Chapter 7: She Who Burns Away the Chill

Within the bowels of the monastery’s catacombs, a lithe woman descended the last few steps into a silent, empty hallway. She had raven hair that fell past russet skin to meet a bronze gorget, and in her hand she cupped a flickering ball of flame. Her other hand held firm a gnarled staff of redwood that grasped a spherical amethyst at the tip.

The woman ambled a short distance, her firelight illuminating gray-white masonry embossed with decorative arches, before coming to a halt in the middle of a four-way intersection. The air was cold and stale, with a grim weight that pressed her from all sides. She plucked raw magic from the amethyst and plopped it into the ball of flame, causing it to glow brighter and allowing her to study each hallway. One was empty save for a few gossamer cobwebs near the ceiling. Large bovine-like tracks crushed into the floor marched down another corridor. Dried blood was smeared across the walls of the third. Each pathway ended in a door of thick oak, behind which lurked the possibility of nightmares unimagined. Perhaps the Maiden of Anguish herself? 

A shiver ran through the woman, an icy blizzard attempting to force all warmth from her. She grimaced, crossing her arms and rubbing her biceps. The staff remained upright, resting on the floor, and the ball of flame stayed floating in the air next to her.

“This place chills me to the bone,” she whispered.

She uncrossed her arms and reached for her staff—

Wood smacking against stone BOOMED up each hallway as all three heavy doors burst open. A half-dozen horned creatures galloped through each opening on cloven hooves, their demonic baying rending the air. The stench of blood and death followed the half-man, half-goat monstrosities. 

The woman snatched at the gem and pulled from it a thick strand of swirling blue arcane energy. She connected the strand to the ball of flame and it immediately started growing. She cupped the ball between both hands, preventing the fire from expanding further. Yellow and orange danced in amber eyes. Flames raged, growing denser, heavier, begging, screaming, roaring for release. Taking a deep breath, the woman plunged her fingers into the fire, clenched them around the chaotic, searing energy at its heart, and then pulled her arms apart. The ball stretched around her into a crescent torus of dancing fire.

The staccato bludgeoning of hooves on stone grew louder and louder.

Sweat dripping from her brow, the woman pulled her arms in and then raised her hands palm up to the ceiling. The torus of fire grew into a towering conflagration. 

The fiends were nearly upon her.

With a shout, she pushed her hands out, and thick walls of flame blazed down each corridor. Fire consumed the charging monsters—incinerating fur, melting flesh, and boiling blood. Each flaming wall smacked into the end of its hallway, exploding into an inferno of yellow and orange and red.

And just like that, it was over.

The woman sucked in a few steadying breaths, the residual warmth of her magic filling her lungs and spreading through her. Charred, smoldering corpses littered the hallways. The only movement came from dancing flames slowly consuming the three heavy doors, the burning oak crackling and popping.

“That’s better,” she said, grasping her staff. “Much warmer.”

She pulled another string of swirling magic from the amethyst. It coalesced into a small ball. With a breath, the woman breathed life into it, molding the energy into fire. 

Picking a hallway at random, she strode down the corridor, stepping lightly between clusters of ashes and blackened bone. Marching past the flaming door, the Zann Esu continued her descent through the catacombs, bringing the warmth of her magic to every demon and Lesser Evil she encountered.

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