The comparative quiet in the barrow den felt eerie and prickled at the hairs on her neck. Lesara fought a shiver and rubbed at her goose bumps as she headed for a large chest placed between the two farthest, elaborately carved oaken doors opposite the circular chamber’s entrance. Adriala dropped back, and turned, facing the ramp they just descended.
The shiver slid back up Lesara’s spine as she neared the two doors and then paused briefly before throwing back the chest’s lid. It creaked open the entire way to the barrow walls she leaned it against. Four separate leather satchels rested inside. Greyish-white stones with a swirling relief carved in their faces rested in front of each; the keys for all four doors.
Who first? The sacks, arranged by order of door, from left to right, meant the first and last sacks wakened the various House druids. Her father and Kalshen dreamt from behind the center doors. Lesara grabbed the second sack and key, looked briefly at Adriala’s back, and pushed away from the chest. She faced the door on her left and stepped forward several paces.
A carved hollow at eye level perfectly matched the oval shape of the key. Lesara stared at it, inexplicably reluctant. Her father only recently joined the druids in their slumber, with Kalshen, at Ysareline’s insistance. Most left for the dream nearly ten millenia ago. She found imagining ten thousand years without her father or brother impossible. Why do I hesitate?
The demons. They both spent the last two decades lost in the dream and now they needed waking…for war. She sighed, shoved the stone in, and waited. The swirling relief glowed green just before a click echoed in the chamber and the door split, each half crawling in.
A hiss in the dark caught her ear, followed closely by the snaking tendril of a vine curling around the door frame. “Adriala…” Lesara backed away from the door as the dark green vine grew thicker than her arm and overtook the door’s left half, separating it from the wall. The heavy oaken slab fell backward with a resounding thud.
Strange, shadowed figures danced beyond the vines, most only waist-high. Lesara blinked, her night-vision balancing the original contrast between both chambers. More plants, bearing thorny arms and roots that shambled, turned petaled, eyeless faces toward the open door.
“Adriala!” Lesara half-stumbled backwards. The vines snaked slowly along the edges of the doorframe, out on the walls and ceiling, skirting the edges of the room.
The sharp sound of drawn steel mingled with a startled curse as Adriala pushed in front of her. A thin, black mist clung to the walking flowers, each in different, vibrant shades. Looking over the glaive’s shoulder, Lesara counted at least ten. Her father lay motionless against the far wall of his chamber, a black mist settled over him.
“What’s happening?” Adriala remained ready as the plants neared.
“I don’t know!” Lesara hugged the bag of wakening relics, her eyes following the thickening vines still crawling around the walls toward the exit. “Let me…” She tried shouldering in with Adriala and focused on the center of the petaled, faceless plants. Cold needled her mind back and the closest, white and blue-black shambler, lashed a thorned arm out at her like a whip. Adriala deflected the blow with her sword and struck back, slicing half the thing’s face away and then cutting it in half above the root.
“Get out of here!” Adriala yelled as the remaining shamblers neared, each lashing out at Adriala’s feet and arms. They kept her too busy deflecting for return strikes.
Lesara ignored her and tried pulling at the inky mist around the plants, succeeding only in a cold tingle throughout her mind. Gasping, she withdrew those efforts and redirected her approach, focusing, instead, on her father’s stilled figure. Inky blackness swallowed her in harsh cold and she fell to her knees, the hard earth sending shocks of pain up and down both legs. She clawed her way back out, swaying in the onslaught of returned colour and blurry shapes.
“I need to wake him.” Lesara pushed off the ground and stumbled forward. Two more shambling flowers laid in hacked pieces at Adriala’s feet. “Draw them out!”
Both kaldorei women began slowly backing up to the far right until Lesara had enough space to edge around and behind the last seven flowers. She ran for her father’s side and jerked open the bag, smashing the first wakening relic, similar to the key, into the floor hollow at the head of her father’s resting altar. Without ceremony she shuffled right and dropped a carved moonstone leaf into the hollow front and center.
“No!” Adriala’s shout caused Lesara to fumble the malachite feather, nearly dropping it before she shoved it into the hollow at the foot of the altar. She dared a glance over her shoulder as she moved around toward the final hollow between the altar and the wall. “Move!” Adriala slashed at the plants in front of her, but pointed behind Lesara with her other hand.
Too late, she felt solid cold snake around her waist, just before it began squeezing and slithering more vines down and around her legs and up her torso. Lesara grunted and scrambled for her secreted herbalist knife, but the vines around her waist held it fast, the sheath burrowing painfully into her thigh. “Wake him!” She pulled the last relic from the sack, a feather carved from blue crystal, and held it up.
Adriala struggled against the remaining shamblers with renewed fury.
The vines curled down Lesara’s arms and up her neck, simultaneously pulling her toward the wall. She squeezed her eyes shut, focusing on tiny gasps of air. Elune, help me! She reached for that warm light she craved above her mother’s shadow. The relic slipped from her fingers as the vines spread over her face and snagged in her hair, pulling in several directions. The unmistakable sound of breaking stone resounded in her uncovered ear, the other pressed tightly against the barrow walls now.
“Let go!” Adriala growled near her uncovered ear, following it with the sounds of hacking.
“No…the pieces…the relic.” Lesara’s short gasps choked on a tendril pushing into her mouth. She bit down hard on it, taking in short and sharp breaths through her nose. The panicked, wriggling end in her mouth churned her stomach, and she fought nausea. The severed stump still pressed against her firmly closed lips.
The hacking continued but the vines began choking until stars fired behind her closed eyes, a final whimper escaping. Lesara crunched down on the still-wriggling end in her mouth, teeth gritting, she pulled harder for that warm light. Then she mentally grabbed at Adriala’s mind.
The relic! She screamed in it and her awareness spilled sideways and swayed on new feet, gripping the dagger stabbed deep into a vine. She saw her body crushed into the barrow wall, the few visible patches of normally pink skin on her face taking on ruddy splotches. The vines tangled with her white hair, splaying it in several directions up the wall. Worse yet, she felt vines snaking up Adriala’s legs now too. She shoved away, still grasping the dagger and fell sideways over lumps of vines, hacking and stabbing at them before shoving her hands between for the relic pieces.
She yanked two free as the vines around Adriala’s legs reached her hips. A third piece? She gritted her teeth and began tossing away severed ends of vines, hacking, then tossing more. Her sight wavered, blurring, slipping back toward the wall. I’m dying…Kalshen…she’s dying!
The third piece sliced open her finger, but she eagerly grabbed it and fell over the remaining vines, stretching for the relic hollow.
Darkness. The stars were fireworks behind her eyes now. The bitter tang of the weak, but still struggling vine tip in her mouth solidified her return and her loss of control over Adriala’s mind. The vines wrapped over her nose, strangling her throat now, starved long enough of oxygen that each failed attempt at breathing felt like shattering implosions throughout her abdomen.
HELP! Goddess…I don’t want to die…
The vague outline of a pure white and silver kaldorei with hair like wispy clouds formed in the dying fireworks. “Daughter of the stars…” she whispered, then dissipated in a fine white mist that grew thick and warm, like an embrace that carried her home.