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CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Talmen eyed his followers warily, studying their control of the creatures they had summoned from the Lower Planes. His senior acolytes had successfully gathered a small troop of malebranche devils, enticing them with promises of blood and destruction. The hulking brutes, four in all, shook their great horned heads and stamped the ground, gnashing their fangs and roaring in voices culled from the deepest nightmares of living men. The ground shook as they pounded the dirt with massive clawed fists in anticipation of the promised carnage. The malefactor smiled at their ferocity. In their own realm, the malebranche served as shock troops and soldiers, but on Faer?n they were nothing less than living engines of war, towering above their foes. Turning back to the less capable of his wizard-priests, he watched with concern as five of them began the final ritual of their summoning. Within their circle raged a dozen abyssal ghouls, thrashing and howling against the magical constraints of the arcane perimeter drawn on the ground. Undead were, as a rule, much easier to call and command, but these half-mad creatures were a test of will for even the more experienced Gargauthans. Talmen paid close attention to the efforts of the five as they sealed the controlling spell and made ready to release the bonds of the inscribed circle. Already he could see that minor mistakes had been made, but he took no steps to interfere. Those who survived would be stronger and wiser for the experience. In unison the five broke the circle, chanting the last of their binding and taking hold of the symbols of Gargauth about their necks, a gesture of control to denote themselves as the masters of the ghouls. The majority of the creatures stood still, swaying in an almost trancelike manner, with their unnaturally long fingers dragging the ground. Glowing white eyes looked blindly upon their summoners.

They hungrily lashed long, whiplike tongues around their gaunt faces, the ends of the purplish tentacles trailing off into a dark mist. One of the five acolytes, sensing something wrong, held his symbol higher and repeated the infernal language of command. The three ghouls before him shook their heads and tensed, crouched and growling, digging furrows into the dirt and mud as they leaned back on birdlike legs.

Their blind eyes rolled and they sniffed at the air, smelling his fear. The priest's voice cracked as he desperately repeated the command again. The change in his tone incensed the ghouls. They jumped, howling, and pounced on his screaming form, burying the misty ends of their proboscis tongues in his head and torso. His screams filled the clearing as they drank his mind and raked at his unarmored body, tearing his robes and flesh to bloody shreds. Talmen casually glanced at all who stood nearby, including the four who had been successful in their summonings, making sure that all saw the consequences of failure. Once the man's screams faded, Talmen stepped forward and raised his own symbol, chanting a spell of command far beyond the ability of the fallen priest. The ghouls immediately took notice, turning their bald heads and dead eyes on this new voice, but continued to feed on the body, their smoky tongues reaching past mere flesh and bone to suck at the very marrow of the man's identity. In the grating tones of an abyssal language, Talmen conferred command of the ghouls to the surviving four. The priests' masks hid faces of disgust as the creatures shambled away from the mess they had made of their meal. From the shoulders down, the man was unrecognizable as having been human, yet his neck and head were untouched. His unmasked face conveyed all too well the horror of his last moments. Looking up to Morgynn's darkened window, Talmen wondered if she'd witnessed or enjoyed the spectacle. His scrying upon her had been unsuccessful of late, but this he attributed to the growing power of the storm that surrounded the tower. Part of the genius of Morgynn's ideas included an obscuring spell that foiled all attempts to scry upon Jhareat or even the surrounding forest. The dense magic around the tower was barely contained. He could sense the design of the Weave bending to accommodate the dense net of spells being laid to summon and control the tempest. The symbol Morgynn had burned into his arm still throbbed, in tune to the restless host in the forest, the bathor, the undead of Logfell. Morgynn doted on her creations, calling them her children. He shuddered and rubbed at the scar, returning to his tasks and muttering prayers to Gargauth for a swift victory and an end to the whole affair.



***** | Bloodwalk | *****