Never One Contest Entry: Every Step Defiance

{{champion:83}} & {{champion:57}} Word count: 998 Yorick swung his shovel, hacking a way through the rotted undergrowth and crumbling vines. Progress was slow and the mist walkers he led crowded around him, trying to proceed down the path he had yet to clear. “Stand back!” His shout was muted, deadened by fog. “I can’t swing properly if you stand so close.” “Yorick, Yorick, Yorick.” A chorus of voices hissed out of the mists that clung to him. “You know they can’t understand reason- only commands. Why not command them to clear the way? Why should you toil?” Yorick grimaced in response, thrusting his shovel into a tangle of roots. “They were people, once. I will not rob them of what little dignity the Ruination left them.” “Dignity!” The spirits in the mist laughed. “It is a lonely man indeed, Yorick, who would speak of the dignity of his puppets!” “As the only living being on these isles for more than a century,” Yorick rejoined, “I think I’d be within my rights to be lonely.” “Oh Yorick.” The spirits laughed again. “You were lonely long before then….” He didn’t answer but continued to make his way through the forest. He’d avoided this place for a long time: hadn’t wanted to know what the Ruination had done to its ancient magic. However, the paucity of the provisions he carried spoke to how little time he had left. There was also, of course, the water. The vial of healing water he wore around his neck was dangerously depleted. But if he was to confront the ruined king, as he knew he must, he would need an army. If he was to have an army, he needed corpses. *** The treant did not know how long it had been resting. It did not sleep, for it could not sleep, but stillness at least gave some respite from the spirits which now plagued any living thing. It could feel within itself how the sacred water was dissipating: what had once saturated its every fiber was now present only at its core, and even there it was lessening. It could see its body’s outermost parts, where the water’s power could no longer safeguard, deaden and decay, peeling off in rotted strips. In time, it would be no different from the tree husks that surrounded it. It would die, never having restored the land which birthed it. That thought had once filled it with terrible anguish, but no longer. It had lost every tree, every plant, every blade of grass it’d raised from the soil so long ago. It no longer lived in the hope of remaking its isles anew. The treant heard the sound of a body coming through the brush. But, if it could protect at least this one space, could drive and keep the corruption from one part of the forest- however small- then perhaps, someday, the isles could sustain some sort of life once more. It stirred. *** Yorick’s suspicion about the forest had been correct: he could raise an army here. “Arise, friend,” he said, standing before the umpteenth unmarked grave. “Your assistance is needed.” Black mist spilled into the body and it stood, ready to obey. “Behold! The hero Yorick. See how nobly he revives the dead to do his bidding,” sneered the voices. “Be silent, spirits, please. You know I take no pleasure in it.” “Then why resist, Yorick? Join us- take pleasure in the mist.” Yorick gritted his teeth. “There can be no pleasure in eternal damn-” Then, the sound of conflict filled the air. Yorick heard the wail of a mist walker and ran, following the sound into a derelict glade. There, under the sickly light, a hulking monster hoisted up its giant limb from the walker’s crushed remains. Yorick bellowed and charged the monster, shovel ready. Too late, he realised the other walkers were rushing ahead of him. “No!” he pleaded, as a rank of them were swept aside and smashed against the surrounding trees. “Stand back, the rest of you! Stand back, this isn’t your fight!” Those that could, obeyed, but many were already forfeit- fighting even as they were crushed underfoot and torn apart. Yorick struck at the monster desperately, hammering it with his shovel until each strike sent up a cloud of dust and bark. From above him came a moan that shook the glade and before he could fight back, Yorick found himself airborne, grasped before the monstrous face. The creature, which he now realised was, or had once been, a treant, emitted a sound unlike any he had ever heard: part howl, part groan; part scream, part sob. Yorick mouthed a final prayer as the fist began to clench around him. Then, a voice in his head, slow and earthy: _Necromancer. Why do you wear the sacred water?_ Stunned, Yorick forced himself to speak. “I was in an order. We used it to heal others. Now it protects me from the mist. I am not a necromancer.” The treant stared, unmoved, and its grip tightened. _You command the dead._ “It was not this way, before the Ruination,” gasped Yorick. “The dead would speak to me and I would help them. They never rose from the grave.” He felt the fist relax, though barely. _Why do you lead them?_ Yorick breathed. “I am going to lead an army against the ruined king. I am going to make him end the curse, and restore the Blessed Isles.” The treant blinked, and placed him back on the ground. _I was born with these isles. Everything that grew on them, I grew. If these isles were blessed, it was I who blessed them._ Yorick took in the rotting, crumbling giant that stood before him. Voice hoarse, he said, “It was you who told my order of the healing spring.” The treant nodded, slowly. _I should not have._ A long forgotten memory rose up in Yorick’s mind. “We had a name for you- we called you ‘Maokai.’” He paused. “It meant something, once.”
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