My connection to the divine was parchment thin. I glanced over at Liz, shocked and confused. She walked among the gnolls dispatching any that lived as fast as she could. I reached my bloodied hand toward her, thinking to call out, the question already whetting my lips. Then the horses started screaming.
I spun, staggering not to trip and fall over Kithri’s inert form. Liz leapt over the gnoll bodies, racing toward the picketed animals just beyond the firelight. I had never seen her move so quickly. I squatted to check Kithri for a pulse as Liz engaged with the unseen enemy. She was efficient and brutal. Twice I heard maniacal screams in harmony with the horses and then there was the thud of three bodies hitting the rocky ground. At least Kithri lived.
“Merric,” Liz’s voice called from the darkness. “Bring Kithri and come to me.”
The tone in her voice filled me with dread. I did not hesitate. I hooked my mace to my belt and stood with my fallen god in my arms. She was frighteningly corporeal to my touch. If I hadn’t seen her work miracles, had not felt her in my heart, I would have thought she was an ordinary halfing lass, quite like Lilith, as a matter of fact.
I shuffled around the clearing, avoiding one gnashing gnoll who Liz had not gotten around to dispatching. He lived, but he would not rise again in this life. The fact Liz had severed his spine with her dancing blades did not prevent him from lashing out at me with his vicious bite. I kicked at him, and moved beyond his reach, straining to see into the shadows of the night. I could hear labored breathing and the sound of an animal in pain. It made my heart hurt.
The horses had been attacked. Liz’s horse strained at the fullest extent of its lead, dancing from side to side, tossing its head in fear. Liz was squatted on the ground over the second horse. The poor creature had been slashed in the stomach with spears, spilling its intestines on the ground. If that was not what caused it to collapse, the savage bites taken out of its hindquarters had called paid to the matter. Amazingly, the pitiable creature lived. It whimpered and frothed, whipping bloody foam into the air as it thrashed its head in pain.
Liz had her hands on the horses broken body, as if she could pull the pain into herself. She spoke in soothing tones, helping to calm the frantic movements. Even I could tell the creature needed drastic healing if it were to live.
“Save her,” she begged.
I lay Kithri gently upon the ground, and tried to summon the divine. Again I was stymied. I cannot tell you how frustrating it was, Father. It was as if a door had been closed to the flow. The sounds of Liz whimpering became a second strain to accompany the dying horse and I pushed to no avail.
What could I do. The bandages I carried in my pack would not be enough to stabilize this beast. I was helpless. I had failed Liz and that was nearly worse. Then I thought back and realized that, yes, I worshipped two gods. How did that worship affect the availability of power? I know I have mostly referenced Kithri since she came to me the first time, even though Semaunzilla (may she stand ready to boost my power) has also deigned to grace me with her physical presence.
I reached for her power, that which flowed from my lizard goddess and was rewarded with a surge of divine. This river tasted far different from what I expected. This energy could produce powerful magic, but the minute I tried to use it to heal, it slithered away from my grasp. I’d never felt anything like it before.
I called light, and that burst forth quicker and stronger than I intended. I took in the three dead gnolls, noting that each had their head severed from their scrawny necks. Gods only knew when others would show up. I had to do something decisive. I could feel that some things would come to me easily, but there were other powers that felt underutilized, stunted, or malformed from neglect.
The amount of energy I had drawn into myself caused my head to ache. I struggled to come up with an idea, any idea, of how I could save this creature. It was not fair otherwise. I closed my eyes and placed my hand on the horses back, concentrating with every ounce of my being to push healing energy into the great beast. My ears popped and my sinuses felt as if I’d scoured them out with acid when the horse shuddered, let out a soft snort and lay still.
The divine power that flowed through me tasted more green, wilder. It thrilled me in its possibilities and I knew I would have to experiment with it. As it was I felt a huge blossoming of life and I opened my eyes.
While I expected to see the horse whole again, I was horrified to see Liz pulling her sword from the great beast’s heart. From its spilled entrails a spruce had sprung forth, six feet in height, a dozen years of growth. What had I done?
“It was suffering too much,” she said, her face stoic.
“But I was healing her,” I said, confused. How had the tree come into being?
“No,” Liz said. “I too feel the grace of Semaunzilla (may she take this poor creatures soul to the far shore). Whatever it was you imagined, no power flowed forth to heal this poor beast.”
She stood, wiped her blade on the horse’s side, and sheathed her sword. While I stood there, agape, she went to the second horse and attempted to calmed the poor thing. It took her a few moments, but she had a soothing touch. I turned from the growing tree to look at her when she approached and accepted the reins.
“I need to scout ahead,” she said. “Find out where these foul creatures came from. There are likely more coming.” She squeezed my shoulder, turning my gaze from the Spruce to look into her face. “I will scout. I need you to break camp, grab as much of our gear as you can in two minutes, and see about getting Kithri up on the horse. Lay her over the saddle and tie her down. We may need to flee in a hurry.”
I glanced down, still stunned by the way the green power had surged through me, feeling as of the very components of my being had been dipped in lightning.
“What of Kithri?” I asked, baffled. “What has happened?”
But Liz was gone.
I shook my head to clear it and went to gather our packs and bedrolls. I tied Kithri’s inert form to the anxious beast and strapped on what gear the horse could comfortably carry.
“Run,” Liz cried, rushing into the clearing and taking the reins from my hand. “We should aim for the road in hope that we can make good time. Others are coming. The tracks I followed back just disappeared at the edge of a small lake. I had already turned back, not willing to spend time with the mystery when three more gnolls just appeared out of the air in front of me. I slew them, but I believe more will come.”
Then we were running. My body tingled and I willed myself to see clearer and run faster. The green energy flared upward, obeying, and my head spun. I reached over and touched Liz, imbuing her with some of the power and she whipped her head around to gawp at me. But she grinned after a minute and I touched the horse. Then we really took off into the night, running faster than I had ever run in my life. Unfortunately no amount of energy would revive Kithri who never moved as we ran to the road and then northward into the night.