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Monday, December 26, 2016


The night echoed with the cries of loosed arrows and the roar of flames. Smoke was thickly entwined among the brush and leaf of the forest, making it hard to discern just where one was fleeing to or from. As if infected by the hate that was plaguing the sacred wood of KaiRael, the trees themselves lashed out in anger at those who raced through their rows.
“Keep running!” Starlett cried, turning to help her sister back to her feet.
Deluna looked so tired. Tears had left their marks down her pale cheeks, and her dark hair was wound and twisted behind her like an angry Brier. Deluna looked at her sister with wide, sad eyes, more green then the leaves and grasses of their home.
“Why? Why is this happening, Star?” She pleaded, struggling to her feet, and clasping Starlett’s hand - talons to talons.
Starlett looked to their hands then, in that moment. She and her sister called them hands - for they grasped, held and felt like hands to them, the MaelKai. But to humans... to humans they were claws, talons, twisted things, mistakes of the Gods. Instead of five soft fingers, they had three strong, bird-like talons, bound by almost scaled and cherry-wood colored skin. This skin stretched over their arms up to their elbows, where from there it smoothed to fair human complexion. Starlett had never seen anything wrong with how they looked, not until now.
“I do not know, Deluna. Come!” Starlett insisted, her own long black waves of hair loose about her shoulders, snagging and pulling on branches that reached out to stop them as they ran.
Deluna was slowing. Starlett kept casting worried glances over their shoulders, back to where the men were, with their swords and arrows. An aching sorrow filled her chest as she ran, reliving the moments before their flight, watching their brothers fall.
Starlett and her kin were MaelKai. Guardians of the forest of KaiRael, the last creations of their God - the Father of all of us, the light, the divine; Therus. With his last life’s blood, MaelKai were brought into the world, and for many, many years they were accepted as such, beloved and revered...
But something had happened. Among the humans who used to smile at their approach were those who had sown seeds of hate. Those were the ones who claimed Starlett and her brethren to be abominations to Therus, and that they must be brought to divine justice.
Starlett had never seen these men, but her brothers had warned each of them of their existence, and of the presence of a growing darkness. And so, they had confined themselves to the wood, content to be where they were. Happy in their separation from humanity if only because it kept the humans happy.
Starlett had contemplated their accusations days ago, while reflecting in prayer. She knew that the growing darkness was that of Lornaus, the son of Therus who struck down his father. The MaelKai had many names for him - Dark One, Lord of Whispers, Shadow King, Ghost Son, the list was lengthy, but each name was true to Lornaus’ form and function. Their belief was acceptance - for there cannot be good without evil, and Lornaus’ evil only validated their beliefs, hard as it was to accept...
Deluna stumbled again, crying out as she fell. Starlett quickly went to her side, pulling her back to her feet. 
“Sister, please, keep running. They told us to run -” Starlett began pleadingly. 
“Our brothers are dead, Star!” Deluna cried, fresh tears on her cheeks, and anger in her eyes. “How can we run? Why should we? We should fight them!”
Starlett gripped Deluna by the shoulders and locked her in a stare. For all the fear in her heart at that moment, she knew that of the two of them she was calm. She would try to share this with Deluna. Her sister was frantic, talons curled into fists, the crackle of tiniest lightning racing across the sooty scale of her arms. Starlett could not let her get lost in her anger.
“Because we must survive.” Starlett began. “If we fight now, we die. We must live, Deluna. Come!” 
Deluna set her chin and nodded in understanding, using Starlett as a crutch through the rough underbrush. They were gasping from the thinning smoke, struggling past now unfamiliar places in the forest they had called home for generations. Where once they knew every ancient limb and root, now there were monstrous tentacles and arms grasping and hindering them.
But Starlett ran on, leading Deluna with rigid determination lining the elegant grace in her jaw. Her blue eyes, watering and red-rimmed with the smoke, were hardened with fear. They ran for what seemed like an age, the smoke thinning and thinning more as they got farther and farther from their fallen brothers and sisters. 
Finally, Deluna pulled herself free. Starlett stumbled and almost fell, and Deluna grasped hold of the nearest tree, shaking and gasping. 
“I cannot, Star. I need to rest, please.” Deluna pleaded, eyes squeezed shut and lips trembling.
Starlett nodded dumbly, swaying over to another, slender tree within her arm’s reach. She put her forehead against the smooth bark and tried to breathe. All she needed was a moment to clear her head and she could think. Deluna was her responsibility now, Starlett had to keep her safe, take her somewhere where they wouldn’t find them. They would have to hide for a while, lay low until the fires stopped and the people overcame their madness...
“...Star?” Deluna whispered, its harsh urgency cutting through Starlett’s thoughts.
Starlett opened her eyes. “Yes, sister?” She whispered back.
“It is... so quiet here... isn’t it?” 
Starlett blinked away the dryness in her eyes and turned her head to peer past the slender tree she was pressed against. She saw the thinning smoke, hanging like mist in the air. The wind had long since ceased, stunned into stillness by the actions of men. Starlett could smell nothing but smoke and ash, so she kept her breaths slow and shallow. 
Starlett heard silence. Biting silence. 
They had run far enough from the flames and the fighting that she could no longer hear it. Not even distant shouting could be heard over the roaring in her ears. 
It was far too quiet. 
“Deluna, we must keep going.” Starlett whispered. She slowly pushed herself from the tree and turned to face her sister - when she saw the glint of steel just behind them, lurking in the shadows of the smoke. 
“Deluna run! Now!” Starlett shouted, lunging forward to yank Deluna from her resting pose. As she did so, the deadly shaft of a crossbow bolt thunk-ed into the bark of the tree that Deluna had been leaning on moments before. Without waiting to see what other horrors awaited them, Starlett pushed Deluna ahead, exhaling with the effort, and willing her sister to carry on. That thought, that will, poured out through the softness of her palms and the tips of her claws in a blink of shimmering blue, a visible transference of energy. Something Starlett had done thousands of times before only in play.
Deluna gasped and lurched forward, diving into the brush ahead of Starlett with a new found urgency. Starlett let her go, turning instead to face the unseen aggressor that dared shoot steel at them.
This aggressor did not remain unseen for long however - as if the Gods wished for Starlett to see the truth, the mists parted, allowing the sight of several men. They were all armed, one of them was pulling back the string on a crossbow with a dark scowl on his youthful face.
He barely seemed a day over twenty. 
“Why are you doing this?” Starlett pleaded, talons gleaming with the brilliant blue energy that was always flowing within her and her siblings. 
Another man, an older man with a great mustache shook his head angrily and spat upon the ground between them. “Don’t listen te anythin’ she says, boys. She’ll bewitch ye in a blink, and we’d ne’er get our reward fer bringin in her hide.”
“My Hide?” Starlett repeated, aghast. She stepped away from the men, who eyed her now with suspicion and hate. “But we have done nothing to deserve this!” 
The men glanced warily at each other and the big man once again chimed in, the ring of his blade echoing in Starlett’s head as he drew it and approached. “C’mon boys. We’ll take this one, then get aft’r the runt that ran off.”
Starlett felt her eyes clouding and brimming with tears as she raised her claws in defense. The man with the sword and the mustache hesitated, but unknowing the implications of such a light, continued his gait.
“Stay away from us! Please!” Starlett cried out desperately, taking another, and another step away from the men who slowly drew nearer.
She could taste the fear choking her, it was metallic and dry. She felt it course down her arms and fuel the blue flames that licked along her talons, casting the eerie shadows in the smoke about her. It was as if this light she made cast the men in a new light. She could see now, the greed in their eyes, the nervous fidgeting of their hands on their weapons. The quick darting of their eyes from each other and around the tiny glade. Starlett could see their doubt and their resolve in equal measure, and their fear; almost as palpable a fear as the one that lodged in Starlett’s throat. 
The blue light also showed her that they fully intended to kill her and her sister without question. And that would not do. They did not heed her plea to leave them alone, she would have to make them leave. 
“Go Away!” She shouted, throwing her arms out before her as if pushing them away via the air that drifted between them. With that simple movement she released the tension that had wound itself up her arms, the blue flame expanding and cracking out towards the men like an angry lightning bolt. It struck the ground at the big man’s feet, and he was sent sprawling through the brush, disappearing into the smoke. 
Two other men who had been close to him also flew back into the trees. One sharp, sickening crack reverberating down Starlett’s spine as the crossbowman hit the trunk of a great tree with tremendous force, and he made no movement when his body landed. 
Starlett could not stay. She did not want to face the results of her actions, she could not. It was not her place to fight or destroy... she was a cleric of Therus, one of his beloved daughters. The only killing she ever did was to hunt, and even then, infrequently. Those tasks were left to her brothers...

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