The Heartless Dead: Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-four
Visions of a Dying Man

Omig Claisant had never been a drinker. He had had drinks, of course. Plenty of them. There was no escaping ones spirits as a cleric of the Drunken Lord. But he didn’t enjoy it. He didn’t revel in it. His god’s holy libations were wasted on him. He had a weak stomache. Always had. Where a fellow member of his faith could drink down alcohol as fast as they breathed – and faster! – without feeling a wee bit tipsy, Omig turned positively green after a sip of watered down ale.

He never joined drinking competitions. Never played the Cayden’s Dare. Never gambled. Never caroused. If not for the tin tankard at his hip and rapier in his hand, one would be hard pressed to identify him as a follower of the Drunken Lord at all.

But Omig had not become a cleric of Cayden Cailean for a party and a hearty mug in his hand. He hadn’t entered the clergy for fun and flirty words. He had joined for one reason, and one reason only. To free slaves.

All of them.

And so he had left the churches and bars of his god behind to roam the deserts with nothing but a rapier and good intentions. He found little success, at first, for he was only one man, and poorly trained with a blade. Cayden Cailean had blessed him with neither spells nor skills.

But, one fateful slave raid a woman changed all of that. She stormed the same slave caravan he had prepared to ambush with a blade that burned with righteous fury, and healed the slaves with a touch of her hands. She was a paladin. A holy warrior blessed by Cayden Cailean himself. Omig could barely keep up. He felt small next to her. Insignificant. Like a child pretending at being a hero.

She inspired him. Welcomed him. Loved him.

His Kaywen. His light.

He threw himself into his faith with renewed zeal. He studied the Placards of Wisdom, practiced his holy prayers and focused his mind until he was able to use the holy energies leaking off of his beloved Kaywen, in order to cast divine healing magic of his own.

They married. Had children. Welcomed grandchildren. Mentored students. Preached.

But always, they fought slavery. Always, they prayed. And always, they were together. For alone, Omig was nothing but a man with a sword.

At Bree’s call they had come to Thrice Hills to fight the Al’Chohaiv. The battle had started off well. They were outnumbered, of course, but that was nothing new to them. Omig had been outnumbered from the moment he set foot in Katapesh.

He and Kaywen fought side by side, working in unison to both attack and defend. When one of them was wounded the other was always ready with a healing spell. When one of them grew tired, the other bolstered their spirits. And when one of them let their guard down, the other covered their weak spots. Their hearts and swords moved as one.

Until Ahrikvask.

The moment she took the field Kaywen began cutting a path toward her. Omig had warned her they were leaving formation, but she had pressed on and he had followed.

They came upon the gnoll queen and her mount and fought bravely. They drove the scorpion halfway to death’s door and had defended each other from all of Ahrikvask’s attacks. The fight was theirs.

And then Omig felt a sharp pain on his calf. It lasted only an instant, then passed as quickly as it had come. An itchiness quickly spread up his leg and he broke out in a cold sweat. He had been stung by a scorpion.

Omig squashed the creature beneath his heel, but knew without a doubt that it would kill him. If he couldn’t hold his liquor, there was no way he could resist the venom from one of Ahrikvask’s scorpions. He was a dead man walking. His breath quickened. His heart pumped faster.

Omig tried to keep up with his wife’s fluid movements, but he faltered. His sword arm got caught up beneath his wife’s elbow just as she moved it backwards. The mistake did little to hamper her, but the damage was done. Omig and Kaywen hadn’t made a mistake in combat in decades. He couldn’t hide it. She would know something was seriously wrong. His weakness would distract her and when she realized it was something she couldn’t fix or pray away she would do something incredibly stupid.

Saliva welled up in Omig’s mouth and his breathing turned into a ragged wheeze. Kaywen’s eyes met his own. He opened his mouth to tell her he loved her but a thick foam dribbled out. Kaywen’s eyes widened in horror. Behind her, the scorpion’s stinger surged down. “Down!” he tried to cry, but his tongue was thick and heavy in his mouth. He threw Kaywen to the side. The massive stinger tore right through his shoulder, leaving his left arm a useless, dangling mass. Kaywen screamed. He fell.

The sounds of combat continued unabated. Sword piercing flesh. An insectile shriek of pain. He tried to follow the movements around him, but his vision blurred. He blinked in an effort to force his eyes to focus. He needed to keep himself together for as long as he could. Kaywen would soon get wounded and he would be there to heal her until his last breath.

He forced his eyes to focus, but found they wandered without his consent. He saw a gnoll’s tail, then a hyena’s mouth and finally a spot of blood on a rock before his eyes drifted onto his wife. She was wounded and screaming in rage.

Omig threw his good arm out before him and began to drag himself across the rocks to her side. His ragged arm caught painfully on the surrounding rocks, but then stopped hurting altogether. Not a good sign. His eyes wandered off of his wife, though he tried as hard as he could to focus on her. He inched his way closer to her and caught sight of Tiller out of the corner of his eye. An intense pain lanced through his chest and the leg in which he had been stung began to twitch uncontrollably.

Tiller screamed something. His wife let out a strangled cry. Omig’s eyes caught sight of her just as the Ahrikvask’s scorpion snatched her up in it’s claws and sliced her in two. Blood and bits of flesh exploded out of her, soaking Omig’s face and back. Tears welled in his eyes mixing with what was left of his wife. A bloody smear across his face. The pain in Omig’s chest travelled down to his abdomen. His stomache clenched and he vomited all over the rocks. He forced his eyes open, but all he saw was red. Blood clouded his vision. He dragged himself to where he had last seen Kaywen and clutched at whatever pieces of her he found splattered amongst the rocks.

Wracked with pain and dying in the remains of his beloved wife, Omig stopped struggling and cried. He grew tired and then cold. The pain in his chest and abdomen lessened.

A scream brought him back to his surroundings. It was Bree. She was shouting something. Crying. Screaming.

He forced his heavy head to move and saw Bree walking away from the corpse of Ahrikvask. She said something softly to Tiller and then left.

Omig tried to move, but found he had lost feeling below his hips. His legs would no longer listen to him, if he even had them anymore.

“Tiller,” he tried to croak, but his tongue wouldn’t work.

Tiller lay still. Unmoving.

Omig dragged himself over to Tiller one agonizing inch at a time. He reached out to shake Tiller awake, but knew as soon as he touched Tiller’s arm that he was dead. Would no one he loved make it through this day? Would Cayden Cailean let them all die?

Like this?

No.

Cayden Cailean might have left them for dead, but Omig would not.

There was nothing he could do for his wife, but Tiller would live.

Omig pressed his hand to his wife’s blood which still coated his face. He thought of her brown eyes. Her smile. The way her head cocked to the side when she found something particularly funny. Her laugh.

He had never cast a healing spell without her. He wasn’t about to start now.

He pressed his bloody palm against Tiller’s chest and prayed.

Not to Cayden Cailean. Not to his wife. Not to any god.

He prayed for Tiller.

He prayed for life.

Omig had never brought a man back from the dead. He had never stopped to consider that only the most pious of clerics and paladins blessed by their gods have ever achieved such a miracle. But, then, Omig didn’t think at all.

He simply saw his wife’s smiling face, and prayed.

Beneath his palm, Tiller’s heart began to beat, just as Omig’s began to slow. Omig tried to smile, but his lips wouldn’t move. His breathing slowed. His vision blurred until the world was a riot of smudged colours and glowing lights.

A black cloud that screamed like the damned soared overhead. It’s cries drew the colours from the world around it into it’s shadowy form. It left an evil aura in its wake that stunk like rot.

He heard people scream. Thrice Hills. Bree. Sheriff Synger. Dr. Kelestair. Omig would have screamed himself, had his voice not been lost to him. Only Tiller was unaffected by the sky demon’s presence. He continued his slow breathing unaware of the peryton above.

Omig watched helplessly as the peryton’s black form was ridden into the skies by a burning white light. It was an aura he knew. Bree.

The black in the sky began to spin and spiral like a desert twister, but the light was not dislodged. It’s glow brightened, until it trailed a frothing white ripple in its wake. The black cloud diminished, and lots bits of itself, before plummeting down to the earth.

Omig watched in horror as the peryton and Bree fell hundreds and hundreds of feet. Their impact shook the ground beneath him and sent up a cloud of dust and rock that obscured all sight.

Omig felt ill. No one could have survived that fall.

Bree was the saviour and founder of Kelmarane. Her protector. Her hope.

Bree was dead.

Omig had saved the wrong person.

An insectile scream tore across the battlefield. The black light drifted up from the crater its impact had made on the earth and formed itself into a massive winged scorpion.

“Freedom!” it shrieked.

Omig felt terror like he had never known wash over him. A demon had crawled from the wrecked corpse of the peryton.

An unholy aura that stunk of brimstone and roared with black fire stalked across the rocky earth towards the demon.

“You dare show your face after killing her?!” the devil spat.

The demon laughed. “Her death was just the beginning, devil-spawn. I will devour her soul!”

“Her soul is not yours to take, Xulthos!”

The demon laughed. “Nor yours.”

The black fire around the devil flashed dangerously.

“I know your soul, devil! You wish to possess the paladin as much as I,” the demon taunted.

Omig’s heart slowed. His panted and gulped for more air. He couldn’t die now! Evil was fighting over Bree’s very soul! He was too late to save her life, but he had to usher her into the arms of the Drunken Lord!

“Her soul belongs to none,” the devil bellowed. “But your soul. Your soul belongs to me.”

Xulthos laughed.

The devil raised his arms. He spoke in infernal whispers then pointed at the demon. A black ray shot from his fingertip and surrounded the demon in a ring of hellfire.

“No!” the demon shrieked. “I am Xulthos! I am corruption made flesh! I am – “

“Mine!” The devil bellowed. The fire rushed inwards, engulfing the demon, and then shrunk further, compressing the demon until it was a tiny pin-point of red light. The devil walked up to the dot of light and picked it up. It glimmered like a jewel between his fingers. “This is your punishment for taking her perfection from this world,” he said to the gem. “I hope you enjoy your new accommodations. You will never taste freedom again.”

A human shaped green glow walked up behind the devil. “Where is she?” he asked. Omig recognized his voice as belonging to Santon.

“Gone,” the devil rasped.

“Find her,” Santon replied. He seemed unafraid of the devil before him and spoke as if he knew him. Santon and the devil stepped into the crater.

Omig’s heart faltered. He gasped for air. He heard rocks being moved.

“She’s alive,” the devil cried. His voice evened out, and his black aura shrunk until it was little more than a faint smudge against the sky.

“But how?” Santon asked.

“She shouldn’t have survived the fall. Her body is broken and twisted but… she lives. Praise Sarenrae! She lives!”

“Help her, Kel!”

By the light of the Starstone! That devil lurked within Kelestair? Omig gasped for air, but his body would not breathe. He was suffocating.

No! He couldn’t die yet! He had to warn Bree that Kelestair’s soul was as tainted as his appearance! She thought that devil her friend, but all he wanted was her blessed soul for himself.

“Fetch the healers, Santon!” Kelestair rasped. “She has more wounds than mundane healing can handle and my magic isn’t suited to this task.”

“Everyone has fled! Make your magic work!”

“My magic twists and contorts. It reanimates and kills. It does not heal. Fetch the healers. Now.”

“Which ones?”

“All of them. She’ll need them all.”

Omig reached out to Bree but his arm wouldn’t move. He tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn’t work. Black spots entered his vision and then blocked out the colours swirling around him. In the moments before the scorpion venom finally claimed his life, Omig prayed more fervently than he had ever prayed before.

He prayed not for his wife, whose blood coated his face and hands. Nor for his children and grandchildren back home in Kelmarane. Not even for Tiller, who had visited the land of the dead and returned. And certainly not for himself.

Omig Claisant died praying for Bree’s immortal soul.

May Cayden Cailean protect her from the devil in her midst.

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