Twyst of Fate….II

  • Posted on May 23, 2013 at 3:14 pm

It had been a wet Spring and a pair of sturdy draft horses pulling a reinforced wagon struggled in the quagmire which had once been the western road. A short and plump man sat upon the wagon’s high box, whipping the poor animals as they floundered in the mud which sucked at horse’s legs and mired them deeper in the mud. A thin youth of no more than fifteen years stood at the head of the team, pulling at the reigns as he struggled to stay upright in the cloying mud. Four guards, clad in metal and leather, sat astride their mounts a short distance away, watching with bemused faces as the merchant and his assistant attempted to extricate the wagon. The sound of the merchant’s angry voice echoed through the forest and the sound of his whip cracking above the horse’s heads was sharp in the otherwise quiet wood.

Lying a short distance away, in a ditch that had been dug into the forest floor and covered lightly with fragrant pine tree boughs, a group of twelve men and women sat and watched the wagon and its escort. They sat silent and still as they waited for the moment to strike. Twyst crouched in the hiding spot, peering through the branches, her eyes watching the mounted guards intently. They had settled back in their saddles, apparently content to watch the struggling wagon for as long as it took. Their weapons were holstered, one had removed his helmet and the other was taking a generous drink from a hide canteen and passing it around. Without being able to smell or see the liquid, Twyst was still quite sure that it was not water that he drank so lustily. He passed the canteen to his comrades and they took turns drinking.

“We need not have brought half our force. This will be as easy as taking sweets from a baby!” A man’s voice whispered close to Twyst’s ear. She could feel his breath close to her neck and she quietly shifted away from him.

“How much longer should we wait?” Twyst asked, trying to mask her conscious retreat with her words. “Despite the merchant’s impatience they will soon have the wagon free.”

“Let them take a few more drinks from that bottle. Based on his red cheeks, it ain’t mother’s milk they’re drinking.”

Twyst nodded despite the fact that the speaker couldn’t see her. She wasn’t quite convinced that Tucker’s plan of action was best. They had lain in wait for over six hours for the wagon to pass, had pulled pails of water from a nearby stream to add to the muddy mess that the horses were currently flailing in, had sat immovable for hours waiting and now sat anxiously waiting for Tucker’s ‘right moment’. The group were edgy, cold and wet. The sooner they completed the job the better. The longer Tucker let the men sit stewing in anxiety the more likely it was that they would let the situation get ahead of them and someone would make a mistake. While they easily outmanned the merchant and his ‘trained’ guards, Twyst would still rather return to base camp with a successful haul and the entire group intact. She forced her heart rate to remain normal, watching and waiting just as anxious as her comrades around her.

“Now!” Tucker hissed and the pine boughs were flung back and the men and women leaped up the ridge and dashed the short distance towards the road and trapped wagon.

Twyst scrambled up the muddy embankment and across the pine-shrouded landscape. She was one of the last out of the dugout and watched with some concerns as her brothers and sisters in arms scrambled eagerly towards the wagon. Several of them waved their weapons in the air and one of them let out a shrill call, a war cry that alerted the guards sitting lazily upon their horses.

The guards bolted upright in their saddles, the canteen dropped and the guards hastened to unsheathe their weapons. The youth that had been pulling at the horse’s reigns dropped them and darted into the woods, duty to his employer forgotten in his haste to get away. The merchant slid to one side of the box, holding the horsewhip before him. The guards were struggling to form up ranks, their nervousness sapped through their saddles and into the horses beneath them. The animals shied nervously, refusing to heed their rider’s eager prods.

One of the raiders had already reached the wagon and was leaping up onto the box to accost the merchant. The merchant shrieked, a high pitched sound that seemed unnatural coming from the rotund man. He lashed out fearfully with his whip. The raider laughed giddily and grabbed at the whip, pulling it and forcing the merchant to topple over. The raider shoved the merchant and sent him sprawling into the mud mere inches from where the thick horse’s hooves were thrashing in the mud.

The guards had finally regained some semblance of whatever training they had been given. They galloped up towards the invading raiders slashing at the raiders with their weapons from atop the horses. Their movements were clumsy and the raiders swarmed around them, grabbing at the horse’s reigns and pulling at the guards. One of them was pulled from his saddle and swiftly disarmed. Two others struggled to keep astride as they swung long swords too long and unwieldy to be effectual as they sat on their tall mounts. The third, seeing that the battle was lost, turned his mount harshly and spurred the animal on, fleeing down the muddy road with a hail of the raider’s arrows following him.

Tucker leapt onto the wagon’s roof and roared excitedly. The three remaining guards were swiftly subdued and tied. The merchant, having barely missed being trampled by his horses was tied amongst them and he sat muttering in Mathosian, stamping his booted feet against the muddy ground like a child throwing a tantrum. The raiders gathered around the wagon as Tucker leapt to the ground and splashed through the mud to the rear of the vehicle. The wagon was reinforced with bands of iron, the rear door locked by a heavy and imposing lock. A grinning raider handed Tucker a small leather pouch. Carefully Tucker untied the pouch and carefully poured a small amount of its contents, a silver finely grained powder, into the lock. Upon touching the lock the powder began to hiss and spark. The raiders, Tucker included, drew back as the lock exploded. The wagon’s horses reared and jerked trying to pull themselves free of the wagon but due to the mud and the heavy wagon, they were unable to gallop away and stood snorting and tossing their heads in anguish.

As the smoke cleared, Tucker battered the ruined lock away and pulled open the wagon’s door. Within sat stacks upon stacks of shining silver bars. Tucker smiled broadly and leapt into the wagon. He picked up one bar and held it out towards the raiders who cheered eagerly. Tucker tossed the heavy bar to one of the raiders, a bald man of Ethian descent whose wide smile revealed several missing and discolored teeth. The man gripped the bar eagerly. Tucker grabbed several more bars and tossed them down towards the eager raiders who clamored for the bars noisily. Twyst stood at the rear of the crowd, looking on uneasily. Tucker glanced at her and made to toss her a bar but Twyst shook her head quickly.

“Why remove the cargo from the wagon? Maddox can easily free the wagon and horses and we can be on our way immediately. There’s no need to transfer cargo.” Twyst said although she knew that Tucker’s actions had nothing to do with transferring the silver from the mired wagon to their mounts hidden within the woods.

Tucker smiled wryly. He leapt casually from the wagon and strolled through the crowd of raiders who were busy preparing the remaining bars and wagon for get away. He held a thick silver bar in his hand.

“Tsk, tsk little Twyst. Always so concerned with following rules.” He said, shaking his head. He held up the silver bar and tapped her lightly on the cheek with it. Twyst held her head firm, refusing to flinch. “I’ll have the rest of the bars redistributed and Red will never know that there’s anything missing. Besides, what’s the loss of a few bars when he has a whole wagon full. These few items are just…payment.”

“We will be paid once we return the wagon. Red never cheats his raiders.” Twyst said stiffly.

Tucker laughed and several of the raiders nearby glanced up. Someone had gone to retrieve their horses and the greedy raiders were busy stuffing their bars into saddlebags.

“Fifty gold a raider. Fifty gold. Do you know how much this wagon of silver must be worth? Fifty or sixty plat’s worth of silver in this wagon! And all we get is a puny fifty gold pieces. Once we cover our expenses that’s barely enough for a night’s ale and a good whore! He raised his voice as he spoke, inviting the rest of the company to listen in. Several gathered around to listen, nodding their agreement with Tucker’s words.

Twyst glanced around uncertainly. Stealing from a union merchant was difficult enough without stealing from Red. Red Fang’s Marauders was one of the only bandit groups that would plan such a heist. The punishment for being captured stealing from a Merchant Trade Union caravan was death, no matter the amount of goods stolen. This price was too steep for many raiders who considered death for stealing a wagonload of flour too high a price, especially if the flour was recovered. But those who paid the exorbitant fees to be a member of the Merchant Trade Union typically had cargo that was worth stealing and Red Fang figured the rewards outweighed the possible punishment.

But Tucker was contemplating theft from Red Fang himself and that was twice as bad. Red Fang’s punishments would leave a man begging for death….and often denied it. She had heard rumors of others within the band contemplating ‘skimming’ off the top but she had never heard that anyone was fool enough to do such.

The day had gotten quiet and Twyst glanced around to see the rest of the raiding party watching her intently. They knew what Tucker had been saying to her and were waiting on her response. She looked at the faces surrounding her, faces of people she had known for years and some for just a few months. She searched for Maddox. The slight man was standing beside his horse, staring down at his booted feet. He glanced up quickly as if feeling her gaze but just as quickly turned away. What would happen if she decided to go against Tucker and refused to accept a bar of silver as her unofficial profit. She doubted that the others would return their bars. While the raiders were something of a family, she didn’t expect altruism from them. Out here, Tucker was Red’s lieutenant and what he said was just as golden as Red’s own rules. At least, that was what Tucker would have them believe.

“What do you say, little Twyst? Don’t we deserve a bit more for putting our lives on the line like this? One lousy bar of silver? Just one?” Tucker held the bar of silver before her face. Sighing, Twyst reached up and snatched if from his hand.

Tucker smiled widely and turned back to the wagon. As if the world had restarted, the company snapped back into action. Twyst trudged heavily back to her horse. Maddox was holding its reigns. He held the reigns out to her and she snatched them from him angrily.

“What did you expect me to do?” He whispered as she angrily stuffed the ill-gotten silver bar in her saddlebag.

“I expected you not to leave me hanging out to dry like a stuck pig!” Twyst hissed back angrily.

“You wanted to go against Tucker and the rest of the band? You know they all want that silver! The two of us wouldn’t have stood a chance going against Tucker. And he’s right…Fang won’t know the difference!”

“You won’t ever be as powerful as Anona if you are afraid of ten people!” Twyst turned around angrily, spitting out her words carefully. Maddox face reddened.

“They’re armed!” He hissed.

“So are you! You’re supposed to be a robed mage!”

Maddox glared at her, his jaw working angrily.

“Maddox? What the hell are you doing? Get over here and get these horses free so we can get moving!” someone called from the head of the wagon. Maddox glanced over his shoulder and then turned back to Twyst. She could see a faint aura rising above the young man’s head, radiating from him like waves of heat. He need only tap that energy and he would have been able to summon a ball of fire that would have been enough to barbecue Twyst where she stood.

But instead he turned roughly away, stomping through the mud towards the horses. Twyst sighed and shook her head, watching as Maddox performed the spell that rose the horses from the mud and solidified the ground beneath them. It was a simple spell, one that she had watched Anona and Maddox perform dozens of times but despite all his practice it still took him three tries to get the spell right. The band laughed and jeered at each failed attempt which only flustered the young mage more. When the ground had finally been hardened Maddox trotted back to his horse and mounted clumsily, refusing to meet anyone’s gaze.

The band mounted and with two raiders atop the wagon’s box, they started away, leaving the merchant and his ill-trained guards to await rescue. Twyst walked slowly behind the wagon, letting her mount trail behind the others. Maddox walked his horse a few feet away, refusing to look in her direction and trying to look comfortable despite the jostling motion of the horse. With each motion of the horse’s powerful body, Twyst could feel the silver bar bump against her legs. The bar seemed to grow in length and size the more they moved and her mind was weighed done by its heft. The rest of the raiders laughed and joked as they casually headed for their camp but their mirth did not extend to the back of the caravan where Twyst and Maddox brooded in silence.

Twyst of Fate

  • Posted on May 23, 2013 at 11:41 am

A broad shouldered man with bronze skin sat upon a packing crate rummaging through the contents of an identical crate before him. He pawed through the straw, finally closing his thick hand around the fragile neck of delicately painted white and blue vase. He held the vase up to the noonday sun. The vase’s walls were so thin that the blazing sun shone through it. Thin golden lines, painstakingly hand painted, swirled across the vase’s surface. He smiled, showing a double line of stark white teeth. Behind him, a lithe woman stood in the doorway of a squat stone hut holding a child on her hip. Long black hair hung loose, stirring slightly in the warm breeze.

“Malik came through?” She asked in a soft voice. The baby on her hip gurgled and she glanced down at her and smiled. The baby had the same black hair but it was streaked with lines of coppery orange and curled slightly around her ears.

The man nodded and sat back on the crate, holding the vase carefully.

“Three months and fifty plat later, Lilith’s Vase. Straight from the vaults of Sanctum.” He chuckled and shook his head with some incredulousness.

“I thought Malik had given up. Said the vault was too secure to bust.”

“He says that last month and then, like a gift from the Gods, here it is. Lilith’s Vase. Malik likes to make you sweat. Tries to up the price buy making you think the job is undoable. He saw I wouldn’t budge and delivered the goods. Fifty plat is better than no plat.”

“It still seems unbelievable that after telling you no just three weeks earlier this case shows up magically at the trading post.” The woman said. The baby grabbed at a fistful of her hair, tugging playfully and happily.

Again the man shrugged. “Knowing Malik he had already spent the plat. He couldn’t return it so he forwarded on the vase. Probably grumbling all the way to the post. Once I get this vase passed on we will easily recoup our expenditures and be able to move out of this forsaken land.”

Carefully he repacked the vase and replaced the crate’s lid. He turned and smiled at his wife and daughter. Reaching out to the baby he moved towards the house. The toddler’s copper colored eyes lit up and she cooed excitedly, dropping her mother’s hair and reaching out for her father. Laughing, he lifted the baby into the air. The baby giggled and cooed, arms spread wide as if she hoped to fly away.

The woman laughed as she watched her husband and child. Casually, her eyes scanned the landscape beyond. The plains were arid with little plant-life. The thick trees were stunted and twisted with sharp, thorn-like leaves which dripped with sap when broken. Broken boulders littered the dusty ground and where the wind blew, sand and sagebrush danced across the land. The landscape was flat and a person could see for a hundred miles on a clear day if the wind wasn’t high. As her dark eyes scanned the landscape they stopped on a rising cloud of brown and gray dirt. The wind wasn’t high and the cloud of rising dust seemed abnormal. Her smile faltered.

Her husband glanced down at her face and seeing her unease he turned slightly to follow her gaze. The cloud of dust kicked up from the plain’s floor had grown nearer. His dark eyes narrowed and he strained his vision across the intervening miles. A flash of bright light shown out through the cloud of dust. The man straightened and his smile vanished abruptly. He glanced back to his wife who had also noted the flash of blue-white light erupting from the cloud of dust. Hurriedly he handed her the baby and motioned her into the hut.

The two hurried into the dimly lit domicile. The cottage had just two windows, small and roughly cut which could be shuttered by crudely built but solid wooden shudders. It had only one room containing the bed the couple shared, a wooden stove, a strongbox, several crates and a wooden stand which held a thick sword and a bow. The woman placed the child on the bed and bent to the strongbox. The child, glancing around quizzically, sensed her parent’s uneasiness. She sniffed with concern, placing on small fist into her mouth as if trying to hold back her anxiety. Kneeling on the floor beside the strongbox, her mother pulled out two leather vests, passing one to her father who stood buckling a pair of leather shin-guards. Outside, the wind had picked up and flecks of debris bounced against the open door.

Armored in the vest that he had obtained from his wife, leather shin guards and thick leather gloves, the man with skin bronzed from a lifetime in the hot sun, turned to the weapon’s rack. He pulled a sword belt on and buckled it hastily. Behind him, his wife, also garbed in tough leather armor turned to the weapon rack where her husband had holstered his sword and was handing her a bow and a quiver of arrows.

“Stay inside with the baby. Close the shutters. Don’t do anything until my signal.” He said, turning towards the door.

She laid a hand on his arm and he looked up into her eyes. They were the same warm copper color as his daughter. Eyes that could betray every emotion without a trace escaping to show on her face. Now they betrayed her fear but she tried to smile.

“Don’t worry.” He said. “They don’t call me ‘honey-tongue’ for nothing.” He smiled but his eyes were steely. He strode from the house, closing the door.

Sparing only a moment to stare at the closed door, the woman turned back to the baby. Pushing aside a stack of wooden crates she exposed a small wooden door in the floor that was practically invisible if one didn’t know what to look for. Sticking her finger in a whorl in the wood she pulled open the trap door, revealing a small earthen room roughly dug and reinforced by thick unseasoned timber. Wrapping the baby in a woven blanket she jumped into the room and placed the child in a basket filled with sacks of flour. Turning to clamber out of the room she was arrested by the sound of the child sniffling. She turned back to see the baby’s eyes fill with tears and a small cry escaped the babes lips.

“Shh.” She said, turning back and kneeling before the basket. “You be a good girl. You mustn’t make a sound. Be as quiet as a mouse.”

The baby stopped crying but tears still poured from her eyes and she reached her arms out to her mother. The woman thought against hugging the child, afraid that she would not want to let her go if she did. Above her she could hear the sounds of voices and knew her time was short. Reaching behind her and pulling aside her long thick hair she untied a necklace made from a strip of black leather. A small, roughly cut jewel hung from the leather thong. She held it up before the child’s eyes, twisting it enticingly. The child’s eyes followed the turning of the jewel and the tears dried on her cheeks. She reached for the necklace and the mother pressed it into her hands.

“Be as quiet as a mouse, little one.” Her mother said backing away. The child’s attention was completely consumed by the jewel. It was a small malachite jewel, roughly cut into an oval. On one side of the jewel someone had carved something roughly into the jewel’s thick surface. Letters in a language that only a few in the world would understand.

Carefully the mother climbed from the cellar and closed the door, pushing the crates back into place and plunging the child into darkness. As the darkness closed in the jewel brightened with a light that sprang from deep within the dark crystal’s interior. It was as if a fire had been light within the confines of the jewel and it bathed the baby’s face in a warm glow. The child was captivated. She stared at the jewel, shaking it in her tiny fists oblivious to the noise from above her. She was too young to realize that she would never see her parents again. Too young to even remember her mother’s face or her father’s scarred hands. Blessedly too young to understand the carnage that took place above her.

Another Twyst of Fate

  • Posted on May 22, 2013 at 3:31 pm

A group of travelers moved down the muddy road in a constant wet drizzle that grayed the landscape. The day was damp, cold and overcast with no end to the rain in sight but despite this the travelers seemed upbeat. The caravan consisted of a highly armored wagon and several riders on horseback. The wagon was flanked by several riders and a group traveled just ahead of it. The men and women on horseback laughed and chatted amongst themselves, passing a leather wine skin between them and up to the men on the wagon’s high box. They sang and raced, seemingly to spite the cold downpour.The joyous mood seemed to stop at the wagon’s edge for the last two riders in the caravan, a man and woman who rode a few feet behind the group, rode in a persistent silence and gloom that enveloped them like a storm cloud. Twyst hunched in her oiled cloak, the hood pulled low over her face, stared at the wagon ahead of her brooding. The raid had been successful, her first raid, and the takings had been large. Tucker’s raiding party was one of the best in the gang and she should have been happy that she had played her part without any problems. A permanent spot within his raid would earn her the acclaim of the rest of the marauders that she sorely wanted.

But she continued to dwell upon Tucker’s overt thievery and how easily the rest of the raiders had accepted it. What’s more, she was angry with Maddox, the only person that she would claim as a friend, who had stood by and shrugged when she had tried to take a stand against the theft. Her mind raced with thoughts.

She had been raised with the raiders, having been found after her parents had abandoned her in a Guardian holding. She had been taken in by Anona, a mage, who had found within the depths of her cold heart a small motherly spark that had taken pity on the child squalling within the depths of a burning shack in the ransacked Guardian town. Rather than leave the child there to fend as she must with the rest of the bedraggled inhabitants, Anona had scooped her up and carried her off, realizing that whatever the future might hold for the thin child raised in the midst of a maurading bandit party, it would be better than the life of an orphaned Eth child in the hands of a Guardian orphanage. And Twyst had seen enough displaced children in Guardian orphanages to realize that life with Red Fang’s Marauders was, in fact, better.

Despite Anona’s position within the gang, Twyst’s life had not been rosy. While Anona was the band’s strongest mage and held a coveted position beside Red Fang, the woman was far from motherly. For the first years of her life Twyst had had no name, instead being called ‘girl’ or ‘lay about’ or, if the woman were in a foul mood ‘bastard bane’. It was the rest of the band that had taken to calling her “twist”. The moniker had arisen after a night of drunken carousing after a particularly successful heist. Anona, not wanting to be saddled with the responsibility of watching a five year-old that was ‘constantly underfoot’ instead decided to lock the child an a dog’s cage where she assumed the child would be safe.  Imagine the woman’s surprise when, just half an hour after locking the padlock and sauntering away, she found the lithe child singing a bawdy song atop a table with a glass of watered ale in her dirty hands. Assuming the child had some magical inclination, Anona and the rest of the band had carried her back to the locked cage, pushed her back inside, and demanded she demonstrate her amazing gift. It was only the raiders that had found her talent comical. The tiny child, fueled by a ruddy drunkenness brought on by the watery alcoholic brew, had wriggled her thin body through the bars of the cage, twisting and contorting until she stood in her dirty smock before the raiders with glimmering eyes.

The rest of the raiders had thought it an amazingly feat and had dubbed her twist from that day forward. One of the men had even taken up a piece of wood and penknife and crudely whittled the name ‘Twyst’ and fashioned a placard which he tied around the child’s neck so as not to forget when he awoke from his drunken fugue. Only a few of the raiders had realized that the word was misspelled. The marauders had taken to it with aplomb and the love-starved child had worn her name card proudly for weeks. Sadly, Anona had not taken so readily to the handle. While she eventually fell to calling the child Twyst herself, she behaved even colder towards her, ignoring her largely as she grew. It was only later in her life had Twyst realized that Anona had wished for the child to develop some magical talent that she could help mold. When it became apparent that Twyst had no such gift she had disregarded her, leaving her for the rest of the band to raise.

As she grew, Twyst had remained a slight and thin child, sickly in the eyes of some. Most of the raiders had believed that she would never actually be a raider, relegating her to the role of servant and eventual cook. Despite her stature, Twyst had the soul of a lion and had mightily fought to project the aura of a raider. Red Fang himself, had found the child’s feeble attempts to establish herself as a bandit comic. He had had a tiny set of daggers fashioned for her and had set her up to be taught along with the rest of the would-be raiders, a form of comic relief for the band to watch. And while her attempts to distinguish herself as a tiny warrior had been comic in the beginning, it became apparent that she had the serious inclination of becoming a full member of the party. She practiced longer and harder, spending nights just outside the camp in the shadow of darkness, working on her form savagely attacking any object she could use as practice dummy.

She received her break just two years earlier when Red Fang had set her up to duel one of his other recruits before the drunken band after dinner. The exhibition had been meant as a comical farce to entertain the raiders after a hard day. The recruit, drunken and wielding a dull sword heavily, had been easily beaten by Twyst who, despite her own inebriation, had danced around the man, poking and prodding and rending dozens of tiny holes in the man’s dirty cotton shirt. Despite the heavy drinking, Red had easily noticed the young woman’s prowess and had called for another dueler. Again, Twyst’s speed and studied ability won her the match easily. While her style was not polished, Red Fang could see the young woman’s talent, a talent he was loathe to waste on cooking and privy duties. To solidify his belief he called for another match against an accomplished raider. The man was heavily drunk, which worked to Twyst’s advantage. She won the match, but only just. It was clear that if he had not been drunk, her last challenger would have bested her but Red was convinced. The next day, with heavy head but proud heart, Twyst joined the ranks of ‘apprentice raiders’.

It was an uphill battle. Though the raiders were accustomed to having Twyst in their midst and while there were other female raiders, they were not ready to accept her as an actual ‘raider’. The women who raided in Red Fang’s parties were routinely harassed and forced to carry a heavier load just so they could fail and prove to the men that a woman’s place was around the cook pot or warming a bedroll. Twyst was no exception. To add to the fact that she was a woman, there was also whisperings that due to her relationship with Anona (sometimes rumored to be Red’s lover), she had been given a spot based on nepotism. Despite the cool and often abrupt relationship Twyst had with her adoptive mother, the raiders still fancied some favoritism. Her training was harsh, her trainers openly abusive and mocking, begging her to cry and run to hide behind Anona’s skirt tails or cry to Red Fang. Twyst would do neither. She nursed her bruises, cuts and broken bones with resilience, saving her tears for late at night when she was sure that no one would see her.

And finally she had been given a position in one of the toughest but most successful of Red Fang’s raiding bands. Only to have it threatened by Tucker’s greed.

“Twyst?” Maddox called over to her. She was snapped from her reverie by the young mage as he pulled his horse closer to hers. “I asked if you were planning on sitting there grinding your teeth for the rest of the day.”

Twyst forced her gaze away from the swaying wagon and the object of her darkened thoughts. She turned to Maddox with a sigh.

“Just lighten up a little.” Maddox said. Rain dripped from the hood of his cloak. His face was pale, dark hair plastered to his thin face. “This was our first raid and it went perfectly! We are sure to have a permanent spot in the party. You should be happy. Instead you are sitting here like you expect the sky to open and the gods to reach out and grab you.”

“So you are going to keep that bar of silver?” Twyst asked coldly. Maddox glanced away with discomfort, his hands twisting around the reins.

“I’m going to just follow orders.” Maddox answered quietly.

“Whose orders?” Twyst asked quickly. Maddox sighed.

“Twyst its not like we are the only ones to do this. I’m sure there are other bands that skim off the top.”

“Yes, I’m sure there are. And the danger with that is that Red doesn’t like to share. We get caught, we get dead!”

“If we stick together we won’t get caught!”

“Look around you, Maddox! How many of these men do you actually trust? Most of them I wouldn’t put it past to put an arrow in the backs of their own mothers for a few coins! If we accept this and someone else goes and tells Red hoping that they might look good in Red’s eyes we will die just as easily as the rest!”

“Most of these people have been in Tucker’s band for months. Tucker trusts them.” Maddox answered uneasily.

“But I don’t. And Tucker’s a fool if he does!” Twyst snapped back. “It’s easier for me to refuse. That way I won’t have to worry about any of this.”

“Tucker won’t like it. If you don’t take it he’s gonna think that you are planning to tell Red.”

“I don’t care what he thinks!” She shot back.

“Don’t cause trouble, Twyst.” Maddox whispered with a note of panic in his voice.

“Whatever I trouble I cause is my own. You don’t have to worry about it.” She turned said pointedly. Maddox looked hurt. He edged horse away from her and stared gloomily ahead. Twyst considered saying something to blunt edge of that statement but decided against it and the two continued in silence.

Tucker called the band to a halt just after nightfall, pulling the caravan into a secluded woodland several miles outside of a small hamlet. The hamlet surrounded a travelers inn, the inhabitants having settled there due to the popularity of the inn. Tucker urged the band to hurry to set up camp. The wine skin had been empty for over an hour and he was anxious to set off for the inn and indulge in its popular house brew. Hurriedly the raiders threw together a campsite, pulling together pickets for the horses and unsaddling the weary wagon animals. Tucker stood in the middle of it all, watching with shining eyes. When the campsite had been haphazardly assembled, Tucker called for his weary and sodden horse and vaulted into the saddle, calling for all that wanted to follow him to the inn.

“First round’s on me!” He called heartily. The raiders sent up a raucous cry and scrambled from their horses.Twyst watched in alarm as the majority of the raiders climbed atop their horses and gathered around Tucker. When the dust had settled only Twyst and Maddox remained to guard the camp. Maddox has conjured a pair of shambling metal golems that shuddered along a pre-determined path before the camp. The magically infused constructs stumbled along their path, looking like nothing so much as a gathering of junk held together by the faintest of wishes.

Tucker spurred his horse and wheeled it around. Twyst scrambled from her seat beside the wagon and hastened to the head of the column, standing squarely before Tucker’s horse. Tucker stared down at her, his eyes shining, a sneer across his lips.

“And what can I help you with?” He called down to her. “Need a ride down to the inn?” He winked and the raiders behind him snickered.

Twyst ignored the laughter. “Don’t you think you should leave a guard?” She asked.

Tucker glanced back at the camp where Maddox’s shambling golems slowly patrolled narrowly missing each other as they pirouted and marched back and forth.

“Guard? Why Mad Maddox there has it all covered with his fantastical magical metal marvels!” Tucker roared and the raiders laughed with them.

Maddox glanced up from his seat on a damp log before a pitiful fire. Even in the dim light Twyst could see his cheeks redden in embarassment and anger.

“You are going to leave a heavily ladden wagon of silver that we just stole sitting in an unguarded field with just Maddox, myself and two stumbling metal men? Do you think that’s sufficient?” Twyst asked sarcastically, hands holded across her spare chest.

“What? You don’t trust Maddox’s magic talents? You hear that Maddox? Twyst has some concerns about your abilities. Do YOU have concerns?” Tucker called to Maddox.

The young man, anger and wounded pride coloring his face, shuffled from his seat and darted forward. His eyes flashed angrily at Twyst has he rushed to stand beside her.

“Are you worried, Maddie? You want me to leave someone to guard you?” Tucker taunted. Maddox’s jaw worked in anger.

“I’m fine. I can handle it alright.” He said stiffly. He threw Twyst an angry look.

Twyst ignored the young man’s angry glower, staring up at Tucker. The man sat easily in his saddle, smiling and smug in his realization that the rest of the raidmembers were secure in his leadership.

“Just suppose some other gang, having heard us come through with a wagon of Trade Guild goods, decides to steal from us what we have already stolen. It would be an easy target for a well-armed raiding party. And it would be a great opportunity to stick one to Red.”

Tucker chuckled. “And who would be fool enough to steal from Red Fang?” He asked.

“You, for one.” Twyst shot back. Tucker’s eyes narrowed. He leaned down from his saddle, staring into Twyst’s eyes.

“The only person that assumes we are stealing is you. It would be better for all of us, you especially, if you just kept the idea of ’stealing’ out of your pretty little head and leave all the ‘details’ to someone that knows how to handle these things. No one wants any trouble, isn’t that right Maddox.” Tucker glanced to Maddox. His face red, Maddox nodded sharply.

Tucker reached out a gloved hand and traced a line down her cheek, letting his finger rest on her thin lips.

“Do you know what they say about loose lips?” He whispered. His voice was fetid and stank of stale wine.

Twyst jerked her head away and stared evenly into his eyes.

“Loose lips are cause to loose blades.” Tucker continued, repeating a line that Red Fang had himself coined. “Just remember that, Twyst dear. Loose lips equal loose blades.”

Tucker leaned up and waved his, rallying the raiders. He jerked his horse angrily around and galloped off, kicking up clods of mud that rained on Twyst and Maddox. The two watched as the party disappeared onto the road, calling and laughing as they galloped towards the inn. With an angry grunt, Maddox spun around and went to fall back on his log, pulling his drenched cloak around him. Twyst turned angrily and marched back to where she had set her bedroll beside the armored wagon. She stopped beside the fire, refusing to look at Maddox’s angry and embarrassed face.

“Maddox…it wasn’t personal you know.” She finally said coolly.

“I know.” He said quietly. “You just don’t care about anyone other than yourself.”

Twyst turned quickly towards him. “That’s not true!” She shot back.

“No? Well why can’t you just leave well enough alone? They’ve been doing this forever, Twyst. They probably skim off the top of all their raids and Tucker has led more raids then anyone. No one else has a problem with it. Why can’t you just leave well enough alone? Why do you have to always make trouble?”

“I’m looking at what’s best.”

“What’s best for you!” Maddox interrupted. “As long as you protect your own skin you don’t seem to care about who you step on!”

Twyst opened her mouth to respond but closed it again, shaking her head. She realized he was angry and his pride was bruised. Nothing she said would make up for that. Maddox, being short, thin and not particularly handy, had always been low man in the raid. If not for his arcane ability he would never have made a raider. There had been jokes that he was of even less use to the raiders than women. The fact that Tucker had agreed to take the untested mage had been surprising, even to Maddox, and he was unwilling to allow anything to taint his otherwise flawless first raid. Shaking her head she continued to her damp bedroll and slid down with her back against the wagon.

I would be easy for her to just ignore Tucker’s theft and his inexpert raid leadership. But since she had been a child running between the legs of the experience raiders and listening with wide eyes to firelight tales of their exploits, she had dreamed of one day being a part of all that excitement. Raiding, she had grown to believe, was an excitement-filed ride through dangerous landscapes where men and women died for the love of coin. They were answerable to no man or law. They conducted their affairs answerable to only their own consciousness. It was a form of freedom that few within their life could attest to. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. Of course, she didn’t know of any other life and what she didn’t know of couldn’t possibly hurt her.

A malevolent fairy (work in progress)

  • Posted on December 6, 2012 at 4:26 pm

The tree limb trembled, quivering and jolting the tiny figure nestled against the tree’s trunk awake. Her delicate gossamer wings that she had wrapped around her slender body for warmth, slowly unfurled and she yawned, stretching tiny arms above her head. The sun had just crested the horizon and the morning dew still twinkled on the blades of grass but despite the newness of the day man’s destruction machines were already rumbling across the landscape. The tiny winged figure stood and lithely darted down the branch to the edge of the tree limb, peeking between the trees foliage. A short distance away was a rusted chain link fence, beyond which were mounds of dirt and chunks of concrete which had been haphazardly pushed into untidy piles. The destroyed lot was crawling with men and machinery, like a giant agitated ant colony. As the fairy watched, a massive bulldozer slowly trundled over the uneven dirt towards the rusted fence and with little effort pushed the chain link fence over. The fence gave way with a screech of tortured metal. A short and plump man jogged over to the dozer, waving a wooden clipboard above his head to get the machine driver’s attention. The bulldozer stopped atop the crumpled and ruined remains of the fence, black smoke billowing from its exhaust pipe.

The little fairy sighed and stepped back into the tree’s foliage. It was as she had expected and as she had told her princess. The humans would not be stopped by the Great Divide. The forest was threatened and at this time there would be no stopping the destruction. With a slight movement of her wings she took to the air and wove a serpentine path through the densely packed trees of the forest. The forest’s boundaries had grown smaller and smaller throughout the decades, pushing the trees and brush together unhealthily. The younger trees struggled to gain purchase among the tangle of established roots of their elders. Most of the wildlife within the forest had fled or been slaughtered by man’s insatiable appetite for the hunt. Those that remained were wary to show themselves during the day, although the fairy knew they were there, hiding in their darkened dens. She could feel their pulse as she could feel the pulse of the forest. And the forest’s pulse was quickening.

She fluttered quickly through the forest, weaving through the trees expertly, making her way to a decaying tree trunk covered in moss and fungi. She gently landed on a great exposed root and tiptoed lightly up and through a crack in the trunk.  The interior of the stump was dark save for the balls of magically imbued light which bounced upon the close air, weaving drunken patterns through the spore-laden air. She tripped delicately down the spiral staircase, descending through the stump and into the cavernous underground city of the fae. At the foot of the ancient wooden staircase, a young fae child, barely past her fiftieth summer glanced up at her nearing, violet eyes gleaming happily. With an exuberant flutter of her wings, the fae child rose into the air and danced around her elder sister, smiling happily.

“What did you see, Harley? What did you see?”  The fae child asked in an excited voice as she flitted around her elder.

Harley, for such was her name, smiled and traced a loving finger along the fae child’s cheek.

“I saw what I expected to see.” She answered. The fae child, pouted, an expression that did little to spoil the beauty of the delicate creatures face.

“But what did you see?” The child asked again.

Harley moved across the earthen floor and away from the staircase which was one of many exits which existed and opened the ancient city of the fae to the outside world. The underground city was lit entirely by the floating luminescent globes which floated above the city. The hundreds of fairies that lived within this magical city slept among the folds of magical flowers and within toadstools never before seen by human eye, existing purely by the means of the fae’s magic.

Harley strolled down the avenue between the flowers and toadstools, trailed by the eager younger fae which queried her incessantly about the outside world which she had yet to see. As Harley moved along, fae stopped and glanced up from their myriad tasks to silently watch her, trying to guess from her expression what she had found during her scouting expedition. She kept her face carefully blank. She was to deliver her scouting report to the princess and her alone. The rest of the city would be apprised of the situation soon enough.

At the middle of the great underground city grew a thick toadstool with a large cap which overshadowed many of the smaller flowers and toadstools around them. This toadstool housed the royal family and every avenue within the city lead to this pivotal place. Harley approached the toadstool and passed beneath the fungus’s hood.  Hundreds of the floating luminescent balls had gathered beneath the toadstool cap and the area around the royal abode was as bright as if it were in the middle of a valley at high noon. Dozens of royal retainers swarmed around the toadstool’s base, moving about various tasks. But as Harley approached they all stopped and slowly followed her as she grew near the great rounded door which lead inside the toadstool.

Harley was aware of the slowly gathering crowd that followed her. It had been building ever since she had first stepped into the city proper but she tried to ignore it. She held her head high, trying to keep her face calm although the excitement of the buzzing crowd infected her as well. As she drew near the main entrance, two guards stationed on either side of the door rushed forward to pull the great doors open and Harley stepped quickly into the hallway.

Inside the toadstool defied imagination. The entryway’s floor was covered in a pale pink marble which shone in the light of a dozen gilded candelabra with guttering flames of red magic fire. The grand staircase was covered in a soft carpet of red moss. Harley, at the head of her followers, mounted the stairs and led the way to the throne room. The doors were pulled open and she walked quickly into the cavernous room. A crowd of courtiers milling about the throne room parted to allow the scout to pass and the room filled with the muffled buzz of excited whispering. Harley strode with confidence to the front of the room where her princess sat on a tall golden throne crafted to look as if it were constructed of flowering vines.

Princess Nehalia was a slight fae, thinner and more delicate looking than the scout which stopped to kneel before her. She had long golden hair which glowed in the ambient light of the throne room and amber eyes which were warm and shining. Atop her head was a delicate silver crown. As Harley kneeled the crowd grew hushed. Standing beside the throne was a tall male fae, dressed in blue and silver with feathery black hair. He was Nehalia’s consort and he leaned forward to brush a strand of golden hair from the princess’s face lovingly.

“You have returned from the Divide?” Nehalia’s voice was slight but even so it echoed and reached to the back of the throne room.

“I have Your Highness.” Harley answered, her head lowered demurely. Nehalia made a slight movement of her hand and Harley stood.

“What news?” Nehalia’s voice was child-like, belaying her true age of 150 years. But even at 150 years of age Nehalia was still seen by many within the great fae city as young.

“The humans have breached the Great Divide.” Harley answered, her voice strong. A shocked murmur went up from the assembled mass of fae. The courtiers privileged enough to stand upon the great dais beside the Thorn Throne whispered amongst themselves.

Nehalia waited several moments to allow her people to converse excitedly before raising a slender hand for silence. The hushed whispers immediately silenced. Nehalia dropped her hand back into her lap and her amber eyes glowed brightly.

“Mena?” She called.

An plump fae woman stepped from the line of fae standing behind the Thorny Throne and moved to stand before Princess Nehalia. She dropped a courtesy and stood in this position until Nehalia bade her rise.

“What do you advice?” Nehalia asked the other woman.

“By your leave, your highness, I have been speaking with your military councilors and they are all of the opinion that if the humans are allowed to breach the Great Divide that there will be no stopping them. They will march upon Underlight and we shall be destroyed!” Mena’s voice was strong and assertive. At her pronunciation the crowd of listeners gasped and another murmur of whispers went up. Again Nehalia raised her hand and the crowd quieted.


Another fae, plump and favoring Mena, stepped from the crowd of retainers and hastened to stand before the princess. She dropped a less dignified courtesy and seemed more uncertain. Teva was Mena’s sister. But unlike the sisterhood that existed amongst all fae women, Teva had the distinction of having been born of the same mother as Mena. This was why the two fae, standing side by side, appeared almost mirror image. Mena stiffened visibly as her sister straightened, her nose wrinkled slightly in distaste.

“Your highness, I do believe we should appeal to the Gordon Shepherd.” Teva said, not waiting for Nehalia to request her opinion.

Mena laughed sharply and cruelly.

“We have not heard from the Gordon Shepherd in a dozen years or more!” Mena said. “It is possible he is dead. Humans have such short lives!”

“But there is no proof of this!” Teva added quickly. “We must not be too hasty. The Shepherd has helped us previously. He can do so again!”

“The humans can offer no help to the fae! We should not request their intercession!” Mena spat angrily.

“But sister…what would you have of us?” Teva turned to her sister piteously.

“War!” Mena cried and several within the crowd echoed her in agreement.

“No!” Teva said, turning to the princess pleadingly. “Such a drastic step will change our lives forever!” Others within the crowd voiced agreement and the crowd within the throne room moved and whispered with agitation.

“The humans will not stop this time. The Divide has been breached. Underlight will be destroyed!” Mena spoke loudly, turning slightly towards the crowd. “It is time that we fought or risk going the way of the other great fae cities! Our way of life is threatened!”

“War will not only destroy us but the forest as well!” Teva said. She turned to face the crowd, holding her hands out pleadingly. “We must try everything possible to avoid this!”

“The humans will destroy the forest if we allow them!

(Life Unfettered)…part V

  • Posted on September 4, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Night fell as Cera was making a makeshift camp around the unconscious Laskar. She had propped him up against a tree trunk and removed most of his bonds, despite Tor’s misgivings. She had left his hands tied however. Her pack had been only sparsely prepared. She had not expected to be out overnight. This was supposed to be a quick scouting expedition and she had hoped to be back at the fortress by nightfall. But Laskar’s condition could not be ignored. His breathing was labored, his body quaking with each shuddering breath. Frothy bubbles of saliva foamed at his mouth, black and diseased looking.

His body was ice cold, save for the thick streams of black fluid that trailed down his skin. Using a wet piece of cloth she tried to clean the black film from him but the thick goo appeared to emanate from the man’s very body. The cloth was soon saturated with the black oil and the man’s body showed no signs of improving. Finally she gave up, tossing the cloth into the meager fire that she had started.

The wood in the valley, what she could find that wasn’t streaked in black sludge, didn’t burn correctly. It was as if the wood was corrupted in some way, broken down at the very cellular level. As it sat in the fire, it popped and crackled as if dry and brittle although the wood had been close enough to the stream to have retained some of the water’s moisture. The very fire seemed sickly and unhealthy, the fumes slightly acrid.

In order to supplement her slight meal, Cera let Tor roam off to hunt. She often allowed the lion to hunt from himself, the lion typically eating much more than she packed or could manage on her own. Tor was often gracious enough to bring his kill back to camp to let Cera butcher it for him, preferring the meat to be freshly stripped from the flesh neatly rather than tearing it from the carcass himself. And even though the lion had been trained in the Valkyon service since he was a cub, he had retained enough of his feral instincts to be a good hunter.

The moon was far risen when the lion finally returned to the campsite, carrying with him a thin deer. Tor dropped the deer before the weak fire in something akin to disgust. He moved off to drop beside a tree, staring angrily ahead. He had traveled miles beyond the valley and had found no trail of prey for a great distance. The first and only thing he had been able to catch was the deer. As he had traveled he had come into contact with dozens of dead animals and the smells of the carcasses had upset him.

Cera set to work with butchering the deer, trying in vain to preserve as much of the animal’s meat as possible. The poor creature was pitifully small, not more than a year old by the size of it, and undernourished. Finished, she laid a joint of meat across the fire and gave the rest of the butchered animal to Tor. Tor ripped into his dinner with distaste, disgusted at the slight meal and his inability to procure something better.

As she tended the meat, Cera kept an eye on the castanic still unconscious beneath the tree. She had a grave feeling that the man would not survive the evening. In the harsh light of the fire he seemed skeletal and dead. Her mind returned to the geyser of black muck that was bubbling unfettered from the forest ground. She would have to make haste in order to have help tendered immediately. In the castanic’s weakened state, it would take most of the morning to get him from the valley and to Wanderer’s Hope. Then she would have to arrange for him to be transported to the Mysterium. All while whatever was causing the geyser continued unabated. It was enough to make her almost hope that the poor man would die in his sleep. At least he would not be in pain any longer, if he still felt pain at all, and she would be able to quickly marshal the aid needed.

As she stared at him, ruminating, he jerked, his head lolling to one side. Tor dropped the bone he had been chewing and glared over at him. Laskar’s head rolled along his thin neck, finally settling upright. He opened his eyes and stared across the fire at Cera.

“El…e…na?” His voice was so low that only the Elin’s sensitive hearing could have possibly caught the one word he spoke.

“Are you awake?” Cera leaned across the fire, wondering if the man was still unconscious, perhaps talking in his sleep despite his eyes being open.

“Who….who are you?” He rasped in a rush, as if it was painful to utter each word. He tried to pull himself upright but became aware that his hands were bound behind his back. “What…where am I?”

Cera darted nimbly over the fire, landing in front of the man. With the fire behind her he seemed to recognize instantly what she was with her slight kittenish ears poking through her thatch of dark hair.

“What has happened?” His speech was labored and strangely liquid, as if he were talking with his mouth full of water. As he spoke, black saliva bubbled from the corners of his lips. He coughed once, spitting up globules of the mass which dribbled down his chin and onto his dirty clothes.

“My name is Cera. I am a Valkyon investigator, dispatched from Velika. Do you know where you are?”

It took a while for her words to make an impact on him. Slowly he glanced around, taking in the darkened forest and Tor sitting a distance away watching him distrustfully. Finally he returned to Cera’s face.

“Why am I tied up?” He asked finally.

“You do not know?” Cera asked, her eyebrows arching questioningly.

“You’ve taken me prisoner? For what reason?” He asked his voice hardening. But there was little to fear from the man. He still breathed heavily and his feeble attempts to sit up would have failed even with the use of his hands.

“Not exactly prisoner.” Cera answered. “You attacked me earlier. Do you remember earlier today?”

Laskar’s face showed disbelief. He shook his head, his eyes glazing as he attempted to recall earlier that morning.

“I remember having breakfast at an inn, a shoddy inn just outside the valley. I started out early, hoping to make Firetop by mid afternoon. I descended into the valley, to fill my canteen and let my horse water…” He stopped struggling to recall the memory. Cera waited hopefully but finally he stopped and shook his head. “I can remember no more before waking up just now.”

Cera studied his face, scanning for signs of deceit but all she saw on his face was confusion and a slight anger at awakening as someone’s prisoner. She dared not risk a mental intrusion for fear he would grow even angrier. It appeared for the moment that he had his facilities and Cera was loathe doing anything that might trigger a relapse into his former bestial self. Slowly she described to Laskar why she had been dispatched to the valley, recounting the bubbling geyser in the forest and her wild chase through the woods. The man grew visibly upset as she continued; finally he pushed himself away from the tree, as if trying to stand up. But his strength had fled and he stumbled into Cera. The Elin helped him back onto the ground.

“I must get back…” He whispered hoarsely.

“You are going nowhere for now.” Cera said, using a small tin cup she hastened to the river and returned with a cup of cool water which she handed to Laskar. With slightly shaking hands, he gulped the water, leaning his head back against the tree he sighed heavily.

“Why were you heading into the mountains?” Cera asked.

Laskar was quiet for a while and Cera feared he had gone back to sleep. Finally he moved and stared across the fire at her. His eyes had lost the feverish glint to them. They were clear and steely now as he looked at her.

“I had business of my own there. Business which I must return to.” He said in a low but firm voice. “You must release me.”

Cera shook her head.

“I need to take you to the nearest Mysteruim researcher. Whatever happened to you is most likely a result of whatever that is bubbling up from the earth beneath the forest. The Mysterium will have questions for you, they will want to…” Her first words had been ’study him’ but realizing that might not be that welcoming to the Castanic, she stopped and struggled for a better phrase. But she could find nothing to say and Laskar appeared to understand her unspoken words. He shook his head.

“I am certain it was the miasma that turned me into that beast that you encountered earlier. And if the infection is so widespread there is no time to delay. You must release me to continue my mission.”

“Mission?” Cera’s eyes arched in surprise. It was clear Laskar had not meant to release that information. His reddened and he turned away. “Who dispatched you on this mission? This ‘miasma’, is it already known within the Federation? Were you sent to discover its origin? When?” Questions tumbled over themselves in her mind, spilling out of her mouth in a continuous stream.

Laskar sighed.

“There is much you do not know and I am too tired and weak to go into such matters now. Can I ask that you release me so that I might get more comfortable?”         Tor who had been sitting quietly beside the fire with his haunch of meat, perked up at this request and growled, shaking his large head as if to negate the request. Laskar looked at him and smirked, an action that served to alter his face so completely that Cera for a moment wondered if he was perhaps a different man.

“I suppose your lion would have me tied to this tree forever.” Laskar said a note of sarcasm in his voice. “If I promise not to slit your throats in the night will you release me then?” It seemed he addressed this request to Tor as he was staring into the lion’s large amber eyes.

Tor stood, tensing his muscles as if in preparation for a fight. Opening his large mouth he roared, declaring his dominance over the campsite and those within it. Cera reached out to the animal’s mind to calm him.

“Be calm, Tor. If Laskar gives us his word I assume he will retain his sanity long enough to keep it.” Cera said. Laskar’s head turned suddenly.

“How did you know my name?” He asked suddenly and Cera realized too late that he had never mentioned his name. The only way to describe her knowledge would be either to admit that she had committed the social faux pas of probing his mind while he was unconscious or….

“While you are unconscious you muttered several things. You mentioned the name and I just assumed it was yours.” She said, trying to sound flippant. Laskar stared hard at her and she was certain he did not believe her. To ease the tension, Cera skipped around the fire and deftly slit the rope that held his arms bound to his sides. The rope, saturated in black film, slid to the ground.

“There is much we will need to discuss in the morning.” Laskar said, his voice firm, his eyes still maintaining a veil of distrust. “For now I am very tired and would like to rest to recover some of my strength.” He slid back to the ground and turned his back to her.

Cera watched his back for a moment and then returned to her side of the fire. Tor reluctantly relinquished his anger for the moment and slid down beside her. Cera curled up beside the lion and watched Laskar’s prone figure across the fire. He was holding something crucial back, something he was refusing to divulge. Would he tell her tomorrow? What mission had he undertaken that had led to his horrible transformation…and was his apparent return to reality permanent?

(Life Unfettered)….part IV

  • Posted on August 9, 2012 at 8:40 pm

It took quite a while to get the castanic securely bound. He struggled fiercely, using his long overgrown nails and even his teeth as weapons. Cera had to use all her skill to ensure he was properly tied and that she didn’t hurt him in the progress. Even using all her skill they both ended up with a few extra scratches. Cera used a piece of cloth from her pack to wipe the blood from her cheek. The castanic, Laskar, was also bleeding but his blood seemed strangely thicker and darker in color, almost black.

After she had cleaned herself as well as she could she settled back on the ground a distance away and stared at him. She had tied his hands together and wrapped the rope around his arms to keep him from flailing. Now he sat, malevolently staring at her, like a fettered wildcat. She would have to carry him from the forest and through the valley. Tor rumbled angrily at the idea. Winded as she was from their intense scuffle she felt almost the same way as Tor at the prospect of hoisting the bound man onto the back of the lion.

In the midst of the forest, the trees tall and branches reaching overhead, it was hard to pinpoint the time of day but she gauged it was nearly midday. Cera decided to have a small meal to regain her strength before she tangled again with her new ‘friend’. Leaning against Tor’s flank, she reached up and pulled a wrapped parcel from her pack. Inside was a portion of dried fruit and meat along with a piece of thick dark bread. She pulled a hunk of meat off and tossed it over her shoulder. Tor caught it expertly. As she dug into the remainder she glanced up at her prisoner. He stared at her rabidly, his tongue flicking from between his teeth to lick his lips.

“I suppose you’re hungry?” She asked. Instead of answering her a small line of drool escaped from the sides of his mouth and he scooted towards her awkwardly.

Tor grumbled a warning, his muscles tensing. Cera laid a calming hand against the lion’s side and broke a piece from the bread. Slowly she crept over to the bound man. He stopped the moment she began to move, eyeing her suspiciously like a trapped animal. If he had been free Cera was certain he might have turned and bolted. Hesitantly Cera reached out the hunk of bread. With his hands bound behind him she would have to get the bread dangerously close to his face in order for him to grab it. The thought of him foregoing the bread and taking a bite from her arm had not failed to cross her mind. But she was wearing leather bracers and she doubted that even he, crazed and enraged, would be able to cause too much damage. Besides, with Tor watching over like an overprotective and oversized mothering hen, the man would be a fool to try anything.

Slowly she reached out, the bread wavering a few inches from his mouth. As quick as a coiled snake Laskar jerked his head forward and snatched the bread from her fingers, leaning back to gulp and swallow the morsel. The movement was so sudden that it surprised her and she fell back on her backside in surprise. Laskar gulped down the dry bread, sputtering out crumbs as he choked in his haste to swallow it.

“What happened to you?” Cera asked him. Laskar ignored the question. Instead, he turned away, his eyes scanning the trees anxiously.

Cera was certain that the castanics condition had something to do with the oily geyser that had sprouted in the forest and which was slowly poisoning the forest and valley beyond. But his condition was unusual. She had never seen anyone so afflicted. None of the creatures in the argonians myriad army had had any semblance to castanic, elf, elin, man or popori. They had been a hodgepodge of mutated remnants and terrifying monsters that belied description. Even the hapless individuals that had come into contact with the fetid black oil that seemed to cover and follow the argons had not experienced such a condition. Typically those that had a prolonged experience with the blackness expired, dying in agony as the oil seemed to eat away at their flesh and organs. What had happened to Laskar? How had he become so tainted?

Such an answer Cera would not be able to provide. That was for the learned men and women of the Mysterium. Cera’s responsibility now lay in getting Laskar to the nearest Mysterium holding and trying to solve Wanderer’s Hope’s problem with their missing cattle.

“But, of course, we’ve solved it haven’t we?” Cera whispered to no one in particular. Laskar, seeming to have forgotten she was there, whipped his head around to stare at her once more. Apparently the small morsel of bread had done little to change his suspicion of her. He growled malevolently at her, eyes pools of whirling red clouds that swirled liquidly in their sockets.

“The missing sheep…they’ve gone.” Cera said to him, using him as a sounding board despite his desire and ability to answer. “Whatever has brought that black geyser to form in the forest has tainted the valley. The wildlife has fled….or died.” She remembered the carcasses she had seen strewn about, drowned in the thick black film. “And the sheep that I saw before, the butchered ones…that was you wasn’t it?” She pointed at Laskar and, as if her question was an accusation, Laskar snapped back.

“So, my sad friend, I ask you again: what has happened here? The war is over, the argonians have fled and their portals collapsed. They are gone and we are left to clean and rebuild. So what has happened here in these woods? And were you a victim or the cause of it?”

If Laskar had wanted to answer her, he lacked the ability. Instead he snarled and snapped at her, the sound of her voice seeming to upset and enrage him more. Cera sat in silence for the remainder of her meal, finishing the small pack of dried food and standing to stretch and brush the crumbs from tunic. She had thought to sneak up on Laskar once the meal was over and the castanic more settled. Sneak up to him and hurriedly flip him onto the lion’s back before he was aware of what was amiss. Unfortunately, Laskar had not, for a moment calmed. Even when his guttural growls stilled he was still as anxious as any caged animal. The moment Cera stood his eyes followed her, watching her every move. As soon as she took one step towards him she could see his muscles tense and bunch, ready to spring at her as soon as she was within his range. Getting him onto the lion was going to be no smooth endeavor.

To add to her difficulties, Tor was being especially stubborn. The lion refused to help in any plan she tried to formulate to get the castanic onto his back. As she tried to sooth the beast and coax him to come nearer to Laskar, he only stood firmer even backing away and shaking his massive head in dissent. After nearly half an hour of coaxing and finally demanding, she was no nearer to getting Laskar aboard. Cera finally gave up.

“Then we will all just have to walk!” She snapped in frustration. Tor sat back on his haunches, using his long tongue to lap lazily at one his paws, content with Cera’s decision. “You are such a big baby!” She snapped at the lion. As if in answer Tor shook his head happily.

Taking another length of rope from her pack she spent another half hour tackling the castanic in order to secure it around his waist. After her second scuffle with Laskar she stood back, breathing heavily, to review her handwork. The bounds around his hands were sloppy but they would hold. He looked like a trussed turkey being roasted by a lazy chef.

“Well, let’s get moving.” Cera turned and began to march off…but was brought up short when Laskar refused to move.

The castanic had fallen back onto the ground and had dug in his dirty heels. Instead of moving after her like a leashed dog, he was pushing backwards. Even emaciated as he was, he was incredibly strong. He stood twice as tall as Cera and while half-starved weighed twice as much as her, even with her subhuman strength. Cera tugged but so did Laskar. It was as if she was attempting to pull a boulder. After several minutes of this tug of war Cera realized that she was getting nowhere fast. She had only managed to pull the man six feet with the whole of the forest and the valley ahead of her.

“So you want to do this the hard way, it seems.” Cera asked him. Laskar stared malevolently at her, bearing his teeth with a low growl.

Cera shook her head and moved to Tor who stood a few feet away. SEcuring her length of rope to Tor’s saddle she gave him a slap and the lion bounded off. Laskar was no match for the lion’s bulk and over eager excitement. Tor pulled him along for several feet, Laskar being dragged helplessly behind him. Laskar tried in vain to halt the forward momentum. Barefoot, he had nothing to help secure his purchase. Finally he struggled to pull himself upright but he was thwarted even in this by Tor’s insistant pulling.

Noticing Laskar’s change of mood Cera finally stopped Tor. The lion stopped only reluctantly, having a much greater time pulling the man other than what would be allowed if he let him walk of his own accord. Even with him walking stubbornly behind, they made slow progress. The sun was high in the sky by the time the exited the forest into the valley.

The further away from the forest the lighter the air became. Cera had nearly grown use to the overbearing feeling of weight that hung in the air within the forest. Exiting into the valley she took a deep breath, feeling as if she had been released from a furnace. Tendrils of the black oil clung to trees and bushes, reaching out from the forest hungrily to devour the valley. As they made their slow progres through the valley, Cera noted with alarm that the spread of the black tendrils seemed to have progressed further into the valley in just the short time she had been in the forest. When she had gone into the forest, she had not noticed the sticky black film until she had ventured further into it. Now tendrils of the stuff reached out for the valley, clinging to the landscape, bowing the branches of trees and slowly dripping down rocks. Where the black sludge had not invaded, the valley still seemed to be dying, leaves crumbled at the merest touch and the grass seemed strangely colorless.

She also noticed a change in Laskar. Instead of just grudgingly following along behind he now seemed to stumble and trip. He seemed disconcerted, confused and scared. She watched the man closely as they walked. He scanned the landscape around him, tripping over his feet as Tor marched ruthlessly onwards. At times he moved as one asleep, dreamily moving along, only to be brought rudely awake some moments later wondering where he was and how he had gotten there. Suddenly he stumbled, crashing face first to the ground. Tor continued onward, mindless of the man’s distress, pulling him several feet before Cera was able to get him to grudingly stop.

Carefully Cera approached the prone man, mindful that this might all be an elaborate hoax and that he could be lying in wait for her to get close enough to attack. Though what he hoped to achieve tied as he was was questionable. Laskar lay there, not moving, even when she was close enough for him to lurch up and grab her. Cera bent down and touched his shoulder. His body seemed cold to the touch and for a brief moment Cera feared he had died. After several seconds he took a shuttering breath, his frame shaking violently. He no longer appeared the fierce and beastial warrior. No he appeared nothing so much as a starved old man lying in the dirt.

Cera pushed him over onto his back. His eyes were open, glassy, staring up into nothingness. His mouth was open and a bubbling font of the  black goo seeped from his lips and trailed down his cheeks and chin. With each breath his body shuddered as if struggling to expel each exhilation. In short, he was a shell of the man that Cera had tackled to the ground to tie up. They were still several miles from Wanderer’s Hope but Cera knew the man would not make it. She glanced around and settled on a spot to set up a makeshift camp, under a small clumb of trees a short distance from the stream. Untying her makeshift leash she dragged Laskar to a tree and propped him against the trunk. Laskar seemed only half conscious, his head lolling on neck, falling forward to rest on his chest and leak black tinged saliva down his torn shirt.

(Life Unfettered) part III

  • Posted on August 9, 2012 at 7:26 pm

Tor, fueled by his lust for the hunt, didn’t care what race his prey was. All he was aware of was that the creature had fled and that Cera had need of him. He roared in triumph at his pinned quarry. The castanic reached for and snatched up a thick branch. He waved it angrily at Tor. The lion snapped at the branch but was not as quick as the castanic and so was unable to wrench it from his grip.

“Tor…stop!” Cera yelled breathlessly through the forest. She was still a distance away and struggling through the dense forest.

Tor ignored her mental and verbal commands. The castanic had struggled to his feet, bracing his back against the thick trunk of a tree. He held the thick tree limb before him in both hands, waving it at the lion as Tor roared and squared up. Growling, the castanic brandished the branch angrily, waving it at Tor’s face, trying to push the lion backwards and free up space to squeeze around the beast and flee. Tor evaded the thick branch and pressed forward.

“Tor!” Cera tried to calm herself in order to better project her will over the animal. Her excitement, confusion and uneasiness was making it difficult for her to maintain her mental link with the lion and impose her dominance. “Stop!”

Finally she stumbled through the forest and fell into the space clearing where the castanic and Tor were at a standstill. The castanic faltered at her abrupt entrance and Tor charged forward, leaping at the man’s chest and bearing him to the ground.

“Tor, HALT!” Cera demanded. The lion’s roar was cut short as he finally realized that Cera had arrived. Slowly he withdrew a few paces, removing his large paws from the castanic’s chest.

The wind knocked out of him, the castanic lay sprawled at the foot of a thick tree. His clothes, what was left of them, were in tatters, his face was smeared with the black oily film. His chest heaved heavily. Carefully Cera approached him. She had seen castanics before, their zeal and fervor during the war had made them formidable warriors, but she had never seen one in this condition. He was not so much covered in the black film as it appeared to be seeping from his very body. The fingers he reached out for his makeshift weapon seemed to ooze the sticky fluid. Cera kicked the branch away. He slowly turned to stare up at her, his eyes bright and filled with malice.

“Who are you?” Cera asked him. He beared his teeth in a beastly reaction, a guttural noise gurgling from his mouth. “Are you injured?”

He glared at her, white teeth shining from his gray face. Castanics typically had pale skin, slightly bronzed in the sun but his skin was a sickly gray, smeared with the black film. The corners of his eyes had tiny droplets of black ooze which slowly trailed down his face leaving strips of dark lines across his cheeks. As he stared angrily up at her Cera got no hint of cognizance from him. She even went so far as to reach out to his mind, trying to touch his conscience like she would that of a beast, but all she received from her mental query was anger, savage and dark. It was almost as if she were trying to communicate with one of the argon horde. But this was no argon. He was a Castanic, part of a race of individuals with a strong cultural background. The remnants of his clothes was proof that he had, at one point, been a contributing member of some community. But now he lay on the ground, growling savagely at her, a fiery rage permeating his body as evenly as the black film clung to his skin.

“What happened to you?” Cera whispered. Cautiously she kneeled next to him. Snarling, he pushed himself away, scooting through the dirt and pine needles. “Whatever has happened to you, I can’t leave you here.”

Cera waved for Tor to come forward. The lion was not convinced that they could not leave the castanic to his fate and for a moment refused to come nearer.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Tor!” Cera scolded him gently. “Get over here!”

Reluctantly the lion crept forward and, without taking her eyes from her feral captive, Cera reached up and felt for the pack attached to the lion’s saddle. From it she removed a length of rope and carefully leaned towards the man, intent on binding his arms. The castanic gnashed his teeth, snapping at her as fiercely as a wild dog and Cera involuntarily jerked away. Tor roared, his muscles bunched and ready to spring at the prone figure at a moment’s request but Cera waved the lion away.

“Can you speak?” She asked him, laying the rope at her side. At the sound of her voice, he calmed but his eyes still held that wild fire to them and he uttered no words other than a savage growling.

Cera was certain she could tackle him to the ground if need be and get his hands and legs bound but she was loathe to do that. This was not some wild beast or mindless argonian creature. This was a man, dressed in tatters and snarling as he was, at one time in his life he had been a sentient member of society. She did not want to injure him or have him injure himself while they wrestled on the ground. Besides, whatever had happened to change him into the pathetic visage he was now, would be of some importance to the Mysterium. She would need to bring him to the nearest collegiate outpost as unharmed as possible.

While a gift from the goddess herself, Cera’s mental link, which allowed her to control her lion and almost every other living animal that breathed, was seen as the most invasive form of communication. Using it on the castanic would be rude and she was hesitant to use it but, in lieu of any other form of communication she reached out again for the man’s mind. His thoughts bombarded her with a jumble of pictured emotions, anger, fear and uneasiness was prevalent. His thoughts were akin to an enraged bear so angry that he was unable to contain his feelings other than to strike out at what had angered him.

Feeling her intrusion, he scampered away from her, a cry of alarm escaping his clenched teeth. Ignoring his cries although they distressed her as well, Cera delved deeper into his thoughts. Slowly other pictures began to emerge, memories, fragmented and disjointed. Her was a tall woman, castanic, with fiery red hair and dark eyes standing with a long sword pointed towards the distance. Here was a devastated landscape, fires ravaging skeletal trees, mangled bodies scattered throughout. Here he was, dressed in a torn tunic and ripped leather breeches, scrambling over boulders and among frantic creatures running for shelter. He was looking for something. The further Cera probed into this memory the more frantic the castanic became. He waved his thin arms at her, trying to shield himself from the mental link that pulled the strands of this memory to the front of his mind.

He was scrambling in the dirt, fire bubbling and roiling around him. It was a nightmarish scene of destruction. His hands were cut, arms bleeding and bruised, his prized twin swords a gift from the only person that he cared for more than himself, ruined and shattered. He tossed them away as he scrambled through the blood-streaked earth, rivers of blood congealed into the earth, puddles of it he waded through until he finally stopped. Falling back onto his feet he stared ahead, fiery tears burning his eyes. Ahead of him, the red-headed woman lie, her long sword a few feet away, an ugly gash across her shoulder so deep that he could see the stark white bone that shone against the dark red blood. Her eyes stared sightlessly into the dark sky. She was dead, his all, his only and his all….Elena.

“Elena?” Cera whispered.

As if shocked, the castanic before her, a mere shadow of the strong young man that Cera had seen in his memories, stilled. He glared at her and there was the tiniest fragment of recognition in his wild eyes.

“El…Elena.” He whispered, the words foreign to the lips that had not formed actual words in months.

Cera probed a bit deeper and was able to find the man’s name, buried under the confusion, the pain and the anger.

“Laskar.” She whispered into the humid air. As if a word from a magic tome had been spoken the cloudiness and mindless anger vanished with a puff from his eyes. He stared at her, vaguely comprehending if not who at least what she was. “Laskar?” She said again, a bit louder, leaning forward eagerly.

But with her slight movement and earnest excitement, the spell was broken. Instantly he shrank away, the bright red clouds once again forming in his eyes. His mouth turned up into a scowl and he growled at her. Cera sighed and sadly shook her head.

“I thought we had gotten somewhere.” She said. Clapping her hands once decisively, she reached for the rope at her side and dived after the man, wrestling him to the ground while Tor roared in excitement behind her.

(Life Unfettered) part II

  • Posted on August 8, 2012 at 5:25 pm

Cera tried to ignore lion’s unease as she followed the unpleasant smell that led her across the brook and further into the valley. The smell grew stronger as she moved slowly along, signaling that she was growing closer to the smell’s origin. The air also grew thicker, denser, as if she were walking through sodden cotton. A short distance from the brook she grew cognizant of the sound of bubbling water. At first she had mistaken it for the sound of the brook she had recently waded through but as she moved further away the sound grew louder instead of more faint. It sounded as if a geyser had sprung up from the earth somewhere ahead. The further she ventured the tighter the tree cover became as the valley grew into a forest.

Moving through the trees Cera noticed that some of the trunks were covered with streaks of black sticky syrup. She ran a finger along the side of the trunk of a pine tree, trailing the digit through some of inky syrup. It was viscous and the smell was unpleasant although Cera could not quite place it. As she rubbed her fingers together an unpleasant tingling sensation began, starting where the black mess stuck to her fingers and slowly but steadily traveling up her fingers and her hand. Hurriedly she wiped her fingers on her leather tunic. The black syrup was highly viscous and hard to clean off but eventually she had cleaned enough from her fingers so that the itching and burning feeling subsided.

Her alarm growing, she traveled deeper into the forest, noticing that as she went the trees and plant life became more covered in the black, syrupy goo. In some places, bushes were so saturated that they bowed under the weight of it. Eventually the ground itself began to show evidence of the syrup and she had to pick a path through the trees and around puddles of the black goo. Tor grew more distressed as the clear paths became fewer and finally the lion refused to go any further or risk walking through the black mass. Cera’s boots offered her a margin of protection against the sticky mess but the lion’s paws were unsheathed and Cera knew that the sensation left by touching the blackness was unpleasant.

“Stay here my friend. I’ll just go a little further ahead.” Cera said, giving the lion’s mane a tousle. Tor was indignant. He did not want her to go further. Although he could not describe what he felt he was adamant that something unnatural was working within the forest, polluting the trees and the very ground. She tried to calm the beast, assuring him that she would return shortly but Tor refused to be coddled. Finally Cera backed away, leaving the lion pacing just on the boundary of a pool of blackness that spread far into the distance.

The sound of the bubbling geyser grew louder and deafening as Cera ventured alone deeper into the forest. She could still feel Tor’s unease but the farther she moved alone the greater his concern grew until he was nearly frantic and she could hear his roars echoing through the woods. Quickening her pace, Cera wound the trees until she finally emerged into a small clearing. In the center of the clearing was the source of the bubbling noise: a geyser of sticky black fluid bubbling strongly from the earth. It appeared as if the geyser had erupted with such force that it had pushed hunks of dirt aside. The clearing was covered in the viscous mass, trees, bushes and rocks immersed in it. Surrounding the geyser and spread throughout the clearing were dead birds, squirrels, chipmunks and other small animals.

Cautiously, Cera stepped into the clearing, her boots sticking to the sticky black mess. The air was stifling, heavy with a smell of decay and a sickly sweetness. The wind that swirled through the clearing was hot and sticky, tinged with the black syrup that Cera waded through. Drawing nearer to the bubbling eruption, Cera grew dizzy and disconcerted. She stopped, shaking her head to clear it. She took a deep breath but her lungs were filled with the sticky thickness of the poisoned air. And suddenly it hit her, the vague familiarity that the syrupy goop that poisoned the forest and valley, where she had seen it before.

During the Argonian war, in the later days when she and Tor had been in the thick of the battle at the very front and scuffling in the trenches with the enemies, the creatures that made up the Argonian frontline had been covered in the thick black fluid. It had seeped from their mouths and wounds, burning anything and anyone fool enough to touch it. Mysterium investigators had been clueless as to what the goo was and even where the creatures had come into contact with it, believing that they had brought it from the dimensional portals that they had shambled through. It was highly poisonous, deadly to any living creature that came into contact with it. Even weapons that came into contact with it lost their edge, becoming brittle and unreliable after a time.

The Mysterium had assumed that the origins of the goo was otherworldly but here it was, bubbling from the very ground and polluting the forest and valley. She had never seen anything like it. She had to return and communicate her findings to her commanders and the Mysterium. She was only too happy to abandon the clearing and retrace her steps to Tor. As she was turning a movement at the edge of the tree line caught her eye. She spun around in time to catch the dark shape retreating into the trees. Instincts running high, Cera trudged through the sticky black pond that had become the valley floor and crashed awkwardly into the forest.

A distance away, Tor roared in alarm, feeling Cera’s exhilaration through their mental link. Cera glanced quickly around and just caught a dark object darting through the bushes and further into the forest. Cera darted after him, her unnatural speed hindered by the sticky black syrup that clung to her boots. Further away, Tor also took up the chase, ignoring his uneasiness at coming into contact with the fluid in favor of the excitement of the chase. The shape flitted through the trees, leading her deeper into the sickened forest. The very trees seemed to clutch for her, branches and limbs hindering her progress as she chased after him. This distance into the forest the trees grew close and Tor was having the same problems navigating through the closely packed trunks but he crashed on nonetheless. Cera could sense the lion now just a short distance away. He could smell the creature they were chasing and Cera used their mental link to catch furtive glimpses of the thing. Its smell was unnatural; its flight while quick was ungainly, not like a creature natural to the forest.

While Cera stumbled through the trees and struggled through the branches weaving barriers that she had to push through, the creature seemed to have no such problem and Tor crashed through them, leaving a mass of broken branches and tree limbs in his wake. Because of the seemingly unnatural way in which the trees obstructed her progress, Cera grew further behind but Tor closed his distance rapidly, sometimes using his powerful jaws to rip at the clutching branches. Cera followed the lion’s progress as he sped through the forest, now just bounds from his prey.

Cera could see the creature through the lion’s eyes. Whatever it was walked upright, bi-pedal, and was draped in a dark cloak which was dripping in the thick black mess. It was tall, probably 6 feet, but ran hunched over. It never turned to identify what chased it, just pushed on in an unnatural but speedy gait. Tor closed the distance rapidly and in one leap reached out a paw and snared the things cloak, pulling the creature to an abrupt halt. The thing stumbled as the cloak was ripped from its back and fell in a roll to the ground, tumbling among the forest debris until it landed with a crash against a tree trunk. Tor was on it in seconds, charging in to pin the hapless creature to the tree. The creature shrank away, glancing into the roaring maw of the lion.

Still a good distance away, Cera gasped and stumbled in her headlong run through the forest. As the creature stared up into Tor’s face, Cera caught her first glimpse of the object that they pursued. Its face was thin, the skin pale and grayish but with red eyes that burned fiercely. It had a thick mass of long dark hair, matted and streaked with the black fluid and ears that were slightly pointed. The ‘creature’ was castanic!

(Life Unfettered)

  • Posted on August 7, 2012 at 5:45 pm

A cool breeze blew through the valley, rustling the leaves and stirring up tiny whirlwinds of orange and red leaves that swirled amongst the tree trunks. A slight brook bubbled happily among the trees, winding lazily through the valley, encouraging the rich landscape that bloomed throughout the secluded area. The valley should have teamed with life; foxes, squirrels and chipmunks should have abounded. But they did not, and that was why Cera stood on a ridge overlooking the valley, scrutinizing the serene and abandoned valley. Her assistance had been requested by the nearby village of Wanderer’s Hope, a remote little village that boasted more livestock than actual villagers. It had sprung up around a small military outpost, an outpost which should have been dismantled after the Argon War but had maintained to deal with the dwindling argons that had somehow escaped their systematic defeat. Wanderer’s Hope was inhabited by the family of the men and women who were forced to maintain a presence in the outpost month after month. Close to the Firetop Mountains, the land was rich but had been a haven for fleeing argonians and largely abandoned by most homesteaders. Wanderer’s Hope was disconnected from the rest of the union, low on the list of priorities for the larger contingents. As such, they had only merited the assistance of a low level investigator.

Cera smirked and beneath her, Tor stirred restlessly. The lion had been used to more excitement then investigating a few missing sheep and a valley full of missing rodents. He pawed anxiously at the ground and Cera ran a hand through his mane to calm him. She could feel his agitation and pent up energy. Stripped of her rank, it had been unfair for her to keep Tor. She could easily have had him reassigned to a worthier agent whose military lifestyle would have kept the regal animal in the full heat of battle which is what he wanted, what he deserved really. But when she had been outcast it had felt unbearable to her to release the animal, the only link she had to her life before the scandal. Beneath her, Tor growled sympathetically and calmed perceptively. He would not have left her, even if she had let him, and it was that comfort that allowed her to return to the task below.

She had arrived late last night in Wanderer’s Hope, a village named for a small manned outpost of tired soldiers ready to shed their armor for plows and pitchforks. Riding up after dark, one lone Elin instead of a platoon of fresh soldiers ready to relieve the men and women within the wooden fortress, had served as further insult to the commanding officer. He had taken one look at her, a small child-like figure atop a fantastical lion sporting the ears of a cat and a long thin tail tipped in white and had frowned.

“They send a child to do the job of a battalion!” He scoffed as he waved her away and marched off to his bed.

Cera had held her tongue at his ungracious comment. Being so far from the frontlines, Wanderer’s Hope had not been privy to the epic battles that had seen hundreds of childlike Elins battling in the front lines on lions and winged horses, fighting devastating odds and creatures that would have no doubt sent his hardened men running to huddle beneath the skirts of their women. The only action they could claim to have seen were small detached units of goblins or fleeing argonians too wounded to actually put up much of a fight.

The few bedraggled soldiers that had waited for her arrival slowly slouched away and she was left to stable Tor and find lodging for herself. The next morning she had left before dawn, foregoing the communal meal in the dining hall and eating instead a meager breakfast of nuts and dried fruit as she rode Tor to the cliffs overlooking the valley.

There was something wrong within the valley. That much was certain. The missing wildlife was evidence of that. As she had ridden slowly up to the valley she had also noticed the mutilated carcass of a sheep. Stopping to investigate the carcass she had noticed that the carcass was not so much mutilated but recklessly butchered. No animal had butchered it but whoever had butchered it had done a poor job of it, wasting large parts of meat and in some places tearing the meat from the skin. The sheep was the work of a poacher but the missing wildlife…? A poacher stalking the valley and surrounding forest wouldn’t account for the missing animals. And the feel of the valley was off somehow. Even the lion noticed it and he shifted again uneasily and impatiently.

“Where have all the animals gone, Tor?” Cera whispered. The lion growled low in his throat and shook his head. Wherever they had gone, the lion felt the absence was justified. Whatever had caused the valley’s life to flee had given them good reason to flee. “Let’s go take a look.” Cera said and she nudged the lion gently with one boot.

Tor bounded forward excitedly, the pent up energy and his unease propelling him quickly down the slick slope. The feeling of uneasiness that enveloped the otherwise serene valley grew the deeper the pair traveled. It felt as if a stifling blanket were slowly being lowered over the valley, constricting the airflow and suffocating the life within. Even the trees seemed to bow to its influence.

Tor’s muscles were taut as he plunged into the valley slowly moving among the bushes. Cera opened her mind, welcoming the consciousness of any of the animals within the valley to communicate with her but the valley was deserted. There was not a living animal within her mental range. Even the insect life had forsaken the valley. Cera stopped the lion and slid from his back. Tor pawed at the ground uneasily. He was anxious to be away. He could not describe what was wrong within the valley but his instincts told him that they should not linger. He nudged Cera with his heavy head, communicating his urgency to her.

“Easy.” Cera said with a slight smile. “Whatever is here we can handle.” She assured him. But as she moved to the nearest bush she was not at all sure of what needed handling.

She reached out to the bushes leaf. It was a verdant and lively green, still even though a slight breeze moved around it. Gently she plucked the leaf from the bush and unbelievably, the leaf crumbled in her gentle grasp as if it had been dead weeks and only the thinnest veneer of life held it together.

There was something very wrong within the valley. As she stood there, holding the dust that once was a vibrant leaf, a harsh wind blew carrying with it the cloying smell of sulfer. Cera stood quickly and spun around expecting to see a geyser of smoke and ash bubbling from the ground behind her but the valley was just as empty as before. The smell of sulfer had not abatted however. Slowly Cera followed the smell. The leaves she brushed against crumbled at her merest touch. Tor trailed uncertainly behind her but his concern was palaptable. Alarm flared within the lion’s mind and transferred itself to Cera through their mental connection. He was almost terrified, something that was unusual for the stalwart beast. Even more unusual, he had no idea what he was scared of. It was a fear built from a primal urge, an instinct so ancient and ingrained in the lion’s pysche that there was no need for the animal to justify it.

Cera tried to ignore lion’s unease as she followed the unpleasant smell that led her across the brook and further into the valley. The smell grew stronger as she moved slowly along, signaling that she was growing closer to the smell’s origin. The air also grew thicker, denser, as if she were walking through sodden cotton. A short distance from the brook she grew cognizant of the sound of bubbling water. At first she had mistaken it for the sound of tbe brook she had recently waded through but as she moved further away the sound grew louder instead of more faint. It sounded as if a geyser had sprung up from the earth somewhere ahead.

Who can I blame?

  • Posted on March 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I hate passive aggressive people. You know the type? The ones that say that they ‘abhor confrontation, whether physical or verbal’ and so instead opt to keep mum about any issue that bothers them. I can understand having an antipathy towards violence. I would also rather not get into a screaming fistfight with people if I could at all avoid it. The problem with most of these people, which I label passive aggressive, is that there aversion to verbal confrontation leaves them to find other non-verbal ways to express their displeasure at a situation. Ok, not all people. There are some people who can have an adverse reaction to a person or a situation and completely internalize whatever they are feeling. But then there are those other people. The ones that go out of their way to express in body language that they are ticked off about something but refuse to actually tell you what it is.

What a conundrum! Imagine the situation if you will? Let’s have an example, open your minds to the World of IMAGINATION. You work in a rather small office, say a business of ten to fifteen souls. ‘Bob’ has just told a rather inappropriate comment to his coworker ‘Bill’ about Bob’s work performance. Bob is offended and somewhat hurt. Bill walks off with one inkling that he has upset Bob. Perhaps Bill is just obtuse, perhaps he didn’t mean his comment to be so heavy-handed, or perhaps Bill just over-estimated his friendship with Bob and didn’t realize that what he thought was a joke had come off rather off-color with Bob. Whatever the reason, Bill walks off without the slightest knowledge that Bob is a bit hurt. For the rest of the day Bob stews over the comment, throwing barbed sidelong glances at Bill and replaying the comment a thousand times in his head, getting angrier and angrier with each repetition. For Bill, it’s business as usual and he goes on, passing Bob, smiling at Bob, forwarding him jocular emails and making happy comments to him, unaware that Bob would rather he fell through the floor then send him another ‘send this email to 10 people’ message. Eventually, however, Bill realize that something just ain’t right with Bob. Bob hasn’t returned not one smile, his return comments are short and biting and he is now taking the most circuitous route to the water cooler in what appears to be an attempt to avoid even passing Bill’s desk. Now remember, Bill has no idea that a comment he made hours ago has upset Bob because Bob never said anything. For the rest of the day Bill is left to wonder what happened to his workplace comrade, Bob and Bob’s actions become more and more aggressive towards him. He stops responding to even work-related emails.

What is going through the heads of these two people? Bob is angry, obviously, but he refuses to say anything to Bill because ‘he doesn’t want to get anything started’. And Bill is confused because he has no friggin’ clue what the hell is up. What is the point of Bob’s anger if no one knows what is going on? Wouldn’t the best solution to Bob’s hurt feelings be to have an apology from the one that hurt him? Isn’t communication the best salve when it comes a misunderstanding of this type?

I don’t understand it yet I see this type of thing happen all the time. Of course, the example above is purely fictional but you have seen it before, haven’t you? How do you resolve this situation? My resolution would be for Bill to go over to Bob and ask what the problem was. But would that been misconstrued by Bob as ‘confrontation’? When does an uncomfortable conversation turn from just a discussion to a confrontation? Or is every conversation considered a confrontation?  Whose responsibility is it to remedy the shaky ground between Bob and Bill? If Bill can’t apologize because he has no idea what to apologize for, does that make him wrong? Wouldn’t that place blame equally on both subjects? Or is Bob more wrong for not intimating to Bill that he was hurt by the comment, thereby taking away Bill’s ability to willfully apologize for the slight?

I don’t understand human nature but I see it everyday. Right and wrong is rarely as black and white as it seems. So next time you are hurt about something and fuming because you haven’t had an apology or you’ve been seemingly ignored, ask yourself, does the other person even realize that they should have made any gesture at all?