They entered a wide space that would have been a meadow had it not been for the spreading boughs of the incredible tree that rose above them. Although it was still far off, Callindra estimated that it was nearly a thousand feet high and the trunk at least five hundred feet thick. The branches above gave shelter from direct sun, and beautiful swards of green grass spread out before them.
The moment that she was brought beneath the branches of the Grandfather Tree, the Countess was awake. The light of insanity shone behind her eyes, but she made no movement, watching the approach of a delegation of some import approaching from the direction of the tree. She was quiet while Vilhylm lifted her from the back of the horse and she stood quietly while Latoran greeted the Elf man who seemed to be old.
He had slight wrinkle lines around his eyes and his hair was purely white. For a human he would have looked just past middle age, but based on what she’d seen of the other Elves with their perfect skin and straw blonde hair he was ancient. After a short conference with Latoran he turned toward them.
“I am Luaga. I take it this is the patient?” He gave Adbar a cursory glance.
“This is the Countess Adbar.” Tryst confirmed, “I am Tryst Te’Chern, this is my brother Cronos. These area Vilhylm and Callindra, my other companions. We have journeyed far to reach you and to seek your council.”
They were interrupted by a guttural laugh from the Countess’s mouth. “You fools have brought me here? In spite of what remained of this vessel’s animal instinct that fought you every step of the way I have been brought here, to stand beneath the shelter of the first living thing’s arms.”
Luaga’s eyes widened in surprise, “Who is this that you have brought here?” His eyes narrowed, “What exactly have you allowed to come into this most holy presence?”
“I will allow the blood of my servant to summon the things that must come.” The same guttural voice shouted at a volume that made Callindra’s ears ring. It made her vision blur and she was only barely conscious of Luaga incanting a spell and the Elves drawing arrows.
“NO!” Callindra shouted, “Whatever she carries said it needs her blood! We can’t allow her blood to spill here!”
The Countess’s wrists parted and her bonds snapped as though made of embroidery thread. “My will shall NOT be denied!” She shouted. They watched in terror as she reached her hand to her throat and tore out the veins with her manicured nails. Her voice shrieked impossibly high and shrill in pain and triumph.
Vilhylm fell to his knees, sobbing and trying to stem the flow of blood with his hands. Tryst attempted to cast a healing spell, but it failed to take effect. The bubbling laughter of the Countess echoed wetly throughout the clearing and the spreading pool of blood began to shine with tiny motes of emerald light.
“Get back! GET BACK!” Callindra yelled desperately, “Something’s happening! Something terrible is coming!” The winds flared around her and she drew Brightfang from his sheath. Drawing on the well of power within her and focusing it through the carved stone on the pommel of her sword. The very winds themselves gathered around her, lending her their strength and speed.
The tiny motes came out as a cloud of fireflies that glimmered beautifully in the twilight. As they rose into the air, a massive hand of blackened flesh with veins of sickly green fire pulsing from within stretched from within the pool of the Countess’s blood. The flickering green bodies of the insects began to land on anything that was alive. Plants withered and died at their touch and when they touched exposed skin they brought pain.
The screaming began immediately, but Callindra was focusing on the monstrous golem that was pulling itself from the portal formed by the Countess’s lifeblood. Its eyes were pits of emerald fire and even as it crawled free of the gore on the ground it raised its head and roared in rage. More of the tiny insects streamed from its mouth, spreading death and pain wherever they landed. With an answering battle cry Callindra leaped to the attack, Brightfang swinging in a perfect arc of silver.
“WAIT!” Luaga’s voice was loud enough for Callindra to hear but she ignored it, instead springing forward to slash the monster across the hamstring. Instead of the deadly strike she had been hoping for, she was greeted by a cloud of tiny glowing green insects. They settled on the exposed skin of her arms and pain burst along them like she had thrust them into burning flames.
Callindra screamed in pain and summoned threads of Weave from the flat of Brightfang’s blade. A blast of wind exploded from him, driving the bugs from her flesh and leaving ugly red welts in their place. Stumbling backwards, she saw another shape emerging from the massive wall that was the trunk of the Tree.
“Your filth has no place here vermin!” The figure said, and the words held Power that rippled across the clearing.
“Oh foolish Goddess.” A dread voice rippled from within the pool of the Countess’s blood, “Manifesting thyself here on the Prime? No wonder thou art so weak.”
Whatever the … Goddess? said in reply was in a language Callindra and her friends did not understand but it angered the golem.
“Then I shall CRUSH thee and BURN thy precious tree!” It roared, the sound of it making their bones rattle within their bodies. One step brought it close enough to swing a vast fist at the tiny form that stood defiantly next to the tree, but that blow never fell.
Branches sprang from the trunk of the Grandfather Tree to form a protective barrier between the Goddess and the monster while roots erupted from the ground to wrap around the golem’s arms and legs. Callindra was vaguely aware of her friends attacking the insects however they could, but she was focused only on the monster in front of her. The roots had dragged one of its arms down close to the ground.
Grinning, she ran forward and up the roots toward the golem’s arm. Perhaps if the legs weren’t vulnerable the head would be. Just before she reached the monster’s bound hand, the roots snapped and the hand flung into the air with the force of a catapult’s throwing arm. Callindra flew skyward, surprised to find that she wasn’t afraid. It was as though she belonged here, flying free.
The winds gathered around her, allowing some measure of control over her fall. Instead of aiming for somewhere moderately safe or attempting to slow her fall, Callindra aimed for the back of the golem. It had leaned down and was breathing out clouds of bright green insects onto the shield that protected the Goddess below.
With a wild shout of abandon, she plunged down toward the monster, placing her feet on the dull back side of her blade. As she fell down towards its unprotected back Callindra drew upon the force of the wind that tore at her face and forced it into Brightfang. Arcane Power exploded from her blade as his tip plunged into its flesh and she unleashed it into her enemy.
It roared in rage and pain, arching its back. Gold light emanated from the Goddess in front and Callindra saw something flickering just behind the Golem’s knee joints that hadn’t been there a moment before. She swung first left, then right, hacking through the cords of Emerald green light. With a groan that made her teeth ache, the golem crumbled into pieces that exploded into thousands more insects.
Looking around, she saw dozens of Druids laying on the ground, covered in biting insects. She fell to her knees, hundreds of the bugs biting and stinging, their poison burning in her veins. The last thing Callindra saw was a beautiful golden radiance that seemed to be coming from everywhere and a calm, beautiful voice assuring her that everything would be fine. The feeling of the myriad of tiny feet rending flesh accompanied her on her way to an uneasy unconsciousness.