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The Warlock and the Bleakwood

Subject: The Warlock and the Bleakwood on 04/01/2022 01:48 AM EDT
Category: Cities, Towns, and Outposts
Topic: Wehnimer's Landing
Post: 15315

Click. Click. Click.

Brackish water clomped under the heavy stride of a fiery-eyed nightmare steed, ignoring the bubbling springs and muck around its hooves. The steam from its nostrils mixed into the mist, the sulfurous vapors, the rancid and noxious decay of the woods. It stomped over the fallen trees and thick branches. Here the forest canopy obscured the moons and the world was lit instead with phosphorescent toadstools. It was almost otherworldly. But not otherworldly enough. Hissing overhead were brilliant green vipers, fangs glistening with venom. Uselessly. Impotently. Without destiny. It was all wrong. That was not the venom we were seeking tonight.

Riding out into the settlement from the blackberry bushes, the warlock pressed his vruul hide boots into the undead steed, halting it with a light pull of the scorched reins. He reached into his satchel and pulled out a small bloody bird heart, feeding it to the steed which gnashed and chewed on it loudly. Twigs snapped. Frightened, an elven child fled, vanishing into the tents. He dug his heels in and continued onward toward the fog.

There in the thick wall of ethereal fog was that odd stirring of mana that brought to mind those half-memories of his forgotten past lives. Nanrithowan, the hierophants called them, wards of disorientation. Hordes of orcs and direbeasts. The capricious fey of the biannual foolery twisted with demonic corruption. It was all fragments in his mind of what was once known, or else only the hallucinations of fever dreams. Whether he had once been the one the wood elves called Myrdanian, or other such figures lost in the unwritten annals of the Age of Chaos, he could no longer remember. It was irrelevant. As it was, so it will be. How fortuitous it was that the great barrier of Yuriqen should fail, here and only here, in the borderlands of the Silver Veil at this moment in history. In the west rose the Deadfall. In the east will rise the Bleakwood.

Wraithlike mists swirled around as the mount pressed deeper into the accursed woods, passing through the sea of shadows and fog into the inner weald. Weak animalistic whimpering is heard off in the distance. Demonic growls. Giggling of children. Here the trees were blood red and covered in dried black ichor, as though the sap were the tears of the forest, bent to the will of the primordial shadows or the black blood of the ancients in all their incomprehensible terror. The world had not known such greatness since the Age of Darkness.

Click. Click. Click.

The fell steed marched past tangled wreaths of barbed vines and shriveled black leaves, often with little creatures impaled on their thorns, such as rabbits being slowly drained of their life essence. There were subtle movements in the underbrush as they passed. In the distance a shrike ripped the flesh of small birds with broken necks, secured in the barbs far below their now empty nest. The warlock halted again just before the village of the damned. He twisted his hand in a cruel gesture, and the birds exploded into a bloody mist. He dismounted from the night hound hide saddle, and he turned to the red hued trees. He slowly began harvesting their black ichor into glass vials.

"Glethad will be speaking tonight on what he learned in the Ithzir world..." the warlock thought to himself, "... or so they are saying. But then we saw some of what Stone learned when he bled Thrayzar." Favor owed and a debt repaid. Whatever comes of this nonsense the Alchemist left him with, it will be nothing but a glorious entertainment. The cocoon will hatch. The blood harvest will be reaped. In the end it will be the sentinels and the threads of heaven.

In truth he had not received this formula of Fortney's, nor had he ever expected to receive it. "When you use the aid of a man like Grishom Stone, he merely removes one cup of dirt from your grave, while adding two more." Immense irony. One might even call it hypocrisy. But he was not truly speaking of Stone. It had only taken Fortney a matter of weeks to invent that formula, having started with no base of knowledge other than his experiments on Thrayzar. The warlock had watched the progression of his weapons research, while contributing only minimally to the task of curing the Bourth heiress. Epochxin. Restorative potion, self-cannibalized into oily black ichor, collapsing into ash. The witch's leprosy, the blackblood.

He had all but reinvented the Blue Suffer before Kragnack hit the deck of the Titan. Of course, he had kept the poison itself, even samples of those killed by all the poisons. It was not a question of making it into a contagion. That was Naimorai's curse. No. It was making it contagious without killing absolutely everyone in the whole world. Raznel was able to control the blackblood blight with her own blood. But without that, running amok?

Fortney kept it as narrow as he could. Human and krol blood has mixed for five hundred years, and gods only know how much more prior, as the ancestors of reivers have been in the western seas for tens of thousands of years. In the highlands and the coastal lands there are untold traces of krolvin blood from half-krol breeding back into the human bloodlines. For a single poison to be so indiscriminate as to slay all krolvin, and all half-krolvin, without in turn slaying huge swathes of the human population? Such a refinement might take decades and horrific experiments on imprisoned human and krolvin together. Would the Alchemist even have had the steel for such a grand design? Would he have truly entrusted such a crime against humanity to the Dreadlord?

The warlock reached again into his coat and removed a shard of oblivion quartz, looking away from it as he began grinding it with a mortar and pestle. Stalking in the ghostly fog, there were sounds of sniffing, and a low fierce growling. Shaping out of ethereal mists, a monstrous direwolf approached. The nightmare steed stared ahead with its fiery eyes, as if oblivious or blithely indifferent to its surroundings. The wolf crept past the nest of vaporized birds, moving itself into position for lunging.

Suddenly a writhing dreamvine lashed out and ensnared the startled direwolf, who growled and lashed against the barbed vines as they wrapped around it, but was soon subdued with the soporific twinkling dust of the dreamvines. The warlock turned and cast a dull grey beam at the wolf's chest, ripping it open and causing the vines to explode with dust. With that cue the nightmare steed walked over to the still breathing direwolf and bloodily chewed its way through its internal organs. The warlock knelt down and scraped the powdered dust into the mortar with the oblivion quartz, then he stood up and mounted the nightmare steed once more as it fed. His hand now burned with greenish-black flames. He lit the mortar, and inhaled the incense.

He balled the flames in his hand and stared into the darkness. The world around him slowly bled away and time ceased to have meaning. Amorphous forms began to appear in the black flames, resembling enormous spheres of obsidian. Click. Click. Click. Clicking echoes from the floating spheres of darkness. Now eyes begin appearing in the spheres, hundreds of them, misshapen and malformed. Multihued. Red, white, yellow, grey. The central eye rolling back and forth. The maws glistening with black ichor. Fangs. Venom.

His vision fell through the maw of the shadow demon, and in its inky darkness he fell, falling and falling into the infinite void of blackness. He floated in the black heart of nothingness. Manifest images formed around him. There is a half-krolvin with frazzled white fur, quickly falling out in patches. His flesh thins and his eyes become opaque with a thin film, and then he crumbles into dust. There is a young girl with an eye patch. Her hair turns frazzled white and begins to fall out. Her eyes become opaque with thin film, her flesh thins and she rapidly ages. "Arrgh!" She sails on a ship. The black arrow fires from between two warehouses, grazes her neck and melts away entirely. He watches Brieson pour a vial of bubbling black liquid into a narrow fissure in a crystal coffin with the girl inside it and seal it back up. He witnesses Praxopius rolling his wheelchair, smelling the pungent odor of bubbling tubes of tar-like black ichor.

"There." His voice echoed into the void, even though there were no walls. He held his dark obelisk crystal and turned it.

Black tar-like liquid seeps along Drangell's flesh. His hair falls out in clumps. The black liquid drips off him, patches of it on his skin, and his flesh slowly rots in circles around them. He is stabbed. Black liquid spills out. He is killed. He is healed. He is killed. He is healed. He is killed. He stops rising. His throat erupts with vile black liquid and his teeth rapidly rot. His flesh melts away, pouring out more black liquid. His eyes burst. Drangell starts to laugh but collapses into a tar-like lump of flesh that dissipates away into nothingness.

Rysus tries to laugh, black liquid spills from his throat. He is stabbed. Oily black ichor spills out. His flesh flakes away. His teeth crumble to dust. His hand falls off and disintegrates. His body collapses into ash. Kragnack's tendril arm disappears. His chest collapses. Kragnack laughs and laughs. He crumbles into ash. Praxopius laughs and laughs. His flesh flakes away. His body crumbles. Chaston's abdomen collapses. His eyes go black, he drips ichor. He collapses into a pile of black tar. There is a blinding blood red light into the darkness and the world explodes.

The warlock walks in a vast plain of broken dirt under bleak slate-whorled skies. Oily black trees sprout up around him. Time shifts back and forth. Church bells ring in the distance, tears in the veil reveal the shadow realm of Althedeus. He clasps his hand around the bleakstone obelisk crystal and turns it.

He looks upon a wall of flesh with thousands of crystal eyes, and hundreds of thin red veins, ripping into and draining a heavily scarred human man with missing eyes. His forms bleeds away and becomes a young woman suspended with hundreds of thin black veins. Her eyes bloodshot, her face red but pale. Bulbous black worms with incarnadine rings leech blood from her body. "You will be the last. I promise." Pylasar vainly hopes. "The Ageless One is not known for his mercy in what he taught me." Epochxin. Everblood. Paragons. The Bleaklands. The Wizardwaste. The Southron Wastes. Despana the plague lord. Orchestrating solutions to cause the next stage of your own designs. Manipulating history with divination. There were so many lessons.

"Concentrate." Naimorai coldly glared as she heard that insufferable brat down the hall. "Arrrgh! ... What.. what happened?! Daddy! Where are you?! ... Arrrgh!" Her hands and arms spontaneously covered in blisters. "Concentrate!" The warlock's voice echoed. Naimorai tenses and touches two kestrels, one with each hand. The first flutters. The other rips apart with rot and festering sores.

He grips his blood marble obelisk crystal and his eyes swirl with black flames. The woman bleeds away and becomes replaced with a half-krolvin male with large onyx-hued eyes, covered with scratches and small wounds, stabbed with a thin black-bladed dagger. Kept alive and siphoned of black liquid. His body bleeds away and he is replaced with a human male, his head crowned with scars, hundreds of thin veins siphoning his blood. The warlock tilts his head north. The scenery melts away and replaces itself with an armored wagon. Buried within the invar weapons is tar-like black salve.

The ground trembles around him and chunks of rock rip up into the air. Rising on the iceberg of broken earth, airships of human design rise up alongside, with pylons for cannons. Golems man the pylons which glow with the power of plinite, firing devastating blasts onto warships and settlements below the clouds. They drop barrels from the cargo holds. Vast explosions of elemental fury annihilate everything below. Krolvin run around with festering wounds, their flesh erupting with white maggots. The land itself decays away. The crops fail. Wildlife fall dead and rot. The seas turn bloody. The fish all die. Krolvin kill and eat each other on their ships. Half-krolvin run through human cities, smearing their blood on every human they encounter, before being cut down by guards. Humans become covered in scales and blebs, dark yellow nodules, their eyes and gums bleed. Body parts swell. The blood turns black, their flesh flakes and crumbles, their bodies collapse into black ash.

The black flames in his hand burn out. "That would work." He thinks to himself. Paragon reduction, Everblood, anti-Everblood. Epochxin. The warlock caps the vials of black ichor from the trees. That might work, as well. He kicks his boots into the nightmare steed, which grudgingly stops eating the direwolf, giving a hateful snort. Growling rumbles ten yards away. Hulking form of a direbear, standing itself up on its hind legs. The warlock turns toward it and stares coldly with his black eyes. The direbear sinks back down to the ground, turns and wanders off.

Click. Click. Click.

The nightmare steed walks into the fog once more, and the warlock waves his hand, vanishing them back into the shadows. Where they have always been.