Table of Contents

Monday, December 26, 2016

Sisters

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...

Sunday, December 11, 2016

The Scarred Warrior

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.
Nonsense.”
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. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Raidan's Flight

            She flew into the saddle as a hawk would lunge for prey. Securing her feet in the stirrups as she took hold of the reigns, Raidan let out one fierce, ‘Hyah!’ and propelled her steed forward.
The dappled stallion charged past the battalions of soldiers, all forming rank and rile before their Lieutenants as orders barked and called across the courtyard. The threat of spring rain loomed overhead, and their faces echoed the encroaching downpour in grimaces of determined loyalty.
The guardsmen at the gates flew to throw the great gates open as Raidan approached, neither stopping nor slowing at the wall. She ducked her head to avoid a great tooth of the portcullis as it clanked swiftly upwards at her haste.
Once free of the fortress and it’s protective walls, Raidan pulled the stallion quickly east, hugging the great wall as it curved along the hillside, pulling her away from the distant fires that were camped on their doorstep.
She only had one chance.
The night sky was dark – the moon hindered by the thick cloud cover that roiled above. Raidan knew that the path before her would not be an easy one; be it marred by the scourges of war or pocked with bandits or scouts. She also knew that she would be the only hope for the city of Rinadrian.
The demons had begun their march far south – tales of their coming led by the fears and terrors of farmers and townspeople who fled their fires. Many of them spoke of the great beasts that accompanied them, others of the magic they wielded with a careless ease; others still called for justice from their Fae protectors, only to be quieted by their fellows in hushed tones.
Raidan pressed her stallion further on. When she reached the east tower, she pulled away from the wall and sent her prayers to Therus:
Dearest Father, keep their sharp eyes from my flight. May your sons and daughters protect me this night.”
Tracing a hand around her face she called upon his salute – beginning above her blue right eye and over the left eye, circling down the left side of her face over the knotted scar on her cheek there, and ceasing as it passed her sharp chin.
Raiden cast her eyes over her shoulder back at the fortress. It sat like a great stone sentry at the base of the city of Rinadrian, its wall stretching out and around like stone arms holding the silver city back from the sights of war. Her eyes scanned the great grasslands that stretched before it, and as the road led South, it ran into the seemingly endless garden of campfires gleaming in docile wait of the morning’s unstoppable events.
I must make it to Delora.
Raiden clasped the thought close to her heart, and pulled her eyes from the scene to scan for any evidence of similar eyes watching for her. She knew next to nothing of demons or their scouts, and she even cast her eyes towards the sky, in fear of darkened wings would descend upon her without warning.
Another dozen deep breaths and she would be engulfed in the relative safety of the forests of the coast – even now she could hear the waves of the sea beyond the city as they crashed along the thundering cliffs due North of her.
It must be you, Raiden. Only you know the woods of this coast better then any man here.” A man in a Rinadrian Officer’s uniform had said, already almost a lifetime ago. “I cannot spare the men to make such a dangerous trip.”
Raiden felt her cheeks redden with the thought. She remembered her initial reaction. She had wanted to spit in his face for such words; he could not spare the men? Did he think she had nothing to lose in this? Did he think she was nothing worth sparing?
His name was Commander Alirrin. He was one of the Fae elders, a man who advised the human king of Rinadrian and the lands of Zyrconia.
Looking back in this moment of reflection, Raiden was relieved at the intrusion of the next speaker, a man she called King. Ederon Hukreath, the human who led these people now against demons.
We also cannot trust any other man here to accomplish this task, not as quickly as we trust you can.”
Raiden fixed her eyes on the forest’s edge, willing it to come nearer. She should have said no. She should have asked before she agreed. Flattery was hard earned for her, and it made her soft to it. A ghost of a smile formed on her lips, stretching the scar on her cheek.
She did not usually accept such responsibilities, especially given from Fae lords and Kings.
In this satchel are treaties. They must be brought to Delora. From there we have someone waiting for them who can bring them South to Lord Sactu of the Demonic Legions in Kaleroch. He must be made aware of this, and stop it. We… cannot stop this on our own.”
Commander Alirrin had looked old to her for the first time in that moment. Raiden shivered now in the chill spring evening, as she thought of his long, elegant face in a frown. The lightness of his skin betrayed darkness beneath his eyes and lines that gouged his worried brow. She had no head for these beings and their powers, and seeing one look so frighteningly mortal must have touched something within her.
Something that made her accept the satchel and embark on this fool’s errand.

Raiden allowed herself a calming exhale as her mount slipped into the forest. From here it might take her two days of hard travel over land if not met with any obstacles or detours. If she was met with resistance… it would more likely be longer still.
She wondered then, if the Gods were watching her as she fled Rinadrian. Was Therus in the air about her as she breathed? Was Araia in the stillness around her? She hoped very much that they were.
She would need the Gods help for this.