoming blows. The magically keen edge of Krodyn’s old blade severed the dark iron links. They recoiled like a wounded beast.
He heard a yelp and twisted around. Ellyn was ensnared around her legs and was being dragged into the smokey pool that surrounded Valis. She screamed and struggled.
“Ellyn! Your knife! Attack the chains!”
It was in her hands. She’d been using it to try to hang onto the roof. She wrenched herself around and stabbed at the metal, cutting and slashing. The blade sparked and sang until finally the chains snapped.
“Wretches! When will you stop troubling me?!”
Nathanius stood up.
“We gave you a chance to let us walk away.”
“I don’t deal with scum. Only one of you had dignity at all…and I have her already.”
He shook the chain again. The dark pool tightened. The tendrils rose and braided together into a coil as thick as a tree limb. The spell lashed out like a whip, sweeping a path of destruction across the roof.
Ellyn ducked. Nathanius tried to do the same, but he was too slow. He took it in the chest. The blow forced the air from his lungs. He felt his ribs crack as he was flung backwards. He smacked into a tall peak of the roof and slid to the ground.
The god creature turned on him and raised its spear. Nathanius saw a flash of light.
Asterious appeared suddenly between them. He brought up his right arm and his sword. His left was still bleeding from the wound he had received at the Jaspers’ mansion. The short blade in his palm flashed as the god’s magic rained down upon them.
The blade split the beam in two around them. It sliced into the rooftop on either side.
Asterious glanced back over his shoulder. Nathanius looked up.
“You fought these?!”
“All my life.”
“Well do they have any weaknesses?”
“Not really. And the longer this goes on, the more powerful he will become.”
“The city. When people realize what’s happening he will be able to draw strength from their thoughts.”
“Any other good news?”
“Yeah. He’s got friends.”
He pointed as three more broad-winged shadows descended from the tower, each carrying a long spear identical to Generosity’s. Lances of light began to carve into the city, bringing with them a tidal wave of fire and destruction. An anguished cry rose up as whole streets of people and buildings were hurled into the air.
Generosity laughed. His voice rose over the din like an army of trumpets.
“Tremble, mortals, for your gods have come. Fall to your knees or perish in flames!”
Ellyn ran over to them.
As they watched, the creature seemed to tremble with power. Its eyes burst with incendiary light, birthed from the terror gripping the city.
They huddled beneath it.
Ellyn looked back and forth between them.
“What do we do?”
Asterious winced and clutched his shoulder. His sleeve was soaked red with blood.
“Stall. Fight. Wait for an opening.”
“That’s the plan?”
He readied his weapons.
“It’s the only one there ever is.”
Polly hit the street with a heavy crunch.
Well…heavy for a Halfling. A human or an elf would probably have been killed by the fall.
She stood up.
Her injured leg gave out and she went back down, burying her face in wet snow and slush. She cursed as she rolled over and looked up. Fire and lightning were still flashing around the roof. She had to find a way to get back into the fight. Going through the house again would take too long, and with her leg the way it was, there was no way that she could make the climb.
Fortunately, she was a woman of many, hidden talents.
She reached into her bag. Never use up a spell. That was the rule, except in case of emergency. This certainly qualified.
She drew out a length of black silk rope and a glass bottle in the shape of a feather. Both enchantments were nearly spent, but like the old saying went: it was now or never.
A shadow caught her eye as she quickly wrapped the rope around her forearm. It was followed by a second and then a third.
She hated zombies.
She watched them. She’d never been to Tormar, nor had she ever seen their soldiers, though she knew them to be undead, propelled and maintained by magic. She’d seen one or two zombies though, back home. They’d been swollen, unkempt monstrosities, stinking and missing parts: limbs, eyes, skin. She’d expected Tormar’s soldiers to be similar.
Actually, they were quite tidy.
They were wrapped in cloth, and completely intact. They weren’t bloated or festering, and there was hardly any smell at all, apart from a lingering perfume of pine and tree sap. Their woven coverings were painted with the symbol of Tormar.
They moved in, steady on their legs and fast. Whatever the so-called god had done to them had certainly improved their coordination. These were no shambling mummies. If she didn’t know better, she might have believed that they were still alive under their linen dressings.
She drank the feather potion. It would be a few minutes before it kicked in. She had to buy time, and with her leg in the shape it was, running was out of the question, especially given the power and quickness Generosity had bestowed upon her enemies.
Generosity…what a pompous name.
The zombies formed a circle around her.
She drew her broad knife from her belt.
“Alright, boys. Let’s dance.”
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