CHAPTER ONE: Mercenaries
Miras washed her hands in the creek beside their resting horses. Her hands gently smoothed the crystalline waters over her scars, and as in every time she did this ritual, she prayed to Araia for them to be washed away. Sometimes, if she closed her eyes, dipping her hands into the chill waters, she could almost imagine the pain returning to her; how the flames splashed up her arms, scalded the sensitive area about her shoulders and chest, and singed the fair flesh of her face and neck. Miras could remember how her throat tore from the screams and cries.
“Time to go, Miras.” Her master’s voice came to her over the splashing brook and gently caressed her ears.
Nodding solemnly, she cupped her hands and took one last sip of the refreshing clarity. His voice always chased away the visions of fire. His voice always soothed her anger. And she would follow his voice until the day she died.
Miras got to her feet, fluid as a cat, and cast her eyes about the small glen like a falcon searching for prey. It was clear. They could move on.
“Do not you trust me yet, Miras? It’s safe to move on.” The voice once again chimed.
She nodded sheepishly, immediately coy.
A hand fell onto her shoulder from behind, rested there and then pulled some of her stray black locks from her neck. Miras felt her shoulders relaxing from the barest touch from him. She did not see his face, not at this moment, but even in her mind it played the same effect on her. The grace of his elegant features, skin smoothed back and pulled into two pointed ears. Glimmering topaz for eyes, cherry blossom for lips, long fingers with the strength of a vice. Beauty and strength, wisdom and whimsy…
“I trust your eyes more than mine at this point, Miras. Allow me to at least poke fun at you out of jealousy of your skills?”
Miras found herself smiling, just the corner of her mouth quirking upwards at the notion. But when she heard him start to come around towards his horse, she immediately became stoic.
“As you wish, Juris.” Her voice croaked out. The damage had been done years ago, and though she had lived with the jibes and teasing all her life, only in his presence did she feel lessened. She detested the grinding, gravel scraping sound of her voice.
Miras took to checking the straps on her horse. As it was every time, she kept sneaking glances over to his. She was pleased to see him doing the same – making sure his two slender blades were still secure by the saddle bags; their supplies were undamaged from their hard ride.
But as with every time, she also found herself glancing at him.
Most Midlanders would have flat out called him an Elf, unknowing of the slight that name carried with it. Midlanders, most of them grossly uneducated, simply meant it as another word for Fae; unknowing that the word had been ignited and spread by demons to get under their enemies’ skins. True Elves were pygmy sized, skeletal thin, mischievous little sprites that had a penchant for ladies undergarments and causing marital problems. Fae were divine creatures, created by Risael and Araia working as one. One could see the insult.
An ‘elf’ was a slang term for a half-Fae, commenting on their lack of grace among their higher born brethren. The careless way in which it was flung around irked a great many of their kind. Miras also took insult to the use of this word, regardless of her rather plain human heritage.
Juris was a half-Fae. But Miras did not care nor did she know that he was looked down upon by his Fae cousins. She did not know that he yearned for acceptance among them, though she knew sometimes he was sad because of it. She truly believed that no more beautiful creature existed.
But that was not why she loved him.
Miras pulled herself into the saddle, and once she was perched, she checked her weapon.
It was the offspring of a quarterstaff and a machete, half boasting the stoutest wood, and springing forth from a hilt mid length was its long, vicious blade, thicker and wider than a long sword, curving ever so slightly. The entire weapon was no longer than a quarterstaff, but it weighed at least four times more. It was Darksteel with a full tang, well balanced and most of all, it had been a gift. She had been able to name her first weapon.
“And how is Shokra this lovely afternoon?” Juris commented, eyes moving towards her weapon in acknowledgment.
Miras looked up and found herself caught in his eyes. His head was cocked to the side, and his simply brown hair was carelessly hanging in his face. Most of it was back in his usual braid, but there were always strands in the front that did not agree.
Miras liked those strands. Though she deigns not ever hope to match him in form or function, they made him seem more mortal to her. And the tiny voice, long since pushed to the background of her mind whispered that tiny imperfections such as those made him that much more attainable as well.
“She is well.” Miras replied shortly, tugging on the straps one more time. Shokra would find time to be wielded – but not today.
“Really? Because Falnir and Taelin miss her sting.” His grin was contagious, and Miras allowed herself a small smile. “Remind me to get thwomped by you once we get back to town. Shall we?”
Miras nodded, and nudged her horse forward. Juris came up beside her, and the rest of their ride to town was silent. Miras liked sharing the silence with him. She liked to think he enjoyed it as well.
It was a lot better than being chased by bandits. Granted, now they were nothing without their leader, but they would still be pestering the townsfolk until the Silver Spears got up off their arses. At least now they would not be organized enough to stage any singular attacks on farms or ranches.
Juris and Miras had been hired by a Lord Balton, a landowner whose outlying properties had been raided several times. This gentleman had garnered a good amount of information through his own channels, and because the Silver Spears only operated through their piddling little boards, he had sent for a private contractor; someone who could dispatch a bandit leader without inciting too much trouble and it would help if he could pick off as many of the bandits themselves, too.
Juris had apparently, been top of his list.
Juris was a great Magician. He knew many things, carried a great number of books within the confines of a bag that seemed to hold anything and everything. He had told Miras that he had fashioned this bag himself, and it is in fact a portal to a room far away where he keeps all his books and possessions. He wears a great many charms on his sash and around his neck – one or two in his hair as well. But unlike other Magicians, whose tricks are mainly for showmanship and displays of intricacy – Juris liked to brag that his spells were made for practicality’s sake alone, and packed quite a wallop regardless of their simplicity.
Long were the nights when he stayed up fussing with tiny threads of light in the air. Twirling his fingers like dancers and threading invisible needles with his murmurings. Miras could not count how many times she had stayed awake with eyes open barely enough just to see his little light shows. He would draw sigils in the air with gold and silver wisps and move them about as if they lay on a table and not suspended in front of him in mid air.
Now, Miras did not know a great deal about magic, but she had heard from others (And Juris of course) that her master was quite good. He even bore an Iron Scroll, a pendant that said he belonged to a special order of Mages and Wizards. She was unsure as to the specific significance of the coin-sized Iron charm, but it did seem to get them in to places a whole lot easier than her methods did. At least, in some situations.
Miras’ simple upbringing did not allow for education on such matters. She was certainly aware that there were those who could do magic, had even met a few. But in the temple of Risael, it had been simple and precise. Miras learned her letters and numbers in Trade, and other such common knowledge. Certain plants she could mix into light salves to prevent infection, she knew how to clean weapons and shoot a bow, naturally.
However, after her accident, the Priestesses of Risael had seen it fit to send her to another temple down the coast. And so from the time she was 14 Summers until 22, she worshiped at the temple of Orzane, being seen by Risael as blessed.
Miras had not seen that as a blessing.
The priests were hard on her. They treated her as any soldier, training her ruthlessly in any weapon until one chose her. And when one did, her Shokra, she was trained even more harshly until she could swing it and hit her target with her eyes closed.