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Falling: An Epic Fantasy

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posted on Apr, 5 2018 @ 11:10 AM
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150 - War of Attrition

Taarvaes Loeimes Daecullon, Prince of Aavelae, smiled in the sunshine. His mission was grim, that was true, but he could not help but bask in the beauty of the world. Savage, yes, but truly beautiful to behold. The strange light that sat ever just outside his vision, the presence he could not quite identify, seemed stronger when the sun shone bright onto his face. He loved this time of year, despite the falling temperature and the ominous approach of Shadow Night. There was a crispness in the air, an edge and a sharpness that made the golden, warm rays of the sun ever so much more precious. It was as if the world held its breath in tense anticipation of the darkness to come. It made him feel alive.

Death awaits us all, Prince, said the voice.

True, he responded, in his head. But that is an appointment I’m not ready to keep. And I refuse to live my life halfway in the grave.

The voice chuckled, the kind, knowing laugh of a lifelong friend.

He turned to the grim woman next to him who sat placidly on her Elamaran nahak, scanning the rolling hills before them as if she could burn the Makata off the surface of Geaomm with her very gaze.

“Lady Captain, I do not think we will engage the Makata while we are still in Avaanse Maarke,” he said with a smile.

“There are always dangers, even this close to the capitol, your Highness.”

“Of course. Tell me, how do you plan to proceed when we reach them?”

Everyn Silnae pulled her eyes away from the landscape, looking around the two of them. She had En’anoran blood in her, like the Lady High Commander and Gaalen’s squire Joen. Her light eyes were a brilliant shade of blue-green, her hair a sun-kissed blonde, and her smooth skin a rich, brown tone. Not all the Silnaes were En’anoran, it was only one side of the family where a series of marriages had introduced the traits to the line decades ago.

She was a hard woman. Physically gifted, she was stronger than most men in the Bastion, and easily one of the deadliest people Taarvaes had ever met, even more so than Kaena. A capable and gifted commander, in pitched battle she always led her Color personally, and held the loyalty of the men and women under her command with ease.

Seeing there was no one else around them, she lowered her voice.

“Truth be told, Highness, we have no hope of stopping them. Reports indicate anywhere from fifty- to seventy-thousand Makata, with reinforcements trickling in behind them. I command seven thousand eight hundred. If they are bound for Avaanse, there is virtually nothing we can do to prevent it.”

“The Everyn Silnae I know does not give up so easily.”

“I said nothing of giving up, Highness. I am merely stating my assessment of the situation lest there be any misconception. The best we can hope for is harassment and perhaps to disrupt them a bit. But make no mistake, Prince Taarvaes, this mission will end back at the walls of Avaanse.”

“Perhaps. But you have a plan, of course.”

“In the third century after the Covenant, the Kirimathan Empress Tikka of Woed invaded Ultar, ruled by a young queen called Risa Ben-Heinan. Kirimatha was immense, some estimates claiming half the population of the world lived within her borders. Ultar was outnumbered ten to one at best. Risa gathered her finest generals and went into the field with them. Ultar was hill country, thick with forest. They used the terrain, opportunity, and their wits to harass and snip at the heels of the Kirimathan army. Slowly they whittled Tikka’s force down. Some scholars claim Risa organized three dozen different ambushes and traps to kill as many Kirimathan as possible. I have studied every one of them.”

Taarvaes, in spite of himself, grinned. “Of course you have. See? I knew you would have a plan. So how did Ultar finally defeat Tikka?”

Everyn snorted contemptuously. “Defeat? Aomm in the heavens, no. The Ultarans took a stand at the pass of Besh-Temopei. Every soldier down to the squires was killed. Risa was fed alive to ges’etaaken and her generals executed. Ultar was burned to the ground and all her nobility was slaughtered.”

“I see,” Taarvaes said softly. The woman had a knack for blunting his optimism.

“I will cause as much pain to the Makatans as is humanly possible, until I can no longer do so. Aomm only knows if we will be able to cause enough harm to turn them back.”

“Very well. Then let’s hear it.”

“We know the land, that gives us an advantage. I specifically enlisted the entirety of the Bastion’s nahak cavalry – every rider we have, and a cohort of mounted archers. I have three cohorts of longbows, and a cohort of crossbows. Two cohorts of pike. The rest is light infantry.”

“You intend to slash at them from range.”

“I intend to make them bleed. The forces will split – mounted around to the south to hit their supply lines, foot in a defensive retreat in the north. Use the terrain, make them pay for every pace they gain.”

“Do you think it’s wise to split your forces? If you cause enough disruption eventually Ixitzaalok will respond with a full assault. We cannot hide forever.”

“No, we can’t. But it’s the best I have. The reason dingalaat are so effective is that they do not give their prey time to rationally think. They force it into panic. If he begins to make rash moves, to make strategic mistakes, I will know our strategy is working.”

Gaalen had said Everyn Silnae had a ruthless streak. Taarvaes was beginning to think it was more than just a streak, and was suddenly glad she was on his side of the conflict.
edit on 4-5-2018 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 31 2018 @ 10:22 AM
For anyone who has been reading my thread here, I do apologize for the delay. Various factors were at play, not the least of which was that I only completed the next episode yesterday. I'm editing it now, and will hopefully post it later today or tomorrow. Stay tuned!
edit on 5-31-2018 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 1 2018 @ 01:18 PM
151 - A Special Request

The Royal Palace of Aavelae sprawled over the top of a gentle hill in the southern quarter of the capitol city. This area of the city was much more upper class than the area to the east where she had found Heili and Maerteil. Shops were cleaner and better maintained. Houses were made of finer materials – tile or noblethorn shakes instead of thatch on the roofs, stained glass in some of the windows instead of simple shutters or nothing at all, brick and hiran instead of getli’al or telgar. The roads were broader, and paved with cobblestone or slate, as opposed to the dirt and mud of the tracks in the eastern quarter. There was a cohesive feel to this Palace Quarter, where the eastern quarter was more haphazard and makeshift.

Poliara loved visiting the Royal Palace – its graceful towers and balconies combined with polished marble and granite gave it a strange mix of elegance and implacable strength. It was as though the Palace was a beacon of beauty in a dark world, that would stand strong until the last.

She was a frequent visitor to the Palace, so there were few guards that did not know her on sight. She was waved quickly through when they approached the outer gate, and again inside the portcullis of the inner bailey. The coach trundled up the crushed rock and gravel of the drive, around the fountain and pool beneath a statue of Queen Isaera I, the founder of the realm and the city of Avaanse. She held a sword in one hand, and a rose in the other – the same mix of strength and beauty evidenced by the Palace constructed in her honor so many hundreds of years ago.

The driver hopped quickly down to lower the stairs and open the coach’s door. He was quick enough to beat even the Palace footmen – no small feat. Perhaps he would be an adequate regular driver. She made a note to herself to find out his name in order to request him in the future.

Gathering her robes, she crossed the drive and headed into the Palace. She forced herself to at least acknowledge those who greeted her as she strode through the halls and corridors of the Palace, winding her way to the great iron-bound oak doors of the library. A footman opened the door for her as she approached, for which she was grateful. It was so unseemly for her to struggle pushing it open herself, and using tamborae for such a task was unworthy of its glory.

Circling the depression in the center of the circular main repository, she turned off down a short hallway at the back of chamber, rapping sharply on the noblethorn door she came to at the end. The door creaked open and she was greeted by the surprised face of Uwen Braeghe.

“Oh hello!” he exclaimed. “Father, Elder Poliara is here to see you. Please, come in, Seeress,” he stood aside and gestured into the office.

“Mm?” she heard the distracted voice of Master Ithan. “Oh, hello Elder,” he said distractedly. “Do come in.”

Most men would get a stern reprimand for such inattention to a Seeress of her station, but somehow Ithan’s habit of seeming completely lost in thought had become endearing to her. She harbored a secret fondness for the man and his son, who had a similar bent, albeit tempered with the exuberance of youth.

She entered the cramped chamber, with its shelves and tables laden with piles of books, scrolls, and parchment. A carefully corked inkpot and several well-used quills sat on a small table off to the side, an incongruous island of tidiness in the otherwise cluttered room. One of the lanterns seen in the main room – specially designed both to extinguish and keep from spilling their oil when knocked over – was hung from a hook in the wall, and another stood on his desk.

Ithan was balding, with wisps of once-brown hair clinging desperately to the back and sides of the smooth skin of his skull. His squinty dark eyes focused on Poliara as if seeing her for the very first time.

“What brings you to the library?”

“I need your help. Both of you, if you please,” she nodded to young Uwen. “You are both skilled in research and versed in ancient texts.”

“I see. What is it you seek, Seeress?”

“Several things. First, I need every prophecy that references or relates to Kei’arai, even auxiliary or apocryphal sources. Focus particularly on any confrontation with demons, and anything that links Kei’Arai to Seiua Laes.”

Uwen looked at his father. “Certainly the Book of Voices. But also Chronicles,” he said, referring to Chronicles of the Aomman Temple. “And I imagine we look in The Revelations of Tunyan, yes?”

Ithan nodded. “The Prophecies of the Seeress may also have something, as will perhaps the writings of some of the prophets not in the Book of Voices, and maybe Tsurani Geletuthina as well,” he finished, referring last to a First Millennium codex – nearly three-thousand years old now - that expounded on a mysterious order called the Tsurani, apparently a military organization of some kind related to ancient Tyrwyl.

“Very well,” she said with approval. “Next, I need the history of the Royal Palace, anything at all, even plans or ledgers.”

“That should not be too difficult. Uwen can handle that without my supervision. In the Royal Archives section, boy,” he said to Uwen’s questioning look.

“Excellent. Finally, I would like to see any histories of the Temple, particularly plans for its construction.”

“Are you referring to the First Aomman Temple, on the site of the Covenant of the Gift?”

“Not exactly. I am referring to the Temple here in Avaanse, but if you find designs or plans for the First Aomman Temple I would be interested in those also, yes.”

“I see. Well, I believe there are some sources we can investigate. However, not to put too fine a point on it, but wouldn’t you be better suited to your final request? You, I assume, have access to the Temple Archives, which are far more likely to contain what you’re looking for.”

“I have neither the time nor the expertise, and I cannot rely on the Mistress Archivist or her Bearers.” She handed them a pair of folded parchments, both bearing her white wax seal. “These will allow you access into the Temple Archives. Show them to the Mistress Archivist. She is to come to me with any questions.”

Ithan’s eyes widened in surprise, and Uwen’s mouth hung open in shock. Lay people were almost never granted such privileges.

“You will, of course,” she continued, “be bound by an oath of secrecy through your kirs. There are things you may have access to which are not to be divulged to any outside the Temple should you come across them in your research. Are you agreed?”

They both consented without hesitation. She had hoped their thirst for knowledge would override any reservation they may have had about taking an oath of secrecy, and it appeared she had judged correctly.

Having settled the details of how they would report their findings to her and administering the oaths of secrecy to them, she took her leave and headed back to the coach, boarding under the watchful eye of the statue of the first Queen of Aavelae. I am protecting your legacy, Majesty, the thought came unbidden into her head. For a moment, she wondered if she were becoming unbalanced, giving in, however fleetingly, to flights of fancy that a statue could watch her actions and hear her thoughts.

posted on Jun, 3 2018 @ 12:07 PM
Just came in to say great job Shep! Keep up the good work!

posted on Jun, 4 2018 @ 06:28 AM
a reply to: Night Star

Thank you, Night Star! I'll post another episode today - the conclusion of this scene with Poliara. Then, unfortunately, I have to finish the next one after that. I'll try to get some writing in tonight and tomorrow to keep things moving along.

Slowly we're getting to a long section that has been written for quite some time, which just needs a bit of revision and editing to adapt it to changes I made in the overall story since that section was written. And if you followed that train of thought I'm impressed.

posted on Jun, 4 2018 @ 08:45 AM
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152 - An Evil, Palpable and Malevolent

The coach clattered over the paving stones in the Gerat Kuhjinoe as she returned to the Temple later. Voices greeted her as she strode purposefully down the main curved corridor toward her apartments. There were documents she needed to consult in her private office, and she needed her Bearers’ assistance. She grabbed an acolyte and tasked him with tracking down Casera and Livna, then continued on down the wide, marble-lined hallway.

She felt it before she reached her apartments – a faint darkness, a wrongness in the air. Instinctively she Gathered tamborae, preparing herself for anything as opened the door to her chambers. The anteroom – a round, ornately decorated room with a few small tables and chairs for petitioners to await her availability – was empty. To the right, between two hanging tapestries depicting the First Covenant and the Ordeal of the Bearer, the door to her audience chamber – and thus, her private office, which was attached to it – stood slightly ajar.

She pushed tamborae out from her in waves, searching the apartments. She was alone, although not for long. She smelled death, now. Quickly she slipped into her audience chamber, then to the private office off to one side.

Her dread was validated when she entered the office. Slumped over her desk, her blonde hair spilling out over the messages she had received earlier, was Livna, her Bearer. The sense of evil hung heavy in this room, and she slowly circled the desk to look at the corpse.

Livna held the message Poliara had not opened yet, crumpled in her fist as if she had had some kind of seizure while holding it. A knife to her left told her that she had tried to open the message secretly, cutting under the wax and likely intending to reseal it when she was done. Her eyes stared sightlessly, glazed with death, and a greenish-white foam still clung to her lips.

“Elder?” a youthful voice called from the anteroom – Casera had arrived.

“In here,” she responded.

She heard Casera enter the audience chamber behind her, then her shocked gasp as she entered the office.

Livna!” she cried, and started forward.

“Stop!” Poliara commanded the young woman. Poliara thought clinically how interesting it was that Casera – someone who up until quite recently had been one of the most narcissistic people she had ever met – now shed immediate tears over Livna’s death. That child from Lithelwaite had apparently had quite an effect on Casera.

“There is dark power here. Stay back until I say,” she commanded amidst Casera’s frightened whimpers.

She Worked caan, forcing the dead girl’s hand open and flattening out the parchment in the air before her. It seemed to resist her, and with the Sight that tamborae granted her, she could see flickers of what appeared to be black lightning, dark flashes crackling across and around the parchment. Around the room, a vestige of that same dark energy seemed to resonate, but its center was the message, and once it had left Livna’s hand her body no longer had the aura of evil either.

She examined the message, drawing closer. It was completely blank.

“Seeress, I don’t understand,” began Casera, but Poliara hushed her.

Carefully, discreetly, she probed the parchment further with ashu, the Spirit form of tamborae. It still held power of some kind, and seemed to actively push back at her efforts. She tried with more force, and something changed – the parchment began to writhe, almost as if it were alive. As she pushed yet more ashu at it, suddenly there seemed to be a presence with her and Casera in the room. She could feel it - an evil, palpable and malevolent.

There was a horrific shriek, like the rending of some gigantic curtain mixed with breaking glass. The image of a sharp-toothed, skull-like face, seemingly made of ink or shadow, appeared in the parchment. It seemed as if it was bulging, trying to climb off the parchment, snarling.

Ig vaeo od vos, kaankonnus!

Anger seized her and she Worked, crafting a sphere of tamborae around the parchment and the demonic head. She sculpted the energy desperately. That which you bind shall be bound, that which you loose shall be loosed, she quoted the Book of Voices to herself.

“By the power of Aomm the One I bind you within the Seam, I forbid you entry to this realm through this portal. Go back to your master!” she called out. Casera screamed as the demon howled in frustration and furiously shrieked insults at her in the language of Ngak. She tightened the cage of tamborae down as clawed shadow-hands appeared, gripping the parchment as if they were trying to rip it apart. The shadow-face shook its head, spat and bit, slamming against her work, trying to destroy the Binding.

She felt its counterstrike then, a sharp, blinding stabs of pain in her legs and torso. A memory of blood drenched robes and old, deep pain, long forgotten, flooded her mind as if it had happened just moments ago. She fought with herself for control, but she wanted to weep, to sob for what she had lost, to take the blade and put it into her chest,to end the terrible pain forever, to sleep and no longer care. The demonic head slowed its fighting and began to grin, its claws working as if in anticipation of flesh to be torn.

NO! a hard, distant voice commanded inside her. Do not let it prevail! Fight back, woman!

The voice snapped her back, and she redoubled her efforts, Gathering more and more and skewering the parchment with a torrent of the power of the Gift. With a last frustrated bellow from the demon, the energy cage collapsed onto the page. It shrank in crackling purple and black fire, then dropped to the floor in a cloud of black ash. The room fell deafeningly silent.

Exhaustion overtook her. Her eyes swam in a sea of gray with colorful flecks of magenta, orange, red, and blue. She vaguely registered the sensation of falling, trying to catch something, anything, to keep from going down. Distantly she felt her hand grip cloth, and heard a faint woman’s voice call to her.

posted on Jun, 7 2018 @ 01:28 PM
This one might be pretty rough - I apologize for any edits I've missed.

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153 - An Angry God

Gaalen moved silently just outside the reach of the firelight from the camp. The survivors were keeping close in, no one daring to venture away from the comfort of other people. The tension in the camp was tangible – of forty-two who set out, only twenty remained. Kaena, Gaalen, Siere, Joen, Grond, Lieutenant Uen-Avachek, two wagon drivers, five Ladyguard, and seven of Braeghe Color. They were all sober, and the snatches of conversation he caught told him the company was on edge.

Seeress Meron had been escorted to her tent and brought water to wash with, clean clothes, and food. The last Gaalen had seen of her was when Joen took her to her tent. He set it up for her by himself, and honestly, seemed quite taken with her. Creases furrowed his young brow as he emerged later, clearly concerned about her well-being. Every spare moment he had, when not doing something for Gaalen, was spent standing just outside the Seeress’s tent. As afternoon waned into evening, Gaalen decided to simply let the boy be. Standing guard wouldn’t hurt him one bit, and would satisfy his need to protect something he cared for.

As Gaalen approached the other campfire, where the wagon drivers, a few of his men, and Lady Laeren sat. He was still beyond the firelight, into the trees far enough to keep his night vision intact, but their quiet conversation carried.

“I tell you, there’s a reason this happened,” said a gravelly male voice. Gaalen thought it was one of the wagon drivers, a grizzled old man with leathery tanned skin and a gray hair down to his shoulders.

“And what do you think that is, old man?” said another male from the other side of the fire.

“Aomm. The One is angry, and we’re paying the price.”

There were a couple chuckles, and Gaalen saw Laeren shake her head and drink from her waterskin.

“And why in the bloody Abyss would Aomm kill half our party? What did we do to him?”

“The natural order’s been violated, boy, and we all followed along.”

“You’re mad, you old fool. What are you on about?” said another male.

“Give it a rest Anarthan,” came yet another voice, sounding disgusted.

“Just ‘cause you don’t believe in him, Benethal, doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. God is mad that that boy-lord was made Amaerke, and we’re paying for it, you mark my words. This caravan is cursed.”

“Watch your tongue. You don’t talk about Lord Gaalen like that, understand?” snapped one of the Lanceguard.

“Them bandits were just the beginning. You watch. Make your peace ‘cause we are all dead, an’ we’ll have to face the Father soon,” continued the old man.

One of the soldiers made to rise, but Laeren put a hand on him.

“Easy, Renegar,” she said before turning to the wagon driver. “It’s about time you shut your mouth, before it gets shut for you.”

"Doesn’t know what he’s talking about, anyway. Bloody fool,” muttered Renegar.

“That’s right, so let it lie before you do something stupid,” she told him.

Renegar shook off the Ladyguard’s restraining hand and walked off into the darkness. The rest of the group fell into a heavy silence as the fire crackled softly, sending sparks up into the air. Gaalen pushed on without a sound to complete his patrol of the camp.

posted on Jun, 15 2018 @ 01:55 PM
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154 - Risen

Gaalen’s heart was heavy as he reached Kaena’s tent. He pulled the flap aside, and she looked up from where she sat at the small table, busily writing on a piece of parchment. A pile of completed messages sat to one side, already sealed with wax imprinted with the crest of House Milaener.

“What are those?”

“Requests to the major Holds in the Eastlands. I thought I would take advantage of the time and get them prepared.”

He didn’t respond, but sat down on her pallet, staring blankly at the wall.

“Tell me what’s going on.”

He paused, trying to find words.

“Do you – do you think the Princess should have made me Amaerke Uenvinala?”

“Of course, why not?”

“Because it’s never been done before. A man, I mean.”

“So what?”

He didn’t respond right away.

“Some of the company thinks the reason so many were killed in the attack that Aomm is mad at us.”

She shook her head derisively. “Why would Aomm be mad at us?”

“Because I’m now an Amaerke. That’s the contention, at least.”

“That’s ridiculous. Why on Earth would Aomm care whether you are an Amaerke or not? Besides, you’ll make a far sight better Amaerke than most of those hissing cats that currently possess the title.”

He continued to look at the tent wall. It seemed ridiculous, but how many other things were? What if that was really the case? What if he really was the cause of the misfortune the convoy had had so far?

“Gaalen, you can’t be taking this seriously,” she said, flatly.

“What if it’s true?”

“Gaalen! Of course it’s not true! You can’t possibly –“ she began.

“It is not true,” a third voice interjected, “That is not how the Merciful Father works. He does not kill one person over another’s sin, even if making a man an Amaerke was a sin, which it isn’t. The whole idea is preposterous and ignorant.”

Seeress Meron spoke softly, but with authority, as she entered the tent. She has somehow managed to bathe and was wearing clean white robes, hair brushed and smooth, her face fresh. Her eyes, however, still looked haunted, and she moved timidly.

“It’s good to see you up, Seeress,” said Gaalen seriously.

“How do you feel?” asked Kaena.

She just shook her head and dismissed the question. “I fear I my memory is a bit clouded over the last couple days. How far are we from Lithelwaite?”

“About eight days, near as I can tell.”

“Do you intend to send a rider ahead?”

“When we are about three days out, yes, but I don’t see the point until then. If I had an army and a dozen messengers, perhaps I would distribute these beforehand,” she held up the notes for the Easthold Ladies. “But as we are limited in our resources, I will wait.”

Siere just nodded. “Thank you both, for,” she stopped, staring distantly from one to the other. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Gaalen. “Lord Captain, I apologize for trying to attack you.”

“No need, Seeress.”

Kaena murmured agreement, then said, “Tomorrow we enter the Besh-Harat Forest. We will be at least five days in before we break into the hill country west of Lithelwaite. Besh-Harat is mostly greater noblethorn, avaanya, and white pawfor at first, and should be easy going. It doesn’t get very thick until we come off the plateau, nearer to the Aframis Hills. We should be able to move the wagons with relative ease and find ample space just off the road for camp each night. The road goes all the way to Lithelwaite now, so as long as we stay on it we should be fine, even in the thicker forest.”

Seeress Meron nodded, as if she had expected as much. They spoke quietly about plans for when they arrived, but no one really had the energy to stick with the conversation. There was a heaviness to the atmosphere, as if everything was buried under a blanket. Eventually they let it go for the night, and Gaalen and Siere headed back to their respective tents.

Getting an early start the next day, they entered the forest the around mid-morning. The lesser noblethorn trees had steadily given way to their greater cousins, getting taller and taller until it seemed as though they were traveling through the throne hall of some gigantic wooden castle. The trunks of the trees, their rough bark cut through with deep furrows, stood straight, reaching to the sky and casting flickering shadows on them all as the thin beams of sunlight struggled to pierce the high canopy. There was a calmness that came over them, a peace they could not readily explain except to attribute it to the aroma of the forest. The wind breathed through the trees, giving them an eerie life, and in the somber quiet of the mid-morning it seemed they could hear voices. They looked around and at each other, but no one wanted to put words to the strange feeling, as if the trees themselves were keeping watch on the tiny intruders to their domain, giant sentinels of a forbidding and mystical woodland realm.

They pulled off the road into a large clearing in the early evening, setting up their small camp in a loose circle to huddle down for the night.

posted on Jun, 16 2018 @ 10:43 AM
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155 - The Horns Sound

The sun rose pale the following morning, too weak to take the chill out of the air. The convoy had risen before dawn to break camp and try to get back out on the road at first light. The days growing shorter combined with the approach of Shadow Night had everyone on edge, and Kaena was keen to cover as much ground as possible each day.

As the first rays of sunlight hit the tops of the trees along the road a hundred paces away, they finished breaking down the camp and were loading the wagons when Kaena heard a high-pitched horn.

Immediately she went on alert. It had been a danger call. A moment later it came again, from the south where Lady Laeren was scouting, then another right after it from the southeast – Lady Jillan.

“Everyone make ready. Something is coming. Weapons out, find cover. Quickly now!”

The calls came again, closer now, and in moments Laeren came sprinting into the clearing at full speed, Jillan shortly after her from farther around to the left, both making straight for Kaena.

“What is it?” she demanded when Laeren arrived.

Aiyuun, three miles out, heading this direction.” Jillan had arrived also, nodding in agreement.

“How many?” They both remained silent, their faces taut. Laeren shook her head slightly, and Jillan looked to the ground. It could only mean one thing.

Immediately she began calling out orders.

“You and you – back those wagons up against that rock. Make a wall, get under them and stay there! Now, man! Junia! Bows and longspears there, there, and there,” she pointed. “Gaalen! Aiyuun! Spread your men out. Everyone back up against a tree so they can’t get behind you. Now! Go!”

At her words the delegation exploded into activity, people running in all directions. Gaalen shouted at his men, pointing here and there and walking toward a massive tree himself, Joen not far behind and Grond out to his right.

She stood tall, alone, surveying the clearing. So it was here they would all die. She shook her head. We’ll see how many of you bloody vermin I can take with me. The thought was savage, a mental snarl in her head, and she realized she was fiercely angry.

The soldiers were terrified, as they should be; she could feel it. Without a miracle they would all die right here in this spot, today, she knew it, everyone knew it. The trees were not close enough together to restrict the aiyuun’s flight, so they would need to take out as many as they could at a distance. If the aiyuun made it to melee distance, there was no hope.

The Seeress ran up from behind and grabbed Kaena’s arm.

“I can help!”

Kaena shook her head. “You are not skilled enough to fight aiyuun, Seeress. They will kill you in seconds.” She lowered her voice. “It is a swarm. All of us, the soldiers, we are already dead. But you must survive. Hide with the wagon drivers, wait for the aiyuun to leave, then get the horses and run! Take two and ride straight through! You must make it to Lithelwaite and rally your father. Make him listen to you!”

“No, you don’t understand! The Gift can protect! I can shield myself and perhaps one other completely, or I can help everyone, but I will be defenseless.”

Kaena studied her for a moment, seeing her in a new light. She has a protector’s heart.

“Everyone, Seeress. I will defend you. Over there, quickly,” she pointed to a pair of massive noblethorn trees, joined together at the base. “Stay up against the trees so they cannot get behind you.”

Siere ran for the trees as the buzzing grew louder. The aiyuun would be upon them shortly.

Kaena barked a few last-second orders, finally shouting, “Bows up! Here they come!” as the aiyuun’s buzzing drew inexorably closer. She ran toward the Seeress, who was already kneeling in the soft bed of needles beneath the trees.

Suddenly she felt a rush in her breast, a surge of energy and courage like none she had ever experienced before. Her fear melted away, and she inhaled deeply in wonder. All around the grove the soldiers were looking around, some even smiling, the fear and anxiety replaced with bold eagerness, a light in their eyes.

Kaena turned to the Seeress then, and by contrast, the kneeling woman was petrified, her eyes wide enough to show the whites around her midnight irises. She was shaking horribly, her breath coming quick and shallow, and she began rocking back and forth, whimpering.

“Aomm in the heavens, Seeress, is this your doing?” Kaena said softly, awe in her voice. “You took it all upon yourself, didn’t you?”

The slender woman nodded tightly, her face panic-stricken, and Kaena briefly imagined the torture Siere had just subjected herself to. She knelt and placed a hand on her shoulder. “I will protect you until my last breath, Seeress.”

The Seeress’s hand shot up to squeeze Kaena’s. Haltingly, she said, “I will hold it. As long as I can.” Kaena nodded, then stood, set the longspear aside, and stuck several arrows in the earth, and pulled out her bow. All around the area the survivors were doing the same, looking around confidently, every one of them steady as rocks. Gaalen stood some distance away with Joen and Grond, throwing her a quick smile. “We have a chance, Seeress. By Aomm,” she breathed.

edit on 6-16-2018 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 18 2018 @ 07:37 AM
Note: This is an important and pivotal scene. I only hope I have executed it well.

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156 - One Woman's Promise

They came then, breaking through the trees. Arrows flew and men and women shouted “Kolaan jessed!” and “Tha syn a kleidiam!” triumphantly as the large, glossy black shapes buzzed in and among them, darting through the trees. Lanceguard and Ladyguard loosed arrow after arrow, their aim true. One after another the aiyuun fell as they closed.

Kaena had already fired a half-dozen arrows, each one finding its mark. An aiyuun threatened from the side, and she spun and fired again, taking it in the eye, but still it came. She nocked another arrow and fired again, putting it right next to the first, and the creature fell twitching to the forest floor.

Dimly she was aware of the Seeress behind her, now screaming, curled up arms over knees and rocking. A clicking to her other side alerted her, and she spun, firing her an arrow up directly between the mandibles of yet another one, and it fell instantly, not five paces from where she stood. Two more noticed her and came toward where she stood. Her last arrow was too far to reach in time, so she dropped the bow behind her and snatched up the longspear just as the nearest one was upon her. She shoved the spear up into its mouthparts, pithing it as the long spearblade penetrated the central nerve bundle in its head.

She ripped the spear free as yet another came at her, drawing her away from the Seeress a pace or two. As she battled her current adversary she heard the Seeress shriek in terror, and everything seemed to slow.

Kaena clubbed the aiyuun in the head and stunned it. Chancing a glance back she saw the Seeress cowering, about to be impaled by the knife-like talons of an aiyuun rearing over her. Without hesitation, she threw the spear as hard as she could, taking the creature in its eye.

She dove and rolled just under the talons of the one she had clubbed – now back upright and on the attack – as it swiped at her. Scrambling to her feet she pulled out her knives and spun to face it, just as it pierced her breastplate with one of its talons. Lightning-quick, she severed the talon right at the joint, then tried to duck underneath its head and shove her longknife up through its neck-joint, ripping through the soft membrane between its shell-plates to try to sever its head.

She succeeded, but not before its good talon pierced her belly. In its final fall, its leg spasmed and threw her backward. She felt bones break as her body slammed into the bole of the twin noblethorns. Another aiyuun loomed as her pain made the world around her seem to spin and twist. Her remaining longknife lay next to her hand, and with a ferocious shout she picked it up and threw it at the creature’s head, but it missed and glanced off the shiny black shell. She saw her death as it lurched toward her.

A shadow crossed over her, accompanied by a feral growl. An arrow buried itself in one of the aiyuun’s eyes, killing it even as it stabbed Kaena with its talons.

Above her the Seeress still whimpered as she held the bow, but the buzzing had grown faint, and Kaena felt calm come over her despite the pain. There were no more aiyuun near them, just the corpses of the ones she had killed, their legs curled up toward their bodies.

posted on Jun, 19 2018 @ 11:19 AM
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157 - A Hidden Wish

Anna Kire Daecullon looked out across the Queen’s Garden to the southeast. Somewhere, beyond the trees, across the landscape, her fiancé rode to summon an army. And somewhere yet further off and to the right, a horde of savages slaughtered and burned their way through the realm – her realm. Her mother would not be queen forever, then it would fall to her to protect the people. Would that she would be as strong as her mother.

She missed her father, Eimestar. He had died when she was a girl, killed by a Burnevali during a meaningless skirmish near the border. He had gone to the aid of Aegan’s army, beset by the Burnevali from the southwest. It was thought a mere show of force and solidarity with Aegan would be enough to turn the Burnevali away – and that was the case. But a foolish regiment took on the Bastion forces that Father had been accompanying, surprising them in the night. They were in and among the Bastion personnel before anyone really knew what was happening, and Eimestar met his death in a Burnevali blade that night.
Gaalen was out there now, running the same risk her father did – heading off with a much smaller force to try to get help. And she was worried.

She had not let on to Gaalen the truth – that she had dreamed of him since she was a girl. Of course, back then it had been brown eyes and broad shoulders, elements of juvenile infatuation. But when she met him through Taarvaes, and she actually spoke with him, his quiet, serious manner, his clear respect for the Crown, and his dedication to the Bastion drew her to him. She had never dared even harbor the hope that they would one day say vows before the High Seer together, that she might rule the realm with him at her side. That dream had nearly come to fruition, the fantasy of a teenage girl, matured into the whispered, hidden wish of a young woman. He was to be hers in truth.

If she was honest with herself, she was terrified. Now that she had within her grasp something she had wanted for so long, she already feared losing it. What would she do if he was maimed, or killed? What if she had already seen the last of him? There were a thousand things that could go wrong every day on that trip. She tallied up the number of grisly deaths or horrific injuries he could sustain, each one worse than the last. Her mind spun, her heart beat faster, and she could not keep her thoughts focused. She fought to retain control of her emotions, but her chest tightened and it felt hard to breathe the cool garden air. She found herself gasping quietly and weeping like a child.

“Why your Highness, whatever is wrong?” a smooth voice said behind her.

She was startled, and to her great embarrassment flinched. Keeping her back to the visitor, she quickly and discreetly dabbed at her face. It would have to do.

Forcing a smile, she turned and came face to face with the Mons Rosian ambassador, Tevas Ralan. His dark eyes studied her with concern, his brow furrowed.

He bowed formally, executing it with a smooth grace rarely seen in Aavelae. The Mons Rosians – despite the faults of their royal family – had superb etiquette.

“If I presume, I deeply apologize, Highness, but I suspect your heart aches for a certain young man now out in the world where it is dangerous,” he said. His accent was slight – he spoke the Graytongue very well – and his voice was kind.

“I,” she started, but her emotions were too heavy and she could not break free. I’m worried about Gaalen, she thought, but her voice caught every time she tried to speak. A tear of frustration leaked from her eye, and she struggled not to sniff.

“It is alright, Highness. There is no need to explain. Would you care for some wine? Perhaps a bit of the wonderful vintages of your fair realm will help ease the worry. I shall return,” he declared.

Unsure of herself, she nodded, still unable to form words. He turned quickly and strode from the garden walk into the nearest doorway to the palace. For some reason she felt absurdly grateful to the dashing Ambassador. It seemed ludicrous, of course; a dozen servants could get her anything she desired, that is what they were paid to do, but for some reason the thought that he would actually get her a glass of wine himself was endearing.

posted on Jun, 22 2018 @ 10:03 AM
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158 - A Walk in the Garden

He returned shortly, bearing two glasses of scarlet liquid. He handed one to her with a flourish, made more impressive for not spilling a drop of his own glass.

“My dear mother always told me, ‘The milk it is good for the body, but the wine is good for the soul.’”

She took the glass and sipped, watching the Ambassador carefully. In moments her anxiety did seem to lessen somewhat, and she was able to compose herself better.

“Thank you, Ambassador Ralan. This was quite kind of you,” she told him.

“Oh dear, Highness, please, call me Tevas. ‘Ambassador Ralan’ sounds so, ah, how do you say it, legal, yes?”

She smiled at him, and he returned the expression. His teeth were white and perfectly straight, his smile lighting up his face. She found it hard not to stare at his strong cheekbones and dark eyes.

“Very well, Tevas,” she said deliberately. “Would you join me in a walk through the garden?”

“I would be honored, Highness.”

They started down the crushed-quartz path through the archway of marble and wrought iron, into the garden proper. The lush, vibrant emerald color of spring had given way to the ripe, more mature summer greens, and now the aging colors of autumn were upon them. Along the walk a few flowers still blossomed, and tall grasses of various kinds waved in the gentle breeze. Vines heavy with late-season fruit clung to trellises, and aromatic herbs and flowers grew in stretches along the path, filling their nostrils with myriad scents.

“I find the autumn to be intoxicating. The harvest comes in, the feasts are had. The days are warm but there is an edge to the night, as if the cold of winter is just around the corner. It is a good time to be alive,” he said.

She considered him. He was trying to get her to talk, of course. She knew the game as well as he did.

“Well, I wish I shared your enthusiasm for the season. Winter is a difficult time in Aavelae, as I imagine it is in Mons Ros.”

Her tone was probably less cordial than called for, but she really did not like winter. The animals became increasingly desperate and dangerous as the weeks of cold and snow wore on. Lives were lost every winter, for no good reason. No matter what the Crown did, the population fell.

They walked in silence for a time, through the foxhead and hundredrose blossoms, large yellow sunflowers, and patches of ornamental grasses. They passed an ornate fountain, bubbling gently with water that ran to a small fish pond. Her thoughts turned once again to Gaalen and the delegation her mother had sent to the Eastholds, and she began to worry about him again.

“I am certain that the Lord Captain will be just fine, Highness,” he said kindly, as if he could sense her thoughts.

She could only throw him a small smile, though deep down she wanted to say more.

“I just wish he were safe, here, that my –“ but stopped herself. She had been about to say, ‘That my mother had chosen someone else.’ But she knew that her mother was an excellent ruler and that it was profoundly difficult to make decisions with limited information. As kind and genuine as this man appeared to be, he was still a foreign diplomat, and she was not about to question her mother’s decisions in front of him.

“Princess, if you ever need to talk, I humbly offer myself as a sympathetic ear.”

She glanced sidelong at him. “I mean no offense, Ambassador, but as a Princess of Aavelae, I’m sure you understand the hesitation of confiding in the official of a foreign power. Thank you for the offer, however, but I’m afraid I must decline.”

“Of course, your Highness, I quite understand. I confess I have fallen in love with your country, and I simply wish to help. I personally feel a healthy Aavelae is good for both your country and mine. Perhaps in time you will come to realize I am in earnest, Princess.”

She smiled at him. Grudgingly, she had to admit he was skilled at what he did. It’s still a game, you know that. They came around the corner to the western exit of the garden.

“Very well, Princess,” he continued, “I must be off. Do take care, and perhaps we can continue our walk through the rest of the garden another time? Until then,” he bowed.

“Another time, Ambassador,” she replied, then watched him turn his heel and stride confidently out the gate.
edit on 6-22-2018 by PrairieShepherd because: (no reason given)

posted on Jun, 28 2018 @ 01:09 PM
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159 - Dark Visitor

The evening had fallen early as clouds moved in throughout the afternoon. Lightning flashed in the northwest sky as storms threatened off the coast north of the Blackhawks. It would be a dark night tonight.

The Temple apartments assigned to Jenathal Lowaeren were irritatingly small, though he had them furnished well. Conservative Aomman theology advocated a frugal existence bordering on the ascetic. Some ridiculousness about heavenly pleasures and earthly restraint. His true Master allowed his subjects any comfort they could obtain on earth, whatever they were clever or strong enough to take. That was true blessing, and the way this corrupt world worked. When his Master eventually ruled, there would be order. Those who were subjects would be perfectly in line. There would be those in power, and those subject to power. The chaos, disorder, and manipulation – and the elements of society that caused such – would be eliminated. The world would be a perfect, ordered system, and those pieces that fell outside that system would be removed. The very thought gave him comfort.

He thought of the way things would be when he presented his Master with a unified, orderly Avaanse. A foothold, a base of operation to begin the conquest of the Sommet Lands, the five queendoms of Aavelae, Mons Ros, Burneval, Aegan, and Iniver. The lands would fall, and the Master would preside in all his glory.

He began to settle in for the evening, setting out his copy of the Book of Voices next to his heated teapot and his other scripture. The heavy tome was larger than the Book of Voices, and bound with black leather. There was a strange symbol on the front, a rune of some kind inset with some blood-red stone that seemed to writhe when he looked at it, an effect which still made him slightly queasy even after all the years he had possessed it.

Like the power from the Master that he had access to, the ability to open the book was also dependent upon the Master’s whim and approval. One took their life in their hands every time he risked service, but the rewards were indescribable.

He sat down to prepare his lecture on the Book of Voices for the following day, then he would study the prophecies in the black book that related to his current mission. He found the dichotomy ironic, but necessary.

He had just settled in with the Aomman scriptures when someone spoke behind him.

“You take a great risk, Seer. That volume is not for the faint of heart, and here you sit with it out on your table where any could walk in and see.” The voice was smooth, but disguised – an outsider would not be able to tell if it was a man or a woman. But he knew. Only one would be so bold, or so foolish.

“They won’t. No one would dare come into my apartments unannounced. Except you, apparently,” he said wryly. “What do you want?”

Silence. A hooded figure shifted in the shadows just outside the candlelight emanating from his small table.

“What do I want? Yes, an excellent question. I want to tell you that your methods are clumsy and careless. You risk being discovered, and thus place us all in jeopardy.”

I will not be exposed. You, on the other hand, are playing with fire. Do you honestly think she will succumb to your charms? You are not that skilled. She will eat you alive, and I will rejoice in your fall.”

“You are playing with power you cannot hope to understand, much less control. You are a fool.”

Lowaeren smiled. “A fool, am I? At least I have a concrete plan to advance our Master’s aims. How long has it been for you? What have you actually produced for him?”

“You have no idea what I have done for the Master. You are blinded by your own pride.”

“And you are a coward,” he shot back, “sneaking about in the shadows. Taking real power requires risk. At least I accept the reality of it!”

“We shall see who stands when it is all done,” the hooded figure said quietly, but with smoldering heat in its voice.

posted on Jun, 29 2018 @ 09:35 AM
For anyone following, I have been looking forward to - and at the same time, dreading - posting this next episode. Truly, I hope I have written it well enough to do it justice. I've edited it, reread it dozens of times, revised it, added, subtracted, reworded things. I've even agonized over the title of it.

But now is the time to post it.

Back in a moment...

posted on Jun, 29 2018 @ 09:42 AM
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160 - Something Precious and Intimate

Kaena lay against the bole of the giant noblethorn, the severed talon of the aiyuun still in her chest just below her collarbone. The decapitated corpse of an aiyuun lay to one side, another still form to the other side, and just beyond a third, heavy arrows sticking out from its eyes. Kaena had stood her ground by the two great trees to protect Siere and battle the aiyuun, accounting for a dozen of the black shapes on the ground. But that is where she fell. Her chest rose and fell gently, but her eyes were closed and blood seeped from her lips.

There was nothing Siere could do. The aiyuun had pierced Kaena’s body in so many places there was no possible way she could save her. Siere would die long before she could Expel the woman’s wounds. She wasn’t even sure she could Take enough to save Kaena, so they might both die. There is a chance, there is always a chance, she lied to herself.

Taking a deep breath, she reached up toward Kaena’s forehead even as she wearily Gathered tamborae. She could do it. For Lord Braeghe. Can’t you even say his name in your head? She briefly wondered what death would feel like. You will be free.

Kaena coughed blood, and weakly batted Siere’s arm away. “Don’t even think it.” she choked. Halting for breath every few words, she gasped, “Gaalen told me how you heal. I’m already gone. Don’t you dare kill yourself for me.”

“Lady Commander,” she let her hand fall.

“I see,” Kaena waved vaguely toward her eyes, “how you look at him. I see.”

“What? No, don’t talk,” she said. A cold blade of guilt stabbed into Siere’s heart.

“It’s alright,” she said, turning toward Siere, “I was wrong about you. Stronger than me.” She laid a bloody hand on Siere’s forearm.

“Please don’t,” Siere said, shaking her head, fighting back tears.

“Neither of us will have him,” she said dismissively, “Princess wins.” Then, despite gasping for her breath, Kaena’s grip tightened, and fire entered her eyes. “Listen! Don’t let them. Hurt him. They will try. You must protect him! Promise me!”

No, no, no! She nodded and bowed her head. “I promise, Kaena.” The dying woman’s grip relaxed.

“Don’t trust,” she coughed again, “Lowaeren.” Siere was stunned.

“What? Why?”

“Kaena!” Gaalen staggered over, crashing down next to her.

She smiled at him. “My love. Up to you now. Get her home, or Avaanse is lost.” She choked and coughed, spitting blood.

“Don’t you leave me!” he bent close to her, frantically trying to stop the bleeding. “Seeress! Help me!”

“Gaalen, stop,” Kaena put her hand on his. “You saved me once. Not this time.”

“No, I’ll find a way! You hold on, do you hear me?” he growled through gritted teeth.

She shook her head. “Always loved you. First day,” she coughed again. “Wanted. Baby girl. For you. Wished I could have. I’m so sorry,” she lifted a bloody hand to caress his cheek, smiling at him. “You have to. Let me go,” she said gently.

Don’t go, don’t go, don’t go,” he sobbed, pulling her close and kissing her forehead. But her face had gone pale, and her hand fell away.

The Lord of Braeghe bowed his head and wept, rocking and clutching Kaena’s lifeless form close.

Siere felt dirty, as if she had intruded, unwanted and unwelcome, on something pure, something precious and intimate.

Finally, he lifted his head, tears cutting through the blood and grime on his face. Gently releasing Kaena’s body, he stood, looking at Siere blankly. She knew that look. Lost. Broken. She had seen his eyes in her own mirror.

He turned and walked into the trees a short distance toward one of the aiyuun, incapacitated by a nearby dead Ladyguard but still alive and trying to move. He drew his sword, and with a wordless cry of rage hacked at the creature over and over again, fluid and bits of carapace flying all about him. He fell to his knees, his back to her, and she heard ruin in the wail that followed.

Her emotions started to betray her and she buried her face in her hands. She was losing what little control she had left.

“Seeress.” She looked up at him, his face splattered orange with the creature’s blood and his hands covered red with Kaena’s. “I promised I would get you home. I will do that or die trying. Would you give me permission to --”, he stopped as his voice broke. His jaw worked, clenching over and over, and his nostrils flared. His voice tightened higher as he fought to form the words. “Will you permit me to -- bury her – before we leave?” A fresh tear ran down his face. She could think of nothing to say. Weakly, she nodded.

posted on Jul, 3 2018 @ 08:01 AM
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161 - Hundredrose and Whiteberry

Aiyuun did not usually leave many corpses behind after an attack. They carried their victims back as fresh food for their young or incubation hosts for their larvae, so the clearing only held a few. Sirs Grond, Renegar, and Etruesdan were all missing. Paralan’s body lay by a hiran tree, riddled with impalements, his killer laying nearby with Paralan’s spear embedded in its head. And Lord Braeghe's squire Joen was nowhere to be found.

Siere Gathered tamborae to her and used it to move the earth, rock, and the humus of the forest floor in the first of what she intended to be five graves for the bodies that remained. Meioshi Caran back home would have chastised her about using tamborae for menial labor, but she felt it was not dishonoring to Aomm to ensure the victims were properly buried.

“Not Kaena's,” Lord Braeghe croaked from behind her. She turned from her work to see his blank face watching her.

“Lord Braeghe, we should,” she began, but he shook his head and interrupted her.

“Not Kaena's.” He walked to the supplies and produced a camp spade, then returned to the area under the great twin noblethorn where Kaena had died, where her blood darkened the ground. With grim determination, he jammed the blade into the earth.

He dug for what seemed like hours. The grave was shallow, only up to his waist. The camp shovel was small, so he was bent over for much of the job. Sweat dampened his hair and his clothing as he worked, refusing to allow her to help him. She brought him water, and he took it woodenly with a murmured word of thanks. When he finished and tossed down the shovel, it hit a rock and clanged. Siere jumped, a jolt of fear racing through her body. Shaking, she tried to control her breathing.

After digging the grave, he carried rocks. Despite the cool air of autumn he was in only his undershirt and breeches, and he huffed as he hauled the fieldstones from the banks of a nearby brook. His eyes were dull and staring as he worked, the fire of life he had had before now seemingly gone.

Siere made a fire, then discreetly prepared Kaena’s body with tamborae, cleaning away blood, sweat, and dirt from her skin and clothing. Then, while he worked, she ventured into the forest. She found a small copse of aromatic hundredrose and shiny whiteberry bushes. She brought back as many of the dark crimson hundredrose blossoms and bulbs as she could gather, as well as dozens of the waxy-leaved whiteberry sprigs and fruits. She felt empty, even with the Gift of Aomm surging about and through her, as if she were stained in a way that could never be removed.

Gently, lovingly, Gaalen brushed Kaena’s hair aside with his hand, and gazed at her face for a time before wrapping her head in a shroud, which he tucked into her cloak. He carried her body into the grave, then laid her to her final rest. Climbing out, he pulled his belt knife out of the dirt where he had stuck it, and knelt by the side of the grave for a time.

Siere stood back, not wanting to intrude, waiting with the elements of the final rite. She heard him speaking low, shaking his head and fingering the blade of the knife. Carrying a waterskin and some ashes from the fire that she had gathered in a tin cup, she moved to kneel next to him as he stared blankly at Kaena’s still form.

“Kaena Quae Milaener, of House Milaener, Lady Commander of the Bastion of Aavelae, child of Aomm. Great Father, Protector of Life, take this woman to your House. Grant her peace in the life to come.”

Grabbing a handful of dirt, she mixed it with ashes and sprinkled some over Kaena’s body, then poured the water out.

“From earth and water we come. To earth and water we return.”

Silent tears fell down Gaalen’s face as he began shoveling dirt over Kaena’s body woodenly. When the grave was mostly covered, he took a break for water. Siere pulled dirt aside and began planting whiteberry fruits and hundredrose bulbs all around the edge of Kaena’s grave. She caught Gaalen watching her, a haunted look in his eyes. When she was finished, Gaalen covered the low mound with the stones he had gathered.

When they were done, Gaalen went over to where his cloak was bundled by the other side of the twin noblethorn. He pulled out Kaena’s longknives, studying them for a moment. Then he shoved them into the dirt at the head of her grave, crossing them to make an ‘X’, before taking a step back and staring morosely at them.

Siere stepped forward, then laid a hand on the crossed knives, Gathering tamborae and Working it with practiced skill. When she finished, she stepped back to stand next to him.

“They will never dull nor rust now. They will remain longer than the stones.”

Lord Braeghe nodded once, a fresh tear cutting through the grime on his face.

Gathering tamborae again, she lifted the remaining bodies into the graves she had dug with it, and performed the final rites over them as she had for Kaena. Lord Braeghe watched on solemnly, without saying a word. She finished by moving the earth back over them, sculpting it into neat mounds and covering them with leaves and needles from the surrounding area.

Their efforts had consumed nearly all of the remaining light of day. The waning First and Second Moons had both begun to rise as the sun cast beams of light alternating with long shadows of the trees in the forest. He began to work on the fire, preparing it for the evening’s meal. They had plenty of supplies now, and in fact would need to thin out what they would take with them.

Finally, she created a circular barrier of hardened air - similar to the one she used in her room – circling the camp area. It would not keep everything out, but smaller creatures such as ges’etaaken would not get past it.

They slept in a nearby hollow, around a small fire. Gaalen didn’t speak at all, consumed in his own thoughts.

posted on Jul, 5 2018 @ 07:33 AM
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162 - To Fight Another Day

“Lord Captain!” Joen shouted, running to assist Gaalen.

His master’s movements were so fast Joen could barely track them as he ran to help. Whether Gaalen heard him or not, Joen couldn’t tell. The man was completely focused, every motion a study in deadly economy.

Still, the aiyuun were so vicious Joen felt sure they would all die. And yet, he was not afraid. He ran, weapons in hand, to fight alongside the man he most respected in the world.

Coming around to the side he brought his longspear to bear, punching it up in between the plates of an aiyuun’s carapace. It shuddered and died – he had stabbed it just right. He locked eyes for a moment with Gaalen, who nodded curtly.

“Get behind me and use the bow. Now lad!” he commanded, and Joen obeyed with alacrity. Taking a breath, he released arrows as fast as he could nock and aim. One, two, three, with two creatures down. Four, five, another fell.

An aiyuun appeared through the trees to the left. He swung smoothly and loosed two more shots, one taking it in the eye, but the other bouncing harmlessly off of the hard exoskeleton of its triangular head. It seemed lock onto him and advanced on the ground.

“Lord Captain!” Joen called. “Closing fast, from the left!”

“Spear!” Gaalen yelled, engaged with another aiyuun halfway around the massive noblethorn they were stationed near.

Seeing he had plenty of time, Joen let one more arrow fly at the creature – which it dodged – then grabbed the spear and set himself for its attack. Just then he heard Gaalen cry out, and chanced a glance toward him. He had been thrown backward, and the aiyuun he was fighting sprang forward, closing in for the kill.

“NO!” Joen screamed, sprinting over and jamming his spear up between its mandibles when it turned its head to face him. It convulsed and its pincers clamped down on his spear, holding it fast. He pulled as hard as he could, but could not dislodge it.

He heard a hiss and spun around just as he felt his feet leave the ground and a sharp pain stabbed into his side. He heard Gaalen cry out again, and he turned his head to watch the forest fall away beneath him. He had been captured by one of the aiyuun.

As he rose, it seemed all of his courage had faded, and he fought to stay the panic that was trying to set in. He struggled against the grip of the aiyuun’s legs, trying to twist around and reach his sword. Hills, streams, and trees passed below him as he fought the grip of the creature. He succeeded in drawing his weapon, and without considering his actions, wildly thrust the blade up into the creature’s body, over and over again. Warm liquid sprayed on him from the holes he was ripping into the softer underparts of its carapace.

Suddenly inspired, he tried to sever one of the creature's legs where it joined the body. He succeeded, and though it continued to hold him the grip was not as tight. The flight had become less stable, the creature now seemed to fight to carry him. A surge of hope blossomed in his heart, and with a cry he stabbed upward toward the joint between its body and its head.

Abruptly he was free and falling, another wave of terror crashing through him as the earth and sky spun crazily. He closed his eyes, thinking of the Bastion and Lord Gaalen in his final moments. No one would ever know what happened to him. At least he had given Lord Gaalen a little more time. Maybe he would survive, even if Joen didn’t. A Bastion squire could not ask for more than to die saving his Lord, in Joen’s opinion.

The water felt like rock when he hit the surface, and it took a moment to regain rational thought as he bumped the gravelly bottom.

He was not dead.

He was alive.

He pushed off the bottom hard, kicked and pulled, struggling upward though his armor dragged at him, trying to pull him down. The water was not very deep here, maybe an arm’s length above his head, but it would be enough to drown him if he didn’t do something to lighten himself.

He broke the surface, desperately sucking in a mixture of air and water and catching a momentary glimpse of the lake he had miraculously landed in as the weight of his armor and weapons pulled him under again. He hit the bottom, then kicked hard back up again for a decent breath, finally allowing himself to go under as he quickly pulled out his knife to cut the straps on his chestplate. Once free of it, he felt a pang of regret as the fine polished steel sank out of sight. He was not out of the woods yet, however, as he still wore the chain-mail shirt underneath.

He kicked to the surface again – easier this time, but still a challenge – to gulp another deep breath, then sank again and shed the chain-mail.

Now free of his armor, he bobbed, treading water in agony, scanning his eyes in a circle. He located the closest shore and struck out for it. He needed to get out of the water – who knew what the blood leaking from the wound in his side would attract?

Even injured, Joen was a strong swimmer. Lord Gaalen had forced him to learn and learn well – by swimming in open water in Graygate Bay or against the current in the shallows of the Ash River. “You never know when you will have need to cross water, lad.”

He reached the shore, fighting the excruciating pain in his side and utterly exhausted. He had somehow, incredibly, survived, though now he would likely die of hypothermia, starvation, or some other horrible hazard in the forest. He was lost, alone, and now had only his longknife as a weapon. He could die a dozen deaths in the next hour.

He needed warmth. He staggered up the shore of the lake, into the trees. This side of the lake was up against a rocky hill, and he found a cleft in the rock. It would do. He set about finding dry wood, and in short order he had a modest fire going on a ring of stones. The sun gave little warmth on this afternoon but he refused to give up, huddling close to the fire and trying to warm himself despite the damp chill in his bones.

posted on Jul, 9 2018 @ 07:21 AM
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163 - Maerei

Something poked his shoulder and he brushed it away. His head throbbed, his neck hurt, and his wound felt like it was on fire. He realized he had fallen asleep and the fire had nearly gone out – it was more smoke and embers now than flame, though it still put out heat. He didn’t care. He wanted to go back to sleep.

The poking came again, and in a flash of alertness he swiped and grabbed. He caught the end of a long stick as a female voice cried out in alarm.

He opened his eyes and looked down the length of the stick to a young woman, probably about his age, in plain shepherd’s clothing, poking him with her staff. Vibrant red hair tumbled out from her hood, framing a pretty, delicate freckled face, slightly smudged with dirt. Big, deep green eyes studied him without fear.

“Stop poking me,” Joen said. “Please.”

“Who are you? What do you want?” she demanded.

He painfully sat up, then stood unsteadily, pulling his shirt straight so she could see his kir. “Joen of Tingueil Maarke, my lady, Squire to Lord Captain Braeghe of the Bastion.” He tried to bow but the pain made him cut it short. He put a hand to his side and tried not to grimace.

The girl grunted derisively. “I’m no lady, and if you are who you say you are you’re a long way from the Bastion. How come you’re bleeding?”

“I – I was,” he trailed off, putting a hand to his head. Everything came rushing back into his brain at once – the convoy, the mercenaries, the aiyuun. Lord Gaalen! “I have to find them!” he reached for his knife and found only an empty sheath.

“Looking for this?” she said, waving his blade at him.

“Give me that! I need to go find my friends and help them! It was aiyuun! They could be hurt!”

“You were attacked by aiyuun? Where?” her eyes narrowed and scanned the sky to each side.

“I,” he hesitated. “I don’t know. I got picked up by one of them, it carried me, but I stabbed it and it dropped me in the lake. I don’t know where I am.” His shoulders slumped and a wave of vertigo crested over him. He felt the world tilt and spin and he descended to his knees, putting a hand out to steady himself against the tree again.

She shook her head and pursed her lips in disbelief. “Maybe you’re actually a Bastion squire, I don’t know. But I do know you’re lying to me. No one survives being carried off by aiyuun. You should’ve come up with something better. Doesn’t matter anyway, you’re not going anywhere like that. You’re sick and I’ll bet you a loaf of bread that wound of yours is infected. You’re lucky you’re still breathing.”

Joen sank back down. He felt flushed and tired. He wanted to fight, he wanted to find Lord Gaalen and fierce Lady Kaena. And faithful Seeress Meron, perhaps her most of all. He had run out of words to describe how much he admired her. But he knew this shepherd girl was right. He was in no condition to travel anywhere, and if he tried, without his knife, he’d die in less than a day.

“Well come on then, I don’t have all day,” she motioned gruffly to him.

“What? Where?”

“To my house, of course. It’ll be dark soon and I don’t want to be out here, do you? We have food and enough supplies to get you bandaged up so you don’t die on us. Well, stand up already!”

Bewildered, he pulled himself up on the tree and slowly began to follow her as she turned to march off around the shore of the lake. Already several paces ahead, she turned back to look at him.

“I’m keeping this, though,” she waved the knife at him. “And keep up. If you fall behind I’m not coming back for you.”

“What’s your name, anyway?” he called.

“Maerei. Keep your voice down. You draw some monster to us with all your shouting, I’ll stab you and leave you for whatever comes. Now let’s go!” Her voice was stern, but quiet and firm. She turned back around to continue marching around the lake.

posted on Sep, 17 2018 @ 04:25 PM
I'm here! I'm still alive!

I realize it has been two months; my apologies. This really irritating thing called REAL LIFE has interrupted my creative outlet. Grr.

However, I have found time to edit a long stretch of writing and add a few more. I believe things should be calming down a bit and I will have more time to write. SO, onward we go for anyone still following this story!

posted on Sep, 18 2018 @ 08:41 AM
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164 - Accusation

He felt at times like he couldn’t breathe. The forest seemed to press in on him, as if the trees knew he should not have survived, that he should be dead like the rest of the party. Yet, here he was, walking among the great noblethorn trees, wishing one would fall on him and end his pain. The time passed in a haze of gray nothingness.

Nothing he had so far experienced - not the corrections, not his parents discipline, none of the injuries he had sustained in service to the Bastion - compared to the gaping wound through the center of his life now.

He replayed memories in his head, over and over again. They became a disjointed flickering parade of sorrow, pain, beauty, and tears. He laughed with Kaena in the small hours of the morning, both of them exhausted from maneuvers in the cold rain for days. He kissed the side of her neck, running his fingertips along the smooth skin of her bare back as she breathed heavily in his ear. She swung a wide kick at him in the training yard as they sparred, demonstrating for sixth-year cadets. He, Bryn, Taarvaes, Kaena, and a group of Lady and Lanceguard threw their heads back in laughter as Taarvaes related a story of court with his dry, engaging wit.

The battle with the aiyuun would not leave him alone, either. He had been so certain they would defeat the creatures. He had felt courageous and unstoppable. Indeed, it seemed to him that the aiyuun themselves were actually afraid of him as he fought, their movements more tense and even hesitant than he remembered them being. He had not been injured at all, just a minor scratch here and there. How could he have escaped so unharmed, when Kaena was stabbed so many times and bled out?

The bravery and confidence he had had when the aiyuun attacked, however, had been replaced by a bleak despair that slowed his steps and darkened every thought. They would both die, he and the Seeress, before they made it to Lithelwaite. Maybe the old wagoneer had been right; maybe the mission was cursed, and he was to blame, his punishment for somehow being made Amaerke. He was to wander the world alone and angry now, a failure of a soldier and a man.

He harbored a simmering anger for the Seeress, also. She should have been able to do something to help Kaena. Even if it had been just enough to keep her alive until he could run for help. There were farmsteads near, even small villages. They could have found refuge, maybe some kind of healer, or a village Meioshi.

But instead, Kaena was gone. And so was all the color and light in the world. It was all he could think about now, the only place his mind went when he let it wander. All thoughts ultimately came back to the same place.

His anger bubbled over two nights out from the battle. He replayed Kaena’s final moments over and over again, seeing the blood ooze from the great punctures in her body, seeing the light fade from her eyes, and remembering how pale she was. His head felt like he was under water, beneath the surface of a dark lake, unable to breathe and struggling to reach the air above.

When Siere returned with an armful of wood, a simmering anger took hold, and he blurted out, “Why didn’t you save her?”

She dropped her eyes. “I’m sorry, Lord Braeghe, I,” she began.

“You could have saved her. I’ve seen you,” he pressed intently.

“Her injuries were too much,” she protested.

“Too much? I’ve seen what you can do! Why didn’t you?”

“Lord Captain, please understand, the Precepts,” she began, but he jumped on her angrily, his voice rising.

“Don’t hide behind the damned Temple! You could have saved her but you let her--”

I tried!” she snapped at him, cutting him off. At her anger something changed in him. He stopped his tirade, mid-sentence, and stared at her. Her tone softened.

“I tried. She would not let me. She made me promise,” she trailed off, as if she changed what she was going to say.

He shook his head, feeling the deep furrow of his brow. His face felt like granite, and his voice sounded cold to his own ears. “She would never do that. Kaena was a fighter.”

“I am not lying,” she said stiffly as her eyes darkened. “She told me to stop. I had to stop. The Temple Precepts won’t allow me to heal someone who refuses to be healed.”

He stared at her blankly, then without a word, turned his back on her and walked away to check on the mounts.

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