Kingmaker

The Path

Beneath the moon, where spirits dance.

The flickering spirits danced and swirled around Gravefoot and Ahghir. Gravefoot’s grasp on his mace tightened as they flickered at the edge of his vision. His hands had grown clammy and a cold sweat beaded on his brow. Gravefoot could not tell if the deepening shadows were causing the chill or if it was his own growing unease with the realization that the spirits were not just random apparitions but were guiding them along an unseen path. For his part the Kobold shaman seemed unconcerned by the shades, but he could not conceal a small flinch with each drumbeat that echoed through the trees.

The sweet stink of moldering plants began played upon Gravefoot’s nostrils, and the sounds of the nocturnal animals faded away to an unnatural quiet, leaving only the steady thrum of the drumbeat. Ground beneath Gravefoot grew soggy and damp, and the trees slowly receded until the soggy ground became a stagnant, swamp-like pond.

The flickering shades fanned around the pond. Their ethereal dance continuing to the sound of the drumbeat, which built in intensity until its beat thrummed through Gravefoot’s mind. At the pool’s edge the spirits parted and Ahghir strode into the stagnant waters with grave purpose.

Gravefoot hesitated only a moment then set his jaw, plunging in after the shaman. The brackish water rising to his thighs. Ahghir little more than a bobbing head above the water continued forward, as behind them the circle of dancing spirits closed. The unnatural chill in Gravefoot intensified as he made out a dim shape in the center of the pool.

Growing nearer the drumbeat slowed, each beat becoming heavier. An insect-like drone joined the sound, and Gravefoot shook his head in a futile attempt to clear the sensations that had begun to overwhelm his senses.

Slowly the grim pair reached the still object in the pond: a dead unicorn. The once majestic creature sprawled in the pool, its horn broken off at the brow and its body strangely untouched by insects or necrosis. As Gravefoot drew closer he realized the stink of mold came not from the body, which was strangely odorless, but from the fouled water of the pond.

Ahghir watched as Gravefoot gazed upon the fallen creature. “The death of a fae such as this is a corruption to all that is natural. The corruption of the act will spread.” As he spoke ghostly green witchfire danced at tip of his staff. Reverently he touched the staff to the head of the unicorn. “Speak of the one who killed you.”

With renewed fury the drumbeat increased its beat, gaining a frenzied pace. The spirits around the pool shook and flickered grotesquely, their silent mouths screaming out in pain and loss. Witchfire blazed from the unicorn’s eyes and its body shuddered. As though panicked it awkwardly tried to stand before collapsing again in the pool to remain still once more. A hollow echo rang through Gravefoot’s head. “Purest corrupted beauty.”

With a final thunderous clap the drum stopped. As the final beat rumbled through the night, the witchfire fled from the unicorn’s body, and the spirits faded into the moon’s embrace.

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