Dead Water – A Niar Flash Fiction

Posted by davidludwig
Jul 27 2011

Dead Water

Zelis sat on a sturdy tree branch feeling the warmth of the sun on her skin. Her palms were upturned and she invited the heavenly rays to descend all the way to the forest floor and dry the flood waters. The cold drowning waters that felt like a gaping abyss below her. It took all her focus to keep her thoughts with the sun and stave off the sudden vertigo that could have sent her tumbling into the clammy blackness below. Then a shadow passed over the sun. Zelis opened her eyes. More rain clouds.

Zelis stood up on the tree branch and ran her fingers back through her hair, as if to shake out the last droplets of sunlight in hopes of making some headway against the stifling water below. It was beyond her power to change the weather if it felt like raining, but perhaps the Elder would be able to do something. The young elf looked out over the silent forest with sadness as silent as the foul waters below her. When she was a child she used to run and play on the forest floor; there had been animals and life everywhere and Sorel Forest had been alive. But then the lich came and brought with him the waters, those terrible flood waters that had converted more than half the forest to swamp and driven out the life that once flourished there. Now only the ancient trees and elves remained with what wildlife had lived in the trees. But even the trees were sick on the putrid water rotting them from the roots, and the elves were vanishing before the terrible power of the lich.

Taking her gnarled staff in hand, Zelis walked out to the limit of the branch to gaze into the shadows below. The Elder’s party should be returning from the swamp soon. The Elder knew early on that the fight of the elven people against the lich was to be a losing one, and sent their fastest runners to beg aide of the human Demon Hunters. But the runners had returned with news that the Demon Hunters had been wiped out by a force yet more terrible than the lich. That had been the darkness in which they had toiled these past dozen years. The elves had fought with everything they had just to survive, beset on all sides by unbeatable foes. Communication had been lost with the elven families in Norel Forest as the lich used his dark magic to prevent the elves from mystically requesting aide from their brethren. The humans thought that Norel and Sorel were compass distinctions, with Norel being the northern of the two elven forests and Sorel the southern. In truth a more accurate translation would have been Forest of the Moon Spirit and Forest of the Sun Spirit.

When Zelis began training under the Elder he had told her that once long ago the sun and the moon were one, and in that time made the world. Time and circumstances divided the moon from the sun, and the northern elves from the southern, but together they maintained the balance that preserved the world. Zelis tightened her grip on her shaman’s staff, a flimsy totem to cling to but even small comforts took on greater meaning when only hope remained.

Hope. Two months ago the lich and all his forces just disappeared completely. After years of meaningless slaughter only to have the dead rise again to assault the living and add to their grim ranks, they had hope. Not even sacred ground blocked the lich’s foul power and they were forced to burn their dead quickly and completely lest their friends rise against them in undeath. They steadily lost ground to the lich, his armies and those black waters, day after day. Then two months ago the waters stopped and the lich vanished with his armies. Again runners were sent to the human lands, and returned with reports that the great evil there was gone, though the human lands remained desecrated and deserted. Though the waters did not recede, they ceased to advance and there was hope. When the waters and dark enchantments did not disappear with their master, the Elder began leading expeditions into the swamp to find and cleanse the lich’s fonts of power. But Zelis had been forbidden from going on those expeditions by the Elder himself. She was his apprentice, and if anything were to happen to him it would be her responsibility to lead the Sorel Elves in his place. Even as she thought of this, a chill washed up from the waters below and Zelis felt her heart drop as the Elder’s party came into sight below.

“Assemble the healers! The Elder is hurt!”

Zelis dashed back to the tree’s trunk to make her way down to the docks, wishing she had the Elder’s wings to speed her descent to his side, and then cursing herself for thinking so blindly of her own convenience.

“Zelis!” The Elder gasped from the bottom of the elven boat, pale and gaunt as the dead. “Zelis! My apprentice!”

“I’m here, Elder!” Zelis slid on her knees over the knotted dock to clasp her mentor’s reaching hands sooner. Her legs burned as Zelis felt her vitality bleed into the hungry water below, hoping the waters would seek her and not her mentor. Channeling all the healing power of the depleted forest into the Elder, Zelis sought out the cause of his weakened state.

“It is too late.” The Elder sighed, resting his head back in the boat as more healers gathered to enhance Zelis’ prayer. “I cannot be saved… The lich, was only hiding. But no more.” The Elder grasped Zelis’s hands tightly though she could feel his consciousness waning, “He has returned. You must lead our people now, Zelis…”

Zelis shook her head desperately, “I’m not ready, Elder! I’m not ready!” Zelis’ miracles and even the miracles of the more experienced healers washed over the Elder without effect and pooled in the water on which his boat lay. The water now shimmered up at the assembled elven people, infused with a life giving energy that made it bright in spite of the decayed forest floor entombed beneath its glassy surface.

“Listen to me, Zelis.” The Elder’s voice grew soft, but remained level as the Elder measured out his last breaths with precision and calm. “The lich can be defeated. I, do not know how. But he hid because he was afraid. Something scared him into hiding. No matter what comes, do not give up.”

Zelis tried to recoil as she felt something pinch her hands, but the dying elf held her fast. Soon she saw the Elder’s chitinous winged-armor break apart and crawl over his body and onto hers. Feeling the chitin fragments meld seamlessly to her form Zelis was choked with silent sobs and tears ran down her face. She could feel the last of the Elder’s life-force and all his remaining power transferring to her through the Dragonfly Suit. Zelis wanted to bury her face in the Elder’s chest and cry, pretending he could still wake up and comfort her like he did when the waters claimed her family. But the Dragonfly Suit was still operating from the last will of the Elder, and it stood her up to face the somber elven people. She had no words for them.

One Response

  1. Mary Jo Ludwig says:

    Wonderful descriptions of the environment – “even the trees were sick on the putrid water”! I like how this side story pulls in references to the Demon Hunters of Niar Saga. Norel and Sorel sound cool! And Zelis sounds like she in on the brink of an exciting adventure. I hope we’ll get to read more about her!

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