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Seasonal Shennanigans Writing Contest 2020: VoidDancer's entry

It´s eerily quiet in the dark forest. The only sound is the rustling of a few dry leaves still clinging to mostly bare branches, the creaking of old tree trunks and the quiet murmur of water somewhere in the distance. It´s dark, the moon barely a sliver behind intermittend clouds. Alert eyes follow a lone figure slowly making their way through the forest, dead leaves crunching under their feet. Not many people dare set foot in this forest, stories of the beast guarding it have been told for generations and those few who dared venture in did not return as they were - if they returned. Their eyes would constantly wander, as if every shadow, every movement was suspicious, every moment not spend vigilant might spell their doom.

A shadow, deeper than the surrounding darkness, slunk between the tree trunks, the mist swirling close to the ground barely disturbed by its passing. Silent, invisible, deadly it prowled parallel to the figure still plodding along, watching, waiting. The figure did not stop or even turn, unaware or unafraid of the danger lurking in the shadows. That was not new, those who were foolish enough to enter seemed to always possess a certain kind of arrogance, surely their power would be a match to whatever it was that was guarding this forest. There were warriors, clad in thick armour with mighty weapons. Their bones were strewn across the forest floor, shields sundered, swords shattered and rusting. There were mages, powerful auras surrounding them, spells and words of power on their tongues. They rested next to the warriors, charms broken and voices long silenced. Last there were those who thought stealth was the key, shrouded in shadows and steps silent. Their efforts were in vain, the guardian ever watchful, ever aware of anyone entering their realm.

The guardian sniffed. This new wanderer smelled of magic. There was no subtlety in their movements, no effort to hide their presence. A mage then. Powerful muscles coiled, ready to pounce. The wanderer stopped, head turning. The guardian stopped, just a shadow in the darkness. “I know you are there.” a gravelly voice announced. “You will let me pass.“ There was no emotion behind those words, no fear, no bravado. The guardian stayed hidden, frozen in their crouch. The wanderer´s eyes, a glowing an eerie red, looked directly in its direction for a moment longer, before they turned and continued on their way as if nothing had happened. With a fluid motion the guardian jumps to land in front of the intruder. It towers over them, a deep growl rumbling deep in its chest as razor sharp teeth snap are bared. “You know I cannot do that, mortal.”

The wanderer did not even flinch but sighed quietly. “I am sorry.” The deep regret in these words confused the guardian and it let out another snarl, raising its giant paw to swipe at this insolent fool. The movement is interrupted abruptly though. Excruciating pain tears through its body and mind, blinding in its intensity. The mighty creature feels something it has not felt in centuries, sheer and utter panic as its soul is torn from its body. It is over in seconds. The wanderer looks on in deep regret, holding aloft a dark orb. It is inky black, deeper than the surrounding darkness, the strange object seemingly absorbing what little light there is. Tendrils of darkness surround it, retracting from where they had wrapped around the figure of the guardian, its body now still and lifeless on the forest floor.

Alcor slowly lowers his paw, the orb back to its dormant state, an innocuous looking black stone. “Carry on.” It´s not a real voice but it´s intention is just as clear as if the words were spoken. He tries to resist but he knows it is futile and his body turns to make its way to the heart of the forest. “I really am sorry.” He says, knowing that the guardian´s soul would still be aware inside the orb, if not for long. “I don´t know quite what it is but you have felt its power. I found the orb at the heart of a meteorite and the moment I touched it…I have been its puppet for so long.” He trails off. “I wish you had been right, “ – a wry chuckle – “I wish I was still mortal. To know there was an end to this.”

There is a break in the trees up ahead, a clearing dominated by the ruins of what was once a temple. “I wonder what it is you were guarding. I dread to find out.” He trails off. He feels the deep compulsion to make his way over to a specific part of the ruins. A slab of white marble, shot through with dark veins that make it look almost organic. “Open it.” Again, there is no resisting. Alcor can feel the guardian´s soul rebelling inside the orb, the desperate energy enough to be felt on the surface. It won´t be any use. “I am sorry.” He repeats, as empty as those words are. He moves his paws in practiced gestures, drawing symbols in the air that start abruptly glow red and the heavy marble slab floats weightlessly to the side to reveal what is clearly a crypt. White bones shimmer in the weak moonlight, thrumming with power still contained in them after centuries of being entombed.

Without his consent his paws lift the orb again, the black tendrils once again reaching out. He can feel the guardian´s soul getting weaker, consumed by whatever magic is at work. The blackness wraps around the bones, fills the cracks, condenses around them. The process is slow but the dark shadows replace muscles and tendons, tissue and skin. Before his horrified eyes a monster made from black magic and bones rises, stretches out its limbs, long talons clicking, head turning as if scenting the air. The orb is plucked from his hands and the moment the creature takes hold of it it´s eyes start to glow a deep red, full of intelligence where before there had just been animal instinct. “Finally.” is the last thing he hears.