5: Stone & Blood

The beast unleashed a savage howl in challenge of the two elemancers and tossed the disembodied head towards them. The ghastly thing bounced along the stone floor before coming to rest at Elm’s feet. Elm stared into its horror-stricken dead eyes and felt a gut-wrenching jolt of familiarity. Behind him, Fair let out a gasp. It was Jon, one of the young initiates – barely into his teens. Revoltion turned to anger at the sight of Jon’s demise. Elm looked back at the savage butcher as a raging fury built within.

The beast’s eyes shone red with crazed glee and it shot him back  a toothy grin, as if pleased with the pain it had caused. Elm steadied himself – foot forward and gauntleted hand poised to strike.  A surge of power flowed effortlessly through his body, fueled by raw anger and culminating at the end of his clenched fist in a white-hot glow of energy. His attack prepared, he thrust his fist forward to destroy the beast in a torrent of force, and… nothing.

The beast’s tormenting snarl widened and it spat in what could be interpreted as mocking laughter at Elm’s failed attack. Elm’s eyes widened in surprise. What had happened? The beast stamped the stone floor in anticipation of victory, then barreled forward with impressive speed and ferocity.
‘Look out!’ Fair cried out as she pushed Elm aside and unleashed her own assault against the charging behemoth. A fierce otherworldly wind tore down the hallway and struck the beast head-on. The creature faulted in its gait and its wild charge became one of struggle to maintain its footing.

‘Elm, remember your training!’ Fair called to Elm as he regained his stance. ‘Calm your mind!’ She was right, Elm thought to himself. In his anger he had forgotten the very first lesson of his training. Elemancy was a subtle art, not one of brute passion. Strong emotions may fuel an elemancer’s powers to greater limits, but controlling them under such stress was another matter entirely – one he had far from mastered. Elm breathed in deeply and felt the rage that had been growing begin to ebb. Again he felt a power swell within, this time more serene, and more importantly, controlled. Elm channeled the energy through his outstretched palm and matched Fair’s blast with his own.

The beast was no match for the combined efforts of the two elemancers and it was hurled backwards down the corridor, howling in futile protest against its helpless plight. It struck the wall with a resounding crack as rock met flesh and bone. Then it slumped to the floor amidst the loosened gravel and blood where it moved no more.

At last Elm and Fair had a chance to reflect on the situation unfolding before them. There was no doubt in either of their minds what that thing was. The Beasts of Gnomn were well-known to the elemancers – brutish savages from the southern wastes, their raids on border villages were common and ruthless, but also precise. Despite their monstrous appearance, they were anything but mindless. Whatever the purpose of their raids, the beasts were usually gone before any effective counter-attack could be mounted.

The Order tried to lend its support whenever possible, but their numbers were few, and the border, large. Despite their pleas to the Empire to maintain a permanent garrison to defend against these regular incursions, Ascania had been left to fend largely for itself. The Ascanian Guard managed as best it could, but they too were undermanned and under equipped – little more than a peasant militia. It was all they could do just to keep the beasts from striking too far into Ascanian territory. It was a struggle they seemed destined to lose, and every year the beasts ranged a little further and grew a little bolder as those villages closest to the border were abandoned, or worse. Now it seemed their reach had stretched all the way to the Tower of the Elemancers itself. Such a brazen move could mean only one thing – invasion.

– J.S.Worth

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