Author:Yunzo/Alicemagic Update: 2017-04-26 [Prev] [Next] [Top]
A pagan ritual is commonly thought of as a ceremony held exclusively under a moonlit night.
"They", however, did not adhere to such norms.
What was initially founded eons ago as a sufficiently innocuous religion devoted to the worship of the sun had in time become synonymous with heresy following the rise to power of an extremist faction preaching that 'all are equal under the sun'.
Today, as well, they were preparing to commence a hilltop ritual in nothing short of broad daylight. Clean, open meadows extending for approximately one hundred yards covered the very summit of the hill that was otherwise coated entirely in dense forests. A group of men were observing the heretics from within the thickets.
"Seems like we made it in time."
The surcoat-clad man standing at their vanguard spoke through his teeth. His name was Gransel, and he served as the lord of the neighboring villages. His gaze was affixed to a five meter tent erect one hectare away from his current position, spreading in four directions with nearly a dozen foot soldiers and archers guarding the entrance. The image of a sun embroidered across the tent's body revealed their alliance, further confirming them to be the criminals who had kidnapped a healing magician from the village for use in their nefarious ceremony.
It's been four days since the healer Eliza had gone missing. The search for her advanced at a snail's pace; fortunately, though, the cloudy weather continuing all the way up until yesterday hampered the sun-based ritual and made up for the lost time. It would be safe to assume that she is currently held captive inside that tent.
"I'd say the odds are more than in our favor, Lord Gransel."
Gransel nodded in response to his elderly retainer Worzen, and turned to instruct his men.
"Archers, aim for the enemy's own archers. Just neutralizing them is enough; only kill if you can."
The two archers nodded and slowly pulled arrows out of their quivers.
"Crossbowmen, lure their swordsmen and shoot to kill once they're about halfway towards you."
The two crossbowmen nodded and loaded their crossbows with bolts, ready to fire at command.
"Foot soldiers- stay on edge and look for an opportunity to charge."
Gransel looked the infantry in the eyes one more time before turning back to cast his right arm in the direction of their target.
Their surprise long-ranged preemptive attack proved successful, as by the time battle had shifted to primarily close-range combat, nearly half the warriors on the Enlighters' side were already down for the count; however, the abrupt arrival of reinforcements from inside the tent served to even up the odds in their favor.
Gransel slashed down his foe and, upon noticing that the rest of the combatants were all preoccupied in their fights, seized the opportunity to escape the immediate line of battle and make a beeline towards the tent. He aimed to change the flow of the battle to his favor, but when he stopped to look behind him, it didn't seem like anyone even bothered giving chase. Either they didn't have the leeway to spare, or there were yet more troops waiting to ambush him from within the tent.
(So be it!)
Deciding to not overthink things, the warrior turned on his heel and continued running towards the tent without hesitation. Upon reaching it, he raised his sword to slash down its rigidly woven outer walls.
The next instant, however, a force not unlike that of a heavy fist struck his abdomen, sending him recoiling a few steps back.
A man clad in heavy armor emerged from the tent and spat out a taunt. The scarlet hexagram engraved on his dark brown chestplate indicated that he was a magician. As he could still hear incantations coming from the interior, however, Gransel deduced that this assailant was not the priest leading the ceremony. Gransel raised his sword and shield while growling in pain, but another spell was already cast- this time, a bright, blinding light robbed him of his sight. His visioned shrouded pure white, Gransel reflexively took a few steps back. There was no physical impact, but the flash was intense enough to make his eyes burn in pain. Hazy afterimages of red and green danced in his front of his soundly shut eyelids.
The magician took that opportunity to survey the battlefield. The two sides seemed roughly even, with both sides having lost half their men, while the other half's sluggish movements signaled their austere exhaustion.
(Doesn't seem like anyone else is going to come charging anytime soon.)
Himself weary from the preparations to the ceremony, the magician preferred to avoid anything too troublesome. There didn't appear to be any enemy archers lurking in the vicinity, and as the incantations were almost finished with, he deemed the best course of action to simply be stalling for time.
It was at that moment that Gransel's body resumed moving.
The sudden intense light and heat caused Eliza to open her eyes.
The healer got up and looked at her surroundings. She was inside a roofless tent, and in front of her stood a stout man wearing a cleric's robe embroidered with an icon of the sun.
(...who is this?)
She couldn't seem to recall his identity; and yet, for some reason, the mere sight of him sent uncomforting shivers and chills throughout her body. Despite the unusual heat and the warm garments on her body, she shook as if standing stark in the middle of a snowstorm, holding her arms against her body and pacing backwards by instinct.
Seeing this, the priest simply spoke to her in a cold, sharp tone.
"Take not a single step outside the circles."
Just then, what little energy and willpower remaining in Eliza were all but drained away as she collapsed where she stood and sank down into the ground.
"The spell is now complete. Let me see its true extent."
Despite hearing the priest's murmur, the suffocating dread prevented her from fully comprehending its meaning. When her field of view was forced down into the floor, she noticed she was surrounded by concentric circles crudely painted on the ground with blood.
Something about these circles striked Eliza as sinister, and she inadvertently let out a stifled whimper. Perplexed, she looked back up at the priest in inquiry, but terror further seized her body the moment her eyes met his, forcing her to cast her gaze back down and shut her eyes tightly.
"Be at ease, healer. I've no plans to make a sacrifice of you."
Eliza felt sudden mental relief following the priest's words. She opened her eyes and peeked at him once more, for some reason feeling no trace of the fear she felt from doing so up until now.
"We shall grant you power, and you shall grant us a miracle."
(Power...? Is he using enchanted language?)
She had recovered from her bout of terror enough to be able to start properly contemplating her situation. In particular, she took of note of how she was wearing the same holy garbs as the man, and of how she didn't shed a drop of sweat despite how swelteringly hot it should be. However, between this queer predicament, the intense fear she felt and then didn't, the man standing in front of her and his enigmatic declaration just now, Eliza simply couldn't find a way to tie all these oddities together and make any sort of sense of the situation. It was clear that something malevolent was going on, but she couldn't comprehend what lead up to these circumstances nor predict what will happen next.
"What... what do you mean?"
Trying her luck asking him for answers directly yielded no results as he seemed to ignore her, preoccupied with observing the entrance to the tent. Now that she had her bearings straight, Eliza could hear the sounds of clashing swords coming from outside.
(Could this be... a battlefield?)
She did not yet understand why there why there would be sounds of warfare here.
"It'll all be clear soon. Let us go outside."
The priest ordered her once more, and Eliza figured that, sure enough, the answers she's looking for are probably outside the tent.
A woman with black hair and holy garbs suddenly stepped out of the tent in an almost casual fashion. It came as quite a surprise to Gransel, who up until that point had been exerting all his effort in trying to advance these several feet towards the tent in order to get that woman outside himself. This momentary confusion did not escape the enemy battlemage, who jumped at the opportunity to attack Gransel.
A sharp sound rang throughout the hilltop as the battlemage thrusted his blade with all his might, piercing cleanly through Gransel's shield and puncturing his left shoulder. Unstirred, Gransel tilted his shield and forced the sword out; with his unwounded arm he brandished the short sword by his waist, aiming for the opening in the battlemage's helmet.
Eliza immediately pleaded the men to cease their fight, but the short sword stopped for nothing as it pierced the right side of the battlemage's nose, cutting just over two inches deep into it before slashing a clean line down across his face. His armor was dyed red in his own fresh blood, gushing out like a fountain from the open wound in his mug. His legs gave way shortly afterwards, leaving him prostrate in an ever-increasing maroon pool of bodily fluids.
Gransel turned his attention away from the defeated foe and back to the entrance to the tent, where he saw Eliza running towards him. He was a bit concerned by her seemingly angry demeanor but nonetheless opened his visor and prepared to greet her with open arms. However, once she came within a range of two to three steps from him, Eliza suddenly thrusted her arms forward and fired a magical blast. The unexpected attack packed a surprisingly strong punch and sent the warrior flying over ten feet backwards with ease, after which making him roll painfully on the ground for another considerable distance for good measure before finally grinding to a halt. The sheer force of the blast came as a surprise to Eliza as well, however, who recoiled back from her own spell and landed on her rear on the ground behind her.
"This is your power."
Making no sound as he suddenly appeared behind her, the priest spoke with his unmistakable baritone.
"The miracle of granting man the power of the Great Light... the ceremony was a success."
His words did not reach Eliza, whose hands felt as if they were on fire from the spell they had just conjured. Nevertheless, the priest pointed towards the fallen battlemage and gave Eliza a new order.
"Heal him. Perhaps he can still be saved."
She mouthed a small 'alright', and staggered as she got up from the ground to approach the battlemage. There was nothing unorthodox about a healer using her magic to cure wounds; on the other hand, she herself did not understand how or why she had used magic to attack a comrade just before that. Fresh blood was still pooling up by the fallen battlemage's trunk with no end in sight, and his face showed no signs of life. Under normal circumstances, Eliza would've accepted that he was beyond cure and would've given up, but right now, she felt strangely confident that she could heal this man. She placed her left hand on his coldening mouth wound, and began focusing mana into it.
In no time at all, however, a burning sensation stung Eliza's hand, making it feel like it was seconds away from melting. The boiling pain seeped from her hand into her arm, soon enveloping her entire body in overwhelming heat. Unable to bear the pain, she pulled away her hand, but that did nothing to soothe the infernal burns; even after calling off the healing spell altogether, it only seemed to intensify. Eliza started groaning while writhing on the ground in agony.
In stark contrast, the priest who was watching over her was perfectly calm. He figured that the spirit of fire in her body simply intensified too much, thus shattering her inner balance of the elements; ergo, he needed to either dilute the fire element or strengthen her earth, water and wind elements.
(Strengthening the weaker elements would clearly be the wiser choice...)
He reached a conclusion almost immediately- weakening her fire element would make all his men's sacrifices today be in vain, and he had his reasons to worship this woman as a 'miracle'.
"Be calm. I shall ease your pains."
The priest placed his hand on Eliza's shoulder, looked up at the skies above and began chanting an invocation.
The drifting and the flowing; O furnisher, enveloper of all;
The sturdy and the stout; O molder, sustainer of all;
The ethereal and the present; O disperser, surrounder of all;
The gleaming and the scorching; O empowerer, illuminator of all;
For as the harmony of the Elements forms the chassis to our lives,
May I pray for this soul to prosper and thrive...
After concluding the aria, the priest looked back at Eliza. The healer was now sprawled motionless on the ground, but her rhythmically moving shoulders confirmed that she was still alive and breathing. For now, it seemed like his first goal had been reached successfully. Running his eyes across the battlefield, all he could see were fallen soldiers from both factions- one man, seemingly the leader of the ambush squad, collapsed at his side- as well as several archers and foot soldiers lying prone at distances of thirty to sixty feet to his left. The only ones still conscious were himself and Eliza. He turned back to look at the healer one more time.
For an instant, it seemed like she moved, but something about it was 'off'. Rather than simply "moving", it almost seemed as if Eliza's entire body was rapidly spreading outwards in all directions...
(What...?! Could this be...?)
An ludicrous hypothesis crossed his mind. The original ceremony imbued Eliza with the spiritual element of fire, using the sun as a catalyst, while the aria just now was intended to harmonize all four of a person's elements to each other; in turn, could it have accidentally magnified all of Eliza's elements to unprecedented degrees...?
It's plausible in theory. There do exist historical records of identical rituals being performed successfully while aiming for wholly different results.
"Very well... this is all part of the miracle."
The priest smiled as he spoke softly. In front of his eyes, Eliza's body began swelling and expanding with her initial proportions still intact...
[Prev] [Next] [Top]