(IP) The Door to Power

(IP) The Door to Power

               The forest hummed with the soft, dry whispers of the dead, breaking the silence of the misty, frozen night.

               Dozens of pairs of glowing eyes stared out at her, full of silent menace, daring her to enter their domain. She could feel their censure, as well as the magic that seeped like sap out into the air. She could taste it on her tongue: floral and sharp, with a bite that promised resolution as well as pain.

               She’d come this far. What was an army of spirits, compared to what had preceded it? Her hope buoyed her, despite looking darkness in the face. She would make it to the door; she had no intention of surrendering, not when she was so close. The cold slipped into her joints, making her stiff and clumsy. She was from warmer climes, but it made sense that the door to the Underworld would be in the frigid north region, fringed by jagged mountains.

               A few feet away, her mount, a gigantic, muscular moose with a noble crown of antlers, breathed raggedly, bright eyes on the woods and its occupants opposite. Its pants were urgent, but it seemed to be waiting for a signal from its comrade.

               “We have to do this, friend. I thank you for being my companion on this quest.” The warrior spoke for the first time, all too aware of the ice crunching in her hair, the snowflakes melting on her cheeks like a goddess’s tears.

She unsheathed the dagger at her waist and stepped forward, eyes on the gap that led into the trees. The moose followed, its footsteps across the frozen river cracking like rapid drumbeats. For all of its girth, it was light on its feet, and was soon bringing up the rear, ears flicked back in wariness.

               “I can feel the magic now,” She whispered, trying to ignore the restless sound of countless creatures writhing in the dark woods. “We’ll be there soon.” Though not without resistance, she mused to herself, lips drawing downward in a frown of consternation.

               But she’d expected no less. What was the point of a quest without obstacles? And this was bigger than her, anyway. She had a duty to her people, and she would not fail. She would sooner give herself to the ice and snows before she returned home emptyhanded.

               But another voice lingered in the back of her mind, oily and insistent. What did the homeland want with this power, after all? She was the emissary, the chosen one, the one who’d given up everything to retrieve this power.

Why shouldn’t she take it for herself?

As if summoned by her dark, selfish thoughts, the eyes began to grow, bodies melting into the moonlight, dark, rippling hides and sinuous movements. The Guardians of the door were on the move, ready to keep her from one of the greatest powers in their land.

Perhaps they did not judge her worthy, but that mattered not. She’d made her choice, and it was to crown herself ruler of all, to hoard the source of this delicious, dark power all to herself.

**