The Dreadwood.

A fowl name for an equally fowl place. Blackblade had heard it mentioned before, albeit in whispers, and fleetingly. Those who had survived the worst of its evil allure spit their words like bile when describing it… wishing desperately that they would not be expected to dwell on those dark memories for too long.

And these people were simply forest stragglers who wandered too far off from the winding road… just glimpsing the forest in the distance.

She… she had survived it.

He looked to the assassin who sat there on her bed, spent and broken. She had entered that nest of malevolence and silently slipped out again. She had survived. Physically, at the least. He wondered if her mind was as fortunate. Even though madness had not gripped her, there was something about her vulnerability that teetered on the brink. For an assassin, that meant death. Her skills in the alley had been impressive, and perhaps had he been anyone else, he would have been left painting the cobblestones red. Instead, after negating her assault, they had taken respite in her quarters after his true identity was revealed.

Blackblade had to admit that it was an effective divergence to mislead the imperial mages that were spying on him. In the presence of a witch-hunter — trained to be invisible to their quarry — he was untraceable for the time being. The assassin was by no means a mage, but her spells were masterfully woven to accomplish her purposes: concealment, speed, silence, and lethality. As devastating as spellcasters were in any confrontation, even the most talented could not outcast the agile attacks of an opponent in the dark. And the dark was as much a weapon to the assassin as was her blade.

…until the darkness itself rose as an opponent, as it did for her within that dreaded place.

If perhaps not for footfalls that mirrored those of the horrors she had seen within that wood, she may have been discovered. But she escaped. Barely. And with her sanity slipping, she had ventured to the Capital. Without food, without drink, without rest… without hope.

Perhaps that was what he saw, as he looked at her: a soul fire that had been stolen. And a blemish that had been cast on her purpose…enough to blot out her reasons for staying alive. What tragedy had she endured?

No assassin would have willingly taken on a suspected demon in disguise, as she had intended in that alley. It was a fatalistic folly. She was overcome by rage, a puppet to her own emotions. The only difference was that she managed to channel that anger in a deadly and focused attack. Blackblade was sure she would have lasted longer than any other within her trade, even against a foe from hell. But she would still have likely only proven herself to be a thorn within the demon’s side.

She was not forthcoming on the exact nature of the wayward monsters she had witnessed in the woods, but by her descriptions alone Blackblade was given pause. If the Blights were awake, then the fate of the world was dangling precariously close to the edges of chaos unbeknownst to the mortals who now occupied its guardianship. What was more unsettling, was that tales of the Dreadwood had been alive for yearsAnd, he thought as a chill ran down his spine, perhaps even for a century…

One truth was dawning in its certainty: they were vulnerable; the coat of idleness had been ripped from their shoulders. And if they were to survive, if they were to stand against this tide of evil – then they would need to don a valiant resolve that few seemed capable of mustering…

He had but finished the thought, when the silence was cracked by the distant echo of rolling thunder…

In the blink of an eye the assassin was at the ready, seemingly awoken from the debilitating trance of which she had been a captive in her sorrow. She had drawn both her daggers, panting wildly… He then saw for the first time how the argent silver of its surface was flooded with intricate sorcery , glowing a nightshade violet that supressed his magical senses, even while he was standing on the other side of the room. Coated in her venomous magic, the Viper stood ready to strike with teeth bared.

Well, he thought, perhaps I underestimated her…

He took small comfort in her reflexive skillsets. It would keep her alive. Perhaps, it would even save him as well. No stormcloud graced the sky… not for miles. Which meant that the echoing clang could only be the conjuring of violent sorcery.

Of one thing, Blackblade had no doubt. And that was that only a dragon could summon such titanic power to be felt across so many leagues. Yet, no dragon would ever reveal themselves in such show of power. Not openly. Not unless the need was so very dire… So, who was the orchestrator of this booming symphony?

The coat of idleness had indeed fallen… It seemed.

Inktober #27

You may want to read the following connected stories within the Inktober series:

  • Pattern (link here)
  • Overgrown (link here)
  • Treasure (link here)
  • Ancient (link here)