Carrion Fields

The Amulet - by Tahren

High above the city of Galadon, a golden eagle drifted on an updraft. The cobblestone streets and stone buildings were heated by the sun in the summer, creating vast columns of warm, rising air. It was perfect for soaring. The eagle flapped his golden-hued wings, stretching primary feathers luxuriously in a vast fan of red and brown. Air flowed over his majestic form, his full twelve-foot wingspan fluttering in the turbulent, rising air.

After a few long, lazy circles to gain altitude, the eagle could sense that his pillar of soaring air was at its apex. He banked left, gently rolling toward the north. A great road lay below him now - a long, winding lifeline of commerce between the northern cities. Travelers on foot and the occasional wagon appeared as tiny as ants and beetles from this altitude.

The only warning of the attack was a brief flicker of darkness as a cold shadow passed across him.

With a shriek, the eagle tucked his wings and dove, banking hard to the right. He was too slow. The smaller, quicker falcon struck from above, slashing beak-first through the air and into the eagle's back. The eagle rolled upside down, talons flashing in the sunlight, grasping for feathers and flesh. Contact! The eagle squeezed one claw tight around the falcon's leg, raking the other claw's talons across her breast. A spray of blood erupted from the gash.

The falcon pecked furiously, trying to disengage from the eagle. She knew that her advantage was speed; the eagle would tear her limb-from-limb if this continued. The two birds of prey plummeted thousands of feet before the falcon finally separated. Wounded, and no longer possessing the element of surprise, she peeled away in a furious retreating dive toward the swamp of Ysigrath.

The golden eagle spread his massive wings, flapping several times to gain altitude before starting his pursuit. There was a gaping tear in his back that had split both skin and muscle. Pain fueling his anger, the eagle shrieked once more and tucked his wings into a dive. The falcon might outrun him, but this battle would end in Ysigrath.

The eagle's keen eyesight tracked the falcon to the ground. He entered an attack dive, the wind whistling through his feathers as he focused on his prey. The falcon had landed on semi-solid ground, a rarity in this swamp. But she was clearly wounded, flapping one wing and making painful calls as she hobbled in a tight circle on the ground. The eagle sensed his prey's weakness, and felt the thick swampy air as his altitude dropped. He extended his talons in anticipation of the final strike.

Mere seconds from contact, the form of the injured falcon suddenly shimmered. Her body stretched gruesomely, feathered wings and scrawny legs expanding into powerful fur-covered legs and paws. Her beak gaped beyond the natural breaking point, folding itself outward to reveal gargantuan canines, a furry muzzle, and intelligent feline eyes set in front of a golden mane.

With a roar, the lion swiped at the surprised eagle, knocking it to the ground with a massive paw. She crouched, ears flat and tail in the air, ready to pounce upon her stunned prey. But the eagle had already begun a transformation of its own. Its feathers morphed into scales, the body of the eagle elongating into the shape of a massive rattlesnake. The snake coiled instinctively, taking a defensive posture, ready to strike. Its black, beady eyes glared at the lion, challenging it to advance. The hollow sound of its rattle was the only sound in the swamp, muffled by the dense air.

The lion paced to the side of the rattlesnake, trying to find an opening to attack. Without warning, the snake lunged forward, sinking venom-soaked fangs into the thick hide of the lion. With a roar, the lion grabbed the snake in its powerful jaws, feeling the satisfying crunch of reptilian bone. It took only a few swipes of her razor claws, and the rattlesnake fell to the ground in bloody shreds.

The snake's corpse shimmered briefly once more, bloating unnaturally into the diminutive form of a gnome, lifeless eyes staring upward at nothing.

The lion's skin rippled and her limbs contracted. Her mane receded, and her ears elongated to points. Fur retreated into smooth, dark skin, and thickly muscled hindquarters stretched into long, slender legs. The seductive dark-elf fell to a knee, quickly rummaging through the gnome's corpse. There! The amulet! She grasped it with a petite hand and pulled, snapping the chain as she tore it from around the dead gnome's neck.

But the venom still coursed through her veins, burning into her heart. Her limbs suddenly stiffened, and she fell to the ground, convulsing in agony. Excruciating pain for a few moments, then merciful blackness. The dark-elf's black, lifeless eyes stared bulging into the heart of the swamp. Her hand clenched the amulet, rigid in death.

Snorting a disgusting volume of phlegm from both nostrils, an orc sloshed out of the knee-deep mire. He dropped the hollow reed he was using to breathe in the muck, the stench of the swamp barely concealing his own natural pungent cologne. Grinning from behind a pair of upward-pointing yellow tusks, he approached the two bodies. He broke two dark-elven fingers, releasing the rigid corpse's grasp on the amulet. It was warm, humming with a powerful inner magic. He tossed it into the back of his throat and swallowed (to regurgitate and admire later), and waded back into the stinking depths of the swamp, stomping the gnome's skull flat on his way for good measure.

Welcome to the Carrion Fields. A world where you must fight to acquire the most powerful artifacts - or just let your enemies kill each other for you, then pry them from their cold, dead hands.

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