The feral scream, emanating from the left of Gendris, sent shivers down her spine. Thankfully, the crazed orc was on her side, this time. Zhonyja's axe cut deep into the shoulder of the short, ugly and half-naked dwarf, but just as the blood spurted over the axe, a blue light surrounded the dwarf which seemed to give some protection to minimise the blow. Gendris suspected the elf standing behind the dwarf had something to do with this. Still, there was little time to evaluate as a magical force originating from the shadows, where a strange cloaked figure was lurking, like death itself, suddenly assaulted Gendris. She shrugged off the magic attack and was about to return fire, summoning a surge of electrical energy through her ancient staff, but at the last moment, the hooded figure vanished into thin air!
Surprised and a little frustrated, she turned just in time to block the wild swing of the crazed dwarf, still bleeding from the wound caused by Zhonyja. She managed to hit the dwarf with her staff, not enough to cause damage, but enough to allow her a moment to step back and draw on the earth magic she possessed. The blow stopped the dwarf in his tracks, just as he was about to charge into her. He tried to charge again. However, he was unable to lift his feet, held in place by some invisible force. The dwarf continued to struggle with the unknown force holding him steadfast when a blur of movement and flash of blades forewarned of another threat. A lithe creature with a strange, metallic body armour dived from above, and with a flurry of blades, quickly cut the hapless dwarf down. The blades were just too fast, and before he could raise any defence, he was on his knees falling face-first onto the ground. Gendris turned to acknowledge her ally, but before she could say a word, the elf had disappeared, preparing for her next assault.
It was always strange, summoned from her natural surroundings to this place, where Gendris was forced to ally with other heroes with whom she had very little in common. Often, on another day, her ally's would become her opponents, as the call to Between seemed a random summoning. Who knows what the gods schemed.
Before her first summoning Gendris lead a peaceful life, as was the way of the druids, they shunned large populations, living as one with their natural surroundings. Things changed once the druids discovered a way to intercept the summons from the gods and send one of their own instead of the original target. The Druid's Council decided to select a few of the younger druids to explore this further. They wanted to learn, and hopefully discover, the purpose of the summoning. And to what end were the gods prepared to play with the mortals from Athien. So far, this interception was undetected by the gods. Gendris surmised they weren't too worried either way, as long as their thirst for Souls was quenched, if that was ever possible.
From the corner of her eye Gendris spotted the cloaked figure, it appeared out of nowhere, just like it had disappeared earlier. Its focus was on one of the wayward Soul's that often appeared in this place. The figure stretched out a gnarled hand. It seemed lost deep in concentration, focussing all its will in attempting to capture the essence of the Soul.
Seeing a chance, Gendris grabbed her staff in both hands and let out a bestial cry as she charged headlong into the cloaked figure. The thud from her staff, as it came crashing down on the necromancer's head, was a telling blow. The cloaked figure stumbled backwards, momentarily stunned. Gendris then summoned her earth magic and sent a thunderous bolt of energy towards it, the lightning crackle deafening as the cloaked figure screamed in pain. The smell of burnt cloth and flesh permeated the senses. Eager to finish it, Gendris prepared another bolt of electrical energy that would inevitably end the struggles of her adversary.
As with all the summoned heroes, Gendris felt her powers and senses increase while battling in Between. It was this heightened sense that cut through her battle lust and enabled her to detect a faint odour, unlike anything she had ever encountered. All druids were attuned to nature and the life held within every organism. As a child, she remembered being able to smell rain days before clouds appeared on the horizon. She could hear the scurry of an insect as it went about its daily challenges in search of food. She could even appreciate the smell of fire and the burnt husks of forests, being naturally cleansed for rebirth.
This new scent was something else, unnatural, revolting and consuming. It was different from the smell of a rotten animal's corpse, which was part of life's cycle of death and rebirth. This sensation was an insult to everything she knew, not part of her world. She quickly lost focus on the hooded necromancer and shifted her gaze to beyond the outcrop of trees to her left. At first, it was a dark silhouette, and she could barely make out any features, except that it was huge, taller than the tallest minotaur. The source of the smell took a step towards her. Gendris' heart skipped a beat. What was this monstrosity, and where had it come from?
It seemed to be a human male form riding a beast that once possibly was a horse. But the stench of death and decay was overwhelming, and there was a faint, sickly green glow emanating from the rider. It seemed to notice Gendris' fear and as if in mock salute, raised its right arm, moving the blade towards its lips, mimicking a kiss. With an unseen gesture, the mount lurched forward, heading directly towards the female minotaur. As it gained speed, Gendris snapped out of her reverie and braced for impact, crouching slightly with her staff held defensively. Just before the moment of impact, an allied knight rushed towards her, raising his shield for protection. All too slow, she could see the knight was not going to come to her aid in time.
The nightmare trampled towards her, gaining speed with every moment, as its rider swung its sword in circular motions above its head, preparing for the kill. The sound of the hooves was deafening, but the stench of decay was worse, and Gendris found her grip slipping from her staff, sweat mingling with blood making it impossible to hold firmly. All too late, she saw a slight shift in the rider's sword grip. It reversed its killing stroke, and Gendris found her neck exposed, the feel of cold steel on her neck, followed by a spurt of blood, no time for any pain, and then nothing.
Sir Marcus watched in horror as in slow motion. He couldn't reach the young minotaur in time, and he watched as the black knight with hollow eyes descended on his prey. He could see the panic in Gendris and the evil grin on the foul knight's face. The stroke was clean and powerful, cutting through the hapless minotaur's fur, thick skin and bone. The spurt of blood from the decapitated body covered Sir Marcus, as he arrived a moment too late. He heard the wet thud of the minotaur's head on the ground, then the slow toppling of the torso, crumpled in a bloody heap.
There was a moment of silence, as the old knight witnessed the blue wisp of the minotaur's essence leave her body. The air seemed to hold still, before an explosion from behind him knocked him forward, off his feet. The blast originated from the effigy that was entrusted to him and his allies. Shards from the stone structure littered the ground. The battle was lost.
Gendris woke with a start and immediately reached for her face. As if awaking from a terrible nightmare. It took a few moments for the realisation of her surroundings. She was in a peaceful glade, the sun just rising, birds whistling their musical tunes, and the sound of trickling water over rocks emanating from a nearby stream.
Despite these familiar surroundings, the sickly scent remained. What was that being and where had it come from? It was not from Athien. Which of the gods would summon such a thing?
Gendris gathered herself and returned to a semblance of calm. She was to report all she had witnessed to the Druid Council. Hopefully, they could make sense of the horror she had seen.