By Daniel Meaney

Child of Starlight: Issue 3 – Part 2: Creeping Rot – Part 1

Under the falling rays of sunlight, the Morbid Row took on a surreal appearance. Such subtle tones of pastel reds and yellows in the sky were contrasted by the bleak ground of dying trees and smoking oily waters. Stepping lightly over the stray branches, Jacobus and Aliene moved as smoothly as they could over pools and brush.

When they were close enough to whisper, Jacobus waited for a moment before saying, “We are being watched.”

“Quiet,” Aliene whispered as she crouched beneath a large tree mostly fallen over. “I know, and we should avoid disturbing them.”

The pair had to resist activating their reach as invisible eyes cast chilling glances from every direction. Their pace was labored and tedious, and it took hours for the edge came into view, a wall of twisting gnarled branches from shortened trees. As the two travelers reached the wall, Jacobus breathed a sigh of relief as the hidden glares fell away. Aliene looked down one way and then the other, unable to see a clean path through the branches.

Jacobus turned to Aliene asking with a look, What now? She shrugged, eyeing the obstacle top to bottom. She stepped closer to the tangled branches before waving over Jacobus. The monk stepped silently towards her, his eyes still shifting to the sides. “Think you could leap over it?” Aliene asked, keeping her voice low.

Jacobus measured up the height in his mind giving it thought for a few moments. “Not without a hard, running start.”

Aliene nodded, biting on her thumbnail as she began thinking up an alternate plan. She was pulled from her thought by Jacobus nudging her with his elbow as he turned around. As Aliene did the same, she swore softly as the creature’s reach enveloped them. Aliene reached for her sword and as hard as she could slashed at the wall of twisting wood, the near perfect strike leaving just a few nicks on the branches. She swore again and did not say it softly this time.

“I take it you don’t have an understanding with this creature?” Jacobus said, rolling up his sleeves to the elbows.

“No, I was hoping to avoid them altogether, but I don’t think it will let us just hack through the wall and leave,” Aliene said flipping her sword and catching the end of the blade. “You’re going to need this.”

Jacobus took the sword by the handle, asking, “What will you do?”

“Make every shot count.” Aliene smirked, but her trembling eyes betrayed her bravado. She unlashed the magic bow from her belt and it extended to its full length with a clink.

The tall creature stopped some ways off but just close enough for the duo to see what it was. Humanoid in shape, with black bark for skin that covered a narrow and emaciated torso, its limbs were similar but ended in elongated hands sprouting claws. The leshii crossed its arms in front of his head, covering the hollow eye-holes encircled by a mane of tangled moss and leaves. Magic shimmered and rippled through the air, tinting the area in a glitter of pale gold as it expanded before being ripped back into the leshii. Aliene felt her breath return after the terror pressing down on her lessened. The monster then let out an ear-rending roar that rattled her bones.

Jacobus clenched his fists and let out his own war cry as he charged forward. The monk covered the distance, weaving over and under trees until he was almost on the leshii. He slid beneath the monster’s quick strike outward, and with a flash of movement sent the beast flying forward, right in front of Aliene’s aim. The god-touched bow glittered with blue light as magic threaded itself from her fingertips, forming a long bolt of magic that grew with every moment she held it back. Aliene waited for the leshii to begin its fall. She felt her lungs fill and expand, pausing her breath as the moment came. The bolt of sky-blue magic was released with enough force that it screamed through the air before slamming into the leshii, sending the beast back towards Jacobus.