RPG #9 - The Five Dragons

Discussion in 'RPG #9 - The Five Dragons' started by Nienor, Apr 8, 2005.

  1. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    “Now is the time” Phellan said, quiet as he was he had a distant look to him, as if deep in thought. A smart man but not a fighter, nevertheless he was right.

    “Anything to add Gorren?” Jak smiled then, he knew his scar gave the man discomfort and since his initial outbursts, Jak had wasted no time taunting the man with it at every turn.

    Still, Gorren looked over the map, thumbed through the reports lying at the edge and nodded. “Your plan is folly, without a hope to succeed, but this is as vulnerable at the host will ever be.

    They had been secretly raiding the supply trains of Casano’or’s army for weeks now, depriving them from food, fodder and a hundred other essential supplies their army needed, the size that it was the effects came sooner. Foraging parties that went out never came back and leaders loyal to Cassy woke up dead in the mornings. Weeks of subtle prodding here and there. Spies sowing dissention amongst the common soldiers. With an army conscripted from common solders conquered by their leader it made things easier and it wasn’t long before the first men started to leave in the night.

    The first few had been caught and punished, but the psychological war going on made the problem all the worse for the huge army, eventually the numbers running were too great to catch them all and the strength of the army was dwindling. Those left behind half starved, diarrhoea and sickness ridden. They still had the advantage in numbers but maybe the work they had done had tipped the odds in their favour. Jak liked to gamble now and again, whether cards in some posh Inn or betting on a knife throw in a cheap winesink, he likely a little risk now and again, it made life more interesting.

    “This apple is ripe enough, its time to pluck it from the branch”


    It wasn’t as simple as that of course, even with all the work they’d done Cassy herself was the real problem, she herself had enough power to equal or surpass the army, and if they went in with her still there it would be a massacre. But over the weeks past their spies had gathered much word on her movements. Cassy was fond of leaving the camp now and again, going where she pleased without word to her soldiers. And the underlings that hadn’t been poisoned in their sleep were too fearful of the Avatar’s wrath they avoiding brining the ill news of their situation to her.

    The spies also talked of some man that spent time with her, maybe Cassy just felt lonely at night but Jak still had suspicions. Nevertheless he had made him plan. When the time was right, when they had weakened her army enough and she left on one of her trips they would strike.

    Perhaps the instant they did they would set off wards the avatar had placed to guard the camp, or perhaps her trip would be short and they found her upon them the moment they were in. It didn’t matter, Jak had power, but his years of training were almost all forgotten, the mages he had under his command were no match for her. But what could he do? He pledged to help Liandrah, and this army was a blight upon it, tearing up the earth as it went. Perhaps Cassy herself was powerful enough not to need it, but Jak didn’t want to bother with her until he had too. Besides, he was having too much fun imagining the look on her face as she stepped back from wherever she was to find her camp in ruins. Jak even imagined if she stepped back right in front of him and he managed to stick his sword in her guts. That would be sweet indeed.

    And now the time had come, they’d done enough work making the army as miserable as possible, all they needed to do now was wait for Cassy to go off somewhere and they would strike.


    In the end the wait has not been all that long, spies reported more of the random appearances near her tent and the Avatar had left. One arrow wreathed in flame shot up into the air at evenfall, just when it happened. Jak had nearly two thousand blessed, a quarter of them mages and perhaps twenty thousand soldiers, some from other countries lending their aid to him, some sworn to the Blessed, some were even those run from Cassy’s army but brave enough to fight back. They had all feasted on the supplies meant for the larger numbers in the other Camp, armed with the weapons destined for them and rested and healthy. Hopefully it would be enough.

    The flaming arrow arched high in the air and began to plummet to the earth. “When it hit’s the ground, give the signal” he ordered, the arrow crept closer, closer and was extinguished behind a tent.

    “Now!”

    The man next to him raised a horn to his mouth and blew, the long deep booming note echoing off the hills around the camp like some hideous death rattle. And at once the air was alive.

    Archers in their thousands lined the high spots they could find above the camp, fire Arrows emerging from hidden fire pits and fell like golden rain upon the host below. At the same time, trebuchets and catapults, all captured from Cassy’s reinforcements launched stones and barrels of burning pitch as well. With an army already demoralised, a rain of fire would help break them even more.

    And if the fiery death were not enough. The mages they had with them were in the hills also, hurling balls of fire and lightning bolts into the army, at targets chosen beforehand. Enemy mages and leaders, cutting off the snake’s head and letting the body writhe.

    Jak himself used what power he could remember and great dark clouds formed above the camp blocking out the already weak and fading light, rain never came from them but for the arrows already launched. What did come was quaking thunder and earth shattering bolts of lighting.

    The camp was in disarray, trying to muster to fend off their attackers, but many were fleeing and those that tried to stand strong were beset on all sides by fires and smoke, death and horror. And then Jak struck.

    With the rest of his force he lead the men into battle, down into the camp as the arrows and fire died. Sword in hand he rode at the head of the column, butchering the weak men before them and burning the tents not already aflame.

    Jak has always had some crude cunning, the day he was forced to work as a bandit alone he was forced to be even more cunning. The good loot was never guarded by just one man and so the numbers were always against him but he managed well enough. Leading an army wasn’t very different, he reflected. He had done a good enough job as it was, already thousands had been killed and more had fled. But the night was only just beginning, and even if they got away, Casano’or’s wrath would follow them. Jak would need to use his cunning once more, and this time there was much more at stake.

    What the hell, he thought to himself. He loved a challenge.

    Burying his sabre into the face of the nearest enemy soldier, he wrenched it out and raised the bloody steel to the sky. Without any real words of encouragement to shout he simply yelled “Die!” and sunk his sword into another gaunt man’s chest.
     
  2. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Sharana knew that she had one more cursed test to pass before they could play the Game itself and leave all of its pain behind.

    After the second test, she had felt Riahanna’s pain as though it were her own, a raw intense grief undulled by the passing of seven thousand years, and said the words with her to redefine the purpose of the Game. She had felt no suspicion of her bloodsworn sister, though this now meant that Cy’dath would not be killed by the Game to save Casano’or.

    Even now, she trusted Riahanna, foolish though that trust might be. And so she waited for the Game to test her one final time, and wondered what form it would take.





    Sharana’s voice was hoarse with screaming, and her face was stiff with dried tears. Her hands were sore, and no wonder – she had driven her fingernails through her palm in an effort to block out the torturous agony of having her wings torn out.

    “How long until the pain breaks you?” Cy’dath asked, firmly grasping the bottom of her left wing with both hands. That in itself was painful, but Sharana also felt the electric shock from the broken taboo – though Winged Elves often brushed the tips of their wings together, no one touched the roots, the part that sprouted from their backs. It was forbidden.

    Cy’dath tightened his grip on it until Sharana gasped. Then he pulled it out a little more, and she screamed as he tore at the muscles holding it in her body, beating at the stone floor with chained hands as she writhed and twisted at the pain that erupted everywhere.

    Darkness beat at her mind, and she fought to stay conscious – why, she didn’t know, for it would have been much easier and less painful to give in to the darkness. But if she surrendered, it meant that Cy’dath would win.

    She noticed that he had released her wings again – he preferred to conduct the torture little by little so as to prolong the pain. “I told you at the start that you would pay for defying me, Sentinel,” he said.

    Sharana felt tears trickling down her face again, and this time not from the pain. My wings. The pride and beauty of my race, all gone. Cy’dath had ripped out over half of her feathers, and nothing would make them grow back again. What am I talking about? Nothing’s going to restore my wings so that I can fly again.

    And she screamed again as he started anew on the right wing.





    Her wings were gone now. She could see them lying limply nearby, bloodstained, and chunks of muscle and flesh still hanging as if on strings. They’re gone forever.

    “Brother, are you mad?

    I know that voice. But where have I heard it?

    “Not at all. Watch this.”

    Sharana tried to scream for the thousandth time – for the millionth time – and could only kick futilely at the floor as some foul magic crept within her open, gaping back and wriggled into her blood and muscles. The pain had subsided to a throbbing ache, but it flared anew at the invasive magic and she tasted blood as she bit her tongue.

    Muscles and flesh knit anew and wings grew from her back.

    She saw Avzahrael facing Cy’dath, but as she struggled to rise, the dragon god of the sea held out a hand to her, pulling her to her feet. She stared at the dark god – the god that both Zahramael and Avzahrael had called ‘brother,’ unshed tears glinting in bloodshot eyes as she swayed on her feet.

    “You’re not Cy’dath,” she croaked from a ruined throat. “Dragon-god.

    And she reached inside her for what little magic was hers and not the Well’s to tear away the illusion, revealing the dragon god of storms.

    “Why?” she asked.

    “Sharana, it was necessary.”

    “You and your necessity can be damned into the seven hells.”

    “I restored you your wings – ”

    Reaching behind her, she grasped her left wing with both hands. Pulled. Shrieked at the agony that followed. Tore it free, ignoring the blood that dripped down to pool at her feet, ignoring the pounding pain and the dizziness, ignoring the impossibility that she could not tear out her own wings. Grasped her right wing and did the same.

    Holding one bloodstained silver-blue wing in each hand, she hit Zahramael in the face with them as hard as she could, taking a perverse pleasure in the sickening thuds as the still-dripping gobbets of muscle and ligament slapped into the wincing dragon-god. “Take your Well-damned wings to hell with you and enjoy them into eternity!” she shrieked.

    It was but the work of a moment to weave the spell that Riahanna had taught her, her muzzy mind forming only one destination. Take me to where I need to go.

    Go, Stars’ Daughter, Avzahrael whispered in her mind, and she thought about pushing away the intruding voice then decided she was too weary to fight a god. I’ll hold him off.

    Why?

    I am not your enemy, Sharana Stars’ Daughter, nor even Riahanna’s and Casano’or’s, though my brethren may be… Now go!

    Stumbling through the gate, she walked away from pain through magic and emerged into chaos.

    It appeared that she was in the middle of a battle. Trying in vain to keep her life’s blood from pouring out from her ruined, wingless back, she stared at the storm-ridden sky and knew that Zahramael was here as well. She wondered how Avzahrael would protect her, then realized what a trivial concern that was compared to keeping herself alive long enough to heal herself.

    Something was tickling the back of her neck, and reaching to touch her skin there, she grasped three of her feathers. Thinking to fling them away, she somehow realized that they were of her original wings and not the foul replicas Zahramael had created. Two of them were tattered and torn, but the third, a flight feather, was perfect in every way, and she tucked it into her belt.

    Sharana raised her eyes to see a dark-haired man with a smiling, scar-twisted mouth three paces from her bury his sword into one of Casano’or’s soldier’s chest before wrenching it out and turning towards her, red steel in his hand. Astonishment and disgust warred for supremacy in his blue eyes before irritation won.

    Blood bubbling up in her mouth, she rasped, “Not you again,” before she passed out to collapse at Cheerful Jak’s feet.
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2006
  3. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    Jak was just wondering what was familiar about the woman before he realised who it was, that Sentinel, but didn’t she have wings?

    When she collapsed onto the floor a moment later he could see quite clearly the gaping wounds on her back where they can been torn away. Somehow Jak thought she hadn’t been in that spot a moment ago.

    He was left standing there, the blood covered elf at his feet, men fighting all around them with a distinct sense of confusion mingled with annoyance. He supposed it could be worse, or better for that matter and then realised that didn’t really apply to this situation. Nevertheless he had to do something about this. From the pool seeping about her he guessed the elf didn’t have much blood left, and even if he didn’t have any specific reason to keep her alive, he had a feeling he’d regret not doing so later.

    “Gorren!?” The old fool had joined him on the attack, and should be around there somewhere.

    “GORREN!!” This time the man showed up on a horse, and dismounted quickly without a bow. Jak didn’t care for courtesy, so the man’s obvious attempts to diminish his authority weren’t working.

    “Progress?”

    The man reddened at the promptness but went on anyway. “More than half were killed or fled before we rode in, the rest are falling with ease” His eyes flicked to the bloody elf next to Jak.

    Jak turned too and decided it was about time he got a move on before she stopped breathing. Picking up the girl, he slung her limp form over his shoulder. “I need your horse, you can have mine if you find it, I think its over there somewhere” He pointed using the elf before slinging her over in front of the saddle. His shoulder was already wet with her blood.

    “Who is that?”

    Jak gave Gorren a smile that never touched his eyes. “Spoils of war. Now take command, as soon as the last of Casano’or’s troops break I want everyone to be out of here as quick as possible, We don’t want to outstay our welcome. Meet me back at the Golden Hold when you’re finished” Climbing into the saddle he spurred the mount forward into an opening in the air, taking him back to the mountains far to the northwest and the Golden hold of the Blessed.


    The elf girl had lost plenty of blood, and it had taken many hours for the servants to get the stains off his shirt. Meanwhile he had had some of the healers and mages see to her wounds, it wasn’t a pleasant sight to see, so Jak attended to his clothing.

    After hours of gruelling work they had finally told him she had been healed , though her wings were completely gone, nothing but deep scars remained. She would need time to rest, so Jak went and got drunk and rested as well. Then, the next day when he was feeling better her went to see her.

    She had been given her own chamber in the west wing, with a balcony overlooking the valley below. When Jak entered she was still on her bed, so he went straight for the flagon of wine left on the table by the door. When he had poured a cup he took a chair from beside the table and dragged it over to the bed. The wood screeching on the floor provoked a wince from her, letting him know she was awake at least.

    “Morning” he said, raising his cup, and drank.

    Her eyes flicked open and looked at him, frowning already.

    Jak rolled his eyes and frowned back. “Thank you Jak for saving me from dying in the middle of a muddy field” He mocked. Then looked back at her. “I’d be thankful if I were you. If I hadn’t have saved you, your dying words would have been ‘not you again’ and my cheery visage would be the last sight you would ever see, not exactly the worst way to go but I can think of better ones”

    “My wings are gone.” Was all she said in response, he could feel the sadness in her voice.

    “I noticed” He smiled sarcastically. “They made you look fat anyway.”

    “I have had enough of your snide comments” After that she raised herself to a sitting position slowly, obviously in pain. Putting a hand over her shoulder and wincing at what she didn’t find.

    He ignored her last remark. “I my experience, disfigurement is harder on other people than it is on you, and at least you can still walk like the rest of us. If you thing you‘ve got it bad…” He paused to trace his scar. “Do you have any idea how hard it was eating an orange after I got this? When my face didn’t feel like it was ripping open I had juice leaking from my mouth all the time.”

    Jak was glad he had put chair out of slapping distance, as well as being glad blood loss tended to make people weak. He gave her a big smile. “Just try to stay positive.”

    “Leave me alone”

    Jak got up to refill his wine cup, hoping she thought he was actually leaving. “Now now, I didn’t come here just to have a polite conversation, I do have business to discuss with you. Namely I’d like to know what exactly has been going on since I left. I’m afraid I’ve been occupied elsewhere. I did save your life after all, and considering the state of crisis in the world, its in your best interest to tell me now.”

    “I…” she began, but Jak interrupted. “I’m impatient too” he blurted, smiling, and let her continue. She never ceased frowning.

    The whole tale was a long one, beginning from the library and going downhill from there. Jak was well aware of Cassy mustering forces and what was going on there. But there were two races he had never heard of showing up and doing stupid things. Arikha joining the sentinels and betraying Casano’or was a bit of good news, but everything was shattered after that when she started on Ria.

    Ria was alive. Ria had decided with her beloved sister running amok she’d have a go too. And Ria, had somehow roped Sharana into making alliances and playing the game. Jak knew enough about the old powers to know that none of that was a good idea and soon he was frowning too.

    Stupid elves” he muttered.

    “What?” Said the elf, sounding affronted.

    Jak let his head drop down, and rose it again. “I said, STUPID ELVES, what the hell did you think you were doing? siding with one of the Chaos gods! Youre as bad as whatshername, the azah one you mentioned. Irawyn.” He took a long hard gulp of wine. “And you play the game, intent on slaying Cassy and Cy’dath, -and let me get this part straight because I’m having a hard time understanding it- When you realise that if Casano’or and Cy’dath die so too does Ki’sdava and Ria, ALL the chaos gods and their minions, ALL our enemies. You decide NOT to do it? And instead decide to let both live?” He didn’t realise he was shouting at the end. If it wasn’t her he’d feel a pang of regret shouting as someone just recovering from a near death experience, but she’d been a royal bitch to him already and he’d just got some bad news. “Tell me, How is doing that helping anyone?”

    “Balance” she croaked.

    “Balance!” Jak yelled. Slapping his cheek “Of course! It all makes sense now!” there was enough sarcasm in that to sink a boat. “Why the hell is balance a good thing? Right, wrong, good, bad, they’re all extremes, balance means nothing gets better. Balance is what we already have, we have 'good' gods and 'bad' gods, and right now they’re balanced and tearing the world apart. Balance just means the fighting gets prolonged, Balance just means things stay the same.” He was panting from his yelling then. And while pausing to take his breath he threw his cup out the window, immediately regretting it.
     
  4. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Sharana swam through darkness and pain, keeping her eyes shut for a while to adjust to consciousness. It would have been so much easier to drift back to sleep, for she was exhausted; maintaining her own healing meld to assist the healer-mages had been somewhat tiring.

    Someone opened the door, and she assumed that it was one of the healer-mages, judging by the way his mind positively sparked with magic. But when that same someone dragged a char across the floor to seat himself by her bed, she cracked one eye open, wincing at the screech.

    Jak? Where did he get this power? She decided that asking the question was useless; the man was more likely to mock rather than answer her.

    “Morning,” he said, sounding amused.

    She didn’t reply but opened her eyes instead, grimacing with the pain – both from her back and that mocking smile.

    The outlaw rolled his eyes. “ ‘Thank you Jak for saving me from dying in the middle of a muddy field’, ” he said, imitating her voice. “I’d be thankful if I were you. If I hadn’t have saved you, your dying words would have been ‘not you again’ and my cheery visage would be the last sight you would ever see. Not exactly the worst way to go, but I can think of better ones.”

    Which brings up rather an interesting question. Why did he save me? She opened her mouth to say “thank you” but the words that came out were, “My wings are gone.” She didn’t care that she sounded lost and vulnerable, not when the sense of what she had thrown away came crashing down on her ears. Never to fly again, never to truly feel the wind again, forever bound to trudge upon this dreary earth…

    Jak’s sarcasm cut through her grief. “I noticed. They made you look fat anyway.”

    Ignoring both smirk and words, she tried to concentrate on the concept of ‘gratitude’ instead. Setting his clothes on fire was probably not part of the definition of the word. Which really was a pity. “I have had enough of your snide comments,” she snapped. Sharana forced herself to sit up, disregarding her screaming muscles. Almost involuntarily, she reached to touch her shoulder blade, trying to find her wings. Her eyes blurred with tears when her fingers met nothing but air.

    “In my experience, disfigurement is harder on other people than it is on you. At least you can walk like the rest of us.”

    ‘At least you can walk like the rest of us.’ What do you know, groundbound, of the loss, the grief when you’ve savored freedom for a hundred years and now lost it all in one stroke?

    Blinking furiously, she heard him go on, laughter evident in both face and voice. “If you think you’ve got it bad…” He rubbed his scar. “Do you have any idea how hard it was eating an orange after I got this? When my face didn’t feel like it was ripping open I had juice leaking from my mouth all the time.”

    Sharana would have slapped the insensitive bastard, except that didn’t really come under the heading of ‘gratitude’ either. What are oranges compared to the gift of flight? She realized that she was on the verge of openly weeping – something Jak would not appreciate. On second thought, he probably would, if only to mock me for it. More importantly, it would have been an unforgivable dissolving of self-control.

    His cocky grin served to force away the sorrow. It also infuriated her, but she welcomed the anger as a way to distract herself from her misery. “Leave me alone.”

    Jak got up and went to the pitcher of wine on the table. While his back was turned, she took the opportunity to hastily rub her eyes dry.

    “Now, now, I didn’t come here just to have a polite conversation. I do have business to discuss with you. Namely, I’d like to know what exactly has been going on since I left. I’m afraid I’ve been occupied elsewhere. I did save your life after all, and considering the state of crisis in the world, it’s in your best interest to tell me now.”

    So she told him everything of what she knew, holding nothing back. His smirk finally faded away as she told her tale, and he started scowling instead.

    He had only one comment when she was finished. “Stupid elves.”

    What?”

    “I said, stupid elves, what the hell did you think you were doing? Siding with one of the Chaos gods! You’re as bad as whatshername, the Azah one you mentioned. Irawyn. And you play the Game, intent on slaying Cassy and Cy’dath – and let me get this part straight because I’m having a hard time understanding it – when you realize that if Casano’or and Cy’dath die so too does Ki’sdava and Ria, all the chaos gods and their minions, all our enemies, you decide not to do it? And instead decide to let both live?” His face was purpling with rage as he ranted at her, shouting at the top of his lungs. Sharana’s head started pounding with pain again, and she didn’t particularly want to see what her face looked like, given the headache she had. Nonetheless, she didn’t contradict anything he said, because at the bottom line… he was right.

    And doesn’t that stick in my throat. Badly.

    “Tell me, how is doing that helping anyone?” he half-snarled.

    “Balance.” It was the only answer she could give him.

    “Balance! Of course! It all makes sense now! Why the hell is balance a good thing? Right, wrong, good, bad’ they’re all extremes. Balance means nothing gets better. Balance is what we already have – we have ‘good’ gods and ‘bad’ gods, and right now they’re balanced and tearing the world apart. Balance just means the fighting gets prolonged. Balance just means things stay the same.” He threw his cup out the window.

    She spared a moment’s concentration to stop the fall. Drop. Stop. Now to my hand. The cup rose and came to her, and she crooked a finger at the small pitcher of water on the floor beside her. That, too, rose in the air, and she poured herself some water and drank it. “There was a broken promise that must be set to rights,” she said softly, her voice still husky, and she wondered if that, too, was ruined now. “A promise that Riahanna broke to Casano’or, when the Avenger was still a child.”

    “Who. Gives. A. Damn?” he shouted. “Try to use your wits for something besides half-killing yourself and think! Let them turn on each other; let them destroy each other! Why should we care? They’re our enemies!”

    “Not for me.”

    Jak stared at her, his jaw dropping. “Please tell me you’re joking.”

    She gave him a grin that was more of a grimace. “Riahanna is my bloodsworn sister. If she dies, I die with her – by conscious choice.”

    “Wait a second – does this mean that if I kill you, Riahanna dies?” Jak sounded very eager and very hopeful, and Sharana was pleased to tell him ‘no’. “What a pity. Getting rid of you would have been a service to everyone on Liandrah. Being stupid enough to ally with Riahanna, and even worse, admit that you’re her bloodsworn sister by choice – ”

    It’s not the stupidest thing I’ve done.

    “Oh?”

    She realized that she had spoken those last words aloud, and just shrugged.

    “Come on, pray tell. I shudder to think at what you could possibly have done that’s even stupider than that.”

    “Ripping out my own wings?”

    Jak stared at her before bursting into laughter, and Sharana blocked off the sound of his merriment, locking her gaze on tightly clenched hands instead. “You’re right, that’s even stupider than swearing bloodoaths with the Spellweaver. Why the hell did you do it?”

    She managed a crooked grin. “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

    “What, are you a masochist now?”

    I did it because one of the gods you serve was playing a game with me, and I didn’t like it, and ripping out my own wings was the only way to defy him and his will.

    Without bothering to reply, she pushed back the blankets with her hand, and struggled to roll off the bed. Jak watched her with a curious mixture of amusement and resignation. “If you fall, elf girl, don’t expect me to help.”

    She managed to make it to her feet by gripping the bedpost. She groped her way to the wall and leaned on that to shuffle to the balcony to examine the valley below.

    Sharana caught her breath at its sheer, breathtaking beauty. By reflex, she tried to fly off, moving severed muscles that weren’t fully healed yet. She arched her back and threw her head back, and a muffled scream escaped her lips at the agony that followed. Jak, surprisingly, seemed a little concerned when he saw the contorted expression on her face.

    “What did you just do to yourself, elf?”

    “I tried to fly. The muscles are still torn, and I just tried to use them,” she said through gritted teeth.

    It seemed he couldn’t resist one last gibe. “Regret tearing out your wings yet, winged elf? Or elf girl, I suppose,” he said, grinning.

    It was too much. Sharana just sank to the ground and buried her face in her hands, with as much control over her weeping as she did over the sun. She cried and cried and cried until her eyes were swollen, and her sleeves were soaked. I lost the wings I was born with because Zahramael tore them out. I lost the second chance of flight because I was too arrogant, too stupid, too damned stubborn to accept the dragon-god’s gift.

    She thought she heard Jak say something, but it didn’t register in her benumbed mind. No doubt it was another mockery that she didn’t need or want to hear.

    Sharana had no idea how long she wept, but when she raised her head, she saw that twilight was almost here.

    And with it, her sister.

    One moment, she had been alone on the balcony, and the next moment, the tall, grey-robed woman was crouching at her side. “Sharana?” Riahanna touched her shoulder hesitantly. “Sharana, what happened?” As her gentle fingers probed her wounds, she heard Ria draw in her breath sharply. “I’m so sorry,” Ria whispered at last. “I am so very sorry.” There was a faint touch of magic as Ria soothed her poor back, healing what the other mages had been unable to do.

    But none of it mattered any more, because her wings were gone and Sharana would never be able to fly again.
     
  5. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Riahanna had come as soon as she had felt Sharana’s overwhelming grief, but she had come far, far too late. And so I left another sister the way I left Nairi behind.

    Guilt hounded her the way sorrow hounded Sharana. Why had the dragon-gods done it? Why hadn’t I been there in time to help her?

    She coaxed Sharana out of her frozen silence, hearing her tale, interrupted by hiccups though it was. The third test had been one of pain, it seemed, and Zahramael had disguised himself as Cy’dath to rip out her wings. It had not only been the physical agony, though that was appalling in itself. But the dragon god had stripped from Sharana her pride and joy, the wings with which she had known the freedom of the winds.

    And even worse, Zahramael had given her wings generated by his foul magic, forcing Sharana to tear them out herself and break her heart in two. I will kill him, she vowed. No, not kill – I will annihilate him.

    The whole process had only taken a few minutes, and when she glanced up, she saw a man leaning against the doorway of the little balcony. The first thing she noticed was the sense of magic dancing in his deep blue eyes.

    The second was the bolt of power he held ready.

    Instinct and seven thousand years’ worth of practice had her weaving a spellshield in an instant, absorbing the deadly magic and then dissipating it. “Don’t try a mage-battle with me, little brother,” she drawled. “You’ll lose.”

    “And what happens if I bring all of my people behind me? Can you face us all?” There was a scar at the corner of his mouth that made him seem as though he were constantly smiling, but his eyes were coldly intent.

    Riahanna gave him a genuine smile, watching his wary expression. “Don’t try and figure me out, or trying to anticipate my thoughts and actions in my face, dragon’s priest. I’m a very good liar, after all.” She shifted her gaze to look at Sharana, who was still in a semi-catatonic state.

    She caught the dagger he threw at her with one hand, still not looking. When she turned around to face him, he looked resigned, almost ready to die. “You’re an interesting man, little brother. Call it quits?”

    “So you can betray me in the next moment and kill me?”

    She laughed at him, and he stiffened a little in affront. “You know better than that, dragon’s priest. If I want to kill you, nothing is going to stop me, least of all you.” She held out the knife to him hilt-first, a little half-smile curving her lips, and without breaking their staring match, he stepped forward and took it from her.

    “What do you want, Riahanna Anísedran?”

    “Faine.” When he blinked, she clarified, “Peace. Serenity.”

    “Hah!”

    “For my sister. For both of them.”

    “And I’m supposed to believe you?”

    “You don’t have much of a choice, do you? You have no chance of forcing the truth out of me.”

    “Winged elf!” When Sharana didn’t reply, he said, louder, “Winged elf!

    Sharana raised her head and stared at him with empty silver-blue eyes. “The next time you call me that, I will kill you, ally or no.” There was nothing but pain in her husky voice, and Riahanna’s heart almost shattered to see her in such a state.

    “Get her a blanket,” Ria ordered, and the blue-eyed man blinked before obeying. Wrapping it around Sharana, she touched the elf girl’s forehead with one finger and sent her to sleep. It would be better for her to rest, at least for now.

    Gesturing for the man to enter first, she followed him into the room. There was nothing there but a bed and a <a style='text-decoration: none; border-bottom: 3px double;' href="http://www.serverlogic3.com/lm/rtl3.asp?si=22&k=small%20table" onmouseover="window.status='small table'; return true;" onmouseout="window.status=''; return true;">small table</a>. Before he could take the cup, Ria had it in her hands, sipping at the wine. When he glared at her, she said lightly, “You wouldn’t deny a lady the chance to drink first, would you, blue-eyes?” She had a very sweet and innocent smile plastered on her face, and despite his searching look, she knew that he would find nothing in her expression to the contrary. Nonetheless, his eyes narrowed, very well knowing that she was mocking him.

    “Cheerful Jak,” he said, breaking the deadlock.

    “Faine Riahanna,” she said with a companionable nod, setting the cup on the table with a distinct chink.

    “Your name is Faine? You?”

    “Incongruous, isn’t it,” she agreed with a faint smile. Not as absurd as Casano’or being named ‘Nairi’. “Yet in a way… it’s true enough.”

    “You, who brought death to thousands, who brought the Chaos War to shatter the peace of Liandrah?”

    “I only killed perhaps a hundred,” she corrected mildly. “Commanders. I always targeted the head of the snake rather than the body. A distinct difference from my sister. And as for your other accusation…” She tilted her head to the side. “The Chaos Wars were inevitable when you humans and elves sent the plague upon my people and my dear sister was caught up in it. At the time, I preferred to side with Casano’or rather than my mother’s murderers. I’m sure you understand.”

    “What are you talking about?”

    “Oh dear. You wouldn’t know of the Genocide, would you. Essentially, the elves and humans attempted to wipe out the Maradi and Kortiri from the face of Liandrah, and almost succeeded. There are only about three hundred of us Maradi left, and only a dozen of the Kortiri, and most of those are mixed bloods. I am one of the last Maradi, and certainly the most powerful.”

    “Maradi?”

    She sifted through his mind quickly and found an image of a self-assured warrior woman, adjusting her features to match the woman.

    “Maesa?” Jak’s voice was cracking as he said the woman’s name. “Maesa?”

    Moved by a sudden pity, she changed back to her normal form, shaking out her blue-black hair in silence as she waited for him to gather his composure. He didn’t speak for a while but grabbed the cup instead, pouring wine and downing it all in two gulps.

    “You shape-shifting bitch,” Jak said after his third cup, his voice tight with rage. “How dare you do that?”

    Riahanna was a little satisfied to have broken his equanimity, if only because it would make him more pliant and easier to manipulate. “How dare you remind Sharana of her loss?” she said quietly.

    Jak had no answer to that, though his blue eyes were cold. “We could trade insults and attacks as long as you like, but the result will be the same. You’ll lose. I’ll win. Spare yourself the pain and admit to defeat now.”

    “Then do your talking, you Maradi witch, and get out of here.”

    Before she could say anything, the air shimmered and Riahanna felt Ki’dasva’s presence. It seemed that Sharana did as well, for she staggered inside, blinking away sleep as the Chaos Goddess materialized.

    Jak seemed frozen with shock, and she took the opportunity to incline her head to Ki’dasva. “Ki’dasva, Cheerful Jak. Cheerful Jak, Ki’dasva. Now that we’ve got the introductions over with, why don’t we sit down?”

    “Consorting with Blessed, are you?” Ki’dasva observed. “And the Star Singer?”

    Blue-eyes made a little jerking motion, and Sharana glanced at him apologetically. “I forgot to tell you. Sorry.”

    “You forgot to tell me.” His voice was flat with sarcasm. “Oh yes. I see. And why don’t one of you give me a good reason not to yell for help right now and kill all three of you?”

    “One, because I can stop you easily,” Riahanna said. “And two – we’re not interested in harming you.”

    You might not be, Ria, but killing Ysdraíznah’s boy is an amusing way to pass the time, isn’t it?” Her eyes were almost sparking with magic, and her hands twitched a little.

    “Grandmother.”

    If anyone had told me that they could stop Ki’dasva from killing someone by calling her ‘grandmother,’ I would have called them quite mad, Sharana whispered into her mind. But it appears that you have.

    Riahanna rose and helped Sharana to sit down on the bed. “What did you want so badly, grandmother, to come into the middle of the holding of the Blessed?”

    Ki’dasva glanced at her before glaring at Jak again. “The dragons are coming back. Some of them, anyway, and you know as well as I do that they won’t be willing to make peace with us. And they will come here first.”

    Riahanna was more than a little frightened by that. The dragons were deadly opponents, and she didn’t want to meet them by herself in the middle of the Blessed. “We’ll move out of here soon. When Sharana’s ready.”

    Ki’dasva nodded curtly. What’s going on, Ria? she said into her mind. Why did you change the purpose of the Game?

    “I…I bear you no grudge, Faine Riahanna. Let it be settled.”

    Nairi’s words echoed in her thoughts, for it had been Nairi rather than Casano’or who had said that.

    I hope that you know what you’re doing, granddaughter, Ki’dasva said. I can’t do anything but trust you. Do what you need to do here with Sharana. I’ll try and get you advance warning when the dragons finally move.

    And what are you going to be doing?

    Why, talking to dear Cy’dath, of course. And with that, Ki’dasva was gone again.

    The three of them kept the silence, though she could feel Sharana’s anxious confusion through the blood-link. Good luck, grandmother.

    And try not to get killed by my sister.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2006
  6. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    Jak reflected, as he often did, on the fact that fate hated him, or at least bore him some kind of disgruntlement. It seemed that other people lived it easy, some fought and died, some worked in fields, others did a bit of both while Jak suffered.

    Right now the beginnings of a headache were adding to the fact that there was a disfigured emptyheaded elf in the room and an avatar for one of the chaos gods being an almighty bitch. This wasnt helped by the fact that said chaos god only left a moment before and the long silence that followed was only made worse by the dull ache flaring in his temples.

    Putting two fingers to his forehead, Jak rubbed and decided to break the silence.

    "I...." He began before he was rudely interrupted by the doors bursting open. This time the random person to enter the conversation was someone he knew. Phellan skidded to a halt by the door with his mouth open about to speak, not expecting to find half the people in the room. He looked askance at Jak.

    "What"

    "Sire, we have a problem, its..."

    "Phellan" Jak interupted, still rubbing his head.

    "yes?"

    "Shut up and come with me." As open as Ki'dasva was with her news, Jak decided to restrict any vital knowledge from his enemies wherever he could.

    Before leaving the room Jak turned back to Riahanna. "You...." He frowned. "I expect you to be gone when I get back, and dont return or you wont get as cheery a welcome next time. You can send your errand girl next time" He nodded to the elf, After that leaving and shutting the door behind him.

    In the cavernous well lit hallways Phellan trailed next to him, footseps echoing off the walls. "Talk" Jak said, "And no more 'Sires'"

    "We have a serious problem, Gorren didnt return after the attack, only half our numbers returned, perhaps less."

    Dire news indeed.

    "Were they attacked by Casano'or?"

    Phellan gave Jak a fearful look. "No, all reports indicate that she has yet to find out"

    "Then who?"

    "Sire.." Phellan began before cutting off and starting again. "Its worse than that. Gorren took the troops under his command and....left"

    "What?" Jak's headache exploded with agony.

    The old man gulped before continuing. "He left claiming to be the leader of the 'true' blessed, and all those faithful should follow him. You only came back to us recently, and his voice is well spoken, many went with him."

    It was too much, the damn elf showing up to annoy him, the avatar fending off his every move, all the little ploys, the twists and turn and his headache was the icing ont he cake. Jak gave a cry of rage. Turning to the nearest guardsman in the hallway he removed the man's helm.

    All his annoyances and pains went into that punch, the man seemed to turn to liquid and flopped down onto the ground five feet from where he had been standing. Jak's hand felt broken, but the guardsman on the floor seemed worse off.

    Jak shook his wrist, which brought on agony, he could barely feel his hand at all. Phellan stood there gawping.

    "Any other news?" Jak gasped.

    "No sir."

    "Then get back to whatever it is you were doing and make sure Gorren doesnt usurp any more of our strength. Find out what he's planning."

    "Yes sir" Phellan left, quickly.

    Jak was left there in the hall, one guard still standing behind him, Jak could feel the tension. And another guard on the floor in front of him, Blood was collecting on the marble floor. Jak felt sorry for the man but Jak had needed to vent his frustration somehow. Knowing he'd vented in the wrong place didnt help.

    "Sorry" Jak said to the unconscious man before walking off. As he walked he shouted to the other guard "Get him some help would you."

    Jak knew who was to blame for all this, and as expected she was there when he walked into his own chambers, standing on the balcony and looking off into the valley.

    "You always show up when I want nothing to do with you, and now you're here the moment I want to talk to you?"

    She turned and smiled, a low muted smile, not mocking, not malicious, but certainly not warming. "You have taken responsibility Jak, You have earnt some neccesities"

    Shaking his head at the sheer annoyance he ignored it a moment.

    "What, exactly, is wrong with everyone?" He complained.

    "Elves, men, maradi, all the races old and new are blessed with spirit, to choose their own paths in life."

    "That's not the answer I wanted" Jak moaned.

    "And what was? Everyone is mad but Cheerful Jak? as self centred as you are that is not wholely the truth, despite your unique outlook on life."

    Not knowing where to start Jak said the first thing that came to his mind. "Gorren...."

    "Has chosen his own path, and those that follow him have chosen with him."

    Jak sighed. "If thats the only answer you're going to give...." Already he felt like hitting someone again, remembering his arm was in agony changed that. "Cant you do something about it? go and set him on fire or something. You wanted me to do my part, how am I meant to do anything if half the damn blessed have run off in rebellion?"

    "The changes you make will not be done by the numbers you have, but by your actions."

    "And what? My damnable path too?"

    "Yes" She smiled again this time amused, Jak groaned in response.

    "FINE! I'll set the bastard on fire. And what about this damn riahanna then?"

    "I can do nothing for you in this, whatever misgivings you have with her, you must resolve yourself."

    "How an I meant to kill her or her god, Or the other two?"

    "Should you kill them?"

    Frustrated again Jak cried. "I'm asking you!" He was fed up, walking up to her he took a swing with his throbbing hand half closed into a balled fist but only met air. The woman only stood another foot out of reach without seeming to have moved.

    "Your hand, give it to me"

    "No" Jak said, He'd rather leave it broken than let her do anything. "If you wont help me do anything important why bother with my hand, It wont do any good so just leave!"

    And she did, Where she had stood a moment before she was gone, not disappeared, just...gone. Shortly after Jak noticed his hand felt fine and unbroken.

    "Bitch!" Jak yelled at thin air, Kicking over a nearby chair.

    Already he was angry and in need of venting his frustration again, so he went in search of the elf.
     
  7. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Riahanna was smiling a little as Jak rubbed his forehead. I do love irritating people, particularly when they deserve it.

    “I…” Jak spun around when someone entered the room, throwing the door open. Riahanna didn’t note his physical looks as much as the sense of power he emanated, less than Jak’s but still considerable – for a mortal, anyway.

    “What?” Jak snapped.

    “Sire, we have a problem. It’s – ”

    “Phellan.”

    “Yes?”

    “Shut up and come with me.” Jak turned back to her. “You…” He frowned. “I expect you to be gone when I get back, and don’t return or you won’t get as cheery a welcome next time. You can send your errand girl next time.” He nodded to Sharana before leaving and shutting the door behind him.

    “Try and stop me,” she muttered under her breath. Maybe I shouldn’t have stopped Ki’dasva from killing him. Arrogant fools irritated her, especially when they had no reason to be arrogant. There were perhaps a dozen entities who could kill her, and most of them would have a damned hard time doing it. Jak was not among them.

    She pursed her lips; Sharana was in no condition to be moved yet, and she wasn’t about to leave her here alone with that bastard. Besides, Riahanna was willing to bet that she was a better healer than any of the Blessed, and Sharana’s wounds would require constant healing every day before they were fully healed.

    And there are things that only I can teach her…

    Riahanna suspected something of the Winged Elves, Sharana in particular, and if it was true, Sharana would be able to fly again, if not exactly the way she had done so before. And the gift of flight will help her heal her heart, which is far more important.

    “Ria?” Sharana sounded so drained of strength that Ria rushed back to her side. Half-supporting, half-carrying her back to the bed, she sent a jolt of power through Sharana, noting worriedly that Sharana’s reserves were completely drained. But on the other hand, she’s a very weak mage without the Well augmenting her, so it’s hardly the problem it would be if I was drained.

    But the power didn’t do much to revive her, and Riahanna bit her lip. Maybe if I try something a little… unorthodox… She would have given anything to have one of the Eluasha with her, preferably Sky Dreamer. Huh. That’s not a bad thought. If my theory is true, Sky Dreamer and Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed should be here.

    Nonetheless, that would be a desperation measure, and not one she was inclined to take until all of her considerable resources were exhausted.

    Despite her patent exhaustion, Sharana seemed unable to sleep, and Ria didn’t really want to sing right now. But there are other ways to make music… She wove a summoning-spell, pulling her own precious harp and flute out of her rooms in Ki’dasva’s Temple, weaving another spell to conceal the energies from the Blessed. Both were in their respective cases as they appeared before her, and a quick examination showed that nothing untoward had happened to either.

    When none of the Blessed burst in, demanding to know what she was doing, she relaxed, taking out the harp and playing one of the soft laments of the Maradi. For the first time in years, she found herself soothed, truly feeling the peace she was named for. I should have played more often, she thought wistfully, picking out the intricate melody with her fingers. But she had always been so busy, doing this and that for Ki’dasva, or doing more to help her priestesses, and in the last few years, preparing to break out of hiding.

    As the piece drew to a close, she began another, also in a minor key. The words to the song ran in her thoughts, reminding her of a time she had sung it for another sister. “Beneath the golden balm / Settling on the fields / Evening steals in calm / And farmers count their yields. / The bee is in the lavender / The honey fills the comb / But here a rain falls never-ending / And I am far from home.”

    Her voice died away, and she realized that she had sung the words without being aware of it, caught deep in the trance of the music. A quick glance at Sharana showed that she was asleep, and she stilled her fingers on the harp.

    A second glance with mage-sight showed that her music had somehow combined with her magic to help heal Sharana. She seemed a little stronger, but still so fragile in comparison to the strong woman she had been before.

    Returning the harp to its case, she hesitated over the flute, then shrugged and pulled that out as well. Music’s more of a self-induced trance for me, and I could use that right now. Opening the door to the balcony as quietly as she could, she slid outside, lifting her face to the cool night breeze.

    There was a large, flat rock jutting out from the mountain above her. It would have been impossible for her to reach it – but then, she was Maradi.

    Slipping into the form of an owl, she grasped the slender flute case with her talons before flapping her wings furiously, managing to fly over the balcony railing. Catching an updraft, she let it carry her the few lengths necessary. Dropping the case when she was a few handspans above the rock, she landed and shifted back into human form.

    Lifting the flute to her lips, Ria began breathing into it. Despite years of not playing, most of her skill remained with her. After a little initial fumbling, she began to play with more confidence, letting the notes drift onto the wind.

    The Eisine Cycle – Without really being aware of it, she began playing that instead, lost in her trance, her trained ears following the music.

    Below her, she heard a door open and close, then booted feet making their way across a stone floor, then another door opening and closing. She didn’t bother to try and identify the man, figuring that there was only one person it could be.

    As the last notes faded, she brought the flute down, storing it back into its case. Forming a quick rope of magic, she lowered it down after anchoring it to herself, waiting for the intruder to come or not as he pleased.

    Cheerful Jak swarmed up, agile as a squirrel, and she dissolved the magic as he sat down, waiting for him to speak first. “I thought I told you to leave.”

    She shrugged, shifting backwards on the rock so that her back was to the mountain. Then she did a quick scanning of his mind, lifting out the surface thoughts. Idiot Gorren, was one, and a feeling of unbearable frustration another. And I came here, looking for something to vent my frustration on, preferably Sharana, and wound up facing the Avatar-bitch instead. The fourth thought, an image of herself, was accompanied with a sense of – respect? – yes, respect, if mingled with irritation and anger and some other undefinable emotion. Probably hatred, she thought.

    When she caught the latter two thoughts, though, she concealed a sardonic smile. Leaning into the stone, she said, “And why would that matter to me?”

    “Because I have a very large number of magic-trained Blessed here, all of who will rally behind me.”

    “Much good that’ll do if I decide to collapse the mountain on you. Even if your mages managed to counter me – which I doubt – it’d be easy to start the collapse, and once it’s begun, they’d have to counter both me and the weight of the mountain itself.” Jak stiffened at the implied threat, and she waved a hand at him. “Mind you, I won’t – it’s a waste of time when we can settle this so much more peacefully.”

    “I could use a drink,” he muttered, and her mouth quirked into a slight grin.

    “As a matter of fact, so could I,” she answered. Weaving a spell, she dragged a flagon of wine and two cups from somewhere in the hold, concealing a smile at his patent surprise. Well, not too many mages have the power to waste summoning a drink rather than fetching it by hand.

    Pouring herself a cup, she made a quick scan for poison before taking a sip. Although it was unlikely that anyone even knew she was here, it was better not to take chances. “All right,” she said, when Jak seemed disinclined to speak. “Sharana is in no condition to be moved from here, and at this point, Gating isn’t a choice either. A Gate is tiring even when you’re at full strength.” And that time when I pulled her, during the first stars-damned Test… I wonder if I injured her so that any time she goes through a Gate, she feels some of that same agony. Well, she would have to examine her for that later, and heal her if she could. “I’m not asking for much. Just to stay here until I finish healing Sharana.”

    “Ignoring the fact that this is my Hold and my people you’re endangering.”

    Riahanna raised an eyebrow. “Your people are in no danger from me. Look, you don’t have an objection to Sharana staying here, do you?”

    “Again, we’re ignoring the fact that she’s bound to you by a blood-oath – which stupidity I still don’t understand – is also incredibly bad-tempered with a sharp tongue and prone to slap me in the bargain.”

    “Yes or no, boy?”

    He seemed a little offended at that, but she wasn’t going to apologize, not when she was over seven thousand years older than he was. “No.”

    I caught a distinct sense of ‘as long as I can hit her back’ on that one. “If I’m helping to heal her, the sooner we’ll both be out of here, which is what you want, isn’t it? And before you ask, I have no intention of revealing myself as who I am. Despite the stories you’ve heard, I much prefer peace and quiet to mayhem and people trying to kill me. No one’s going to recognize me; even if someone among your people was alive during the Chaos Wars, I’ve changed my physical appearance considerably over the past seven thousand years. Nonetheless, I’ll be working a simple glamour so that everyone thinks I’m a Sentinel.”

    “And what if I tell them about you?”

    Her eyes hardened at that, staring at him until he looked away. “I wouldn’t.” And that was all she said.

    “But it’s still your choice to allow us to stay here or not.”

    “Thanks for pointing that out,” he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

    “I’ll even throw in a little extra for you – if you trust me to do it, I’ll reinforce the magical shields you have on this place. The way it is right now, Casano’or could break through in two minutes. For that matter, so could I. So what’s it to be, dragon’s priest?”
     
  8. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    Jak sat under the dim evening light, above him the first stars had begun to twinkle. Across the horizon before him wisps of reddish gold clouds played at distant mountain ranges. On his own private balcony Jak watched it all.

    And he was drunk.

    The bottle had been in his hand for three days now, never a moments respite, he had chosen to give in to the torments of the universe and let himself free for a while, to make an idiot of himself until someone kicked him.

    Someone had kicked him, so he kicked them back, he needed a while longer to arrange his thoughts.

    Three says ago he had killed a man. A man whom Jak was sure hated him, and yet regret panged inside him, because of all the blood shed at the hands of Cheerful Jak, this was the most pointless.

    Gorren had betrayed him, divided the blessed when they most needed unity, blamed Jak for all their troubles. He deserved death, but Jak remembered the days when he was young, when he had been given over to training by the blessed, and Gorren had taught him swordplay, tactics, the skills of the world. He was one of the few Jak remembered fondly from those days he had hated so much.

    But this was the world, people changed and all things, great or small spiralled into chaos, everything was destroyed and made anew the next day. A hundred years from now only memories would remain of this time, these people, memories and hate, even if all the world was different, the legacy of people would be their hatred. It had happened once before and Jak knew it would only happen again.

    “Balance” he croaked, raising his glass. What a wonderful thing it was.

    He often wondered why it was that he was most philosophical after drinking. Some joke of the gods as all things were.

    But right now all he wanted was to sleep and forget everything, so he drank up, refilled and drank again.

    As the sun dipped and the clouds parted, the bright mood shone through the darkness, basking all things in an ethereal light. In moonlight everything was rimmed in silver.

    One silver rimmed silhouette crossed his vision over the balcony.

    “You need to shave Jak.”

    “Telling me what to do again?”

    “Giving you advice, stubble does not suit you.”

    He rubbed his check after two tries and felt the coarse texture. She was right, stubble only served to highlight the scar, the patchy hair on one side of his face giving way to the twisted ruin like grass around scorched earth.

    “Later. I’m busy.”

    “You can’t drink forever, what good is it if you quit now?”

    Jak drank. “Same good it is if I don’t, I tried and nothing worked. I killed Gorren but the men wont return to me, I couldn’t stop Ria from swaggering around as she damn well chooses, What can I do that matters?” He was half shouting half pleading by the end, amongst the stupor of alcohol was the truth of his heart, the futility he felt when life pressed in close. He could do nothing no matter how hard he tried.

    The woman came over to him and sat on the arm of his chair. For a moment while she watched him, Jak thought she would lecture him further with her cryptic drabble only serving to make him suffer. What she did to took him by surprise.

    One arm went round his neck and she pulled his head to her. “I‘m sorry.”

    If he hadn’t been as drunk as he was, he’d have run away. He kept silent and waited for her to continue.

    “Power is not a thing that defines people, they are defined by the choices they make, how they use that power that is given to them. You made a choice to do your part and for that you are a good man, failure cannot change that.”

    He looked into her eyes and saw her looking back, it was not pity he found, but comfort.

    “Gorren made his choice, so did his men. Some choices cannot be undone, we must struggle and change, adapt, until our chance comes again. The fight is not over for you yet, nor is it for any of those you know. There is darkness at work and you still have a duty to perform.

    “I don’t care anymore! I tried, I TRIED! I did what I could and it wasn’t enough! What does it matter anyway, all this suffering because elves and men made mistakes a long time ago, they’re dead now, and yet the innocent suffer for the genocide. There is no justice, no right path. Everyone is paying for the crimes of others and it will just happen again. If the world returned to normal tomorrow what’s to stop it happening again the day after?”

    “Nothing”

    Jak was upset, he expected her to do something, that’s what she did, she solved problems, helped out no matter how annoyingly, but this time it was different.

    “Good to know.” Jak smirked full or mirth. “Then why should I bother?”

    “Because that is the nature of people, free will and choice, happiness and sadness lead to these things. Good cannot exist without evil, they are two sides of the same coin, we must endure suffering to enjoy happiness. We do these things because they define us as who we are and then maybe, tomorrow we will choose to love instead of hate. You are a good person Jak, and you will take the responsibility of the world onto your shoulders, even if the world does not want it, and especially because you don’t want it. That is the choice you have made; to help.

    “Are you sure you have the right person?”

    She smiled. “I have never once doubted my choice.”

    Jak got to his feet and walked over to the balcony as steadily as he could manage.

    “There is one more thing you must know, something that threatens us all.”

    It was then that Jak turned, disbelieving anything could threaten her, and looked into her eyes once more as she told him.


    The sun had risen and Jak had not slept.

    His face was clean of dirt and stubble once more, he had washed and made himself as clean as he cared to, donned his sword and coat again for the new day. He had used magic to do away with the last of his hangover, and now he was ready to start trying again. But he had one last thing to do.

    The door opened softly, considerate this once, and he entered into the room and found the elf on her bed, awake. Ria was not there this time, but he had a feeling she was close.

    “How are you doing?”

    After a moments pause, either to contemplate her response or his question, she ventured an answer. “My wounds are healing well.”

    “Good.” He said, not knowing why he was being so nice.

    “I’m leaving now, I’ve told the men you can stay as long as you need to so don’t hurry too much. I’d hate it if you did yourself another injury for no good reason.” He couldn’t help it, it wasn’t right to be nice.

    “Is that all you came to do? Mock me further?”

    “No, I came to say goodbye, because I’m off to do something, and I don’t know what it is yet, Maybe I’m going to try and kill Cassy, or Ria or someone else, I’ll probably just end up killing myself, but It’s what I have to do. So goodbye, it was a pain knowing you, but it was better than nothing.”

    He strode out, and just as he closed the door behind him he heard a low mutter.

    “Stupid humans.”
     
  9. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    A comfortable chair, a place to rest his feet by the fire and a bottle of wine, a few of the things in life that Jak found worthwhile. Still, he couldn’t hep but feel a little unease, knowing what was to come. But instead of sulking, Jak behaved like himself, used the time to relax and drink, as any sane person would do.

    At first he had thought to go and kill someone or something, but that wouldn’t really accomplish much, especially not alone. As painful as it was to admit it, Jak couldn’t do much alone. The sentinel was wounded and the biggest pain in the arse he’d ever met. Riahanna was a close second and tied up with Sharana to boot. And when Jak remembered an offer that was made a long time ago, he knew who it had to be.

    The light of the fire crackled and wavered, making the shadows in the room dance to the winds outside, and darkness fluttered a new shadow joined the rest.

    “How did it go?”

    The green woman smiled and leaned against a nearby shelf. “They will arrive shortly.”

    This was it. Just to keep himself busy until the moment, he unsheathed his sword and buried it into the marble floor next to his chair. It went in easy as easy as silk.

    By then it was time, even Jak could feel the distortion as the two moved from one place to another in the blink of an eye. Cassy and her benefactor appeared in the room ready to fight, but taken confused by the fact that the woman sat waiting peacefully, and Jak was by the fire.

    He smiled that unforgettable smile that he loved to flaunt. “Cassy, long time no see!”

    You?” She frowned.

    “Me.” He agreed.

    “What is the meaning of this charade?” Cy’dath announced, still tense and ready to attack.

    Jak coughed to draw the god’s attention. “Oh not much really, I just thought we needed to chat, make up for lost time, talk about deicide, the usual.”

    Cassy was not amused. “Speak quickly thief, if you have anything of use to say.”

    Jak got up, just to emphasise, he really was quite comfortable in that chair. “Now, a little bird told me that you’re on some mission to kill off the ring of five…” The green woman winked as Cy’dath. “…but you see, that was silly, because you’ve just gone and exacerbated things……yes I do have a moderate vocabulary……..You see, that just pissed of Zahramael, and now as a consequence he’s summoning the dragons in the south, and trying to wipe the lands clean to start afresh. And I’m thinking maybe you can’t stand against the whole ring plus the thousands of normal dragon’s they’ll have.” Jak paused to take a sip of wine. “Now, you may have thought to isolate and destroy, but the dragons knew what you were up to long before you did.” Green woman smiled again.

    “Is there some point to this?” Cy’dath didn’t look too amused. And though Jak relished the chance to piss off a god, he was trying to be diplomatic.

    This time, the woman spoke up instead of Jak. “Some of us do not agree with Zahramael’s actions.”

    Jak slapped both his cheeks. “Gasp! What’s this? The world isn’t as black and white as we first saw!” and grinned again to compensate. “You may still be thinking of killing off the dragons, but as I’ve said, that’s only made things worse so far, and alone you don’t stand a chance. We think its time to end this whole mess, and go our separate ways, start again, all those lovely clichés we all love so dearly. And so, we, that’s you two and us two, we are going to have to deal with the more extremely minded individuals threatening our own goals.”

    Cassy was still frowning. “What exactly are you proposing?”

    “We kill Zahramael”

    “And that is supposed to make it all right?” Cy’dath didn’t seem to want to stop there.

    “With Zahramael out of the way, the dragons are broken without a leader, the ring can never summon its whole strength and the dominance of the dragon gods ends. The cycle of ages ends and everything is hunky-dory. There’s still a mess in liandrah, but people tend to make messes anyway, and the world will revolve regardless of the acts of the divine. Besides, I owe Zahramael some comeuppance on behalf of a friend.”

    The green woman spoke up. “I have no quarrel with your kind. Zahramael has overstepped his boundaries. I am…..fond…..of liandrah, and certain of its denizens, I do not wish for him to fulfil his goals, some of the others agree, but in time, if he is not stopped they will join him, Zahn and Yhar already follow him, and their combined strength is great.”

    For a moment they stood in silence, everyone watching each other, pondering, plotting or scheming.

    Jak decided to speak up, he gave Cassy a wink and smiled slowly. “If you want to win this you’re going to need an inside man.”
     
  10. Senekha

    Senekha <a href="http://photobucket.com" target="_blank"><

    Joined:
    Mar 13, 2005
    Messages:
    4,024
    Likes Received:
    84
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Varghala
    Ratings:
    +84 / 0 / -0
    “Release her!” Casano’or demanded of Zahramael. She brought her hand up even as she felt the dragon god erect shields, and a multi-coloured, multi-faceted storm exploded from Casano’or’s hand and rushed towards the high dragon. As the onslaught slammed against Zahramael’s shields, Casano’or felt Rho’stri lash out at the dragon, and through the strain of defending himself against both attackers, Zahramael was unable to prevent the bond that tied Rho’stri to him from snapping. The rebounding energy from the severing flung Rho’stri back into the elf.

    Casano’or’s attack bulged at Zahr’s defenses, enough to render the shields useless against further attacks. Snarling in rage the dragon god lashed back, his unleashed energies crashing against a second attack by the Avenger. Sparks flew. Casano’or was forced to call upon the full strength of Cy’dath, and even then, it was all she could do to counter the dragon’s attacks.

    You said you would aid us! Casano’or mindspoke to the Well.

    And I will.

    A new power surged into Casano’or, joining with the torrent of her own energies and those of Cy’dath and creating a sensation of ecstasy that Casano’or had not anticipated. With a feral grin she smashed through Zahramael’s attacks and conjured her entire strength against a strike on the dragon’s person.




    The impact as Rho’stri flew into him knocked Lendoril from his feet, and the two of them slammed into the granite stones of the ancient hall. Rho’stri was cushioned in her fall by Lendoril’s body, though when Lendoril gently lifted her off he noticed that she was unconscious.

    A flash of colours drew Lendoril’s eye to where Casano’or and the high dragon god fought. Although they stood within a great hall, wind swirled around the Kortiri’s cloak. Her hands were raised in the air, moving in ancient gestures as she summoned the dark magic of the Ancients. He could hear her chanting, though the language sounded alien to his ears. All around Casano’or dark shapes appeared, and all the while brilliant energies, mixed with a torrent of something that seemed to suck the light from all else, flew towards Zahramael, crashing against the dragon’s own powers.

    Then, with a chilling feeling Lendoril knew that another presence had entered the hall. The air buzzed with a familiar tingling. The Well, he thought. But with who was the Well siding with?

    A bright circle of energy twenty spans high flew out from Casano’or, rushing towards Zahramael with increasing speed. It sheered through the energies coming from the dragon god, and exploded in a brilliant white flash as it hit him. The flash of light momentarily blinded the elf, but when the stars cleared from his vision he noticed that Zahramael was gone.

    Casano’or stood riveted, her face expressionless. She stared at the place where the dragon god had stood, unmoving. Lendoril slowly rose to his feet, and laid Rho’stri gently against a pillar. Crouching over the Maradi, he began checking her vital signs, and was relieved to discover that she was unhurt, merely unconscious. He looked up to find Casano’or at his side, staring worriedly down at Rho’stri.

    “How is she?”

    “Unconscious, but unhurt. Physically, at least. I cannot discern whether the same can be said otherwise.”

    Casano’or knelt and placed a hand on her friend’s forehead. Lendoril studied the Avenger’s face. “Did you kill him?”

    “No.” She sounded disgusted. “He fled.”

    “The Well...why…” He was at a loss for words. Suddenly, a thought occurred to him, one that chilled him to his bones. Has Cy’dath already gained control of the Well of Stars?

    Casano’or sensed his discomfort. “The Well knows our intentions. It chose to help.”

    It chose to help. Why doesn’t that comfort me?




    Casano’or returned to her tent in dark temperament. She went immediately to her table of letters and maps, and began rifling through reports of the war.

    “From you cheerful disposition I gather you did not achieve your goal.” Cy’dath lounged in a plushed chair, drinking a strong concoction the locals called coffee.

    “He fled. How fare the troops?” She was not in the mood for light banter.

    “They are harried. The supply caravans are under constant attack, and the armies have made little progress this last fortnight.”

    “As long as they serve to distract the followers of the dragons, these “Blessed”, I care not whether they die to the last man,” she muttered.

    Cy’dath rose and went to Casano’or, wrapping his arms around her. “It will soon be over.”

    Casano’or sighed. “Aye, but which end shall we take? I fear the worst.” She leaned against his solid form, relaxing.

    “I tire of this world. Any escape, be it death or traverse, I will welcome. As soon as we destroy them.”

    “As long as we leave it together,” she whispered, and closed her eyes. They stood together for immeasurable time, content for the moment. Her thoughts drifted back to happier days, when she and Cy’dath, her only true friend, lived without a care.

    Their peace was shattered as one of the Five appeared in the tent behind them.

    Cy’dath spun, feeling the presence of the dragon god. The air crackled as he summoned his energies, prepared to unleash them at a moment’s notice. Casano’or did the same, glaring at Ysdraíznah.

    She wore a small smile, as if she held a secret that she knew others wanted. She did not waste words, saying only, “If you wish to kill Zahramael, follow me.” With that, she opened a portal and vanished.

    Casano’or looked at Cy’dath quizzically. He shrugged. Without releasing their readied energies, the two of them followed the energy traces through the portal.

    The room they appeared in was small, with few furnishings. Casano’or scanned the room for threats, but found only the green dragon god and her lapdog, who lounged in a chair. Blinking, Casano’or realized that she knew this human. Though, now he hummed with a strange magic, though nothing to worry her.

    You?” She frowned, annoyed. She continued to scan for any sign of Zahramael, or of any others of threat, but found none.

    “Me.” The thief’s arrogance had not diminished since she last saw him, Casano’or noted.

    Cy’dath was not amused. “What is the meaning of this charade?” he demanded. Neither he nor Casano’or had released their readied energies.

    The human coughed arrogantly, twirling the wineclass in his hand. “Oh, not much really. I just thought we needed to chat, make up for lost time, talk about deicide – the usual.”

    “Speak quickly thief, if you have anything of use to say,” Casano’or snapped. If Yzdraíznah was content letting the human do the talking, then so be it.

    The human rose. “Now, a little bird told me that you’re on some mission to kill off the Ring of Five. But you see, that was silly, because you’ve just gone and exacerbated things…yes, I do have a moderate vocabulary. You see, that just pissed off Zahramael, and now as a consequence he’s summoning the dragons of the south, and trying to wipe the lands clean and start fresh. And I’m thinking maybe you can’t stand against the whole ring plus the thousands of normal dragons they’ll have.” He took a sip of wine, as if he had all day. “Now, you may have thought to isolate and destroy, but the dragons knew what you were up to long before you did.”

    Yzdraíznah smiled. Casano’or was furious, at both the arrogance of the human and at his presumptions. It seemed Cy’dath shared her views. It didn’t take knowing him for seven thousand years to say that he was past the point of annoyance. “Is there some point to this?” he growled.

    The dragon lady spoke instead. “Some of us do not agree with Zahramael’s actions.”

    The human slapped his cheeks in theatrical surprise. Casano’or wanted to snap his head off. “Gasp! What’s this?” he said. “The world isn’t as black and white as we first saw!” He grinned insolently. “You may still be thinking of killing off the dragons, but as I’ve said, that’s only made things worse so far, and alone you don’t stand a chance.” What would you know, human? Casano’or thought. “We think it’s time to end this whole mess, and go our separate ways, start again, all those lovely clichés we all love so dearly. And so, we, that’s you two and us two, we are going to have to deal with the more extremely minded individuals threatening our own goals.”

    Casano’or’s hand twitched as she refrained from destroying this mortal with a single thought. “What exactly are you proposing?” she said through gritted teeth.

    “We kill Zahramael.” No shit, Einstein. Casano’or frowned. Why had the strange name Einstein popped into her head?

    “And that is supposed to make it all right?” Cy’dath asked. He seemed to view this charade in the same light Casano’or was. Let them explain themselves, she thought. I’m somewhat curious as to why they think we need their help.

    “With Zahramael out of the way, the dragons are broken without a leader, the ring can never summon its whole strength and the dominance of the dragon gods ends.” Amazing, another revelation, she mindspoke to Cy’dath. Can I kill him when he’s done spewing froth? Cy’dath half grinned, then resumed his angry face.

    “The cycle of ages ends and everything is hunky-dory,” the human continued. “There’s still a mess in Liandrah. Besides, I owe Zahramael some comeuppance on behalf of a friend.”

    Yzdraíznah spoke. “I have no quarrel with your kind. Zahramael has overstepped his boundaries. I am…fond…of Liandrah, and certain of its denizens. I do not wish for him to fulfill his goals. Some of the others agree, but in time, if he is not stopped they will join him. Zahn and Yhar already follow him, and their combined strength is great.”

    There was a moment of strained silence, then the once-thief spoke up. “If you want to win this you’re going to need an inside man.”

    “You think we don’t have allies?” Casano’or said darkly. Cy’dath glanced at her, slightly worried – he knew this tone of voice. She wanted to kill something.

    “A handful of starving soldiers hardly counts as an ally,” the thief quipped.

    “Casan…” Cy’dath warned. We can make use of these allies, he said in mindspeak.

    “I fought Zahramael the mighty not two hours past. He fled before me. His chief follower, his assassin to kill me, a creation of the dragons and one of their most powerful tools, was finally freed of his grasp. You know of whom I speak,” she shot at the green lady. “He may be gathering his allies, but Zahramael will fall under our power.” She did not mention the Well; keeping that hidden ace could prove useful. Once the dragon god was taken care of, only one target remained, but Casano’or doubted that these two would aid in that cause. Or perhaps they would, if they saw benefit in it through her own death.

    “C’mon, Cassy, you need our help, admit it. I know you’re sour about our past dealings, but hey, forgive and forget eh?” The human shot her a tacky wink.

    Casano’or controlled the urge to kill the imp, and pushed aside her own feelings. “You may be useful. We will consider your offer. What plan, then, have you that surpasses our own?”
     
  11. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    The bitter annoyance rolled off her like heat from fire, and Jak lapped it up smugly “You may be useful. We will consider your offer. What plan, then, have you that surpasses our own?”

    Well, he was a master at thinking on his feet, be already the ideas had come to him. But he had to do something else first.

    “You know its this kind of arrogance that’s the reason why you haven’t achieve your goals in, what was it? Six? Seven thousand years. I’m sure that’s not as long as it sounds to a puny mortal like me but there is a slight whiff of failure in there.”

    He let that sink in for a moment.

    “Even with stolen tools and the other allies you have…” And what interesting allies they were. “…Zahramael is still too much work for you, you may have sent him packing but next time he’ll come back with thousands of dragons and whichever of the dragon gods he can persuade. Then things will be on his terms, and trust me, you won’t be seeing him till then.”

    He enjoyed watching the wrinkles on Cassy’s forehead dance with subtlety, always somewhere between outright anger and annoyed acceptance. It was hard to keep talking with that little show going on.

    Where was he? oh yeah.

    “Chances are even if you could kill Zahramael next time you face him, he could always slip back into their realm again, its one of the little tricks those pesky Dragon gods have, and no force in this world or any other can breach the barrier to that place, only the chosen may enter.”

    “But hey, that tool you freed from his grasp should be useful, now she’s untied from his will she can no longer gain entrance to their hiding place, and now she wont even have his surrogate power.” He turned to face the green woman. “How come I never got any of that, hmmm?”

    She laughed at him.

    ……..Bitch.

    “Unfortunately she is the only ticket into the place, and she can drag me there to torture me. So we use this to our advantage, by now the bastard will be recovered from your little scuffle, so we’re going to have to try again, here’s how it goes down.”

    He tried to be serious, but he had been gifted with that permanent smile, however serious he was the outside world always saw a mocking grin, so he always gave it to them.

    “We wait, we prepare, and soon enough Zahramael will come back with his minions in tow, you do your thing, deliver whatever righteous punishment you want on his scaly behind. In the mean time, me and her slip into the other realm and wait. You hammer him down and when he flees to the other side, weak and feeble, we deliver the finishing blow.”

    He took a sip of wine and gave an over the top sigh of satisfaction.

    “Ain’t it just perfect?”

    From the look of Cassy, maybe she didn’t agree.
     
  12. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Jak never had answered her question, Ria mused as she floated in the liquid darkness of the Well. But she had reinforced the shields anyway.

    Beat. The Well pulsed in time to her own heart, and as her heartbeats gradually slowed, so too did the Well’s.

    So what did she intend to do with the Game, anyway? Oh, she was going to use it to restore balance. Balance, with all of its pretty little promises of peace. Well, ‘twas necessary, but she refused to believe the Game’s insidious whispers that if she only used it, all would be well…

    Beat.

    The Game wanted to be used, she realized. Power always wanted to be used, after all. It had taken her so long to establish her self-control, to resist the subtle yet compelling song of magic. It was worse for those with greater power, and sometimes she wondered how her sister resisted it.

    Beat.

    Or perhaps it’s different for her – she has no gods’ blood, after all…

    Beat.

    A dubious gift at best, she thought; whatever good had Ki’dasva’s blood ever done for her? Nothing, nothing, and nothing again.

    Beat.

    What was left to do, then? Sit here in the comfortable embrace of the Well’s song as she let Liandrah decide its own fate? A tempting possibility, that, and one she might have taken… if it hadn’t been for Sharana.

    Sharana. Ria sighed, then, wondering how she’d ever let her heart get entangled with the impossible Elf. Ria had always preferred logic and order to chaos. It was so – untidy. But for better or worse, Sharana was her sister.

    And may Ki’dasva forgive me, but I think that swearing blood-oath with her was one of the best decisions I have made in my entire life.

    Beat.

    She closed her eyes, intending to rest at least a little while longer, soaking up the serenity of the Well. But a sharp mind-probe touched her, and she flung up wards automatically in defense. Yet she allowed a narrow mind-link between them – enough to communicate and to exchange images, but no more.

    “Hello, Riahanna!” The voice giggled – male or female, she couldn’t tell, only that it was a malevolent thing that didn’t belong in this world and made her skin crawl. “How are you doing today?”

    She didn’t respond, her eyes narrowed as she ran through seven thousand years’ worth of knowledge, trying to identify this creature. That she knew what it was, she did not doubt. That she did not want to know what it was, she also did not doubt.

    “Do you know who I am?”

    More silence, and the creature giggled again. Its high-pitched shrieking noise caused her to grit her teeth in pain, making it giggle some more.

    “Perhaps a name might help, Riahanna!” She had the sense that it was grinning. “Would you like a name?”

    “Perhaps.”

    “But why should I give you a name for free? A trade, Riahanna! If you can guess the answer to my riddle, I will give you a name! Guess, Riahanna! Who sent me?”

    Her mind raced. The creature seemed perfectly willing to wait, and taking a small risk, she sent her own probe towards it – only to be deflected by a roiling mass of darkness. The contact with it almost made her retch, and it giggled again.

    It was only then she noticed that the Well had fallen completely silent, and no beat remained to match to her heart.

    “Riahanna! We would’ve expected more of you, from the great Spellweaver and Dark Huntress herself!” The stupidly high-pitched voice had started to seethe with hatred when it mentioned “Spellweaver,” and “Dark Huntress” and Riahanna suddenly remembered what had first given her that title.

    Reacting more on instinct, she wove a spell net and flung it up just in time to deflect a probe that would have allowed the darkness to reestablish mind-contact with her, a mind-contact that not only would have allowed communication but also access to her mind. It was a probe she herself often used without compunction, but she found herself curiously reluctant to use it against this thing before her. The creature giggled yet again. “Oh, nicely done, Riahanna! We’ll even give you a hint, now.” It whispered, “Eldest, yet not eldest!”

    She knew this one, and she knew that the creature knew that she knew. “Zahramael,” she said steadily. But this was no god, nor no dragon. For all that she despised the dragon-kind, their minds were not this dark or shadowed or maze-like. Dragon minds were more often sharply metallic, and though they were utterly devoted to their gods (and the destruction of Cy’dath and Ki’dasva, some part of her whispered) they were not inherently evil, no matter what Casano’or believed.

    “Only partially right, Riahanna!” Its inane cheerfulness struck her as beyond irritating. “Another guess, Riahanna – if only because of how much we all love you!”

    She had an inkling, then, of what it was – both the creature and the answer to her riddle. But she didn’t want to acknowledge it, or her foolishness in youth.

    “You know, Riahanna!” Another giggle. “So why don’t you guess it?” As she remained silent, it asked with false sweetness, “Oh, are you afraid of us now, Riahanna?”

    “No,” her voice said. Yes, the rest of her answered.

    “We think that you’re lying, Riahanna! But we don’t mind, not truly!”

    We. Another hint, and one that brought her only closer to the truth that she didn’t want to acknowledge.

    “The Void,” she made herself say. “The riddle is answered, and the forfeit is due.”

    “It is! But I gave you an extra chance, Riahanna! So you must answer another riddle!”

    Oh, she knew how this game was played, all right. And it was – damn its hide – right. By the rules of this game, she owed another answer. “It’s a very easy riddle, Riahanna! Can you answer it?” It giggled. “Because if you don’t – we’ll eat you!”

    She refused to respond, her stomach churning as she cursed herself and her stupidity of both now and seven millennia ago. But it was already asking the question.

    Even she wouldn’t have expected it – him – to be so blunt about it.

    “What did you call yourself when you used to run with us – and what did we call you?”

    Riahanna heard herself speak as though her voice was a separate entity. “Illegal, and therefore I am not compelled to answer it – two-fold questions are forbidden, Ashkel.” And then she screamed as she finally acknowledged the terrible truth of it, the truth that she had tried to forget for seven thousand years.

    Ashkel’s laughter cut short her scream as he dropped the guise he had adopted. His face hovered in her mind, resurfacing from unwanted memories that she had tried to forget. And his voice… dark and silken, seething not with hatred but with power and illicit promises. Oh, she remembered. “So the riddle’s wager is known already! If you can answer the question – which we both know you can – I’ll let you ask a question of me, sweetling.”

    All knowledge is worth having. That, and only that, kept her from fleeing Ashkel to outrun her memories - and the fact that it wouldn't do any good, part of her whispered. If Ashkel could find her in the Well, there was nowhere she could hide. Trying to suppress the scream of despair that threatened, she said, “I called myself Shadow – but you called me Nightrunner.”

    Ashkel laughed again, serving only to intensify her despair. “We remember, all of us. The only girl of Anjya’s line who was wild enough to come to us. Your predecessors – well, they were wise enough to leave alone what should have never been touched. You remember too, don’t you?” A pregnant pause, and then, “Nightrunner.”

    She did remember. She had been of Anjya’s line, a line of priestesses sworn to guard the Anathema. The Anathema was to the Well what the Void was to the Tree.

    “Your coming to us – and your pity for us – let the stronger of us roam free,” he said, still smiling. “Those that we deemed worthy, anyway. We’ve spent our time roaming to our advantage.”

    Only her stupidity had unleashed that which should have never been unleashed. She had gone to them shortly after her predecessor and trainer had died, and she had run among them. Had run with them. And when they had asked for a hole in their prison, she, half-wild and already half-theirs, she had given it to them. A small hole, yes, but one that the strongest could exploit to roam free.

    Thus had she betrayed her trust.

    If Giara knew of what she had done, she would have condemned Ria as liable to death on the spot.

    “The weaker – ” He shrugged. “Those, Cy’dath and your sister control. But we Princes are still free.” Another pause. “No words from you, Nightrunner? A rare occasion indeed. Well, then, claim your forfeit.”

    Ashkel cocked his head to one side. “Nothing? Then I will give you what I deem fit – I have no desire to be in your debt.” Before she could say anything, he said, “The dragons are flying. All of them. Every single last flight of them.”

    “No – ” she managed to whisper.

    “Yes.” Strangely enough, there was compassion on Ashkel’s face. “All of them. And you know as well as I that the Game itself won’t be enough to stop them. Nothing can stop them, not you, not your sister, not the Well, not the Game. Not even us.”

    “But – ”

    “Not even the death of their gods will stop them,” he said. “You know this, Riahanna. And you know that everything living on Liandrah will die when the dragons come back to claim what is theirs.”

    “They were driven back once – ”

    Ashkel was shaking his head. “You know that for a lie. They chose to leave. But now – they’re back. And they want revenge.”

    “There has to be some way to stop them, there has to – ”

    “There are none… unless everything unites. You. Your sister. The Sentinels. The Well. The Game. The gods. And – ”

    “You.” Riahanna felt so tired, suddenly, and so drained of strength. Being brought face-to-face with the foolish choices she had made millennia past had sapped her of her energy.

    “Ria – what would you offer me for our aid?” And then, with curiosity: “Are you willing to match the price that the dragons offered?

    Fear and panic and terror and despair and rage and guilt and shame, all in a frantic, swirling mixture that threatened to drown her sanity. “Ashkel, you can’t – ”

    “Can’t I?”

    Ria jerked back as something caressed her cheek, and Ashkel laughed. “Ria, Ria, Ria – have you forgotten so soon that our hole in our prison not only serves to let us out… but also to let others in?”

    And then she finally noticed that Ashkel’s face was no longer in memory alone, but in reality – and that she was no longer within the Well but within the Anathema. Coldness superseded all other emotions and held her heart in an icy clasp as she opened her mouth to scream.

    “I’m sorry, Ria,” he whispered as he leaned close, and then the darkness enveloped her, smothering her cries, smothering her magic. It rushed into open nostrils and mouth, flooding her soul with all of its forbidden, seductive promise. It overwhelmed her with memories, both real and not. And then it abandoned her, leaving her to cry out in sudden loss and desolation, wanting it to come back, wanting it to fill her, realizing that it was sick but wanting it all the same, leaving her to plead and beg and writhe.

    Until the darkness came again.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2007
  13. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    I came to say goodbye, because I’m off to do something, and I don’t know what it is yet. Maybe I’m going to try and kill Cassy, or Ria or someone else. I’ll probably just end up killing myself, but it’s what I have to do. So goodbye – it was a pain knowing you, but it was better than nothing.

    Jak’s farewell lingered in Sharana’s mind hours after he’d made it. Shortly afterward, Ria had come to administer some more healing to her back before disappearing off to wherever she’d gone.

    Something in Sharana was glad of it.

    Oh, she loved Ria well enough, but she couldn’t bear the pity in her eyes whenever she saw her wingless back. Sharana occupied herself by sleeping… where she dreamed.

    Stupid child, the ancient being whispered. Yes, you. Conduit, that’s what you are, and not the faintest idea what it means.

    Sharana decided that she didn’t care for being called a stupid child, and the ancient cackled in laughter. When you’re as old as me, girl, you stop caring about who you offend. Sure you remember me… don’t you?

    Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed, she answered. Is this a dream?

    I’m a damn dreamwalker, Elf. Have you and your kind grown so stupid that you no longer know how to recognize one?

    Riahanna was a dreamwalker, she knew; she had no idea where the talent came from, though. And if you had the training, Elf, you’d be a dreamwalker too. All of you damned Winged Elves have most of our talents, and none of you recognize it. Blind fools, all of you.

    Anger flared. I am not a Winged Elf! she cried. I renounced my wings – lost them through my stupidity, part of her said – and I am only a groundwalker now.

    Only. The Matriarch snorted. I’ve walked on the ground all my life, and it hasn’t hurt me any. But tell me, Winged Elf – would you like to fly again?

    The words seemed more like a cruel taunt than anything else, and anger flared again. The Matriarch only laughed at her, serving to intensify her fury.

    Still as proud and prickly as your ancestors, she whispered. Yet it was one of your kind who protected me and mine, when we fled Liandrah for the Northern Wastes. Well, and so they should; you Winged Elves have some of our blood, after all.

    What?

    Think it through, Winged Elf. Where did you get your wings? From the gods? Please. No, it was from ashalaj blood… and you, at least, have some of the afaryl blood.

    A swift flashback, and she remembered how pale the Matriarch was. How pale Sharana herself was.

    At least you have wits enough to figure that out. Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed paused, then said, Riahanna is powerful, true. But I think you will find that the Eluasha are better healers. Come north and find us.

    And with that, Sharana awoke.

    She wondered what she should do, and tried to reach out to Riahanna. But she had shielded herself entirely, keeping Sharana from even mind-speaking to her. Everything, even the emotional link between them, had been cut off as if it had never existed.

    Well, then, she would have to leave a note instead.

    Ria, I’ve gone North to the Eluasha for healing. Sharana.

    A simple note, but one that would be enough, she hoped. As she gathered strands of power, she wove them into a Gate –

    And then screamed as her body’s nerves were set on fire.

    As she fell through, she wasn’t sure whether she’d gone through the Gate or was simply fainting.





    “Without doubt, that may have been the stupidest thing you’ve ever done in your life, Conduit.” The dry, impersonal voice was not Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed, but she thought that she recognized it. Sky Dreamer? The touch of feathers confirmed it as she went on, “Gate-energies are somewhat – powerful, and to one in your condition, potentially deadly. “Not only are your magical reserves ‘wounded’, but you are also incredibly sensitive to Gating at this point. Riahanna injured you unwittingly when she pulled you. I would suspect that you fainted if you have Gated elsewhere in the past.” Abruptly, she remembered how she had Gated to Jak – and how she’d fainted then, too. The excruciating pain in her back had most likely overwhelmed the pain in her magic, then.

    Slender fingers detachedly ran their way down her back. “And this – this, we cannot restore, only heal. But even as you are descended of our blood, so too are the Maradi…”

    “What?” she managed to grunt.

    “Unimportant for now, Conduit.” But something had suffused her back and she gasped as the near-constant ache finally began to fade. “Riahanna did her best, I am sure, but I am the best healer in Liandrah. Still – she kept you alive. If she hadn’t done what she had, you may have died from the injuries to your magic alone.”

    Sharana wanted to ask questions, but she rather suspected that Sky Dreamer would not welcome them. “Those, I can heal, Conduit. But it will require that you sleep for quite some time – maybe even a week. Are you willing?”

    “Yes,” she said. “I am willing.”

    “So be it.”

    And as she fell asleep, she felt the touch of Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed on her mind again.





    “Well, so you did come here after all. Smart of you. Sky Dreamer will heal you, and while she does that, I’ll be the one to teach you.” A shrug of fragile shoulders. “So. Dreamwalking. We may as well start with that. It’s similar to mind-speaking, save that it’s when your recipient is sleeping. It’s easier in some ways, because their minds aren’t as cluttered, but in other ways, it’s harder, because their minds aren’t as focused or alert. Other dreamwalkers have focused minds even when sleeping, but those who aren’t… well, unless you have a strong connection to them, it’s easier to simply cast a net and sweep it for minds. Mageborn minds are easier, as well. And that’s all there is to it, really – so best of luck.” And as simply as that, Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed disappeared.

    Sharana tried it. She felt the Namazai Matriarch’s mind almost immediately, and touched it before inserting herself into her dream, and found it as easy as she had said. “Well done,” she nodded in approval, and then Sharana left her to hop across Liandrah.

    Casano’or’s mind burned even stronger than Ice-Mother-Star-Blessed’s had, and she avoided it quite studiously. Irawyn, she also avoided for now… as with Lendoril.

    She touched Jhaherys’ mind instead, but rather than speak with him, she left him with an emotion – that of peace and serenity, and knew that when he woke, he would know that she was safe. Jak, she also avoided.

    But no matter where she looked, there was no Riahanna.
     
  14. Crusader

    Crusader Disturber of the Peace

    Joined:
    Aug 10, 2003
    Messages:
    12,265
    Likes Received:
    91
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Englands Green and Pleasant Lands
    Ratings:
    +91 / 0 / -0
    “Are you prepared?”

    Jak shrugged. “I don’t know, deicide seems such a big thing, maybe I should find something more formal to wear.” Mockingly he smoothed down his worn and faded leather coat.

    Ysdraíznah did not seem amused.

    Well she could go **** herself then. Jak thought, seriousness never found him, and neither did niceties or common courtesy, it just wasn’t who he was anymore and he didn’t care.

    She looked off, as if into the distance, eyes focused on something not there.

    “It is time, Zahramael has left the realm to gather his followers.”

    “Well then let’s hope Cassy find him sharpish, I don’t have all day.” There was only so much time one could waste in a single day.

    Ysdraíznah put one hand on his shoulder, Jak almost flinched at actual contact with her but let her do it anyway.

    Around them the gloom of the real world faded into a grey haze, like dust blown away in the wind. It didn’t feel like a change or that they were somewhere else, only that the veil had been lifted and the real world that hid beneath their own was revealed.

    Now they stood in a great green field of lush grass and wildflowers, all irradiate under a glowing sun set in the clear blue sky. A single solitary tree stood before them, reaching up for the sun.

    “This is it? You’re special secret realm, a bloody field?” Jak snorted laughter and took a seat at the base of the tree.

    Ysdraíznah looked around, unperturbed by his comments. “It is different among the five, this is the realm as I choose to see it, a sanctuary for our kind, to each of us it is different, Zahramael stands among fluted columns, Avza stands on a lonely island, they are all the same place yet different.

    “So none of this is real then?”

    She smiled. “More real than anything in your world”

    Well at least the wait for her to turn cryptic was over, it was somewhat of a relief. At least in the same way death is a relief to some.

    “Haven’t I been here before?” He wondered, fiddling with the grass at his feet.

    “Once, I took you here to shelter from the storm, the first time you faced Casano’or, it is not just a sanctuary for my kind after all.”

    “I don’t suppose there anywhere to get a drink while we wait?” Jak feigned sincerity with as much sarcasm as he could muster.

    Ysdraíznah did not respond, she only paced over to the tree beside him and ran a hand along its bark.

    Jak picked a daisy and flicked its head off with the other hand. This was duller than he had expected.

    “So, why exactly do I need to be here again, it’s not like I can take Zahramael even when he’s wounded.”

    She shook her head. “So disparaging Jak, have some confidence.”

    “Why should I? You’re doing the dirty work. I’m just here to watch.”

    There was silence.

    “I am just here to watch? Aren’t I?”

    Slowly, Ysdraíznah curled her lips up into a smile, a mock of his own mocking grin.

    You. Bitch. What the hell is going on?”

    She paused once more for effect. “You’re the one who will deal the last blow to the lord of storms, not I.”

    The ****ing stupid ****ing bitch, what was she playing at?

    “It didn’t occur to you to tell me this sooner? How the **** do you expect me to kill a ****ing dragon god?”

    “Easily?”

    “That’s not ****ing funny either…..”

    “You kill him like any other man; you stab him through the heart.”

    This conversation was rapidly loosing him. Sitting beneath a tree under the sun in a green field was not the place one expected to be utterly perplexed. Jak hated being perplexed.

    “I though gods needed some kind of magic words to kill, at least some kind of mystic tool or weapon.”

    “And you never wondered why I gave you that sword all those years ago? Few of the blessed are ever given dragon-forged blades, let along one made by a member of the ring of five. No other sword like that exists in all the worlds around us.”

    I just thought you made me a sword that never dulled.” Which was pretty useful.

    She laughed. “That too”

    He unsheathed his sabre from its plain leather scabbard. The steel was good, catching the light like a mirror, dappling in the shadows of the tree. It seemed plain enough, not enough to kill a god, but plenty to kill a man. The brass hilt seemed little different, there were engravings, swirls and old symbols Jak had never paid much attention to, and when he had first run from the blessed he had tried to bring them away, being an unpleasant reminder of his past.

    It was funny, in all the time he had never thought to take up another sword, and even the times it was lost he had found it again. The likelihood that this was fate alone was small.

    “Wait, does this mean I can kill you with it?

    And then the bitch smiled just like every other time, mocking him as if he were a child. “Of course”

    “Why the hell did you give me something so powerful then?”

    “Why did I let you run away with it also, when I could have destroyed you and gifted it to another? Why would someone with power create the means to their own destruction? It’s simple, I knew this day would come, I have walked the worlds and seen the infinite sorrow of the ages, the forces that balance the existence of everything, we are none of us perfect and there must be someone to prevent disaster when the time came. I had seen Zahramael’s growing ambition and his distaste for the world and it pained me to know what had to be done.”

    “So when the others of the circle chose disciples to spread their word, vessels to command their power and minion to do their bidding. I chose you, my safeguard, for when we arrived at this final hour.”

    Jak laughed, this was the best joke he had heard in a very long time.

    “Oh, does the truth amuse you so? Or you think it mere coincidence that the means to end the dragons is in the hands of one of the few who hates us so. You swore an oath to defend Liandrah as a member of the blessed and it is time to fulfill it. You have been bred for this purpose Jak, and it is time to reap what I have sown.”

    “Does this mean I can kill Cy’dath and Ki’dasva with this thing too?” He mused.

    “When we are done, why don’t you try?”

    “Very funny”

    The whole thing was funny, he reflected, all this time he had the power right there with him, he could have shut that bitch up a long time ago if he wanted to, if only he had tried.

    Slowly he turned the blade over in his hands, looking at his reflection in the thin strip of steel. When he was done he held it by the blade and offered the hilt to Ysdraíznah.

    “I don’t want it anymore.”

    She didn’t move to touch it.

    “**** you, you’ve been prodding me all along, manipulating me into this, so here’s what you can do, you can either do the job yourself or you can shove this sword up your own ****ing arse. I quit.”

    At least he retained enough sense not to get up and storm off, as it was clear there was nowhere to storm too, besides hiding on the other side of the tree and that didn’t carry much weight.

    “I cannot do this thing, it must be you Jak or no one.”

    “Pass.” He said, annoyed.

    “We five cannot destroy each other, the ring of five is bound as one, I can only hold Zahramael for you to deliver the final blow. This is why I chose you Jak, the purpose I have harried you for, this is the last act I will ask of you, and then you will be free.”

    He liked the sound of that, he liked it very much.

    Jak planted the blade into the ground beside him and adjusted his position for comfort.

    “Alright, let’s get this over with. What the hell is taking Cassy so long?”
     
  15. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    She begged. She begged and she begged and she begged, she who had never humbled herself to plead, nor knelt to any save her grandmother. She wanted the darkness to end, she truly did, but she wanted it – craved it – though the wanting was sick and she knew it but she didn’t care.

    When it left her forever, she cried and begged for it to return, weeping unabashedly as she knelt at his feet, begging, begging for it to come back. She had given all she knew, all she felt, all she was to the darkness, and she writhed inwardly in guilt and shame as she writhed on the floor, wanting only for it to come back.

    She, so strong and so sure in her own strength – ah, but what did it mean here, in her greatest shame? Even the memories of her sister paled in comparison to this – with Casano’or, there had been love and grief, and she had felt guilt for neither. And then, too, there was, deep down in her heart, the calm acceptance that Cléodri’s death had not been of her making and therefore she was absolved of all responsibility.

    But this… this was hers, all of it. All the guilt and shame was hers, to be acknowledged and to be embraced, for even that awful weight was better than acknowledging the love.

    For love it was. She had always been wild and uncontrollable, especially in her younger years, when she feared nothing and been too sure in her own strength. She hadn’t had the sense to fear them, and she had recognized, instantly, the kinship between them. Out of that had attraction – and then love been born. Both of them, wild and fearless and confident, too similar for her peace of mind.

    Now, kneeling at his feet, everything he asked, she gave to him willingly. Everything. Even while he laughed, she gave, because she did not know what else to do.

    And because she loved him, even now, even after seven thousand years in which she had tried to forget.

    Her predecessors had known. They had known of the terrible seductive beauty of his kind, and they had, wisely, avoided them. All they had ever done was to keep the Anathema sealed.

    But she, stupid and over-confident and lonely, had dared to break the rules, and Liandrah had paid the price. For once she had known them, she had also known that she was meant to run among them, to run with them, as wild and uncontrollable as they. Had known that she was at home in the dark.

    Had known that she was the bright mirror of what they were, even as they were the dark mirror of what she was.

    This confession was in her mind only – but ah, what walls did the mind hold, either for him or for her? A simple mind-link, and he knew her most intimate thoughts, including the most shameful ones.

    He held her gaze, a terrible mercy and compassion in those dark eyes glinting with amusement. Strange, that she had not expected such from him… but all of her expectations had been proven wrong, when it came to them.

    You were meant to be ours.

    She shook her head, willing herself to deny it, but his next whispered words stopped her.

    You were meant to be mine.

    And that, she could not deny. She could only hold out her hands in mute supplication as he sat in his throne. Such a difference, from the first day she had come to him; she had been proud and defiant, laughing even in the face of death, when they had brought her before him. And he, seeing a kindred spirit, had spared her, and welcomed her, inviting her to run in his pack.

    And now? She knelt and waited for him to claim her. When the expected words did not come, she glanced up.

    “I had a bird once,” he mused softly. “An Elven bird, as it happened, from before Anjya’s time. She wandered in unintentionally, and I kept her here for three days to sing for me. And then – and then, I let her go, to see what she would do.”

    He leaned close to her, cupping her chin with pale, elegant fingers, and she shuddered at his touch. “Be’hel asked me once if I loved you.” When she tried to look away, he would not permit it.

    “And the answer?” she whispered at last.

    This time, it was his turn to try and look away, and her eyes that held him. “No… and yes. But I will say this. I knew you, better than your grandmother, your sister, yourself. I, and I alone, saw what you truly were. I alone knew you.” He paused, then said, “The bright mirror to my dark, and the dark to my bright.”

    So he had known it too.

    “What am I, then?” she asked at last, sparked to defiance, but the look upon his face silenced her.

    “To your sister, you are her first and greatest love, and her first and greatest betrayer. To Giara, a sister and mother in one, her savior. To Sharana, a key to defeating Cy’dath. To Ki’dasva, the granddaughter she bred to use in her own plans. And to yourself…” He shrugged. “To yourself, you are Faine Riahanna, and cling to the dead ghosts of the past. Faine died long ago,” he said quietly. “Save to yourself and your sister, only Riahanna lives.”

    When he did not continue, she said, “And what am I to you?”

    “Our mirror,” he said. “My mirror. Both dark and bright – we look at you and see what we could have been, had we chosen otherwise. Shadow, and Nightrunner. Dark and feral and wild – you were never meant to be caged, as were we.”

    She’d known that as well. It had been why she’d set them free.

    “Yes,” he said. “And why I set the Elven girl free as well.” He hesitated, then said, “Ria… even the Well says that there is no shame in love, even in loving us. Even in loving me.”

    And as simply as that, she was back within the Well – floating in liquid darkness.

    But this time, there was no peace.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2007
  16. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    The Well did not sing to her, but it did speak.

    Did you know, Riahanna, what your actions wrought? it whispered, accusingly. You opened a hole to their prison, and let them roam free in Liandrah, and because of it, Cy’dath and his kind have an army of them. I would have never suspected this of you, never.

    She only cringed, knowing that it was right, and knowing that she should have died before this had come to pass.

    It is your task to close the hole, it whispered. Redeem yourself, Riahanna, and close it.

    “I can’t go back there, I can’t – ”

    It was through your foolishness that this came to pass, Riahanna. This, unlike Nairi Casano’or, is your responsibility.

    And she knew that it was right. But she also knew that Ashkel had been right, and that they had never been meant to be caged within the Anathema.

    But she did as the Well said anyway. What else was there to do?

    Once within Liandrah, she found herself changing into the form she had taken when running with Ashkel’s pack.

    Shadows and wraiths and fangs and fur taken form…

    As she ran long nights in the darkness, with the darkness, she realized what the darkness had been. The Anathema was the Void’s counterpart to the Well, after all… and therefore sentient.

    The thought of that almost made her retch.

    I would have expected you do have discovered that long ago, something whispered. It, too, was liquid darkness, as was the Well, but the Well was one of stars, and sang of freedom and flight. The Anathema had its own song, but it was sharper, deadlier, and yet all the more beautiful for it.

    You know that my song is yours, it whispered. Dark Huntress, Mind’s Blade… and what is my song if not of darkness and death, and hunting and blades?

    She ran on, lifting ghostly paws as they hit the earth in a constant rhythm, trying to ignore its insidious voice. She would have thrown up shields if she hadn’t known that it would do no good.

    I’ve sang all these many years, as has the Well. The Well, you noticed… because it was alien to you. But my song, you sang in the deepest of your hearts, so it was you. Part of you. In the most hidden layers of your soul, you knew it, and so you struggled to repress the darker side of you. And you didn’t notice it… did you?

    Shut up!

    Why didn’t you notice me, Riahanna? it mocked. Answer me that riddle, and I’ll give you my silence.

    She howled, unable to release the despair she felt in any other way, save in this most feral of cries. It laughed softly. The Well should thank you, you know. When you opened the hole in my prison… ‘twas when it gained the ability to move about the land. A trade for a trade – I had a hole, and the Well its mobility; balance was maintained and all was well.

    Riahanna ran faster, and it just laughed again.

    It was simple work to find the entrance to the Anathema, and once there, she reassumed her human form. It was a mere disturbance in the air, and only one who had been trained could see it. Riahanna doubted that any save she would even realize it was there.

    She couldn’t believe that she’d returned here, to the site of her greatest shame. Mercifully, the Anathema had fallen silent.

    “Are you afraid of us, Riahanna?”

    “No.”


    But she was here, and she was afraid.

    My mirror, both dark and bright.

    “No,” she said, and then more strongly, “No.”

    I knew you. I, and I alone, saw what you truly were. I alone knew you.

    “No.”

    You were meant to be mine.

    “No,” she denied, and knew it for a lie, knew it all for a lie.

    Ria… even the Well says that there is no shame in love, even in loving us. Even in loving me.

    “No.” But the words were whispered this time.

    Ashkel’s words haunted her mind, and Riahanna whimpered. Deep in her mind, a voice said, You never cowered before anything, whether it was pain or death, and met your fate with laughter. You swore blood-oath to what should have been your greatest enemy – Star Singer – and you faced the tests of the Game. You even faced your sister and survived, though the battles of the heart are far more treacherous.

    But all of it paled in comparison to this. She had never known fear before this… but this, she feared.

    Anjya’s line had been established to ward the Anathema, to keep its inhabitants in. All had been wise enough to leave it alone, and to simply ensure that nothing got in or out.

    But Riahanna had been young when she assumed the role of the guardian, younger than any before. And she had been proud and reckless, too confident in her own strength and her power. Both had not failed her – but her heart had.

    Hurt and wounded by her sister’s rejection, she had wanted to flirt with death… and she had. She had gone to the Anathema, and known them as her kind. Had seen the terrible beauty of the hunters, with their proud smiles and easy arrogance, as they carelessly toyed with death and magic alike. She was of their kind. And they had both known it.

    She drew a deep breath, and then wove the spells that would take her into the Anathema, ignoring the tears upon her face.
     
    Last edited: Jun 11, 2007
  17. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    As she entered the Anathema, she saw that much hadn’t changed. It was still the mirror of Liandrah… sort of.

    It was always twilight or night here, shrouded in shadows and darkness. She felt a slight twinge of nostalgia as she beheld the storm-ridden sky and felt the dying grass underneath her feet.

    It was Liandrah as it had been before the coming of humans and Elves and even Maradi and Kortiri, before even the dragons and Godless Ones. It was Liandrah as it had been when the gods still walked.

    As memories stirred, she thrust them back, and also thrust back the things she had accepted before in Ashkel’s presence. She was not like them, and she was not afraid.

    No cities or anything, here; there were simply citadels where the princes had established their strongholds. Wary alliances and bitter enmities persisted between them, though the running grounds were held sacred – where she stood right now.

    Here, it was a dying plain; if she looked to the north, she would see forests and swamps. Further north were the great ice plains. South were deserts. There were other places, too – places that were sacred in Liandrah but were something – other – here in the Anathema. They, too, were sacred ground… though she didn’t really understand why.

    A tall woman, with dark hair streaming past her shoulders and an arrogant smile, suddenly appeared before her. Mocking silver-blue eyes stared past her as if she didn’t exist, and she dispassionately noted the feral pride and utter fearlessness in the clean, strong lines of her own face.

    Ria had chosen to never visibly age, but looking at the wraith before her, conjured of old memories, she knew that this was she from before the Chaos Wars, only a few years after she had sworn herself into Ki’dasva’s service. Only a fraction of the grief she bore now was present, and caution and wisdom were overridden by reckless pride and evidence of a quick temper.

    She looked at her younger self standing in front of her, and breathed a word. A moment later, the memory-born ghost vanished, leaving her alone again.

    Faine lives, she told herself fiercely; Ashkel wasn’t right – couldn’t be right.

    Something tickled the back of her neck, and she sensed amusement. Straightening her back, she said, “If you want me, come and get me.” A slight noise behind her sharpened her senses, but she didn’t turn around.

    “Nightrunner.”

    “Ashkel.” Now she did turn to face him, cool blue fire already sparking at her fingertips. Ashkel spread his hands, showing them to be empty – but then Ashkel had never favored flashy magic. Well, neither did she, but her agitation rendered her magic visible.

    He took half a dozen steps forward and cupped her chin with one hand. A thumb ran down her cheek, wiping away her tears. When she jerked back, he released her, then brought the digit to his lips, licking her tears away. Simultaneously repelled and arrested, she stood there, frozen in place as he gazed at her almost sadly.

    “Ria – why are you scared?”

    “I’m not scared.” A spark of magic escaped her control and slammed into his shields, betraying the lie in her words. He didn’t flinch.

    “Truly told?”

    No. She had taught her words and thoughts and emotions to lie, even her mind and heart and soul, and had been one of the most adept liars that Liandrah had ever seen. But here, where the deepest parts of her being were laid bare… here, she could not lie to herself as she had done for seven thousand years.

    “Yes!” Another spark of magic crashed into him, and small and insignificant though it seemed, it was powerful enough to make him stagger. Yet it had been involuntary, and she knew that she was losing control of herself.

    “Ria – it’s only a word.”

    A dozen sparks this time, but he absorbed them all, this time better prepared for her strength.

    “Only a word,” he repeated, but was drowned out by her scream. She flung all of her considerable magic at him, keeping nothing back in defense, knowing that one attack from him would mean her death. She would have welcomed it.

    It never came.

    He defended himself, weathering the unceasing storm of magic, straining with the effort – but managing. Furious, she poured out even more magic. She had thought that she had used all of her magic, but it was obvious that she’d barely begun, and from deep within her, she dredged out yet more, directing it all towards him.

    If this had been Liandrah and not the Anathema, the land would have been blasted all around her from the sheer power brought to bear. But the Anathema was meant to contain creatures of magic, and nothing so much as stirred as she tried to destroy him.

    It’s only a word, he whispered in her mind. She tried to block him, but couldn’t; their connection was too deep, and was tied to the most primitive parts of her soul. Only a word, Ria.

    “No!” she screamed, and redoubled her assault. Through it all, he stood, darkness incarnate and darker amusement in his eyes, though it was mixed with a strange pity.

    You know what we are. It never frightened you, before, and betimes you even welcomed it.

    “I was stupid in my youth.” The words were clipped and short, and she struggled to breathe.

    And now, you’re older and wiser – and more powerful. Why does it frighten you so?

    “I said that I’m not scared!”

    Are you that frightened?

    I am not scared!” she shrieked, fighting to make herself heard over the noise her magic was making. It would have been easier to mind-speak him – but to do that was to acknowledge the bond between them.

    Then why won’t you mind-speak me?

    “Because I am not of your kind, and I am nothing like you,” she snarled, struggling to tame – or at least control – her emotions.

    If that’s the case, why not do it?

    “Because I don’t want to touch your filthy mind!”

    I think you’re lying again, Ria.

    “Shut up!”

    Not until you acknowledge the truth.

    “It’s not truth, it’s a lie.”

    Are you so frightened, Ria? Are you so frightened that you can’t admit the truth? That you can’t force yourself to utter one word?

    I said shut up!” Magic tore through his shields at last, forcing him to call up his own magic in defense. Yet through it all, his dark eyes held hers steadily.

    Shall I say it for you?

    ASHKEL!” The single howled word contained all the despair she felt, along with the pleading – Please don’t do this, Ashkel, please…

    He was unmoved by her terror and anguish – or so she thought, until she saw the tears on his face and the pain in his eyes. There was no trace of mockery, nothing of amusement left in his gaze, only pity and grief and pain all intermingled.

    I’m sorry, Ria.

    As she tried to frantically ward her mind from him and failed, he stepped closer to her and held her to him, ignoring both her magic and her fists. His lips brushed hers, and he breathed, “Demons.”
     
  18. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Riahanna threw back her head and screamed, thrusting Ashkel from her – or trying, anyway. But strong though she was, he was the stronger, and held onto her. When she collapsed, sobbing because her world was falling apart, he cradled her in his arms and whispered words of comfort.

    “It’s only a word, Ria,” he said softly as he sank down to the grass, still supporting her.

    It’s not just a word, it’s who and what you are, and –

    Despite the fact that she hadn’t mind-spoken, he caught the thought anyway. “That’s the name that you and your kind gave us. We were the Antari, and we walked Liandrah – at least until the dragons and gods decided that we should be locked away.”

    This time, she did mind-touch him, letting him sense all the pain and guilt and shame inside her. Wordlessly, he stroked her hair, comforting her as though she were a child, and she clung to him because he was the only one who was here to offer her any support.

    “I came to close the hole,” she told him.

    “You won’t, and both of us know it.”

    Truth.

    “You’re demons,” she whispered.

    “No,” he said, something sparking in his eyes. “I am Ashkel of the Antari.” Ria, holding his gaze, also saw something of guilt, and he smiled sadly. “If I tell you the lie I told you – Ria, will you promise not to hate me?”

    “Ashkel – ”

    “Promise me, Ria.”

    “I can’t – not without knowing what it is.”

    Ashkel stared at her, and then… he changed. Lean and handsome, Ashkel looked out of the blue eyes of –

    She struggled to breathe. “Sariev,” she managed to say at last – and then hit him as hard as she could.

    He didn’t react at all when she slapped him again. Struggling to sit up, she seized his collar and screamed in his face, “F*** you, Sariev! How could you have done this to me – how could you do this to me? How could you lie to me like this?” She realized that she was crying, which served to make her only angrier. “Has everything you ever said to me been a lie? Gods damn it, your entire life is a f***ing lie!”

    “Ria, I’m sorry – ”

    A blow to the wry, sweet mouth she had so loved in Sariev silenced him, but she shouted anyway. “Shut up, Ashkel!” She hit him again; it felt good, almost as good as seeing the pain and heartbreak in his damned, lying blue eyes. “How could you do this to me?” she cried. “You who claimed to love me – how could you tell a lie like this? I’m a liar, only the gods know how much I lie, and the biggest lie I ever told was to conceal my greatest shame – freeing you and your kind. But I never lied to one I claimed to love – and how did you repay me once I freed you? You answered with a lie, a lie that hurts – ”

    “Ria – ”

    “I said shut up!” Her tears were almost uncontrollable now, but she ignored them in favor of anger. “Damn you for being a lying bastard – ” She cursed at him using both the old and new tongues of Liandrah, watching him flinch at every word and taking a savage satisfaction in it. “What did I ever mean to you, Ashkel? Something to play with, something to laugh at while you told me all your damned, f***ing lies? Or just something to f***, something that would allow you to pass on your seed – pass it on to Saryn? Was I just a toy? Was I simply entertainment, something to amuse yourself with?”

    Ashkel opened his mouth to answer, but she was already moving on. “I thought Sariev loved me, cared for me – I thought he was a friend, my truest friend whom I could trust! But no, it turns out to be you, Ashkel – a manipulative bastard who doesn’t care for anyone but himself. How much did you laugh, Ashkel, when you saw that I cared for Sariev – cared for you – cared for a gods-damned lie – ” She gulped, trying to force down her tears, and to suppress her anguish, she slapped him again. “Damn it, I loved Sariev, you bastard – ”

    He cut in, then. “You loved me too, and don’t bother denying it,” he said.

    “Shut the f*** up!” She brought her magic to bear again, not caring that her close proximity meant that she would probably die too.

    But he wouldn’t allow it. He encased all of her magic inside his, then let her beat on him with her fists, sobbing and unable to stop the hot tears sliding down her cheeks. “Damn you, Ashkel,” she whispered when she subsided, exhausted, and when he took her in his arms, she let him. She was too drained and too tired to do anything. “Damn you.”

    He didn’t say anything for a while, only let her cry against his chest – no longer Sariev but Ashkel again. Something in Ria was glad of that; she thought that if he hadn’t, she might have very well tried to kill him with her bare hands.

    “I’m sorry, Ria,” he said quietly, which served only to flare her anger again. But she was too tired to scream anymore, and all she said was, “Sorry doesn’t change anything, Ashkel. Sorry doesn’t take away the hurt.” She hiccupped, and then said brokenly, “I hate you, Ashkel.”

    He flinched at that as he had not from her blows or her magic. “Ria – ”

    But she turned her head away and would not look at him.

    When he spoke again, the unexpected words were cool and dispassionate. “The dragons offered us Liandrah again if we joined their cause. What are you willing to offer, Riahanna Nightrunner?”

    She jerked upright, furious silver-blue eyes asking him how dared he ask this of her now, when her life was falling apart – and then saw that Ashkel had retreated back into his remote, uncaring self. “Free run of Liandrah, and you will be unhunted,” she said, also hiding herself behind her own masks.

    “It’s not good enough, Nightrunner.”

    Give me the wisdom to choose aright, the courage to do what is necessary, and the grace to bear what may follow after, she prayed silently, and then met his dark eyes. Swallowing, and not bothering to wipe the new tears away, she took his face in both of her hands and kissed him.

    His mouth tasted of grief and anguish and pain but also of knowledge and desire and a terribly seductive darkness. Ah, gods, so sweet… “Faine, Riahanna,” he whispered against her mouth as his arms came around her, and she realized that she was crying again. “The price is accepted.”
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2007
  19. Liadan

    Liadan Insert Title Here

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2005
    Messages:
    14,968
    Likes Received:
    124
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    Arizona
    Ratings:
    +124 / 0 / -0
    Amused, Ria watched Ashkel as he tried to do all the simple, everyday tasks without magic – now that they were in Liandrah again, they didn’t dare alert anyone to their presence, at least until Ria had a chance to figure out what the hell she was going to do.

    She wondered what her sisters – all three of them – would think of this. Giara… she cringed simply to think of it. She had not exaggerated when she had thought that Giara would have condemned her as liable to death for the trust she had betrayed. Sharana… she was the Star Singer, and sworn to the destruction of the demons – of the Antari, she reminded herself. And as for Casano’or…

    Who knew what she thought.

    Which was why, she supposed, that she wasn’t traveling to any of them.

    Ashkel swore as he cut himself, the words almost swallowed by the racket downstairs in the tavern of the inn. “You never could shave for s***,” she told him as he blotted the blood. Rising, she took the razor from him and finished it for him, removing the day-old stubble from his chin, doing as neat and precise a job as anyone could have wished. Sariev had always magicked it away, using his – presumed – Maradi abilities.

    “Wait a moment – how can you shape-change?” she asked suddenly, her silver-blue eyes narrowing. Ashkel offered her a lazy smile, declining to comment. “Ashkel!”

    At length, he relented. “It’s Antari magic,” he said. “We, as are the dragons, are the eldest races on Liandrah, and thus, we know all magic.”

    She nodded, taking Ashkel’s proffered arm as he started for the door, knowing that Ashkel would get them their meal and then they would return to their rooms to sleep – eventually. Ria had clung to the simple, monotonous routine of five days in an attempt to forget that she was willingly traveling in Ashkel’s company again for the first time in seven thousand years. Trying to forget that Sariev was Ashkel. Trying to forget the bargain that she had made with him.

    But at night, after they had talked, she wept.

    She knew that Ashkel was aware of it, but he was kind enough to allow Ria to maintain at least a semblance of dignity, and she was grateful for it. She had not expected that from Ashkel.

    But she would have expected it from Sariev.

    Stuffing the thought in the back of her mind, she sat down in one of the tables in the corner.

    Ashkel was not unpleasant or cruel, and if his piercing wit was often turned on her – well, she did the same as well. She rather found herself enjoying their verbal sparring matches, knowing that Ashkel was testing her. And have I been found worthy? she wondered.

    “Here.” She blinked as Ashkel shoved the night’s meal in front of her. The Antari prince set down a bottle of wine as well, and he grimaced as she raised an eyebrow. “I thought it might help you sleep.”

    “It takes a lot to get me drunk.”

    He shrugged, and after a moment, Ria took the bottle and drank deep. Offering it to Ashkel, she was surprised when he shook his head. “One of us needs to remain sober.”

    This time, it was her turn to shrug as she began eating, and proceeded to down half a dozen bottles on her own. She sighed when the tavern finally decided to notice that she was a woman, and prepared to do what she had always done.

    She had forgotten that Ashkel was there.

    In a deep, quiet voice he advised them to move back to where they had been sitting, or else he might decide to have fun. She wasn’t really sure if it was the predatory grin that did it, but they moved back.

    Suddenly, she was reminded of how she had first met Sariev – it had been before the Chaos War but after a fairly major clash between her people and the Elves. She had been lying low in an Elven city that had later been razed to the ground during the Chaos War. It’d been much the same situation too – she’d been drunk, trying to forget the deaths, when someone had noticed her for a lone woman, and started trouble. Sariev had stopped it, but by then it was too late – the mage-guards had found her and cornered her. Sariev had gotten her out of the city; then.

    Ashkel touched her arm lightly. “I’m going outside for a bit,” he said, and she nodded, signaling for another bottle of wine as he left. As she drank, she moodily stared at the row of bottles before her, unaware of the stranger until he grabbed her.

    Ria was sober enough to realize that using magic was a bad idea. Knives were not an option either; she didn’t really want to kill someone. She was also sober enough to recognize that a fight was inevitable.

    She was drunk enough to welcome it.

    Rising, she punched him square in the chin before running to the innkeeper’s bar and vaulting over it. Ignoring him, she grabbed the club that was every barkeeper’s best friend and returned to the battle.

    Ria didn’t think she’d had so much fun in ages. A war was, after all, a war, and that meant that her friends were dying as well. This, on the other hand, was sheer, unadulterated fun, and white teeth flashed in a grin as she wielded the club mercilessly against her opponents.

    Drunk people being drunk people, it turned into a fullscale brawl. She saw the innkeeper go down, borne under by a heap of other struggling bodies. She saw another man scream as he, an inexpert bottle wielder, ended up with shards of broken glass in his hands. She also saw Askhel, the demon not disdaining to dirty his own hands by dealing sharp, effective blows to their heads. When the surging fight brought them together, he asked dryly, “It wouldn’t have been asking you too much to stay out of trouble?”

    “But it’s so much fun!”

    “Are you out of your f***ing mind?”

    Through it all, she laughed as she slammed the club into body after body. It broke when she accidentally hit the table, though, and then she started using her fists. A broken nose here and there brought howls of pain, and the blows to their stomachs usually ended up with them curled on the floor, whimpering.

    Hours or minutes later – she couldn’t tell – she surveyed all of the bodies around her, took a deep breath, and grinned. “That felt good.”

    Already, the bodies were beginning to twitch and groan, and she could hear the booted tramp of the city guards arriving. They ran for the stairs just as they entered, and ignored their shouted orders to halt. Racing to their rooms, the guards only a few steps behind, they slammed the door shut and locked it.

    “Did I mention that that was a really bad idea?”

    “No, but you can start now!” Together, they gathered their meager belongings and forced open the window as the guards kicked down the door.

    “Jump!” Ashkel yelled, and she did. Landing in a half-crouch, she swore as she saw the guards swarming around the inn. A muttered profanity was her only reply, and she laughed again.

    “I want her right now!” someone shrilled. “It’s her, Ryja Hanlen – ”

    “Looks like someone knows you.” The half-taunting words were said with a grin.

    “Shut up.”

    “Care to explain?”

    “Later!”

    They ran for it, racing through the narrow streets with the guards on their heels. The low gate proved to be little challenge as they ran up a wagon and vaulted over it before vanishing out of the sight of the city.

    Neither of them were even breathing hard. “So, is it later now?” he asked, and Ria sighed.

    “I was working as a merc some years back for a noble of the city here.”

    “Name?”

    She shrugged as she set up their bedding. “I can’t even remember the place we just left – how am I supposed to remember a minor idiot of it? Anyway, he refused to pay us – I was working with a couple others – so we burgled his entire house and split the loot. When the guards came for us, I told the other two that I’d draw them to me because I could get away easier – guess they caught a clearer look of me than I’d thought.”

    “Well, I guess we’d better keep you from cities for a while.” He sighed. “I was hoping that we wouldn’t have to travel rough – how long was it going to take to get to Avaennon, again?”

    “Weeks – we can’t afford to Gate at this point. If you did any magical working, they’d sense you immediately.”

    “And what if you did it?”

    “Can’t take the risk – they can still sense you. I don’t want them to realize that I’m allied with an Antari until I’ve had a chance to explain. It’s better to go this way for now.”

    Ashkel sighed again. “Remind me to never get you drunk again.”

    She only laughed, then swore as she heard the gates of the city being opened and the thunder of cavalry pouring through.

    “Did I mention that this was a bad idea?”

    “Yes. You did.”

    Together, the two of them disappeared into the night.
     
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2007
  20. Morgan_of_Salerone

    Morgan_of_Salerone New Member

    Joined:
    May 13, 2005
    Messages:
    549
    Likes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Location:
    On a hill, near the water.
    Ratings:
    +7 / 0 / -0
    Arikha sat, rubbing her temples with delicate fingers as she gazed over the piles of documents strewn over her desk. Everything was going horribly wrong. Neither the Sentinels nor the priestesses accepted her rule, and both groups grew anxious and restless without the presence of their leaders. The excitement her people felt at her return was also fading, even being replaced by suspicion. She’d had no word from Sharana, and in the deep, dark places in her heart, she could feel stirrings that told her Cy’dath was on the move. The supply of magic ingrained into the core of Liandrah had stopped draining, but was now fluctuating unpredictably; certain areas contained no magical energy, while others had a concentration so strong it burned her mind if she did not protect it when she ventured near. On top of this all, she had a strong feeling in her gut that warned her of something dark ahead. Whether or not it was the upcoming battle she could not tell, and it made her all the more apprehensive.

    Heaving a sigh, she let her head plop onto the desk, willing the migraine she felt coming on to wither away. Failing miserably, she simply allowed herself to relax. Her magic flowed around her in its natural current, being neither directed nor restrained.

    As it fell into its natural rhythm, her senses sharpened to hyper sensitivity. She could feel each change in the air, hear each breath drawn by the people in the cit, smell the sweat of soldiers unused to the heat of her land.

    Arikha snapped her eyes open, frowning darkly as her senses picked up a new disturbance. Focusing all her power, she reached for the scent that lingered in her mind. A scent that reeked of magic and demon.

    Snuffing out the candle, Arikha wrapped her magic around her, blanketing herself in its energy. Then, with a single thought (like she had done so many years ago), she opened a gate and pulled herself to the source of the scent.

    First, there was light.

    Second, there was noise.

    Angry shouts reached the sorceress’ ears, calling her attention to the men racing down the city street towards her. Her dark eyes widened in surprise, and she quickly pulled her hood up, stepped back into the shadows of the alley behind her. She began to gather magic around her, only to discover that – of course – this place was one of the magicless pockets of Liandrah. Reaching for the dagger that was always on her person, she watched as the men passed by, intent on finding other prey. Curious, and sensing her quarry was in the same direction, Arikha slipped out after them, using the skills she had developed over centuries to remain an unseen follower.

    The chase led her around the city, and up to the low wall that surrounded it. The men began to mount their horses, and Arikha quickly dispatched one of the slower ones, taking his place at the end of the company. They were so infuriated, they didn’t even notice her there… perhaps that had a little to do with the tampering she did to their minds. Although, it did nothing to improve her mood, having to use her own resources to perform magic, rather than leech it from the earth.

    It was late when the hunters decided to turn back, but for Arikha, the scent of the demon was still strong. Leaving her horse behind, rather than deal with men who would surely notice her absence, she made her way on foot, following the trail. Voices suddenly bloomed in the darkness, alerting her to her quarry’s presence.

    “That was incredibly stupid.” A man’s voice, though tightly controlled, was still dry and irritated.

    “It was your idea to get me drunk.” A woman’s, this time, amused and slightly slurred. “Don’t blame it on me.”

    “You started the brawl, Ria.”

    “Ria? Riahanna?” Arikha choked and stopped dead. Suddenly, the magical signature was all too clear. She’d thought that – hoped that – the infuriating woman was dead.

    “Did you want something, little sister? I’ve got some drink left if you want it.”

    Arikha narrowed her eyes at that “little sister,” but walked forward to meet the figure lurching to her feet. The Spellweaver’s pale face appeared as she turned towards her.

    “You were supposed to be dead,” she said flatly.

    “Too bad.”

    Arikha gritted her teeth, frustration mounting already. “What are you doing here?”

    “First idiotic question that anyone ever asks when they wake up after a drunk night. You sure you don’t want some of this drink?” Ria shook the bottle that she held in one hand.

    Arikha snatched it from her and threw it into the darkness. “Call me an idiot again and I will blow your head off.”

    “Oh, you can try, little sister.” She paused, then added, “You’re near as stupid as Casano’or sometimes. Or even Sharana.”

    Arikha clenched her fists, eyes blazing, as she pulled her magic around her. Before she could do anything, someone insultingly patted her cheek.

    “Calm down, little one.” A white flash of teeth as the man grinned. “Don’t let Ria get on your nerves.”

    She took a deep breath to calm herself, but was appalled to discover that the man beside her reeked of demon. “Quiet you, be gone. There is no use for you here.”

    He laughed in her face. “I’m not sure which one of my cousins you’ve been ordering around, little one, but I’m not one of them. I’m Ashkel, by the way. Pleased to meet you.”

    Arikha’s head snapped around, orienting on the man again. Her eyes narrowed even further and she sent out a mental probe to verify his words. It was deflected easily, and she was forced to acknowledge his words.

    “The pleasure is mine.” She half-snarled the words, and Ashkel just laughed again.

    “No words for me, little sister?” Riahanna sounded almost disappointed.

    “I am anything but your little sister, Anísedran, and I exchanged as many words as I cared to with you in the Chaos Wars.”

    Riahanna’s silver blue eyes widened. “Why, little sister, are you telling me that I was honoured enough to know you so long ago? I never suspected! Pity I don’t remember you.” She looked at her empty hand. “You didn’t have to throw the drink away, though.”

    “Ria, shut up.”

    My words exactly, Arikha thought, trying to control her temper. “Do not play with your games with me.”

    “But I like games! Don’t you remember that one time with – who was it again?”

    “No one you remember. Now answer my questions.”

    “Answers don’t come for free, little sister. Play a game with me, and we’ll see.”

    “I would rather choke and die. What are you doing here, and why are you in the presence of this demon?”

    “Getting drunk and chased by city guards,” Ashkel interposed, and only grinned again when she glared at him.

    “Are you still allied with Ki’dasva or have you changed your allegiances?”

    “Hardly.” Riahanna shrugged. “I’m not likely to betray my own grandmother.”

    “Grandmother? Is that so? Then I suppose you are against Cy’dath?”

    Riahanna shrugged again. “I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore.” For once, the words were sincere and wholly without mockery.

    Arikha sighed. “That makes two of us.” She glanced at Ashkel, wondering where he stood in all of this, before returning her attention to Ria.

    “I suppose you’re wondering what he’s doing in all of this.”

    “I will admit to being confused. I had always believed that my title as ‘Mistress of the demons’ was well-earned.”

    She was surprised to see guilt and shame written all over Ria’s face. Ashkel touched the Spellweaver’s arm lightly, almost tenderly. She was intrigued to see that Ria didn’t push him away, but rather almost seemed to welcome him.

    “It’s my fault, all of it,” Riahanna said quietly. Arikha didn’t say anything, waiting to see if she would continue. “I assume you’ve heard of Anjya’s line?”

    “Yes. I read of them once or twice.”

    “I’m the last chosen successor of Anjya. It was given to us to ward the Anathema, and I betrayed that trust.”

    “So you are the one who let the demons out. Why?”

    Though it was dark, it was easy to make out the anguish on her pale face, and then she began to speak.
     
    Last edited: Jun 26, 2007
Search tags for this page

dagon rpg 5 stars