Chapter 8.1 ~ Of Privilege and Preparation

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Meylinn Dara had an intense urge to thump Volo Chatise, but she knew that she would have to hope for the opportune moment. If this man was half as handy with a blade as he appeared to be, she would only get one chance at it.

The rotund man jammed his sword roughly back into the leather scabbard. ‘My lady,’ he made a mockery of a bow which was met with jeers. ‘Let’s treat. You leave and we won’t have to kill you.’

‘Volo Chatise, was it?’ Meylinn tried, as ever, to hide her emotions. She let the white hot rage bubble within her stomach, but her voice was icy calm. ‘We’re entitled to be here. Law is…’

‘Piss on the law and piss on you too, woman!’ His had reached for the hilt of his blade, but he appeared to think better of it. ‘Was it you who taught the boy about law? Ask him what I think of the Scrapi’s Privileges,’ he gestured wildly to the boy in her arms.

Heaving a sigh, Meylinn looked into Marshall’s eyes. ‘So you weren’t lying when you said you could read.’ She messed his hair with as much fondness she could manage for someone she had only just met. ‘Don’t do anything foolish now.’

Wearied more by the situation than her age, Meylinn leaned heavily on her thick walking stick. The blood from Marshall’s was beginning to congeal on her hands. It had also stopped flowing down the boy’s chin. He’s a stoic one.

The ravens should have reached the hunters by now. Meylinn stood slowly, making a show of the effort it took. Maybe there is some hope. Knowing the time for pleasantries was over, she steeled herself for a confrontation.

‘We won’t go.’ It was a simple statement, but one full of history.

The original formation of the Scrapi, a group of dispossessed and exiled nobles, chanted the same three words in the face of the Imperial Streporense. Those poor people stood, arm in arm, chanting in the face of the most formidable of Imperial units.

Meylinn could see that both Chatise men were furious. One was all red faced bluster, sword drawn and cursing all and sundry. The other dabbed at his lip with a cloth trying to hide the half-snarl that had earned him the moniker of ‘gargoyle.’

‘We won’t go,’ she repeated. This time the words were echoed by some of those behind her. It was defiant, proud and as ominous as a gathering storm.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 8 ~ Of Violence

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Volo Chatise smiled. It was not out of happiness, it was the type of smile that settled on a man’s face after intense satisfaction. Blood on a blade, just like the forefathers, he examined his sword. It was not a beautiful weapon, nor was it especially well made. It was a simple blade, with a slight curve with an unadorned hilt and guard. Hardly the stuff of legends.

Volo loved the weapon all the same. He loved it in spite of its flaws, the imbalances and notches. The rust and the dull spots. He loved it because it was with this very blade that he had killed his first man.

The exhilaration of that moment, so long past, still lingered deep in his chest. He recalled the weight of the sword, it seemed to be so heavy for a boy of nine. He remembered how it felt to be holding something that the Emperor had deemed taboo. The wrongness of it all made it so much more exciting. The memory made his hands tremor slightly and his loins stir. Volo was a Chatise through and through.

‘Well, his father won’t be happy,’ the old crone seemed displeased.

‘I don’t give two shits what his father will think,’ Volo growled. The memory fading as his anger flared. Who does this used up wench think she is? ‘In fact,’ he raised his sword, ‘I don’t give two shits about you.’

‘Uncle Volo, stay your hand!’ It was the unmistakable slur of his nephew, Andras Chatise. ‘I order it.’ If that cripple could smile, I bet it would be all over his face right now.

‘Of course, my lord.’ Volo had learnt to play the part of the willing subject. He knew that it was only a matter of time before his nephew lost his battle with the palsy or fell from a very high balcony. Just a matter of time and then Bathroy is mine. His sword back in the scabbard at his hip, Volo offered up a bow that was less mocking than he desired it to be.

‘This is their Elder. You may treat with her,’ the tone was commanding enough to rankle Volo, but not enough to appear insulting. The younger man knew how furious his uncle was at being passed over during the succession and he took every opportunity to remind the older man who was Lord of Bathroy.

‘As you say, my lord.’ One day, I’ll be using your skull for a chamber pot.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 7.3 ~ Of Blood and Bandages

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Meylinn made her way through to the throng. She noted the angry shouting of man and the smell of horseflesh above the sounds and smells of an unrelenting rain. The ravens were silent though. That means they have been let loose. Good.

Meylinn ensured that she appeared outwardly calm, she knew that her presence would sill the emotions of those around her. One hand rested on her makeshift walking stick, the other around the shoulders of her granddaughter, Lani. She was a picture of serenity, an old lady out for a leisurely walk with a favoured grandchild. Let them think that.

‘Pardon me,’ she nudged a particularly loud and rotund man. At first he was resistant to moving, too caught up in hurling obscenities at the men on horseback. Then his wife began cursing and slapping him. That got his attention much more efficiently than Meylinn’s pleasantries. ‘Thank you,’ she smiled over her shoulder at the still cursing wife.

Slowly making her way through the crowd, Meylinn was more aware of the noise ahead of her and the silence at her back. It was like sound and silence were entrenched in a vigorous battle. Neither was making any headway until Meylinn made her way through the crowd.

She could now clearly pick out the individual voices from the din. She could also see a sword being waved around. Since the Imperial Decree, it was a rare thing to see a sword. Stories told of their beauty and deadly elegance. Others described their curves or keenness.

In truth, this was a dull weapon, notched in places and partially rusted in others. No true Farense would keep their blade in such disrepair. The damage, as they say, had been done. Many of her people had never seen a sword, they had only heard how easy it was to kill with one in hand. She could sense that the moral of the Scrapi was low. For all of their cursing and jeering they were scared. Or worse.

Pushing past the last of her people, Meylinn noted that the sword had a very slight red sheen to it. Not well kept, but sharp enough. For the second time in the same day, she called upon what remained of her will power and approached a man with optimism and courage intertwined in her heart.

‘Forgive this old lady for not offering you food and warmth,’ she recited the traditional greeting before noticing a young boy with blood covering half his face. While Varick Einar and his son had not been with Meylinn for long, she knew that the senior was not to be trifled with.

By the fierce look in the young one’s eyes, he’s fixing to do something stupid. What was his name again? Searching through the recesses of her mind, she took the boy’s face in her hands. Blood oozed out of an angry red line all the way from nose to earlobe.

‘Lani,’ she said over her shoulder. ‘Fetch some bandages,’ Meylinn made sure to keep the anger out of her voice and her hands firmly on the child before her. She had yet to recall his name. ‘We’ll need some disinfectant too. If you can’t find any, bring vinegar.’

Meylinn looked up at the wielder of the sword. ‘Well, his father won’t be happy.’ And with that the optimism was gone. Like a daisy crushed beneath a heap of dung.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 7.2 ~ Of Blue Eyes and Horns

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Varick stood rooted to one spot, his eyes as equally frozen as his feet. The smell of citrus lingered in the cold, damp air. He could hear the rain falling on treetops, but it was little more than a drizzle atop his head. That would change soon enough.

Kahini’, Varick tested the name out loud. Middy and Taysha remained silent and very still.

Yes? The horned racoon replied, head tilted and tail swaying back and forth. Varick note that the blue eyes staring back at him were ablaze with amusement.

The Fae were rarely seen. So rarely, in fact, that most thought of them as nothing more than myth. Every child across the Empire had heard stories of the Fae and their involvement with a myriad of tales. In some stories they helped the hero and in others they were the villains. The only constant in the stories was that the Fae worked toward machinations rarely understood by mortals.

Confusion burst through the heavy cloud that had addled his mind. Like the fat raindrops that were finally pushing past the canopy, his questions began to break through the mental fog.

Before Varick had the chance to speak, Kahini skittered down tree. The Fae moved with an unnatural grace. Of time and talk is not now. The citrus smell became overwhelming. Of action, that is what we are.

‘What in the coldest corner of hell does that mean?’

‘Middy,’ the fear in Taysha’s voice was unmistakable. ‘Don’t talk to it.’

Yes on that. No talking. Blue light enveloped the horned racoon. Walk back to wagons.

Varick covered his nose trying to block out the smell of oranges. He noticed that Taysha and Middy were also moving. The Fae’s spell is broken. As the frenzied thought faded, Varick readied himself for an attack. He was not sure whether it would come from the two Shadomen or the Fae.

No harm will happen. Together we will work to stop the gargoyle. With a loud hiss, the blue light became a spotted forest cat. Much like the raccoon, it had two horns. It also had piercing, blue eyes. Unnatural, intelligent and full of chaos.

Walk.

Varick and the two Shadowmen fell in step behind the horned cat.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 7.1 ~ Of Urgency and Information

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Meylinn Dara sat in her wagon, exhausted from tidying up. The children had left the small space in such a terrible state that it had taken her two solid hours to regain some semblance of control over the mess. Her charcoal drawings and maps still covered most of the flat surfaces, but that was as much part of her wagon as it was part of Meylinn’s life.

Now that she had a warm cup of tea in her hands, she began to casually peruse some of the maps. The time to move on was rapidly approaching.

It had started to rain again. Not surprising, considering…The thought vanished before it had time to fully form. The sudden shouts of men and women startled Meylinn enough to make her spill her tea, ruining the nearest map.

‘By the cold hells!’ She began furiously dabbing at the tea with her dress. For Meylinn, maps were more important than all the dresses in the Empire. Knowing where to hide and what to avoid was crucial to the Scrapi’s survival. Maps being as imprecise as they are, each one had slightly differing information. Losing a map would mean the potential loss of a safe haven that the Empire did not know about.

It only took Meylinn a few delicate dabs to be satisfied that the map had been saved. She sighed and began to resettle herself in front of another map. ‘Time to move, people are getting restless,’ she muttered as she pointedly ignored the uncomfortable wet patch that was now a part of her dress.

A loud bang and an explosion of movement produced a startled shriek from Meylinn. Not only that, but her teacup was now in multiple pieces on the floor. Worst of all, lukewarm tea covered maps and Meylinn alike.

‘Nanna! Quick, we need you.’

Once Meylinn had slowed her breathing, she shot an exasperated look at her granddaughter. ‘Meylan Cyrah Dara, you will be the end of me. Grab a cloth and help me dry this mess.’

‘It’s urgent,’ the young girl had regained her senses and was trying to reign in her emotions. She took a deep breath, brushed the dark hair from her eyes and stepped closer to her grandmother. ‘Blood is spilt. They have a Farense and men on horses.’

Meylinn put her arm around the girl. She must be almost fourteen, best not to think of her as a girl for too long. They walked quietly towards the door of the wagon. ‘Tell me everything, Lani. Every little thing you saw or heard.’

The girl began to recount her observations of the intruders. She told Meylinn of the man who rode at their head, half of his face slack and expressionless. His words angry and hateful. Lani told her grandmother of the way this man threatened to take life. She spoke of the Farnse too. An older man, with dark hair who looked ready to deal death, yet he smelled of flowers.

Lani did not neglect to mention the score of military men that rode with. ‘Ten crossbowmen and ten lancers. All on horses.’ The girl took another calming breath. ‘Nanna, what do we do?’

Meylinn turned to face her granddaughter. She looked at the girl’s face and could not help but smile. Meylan looked just like her mother and for that Meylinn was grateful. We did not have enough time together, her and I.

‘You have her emerald coloured eyes. Her midnight black hair.’ Meylinn cupped the girl’s chin. ‘You also have your mother’s sense of worry. The Constants will provide,’ she intoned as she sat leaned against a nearby wagon. This one had a painting of some Western god painted on it.

‘Now fetch me one of those practise staves that the children like playing with.’

‘What for?’ Lani expression was a picture of puzzlement.

‘I’m feeling the need for a new walking stick.’

It was but a moment before Meylinn was leaning on a thick stick as she walked. ‘It needs a better handle, but it’s better than nothing. Anything else I should know?’

‘The new boy tried to talk to them,’ Lani began. ‘The Farense cut him.’ She ran her finger from the bridge of her nose, to her right ear. ‘Said he should have been marked as filth at birth, but late was better than never.’

Lani wiped away a tear. It was now that Meylinn was reminded just how similar the girl was to her daughter.

‘Blood for blood,’ the old lady muttered. The words brought up a range of emotions within Meylinn, but most of all, she was sad.

Her sadness was twofold. The first sadness was the type many would classify as inevitable. This type of sadness is one that does not surprise you, it occurs just as you expected. It is the sadness of a loved one passing after a long illness. Heavy, mournful and inevitable.

The second sadness that she felt was more complex. It was the type you might feel when you hear of a monarch who has lost their lands in a battle. You feel sad, but not for the monarch, for it is clear that they will survive. The sadness here is for their vassals, the men and women who will suffer under the new regime. Detached, stoic and pitiless.

Meylinn knew that, on this day, pity had no place in her heart. They will not pity us, nor will they stay their blades. Resolute, she knew more blood would spill.

Best it be less of mine.

Chapter 7 ~ Of Gargoyles and Gathering Clouds

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Andras Chatise spurred his chestnut stallion on with little care for beast. While the rain had subsided, it was still an uncomfortably cold day. Not your regular type of cold, it was the type of cold that cut through layers, no matter how thick you piled them on. It was the type of day where the sun would enigmatically peek out behind the clouds and offer minimal relief.

Andras hated days like that.

Travelling downhill to the Lowlands had always bored Andras. It was all mossy rocks and foggy valleys, trees that all looked the same and hills that were more boulder than dirt. It was nothing like Bathroy Castle – sitting atop the majestic Ludal mountain range, Bathroy offered up stunning views of the surrounding countryside.

Andras was fond of the views, he was oft seen gazing pensively over the Lowlands. Many saw this as an earl looking over his lands, engaged and worried for his people. Only Andras knew the gory and twisted truth of the matter.

Fondness for views aside, Andras was never one to enjoy travel. Looking down at a village or forest was one thing. Getting on a shit-stained beast and trudging through the dust and dirt, your arse as numb as your hands, he thought with all the bitterness he could muster. How can anyone enjoy this?

‘Best get this done soon. Get the grisly business out of the way and be back before dinner.’ Andras wiped the spittle away from his lips. He hated that his face had not yet recovered from his latest bout of the palsy. This time it’s been eighty-three days. Two damnable months and three hellish days!

‘Of course, my lord.’ The response roused him from his dark thoughts. Andras reigned in his stallion.

Andras shot a look at the balding man to his left. Volon Chatise was past his prime, but had yet to come to grips with that. He wore his beard short and dyed, just like his hair. His perfume was all gardenias intermingled with spice, the latest style from Taradien. He looked so at home on a horse, that Andras wondered if his uncle had some equine blood pumping through his heart. Had he not been blood of his father, Andras would have had the man hanged. Or worse.

Their relationship had become fractured when Volo was passed over for succession in favour of Andras. The old man had always been a cunning strategist and commander, but Bathroy was easily defended and the Imperial reign had brought about a long and dull peace. It was not hard to see why he had been overlooked.

Well, not hard for most, except for Volo. How uncle raged when her first heard. That was almost gift enough. Andras would have smile if he could.

‘Don’t get any ideas about a protracted battle, dear uncle.’ Andras knew how to bait the old, perfumed bear. ‘This isn’t an opportunity to relive some old skirmish over some minor slight. We’re here to evict some Scrapi scum and nothing more.’ He made vague slashing gestures with his empty hand and then punctuated the farce with an elaborate stab.

‘No fighting necessary, uncle. They’ll see we have a score of armoured men. They’ll piss their pants and I’ll be feasting and out of this weather in no time.’ Again, he dabbed away the spittle that had collected on his lips and chin.

The palsy had come on sudden and left half of his face a numb mess. It had happened multiple times in the last five years and each time it was lasting for a greater length of time. Andras the Handsome, he of the swoon-worth smile and rapier wit was gone. He was now Andras the Lame or the Gargoyle of Bathroy.

Andras forgot how many poultices he had used. He could not recall the potions he had consumed. Nor could he count the prayers that had gone unheard. He had even grown his blonde hair out and was styling it in a way that covered the right side of his face. It was all for naught and that had lead him to his foray into the occult.

The summoning is working. The Fae actually appeared last time. Andras dabbed at his mouth. He was pointedly ignoring his uncle who was lecturing him on respect and the elderly and the Long War. Nothing that Andras hadn’t heard and ignored a hundred times over.

Maybe if we used more blood. Andras urged the stallion into a gallop. Maybe if we use Scrapi blood. I haven’t tried that before.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 6.2 ~ Of Deities and Downfall

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Piers Dusan held the sword low. It was bathed in the blood of those who had tried to stop him. Men and Elves, Daemon and Fae had been cut down. And now, finally, he stood before Kronus.

Back in those days they called him Father, for that is what he is. The father of Gods. The Lifefather

Kronus was a hulking man. Taller than most thought possible. Broad of chest with arms as thick as tree trunks. At his feet was what remained of the Naiyrr. That is what some called the golden bow. It has other names, more than I could ever know.

‘That’s the bow what shoots thunder!’

The interruption was jarring. Meylinn took a moment to untangle herself from the story before realising what was said.

‘Shoots thunder? Havid Richards, you should be ashamed,’ she shot her most furious glare at the boy.

‘The Naiyrr is so much more than that. With it Kronus hunted down the World Eaters and tamed the Fae. He used it to hold off the Daemon kings and adjudge the innocent from the guilty.’ Meylinn stood, stretched her back and let out a deep sigh. ‘The Naiyrr is so much more.’

She settled herself back on the floor, secretly pleased that the interruption allowed her the luxury to to stretch her aching back. ‘You should know this, Havid. See me afterwards.’

Meylinn sipped her tea and let the children chatter amongst themselves. Once more, she dwelt on whether or not to continue the story. Once more, she forged ahead.

‘Now, where was I? Right, Kronus.’

Kronus stood with the Naiyrr at his feet. The sight of such a treasure would have been unbearable for any man to see, but for Dusan it was a morsel to a starving man. He saw the God’s weapon broken and he longed for more destruction.

The weapons of the Gods are not so easily nullified, as any dullard can attest. Kronus called for the Naiyrr and she answered. Half of the broken bow turned into a battle axe. With a heavy, half-moon blade on one side and a curved spike on the other.

Kronus swung at Dusan with the fury of a father than has seen his children murdered. The God put all of his power into one swing aimed at Dusan’s head. It was a killing blow, but it was easily avoided.

Historians know little of the battle. We have little to go on other than Dusan moving with the grace of a viper. We have been told of Kronus and his blind rage.

The God’s fighting became undisciplined. He swung wildly. And Dusan managed to avoid every swing.

Kronus did not tire, nor did his onslaught slow. We know they fought for a tenday, one whole week, before Dusan drew blood from the God. They fought another tenday before Kronus managed to cut Dusan.

On they battled, the sound of sword and axe clashing dominated the landscape. Neither God nor man spoke.

By the third tenday, Dusan and Kronus had inflicted countless wounds to each other but neither had managed a fatal wound. Each time the God’s blood was spilled, a new life winked into being. A cut on the chest yielded a vibrant red flower. We call it the Heartsblood Rose. From the sweat and blood from his brow came the tireless Vahnyr. The very horse that pulls this wagon.

On and on this went. Plants that moved, a snake that looked more wood than flesh, cats as big as horses, gnarled and bent creatures that moved on spindly legs and destroyed minds. That is what it means to be the Lifefather.

By the fourth tenday the God’s blood had brought forth all manner of life.

Dusan was furious. He had spent an age removing life from the world only to see it flit back into existence faster than his eyes could see.

On the last day of the fourth tenday, Dusan’s blade found a home. He rammed it deep into the God’s chest. To say it sounded like steel rending flesh would be wrong. It would be missing the point. It would be just like saying the Naiyrr shot thunder. It was so much more than that.

Remember breaking a stick in your hands. Not a thin twig, but a stick that is too stubborn to break easily.

Recall that sound.

The snapping that you hear is not immediate. It comes after a quieter and slower cracking sound. Think on that ominous, slow cracking noise that creeps along the wood. It moves within the very being of the wood. A herald of it’s destruction.

Think how a living being might feel if that slow death was moving throughout it’s body. Imagine what it is to know the inevitability of what that deep, cracking noise means. The horror that Kronus must have felt as his end reverberated throughout his very soul must have been beyond gruesome.

Slowly, but surely, like a child snapping a stick, there was one deafening snap.

With that, the God’s life was no more.

His blood left his body and birthed much and more of what we know now. All manner of Fae and Daemons and women and men surrounded Piers Dusan.

They say that in that instant, the Aether itself was formed. For the time it takes a fly to beat its wings, the Aether could think and feel. The marrow that allows magic into the world could see what Dusan had done.

In that glorious and terrifying instant all manner of lifeforms that could manipulate Aether concentrated their efforts on Dusan.

They pushed past his enchanted armour and his corporeal form and they attacked his soul. Some might say consumed it. Others would tell you it was shattered. Either way, they tore his soul from his physical body.

To further punish him, his soul was put in a place where it could see his body but never intertwine with it.

That was the moment the Veil was brought into our world. The same moment that the Father of All was take from us.

And still it stands as a barrier for all those who manipulate Aether. Ask too much of it, be not ready to face the consequences and you might just find yourself on the other side of the Veil. Sitting with Piers Dusan himself.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 6.1 ~ Of Verag and Violence

Tags

, , , , , ,

Meylinn stopped abruptly. She was not sure that this tale was appropriate for such young children. She picked up her tea cup and took another sip.

There was no worth is telling a story in part. It was the whole story or nothing and that is how Meylinn was trained. Her hand subconsciously moved to her markings. One branded her a Word-weaver, the other a slave and the last a Scrapi.

Returning her teacup to the floor, she resigned herself to the fate of hearing from many disgruntled parents. They would complain about scared children. But they tended to complain about many things.

Meylinn knew that this story was too important to be told wrong, so she forged ahead.

Legends spoke of the river Merlell, the forever frozen. It allowed those who dwelt on the Northern shore to cross freely and protect their weaker neighbours.

Legends also spoke of the giants who dwelt across the Merlell. These were men and women of immense size and strength. Yix’s Bane many named them, the Undying. Born to protect men and their kin from those who sought to do them harm.

You must remember that a thousand lifetimes have past between that day and today. This story takes place in the nights of our past when what we consider legend was prowling the forests and seas.

Pier Dusan knew Yix’s Bane would not trouble him. He knew that as surely as I know that cats hunt and fish swim.

At this point in his life, if you could call being Soulless a ‘life’, Dusan was the most powerful being ever seen. Rivalled only by Yix and Rhea. And Haidar, of course. So to him, giants were not to be feared. He was not dismissive, just certain that Verag and the others would take care of the giants.

‘Verag, come,’ his voice was like the sound of a blade being removed from a scabbard. It was like a raging fire in the dry summer heat. It was death.
Verag was the dominant beast amongst his twisted pack.

Again, remember this was when the world was different. More alive. More magical. We now have no names for the beasts that Dusan commanded.

We know of Yera and her kin. Histories tell us that they were unlike anything we have living today. They were larger than the cave bears of Lahier, but they hunted like wolves. To us they would seem an unnatural cross between the two. A bear with a wolf head. To Dusan and the people of his Age, they were Verag. All teeth and muscle, the Verag were vicious and highly intelligent.

Yera was the largest of the Verag. Her black coat was stained red in places and one of her ears was torn and bleeding.

Dusan looked up at her and smiled and she returned it with a vile snarl. Her snout crisscrossed by countless scars. Teeth stained red.

If you saw her, you would be certain she was ready to tear our his throat, but Dusan knew his pet. He grabbed her fur roughly and brought her black eyes level to his cold blue.

Now this may seem cruel, but Yera needed a firm hand. If she thought Dusan was in any way weak, she would have killed him then and there.

She shared with him an imaged of a man, jumping on her back and holding on to her ear. She showed him how the man tried to bury his knife deep into her.

Dusan laughed, but not the way we think a villain laughs. It wasn’t loud and booming. Nor was it full of venom and murder. It was a laugh not unlike your own. ‘And then?’

While the Verag could talk, they could also share their thoughts with others. That is precisely what she did.

Yera showed him how she had bucked the man form her back, losing an ear in the process. She showed him the brutal end of the man and snarled again.

By this stage, Dusan had worked hard to create a strong bond with Yera. He worried for her ear, but he made sure not to betray his steely demeanour as he still had need of Yera and her pack.

‘Hunt the Fae,’ he said as he took her fur roughly in his hands. ‘Kill the Fae.’

Dusan adjusted his armour as Yera made her way back into the battlefield.

The boiled leather breastplate was a finely crafted piece of armour. Stories tell us that it had strange runes roughly inscribed across the chest. It had taken Dusan a lifetime of research and dedication to come across these runes and a second lifetime to master their use. Without them, the breastplate was nothing more than a masterfully crafted piece that could turn away a spear thrust. With the runes, it was enough to protect him from armies.

Here is where the sages say that Dusan charged the battlefield. Where he broke the enemy lines and changed the world forever.

The sages are wrong.

Dusan unsheathed his prized possession. A great sword forged of a lifetime of diligent study, of painstaking trial and error. The results were well worth the sacrifice and toil, the heartache and loneliness.

He lifted the great sword high above his head and admired it in the lightening flashes. A heavy blade, keen yet unspectacular. The only aesthetically pleasing element was the guard; fashioned like a raven in flight. A small departure from the pragmatism that dominated his creations and one that he enjoyed casting his eye across.

Much like the breastplate, runes were carved along the length of the blade. Again in the same bold hand; brutal, efficient with no wasted strokes.

This is the time he strode into battle, not earlier. This is where he faced off against a god. The God. This is the story of how Piers Dusan slew Kronus.

CW SY 2013

Chapter 6 ~ Of Veil and Vengeance

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Cahden Joudaar opened his eyes. To say he ‘awoke’ would be to understate the confusion, terror and agony that he felt. No, he opened his eyes. He clutched at his chest. His mouth opened in a silent scream.

Aether overdraw broke strong wizards into countless and very useless pieces. It tore through witches like a lion tears through a lamb. It reverberated through his body and burned Cahden Joudaar to his marrow.

His body began to violently spasm. His mind began to shut down.

On the murky fringes of awareness or perhaps in some dark, untapped recess of his soul, Joudaar knew he was not dead. He did not die when attacking Urquhart in the forest. Aether induced hallucinations, said a familiar voice. He did not die when trying to escape from the Rogue’s Box. Unconsciousness caused by head trauma.

If I’m not deadthen I must have crossed the Veil, the voice was his yet it sounded so distant. So detached.

His back arched unnaturally and his arms flailed as if trying to ward off some invisible attacker.

**

‘Please tell us a story,’ Lilla begged. ‘Please.’

Meylinn took the childs face in her hands and gently brushed the curly mop of blonde hair out of her eyes. ‘Will you listen without interruption? Will you sit still? Will you remember the words so you can share the tale with others?’

Each question was punctuated with an earnest ‘I will.’

‘Did you just interrupt?’ Meylinn smiled, as she soaked up Lilla’s company. The younger was always so eager to learn and the older loved to teach.

The look of horror on Lilla’s face was rewards enough for Meylinn. The child is beyond cute!

Her mouth agape in shock, Lilla’s eyes were wide. ‘I swear by the air itself, it won’t happen again! I will be like a rock,’ she stammered.

‘Rocks cannot hear. They cannot retell.’ Meylinn gave a consolatory shrug as she turned away.

Lilla tugged hard at Meylinn’s scarf. ‘I swear, by the daemons above and below! I’ll do anything you ask.’

Meylinn squatted down again trying to hide her amusement. These Ahn’Ahrani are very serious. These days, she had such little time to just take in the world around her.

Here, in Lilla’s presence, she did just that. She noted the smell of rain in the air. The wind that cut frozen daggers deep into ones very being. She heard the voices of people around her. Their laughter and their sorrow intermingled with the cawing of ravens.

Taking a deep breath, Meylinn gently ran her fingers through Lilla’s hair. The childs lip quivered. ‘I’ll even make sure the others do as their told. You can trust me.’

Gather the others,’ Meylinn smiled. Lilla was a blur of motion even before the words had fully left Meylinn’s mouth.

Laughter escaped from Meylinn as she rubbed the stiffness from her knees. ‘Come back before lunch,’ she yelled after the child.

Time passed in the usual manner. Hearing complaints, leading meetings and making plans.

Soon enough, Meylinn was sitting in her wagon surrounded by children. In the clamor, it was hard to make out one request from another.

‘Tell us of how Ramel Tah chases Ramel Tor,’ a young boy asked.

‘No, no! I want to hear about Rhea’s blade,’ said another as Meylinn absentmindedly sipped her tea.

‘How about the history of the Empire?’ That was an unpopular suggestion, and the girl who had asked for it apologised immediately.

Meylinn held up her hand and waited for silence. Once she knew the children were focused on her, she said ‘Lilla, you planned this. It’s only fair that you choose.’

The little blonde girl’s seriousness faded away as she beamed a proud grin. ‘The Veil,’ was all she said. Then after a while, ‘I want to know the story of how the world lost touch with magic.’

While Meylinn was impressed with the girl’s knowledge, she could tell some of the other children were confused. ‘From the beginning,’ she asked the child?

‘No,’ Lilla wore her serious expression again. ‘From the end.’

A few children laughed, but Meylinn quelled that with a stern look here and an arched eyebrow there.

‘Very well,’ Meylinn put her teacup down, adjusted the pillows she was sitting on and began her story.

‘This is the tale of how the Veil was raised. Of how one man, corrupted by power brought nations to their knees,’ she paused making sure they were listening. ‘This is not the story of how Pier Dusan lost his soul. This is the story of what he did to the world once he was Soulless.’

Silence.

With that she knew that they were hooked and Meylinn began her story.

‘Tendrils of smoke poured from the cracks in the ground. Lightening forked down from the heavens and ignited more refuse. Broken bodies of men, women and daemons.

‘To his right, the river Merlell bubbled unnaturally as yet more lightening rained down and struck it. The river raged and roared, but to what end. Water cannot fight lightening. No more than a child can fight a giant.

‘Dusan managed a crooked and bloody smile.’

CW SY 2013

Chapter 5.2 ~ Of Fae and Foe

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Middy’s hair looked like spun gold. It was tightly curled and framed her face. She had a long scar running across her cheek, not a marking of servitude, but a scar earned in battle. The imperfection of it somehow managed to make her face more beautiful.

Varick drew his hunting knife and spun towards Taysha. She avoided his attack with such a casual grace that Varick was on the fringes of being offended. She even dared to offer up a dazzling smile. Her heart shaped face and dark blonde hair reminded him of Lea.

A sorrow filled his heart. It replaced the fear. With Lea gone, was there much worth fighting for? Falling to two Shadowmen in battle was an honourable death. A brave death. His ancestors would be proud.

What of progeny? The voice was unmistakable. A heavily accented whisper that seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once.

‘What’s he doing, Taysha? Why’s he looking up at the trees?’

‘I think he’s cracked. Look at his eyes. All wide and wild.’

Varick kicked low then high at Middy. As soon as his second kick missed the mark, he flung himself into a cartwheel and slashed at Taysha. He was rewarded with the sound of a kukri cutting though leather armour.

Both women made simultaneous gasping noises. ‘He almost cut me! You know what, I think we should…’

The banter of the women was drowned out by another voice. You. A man as stern as rock. As cold as steel,the voice was musical and careless. Little more than a whisper, yet commanding. The phrasing was clumsy and confusing. Like that of a scholar having to forgo her native tongue – a rich and complex language – and come to grips with communicating through grunts and groans.

The unmistakable smell of lemons filled the air.

While he could not hear the women talking, he could see them mounting an attack. Varick dodged to the right and then threw himself into a forward roll. He spun himself around and struck out with both blades. Both Shadowmen were now standing in front of him.

Talking to a doe. Talking of wife and son. Talking of life and loss, the voice paused briefly as though considering it’s next choice of words. Talking for the span of many words. I did this thing. Stern and cold must not forget what it once was.

Thank you, Varick thought tentatively. If I’m going mad, could I please have some quiet while I fight? Varick spun and slashed his blades wildly. He had managed to cut Taysha a second time and she was furious. She now tested his defences regularly. Violently.

Middy seemed amused that her sister had been cut. That said, her attacks also lost their playfulness and took on a more sinister edge. He managed to accumulate a vast number of cuts, scrapes and bruises in a terrifyingly short amount of time. It was all that Varick could do to escape the more mortal of wounds.

Of manners and madness. One yes, the other not. Be still. No longer a whisper, the voice show Varick to his core. He felt it reverberate in the base of his skull.

You. And You. A woman as pretty as a tiger. As lovely as a snake. Stop.

Taysha and Middy froze. Their blades poised and their muscles straining against the invisible bonds that held them.

‘Yix cut out my heart and feed it to me,’ wailed Taysha.

‘What in Rhea’s Blade is this? No one told me he could command Aether,’ raged Middy.

Varick stood as still as a statue. Paralysed. Not by a disembodied voice nor the magic it possessed. Rather, it was because he sighted a bright blue light floating up into a nearby tree.

‘What can you smell, Middy?’ Taysha’s voice broke near the end of her question.

‘Smell? Grapefruit. Blood orange…Oh,’ she make a choking noise. He mouth worked at a word, but her voice had left her.

‘Fairy,’ Taysha helped. ‘Mischief daemon,’ the terror in her voice was unmistakable.

No to one. Not nice to the other, the blue light settled on a branch. Suddenly there was a hiss and smell of citrus fruit intensified. The shapeless light turned into a tortoise, a bear cub and finally a horned raccoon with grey blue fur. Fae. That is me. Kahini. That you shall call me by.

CW SY 2013