Aside

Chapter 10.2 ~ Of Impending Trauma

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‘Do you understand?’ Thunder boomed where no lightning dared to precede it. The bleak, grey landscape intermittently gave way to odd vignettes filled with torture or incomprehensible creatures, but Cahden Joudaar did his best to ignore this. He failed miserably. Flower petals as red as recently spilled blood caught his eye. ‘It is like blinking. Like breathing. I do it because I must.’

‘You are the Lifefather,’ Joudaar mused, ‘It stands to reason that you create life with ease.’ The hulking god nodded. Joudaar could not help but notice the sadness that enveloped the god.

‘But I am stranded here,’ Kronus rested his hand on his empty quiver. ‘And once a soul crosses the Veil another takes its place.’ All of a sudden they were in a forest clearing, surrounded by trees with tall, straight trunks. Wagons and makeshift shelters surrounded them. A girl was screaming and being comforted by a bloody-faced boy and his equally bloody father. Two grey shadows lingered next to a cat.

The scene vanished before Joudaar could fully process what was happening. He blinked furiously, ‘Couldn’t you just leave when a soul arrives?’ It felt decidedly odd to be having a conversation with a god, but Joudaar was still not convinced this wasn’t all a hallucination due to severe head trauma.

‘I tried,’ Kronus heaved a sigh as he leaned on his large axe. ‘I tried. Many times.’ He looked more like a weary warrior than a god. Defeated and exhausted both mentally and physically. His hair was more grey than blonde and his face was lined more by age than battle scars. ‘I believe you are all still reaping the rewards of the last attempt.’

Joudaar swatted at a small, red frog that had settled on his shoulder. He wondered what the god meant. ‘Rewards?’ Another frog had alighted on his person. Where the blazes are they coming from? He shook his foot in an attempt to dislodge the amphibian. ‘I wouldn’t call anything that has happened in the last eighty years a reward.’

‘Aye. You called it a calamity or disaster. Some called it the End, others the Desolation. Your kind has an interesting way with words.’

Joudaar jumped at the sound of a sharp intake of breath. It took him a moment to realise he had made the noise. ‘Eighty years ago Mount Sour erupted in ash and liquid fire,’ Joudaar thought back to the world that he had known. The constant rain and ash clouds that block out the sun immediately came to mind. He then thought of the strange weather patterns, but that was as far as he got. An explosion of sound and movement sent him tumbling backwards.

After regaining his senses, Joudaar noticed a creature made of muscle and teeth was bearing down on Kronus. It moved on six legs, each as thick as a tree trunk, with a surprising grace. The creature’s giant head swung back and forth hypnotically as it made a low rumbling noise.

What in the frozen hells is that? Joudaar regained his footing and slowly began looking around for a weapon. The rumbling turned into a slow hiss and culminated in a loud crack. It was accompanied by an acrid, black smoke that left Joudaar choking for breath. The creature was no longer in his sight. Teleportation? Joudaar was amazed that such a beast could master complex magic. Deafening cracks, like a hundred whips being used, overwhelmed his senses. Each was punctuated with smoke and the stench of death.

Taking a deep breath, Joudaar drew the rune for fire on his palm. He knew there was not source of fire nearby so he drew upon his considerable willpower and the very essence of his soul to bend aether to his will.

‘No!’ Thunder boomed as Kronus threw himself into action.

CW SY 2013

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Chapter 10.1 ~ Of Gathering Darkness

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The unfamiliar feeling of sun upon her skin faded. It was replaced with the familiar bite of a chill breeze. The dazzle of the sun was also gone. In its place was the usual grey of clouds and the steady sound of rain. In this instance, the usual and the familiar did little to calm her nerves.

Ejana busied herself by closing the windows and drawing the curtains shut. She allowed herself a brief moment to marvel at the window. Not at the furnishings, which by Imperial standards were nothing of note, but at the window itself. I see it every day, but it’s still a beautiful thing. How do they make it? At her core, Ejana was still the daughter of a cleric and memories of her impoverished childhood had not yet left her even after five years in the service of Emperor Brennus.

‘I beg your leave, your Imperial Majesty,’ the big man managed to have such a dull tone. With his broad shoulders and strong features, Ejana may have found Bastian Urquhart attractive had she not known him for the monster that he truly was.

‘Stay. Watch and enjoy,’ the voice came from near the door. It had more hiss to it than no human voice should because its owner was decidedly not human. It elicited an audible grunt from Urquhart and a wry smile from the Emperor.

Ejana tried not to flinch. That one is a monster of a different sort. She attempted to clear her mind as she fussed over the uneaten food and straightened the odd book or manuscript. All the while she shot surreptitious glances at the reptilian creature near the door. Is it man or woman?

The Balaur’s Maiden threw her cloak towards Ejana. Her figure, covered by a sleeveless white dress, marked her as female. A thin belt drew the dress close to her body and further accentuated the serpentine movements of her hips as she walked. Green and brown scales covered most of her body. There were some parts, like the insides of her arms, were the scales gave way skin of an unnatural pallor.

Ejana caught the cloak. Rather, the cloak landed across Ejana’s shoulder. She felt ashamed that she was distracting herself from the Maiden’s stare by admiring the softness of the fur-lined cloak. ‘Bring the old man,’ the Maiden hissed. Ejana tried to contain her relief, but that was short lived. ‘Return with him. You may be needed.’

‘Go, girl. Return to us swiftly and alone,’ Brennus spoke in quiet tones. His fingers steepled in front of his plain, round face. He may not have looked the part of an emperor, but his ability to be commanding was not lost on Ejana.

‘General, this is Valda Dafin,’ Ejana heard the excitement in the Emperor’s voice. ‘She will help with our investigation.’ Ejana shuddered as she closed the door behind her.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 10 ~ Of Waning Light

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Shadows lengthened across the small room. It would soon be difficult to see, yet still the heavy curtains were pulled back. The last rays of the day were a welcome addition. The Empire of Taradien rarely saw this much sun, not for a long span of time, and Brennus was hesitant to waste it. Only a portion of the room was illuminated and that room dazzled and disappointed all at once.

As the light spilled into the room, it managed to highlight the need for more polish on the windowsill while catching the handle of a spoon, just so, and favouring any that were looking with a brilliant display. The light did not have the same effect on the soup as it did the spoon, if anything the burgundy of the beetroot soup was decidedly less appetising in the light.

The sunlight then crept along the floor, exposing the many imperfections of a section of plain carpet. Flecks of dust danced in the waining light like elated villagers after a successful harvest.

The light then caressed a simple looking chair and the brilliant looking occupant. Dressed in the Imperial livery of green and grey, the man was broad of shoulder and square of jaw. His sandy blonde hair seemed to be made for light such as this. His eyes were the colour of iron. His grey cloak was interwoven with thread of green just like the scabbard that hung carelessly at his hip. A black hand, ringed by fire was emblazoned upon it. Even in the sunlight the black was as deep and dark as the slivers of green were lush.

The light then lazily made its way up the wall, resting finally on a simple painting of ducks on a pond. In this light they would have almost looked real had the cracks in the paint not been more visible.

Brennus envied the man in the light. Deeply. Since the Empire was ravaged and sunlight became scarce, Brennus had spent precious little time enjoying what he once took for granted.

A thud of a chair moving broke his reverie. Bastian Urquhart resettled himself in the dim light. ‘It seems unnatural,’ Urquhart offered as he examined the light on his hand. ‘Light like this,’ he continued in his usual dispassionate calm, ‘Not since it happened, that is.’

Brennus’ envy quickly turned to irritation as the man opposite him continued complaining. A raised hand and a stern look quieted him. ‘You were saying that the Western Reach is unsecured. What of the Gae’karu in the south?’ Just like that, Brennus was again discussing the state of the empire with Urquhart.

The sun began silently retreating out of the the room leaving everything covered in a dull shade of grey. A tentative knock at the door halted the general’s latest talk of recruitment drives. ‘Come,’ Brennus hoped it was not more servants with food. A familiar ink stained face peered around the door.

‘Apologies your Imperial Majesty,’ Ejana adjusted her round spectacles. ‘The humble servant you requested has arrived,’ the nervousness in her voice was unmistakable. Ejana always did hate dealing with Daemons. Brennus, on the other hand, would treat with Yix himself if it meant unity in the Empire.

‘Good, send her in.’ He waved a dismissive hand at Urquhart, ‘Let us continue this later.’ The general bowed formally and made his way to the door, the jingle jangle of the sword at his hip muted slightly by how tightly he held the hilt.

The Balaur’s Maiden strode in before Urquhart could exit. She slammed the door behind her and began unfastening her cloak. Urquhart’s confusion and desire to leave we’re plainly evident, yet he made no move to shoulder past the small creature at the door.

Once the cloak was fully unfastened, the Maiden removed her hood to reveal features more reptilian than human. Scales of green, brown and black covered her bald head. Her nose was small and flat, barely more than two slits on her face. Thin, scaly lips hid inhuman teeth and a forked tongue. Her eyes flit about the room, yellow pupils radiating malice.

‘Tea. Salt,’ she hissed at Ejana. The girl whimpered audibly and made her way to the door. ‘Quickly.’ Ejana’s rapid footsteps could be heard even after the heavy door was closed.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 9.4 ~ Of Escape or Death

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The silence lingered and for the two men in the room it meant vastly different things. One sat, extremely uncomfortable and in dire need of the silence to break, but unwilling to do so himself. The other stood, revelling in how awkward the situation had become, but awaiting the other to speak first.

The stalemate was broken by a measured knock at the door. ‘Come,’ Brennus exhaled, unhappy at having to break the silence before his General. He’s a brute, a heavy-handed barbarian, but he’s not lacking in intelligence. He threw himself into his chair and watched his steward enter the room.

‘Your Imperial Majesty, I beg your pardon,’ a short woman with round spectacles and ink stains on her dark cheek curtsied formally.

Brennus found it hard not to smile. Ejana Rishad had been with him since the beginning. A keen mind, shrewd and hard working, Ejana had worked diligently to become one of his stewards. More importantly, she knew how to read Brennus’ mood better than most.

‘Perhaps I could return later?’ She began to retreat through the door even before he answered. Brennus could see Urquhart was visibly buoyed by the presence of the steward, so he made no move to stop her. ‘It’s just that I have news regarding our guest,’ she offered weakly from the doorway.

Damnation take me, Brennus did little to hide his frustration. Ejana would only interrupt if the news was dire. He’s either dead or escaped. ‘Out with it,’ he was all impatience and aggravation. Brennus had worked extraordinarily hard to ensure the capture of Cahden Joudaar. It would be most displeasing if he had come this far and not been able to talk to the man. ‘Don’t move, Bastian. You can hear this.’ The General stifled a groan and eased himself back into his chair. No, he’s not an imbecile.

Ejana tentatively made her way into the room. She wrung her hands attempting to conceal nervous energy. Attempting and failing because Brennus knew it was unwanted words that she would speak. ‘He has, in a manner of speaking, left us.’

‘What in the cold hells of damnation do you mean? And be clear with it girl, else,’ he left the threat unspoken. Escape or death, which shall it be.

‘Humble apologies, Your Imperial Majesty. I did not mean to be unclear. It certainly was not my intention,’ an arched eyebrow put an abrupt end to her placations. ‘He is dead,’ she stated simply, looking at her feet.

Urquhart squirmed uncomfortably in his chair as Brennus stood. He could see Ejana shying away before him. He had worked hard to capture Cahden Joudaar. Too hard. And he certainly was not in the mood of letting the man die. ‘Send for the Balaur’s Maiden.’

The gasps of Urquhart and Ejana were clearly audible. Brennus hated for it to come to this, but a man with no more options often turns to the unnatural, the inhuman, the Daemons.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 9.3 ~ Of Dying

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The smell of flowers filled his head and suddenly he was walking again. Cahden Joudaar looked at his torn clothes, shredded and bloodstained. His confusion intermingled with shock and understanding. I died.

A trail of ruby red rose petals formed ahead of him. The recognition of the petals battled with his inability to recall their name. The howling, barking and cawing of the flaming birds restarted. They should have a name. He stuck his tongue out and worked it silently over his lips in thought. The taste of blood, iron and dirt baffled him. ‘What in the cold hells is going on?’

‘This is not your hell,’ a voice boomed like thunder. Not expecting an answer, he jumped back utterly startled and soon found himself with a aching backside.

‘You didn’t answer my question,’ Joudaar muttered rubbing his now throbbing wrist. With that, silence returned. Well silence if you count the maddening sound of birds made of fire and bad memories.

He did his best to carry on walking and from time to time, his host would grace him with a few words. ‘Over here,’ it would boom. ‘Not that way. Unless you wish to die,’ it seemed almost amused by his lack of sense of direction. As they edged closer to their unknown destination, the landscape would illuminate momentarily before being plunged into the sullen grey darkness.

This must be what it feels like to be in a thundercloud, the thought was more factual than sardonic, but held hints of both.

‘Not far off,’ the voice boomed and it was punctuated with a blinding flash of light. In that instant Joudaar caught fleeting glimpses of various people and scenes.

He saw an young man being mauled by a bear, or was it a wolf? Either way, the young man looked calm and even serene as the vicious beast tore at his innards. An old woman winked into being. Joudaar could not help but think that he had seen her before. Her almond-shaped eyes were filled with a resolute anger as small, horse-like creatures pounced about her like playful kittens. A young girl, scars all across her innocent face, screamed. Her body shook and contorted with power and transparent beings surrounded her. They were of different ages, but they all had the same scars on their faces.

They all seemed to be there, all occupying the same space. All behind opaque glass. Their beings shielded and out of reach. He wondered if they could see him. Do they see a broken, old man surrounded by a flock of fire and talons?

Overwhelmed, exhausted and no longer able to see anything, Joudaar allowed himself a momentary reprieve. He sat, legs crossed with his head in hands. A huge sigh burst forth and all logic and reason began to dissipate from his being.

An impossibly large man calmly stepped out of the shadows. ‘We are here,’ he hefted a large axe onto his shoulder as easily as a lesser man would lift a stick. At his hip was an empty quiver. It was of the most dazzling gold that Joudaar had ever seen. His voice was thunder and honey. Agony and misery openly battled across his scarred face. His hair was more grey than the dark blonde of his beard. A crown of small red roses decorated his head.

From what Joudaar could see, the man was naked save for his weapons and crown. Clothing flitted in and out of existence like smoke in a hurricane. Clothing of different styles and colours, each appearing and vanishing impossibly fast. The after-image of the clothes lingered momentarily. Nauseatingly.

The cawing and hissing of the flaming flock abated. The smallest of all the birds lazily made its way down to Joudaar’s shoulder. His flesh warmed and then began to burn, but he did not care. He could not care.

‘The Heartsblood rose,’ Joudaar felt some joy at recalling the name of the flower and having not emptied his stomach. ‘And you shall mark him by the blood on his brow,’ he quoted a scripture that he had long forgotten. ‘And the Naiyrr in his grasp. And by the life at his hands. And the thunder in his laugh.’ He coughed and became aware of the dull pain in his shoulder. A small bird, made more of fire than feathers winked out of being. ‘My god,’ was all Cahden Joudaar could mutter.

‘One in the same,’ the voice was all thunder and honey. For that is what the Lifefather sounds like.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 9.2 ~ Of Death

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Birds made more of golden flame than feather winked in and out of being. They cawed and barked and howled all at once. Their flaming plumage crackled and hissed and their talons dripped butterflies encased in flame as they weaved above Cahden Joudaar’s head. He did his best to dodge the creatures. The first occasion that he came into contact with one, memories overwhelmed him. Vivid as a midsummer storm and twice as violent. Memories long forgotten.

‘Best avoid those,’ his ethereal host offered. Joudaar had attempted conversation, attempted and failed. His questions often went unanswered and when he did get an answer, it was impossible to comprehend.

Small creatures, all teeth and fur, erupted before him. He did his best not to jump backwards.

They won’t worry you,’ the voice bloomed from the very ground that he was walking on. This, of course, made it virtually impossible not to flinch. ‘They are not your memories, so they will not touch you.’

Joudaar stopped and began searching for this voice. His eyes had adjusted to the murky grey that surrounded him. He looked down and noticed that the small, vicious looking creatures were working just as hard to avoid him as he was to avoid them. He took a tentative step and watched as teeth and fur dived away from his foot. An instant later, they vanished with a hiss and a plume of smoke.

Unworried by where he was stepping, Joudaar continued searching for his host. This fruitless endeavour allowed him to notice that the landscape around him was non-existent. Not a tree nor shrub to be seen. No houses nor hillsides either. There were, however, a host of strange creatures, large and small.

A spider with an abdomen the size of a man walked unsteadily on hundreds of needle thin legs. It screamed and wailed in such a way that Joudaar was brought to his knees. It vanished with a loud crack and the hissing of forged steel drenched in cool water.

The ever present flock of flame parted and as Joudaar looked up, he saw why. Teeth. Row upon row of teeth attached to a black maw, stained with red. It descended rapidly towards him. Terror filled him as he threw his body flat to the ground. His heart raced as he smelled rotting flesh and the warmth of breath.

A deafening sound shook Joudaar to his core and the smell of death and decay was replaced with that of soil and wet earth. Daring to open his eyes, Joudaar was confused to see rose petals carelessly strewn across his chest.

A wolf howled and a bear grunted. A small cat, the colour of dead leaves and soil and freshly fallen snow began to grow before his eyes. It did not stop until it was standing taller than the largest horse Joudaar had ever seen. He began to scramble backwards in horrified retreat, only to bump his head and suddenly darkness battled the dull grey for supremacy of Joudaar’s senses. The ringing of screams, the warm caress of fire and the sound of flesh rending from bone overcame him. He was unsure if they were his screams or his flesh.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 9.1 ~ Of Chiding and Childsplay

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A plain looking man sat at the large wooden desk. His head was round, almost impossibly round and that was exacerbated by the aggressive state of baldness he seemed to be experiencing. Other than his greying eyebrows, the only hair on his head was in the form of a neatly cropped beard. He looked well into his later years, but not so far gone that he was waiting for Yix’s blade.

He chatted benignly to the small boy who was sitting on his lap. Their conversation was maddeningly confusing and mostly about the merits of horses based on their colour. Punctuated with with laughter and questions.

The room itself was much like its occupant, plain and unadorned. Furniture was minimal and served a specific purpose. On either side of the desk, there were two very homely and well worn chairs, the one occupied by the plain man slightly more cushioned that the other. Everything was all ordered and in its place – the bookshelves, pack to bursting, were away from direct sunlight or lamps, but the desk was well lit constantly.

Bastian Urquhart cleared his throat as he shifted about in his seat. Had Urquhart not known this plain and round man was the Emperor, he would have commanded that he vacate his seat before his superiors arrived. Yet there he sat, Emperor of Taradien, Brennus the First of His Name.

‘Settle, General,’ his voice just as nondescript as his features. ‘We will talk in a moment.’

‘Of course, your Imperial Majesty,’ Urquhart made a seated bow and settled in for more horsetalk and childsplay. Luckily, it did not last for long.

‘Run along little Bren, I’ll see you shortly.’ With that, Brennus the Second of His Name gathered his toys, kissed his grandfather’s hand and shuffled off. ‘So, General, how is our guest?’

‘Cahden Joudaar lives,’ Urquhart failed to hide his disappointment. ‘His body clings to life. We feed him every fourth day. He is bathed once in a tenday. All in all, the traitor lives better than most of the Empire.’

The Emperor stood and leaned on his desk, fists clenched. ‘Has he been tried? Have the Inquisitors met with him? Have you forgotten our ways? Our customs? Our Imperial Laws?’ With each question his voice grew louder. With each question he appeared less plain and grandfatherly and more imposing.

You would do well not to forget that this is the Emperor, Urquhart swallowed hard and murmured a string of apologies. 

CW SY 2013

Chapter 9 ~ Of Dust and Ash

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Cahden Joudaar was dead. That was his assumption based on his current experiences. He had been enveloped by the turbulent embrace of dark clouds. He had passed through lightening and felt thunder shake him to his core. He had soared to the face of the sun and then plunged deep into its core.

Most holy texts spoke of such a journey. One where limbs lost all feeling, senses exploded into new life and lowly mortals ascended to salvation. Or descended into damnation. Nonsense. It must be concussion or delirium caused by malnutrition or dehydration. Probably torture.

His cynicism abated, Joudaar hoped he was headed for the former. Damnation doesn’t sit well. Then cold, hard and uncompromising logic set in. Joudaar scoured the recesses of his mind trying to remember the events of the preceding days. He had a vague recollection of a forest on a cool morning and a confrontation with something. He shook his head and muttered. Memories of a cramped and uncomfortable carriage ride formed like wisps of smoke during a hurricane. Joudaar then recalled a smattering of his more gruesome deeds and just like that, hope faded. Lost to him as always.

Grey clouds formed. Greyer than any he had ever seen and thicker, more sturdy than clouds had any right to be. Soon he found himself standing on them. The moment of arm flailing panic where he thought he would plummet to his second death had passed. It was so full of embarrassment and that Joudaar shot furtive glances to his left and right trying to see if he had been spotted in the act.

‘Welcome, friend.’ The voice came from everywhere and nowhere at once. For all Joudaar could see, he was alone on this cloud. ‘You handled that better than most,’ there almost seemed to be a hint of amusement to it now. ‘Yet worse than others.’

Scratching at his head, Joudaar responded in that manner that felt most appropriate. ‘Thank you,’ he made a polite bow. Best to feign civility. If this is all dreamed up by one of those imbecilic Inquisitors, then I’d better play along until I get my bearings. He blinked rapidly and shook his head trying to focus. It all looks bloody grey!

Thunder boomed and an overwhelmed Joudaar fell to his knees. ‘Bearings will come. Your eyes will adjust soon enough.’

As though on cue, a small woman with straight, dark hair and a steely calm winked into being. She was like a painting that had been ruined by the weather, but Joudaar knew she was there and she was real. She was gone before he could make a noise denoting startled surprise, let alone make it to his feet.

‘Where in the cold hells am I?’

This time he saw the lightening that accompanied the thunder. It blinded him of what little vision he had regained.

‘Very amusing,’ the voice seemed to be coming from a nearby shadow. Joudaar did his best to stand. He rubbed at his eyes and began grasping wildly at hope.

‘This is the other side of the Veil.’ With that his stomach emptied. It was loud and messy, but devoid of smell or even the burning sensation in his throat. The instant the sick came into contact with the cloud, it vaporised.

Cahden Joudaan was dead. That was his understanding based on his current experiences.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 8.3 ~ Of Chaos and Kahini

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The pine trees, laden with their burden, began to bend and bow slightly. Their branchless trunks made the deformation much more obvious. Odd these trees. No leaf or branch until the top, Kahini thought as she burst through the underbrush in an explosion of spotted fur and water.

Like a mushroom, but not. She shook some of the water off, but she knew that being wet was inevitable. That made her irritable. Well as irritable as a Fae could get.

The smell of mud and death filled the air around her. Arrows and bolts, thoughts of murder made real. There was horseflesh too and the overwhelming smell of fear. Kahini knew that in the chaos of battle, even the best trained soldiers knew fear. How they reacted influenced their chances of survival.

To the right of the small clearing were the Scrapi. Their defiance dissipated, fear gripped their hearts tight. Soon to die. To the left were the Bathroy men, well armoured and heavily armed. Their comrades dead or dying, fear clouding their thoughts. Dead but living.

Kahini’s magic flared. It reached out, through no effort of Kahini, and touched those mired in the tumult. It calmed man and horseflesh alike. It rioted the emotions of mothers protecting their young. It made arrows miss and others find their target. It soothed and quelled, raged worse than the rain and touched the hearts and minds of many all at once.

For Kahini the Fae, this was akin to breathing or scratching an itch. It required no concentration or visible effort. In fact, those who looked upon Kahini saw nothing more than a strange, spotted and horned cat cleaning itself.

Varick, Middy, Taysha. Three names brought forth the three individuals. It took them but a moment to enter the fray. But that was Kahini’s magic, more than their own will.

Two work like equal parts of the whole. Kahini the cat began licking at her paws. The other rages, spins and slashes. She paid no heed to the loss of life around her. But then why should she. She was Fae after all.

Her magic touched an old woman with a walking stick. It was brief and subtle, but enough to make her hesitate. She paused, thick stick held aloft and looked into the face of the man she was about to bludgeon. Arrows sprouted from his chest like flowers. His eyes open, but unseeing.

Kahini’s magic rushed into the man. It forced itself into his lifeless body and in an instant he was living again. Of a fashion. Truly dead but living. He bellowed and wailed in tongues beyond the comprehension of those around him. Inhuman and unnatural sounds left his mouth as he made his way to his feet.

A heavy blow from a thick stick did little to slow him. Another did nothing but anger him.

His blade lashed out and blood nourished the dirt.

A girl screamed. She might have been saying ‘Nanna,’ but Kahini did not care. She could not care, she was Fae after all.

Chapter 8.2 ~ Of Chanting and Charging

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Andras Chatise ignored the rain as best he could. He had always detested the outdoors, particularly the Lowlands, and he would only tolerate short excursions when he knew that he could indulge in his vices. Leaving Bathroy to bleed some orphan dry had a certain appeal. Exposing himself to the rain, the mud and the locals in order to skirmish with some savages was another matter entirely.

‘We won’t go,’ the chanting had intensified. Much like the rain, it was steady, relentless and undaunted by the mood of his uncle.

‘You’ll go or you’ll die,’ Volo’s shouting was barely audible above the hundreds of voices. Some chanted, others cursed, but the general tone was unmistakeable.

‘We won’t go!’ The children seemed to vanish as the men shouldered their way to the front lines. Not a one of them had a weapon to hand. They looked ready to skirmish and while they had the numbers, Andras knew that his men had the superior arms.

Men on horse and crossbows will make short work of this lot. He dabbed at his mouth with a cloth and then transferred it into his useless hand. He then let go of the reins and raised his working arm to signal the crossbowmen to load. Andras hoped the horse he was atop was well trained, he lowered his arm and snatched up the reins. The horse seemed to sense his unease and it began to move about restlessly.

‘We won’t go!’

If this dull beast throws me, I’ll remove his whole arm. And that of his precious son. The Bathroy stable master had done his job, the horse settled as Andras kneed it.

His uncle was still raging, oblivious to the sounds of men loading their crossbows while the lancers moved around to give them a clear shot. Volo was right about one thing, Andras hated when his uncle was right. It usually meant having to hear about it continually. This isn’t ideal for horsemen, it’s too narrow to manoeuvre. One charge is all they will get.

The thought faded as did the chanting.

Andras looked around. It was not the disdainful glance that a noble would usually give this situation. It was a true look. For the first time, Andras saw the Scrapi woman standing before him. Her resolve was clear, as was her indifference towards Volo’s threats. She was undaunted and unbroken. She was all strength and determination and the people at her back were bolstered by the sight of her.

We must act fast, Andras dabbed at his mouth in anticipation. ‘Take aim!’ This should sort the old crone out.

Then Andras saw the stoic old woman deflect his uncle’s sword. In the same movement she drove her thick walking stick into Volo’s face. The sound of teeth breaking was unmistakable. As were the garbled screams of his uncle.

The beginnings of a smile flickered across his lips as Andras began to give the final order. The words, however, caught in his throat as two arrows bloomed from Volo’s chest.

‘The woods! They’re in the woods!’ The crossbowmen knew what he meant. They turned left and right watching their squad mates as they met the same fate as Volo Chatise. Arrows flew out of the bushes on either side of the Bathroy men faster than the crossbowmen could return fire.

Two cavalrymen charged towards Volo’s body, but one took an arrow to the neck and the second was thrown by his horse.

In all the chaos, Andras could not help but notice the intense smell of oranges.

CW SY 2013