This one’s a little longer than the last few chapters. =P I had fun with it actually, and I don’t know if you can see the influence from The Way of Kings showing through. XP I enjoy writing fantasy to be honest. Creating whole new worlds is something I could spend forever just doing. Anyway, last chapter we had Ryke do battle to some thugs and meet a looter who set him on a track (whether it’s the right track or not we don’t know), and this chapter we introduce some new characters. Enjoy!
The lithe farraster slinked through the forest. Simultaneously feline and canine, its feral mind comprehended with pride the fear of other animals as they slunk away into the brush. Here, its iron-bound muscles and inch-long teeth ruled, and everyone else would do well to fear it. About seven cords long from bobbing head to swaying tail, it moved through the large fvern oaks gracefully with no care for the twelve cord drop below it.
In the pride of an apex predator, the farraster didn’t notice practiced hands carefully draw back a bowstring. It did not see the motionless hunter lurking in the bushes on the forest floor. And it did not stand a chance as the arrow whistled from the bow and pierced its heart. From the trees it fell, all the grace gone, and landed on the ground with a muffled thud. If it had been a sentient animal, it would’ve thought of how ill-fitting a death it was for the ruler of this forest; instead, its eyes just deadened and its body relaxed.
Kyr-lya emerged from the forest, another arrow knocked to her bow. She approached her kill crouching low to the ground, her tail swishing behind her. Large blue eyes roved the surrounding verdure as she moved across the clearing, and her sensitive, pointed ears twitched. Green blood oozed from the wound her arrow had made in the farraster’s side and stained the pale hide of the animal.
Quickly, she extracted the arrow and wiped the traces of blood away. The practiced Ash hunter had done a careful scope of the area for kyr-aya or blood gnats as they were known in the Common Tongue, but one could never be too wary; she’d lost too much game to the fiendish creeps in the past. Holding the cleaning cloth in the palm of her hand, she closed her eyes briefly to focus. When she opened them again, they were yellow.
Cha ilium verdes cha verdes geis no cha geis verdes ilium cha verdes no…
The cloth in her hand disintegrated as flames emerged from her palm and ate it up. Her eyes returned to their original shade, and she slipped back into reality. She let the embers fall and stared at them. While not one of the laws in the Chak-kar, Ash tended to hold very strict beliefs about the learning of arts that one was not a natural caster of. That unspoken rule had gone by the wayside when they’d exiled her. The things she now did to survive… She’d just dismissed these thoughts when her ears twitched. In a second she rose and disappeared up into the nearest tree, her elegant robes swishing behind her.
From her perch, Kyr-lya peered around carefully, taking in every detail. The iron-like bark of the fvern oak dug into her shins as she stabilized herself and adjusted her grip on her bow. The fingers of her right hand slipped comfortably into the handle she’d spent hours carving as a young ember, but something about the air made her feel uncomfortable.
She watched the highgrass in the clearing sway to an unheard rhythm as she waited. Her prudence paid off when a shadow slid out from the treetops onto the moving grass. Something about the shadow’s silhouette seemed oddly familiar, but the edges were too distorted for her to make it out. In preparation for what had come, she nocked another arrow to the trusty shesilk string of her bow and drew her left hand back to her cheek.
A small dragon, ten cords in length, landed in the clearing and waddled around, sniffing curiously. It toddled over to the dead farraster and, settling down, started chewing at a leg. The last time she had seen a dragon… Kyr-lya cursed. What was a creature like that doing here? Fire flashed in her mind’s eye, and without thinking she released the string. It slipped from her fingertips, driving the arrow along its rest, and twanged as the arrow snapped off it and sped towards the dragon.
Before it had traveled two cords, the arrow froze in midair and a loud bang resounded through the entire clearing. Cackrows flew up into the air from nearby bushes, letting forth cries of dismay. Kyr-lya dropped her bow and put her hands over her ringing ears while the dragon yelped and scuttled towards the tree line. A Warlock emerged from the greenery and scolded the drake.
“Tarkus, how many time have I told you not to wander?”
The dragon shrunk and whimpered, chasing its tail in an attempt to divert the scolding attention of its master.
“Hush,” the Warlock commanded, and the dragon instantly settled down, quiet as a stone. “Forest archer,” the Warlock raised his voice. “Come out.”
Kyr-lya dropped silently down from the tree and retrieved her bow. She nocked another arrow before slowly stepping out from behind her cover. Her mind raced. Obviously she stood no chance against a Warlock, but what was one doing out here? The Warlocks were even more reclusive than the Ash, if that was even possible, and to see one all the way down here, on the outskirts of Asyether, was beyond unimaginable.
The Warlock eyed Kyr-lya, taking in her physical features, her piercings, and her exposed navel with its curved metal fixture around which the tissue had scarred. She fought the strong urge to cover her midriff and instead stood proudly, pointing her bow at the Warlock. He did not seem the least perturbed by the arrow pointed his way, and instead crossed his muscular black arms over his rune-covered chest. The numerous spikes sticking from his forearms and elbows scraped together as he did so, and Kyr-lya remembered hearing stories of the damage Warlocks could do with those.
Finally, the Warlock spoke. “An exiled Ash Druid?”
“None of your business, Warlock,” Kyr-lya spat, deciding that sheer brazenness was her only defense.
He looked her in the eyes with a penetrating orange gaze, and she found herself eyeing his spiraling horns to avoid his fiery stare. There was a pause during which the Warlock seemed to be pondering her defiant answer. His dragon, Tarkus, looked up at him, and Kyr-lya realized they shared the same eyes.
“Don’t shoot at my dragons.”
It took Kyr-lya a second to realize he’d spoken. “You keep them away from my hunt.”
“Fair enough,” he intoned, turning and disappearing into the woods. The dragon followed, moving with remarkable ease through the trees. Thirty seconds later, the suspended arrow fell to the ground.
Kyr-lya stood in the kitchen area of her small cottage, stirring the fresh batch of farraster stew. This was the third pot she’d had to make this week. While her culinary skills were not bad, and she did her best to vary the mixture each time, farraster stew was hardly good for three meals a dawnbreak, twenty-five dawnbreaks a week. But there was not much she could do. Cackrows only lasted a couple of meals, and their meat was too tough anyway. Drykkers only lived by the shore, and she couldn’t leave her sister for that long.
She looked over at her younger sibling, now sixteen years old. Kyr-va sat on her bed, staring at her older sister with large, golden eyes. Firelight glinted off the nose stud she had, but that was her only adornment. Kyr-lya had had nightmares about her younger sister receiving the same navel piercing she herself had gone through, and her eyes flicked to the stomach of her sibling to make sure. Kyr-va’s midriff was covered.
Tears formed in Kyr-lya’s eyes when she turned back around. How had she, someone who had lost almost everyone dear to her, ended up an outcast from her very own people? And she’d dragged Kyr-va with her. Tshy-ya, the thought echoed through her head. How many times had she said that? How many times had she apologized? She’d lost track.
The stew started to bubble, shaking Kyr-lya out of her trance. She stirred it vigorously for a moment. What had that Warlock been doing? The fact that she was even thinking that thought was strange. She hoped never to see him again. She didn’t know why, but something about him made her uncomfortable. Looking over her shoulder at her sister, she studied her sibling’s profile as the young Ash looked out the window. Had her sister met the Warlock? She hoped not. Her sister had a knack for getting ideas when she met someone from the outside.
“See any weird people lately?”
“No, why?” Kyr-va looked back at her older sister.
Kyr-lya exhaled with relief. “Just make sure you don’t let strangers in, okay? Especially when I’m not anywhere near. I have to hunt further out these days.”
“Are we going to run out of food?”
Kyr-lya whirled around. “Why would you say that?”
“The man told me that.”
“What man? I thought you told me no one had been here!”
Kyr-va’s eyes grew wide. “You asked me if any weird people had been here. That man wasn’t weird.”
“What man? Kyr-va!” Kyr-lya shouted. “What have I told you?”
Kyr-va’s lower lip trembled, and she turned away, sinking under her bedcovers. This instantly put out the fire that had flared up in Kyr-lya. Her sister was— sensitive. How did she always manage to forget that? Kyr-va did not think the way most people did. In some ways, despite being a Philosopher, she had the mind of a child, and it frustrated Kyr-lya when this got in the way of her safety.
“Tshy-ya, Kyr-va. Sometimes I forget how specific I need to be and how I need to control my temper. Don’t hide from me.”
Kyr-lya approached the bed. Her sister turned and sat up, reaching out with skinny arms. Was it her, or had Kyr-va grown thinner? Kyr-lya shook her head and helped her sibling out of bed and to the table where a bowl of hot stew waited. Kyr-va made no comment when she saw the soup, but Kyr-lya knew what her younger sister was thinking.
“Come on, eat up,” she said. “You can tell me about this— not, weird man.”
Hesitantly, sipping at the stew, Kyr-va began. “Well, he had this little dragon with him called Tarkus…”
Kyr-lya’s head shot up and she glared out the window at the forest. Her brow furrowed, and she tightened her fingers.
“I let him in, and we talked about—”
Kyr-lya slammed her fist on the table.