Discussion in 'RPG #9 - The Five Dragons' started by Nienor, Apr 8, 2005.
It had taken hours for them to shake off their pursuers, and by the time they had succeeded, Ashkel was more than a little irritated. “That was incredibly stupid.”
“It was your idea to get me drunk.” Ria had started to slur her words together. “Don’t blame it on me.”
“You started the brawl, Ria.”
“Ria? Riahanna?” Ashekl’s eyes narrowed when he heard the stranger’s shocked voice.
“Did you want something, little sister? I’ve got some drink left if you want it.” Ria lurched to her feet, and he made a mental note to never get her drunk again.
“You were supposed to be dead,” the stranger said as she stepped closer. Ashkel, who had excellent night vision – a side effect of living in the Anathema for uncounted millennia – saw that she had red-gold hair and dark eyes. Haughty and smug. Ashkel wondered how she would react if he slipped a knife in her back.
“Too bad.” Ria seemed unconcerned and almost flippant, and at the other’s obvious annoyance, Ashkel fought to hide a grin. Ria might be as arrogant as this stranger seemed to be, but then she had earned it, he supposed.
“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?”
The woman snatched the bottle from her and threw it away. Ashkel winced when he heard the tinkle of broken glass. “Call me an idiot again and I’ll 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.” Only when she was drunk would she have ever said those words, and Ashkel looked away in pity, wondering if she would ever learn to forget her sister.
When the woman began gathering her power to her, though, he slipped through the night to her and patted her cheek. “Calm down, little one.” Ashkel grinned, almost eager to see how much he could irritate her. “Don’t let Ria get on your nerves.”
A hissed indrawn breath, and he guessed that she had discovered his Antari nature. “Quiet you, be gone. There’s no use for you here.”
He laughed in her face and he finally realized who she was. Arikha, self-proclaimed Queen of the Demons. “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.”
Eyes narrowing, she sent out a lance of power towards him, and he almost laughed again. Powerful she might think herself to be, but he suspected that she had never pitted herself against an Antari prince. I was here before your kind, little Elfling, and even before the Maradi and the Kortiri, before even the Godless Ones. The Antari and the dragons are the oldest races of Liandrah, one to balance the other, and only the meddling of the gods drove the dragons away to the south and imprisoned us within the Anathema…
“The pleasure is mine.” The words were half-snarled, and this time he did laugh.
“No words for me, little sister?” Riahanna drawled.
“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 honored 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.”
This has gone far enough. While she isn’t as powerful as Casano’or or even Ria, she’s dangerous enough that I don’t want to tangle with her. “Ria, shut up.”
“Don’t play with your games with me.”
At that line, Riahanna seemed to recognize who she was. “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.” Riahanna had always loved games, he remembered; they had played plenty during her stay in the Anathema.
“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 Arikha 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’re against Cy’dath?”
Riahanna shrugged again. “I don’t really know what I’m doing anymore.” For the first time, the words were sincere and wholly without mockery.
“That makes two of us.”
Ria had noted the look that Arikha gave him. “I suppose you’re wondering what he’s doing in all of this,” she said.
“I will admit to being confused. I had always believed that my title as ‘Mistress of the demons’ was well-earned.”
Guilt and shame in equal parts appeared in her eyes, and Ashkel touched her arm lightly, almost tenderly. When she didn’t push him away, one of his eyebrows arched in surprise, but he said nothing.
“It’s my fault, all of it,” Riahanna murmured, glancing away. “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?”
Riahanna’s face was anguished, and he fought down the urge to hold her and whisper to her that he would always be there for her.
…Do you love her, brother?
No… and yes. I know her, better than anyone, better than herself. I, and I alone, truly know her.
The question remains unanswered, Ashkel.
A long pause. Antari do not love.
As you like it, then – no, Be’hel, I do not love her. But I know her, and she is of our kind. She is one of us…
Replaying that conversation in his mind, he finally dared to admit the truth to himself – the truth he had never dared voice.
I lied, Be’hel. I may know her as no one else does, and yet I love her – I, Ashkel, prince of the Antari, who cannot dare – cannot afford – to love. Love was a weakness within the cut-throat world of the Anathema.
And yet – and yet, the Antari loved well enough in their own fashion. They loved courage and wildness, and they loved the darkness of the Anathema, its feral, eerie song – high, piercingly sweet, and almost poignant, its notes struck yearning into any Antari’s heart… and all of that, Ria most certainly was. She may have learned to control herself, and forced herself to learn discipline and order, but at the heart…
Reckless, wild, confident and proud. Courageous, strong, uncontrollable, and deadly. My mirror, both dark and bright… Oh, she was of his kind, all right, and a harp that sounded sweet enough at any hand, but he yearned to play her – to play to all of her strings – as she deserved to be. She was meant to be mine.
But she never will be.
His heart breaking, Ashkel gazed upon her in the darkness, and felt upon his cheek the first tear he had wept in seven thousand years.
“Why did I let the demons out, you asked?” Ria was still drunk enough to be completely honest with Arikha, honest to the point that it was painful. “I let them out because I loved them.” There, the words were out now, and they could not be unsaid. She didn’t dare look at Ashkel.
“They were never meant to be caged, but rather to run unfettered.” The words hung in the air, soft and tantalizing, and she continued on. “The gods made the Anathema to imprison the Antari. I saw, and I pitied them enough to open a small hole – one small enough to allow the Antari princes, at least, to roam free. Only a few years later, you and Cy’dath used it to open your portal to bind the lesser Antari to your will.
“Little sister – all you know of the Antari is when they were chained, and caged as they should never be. Then too, you never knew the Antari princes, Ashkel and Be’hel and Lahiji and the rest.
“My predecessors were wiser than I was. They knew of the terrible beauty of their kind, and had avoided all contact with them, keeping the Anathema sealed. They told me all this, and for a time, I followed their example.
“But then came my – troubles – with Casano’or.” Oh, Nairi…! “I was heartbroken and lonely, and young, stupid, and arrogant enough to break the rules.”
“And Liandrah paid the price.”
She wondered at Arikha’s wording, so similar to her own thoughts, but pressed on, still refusing to acknowledge Ashkel’s presence. “And once I knew them – I knew that I was of them.” She shook her head impatiently, trying to put her thoughts into words. “I was proud and reckless, too confident in my own strength and power. Neither failed me – but my heart did.
“I don’t think that you will ever understand, Arikha Kalohmdoniel, but the Antari were beautiful in a great and terrible way. You’ve never heard them singing, their voices seething with power and illicit promises. You’ve never seen them when they fought, when they hunted, when they ran unfettered; never seen their easy arrogance as they carelessly played with death and magic alike. I was at home with them, at peace – at faine with them. I ran with them, and knew that I had always been meant to do so. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that I was their mirror, both bright and dark – and that they were mine. I was of their kind.”
Arikha opened her mouth to reply, but before she could speak, something whispered, So you acknowledge the truth at long last, Riahanna Nightrunner. Ria’s head jerked as she recognized the sound, the taste of the liquid darkness resonating now in her head. Unbroken – unmarred – by the light of the stars, it was sharp and deadly, yet piercingly sweet. It was a song of darkness and death and hunting and blades, but more importantly a song that spoke of long hours spent running in the night, with the night, surrounded by companions as wild as her.
My song, she thought. The Anathema laughed, and somehow she knew that it spoke in her mind alone.
Even as Ashkel knows you, so do you know my song. It is part of the most hidden layers of your soul, and so it is you, in the deepest part of your nature. And when you struggled to repress it, so did you repress me… but with Ashkel’s coming – and your acknowledgment of the love you bear for him, who embodies all that both you and I are – you hear me once more.
Then it spoke once more to everyone. Well, well, Arikha Kahlomdoniel. The sorceress gasped when the Anathema named her. Perhaps you do not match my song nearly as well as Ria does – but match it you do, at least a little, or else you could never have summoned and bound the Antari to your will, much less heard me. But its next words shocked even her. And so I ask this of you: are you willing to join my daughter Riahanna Nightrunner and ally both with the Antari and myself?
Daughter of the Anathema… Eyes wide, she stumbled backwards into Ashkel’s arms, wondering how Sharana would react to this.
Some small part of her not riveted by the darkness noticed Riahanna stumbling back into Ashkel’s arms, but the words of the Anathema had more than caught the attention of Arikha Kalohmdoniel; they had rekindled a burning in her heart she had not felt since tied to Cy’dath.
Cy’dath fears the Well. If I ally myself with the Anathema, the anit-existence of the Well, will I gain the power to finally defeat that wretched lover of his? But wait… if I ally myself with the Anathema, I will be an enemy of the Well, will I not? If I am an enemy of the Well, then I am an enemy of Sharana… Arikha glanced over at Riahanna, who had retreated a little ways away with Ashkel. Dealing with the Anathema has made her wretched as well, she thought, yet she wields great power. Is this because she is the ‘daughter of the Anathema’? What does that even mean, exactly? She could not possibly be of the Anathema… could she? The sorceress shook her head, trying to slow her rushing thoughts.
Anathema! she called out in her mind. What will I gain by being your ally? What is your purpose? There are those in this land to whom I have great loyalty – I cannot join with you if your intentions are to harm them. The liquid taste of the Anathema flowed through her mind once more, its silenct voice whispering in her ear.
Great loyalty? it laughed. You have never held loyalty is such great esteem before, Arikha Kaholmdoniel, not even when it was loyalty to your blood and country. It amuses me to see you pretending such conviction.
My blood betrayed me, growled Arikha, and the god I placed blind faith in stole all he could from me. I will admit I failed to protect my people then – it is not a mistake I intend to repeat. I will not bind myself to one will betray or me, nor will I betray one who is loyal to me. So I ask again – what are your intentions? How will you help me?
The Anathema was silent a moment, heavy as it swirled in her mind.
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