By Spirits Be Driven
The following occurs shortly after the enounter with the Sylvan Brotherhood in Tatzleford. It ends just prior to the group leaving Tatzleford for New Rotesh.
By Spirits Be Driven
One day was all he could take. They were doing nothing wrong by the letter of the law, but they certainly were spitting in the face of the spirit that had forged Kamedon. And to legitimize this…Sylvan Brotherhood through the allocation of resources, giving them a guild hall? Ildred Batalova, the Shaman King of Kamedon had bled for this land and her people more times than any. Yet it seemed he understood them less and less as time went by. They didn’t understand what he and his companions had gone through to bring the current prosperity the kingdom currently enjoyed. They never would. Maybe that wasn’t a bad thing. This land wasn’t as wild as it used to be, but it still was wild. Taming this place? That just might be out of his reach. So Ildred left his companions in Tatzleford, choosing to ride out on his own. It was unseasonably warm this winter. Unnaturally warm was more like it. He had nothing to fear from exposure.
He didn’t head in any particular direction at first. One of the early guidelines that the Storm Lords put forth was that as they annexed and developed the Greenbelt they would make sure that roads were easily accessed. He would not get lost despite not being too familiar with this area of Kamedon. His mind drifted away from the Slyvan Brotherhood’s thuggery and towards matters far more grave. He often had nightmares about the dream he saw those years ago. The Stolen Lands being transformed from the lush green that it was to a lifeless wasteland. The first time he had seen this in dreams the vision had been shared by his companions. It had been divine in nature, doubtlessly. But every subsequent time, it was his own guilt of sins not yet committed that plagued him. This was his home now and these were his people. He could not allow this to come to pass.
A fog rose from the ground as he rode on. As he did so he recalled the dream. It was then that his memory had stumbled upon a curious recollection. As though woven in between the memories of his dreams, he remembered a face. More like a presence, an idea of a face than a literal visage. The presence was female, with a scratchy voice that had quite a judgmental tone to it. She kept saying something that he couldn’t make out, but she was very specifically saying it to him.
He came out of his reverie with a quickness. Realizing that he was no longer on the road, he began to take stock of his surroundings. This place was strange to him, almost totally foreign really. Ildred looked up to gain a sense of time, but the fog was interfering with his vision of the sky, it’s thin, white overhang diffusing the sun’s light in the area. Up ahead there was a break in the fog cover, but still his eyes were not being told the truth. For in the light of day he saw the stars. Cautiously, he rode forward, releasing Stormwind from the leather strap on his back.
From the corners of his eyes he saw the quick, wispy movement that he sometimes saw. The haunts that had cursed him since the time of his birth had become excited somehow, and grew only more so as he advanced. Voices, a chorus of discordant syllables in languages Ildred did not know, began a slow crescendo with each step. Amidst them he could make one out above the others. It was her, that female presence from his nightmares. He could hear her audibly above the other voices, and with a few moments more he knew from where. The barbarian cairn that his group had discovered those several years ago. Some long forgotten barbarian tribe, lost to ancient history, had built this to honor their dead. Ildred had felt a special connection to this place from the moment they found it. He had always intended to come back here, but he had since been made king. That had consumed his life since then. He hadn’t even found the time to have this area annexed into his kingdom.
“Who searches for me?”
The scratchy tone implied age in the woman.
“I am Ildred Batalova, Shaman King of Kamedon.”
He spoke it forcefully and with conviction, and it did not sound practiced. But regardless, she cackled a defiant cackle. She clearly found humor in his statement.
“You are but a boy, son of Ivan. Touched by the gift of Oracle, you are. But never have you treated with the Totems. Nor have you convinced even your own council that your line is worthy of claiming noble blood. Seems to me you are neither a shaman nor a king.”
Frustrated by the truth of her words, especially those concerning his role as king, he dismounted Milosh and made his way to the fire that was rising from behind the cobbled stone mound. He rounded the corner to see an old lady with thin, white wisps of hair. Her skin was mottled with the spots of age and her eyes covered in a milky white. From her large nose came a large, fuzzy mole with two strands of dark hair extending from it. Her smile might have been better if she had no teeth. As it was they were blotched both gray and brown, and they were broken in several spots.
“What know you of me?”, he spat. “What is my power and position any concern of yours?”
And she continued to laugh.
“Was it not you that came to me, throwing your titles about? You’re proud, boy, and powerful, none of which are a detriment to one facing the challenges before you. Your inexperience and your ignorance are. The Power that you face is strong.”
Her tone becoming a shade more conciliatory. She stared at him for a moment. He stared back.
“I care not one whit whether you style yourself a king or a streetsweep. But you were born with the gift of Oracle. Blessing. Curse. Both are inescapable with one such as yourself. Much like the air meets the earth, and the way water is diminished to vapor by fire and yet reduces the fire to smoulder, so is Oracle. Do you understand me, Ildred?”
By now her voice was almost sympathetic.
“Not at all.” he said, quite confused. “Tell me woman, who are you?” He looked down, sternly.
“Worry not for who I am.” she snidely said with her hideous smile returning. “Dear, you should worry for what they are.” She pointed to behind Ildred.
He turned around and saw four shapes heading towards him. They looked something like people, but each one was rendered as an element. Air, Earth, Fire, and Water. They circled him, positioning their feet and adjusting their centers of gravity.
They closed their circle around him. Earth moved in first from behind in an attempt to grab Ildred’s arm but Ildred quickly spun bringing Stormwind down upon Earth’s own arm. Nothing happened but a few little sparks as Stormwind rang against Earth.
Fire made the next move as he positioned himself to tackle Ildred. Ildred tried to sidestep, but the weight of Stormwind’s momentum still coming off of Earth, was a detriment to his mobility. Fire caught Ildred right in the chest, taking him to ground. Ildred screamed in pain as Fire’s flames began tearing into his skin.
The old lady cackled harder and harder. Ildred did not hear her.
As it had many, many times before, Ildred’s mind began to cloud over. Thought and instinct melted away as he became a vessel for the most primal of fury. Body burning, he made the most guttural scream. He opened the palm of his free hand and began reaching for Fire’s chest, a crackling of red lightning forming around his hand as he did. He shoved his hand into Fire’s chest. The force alone threw Fire up high enough to free Ildred. But the red lightning was not as kind as it tore through Fire, escaped through his back and lit the sky of this plane of temporal and spatial ambiguity with the flaming red beacon of his god, Erastil.
Water came surging forward, grabbed Ildred by the back of the neck, and then gave him a head-butt. As he did Ildred’s nose and mouth were cut off from the air around him, his lungs began to fill with fluid, the water that Water was forcing into him. Ildred dropped to the ground, taking Water with him. He then wrestled himself into the dominant position atop Water. Steam began to fill the air as Water began to evaporate. Ildred had rolled Water right onto the still flaming corpse of Fire.
From nowhere Air came at him, the quickest thing he’d ever seen. Air drove his heel into Ildred’s collarbone with a crack. Then, with a fighting style Ildred would have never imagined in his wildest dreams, Air threw himself back, placing his arms behind him to catch himself, and then swung his other foot up to hit Ildred in the side of his face. Ildred, now caught in a lock between Air’s legs, tries to tear free. But Air lets his arms out from under him, allowing the momentum of the drop to aid in him in throwing Ildred forward, over Air, and onto the ground.
Ildred spent a brief second in a daze, but quickly righted himself onto his feet and into the waiting fist of Earth. The left side of his face exploded in pain. He never saw Air coming. With a foot to the back of the knee Air rendered Ildred back onto the ground. His mind still in a red haze, Ildred heard the faintest of calls. It was not words beckoning him, but impressions. It was Stormwind, the weapon he crafted with his own hand. Ildred released just a touch of his will into the axe. It hummed momentarily and then the ground began to surrender a thin layer of white cloud into the surround air.
Air’s movement became sluggish as his body began diluting into the thickening fog until it was indistinguishable from the environment around him. Ildred straightened himself, his eyes and mind back into focus, and raised his axe. A strong wind followed as he did so, blowing the fog away onto the horizon. Air was no more.
Only Earth remained, lumbering towards Ildred. Earth, slow but inevitable.
“I will fight you if I must, but I cannot defeat you. Not in my lifetime.” Ildred spoke calmly.
“What do you mean, boy?” asked the crone. Earth stopped moving.
Ildred winched, chest blistered from Fire’s tackle. “Fire. Wind. Water. They change by the season. By the moment. Earth is eternal. Against Earth the only true weapon is time. Only time can raise or crush the mountains. Only time can reduce stone to sand. A hundred of my lifetimes is not enough to defeat it.”
The area surrounding Ildred, Earth, and the crone exploded in color and sensation. Blues, purples, reds, and browns, all creating a cyclone of color around him. One by one each color filtered out of the cyclone and into Ildred, each leaving its own distinct marking on his body. His senses burned with supernatural acuity, seeing the world broken down in its basic elements.
The crone stood. “These that you have fought are the Wardens of the Four. Aspects of the great primordials that built the world. Though the primordials sleep in a slumber that, to you, might seem like an infinity of eternities, their Wardens roam the planes. They have found in you Ildred, son of Ivan, First of the Batalova, a worth they do not consider in most mortals. Should you seek it, they will commune with you, to grant you control over the elements.”
Ildred, eyes closed, began breathing deeply, mouthing words that contained no sound. His eyes opened furiously and it looked as though they burned with Fire. Milosh came galloping to his master and Ildred mounted him quickly. He rode off into the fog, back the way he came. He raised Stormwind with a yell and the ground beneath Milosh began to shift. It rose like a platform, higher and higher above the trees. It began to carry them even more quickly than Milosh’s gallop, though the horse did not stop.