"And begin!" The fated hour had finally arrived and the remnants of the clan united as one voice at the patriarch's resounding command. A dweomer, a dense gathering of magical energy, formed in the secluded grove hidden deep in the forest and thickened gradually as words laced with life essence filled the air. The closest trees reacted positively to the saturated air flowing through their leaves. Bark cracked as the trees expanded, years of growth happening in minutes. The trees overflowing with life energy shot skyward and the overhead canopy filled with thick glistening leaves.
The only woman present knelt with her hands clasped together at the center of her clan as they continued their eerie chant. The dweomer grew thicker as the continuous chanting carried more life essence into the ritual. Her face betrayed her inner thoughts and a large range of emotions: a slight reluctance overshadowed by expectation, determination, and hope. She had a lot on her mind; this ritual would chart a new course for her race.
The chanting ended; the ritual completed, everyone present held their breath collectively. She raised her arms skyward in a welcoming gesture. She felt some resistance in the air; the dweomer thick enough, she had to force her arms through as though she was underwater. A bright grey light briefly illuminated the sky for miles around as the ritual reached deep into the recesses of space. A brilliant light originating in the blackness of the starry sky descended into the forest, leaving the sky even darker than moments before it appeared. The celestial glow centered on the female and enveloped her momentarily, dissolving into her body. The dweomer that had formed now lingered behind and would not fully dissipate for several days.
"Congratulations child. We've achieved a better result than we could have hoped for, however, now your ordeals truly begin. I regret putting this responsibility on your shoulders yet all I can do is hope that you’re ready," the patriarch spoke through labored breaths. Struggling to maintain a solemn tone as he addressed her. She looked over her clansmen, their faces had paled and all of them had collapsed to their knees from the heavy toll the ritual demanded in compensation. All of them appeared to have aged several years.
She nodded slowly as she took a moment to rub her abdomen affectionately, her gaze filled with no small amount of wonder. A sense of comfort washed over her, which bolstered her determination further. After taking a moment to compose herself, she hurriedly rose to her feet. The rest of her clan followed her example, despite how exhausted they were. While they wanted to bask in the joyous moment, that momentary light brought a portent of danger.
The patriarch started chanting incoherently to himself as he ushered them all out of the copse with great urgency. Each fled in a different northerly direction, with only the woman following the patriarch to the south.
"Grandfather," she spoke in a soft voice when she heard his chant, her worry clear as day.
He simply shook his head, a hint of sorrow lingering a moment too long, as he continued his chant. He continuously ushered her onward, forcing them both to keep running. Trees passed quickly as they ran, the forest becoming denser as they approached the rendezvous. Shrieks of pain echoed through the air, breaking the quiet night’s peaceful facade. The sound of weapons clashing made the potential danger surrounding them real, their pace quickening beyond their body’s limits as adrenaline took over.
"The prophecy demands a high price," she murmured under her breath as she ran. She felt the stickiness of all her effort on her skin, getting progressively worse as she never broke pace. She glanced at her grandfather’s pale, grey face now hardened with resolve. They all knew the price would be hard to bear, his eyes hard as steel. The burden of responsibility that rested on his shoulders much heavier than she could have ever imagined.
"Everything will have been worth it if I bear the child of prophecy to term. Everything we’ve sacrificed, everything we have suffered, their efforts will not die with them. Their lives will have meaning if I can just survive long enough.”
He looked at his granddaughter, his people’s last hope for their survival, appreciatively and pridefully. Although he struggled to keep up with her, he desperately forced himself to continue chanting. Fatigue threatened to collapse his legs at any moment, but the sheer force of will kept him striding forward. His normally grey complexion gone, leaving his skin tone white as bone. Complete silence descended around them.
"Something's wrong here," she said to her grandfather, halting mid-stride. Her grandfather gestured onwards as the chant began gathering power, rising towards the climax. Although he appreciated the chance to rest, they couldn’t afford to stop moving.
"Yes, I'm aware we're not far from the rendezvous. Answer me this grandfather: Have you ever had a clear escape after similar rituals?"
His head tilted sideways for a moment as he truly listened, deep concern appeared on his completely white face. A nod in each direction conveyed the unspoken words.
"Yes grandfather, we're surrounded. The only clear path is to the south." She released a heavy sigh before she raised her head high. Instead of running, she began casually walking to the south. They saw no other option as the two of them didn't have the strength to overpower whoever waited for them. Moments later, the two entered the rendezvous hidden away inside another copse within the forest.
What is grandfather planning? She asked herself as she watched him diligently chant, issues arising as he could barely force himself to place another foot forward. She approached him and forced herself under his arm, providing whatever meager aid she could.
"Bold of you to come here on your own," a gruff voice broke the silence, drawing their attention to a man wearing light armor, a single sword strapped to his belt. He continued with a predatory smile plastered onto his face, "It seems you've resigned yourselves to your inescapable fate, at last becoming the hare that willingly delivers itself to the den of wolves."
"Resigned ourselves, you say?" she asked, arching a brow slightly.
"You came into our trap on your own. You are the last two surviving grey skins, and that won't be for much longer. You sure have made this hunt enjoyable though and for that, I have to thank you," the leader replied as he waved his hand. In less time than it took to blink, numerous men and women brandishing swords and spears surrounded the two of them.
"Grandfather! It can't be true, right? Some of them had to get away!" she looked pleadingly at her grandfather who had until even now continued his chant uninterrupted. An expression of true sorrow warped his features as he held his hand out to her; he had withheld the true cost of this event from her. She desperately reached out and touched his palm just as he finished his chant.
"Kill them," the leader stated coldly, he leered raptly anticipating their blood spilling.
She helplessly watched in horror as swords and spears pierced through her grandfather. As she came near to experiencing a similar fate, her body exploded in a gentle grey glow forming a spherical shield around her. Every weapon coming towards her impacted the light, completely stopping them from causing her any harm. The patriarch forced his face into a gentle smile, his spell activating simultaneously. Her surroundings turned into a kaleidoscope of blurred color as the spell whisked her away.
"How troublesome," said the leader as he waved his hand, his people dispersing in an organized fashion. He plopped down heavily on a flat stone and started considering both how this affected his plans and how much more difficult it would be to extinguish the flames of destiny. His gaze roamed the area, landing on the grey skin as he continued bleeding out, covering the corpse in its blood.
“Serves them right,” he spoke with disdain, the man sulking and bitter for failing to complete his task, he spat towards the prone figure. His attention lingered on the crumpled form.
Thought to be dead, the patriarch looked on triumphantly at where his granddaughter had been only moments ago. As his lifeblood pooled beneath him, he wished greatness upon the future of his clan. He began choking on his blood and couldn’t fight back the urge to cough it up. A brilliant grin slowly stretched across his face, worn proudly in his final moments for having succeeded in his role. Feeling a pair of eyes upon him, his body growing weaker, he slowly turned to meet the hunter’s gaze, seeing the leader staring at him with dissatisfaction. In his last act of defiance, he struggled hard and managed to flip his middle finger at the man. His eyes grew heavy and closed as he heard the weight of leather boots crunching against the ground toward where he lay.
“Vi-” he barely managed to get out, before a sword silenced him forever.