In the middle of a mountain range is a hidden plain; in the middle of the plateau is a circle of stones with runes carved deeply into the stonework. A lone individual in dark blue robes walked through the field with his head lowered and something tightly held in one of his closed fists. His other hand ran across the stonework, dipping his fingers into the runes. His knuckles had skin missing, and his hands were nearly as rough as the stone. He wandered through the tall rocks that created archways, entering the circle’s center. Raising his free hand, he muttered a prayer under his breath.
“give unto me the blessings needed for your seed to grow. Let the earth and water from this field give its nutrients so it may be strong. Let the runes carved by pious hands amplify its growth and create a field dedicated to your name.”
The runes on the stonework started to glow softly with a green light, almost invisible under the power of the sun above. His hand tingled, and a similar soft glow surrounded his hand. He brought his hand down, taking the seed from his closed hand. He watched as the light curled around his hand and disappeared into the palm, glowing brighter for a moment before fading. The tingly feeling crept up from his wrist, and like the light before it, it intensified before fading. Kneeling into the lush green grass, he parted the bowing blades to press a singular finger into the soft soil. Delicately he placed the seed from his other hand into the new hole, carefully covering it up with the damp topsoil. He pressed his palm across the now-covered seed and felt at ease. Sitting back into the grass, he made himself a nest among the dew-covered grass. He crossed his legs, placing his hands into his lap with his palms raised to the sky he closed his eyes and began to meditate. The wind rolled through the stone circle and the grass shimmered as the dew was pushed around. The man swayed gently to the motion of the grass. Fading in and out of consciousness, he focused on his senses until his eyes opened, looking around the grass had started to die. The grass outside of the stone circle remained the same, but all the grass inside had browned and became brittle. He reached out and gently touched the tip of the taller piece, watching as it crumbled like ash. Turning forward, he grinned with excitement as he laid his eyes upon a black stemmed rose with red thorns and a violet flower. Without thought, he reached to touch it, but he stopped just shy of one of its petals.
“This is just the beginning, my Empress. A beautiful beginning.”
He stood calmly, looking down he noticed the color had been sapped from his robes. He pulled out the fabric and felt it.
“Still as soft as before.” He said as he tugged at it. “Still as strong too.”
Letting his robe fall, he made his way from the stone circle, but as he went to cross the threshold, he found himself halted by a shimmering barrier. He pressed his hand upon it and recoiled as an electrical charge shocked him.
“This is… Unexpected.”
He looked at all the other arches, one by one, confirming the same shimmering field blocking his path.
“Is this a test? What am I supposed to do?”
Nothing but echoing silence found him; even the wind had disappeared. The man looked back to where he had walked to see the grass shattered and pressed onto the ground. His head cocked as he looked at the discoloration of the ground. Pressing his hand down he tried to grab a fistful of soil, but as his hand made contact his suspicions were confirmed.
“Stone.” He stood and looked at himself, checking not only his clothes but his skin too. “Unchanged.”
He looked back to the rose, double taking he noticed a small growth at its base. Wandering over, he dropped to his knees. Small black vines with red thorns had started to grow.
“This is going a lot faster than I thought.” He looked back to the carved pillars. “My symbols are doing far more than I could have ever dreamed of.”
He sat back down where sat initially, crossing his legs and placing his hands in his lap, ready for worship.
“If this is a test, I will not fail. I am yours.” He shouted to the sky, watching as the clouds slowly swirled above.
He looked down at the rose with a rising sensation of loyalty in his heart. Dedicated to his charge, he was ready to do whatever it was that his Empress needed of him. He closed his eyes, and once again he began to meditate. His consciousness came and went as he explored the divine plane in search of his Empress. His mind returned whenever a new thorn stuck in his side, he knew what was happening around him, and yet he searched, sitting, calm.
His eyes opened as the pain that curled around him surpassed his resistance. He let out whimpers as he looked around him. He was surrounded by the thorny vines that now spread all through the stone circle, covering what was left of the grass. They twisted and turned around the circle, the smell of burning matter filled the air as they pressed against the barriers. Those fortunate enough to press against stone had slowly made their way to the top, just to be met by the domed energy shield covering the circle.
“I guess climbing out isn’t an option then.” He said to himself as he stared at the plants that had their ends sung as they climbed.
He took in his surroundings; he knew now that there was no escape, he had failed to contact his Empress, and now he would be consumed by the vines he was sworn to spread. He closed his eyes again, this time not to pray but the forfeit himself to his fate.
“I do all I do for my empress.”
Tears streamed from his eyes as the vines started to grow even faster. Visibly they started to writhe like a pit of snakes. The man shifted involuntarily as the serrated thorns caught his flesh as they passed him. Pouring his blood down onto the solid ground. The vine ends followed the streams of blood; tracing the drips, they found his wounds. Slowly they pushed their way into his body; at this point, he couldn’t handle the pain anymore. He screamed out and moved away from the probing vines. But each time he shifted he acquired new wounds, new streams of blood, new access points for the thirsty vines. He drew his sword and started to slash at the vines that aimed for him. Each time he cut through them, he watched as they bled. Their insides look like the meat of an animal.
Just as he started to make headway, his ears were assaulted by an explosion as a bolt of lightning struck the top of the barrier shattering it. Once the man’s vision returned to him, he saw his empress being held by the talons of a gargantuan eagle made of lightning. Behind the eagle, a large man resided, floating above the circle, wielding lightning in one hand.
“Empress!” He screamed over the sound of the rolling thunder that echoed through the mountain.
“You know this woman?” The floating man asked.
“Yes, she is my empress; please do not harm her, whoever you are.”
“I am the god of Thunder Boy, and you are in no position to be making demands.” The god of Thunder looked down at the empress with disdain. “And neither is she.”
The empress squirmed in her captor’s grip, her shadowy robes obscuring her physical image with nothing but her face and hands sticking out. She cried out in pain, and a sudden flurry of flames licked up the eagle’s legs, causing it to drop her. She plummeted into the thorns, her shadowy robe tearing and fading. Leaving her withered body to be seen. Even clothed behind loose-fitting clothes, it was plain to see how tired her limbs were. The man cut his way through the vines, cradling her in his arms.
“I have you, mistress. You are safe now.”
The words barely left his mouth when she was grabbed again by the eagle. Slowing rising into the air, the bleeding man leaped onto the talon and rode up with her. As they reached the god of thunder, he looked down at the man.
“This thing is a deceiver; it will trick you until it gets what it wants. It nearly killed you, and it has already killed many times before. Give up, mortal, leave, and pretend you never knew this beast.”
With tears in his eyes, he looked to his empress.
“Was the plan to kill me? Is he telling the truth?”
The Empress screamed as the eagle tightened its grip.
“Answer beast, you owe him that.”
“I was, you were to be killed. But in your place, a magnificent beast would rise. Spreading more seeds through this valley. Then once they were strong enough, they would have taken the world by charge, and I would win.” She looked at her mortal for a short moment. “We would win.”
“That beast is a thief; it even stole the seed you planted. A forbidden crop hidden in the gods’ archives. It should never have seen the light of day, let alone given a space to grow. Now let go, I will lower you to safety, and you can leave, forgetting this ever happened.”
The mortal man looked to his empress with nothing but love. He turned back to the god of thunder and raised his voice as loud as he could yell while still composing himself.
“This is my empress, and her vision is beyond mine. If she needs death to seed life, then death must be had. It does not matter if that death is mine or any other. The life of one should never outweigh the many. I trust my Empress, and she entrusted me with a sacred task. You immortals may not think rebirth is something worthwhile, but for those of us with limited time, rebirth is the greatest gift ever. She is my queen, and I will die for her if need be. I would do anything for her.”
The god of thunder started to explain the many atrocities that the Empress had committed, but he was enamored by the Empress. He stared deep into her eyes as she whispered to him.
“Do you trust me?”
He nodded in return. “Always.”
She opened her mouth slightly, and another small seed sat on her tongue. She beckoned him over, and he leaned over as she shared the seed through a kiss. The man relished at the moment before his body fell limp, he slid from the eagle with haste and started to fall back into the stone circle, but the god of thunder waved his hand, and the man floated down gently.
“See beast, even those devout to you will leave you. Those barriers are lifted so he may leave, and once he does, I shall burn that seed from Dolor as if it never existed.”
Empress coughed and cleared her throat, spitting down at the man on the ground.
“You think you know my followers so well. But you need to think again.”
As her saliva hit the man, his body started to crack and bend. His body tearing apart from the inside as a thick mess of vines stretched outwards. They entangled around the stone circle, ripping them from the ground they used them to form a stronger body. Consuming the thorny vines, one of its arms became a lashing, barbed whip. The center of its chest split open to reveal a mouth. Its right arm took form from the stone pillars that made the circle, its legs doing the same. Once human-sized, the man stood twelve meters tall. Thick of vines, barbs, and stone, it turned its eyeless head towards Empress.
It lashed out its vine arm and wrapped around the eagle. The symbols in its stone pillars lit up, and a powerful blue light followed its whip arm and illuminated the bird. In only moments the bird’s wings stopped beating, and the stone vine titan became the only force holding it above the ground. The god of Thunder looked on in fear.
“Not that seed; how did you get into that vault?”
The Empress climbed from the Eagles limp claw and stood upon the Vine Titan cackling.
“Don’t you dare test me, Blemur; I have an avatar now. Now crawl off back to the skies because if you touch the soil of Dolor, I will tear you apart.” Empress announced as she puffed out her chest, and straightening her back to stand tall.
Blemur raised his fist with the bolt of lightning in it, but before he could cast it, the stone vine titan raised his stone arm at an incredible speed. The bolt of lightning hit the stone and dissipated as the stone arm collided with Blemur and sent him cascading into the nearby mountainside. He climbed from the crater he climbed out with dust cascading off him.
With bloodshot eyes and fear hidden behind a stone face, he slowly rose into the air.
“This means war.”
“If it is you we are fighting, it will be nothing more than a mercy killing.”
Empress responded as she resided upon her titan.
Blemur took the back foot and disappeared into the clouds with a thunderous flash.
Nearby a small town sat at the base of the mountain with eyes gazing upwards.
“Ever seen thunder in those mountains?”
The two elderly men continued to watch as the thunder cracked.
“Something terrible is coming.”