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Ascent of Evil

Prologue - Part I

The human attack did not come as a surprise. The rumble of galloping horses could be heard echoing through the trees long before the marauders descended on the village. The elohin knew that any claim to pacifism would be met only with death, so they armed themselves and waited.

Lehohina stood with sword and shield, waiting with one of the smaller groups for the humans' arrival. The sword trembled in her grasp as she peered through the trees, listening to the rumble growing louder, closer. Cold sweat clung to her skin, her heart hammered against her breast. The fear of the impending violence combined with the dread of seeing a human for the first time. Would they be monstrous, like the orcs, or were they bestial, like bald apes, as was sometimes said.

She felt adrenalin coursing through her in a torrent, making her flesh buzz and her head spin. She glanced around briefly at those around her to see them all fidgeting, pacing on the spot, murmuring to themselves.

She looked over to another group, some paces away, in which Yanovilas, her brother, waited. She saw him standing, sword in hand, no less frightened than herself. He turned towards her and they exchanged smiles. She did not feel reassured.

There was a buzz in the air, and Lehohina noticed one of the defenders making gestures that suggested she was summoning the Life-magic, perhaps to calm herself, perhaps to strengthen herself. She thought it slightly offensive to use the magic to assist in combat, but didn't say anything.

She thought of her mother, Dantolinne, who was elsewhere in the village. At four and a half centuries, she was perhaps too old to fight with sword, so she waited further back as an archer.

She recalled her father, the only man she had known who was versed in the arts of combat. She tried to calm herself by remembering what he had taught her.

The ground was beginning to shake, slightly, but perceptibly. Signs of movement could be discerned in the far distance. Lehohina and the rest of her group readied themselves. There was a palpable tension in the air as they all waited, seemingly without breathing, for the death that was to come.

Then suddenly, seemingly from everywhere, it came.

They descended upon the village like a stampede, blades slicing at everything they could reach, torches igniting anything they could burn. Screams of rage filled the air, to mix with the thunder of galloping horses, the clashing of swords and the cries of the defenders. Men, women, children, all fell victim to the onslaught of the usually discriminatory humans.

Lehohina spun wildly, lashing out at anything on horseback. Everywhere she turned there seemed to be a blade swinging for her. For every sword she dodged, every attacker she evaded, there was another and another. She couldn't think, she merely reacted, flinching and dodging from any movement.

All around her was noise, shouts and screams, the clash of metal. Horses thundered past her, carving the grass into mud. The elohin fell about her, cut down as they ran.

She staggered blindly, stumbling in the mud, tripping over the fallen. Somehow she managed to keep her shield up, feeling the jarring blows of maces or the dull thuds of quarrels.

One foot slipped out from under her and she fell into a warm puddle. The smell of fresh blood suddenly filled her nose, merging with that of burning trees and her own sweat.

She began to crawl along the ground, keeping her shield over her head, hoping the humans would remain on their horses. Stumbling over bodies, blinking away the smoke from her eyes, she somehow found a spot under a tree where the fighting seemed not to reach.

She sat and leaned against the tree. She glanced around to regain her bearings. By chance she was quite close to her own tree. With a little caution she could reach it, and perhaps find some degree of safety.

No-one appeared to look her way as she got up and, flitting from tree to tree, she traversed the hundred paces to her tree.

On reaching it, she gave a last look around, then ran up the stairs that spiralled around the trunk, and into her house.

There she stopped and got her first real chance to catch her breath. She was gasping, her head spun, her heart beat wildly. With an effort, she caught her breath and calmed herself sufficiently to summon the Life-magic. She focused it inwards to slow her heartbeat and ease the pressure on her lungs. After a moment, her body was functioning calmly, and Lehohina could think more clearly. She dissipated the Life-magic and moved to the window.

She got her first objective view of the battle, and it struck her with horror.

The humans were on the rampage. Corpses lay everywhere, heads chopped from necks, limbs hacked from torsoes. The earth was coloured with the light pink elohin blood. The small, compact internal organs were strewn as if they had leapt from their hosts. The village became a place for the study of anatomy, but the humans were not here to learn.

She saw Healers in the midst of the slaughter, trying to save or return the lives of the fallen. Their efforts were great, but their reward was death as their diverted attentions cost them their heads. She longed to help, to lend her own abilities, but she saw the carnage, and the futility.

She caught sight of her mother ducking and weaving through the battle, much as she herself had been doing. She could see her panic in the way she fell blindly from one attacker to another. She was caught by a man, a Summoner called Heldoron. She panicked, but he held her until she realised who he was. She smiled at him briefly, then convulsed suddenly as she was cut down from behind. Heldoron looked stunned as she slipped from his grasp, then fell as a quarrel pierced his throat.

"NO!"

Lehohina cried out, but her voice was lost amongst the shouts and screams below. She stared hopelessly at her mother's body. Her back was gashed open, her mouth was wide, silently screaming as the deepening pool of blood crept up over the rim of her lips.

Stunned beyond thought, she turned back to watching.

The defenders were fighting hard and the humans fell by the dozen; but the elohin fell by the score.

The spilt blood and gore made the ground wet and slippery, footing became treacherous and many were falling through clumsiness rather than fatality. But the one brought the other. The forest floor began to be obscured by the bodies, bodies of humans, bodies of horses, but mostly those of the elohin.

Amidst the death walked a man with eyes of sulphur. Even from her hiding place in the branches, Lehohina could see him clearly. His body suggested he had been a boy not long since, but he killed with the air of a man who had been doing it for a lifetime.

He strode through the carnage like the eye of a storm, casually beheading anyone who came within reach, occasionally pausing to watch a victim in their death throes, before splitting them neck to groin.

He kicked his way into a ground-level hut. For a moment she could not see him, but he promptly reappeared with fresh blood across his face. He stood for a moment, surveying the destruction, seeking something. His eyes drifted left and right, then up.

Lehohina ducked back out of sight, jerked out of her trance by the fear she might be seen. For a long moment she hesitated. She could hear the sounds of battle, the crashes, the screams. The smell of burning flesh mingled sickly with smoke from the trees. She could almost feel the yellow-eyed man walking outside, looking for a victim. She wanted to look, but was afraid she might reveal herself.

She shifted herself, turned to look up at the window, and after an instant of indecision she raised herself, and once more looked onto the death below.

Again the sight of chaos stunned her, a mass of people swarming and killing. She searched through the bodies, standing and lying, trying to sort out who was human and who was elohin.

Her eyes met his, sapphire met amber. Shock, horror and nausea swept through her, fighting for supremacy as his gaze cut into her, violating her soul. He smiled, and every evil committed by humanity was reflected in his face. He held her transfixed, then broke off to stride towards her home.

Lehohina was seized by the claws of panic. She rushed to the door, then back, to a cupboard and grabbed a large knife, then dropped it. She stood frozen for a second, then moved to look out of the window.

He was ascending.

She stammered nonsensically, then picked up her largest chair and dragged it towards the door. A pace from the door, she heard his boot-steps outside, then he entered.

With one blow, the door was forced open, but stopped short as it hit the chair. The man roared through the narrow opening, then pushed, once, then again, forcing the opening wider. Lehohina stood helplessly in the middle of the floor, then turned and again picked up the knife as, with a crash, the man with eyes of rape violated her sanctuary.

For an instant they stood and looked at each other, then in a single motion he leapt across the room.

She lashed out with the knife, cutting a gash in his chest. Blood flowed, and the man screamed in rage, grabbing the knife, wrenching it from her grip.

With his free hand he struck her. Dizziness and nausea rushed to her head and she fell. He reached for her hair, but she squirmed away, crawling towards the fallen knife.

A booted foot stamped down on her hand. She cried out as the man took up the knife and hurled it through the window.

He straddled her, grabbed both wrists and twisted her to face him. She kicked up at his groin, but there was a clang and pain as she struck metal.

He lowered himself onto her, pinning her legs with his, holding her wrists above her.

Without conscious thought she summoned the Element-magic into her hand, shaping it into a blade and stabbing the man's arm.

With a shout of surprise he recoiled, then struck her again. With the shock of pain she dropped her makeshift knife, and it skittered away.

Again he struck her, and she tasted blood. Again, and her vision blurred. Again, and she felt wetness against her cheek.

The world seemed to shift sickly. She felt sharp metal brush her side and heard the ripping of cloth. She felt cold air, then hot weight against her belly.

Suddenly there was a wrench and she was torn open. Her whole body was rammed upwards by the force of the man's entry. Her head banged against the wooden floor, and the world swam. The sounds of battle faded to a murmur and the pain inside her dissolved.

As her mind fell away she detected a change in the sounds of carnage outside. The shouts of rage were becoming shouts of fear, and there was a feel to the air, a certain charged energy, that could only mean one thing.

Magic is a powerful force. It can bring the dead back to life, conjure images of great ugliness or beauty, summon creatures from the furthest reaches of this or any other universe.

It can also kill.

The tide of destruction began to turn as the elohin cast their principles aside. In the face of slaughter, the ideal of magic being as sacred as life was forgotten. To prevent themselves falling prey to the humans, they became worse than humans. The slaughter became theirs.

Creators brought forth balls of flame to burn neat holes in the humans. Showers of knives tore them to ribbons. Conjurers created dragons from nowhere, instilling terror that proved lethal. The attackers found their bodies falling to pieces, ripped apart by the Life-magic. Their heads exploded, their hearts imploded. They saw elohin growing to the height of trees, sprouting wings and claws. Summoners called demons from the savage realms that tore through the ranks, devouring lives like fruit.

Within the space of a moment, the enjoyers of a one-sided victory were suffering a one-sided defeat.

And they fled.

In the blackened remnants of the village the elohin were recovering from the slaughter. Creators brought the fires under control, Summoners dispatched the hell-born minions they had called for assistance, Healers did what they could for the scores of dead and dying. There was an air of defeat clouding them all, as they began the process of reassembling their lives.

Lehohina Dantolinne lay naked and alone. The noises outside had dwindled to a subdued hush, and after a time it filtered through to her that the fighting was over.

She felt blood on her cheek and against her thigh. Her eyes were open, but her vision was a blurred fog. She wiped away the blood and reality began to fade into focus.

She spent a moment in thought, gazing at the patterns in the ceiling, breathing in the stillness, feeling the silence of the air.

She summoned the Life-magic and began examining herself, correcting any damage that the man had caused, sealing up cuts, coaxing away bruises. At her womb she stopped.

There was a life, or at least the potential for a life. A creature of elohin and human, an unnatural creature, but a life nonetheless. It would die without her help, but she was a Healer, and had a duty.

For a moment she remained in indecision. What manner of creature would result from such an unnatural union? Would it survive in the world? Would it survive in the community? Did she have the right to bring it into the world when it may know only suffering?

She felt the weight of Destiny was on her shoulders, she felt there was more at stake than she knew, but finally her principles won through.

She focused the Life-magic and, watched only by the gods, forged the life of the creature of violence.

And Destiny smiled.

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