Another scene that I'm working on, focused on some more action!
A silver coin danced between the crevices of Lrian’s fingers. The sound of crackling flames and burning wood echoed into the night. Lrian bathed in the warmth of the campfire and listened to soft murmurs of light conversation echo around the fire. He reclined into the embrace of a Crowned Willow and pulled a heavy wool blanket over his knees.
Danni and Aethla cuddled beside the flames. Danni was a Priestess of the Forgotten Shrine. An elf whose wisdom and age was never betrayed by her beatific looks. She was dressed in slender robes of lavender and ebony cloth. A noble’s garb, if Lrian ever saw one.
Aethla was nothing more than a caravan guard, but that had not halted Danni’s interest in her. Her hair was pinned in a maze of braids upon her head. And when her silver eyes were not focused on polishing her chainmail, they were locked on Danni.
Lrian watched the young elven women cup their hands together and share a passionate kiss by the fire.
Old Hunter Durseth labored over a large stump, hunched over the corpse of a maimed and gutted deer. The elf was built like a bear, all steely muscle toned from long nights spent in the wilderness. With his one good eye, he sliced the venison into fine portions, while his mouth traded conversation with his brother Kathladi.
Lrian looked out over the caravan and took in the sight of three dozen bedrolls sprawled around several campfires. Heavy wooden wagons lined the perimeter, laden down with goods and wealth earned from several weeks of trading along the Three Routes.
A small caravan headed further into the wilderness of the Gloom of Chantra. Why it had come to meagre Kayedr, Lrian could not discern, but he supposed it had saved his life in the end.
The Caravan Master was an old merchant from the Leaves-of-Luriel clan by the name of Neadran. For an elf that was not going to make much coin in the mines, he seemed a patient and kind sort.
Even a little wise, Lrian thought with a smirk. And why would he not be, raised by a clan of wise men and soothsayers?
“Have you heard?” Durseth whispered over the singing of his butcher knife, which was occupied with carving venison. “There’s been a string of murders in Kayedr. At least a dozen have been killed.”
“Oh?” Kathladi, Durseth’s elder brother arched a brow as he stoked the flames. “Kayedr has always been over rife with crime. Bad for business, if there ever was business to be had there now that the mines have closed.”
Durseth separated a haunch of deer from his kill. “I heard the old master of the mines was assassinated too! Stabbed to death in the streets of his own city…”
Kathladi shrugged. “An old slave driver, from what I could gather. Folk don’t hold too favorable of an opinion of him nowadays. But I guess he must have had some supporters to remain in power for so long, eh?”
Danni broke away from her kiss with Aethla and spoke across the campfire. “I heard the bodies had been scorched beyond recognition. Several of the victims were only young lads too… terribly tragic. I hope whoever killed them is brought to justice soon.”
“Aye.” Aethla nodded. “Hang him and be done with it. The Conclave Militia are scouring the Crystal Caverns trying to find him.”
Danni sighed and rubbed her fingers through her lover’s flaxen hair. “Did you get a description from the guards, Aethla?”
Aethla shook her head. “The Guards haven’t the faintest clue who they’re searching for. I’ve heard some say that it was a woman who killed old Ekene… and then others are looking for a young lad. Don’t know much more than that, I’m afraid.”
“Boy.” Lrian snapped back into wakefulness and found Danni’s gaze upon him. “Aren’t you scared? Kayedr’s murderer is on the loose and killing young elves like yourself.”
“Aren’t there guards in the caravan?” Lrian tried not to snap at her. “I’m certain they’ll protect us from would-be murderers. Besides, we’re no longer in Kayedr, so not much point in being concerned about it.”
As if she could sense Lrian’s hostility, Danni scoffed and wrinkled her nose.
Aethla fixed him with a sidelong stare. “Aren’t you a little young to be traveling by yourself? The Gloom of Chantra is a dangerous place. I would watch your step, never know when you might find yourself hanging from a tree out here.
“And that is only if you’re lucky.”
Lrian audibly snorted. “Nothing I can’t handle on my own. Not that that’s any of your business.”
Aethla laughed, a mixture of scorn and mockery. “You? I could pummel you even if I were completely soused!”
Danni snapped fingers. “Enough, Aethla, let him be…” She turned back to Lrian. “Where are you headed? I imagine just about anywhere would be a breath of fresh air after a lifetime in the mines.”
“Don’t know yet.” Lrian looked up into the night sky. “Wherever Luriel guides me.”
Durseth grunted over the sound of his knife slicing. “Well, if you need any work, I’m certain Neadran could use another helping hand on the road.”
A polite reply formed on Lrian’s lips, but became wedged in his throat at a sudden and distant scream. The scream was more akin to a blood curdling howl, like a Ludrannan Wolf singing to the moon.
Danni jumped, hands covered over her mouth as if she repressed a scream of her own. Aethla threw the blanket off of them and lurched onto her feet. She snatched up her scimitar and heater shield from beside her bedroll. Durseth calmly set down his cleaver and picked up his hunting bow. And Kathladi armed himself with a morning star hidden amongst the firewood.
Lrian glanced around the stirring caravan, puzzled. “What was that? What’s happening?”
“Crimson Reavers!” Durseth spat. “They have some stones on them if they think they can take our caravan!”
Another blood-curdling howl echoed through the forest. Lrian threw off his blanket and picked up the staff of white steel hidden in the grass. As he picked himself up, one of the guards on patrol came running toward the center of the camped caravan.
The guard shrieked over a sea of troubled voices. “We’re under attack! We’re--”
An arrow sailed out of the darkness and struck the hired hand square in the back of his throat. The guard staggered, hand on his throat wound, and fell face-first into the dirt.
The caravan erupted into screams, chaos, and death.
The Crimson Reavers charged down a steep slope and into the midst of the caravan. Lrian caught the sight of chainmail—rusted and cut in a dozen places—glimmer in the moonlight. Each of them were armed different than the last, a scimitar here, a flail and shield there, and even an archer was among them.
Two dozen brazen bandits swept down from the hillside and collided into the dense mass of caravaners still arming themselves.
Another arrow soared through the dark and found Durseth’s heart before he could even nock an arrow. A Crimson Reaver with a long chain flail and shield ducked and blocked Kathladi’s strong-armed attack with his morning star. The flail whipped around Kathladi, the iron ball and spikes crashed into the small of his back.
Kathladi cried out as he charged and was thrown over the bandit’s shield onto the ground. Aethla lowered her shield and charged into the combat.
Danni screamed and sought cover from the blood-letting. Lrian called after her, but lost her in the storm of blades that erupted between the bandits and caravan guard. Other civilians tried to escape the skirmish, but the bandits were quick, brutal, and unrelenting. They ran down and murdered anyone with sense enough to bypass them.
“Watch out!” A caravaner warned Lrian and shoved him out of the path of an unerring arrow. The lani was struck in the gut and tumbled into an awkward fall. He did not stir again.
Lrian took up his staff in both hands and charged into the fray. He rammed shoulder-first into the Crimson Reaver that fought Aethla and clashed against his shield. The staff in his hand shot upward, the spear on the edge of it came away with a small slice of blood from the bandit’s cheek. The bandit whirled around on him, his flail whirling overhead.
Aethla rattled the bandit with a bash of her shield, which slammed the Crimson Reaver in his teeth. She pushed her advantage and threw her weight behind the blow. The bandit whipped his flail around to bring it down on the Caravan soldier, but Aethla merely ducked beneath the spiked iron ball.
Aethla’s blade flashed downward as the Crimson Reaver lost his footing. The scimitar rammed into the bandit’s gut, twisted violently, and slid free in a welter of blood. The Crimson Reaver did not scream, but vomited a tide of blood before expelling his last breath.
“Heh.” Aethla looked down on an intense Lrian and grinned. “Maybe you aren’t a worthless shit after all.”
Despite himself, Lrian grinned back. “You don’t need to find Danni?”
Aethla hawked and spat. “Just a night’s distraction. I’m actually paid to protect the caravan, so I better deal with these uncouth curs.” She bellowed at several Merchant Guild Companions who leapt out of the wagon they armed themselves in. “Protect the cargo with your lives! Kill these bastards slow and painfully!”
Lrian shut his eyes for a moment and allowed starfire to channel through him. He opened them again and unveiled the burning flame in the palm of his hand. He dropped his staff, raised an open palm to his chest, and slammed his other fist into it.
A flurry of fireballs exploded from the collision of magical energy. Guided by an unseen force, Lrian watched the ignited spells arc into the air, only to rain back down onto the surrounding hills with fiery force. Out of the flames, the burning effigies of bandits hidden in the woods emerged—flailing and screaming—until they could walk no more.
“Sorcerer?” Aethla muttered in disbelief. For a moment, Lrian thought she had pieced together something about him. But she must have thought better of it and instead thrust her blade through another Crimson Reaver’s throat. “Ah, I don’t have time for this!”
A Merchant Guild Companion parried a quick stroke meant for his throat, but cried out from a heavy morning star breaking his shoulder. Lrian charged forward, but found himself thrown aside by the other soldiers in the caravan.
The Crimson Reaver thrashed another Companion with a spiked ball of iron across his face, tearing most of it free. One of the victim’s comrades threw himself onto the haft of the weapon and kicked the bandit free of it. In that moment, a blur-of-shadow and black leather weaved between the merchant guards and hewn through them one by one.
“What the hell?” Aethla parried another stab with her shield and eviscerated another Crimson Reaver with a violent jerk of her wrist. As she spun around to face the new threat, a long Push Dagger slammed down on her shield and pushed it down. Another one made a powerful thrust and impaled her through the gut.
Lrian watched her, stunned as she crumbled wordlessly.
An elf dressed in tight leather armor stood triumphant over his kill. A ragged and worn cloak of bear fur draped him from shoulders-to-heel. His hair was an unkempt mess, loose and fierce as it billowed in the wind. A dispassionate gaze searched the field of bodies around him and eventually fell on Lrian.
“Right!” The Crimson Reaver called over the sound of slaughter. “Who thinks that they can take on the Crimson Reavers and live to tell the tale!? Go on don’t be shy!”
Lrian calmly bent over and scooped up his staff again. The starfire that once burned in his hand had sputtered into embers, but Lrian could still feel the magic burning in his veins. As the mysterious murderer traced a circle around him, Lrian did not shirk from him.
“And who do we have here?” The Crimson Reaver snarled. “A run-away from the mines, I take it? I must say, that is some fancy staff in your possession. It may be worth enough to—oh, how can I say this—buy your life? Why don’t you be a good child and hand it over, hm?”
Lrian remained unmoving, stationary in the chaos that raged around him.
“Whoever you are…” Lrian exhaled. “You’ll regret attacking this caravan tonight.”
“Ruham.” The Crimson Reaver replied. “A name for you to contemplate on in the afterlife.” Ruham sent a scattering of sparks from the clashed edges of the push-daggers in either of his fists. “Do you know what these are, boy? Katar. Wicked little things, aren’t they?
“You have already seen what these can do… are you certain you want to run headlong into another fight? Do you even know how to wield that?”
Lrian inwardly cursed himself. Ruham was too close for another round of starfire, the bandit could kill him before he could even raise his hand. Lrian backpedaled toward the Crowned Willow.
Ruham smiled and followed.
Lrian made a defiant cry and charged forward recklessly. Ruham curtly stepped to one side and flicked his wrist. The Katar in his hand knocked away the spear-tip of the staff, while the other one made a small cut along Lrian’s flank. Lrian ignored the aching wound in his side and whirled around. The staff flew around his head and once again met cold iron.
Lrian danced around the Crimson Reaver’s paired Katars beneath the shade of the Crowned Willow. As he parried a flurry of strikes, he took in the sight of amber grass that swayed gently in the wind. Cloaked in the shadow of giant rune-etched pillars, smaller Leaves-of-Luriel danced to the invisible tune of the wind. Lrian could think of much worst places to die.
Ruham faded in and out of shadow. Luriel’s silver light pierced through the roiling clouds in the sky, but the bandit weaved around its touch like a miasma of darkness. His Katars gleamed in the moonlight, the only hint that he was a real, living foe come to take Lrian’s life.
Lrian scrambled away from a playful uppercut of the bandit’s bladed fist. He snagged a rock in his haste and nearly collapsed in a heap over himself, but somehow managed to stagger onto a knee. Ruham followed into his uppercut with an elegant spin, the Katar coming back down in one fluid movement.
Lrian brought his staff round for a parry and missed by an inch. The Katar drove toward his right arm, but was drawn back as Lrian charged again and made a thrust. The Crimson Reaver slapped the spear shaft away with his dagger, then parried another half-hearted attack.
Ruham hawked and spat on the ground. “Come on, young blood, you can barely swing that thing in your hands… so why even bother? Is becoming a mild inconvenience the best you can hope for?
“Why don’t you just lay down and die peacefully? Or hand over the staff? I don’t feel like killing another run-away from the mines.”
“Don’t underestimate me…” Lrian quipped. Inwardly, he was cursing himself again. He did not know how to use the staff. Magically or physically. It was like wielding an almighty broken branch in his hands. A broken branch made of steel.
And yet he was a Kindler. He would not go down without a fight.
Sparks erupted from the clash of their weapons—white steel on iron, staff and spear on Katar—as they met again beneath the Crowned Willow. Each successful parry came as a surprise for Lrian, though he knew the bandit was only toying with him.
Lrian’s timed strikes were out-of-sync and disgracefully ugly, but a spark of pride lit in his chest as he formed some semblance of a defense.
“You inconvenience me as well, thief.” Lrian said through gritted teeth. “I’ll give you one last warning: turn around and flee, and then I’ll consider not shooting you in the back.”
Ruham chuckled darkly. He leaned away from a quick and staggered thrust. “Shooting me, huh? You’re a marksman, too? I doubt your aim as much I doubt your footwork.
“You keep swinging like that…” He blocked an overhead attack and kicked Lrian squarely in the gut. He waited and listened for the tumbling crash. “And you’re going to fall over.”
Lrian rolled down the hillside and crashed into a half-bent Leaf-of-Luriel. He landed awkwardly on the staff, the spear-tip wedged into his left shoulder.
“Hrah!” Lrian spat flecks of dirt from his lips. He ripped the blade of the staff free from his shoulder.
Lrian staggered to his feet, his staff wielded like a crutch in his hands. The Crimson Reaver shrieked a battle cry and sprang into a downhill charge.
“Give me the gods-damned staff!” The bandit thundered. “Or I’ll slit your throat! I’m through playing with you!”
“Good.” Lrian murmured. “Because I’m through too.”
Lrian closed his eyes and allowed the starfire to course through him once more. He sucked in a violent breath. The thickened veins on his fawn skin blazed with an unearthly power. Lrian dropped his staff onto the ground and a cleansing flame burned in the palm of his hand.
Lrian swept his hand out before him. A veil of starfire streamed from the cracks in his fingers and engulfed the ground in front of him. A gust of wind fanned the magical flames into the bulk of the Crowned Willow and into several wagons overrun by bandits. On a breath of magic-infused air, both Crimson Reaver and hired mercenary were transformed into nothing more than cinders on the wind.
Ruham bounded toward him in several long steps down the hill and desperately tried to slow himself before the rising tide of flames.
Ruham could not. He skidded onto his back and plunged into the flaming wall of death. Lrian strode a little to the right, far enough so that the Crimson Reaver could burst—screaming and burning—from the semi-ring of fire without running him over. The bandit flailed violently and then collapsed, his armor and skin blackened and cooked from the all-consuming fire.
Lrian watched him die with a passive look. It took entirely too long, but eventually the screaming sputtered into nothing.
Watching gods, what the hell is happening over there!?
Sorcerer! Run for your lives!
Fall back, Crimson Reavers, back into the woods!
A sonorous note from a war horn in the depths of the forest sounded. The remaining Crimson Reavers broke all at once, and fled back into the shadows. Lrian noted that there were no cheers from the survivors. All eyes were fixated in horror on the flames greedily consuming their caravan.
A spark of pain kindled in Lrian’s palm, followed by a much more excruciating and burning sensation. He dropped his staff into the dirt and unleashed an unearthly howl. Lrian fell onto his knees, his hand raised over his head toward the moon in the sky. In that moment, the tidal wave of starfire guttered into so-many-embers and left nothing more than the charred remains of the battlefield.
Lrian sighed. The pain quickly subsided in cool, balming waves. He looked down on his burnt hand, or what he could have sworn should have been burnt. The veins on his skin were thick and oily, but as he searched his hand, he could notice nothing wrong with it.
Lrian finally looked up and into the myriad stares upon him. Among them, he noticed Danni’s eyes searching his own, wide with horror.
Danni shouted over the murmurs of disquiet. “Murderer! It was you who burned those young ones alive, wasn’t it!? You cannot even deny it, can you? Who else but someone who would kill friend and foe so dispassionately could have killed old Ekene?”
Lrian grimaced and nursed his pained hand. He could try and deny everything, but what good would it do? Anyone in that moment could see right through him.
A weathered and tranquil voice shouted over the accusations. “Danni, enough!”
An elder of the lani emerged from the crowd. He was cloaked from head-to-toe in an opal and ruby plaid patterned cloak. In his hand was a gnarled wooden cane that he used like a crutch. Long and straight silver strands streamed down his scalp and spilled messily across his shoulders.
Danni protested. “How could you say that, Neadran? You’ve been harboring a criminal that also burned down half of your caravan and you’re telling me to calm myself?”
“That is precisely what I have asked.” Neadran fixed Lrian with an appraising look. His eyes did not leave Lrian’s even as he addressed Danni. “And this is still my caravan… don’t think you can turn it into a circus.”
Neadran glanced over his shoulders toward the gathering of onlookers. “Don’t any of you have fallen to mourn? And names to record in our annals? Many widows and their children will have to be compensated for the losses we’ve incurred.
And I want a detailed account of everything we have lost and—more importantly—still own! You three! Start going through the burnt wagons, see if there’s anything still of value in there!”
Neadran barked his orders. The caravan dispersed gradually and the camp resumed some small measure of normalcy. Danni merely shook her head, but finally relented and began looking for wounded. As the caravan went about its work, Neadran climbed the hill Lrian knelt on, beneath a smoldering Crowned Willow.
“Don’t be afraid.” Neadran knelt down in front of him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “No one shall harm you without my permission… You’re a new face. Are you from Kayedr?”
“I am.” Lrian quipped. “You don’t seem too bothered that I killed a score of your own men. Or set your wagons on fire.”
Neadran chuckled. “Oh, don’t concern yourself with them. They were dead either way. Crimson Reavers are seasoned warriors. And my guards? Definitely not cut from the same cloth.
“As for my burned wagons… I suppose you’ll have to repay me somehow. Did Danni speak the truth? Are you wanted for murder?”
Lrian was silent for several moments, then lowered his gaze in defeat. “I would think so after burning several of my kindred alive.”
Neadran sighed. “Well, I believe there is an explanation for everything. I’m sure you had your reasons. And your name?”
“Lrian.” Neadran rolled the name off of his tongue. “Your magical potential is certainly… potent. Where did you learn to wield starfire like that?”
Lrian smirked in spite of himself. “Mother always said I was never one for limitations. What I’ve learned about Kindling, I’ve gleamed from her.”
Neadran nodded, a warm smile on his face. “And that staff? Is it a gift from her?”
“Yes.” Lrian answered. “And I am loathed to part with it.”
“I would never ask that of you.” Neadran said. “Listen, Lrian, I know things may seem irredeemably beyond hope. Danni and some of the others would likely see you exiled into the Gloom of Chantra for your crimes. And after this attack, some will head back for Kayedr and spread news of you.
“But I shan’t let you come to harm. Not in my caravan. You may ride with us, but you’re no longer a civilian. I need able bodies who can protect the innocent, and while they’re at it, my precious cargo. I’ll take you on as a bodyguard, at least until we enter the Gloom Wood.”
Lrian arched a brow. “And when we reach the Gloom Wood?”
Neadran grumbled to himself and nodded occasionally. “Of course, of course, I’ll leave you in the hands of someone you can trust. And when the time comes, you must go with him as part of our agreed compensation. Understand?”
Lrian blinked, puzzled. “And who is this you speak of?”
Neadran chuckled. He picked himself up and made to walk back toward the intact portion of the caravan. “Someone who could probably teach you a thing or two about magic, and how to use that staff. Go ahead and sleep, young Lrian. Gods know we’ll need you in the morning.”
Lrian watched Neadran leave and in the back of his mind, he wondered if he could really be trusted. He shrugged and laughed at himself when he realized how paranoid that sounded.
Lrian cursed again. He had left his blanket by the Crowned Willow. It was nothing more than a pile of ashes now.