Inspiration, W.I.P. (Original Work)
Hello, Heretics, today I have something that isn't a fanfiction, but a story written in an original setting that I came up with, just an excerpt around 2,000 words. Hope you like it :D. This is a scene I decided was not going to work with what I was writing. So instead of deleting it, I thought I'd share it here.
EDIT: Also, I changed names around for obvious reasons ;).
How could a dozen men raze an entire settlement? Idris realized that the answer would soon become clear.
Ashen smoke mushroomed from the ruined village of Segovia and into the grey shroud that cloaked the skies above. The neighboring citizens had clamored about the battle there for the last several days. They claimed that Segovia was a beautiful marvel built between two rivers and was afforded the rare honor of possessing a castle. Idris could not disagree as she studied the remaining temples and structures built of alabaster marble. The structural maze of wooden buildings that had once surrounded those charred remnants were nothing more than kindling in a smoldering firestorm.
Evania neighed gently and attempted to race in the opposite direction. Idris pulled on the reigns and whispered soothing words into her white stallion’s ear. The war horse circled uncertainly, jingled in its heavy plate barding, but did not bolt. Idris nudged her steed back toward the burning village and set off in a steady gallop.
The Kingdom of Numeria was the southernmost country on the mainland of Khios as one could possibly go without crossing the Void Sea. Once, Idris would have expected god rays and a summer heat that would have her cooking alive in her silver scaled armor and leather trousers. Instead her emerald eyes were forever in search of pockets of ice as she led Evania through a foot-deep blanket of snow. Hairs stood on her dark olive skin and her flowing plaits of dirty blonde hair were tucked beneath her wolf cloak.
An age of decay was upon the world. There were none who could escape it.
“Whoa…” Idris tugged on Evania’s reins as they neared a stone bridge that led into Segovia. “Take it slow now.” Evania slowed into a steady trot across the bridge.
The narrow roads that snaked through the village were littered with the bodies of the fallen. Bronze skinned human men, women, old and infirm dressed in clothes tattered and worn from overuse: no one was spared. Thick blood trails were slathered in the dirt from where they arced from the victims. More than one of the corpses were broken open or torn apart by what appeared to be mortal force. Many of them had attempted to flee in their last moments. The chaos must have been immense, for no one to have survived.
“Vicious and merciless.” Idris cautiously trotted through the streets, undeterred by the ashen clouds that pervaded her. Evania halted in her tracks and Idris quickly dismounted in the midst of the ruined maze. Her fingers brushed through Evania’s mane as she whispered, “Looks like the work of the Samayans or the Cheruscal.”
“Go,” Idris’s voice was hushed. “Get the others.” She slapped Evania’s rear end and the war horse bolted toward the bridge. She waited until the mount was out of sight before she collected her thoughts and set off into the ruins of Segovia.
Samayans. Cheruscal. They were only a fraction of the migrating barbarian hordes arriving from the northern fringes of the world. The dire winter had made their ancestral lands infertile, killed their crops, and their kindred without prejudice. The fractured tribes had little choice but to band together in mass exodus toward the Southern Kingdoms. Idris knew of their brutal and primitive sense of honor. It was the only thing that kept the word peace from every mouth as the barbarian hordes penetrated deeper and deeper into Humanity’s countries.
The coppery scent of blood intermingled with that of smoke and flames crackled from burning wood. The citizens that had been slain in Segovia had been killed within the last few hours. Idris unslung her bow and proceeded through the claustrophobic roads of the village. She passed through shattered blockades where phalanxes of brave men—at—arms had attempted to stave off the barbarian threat. She knew from their scattered and broken shields that it was not enough.
Idris’s pointed ears perked. “Well, well, what is that noise?”
Idris’s approached at the sound of children weeping in the near distance, somewhere further into the heart of the village. She fell into a feline crouch and began to stalk through the ruined roads that reeked of death. Peasant huts crumpled with deafening impacts on occasion, fans of flame sprayed from the wreckage in one final gasp before it was winked out by dust and debris. She forced herself to ignore the decrepit ruin tumbling down around her and slipped from one destroyed fortification to the next. Eventually, her gaze settled on the source of her curiosity.
Young children were gathered in the village forum, their hands bound and linked tightly with rope. Idris could only sense fear and confusion in their eyes as their captors milled about the forum. She had heard the tales about the half—giants that called themselves Cheruscal. Yet to gaze upon them for the first time… They possessed the appearances of humans, but stood three heads over the tallest elf. Lives spent on the northern fringes had made them gaunt with densely corded with muscle. The barbarians were dark of hair and eyes, tattooed with runic carvings across their naked torsos. They favored animal cloaks and leather trousers, from jawless bear heads to fox tails. In their hands was finely honed steel coated in dark and coagulated blood.
Idris melded into the shadows behind a debris stack of crumpled and burnt wood. Her emerald eyes flicked back and forth across the open plaza. Two guard the children. A scarred one of them wears a bear pelt with a jawless head pulled over his hair and barks orders from a lonely well. Four others voices betray others scattered across the clearing. They are hidden within hamlets yet to be burned. Their guttural tongue can be heard over the pleading of innocents. Harsh screams tore loose from primitive throats. Idris heard the sounds of blades cleaving through flesh.
Idris gritted her teeth. Too many.
Idris surmised the odds and decided that fate did not favor her. She carefully made to retrace her steps back into the winding streets of Segovia. Crack. She felt tattered wood snap beneath her boot heel, loud enough that two or three of the cheruscal immediately looked up from their idle tasks. Idris threw herself behind the debris pile and made no further movements. Her breathing was calm. The muscles inside her body seemed to tense just right.
After several moments of tense silence, Idris nocked an arrow and leaned her head into the town plaza. The barbarians could not see through the ashen smoke that choked the village, despite their best efforts to thoroughly search around the clearing. One of the cheruscal warriors guarding the children eventually had the idea to approach Idris’s position. She caught the scent of bear fat and perspire in the air as her stalker neared her hidden haven.
An arrow sang in the same moment the Cherusci rounded the corner and discovered Idris. But not from Idris’s own bow, she had slung her own in favor of a scimitar. The wooden shaft found purchase in the half—giant’s throat and sent him stumbling backwards. He attempted to gurgle a warning, but collapsed and choked on his blood instead.
The children scrambled away from the fighting until they had vanished into the nooks and crevices of their home village. The remaining giants shattered the tranquil silence with their guttural roars as they brandished their lengthy weapons and charged toward the danger. Several other warriors emerged from the surrounding buildings to join the remaining three in the courtyard. Idris joined the invisible archer attempting to strike them down, but these cheruscai were tough bastards. She embedded her third arrow into the slab of muscle with the bear’s head over his skull and watched in horror as it only appeared to make him angrier.
Lyiara’s voice cut through the cacophony of battle cries and raging flames. “Idris, fall back! I’m sounding the horn!”
A cavalcade of hooves stormed through the ruins of Segovia as Lyiara did as she had planned. Idris quickly ducked into a lesser road before a dozen mounted Knights could trample her into the earth. These were a collection of men and elves dressed in a half—plate armor design that left the right side of their chest covered in thick ring mail. The last among them slowed his steed enough to offer Idris a hand. Idris merely smirked as she accepted the offer and leapt onto the back of his steed. They did not share a word with one another as the mysterious knight kicked his steed into a momentous charge.
The Knights of the Glass Dragon crashed into their foes with mortal force, but the Churescal were far cries from mere human men. The barbarians flailed their weapons in brutal arcs as they were charged down. War stallions reared and whined frantically as their limbs were severed and their guts ripped open. Their riders crashed down into the burning earth, broken beneath their own mounts or finished quickly by the northmen. The charge was halted.
“Come on!” Erion shouted at his mount. He spurred his horse through the bloody mound of bodies. His longsword flashed from his person against weapons as nearly tall as himself as he charged past them. As they were distracted, Idris managed to cleave a northman’s head from his shoulders with a powerful swing.
A cheruscai warrior blinded Idris from the left. He snatched her by her wolf cloak and sent her clattering to the ground from her horse with a vicious tug. Several of the Knights of the Glass Dragon were already dismounted and fighting the giants in hand to hand combat. Blair and Vindiaccos charged into the fray to rescue her.
Sixteen-year-old Blair twisted around a straight thrust and slashed his opponent’s non—sword arm across the bicep. His enemy turned his thrust into a sideways swipe. Blair ducked beneath the blow and answered with a sharp uppercut that carved a nasty gash on the northmen’s face from chin to forehead. The cheruscai warrior merely revealed his pain with a grunt, savagely punched Blair off of his feet, and halted Vindiaccos’ war hammer with a fast hand.
Idris rolled to her feet in the chaotic melee, Vindiaccos’ Warhammer barely grazed her cheek as the cheruscai attempted to bring it down on her. Her scimitar sliced through the air like a sliver of quicksilver. Blood sprayed from the gaping cut cleaved into the northman’s midsection. The barbarian roared in agony, his gritted teeth his last act of defiance as Vindiaccos tore his weapon free and pulverized him with the sickle—shaped hammerhead.
“Blair!” Idris ignored the fierce fighting around her. She rushed to the young knight errant’s side. “Are you injured?”
“Fine! I’m fine!” The young human managed a wheeze and a pained smirk as he rolled himself over. He had lost his helmet in that scuffle. Idris took in the sight of him as she searched for wounds. The human boy was weighed down in a heavy crimson quilted leather cuirass and leather trousers. Beneath the armored exterior was a young man, no older than seventeen winters. His muscles were lean, but heavily toned from a childhood spent wielding swords. What little skin shone through his armor was a soft bronze. His facial features were chiseled and sharp: chin thin and pointed, cheeks slightly gaunt, and his matted brown hair stuck to his skull with perspire. His eyes were large hazel pieces that regarded Idris with relief.
Bellenath chastised them both as he waded past them into the battle. “What are you two doing!? On your feet and fight!”
The combat shifted further into the town center as the cheruscal were steadily pushed back. The advance was not without consequences, however, Idris counted several mercenaries of the Glass Dragon fallen on the roadside. The cheruscal had bled just as much, that was a victory in and of itself. Blair picked himself off the floor and joined Idris as the mercenaries continued their assault.
Erion, Bellenath, and Aurellan pushed back two of the half—giants with a whirlwind of swordplay, further towards the well. Idris sheathed her scimitar and unslung her longbow. She quickly nocked an arrow and let loose in the same moment. The bladed arrow tip darted through the air and impacted against the cheruscal’s sternum with enough force to splinter bone. The barbarian yelped as the wooden shaft penetrated his chest and sent him screaming over the lip of the well.
The cheruscal quickly realized that they were facing defeat and sounded their retreat. Of the small raiding party that had brought such horror and destruction to Segovia, merely a handful were left alive to turn tail and flee. The barbarians vanished into the smoke wreathed roads of the village outskirts. The Knights of the Glass Dragon did not deign to pursue. They had taken too many losses to justify the risk.
Very nice! And this is just a small part that 'doesn't fit' the rest of the work? I hope the rest of the work is close to being finished, because I'd like to go get it when you're done.
If I'm ever fortunate enough to have anything published, it'll probably be awhile until after I graduate (first half of next year). I'll be sure to keep you posted, if you're still around :grin:!
I won't be going far. This is one of my spots to write something other than my 'real' story, and since I don't want what I'm hoping to make a mark with to be raw. I need a spot to screw up. So, Fresh? Yes. Raw? No. :)
Update here!:laugh2: So, I thought I'd keep this separate from the Inspiration Thread based on my science-fiction stuff. I may not have announced this before, but... I did finish my first fantasy book a little while ago. Like a year ago, haha. And so what is the next step for me, you might ask? Well, learn lessons from the experience, make changes, and eventually tear it down and start again and implement those new lessons learned. Of course, it maybe a little weird to completely start over, but I suppose I had an influx of new ideas recently, which I could incorporate much better from the beginning.
So far, I'm about 20,000 words into my new work and still going strong. A Storm That Reaves, is the name in progress so far. What is it about, you might ask? A Storm That Reaves focuses on the perspective of two young members of the Lani elves. Lrian, a half-blood that has spent most of his life in the mining slums of the Crystal Caves of Kayedr(and also well-practiced in a certain school of magic), finds himself at a crossroads when he ambushed by his younger kindred in the slums of Kayedr. Things quickly escalate out-of-hand, elven children are scorched onto death, and Lrian is eventually forced to flee his homeland and into the greater wilderness of the Jumerith Conclave. The second character is a young lass by the name of Shanna, a farmer's daughter with an ambition of joining the renowned Sentinels of the Woodland Realm.
I haven't exactly pieced together how these two stories are intertwined, but I'm going for something along the lines of 'Jumerith is invaded, Shanna participates in her first battle, is critically wounded and taken prisoner, and eventually shipped oversees into the kingdom of her peoples' mortal foes. Lrian will eventually find himself there for other reasons, but the two eventually team up and become the bodyguards of a Princess-who-is-also-a-kick-ass-mage.
Oh, and then there will be a civil war breaking out there, or at least, that is how I imagine it for the moment. Things could still change, so we'll see!:laugh2:
Anyhow, here is a little something from what I'm currently working on:
Home at Noon Hearth
Shanna tread upon the Road of Hearth Grove that wound between beautiful terraced gardens. Tiers of budding rose thorn bushes grew beneath shedding petals of lovely violets. Here and there, hanging vines snaked their way down the terraces, but never becoming invasive of any one of them.
Lofty and elegant cabins of hewn lumber built over granite were tucked away beneath the shade of ancient oaks. Small observatories and watchtowers sprouted from their roofs like their smoking chimneys. Fathers and their sons gathered on their front porches, exchanging light conversation over some pipe weed. Meanwhile, the scent of cooked herbs and spices wafted in the breeze.
Noon Hearth. A small village in the Province of the Gloom Wood. Shanna had lived here all of her life, could count the eight hundred other faces that also dwelled here from memory. An insignificant little mark on the Jumerith Conclave, near the southern coast of the Void Sea.
It was not much, but there was something about the familiarity of everything that comforted Shanna.
Shanna slowed as she approached another garden. This one was overflowing with sunflowers and daisies. She moved off of the road and onto a small cobblestone trail that snaked up a small, gentle hill toward a familiar cabin.
“Aera?” Shanna pushed the heavy oak door aside.
She stepped into a small hallway of cold granite, flanked by walls of cherry oak wood. Old paintings of ancestors hung proudly around the corridor, flanked by smoldering candles held by small circular sheets of stone built into the walls. The hall branched into multiple paths toward the end and opened up into other rooms spaced throughout. Immediately, Shanna was greeted by a small spiral wooden staircase that would lead to her room.
“Anyone home?” Shanna called. “I’m sorry I’m late.”
A face of steely grey skin and long lockes of golden blonde hair stuck out from one of the rooms. “What in all the heavens kept you so late? I was getting worried about you.”
Shanna smiled as she proceeded up the stairs. “The mentor kept us behind for some early lessons.”
“Early lessons?” Aera emerged into the corridor. “Does that mean he’ll train you?”
Shanna leaned over the stairwell to get a good look at her. She was dressed in a white night gown, embroidered in gold. A cloak of fine bear skin draped her shoulders and came down to her feet.
Shanna nodded, enthusiastic. “Training begins at sunrise.”
“Oh, merciful goddess, yes!” Aera squealed. She balled her hands into fist beneath her chin. “With an actual job that fetches a good price, you’ll have your own home in no time!”
“Is that all you’re worried about, mother?” Shanna stuck out her tongue. “I’ll be on the road too much to settle down!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, Shanna.” Aera made an imaginary flick on her daughter’s nose. “You can only live once. With an attitude like that, you could be buried far from home! Remember to keep yourself alive.”
Shanna sighed and made her way upstairs. “I know, mother, believe me.”
Aera’s voice called after her. “Your friends came around here, by the way. They said that they were going to the Crowned Elk Tavern. Maybe you could still catch them there?”
Shanna rushed back downstairs and toward the door. “Thanks, mother!”
A baritone and rich voice echoed from behind Aera. “Hey, try not to drink too much, Shanna!
Aera countered. “She’s old enough to have a few rounds, Renali.”
Shanna paused at the door. “Oh, hello Renali! We should talk about my sword and arrows the next time you’re working at the smithy.”
Only Renali’s hand waved through the door. “Meet me after your training.”
Shanna pushed open the door again and stepped out into the night.
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.
Finding more areas to improve upon and have commenced with some thorough editing, though I feel like I took a couple steps back. But sometimes one needs to reflect and make changes for the greater good!:smile2:
Shanna found herself stranded beneath the shadow of a crimson mountain. Her eyes fluttered open with gentle provocation and they searched the starry night for Luriel, the Silver Moon. The stars themselves were faded and translucent, as if they were locked in the stasis of another half-veiled universe.
An emerald nova burned in the heart of the void, spreading tendrils of starfire across the abyss. And where the Silver Moon once was a massive rent in the fabric of time. An eye of a storm, Shanna realized, that swirled on the fringes of existence with bruised energies. The eye constantly fed itself on the void, consuming starfire and the endless night into its abyssal maw.
The reverberation of thunder quaked the crimson mountains around her. Roiling storm clouds swept in from the north and a heavy deluge descended from ashen skies.
Shanna pushed herself upright and realized that she stood upon a narrow precipice that loomed high over a down-cast and shadowed valley below. Wicked lightning arced down from a brewing storm and struck the earth with incessant and reverberating force.
A cacophony of war shook the entire valley now as it became churned beneath the boots of countless thousands of elves, men, and creatures of shade and darkness that writhed in the scarce traces of starlight.
Shanna staggered to her feet now, deafened by the ethereal cries of proud warriors and the screams of things beyond the nature of gods and men. Battle raged in the valley below, each life caught in the whirlwind a brutal aspect of death incarnate.
Something warm and thick—which reeked of copper, splashed across her cheek. Shanna’s fingers came away streaked in lifeblood, and it was quickly accumulating everywhere. The rain of blood never ceased pouring, coming down as quickly as the bodies fell in the conflict of battle.
An earth-shattering crash rent the skies above and Shanna gazed up in fear, she realized that the thunderous echoes were borne from the molten maw of something circling over the valley. The creature was borne aloft on great leathery wings of moss, layered in dense clusters of cracked sandstone-like scales that burned from within to the rhythm of a smoldering furnace.
Its wings reached across the horizon, but the serpent itself was slender and impossible of length. A softened underbelly covered in a myriad of ancient scars and studded with the weapons of warriors long forgotten slithered across the sky like a coiled snake. Four legs as long and lanky as a cluster of Leaves-of-Luriel clawed the veiled skies with diamond-hard talons longer than great swords.
And the Dragon’s broad skull was graced with a crown of curved horns that swept away from its molten maw and toward its slender-yet-colossal form. A great gust of embers disgorged from the cracks in its rocky teeth. Liquid fire fell in rivulets down a long jaw from where it pooled beneath its writhing tongue.
The Dragon descended upon Shanna’s mountain with a sundering crash, long talons gouging up and crushing stone from where it landed some meters above her. The entire mountain quaked from the force of its landing and sent a great tide of stone rolling into the valley below. It sprawled its leathery wings across the sky and reared its head high for an ear-bursting bellow of smoke and fire.
Shanna’s cry became choked from a blanket of acrid smoke descending upon her precipice. As if noticing her for the first time, the creature lowered its lava-filled maw and dispelled the smoke with a gust from its nostrils. Suddenly feeling as though her shoulders were burdened with an inconceivable weight, she hesitated, and then cautiously looked up into the Dragon’s golden pupil—cut in twain by an inky slit.
Shanna felt as though she were being burned from within, such was the heat from the Dragon’s furnace. The creature took in the sight of the battle below and brooded for long moments, as if interested in how everything would end. And then, with another earth-shattering roar, the Dragon weaved a burning blanket of liquid fire over an entire swathe of the valley.
Shanna screamed, seared from the heat and nearly caught in the flames. The sheer force that fueled such flaming breath berated her towards the precipice’s edge until she could no longer hold her
Shanna tumbled over the edge and into the inferno.
Shanna screamed into the void of silence that was her room. Her eyes snapped open and she jerked into an upright position. Bundles of burgundy silk were scrunched into her bawled fists. A pillow went flying from her bed and she did not snap out of her reverie until it bounced off of her wall and hit her in the face.
Shanna sucked in a long breath and studied her room in the twilight light of early dawn. On one side of her room hung her ebony leather armor, quiver, and scimitar on their stands. They remained behind an arched window cracked half-open and letting bird-song seep into the stifling silence.
Her cedar desk on the south wall of her room curved toward her bed. It was currently covered in a large, sprawling map of the Jumerith Conclave, she knew, which was half buried beneath a sprawl of weighty tomes. And beside her was the closet that housed her entire wardrobe, an entire room in-and-of-itself.
She swiped away the sweat on her knitted brows with her forearm. And her arm came away slicker than it already was. Her heart thrummed in her chest like it was being beaten by a war-drummer.
“Gods…” Shanna soothed. “Only a dream. But it seemed so… so vivid and intense. How could like that feel so real?”
Shanna pondered for a moment longer before realization dawned on her. Mentor Dichalis’ summons. Training would begin soon. She needed to prepare herself and leave early.
“Oh gods,” Shanna threw off her silken blankets and rolled onto her feet, her ebony night gown flowing around her heels. “What time is it?”
Shanna quickly changed out of her clothes and into her under-armor, which was nothing more than some clothes of fine silk. Her tunic was the color of dead ash, stitched with the symbol of Noon Hearth’s garrison—a dazzling sun cresting an oak—that she had embroidered herself. Her breeches were of the same cloth, but etched with blushing patterns of roses in bloom.
And then Shanna slipped into her armor. A spark of pride kindled in her chest each time she equipped it. After all, it had been made specifically for her. And would show her rigor and status to others, a marking that she was now something more than what she had been. And when she earned her cobalt and crimson cloak, then she would be a fearsome sentinel of the Jumerith Conclave.
Shanna wrapped her belt and sheathe around her waist and slung her quiver and bow over her shoulder. She pried open her door quietly and glided down the stairs like a ghost. The long hallway of her house was cloaked in darkness, but she could still make out the rosy tint of the walls and the paintings that hung on them.
Shanna’s ears perked at the sound of soft moaning from another room and rolled her eyes. She made her way down the hall and slipped through the entrance of her house without a sound.
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