A cold breeze blew through the silent, snow-covered streets of Drakefell. In the distance, a broken window shutter banged against its frame, emphasizing the eerie silence in the otherwise lively city. The blood-red sun slowly crept behind the skyline of three-story buildings, turning the city into a place of gloom and darkness. Aya stuck to the shadows cast by the shops on Crooked Way, careful to avoid stepping on the crates hiding beneath the piles of snow. At the end of the cobblestone alley, she hid behind one of the barrels at Ol Errander’s apothecary, scanning the Market Court beyond. At the opposite end of the empty square stood a large, blackened, and burnt wooden stage in front of the church; the embers still had a faint afterglow. Unlike the trampled, wet snow covering the rest of the square, the cobbles surrounding the stage were clean safe for a few puddles of water. A gust of wind coming from the church carried with it the acrid smell of smoldering wood and burned flesh. The revolting odor of this afternoon’s offering to the Lord of the Veil made Aya sick with disgust.
After watching the Court for a couple of minutes to make sure nobody was out there, Aya moved out. Careful to stick to the shadows at the edge, she crossed the distance to the wooden stage. At the central pillar, she found the collection of scorched bones and ashen rope she was looking for. Looking over her shoulder one more time, she took out her linen bag and started collecting the remains. “Hold on Father, I’ll make sure you will get the burial you deserve” Aya whispered in between silent fits of tears. She was powerless when earlier that afternoon the Priors condemned her father to this cruel fate. All in the name of a god Aya didn’t recognize and a crime her father didn’t commit. Not that the good people of Drakefell cared as they watched the fires take hold of a screaming, innocent man. The thought only fuelled her anger and sadness.
Aya had to lift a few blackened logs to get to the last couple of bones, slightly burning her palms. The still-warm wood creaked as she moved it out of place. By the time she was finished, the sun had set completely behind the rooftops, plunging the Market Court into darkness and dropping the temperature further. Aya quickly got up and made her way out of the rubble of the wooden stage. The dark shadow of a cloaked figure holding a staff blocked her path at the edge of the stage. Suddenly, the amber ornament on top of the staff produced an unnatural, orange glow. The light revealed a dark scowl as it illuminated a part of the figure’s face and the religious symbol on his cloak, marking a follower of the Veil.
“Hallowed are the souls offered to the Lord. Condemned are those who desecrate the offering,” the figure spoke with a stern, unyielding voice.
Frightened, Aya dashed to the side, trying to run away from the Prior, only to run into a second priest.
“The Lord of the Veil sees all. There is no escaping his judgment.” declared the second man as he blocked Aya’s path. The glowing amber on top of his staff added to the disorienting dance of shadows cast on the court.
Like a cornered cat, Aya backed away against the rubble, looking for a way out. Her heart raced and blood pounded in her ears as her body tried to decide whether to flight or fight. There were three priests in front of her, closing in on her. Her back was against the still smoldering wooden stage. The sense of dread and the smell of burned wood and flesh overwhelmed her.
Panicked, Aya tried to kick away one of the priest’s staff. Anticipating the move, the priest easily evaded the move.
“Those who embrace the Path of Evil shall meet the Lord’s judgment” the first priest replied with anger as he lashed out with his staff. The blow connected with Aya’s head, causing her to stumble backward.
A fourth priest emerged from the darkness behind and pressed his staff against Aya’s chest and arms, locking her in place. Another kicked her in the stomach. Her vision swam. The metallic taste of warm blood filled her mouth. Another kick, another blow. Her body gave in, slumped against the staff holding her in place.
Aya’s vision reduced to a dark tunnel with only a cruel amber light at the end. Her mind still rebelled but her body refused to comply. This cannot be it! Must resist… the Priors! Must… resist…
A bright white light suddenly filled her vision. Her surroundings silenced. She couldn’t hear or feel the priests anymore. Just the silent, white, eternal emptiness.
“Your spirit is worthy, your heart is pure. Accept our symbiosis.” A voice called out from every direction at once.
No time to go mad, must resist… Aya looked around confused, unable to determine the source of the voice. Below her, she saw her own body, bloodied and slumped in the grips of four robed Priors. She was a mess, beaten to an inch of death.
“Accept our symbiosis” the voice repeated urgently. It sounded strangely familiar.
“I accept.” Aya breathed.
A faint wisp of white smoke hovered in front of her. The smoke curled in on itself, taking shape, forming a silhouette. The outline of a fierce mountain tiger stared at her. With a roar, the smoke tiger dashed forward. Aya’s body soaked up the approaching smoke like a sponge. An electric sense of energy filled her, removing all aching, bringing with it a sudden clarity.
With a loud rush, Aya returned to the cold square. Her bloody body tightly held in place by the priest and his staff. With newfound strength, she threw her arms up. Smoke coalesced around her hands, forming powerful claws. She ripped through the staff. A thousand splinters burst into the air. The priest stumbled backward in surprise.
Aya’s eyes narrowed, adopting a feral, predatory focus. She could smell the fear in the air. The tiger in her took in its surroundings. A foot hesitantly shuffled. A hand gripped a staff more tightly. Tension, fear, prey, weakness.
She leaped forward, pounding the priest to the left. Claws raked at the priest’s face. Blood sprayed on Aya’s clothes. Her newfound intensity surprised her.
Faint amber light approached from behind. Aya’s reflexes kicked in. She dodged and the staff passed within an inch of her head. She let out an angry roar.
Three priests remained. One had replaced his shattered staff with a smoldering piece of wood from the stage. They hesitantly circled around her.
A quick dash to the left. She slipped behind the priest with the improvised weapon. With a low growl, she forced the priest to back away. His foot hit the burned rubble behind him.
Aya launched into the air. Her claws connected with the priest’s chest. He tripped and fell into the rubble. With a sick sound a jagged piece of wood jutted from his neck. A wet gurgle followed. His body spasmed briefly, then went limp.
The two remaining priests stared at her in horror. She charged the nearest one. The force of her jump pushed the priest back. He stumbled into the other priest. A staff clattered on the stones. The priest hit the ground.
Unfamiliar with her new strength, Aya lost her balance during the charge. She skidded face-first across the cobblestones. One of the priests quickly recovered and pinned her to the ground. His boot on her face. His staff rammed against her kidneys. Pain blurred her vision. The tiger within her howled in rage.
Feral instinct took over. With a sudden twist, she freed herself. Her jaws dug deep into the priest’s leg. A chunk of flesh ripped off. The priest screamed and stumbled.
She dashed away, speeding past the remaining priests, across the square, and into the nearest alley. After a few bends and turns she stopped to breathe. Nobody followed, the streets were silent once again.
White, curling smoke left her body, the outline of a mountain tiger standing in front of her. The beast nodded curtly, then turned and walked away, his body evaporated into the dark night.
Exhausted, Aya sagged to the ground, her back against a wooden barrel, cold snow surrounding her. Grief overtook her as tears rolled across her face and mixed with the fresh blood on her cheeks. The sudden realization of what she just had done and the tiger’s intensity were too much to process.
A sudden frigid gust of wind brought her back to her senses. As her sobbing subsided, she looked down at the linen bag still attached to her belt. You’re safe now Father, let’s get you out of this place.
Behind the Story
Word count: 1495
Try out with a bit more action in this scene. The premise of this story started with: what if the D&D Druid had to discover their animal wildshaping ability, how would that go?