The Quest of Water and Steel (Gothos Rising) by Selena Wolfcastlin - HTML preview

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1.

 

Village of Alderswood: Northern Territory

Alther Kalanus, named king of the Gothos looked over the countryside that was laid in ruin. The village was burning and bodies lay strewn across the grassland. It was a horrible altercation that he knew would have happened sooner or later. His mount, a strong, well-muscled war horse shifted under him. The king placed a gloved hand upon the mane of the horse to calm its restlessness. The stallion was once a wilding that roamed the woods was caught and broken by his very hands at the age of sixteen. He was dressed in gray- green armor with the sigil of an eagle surrounded by a snake eating its own tail. The chainmail was darned in a few spots revealing the bandages his arch-healer; Demius dressed the wounds when the battle had fallen into a hush. The king rolled his shoulder to test the damage inflicted on his shoulder and arm that often held his sword. A shot of pain rolled through him and mulled in his chest like heady mead.  The cloak wrapped around his shoulders was tattered at the threads and spattered with blood, and ash.

The Northern Territory of the land called Gothos by his ancestor Ser. Kranos the Red Fire had come to this land with his family by boat so many centuries ago after being betrayed by his brother Lord Methadius  of Blaugh Island. King Ursa, the legendary peacemaker king, was Ser. Krano’s grandson. His pride would not get the better of him on this day or any day for his knew that without the six mystical and powerful stones that protected his land and kept things in harmony he could not have crushed the rebellion in the Southlands. Reaching up he stroked his copper colored beard, the smoke hiding the great grief rising within him. His son the great and beloved boy prince, Robert Kalanus had been killed at the ripe age of fifteen and would never step into his robes and rule the land and keep the four territories at peace. There was always warfare, it was unavoidable but in his many years as king he had kept it to a minimum. The battle between the four territories was not the greatest threat at the moment. The Scythian race, beings that could be physically beautiful or terribly monstrous had shown themselves to be the biggest threat to the land. These creatures that drank blood from humans needed to be eradicated, but he feared it would not happen in his own time. The moon had reached its zenith and all had fallen quiet and hushed. Exhaling deeply his gloved hand patted his mount and started to trek down the hill back into the ruins of hell itself. The deep feeling of loss was palpable as he neared the huts that once held cheerful residence. A man of fifty-five and built like a warrior, the sight of such destruction aged him very quickly.

His son had been laid to rest in the great hall of the largest building that had once been a tower keep. Upon the great table the body of the boy laid after being washed and dressed clothing for his cremation. To their tradition the funeral would occur as soon as possible, lest his spirit haunt the place restlessly. Anger and despair were the only emotions his royal highness could feel as he stood firmly before the front of the table gazing down at the lifeless form of his only son. Emily, his dearest wife and queen had passed from this world giving birth to little Robbie leaving him with two sons. He was grateful and blessed to have two heirs, but he had hoped his youngest would be named his successor instead of his brother Damon. The eldest coveted his position and ignored the knowledge stubbornly that his father might not choose him to be heir to the throne of Golthos. Alther tried to comfort himself with the knowledge that Damon was loved by his men who he trained and fought with and would be rid of the Sythians and all other enemies that would take up arms against him. The king could not though ignore the fact that Damon was also known for his cruelty and calculated nature. The prince would have surely killed his father if he wasn't so sure that he would inherit. For now the young man now eighteen would be content in his stone fortress of MacCoven, raising arms for battle as often as possible. It was common knowledge that the prince has called together a group of warriors called the Gogothian Knights that would mount a crusade to extinguish the demons that howled at night for human blood. It would of been a great victory for the king in his years that he knew were now short he wished vainly that he had been the one to take on these creatures and not burden his son with the responsibility. All he wanted now was peace that deep inside he knew would not come. Shaking his tired head he turned from the body of his dear son and called aside his Captain, Lucrus Arelius  giving him orders to send men out to secure the area and send a message to the Guards of the Great Stones of what has transpired. Not being a man of words he didn't want to draft the letter himself the anger still hot in his veins at the loss of his son. The blame could not go to these men and women who administered their gifts and energy into protecting the overall health of the land. No, they could only do so much, the Guard of the Stone of War had been the council at his ear and he knew he would not have succeeded without it. The stars were bright in the sky as he stood at the entrance of the great hall awaiting the arrival of his only living son and heir, Prince Damon.

The King's eyes were fixed on the horizon when a group of his men arrived on their horses with a young man perched upon his black stallion, armor gleaming in the moonlight marred with the blood of the poor and wretched soul that had crossed his path in battle. Upon getting closer the prince dismounted from his horse and gave a formal bow to his father and king. The crown prince was not a tall man but not a short one either. His build was medium with broad shoulders and well-muscled arms under the gleaming armor. As his younger brother had been fair haired and skin, he was dark with tanned flesh from being out in the sun. His dark brown hair was pulled back over the nape of his neck and his eyes were the color of onyx. Even as he rose from his bow he surveyed his father with that cold and calculated blackness. The men always compared the prince to a hawk with a slight curve of his nose down taking up most of his face.

"My lord king and father. The rebellion has been quelled. I have made sure that it will take many, many years before they can mount another attack on us “The young man said, the corner of his mouth turning into a smile that would cause a shudder through a weaker man. Alther stood firm acknowledging that even through his grief that his elder son had been the bringer of this victory. It didn't lessen the blow of the news he would have to impart on his child.

"My son, your brother has fallen in battle. You are my only living heir and will rule when I die" he said, his voice tight with emotion he was trying hard to keep back. To his surprise he saw an expression he did not expect from the child of his linage. He could see a glimmer of joy rising in the other man's eyes.

It will soon be mine! Damon thought as he stood there gazing at the graven face of his father, the high king. Try as he might he could not keep his joy at bay. Seeing that his father had picked up on these emotions with all of his might he forced himself to look contrite, hoping his father would think himself mistaken if he had seen it at all.

"My poor, dear brother. He was not a man of battles but that of court and of wooing ladies “he said silkily. “His body at once must be burned, lest bad humors and spirits fill this hall “he added solicitously. The truth is he had always since childhood despised his little brother. The creature that not only robbed him of his mother by taking her life in birth, but would have taken the inheritance that was rightfully his! Now fortune had smiled on him and given him the opportunity he had prayed for. When he became king he would appoint new guards of the sacred stones who he could mold and manipulate to use their powers for his own ends. In their fealty to him they would make him a god among men. The prince kept his thoughts and intentions hidden guarded close to his chest as the next day came and standing next to his father, surrounded by his men as a large pile of wood was built as a funeral pyre and his brother's body was laid upon it. Even as the torches were put to the logs, Damon was already plotting out the assassination of his father. HIs father was a doddering old fool if he thought the knowledge of being the next in line would satisfy him. It was his luck that his brother had died in battle and would save him the time and coin carrying out a similar plan for him. Robert was always astute even as a child and knew of his brother's nature and was always quick to protect his father, but now all of the doors were open to him.

Turning his head he looked at his father standing solemnly at his side noticing the lines in his father's face traced by grief. The man was in good health, but with the death of his dear wife he had not been the man he once was, and now with the death of his brother his father would be an easy target. Hiring an assassin would be not needed in this case. In this case it was only a matter of when and where. He planned to bribe on of the maids to drop a bit of poison in the king's goblet the old man slept and make it look like he died in his sleep overcome with the stress of battle and the loss of his youngest. Unable to help himself he smiled with his head bowed to hide it. Everything was going his way now. The only one who could of any weight in this was only an infant, a boy born by a village woman near their castle who was not legitimate. The woman named Eilan was greatly adored by his father and he planned on killing her and the brat once he is king of the land. The prince turned his thoughts from his little half-brother and to the larger fish to fry.

The Sythian beings who had once by legend been peaceful creatures, feeding on livestock were now humanities greatest enemy. Even now they encroached on the land like large bat winged monsters, swooping down when the sun goes down. They seemed fearful of the sun's rays and of fire. It was not enough; he would need to find a greater weapon against them. He hoped once he had the guardians under his sway he might discern this weapon. His fingers wrapped around the leather strap holding his sword in its sheath, stroking it lovingly with his forefinger as he watched the body of Robert burn away.

The king was laid to rest in the underground crypt that held every members of his bloodline through the generations. Finally the troubled mind, plagued with the unrest and sadness of the loss of his son would finally be joining him in death’s sweet release. Prince Damon dropping his façade of contrite grief pushing the date of his coronation before the body was even cold.  Taking up the throne he would pay little heed to the objections and rumors in response to him breaking old traditions.

The main hall was filled with people from nobles and gentries, to workers and peasants.  The flags of the former king remained fluttering in the breeze from the open doorway. Damon was pushing the boundaries by having his coronation now, but he wasn’t a fool. Formality had to be respected. Malvius Aleris, the protector of the sacred stone of wisdom, stood in a robe of dark gray with silver on the ends.  Pushing fifty-seven he would be performing the ceremony. The protectors of the Hall of Clothos of this generation chose insular solitude to study their protective crafts, only leaving their hall when Gothos needed their powers.  The protector of the stone of time was always by tradition the master of ceremonies. 

Damon was dressed in his finest armor of sculpted steel fitted against his lithe form. A fresh pressed crimson cape was pinned to his shoulders, falling down his back with his personal insignia of the prince, a jackal’s head. The prince had bathed and had his hair cut before the ceremony and stood in front of the throne.  His sword had been taken to the blacksmith the day before now clean and shone in the leather holster that was also cleaned and oiled. 

The whispers and murmured from the unorthodoxy of the day, and the rumors that the king came to his death under suspicious means were silenced when Malvius started the ceremony. On the nearby table he picked the chalice up and presented it to the prince.

“Damon, Prince of the Four Territories and son of the Bear; Do you swear fealty to the kingdom? To protect and care for the people who look up to you?”

“I swear in the name of the Great Builder, god of the land and of the sea. I will protect the people of the Northern Kingdom, and unite all peoples of Gothos” Damon replied repeating the words that his forefathers had said at their coronation. Taking the cup from Malvius he brought the cold goblet to his lips, the alcohol bitter to his lips. Returning it to the old man he straightened up and turned and looked out at the crowd. Malvius took the crown of entwined silver and iron, crimson rubies and placed it upon the new king’s head.

Captain Lucrus was standing along with his soldiers, the personal guard to the king called the Fangs by their enemies, an extension of the Gogothian Knights. A chill seeped into his bones at the sight of the crown on Damon’s head.  A part of him wanted to pack up his things and go off to the east and find his fortune. That thought was dismissed as quickly as it came to mind. His honor would not allow him to run off like a thief in the night. His father rose to the ranks of the Gogothian Knights that King Alther’s father Melos Kalanus had made him Captain of the guard. Since he was a lad, Lucrus has done everything in his power to follow in his father’s footsteps.  To leave would label him as a deserter and make him a criminal in the eyes of the kingdom.  If only he could find evidence that the King Alther was murdered at the hands of his only living son then he would feel peace of mind.

“Lords and ladies of Gothos. I present to you King Damon, Lord and protector of the Four Territories.” The protector of the stone of wisdom announced causing the crowd to erupt in cheers and applause.

The king’s forest was scouted by hunters the day before and the rivers were pouched. Roe deer was roasted on giant stone slates with onions, peppers, and rubbed with garlic. Water birds were de-feathered and coated in a sweet and sour sauce made of spices from the Hebric Trading Route the permeated in the air. Portabella mushrooms were roasted with chicken breasts with a current sauce.  Oysters were brought up from the Northern coast and laid out after being steamed, accompanied with a butter sauce.  The wine cellar was opened and barrels of red wine and mead were overflowing.  The king and honored guests were seated at the high board. A traveling band of minstrels found that good fortune smiled on their passing into the city when the coronation was hastily planned. The whole event was unusual, but with the libations going around and cheer in the air no one seemed to think twice about it.  The atmosphere was relaxed when the King called the captain to his side. Abandoning his drink and the company of a beautiful young lady at his side, a low born lady and walked around the table to where the king sat.

“Ah, Captain I need you to do something for me.” King Damon said with mirth in his rich voice. He seemed in a jovial mood that Lucrus thought for a moment that the rumors of patricide might be unfounded. That perhaps his dislike for the new emperor was misplaced. The king took a sip of his wine and placed his cup aside with ease. “I know this is a day of celebration but I have something important that needs to be done. It is imperative to protect the kingdom. “

“Then speak it, Your Highness and it will be done” Lucrus insisted, straightening up in his armor knowing that it was a joke among his men that he never took his armor off, even sleeping in it.

“Good man. I need you to go to the east side of the village and execute a traitor to the crown. Eilan Floki, a craven whore conspired to steal my crown and place her wailing bastard in my place. You will take a few of your men and execute her and her brat. Come back to me when you have it done.” He said with almost a venomous delight in his tone.

“Your highness…” Lucrus started to protest strongly, knowing who the woman is in the scheme of things being the eyes and ears of the former king. The doubts about his gut feeling evaporated like snow in an early spring. 

“I thought you were a loyal solider. You are my right arm and I expect you to do as you are told. Unless you want to displease me.” There was sharpness to his tone that would not allow further objection.  Lucrus had no choice but to give a bow to the king and leave the great hall. His stomach rolled with each step he took, knowing that he would be doing the one thing he felt the regime before would never fathom. Killing one’s own flesh and blood was absolutely inconceivable. This blatant disregard for life made the shadow of sureness stretch further over the darkened door. Walking with a heavy heart to the barracks he stood in the stone archway observing some of his soldiers coming from guard duty, the unfortunate that had been assigned instead of being allowed to enjoy the festivities. They came to attention when his presence was realized.  Curtis Hexus , one of his most loyal soldiers rose from where he had been sitting playing cards. An ambitious man whose wife had borne two sons that would someday be trained to be knights, and perhaps be in the king’s guard.  It was truly ambitious to preen and groom not just one son, but two for the high honor of a Golgothian Knight.

“Ah, c’mon Captain we don’t even gets to enjoy a drop of mead or enjoy the music from the party?” Eldger Boone complained, being a stocky man with a sour disposition known for his boozing and whoring when he wasn’t on his shift.

“This is the king’s direct order. We are to go to the home of Eilan Floki and execute her and her child under the crime of treason.” The words struck in his throat and his tongue felt like sand when he spoke these words. It was wrong and he knew it, but he had his orders to follow.  This caught mousy, Alder Fauts attention, climbing off his bed his face filled with tired confusion.

“I guess we have no choice.” His voice was resigned as he bent over and picked up his boots and started to pull them on.  The room was warmed by the roaring fireplace, but the orders had brought a chill that permeated in the air.  The horses were saddled and ready for use when they arrived at the stables. This was not surprising because all of the chargers were trained for battle and travel at a moment’s notice.  The three of men fell into silence as they led the horses out of the stables and out into the empty road. The revelry of the coronation had been contained to the taverns and private homes, and thankfully their presence would go unnoticed. The Green Horn Inn was filled with singing and drinking toasts to the health and happiness of the new king.  The lone road’s quiet lived up to its name sake as they approached the edge of the woods where Eilan Floki lived. The house was covered by a thatch roof with a single door. Smoke billowed from the chimney, the picture of tranquility before being dashed by a storm.  Slowing their horses they dismounted and approached, their armor along with the horses shuffling in their wake. Lucrus stepped up to the door and raised a gloved hand and knocked.

A fresh faced young woman opened the door wearing a faded green gown with a weather beaten apron over it. Her expression was warm and inviting, unaware of the danger.

“Captain, what brings you here on this joyful day? I heard of the coronation of the new king. You’re here with your men so come on in. I have fresh bread and some honey mead.” She told them and stepped aside.  The interior was a two room with a front room for the kitchen and dining area, and a bedroom in the back. A fire was roaring with a kettle and pot warming. A wooden cradle laid by the fire where her infant son slept peacefully.  Looking upon that innocent face caused an ache rise in the captain’s chest. Forcing himself to look away from the boy he knew was the brother of the king, the bastard.

 

“Eilan Floki, you are hereby charged with treason to the kingdom. I have no choice but to carry out the sentence. King Damon has decreed that you and your child are too executed without trial.” The words stuck in his throat like a piece of aged bread.  The color drained from Eilan’s face as the word sunk in. Shaking her head she stared at the captain, her eyes begging him that it is not so, that she misheard. Curtis reached for his sword and unsheathed it taking a step toward her. Eilan cowered as the other two started toward her.  Captain Lucrus turned from the sight of the frightened woman who begged for her life. Going to the cradle he looked once again down at the sleeping face. Reaching down he gather up the infant in the blanket and held him against his chest and exited the home. Walking toward the horses he could hear the deafening sound of Eilan screaming. Holding the child against his chest he felt the actual chill starting to set in. The child started to whimper awakening at the cried of his mother pressed against his steel armor.  Turning his back from the house he took his horse by the reins in his gloved hand and started into the forest. Carefully he remounted his horse and slowly walked it through the trees heading east.  Lucrus didn’t know what he would do with the crying infant in his arms. This child was the son of his best friend. The crime he committed lay heavy on his heart as he rode, blind to a destination.  The Great Builder must have been smiling upon him when he saw merchant’s cart filled with goods nestled in hay.  Dismounting from his mount he didn’t see the merchant just the attached donkey and cart.  He nestled the child in on his right arm, rocking it lightly as he came to the back of the cart. The merchant was carrying ceramic glazed pots and wares of bronze and copper. Carefully he placed the child among the goods and bundled him up warmly.

“Cabel, son of King Alther of the Four Territories, I leave you here into the wilds. As a bastard you have been born with a disadvantage. The king acknowledged you as his own, but he’s now dead.  You’re a threat to the crown. With that knowledge I give you a chance. Grow stone and survive. Follow the footsteps of your father and become a good man.” Straightening up he gave one last look at the child and returned to his horse to return to the palace. The sun had gone down by now and by now both the king and his guests would be drunk and getting ready for sleep. Adjourning to his room he removed his gloves and poured himself a strong drink. In the morning he will see the king and tell him that the deed was done.

 

The next morning Lucrus prepared exactly what he was going to say to his sovereign, knowing that every word would be a lie. His boots felt like they were made of lead as he walked down to the throne room. Seated upon the cold onyx black throne, King Damon observed his usurped kingdom. He pressed his back against the stone, enjoying the discomfort of the chainmail draped along his torso, grinding against the stone with a clink. Being the king he wore the silver plated chest piece with an eagle emblazed in gold behind a crimson background.  The young man grimaced at the feeling seeing it as a reminder of his place in the world and the vengeance he had the right to take upon those who might cross him. The stone of the throne was hard as he must be on those who got in his way. Leaning his elbows upon his knee he was also keenly aware of the saber at his side held in its molded leather scabbard. Damon felt that no weapon in the Four Territories or distant islands could match the cold steel in battle, so like him.

“Captain, I see you have returned. I hope its good news” He said in a voice of confidence his head tilted up looking at stain glass window not looking at the older man.

“Yes, you’re Royal Highness. The deed was done without a hitch.” The Captain of the Guard replied in a dry tone of voice, unable to mask his pure distain for situation he had been put in by the new king. Captain Lucrus felt it that the new king’s sudden rise to power was no accident. If he could kill a woman and a child of his own blood he had no doubts about the death of good King Alther.  He didn’t have evidence of this of course, but knew he must make inquiries very carefully or meet the axe of the executioner. Lucrus had respected the former king after being liberated from a Fantus prison when the nomadic tribes were banded under the wild queen, Maura the Blood Sheera.  The king had brought down eighty archers and horsemen into Dragon’s Ridge, surprising the queen and her nomadic raiders. The dust finally settled after the fourth day leaving a battlefield of carnage. The queen’s men and women of the nomads were brutal and savage, but the king’s men were well trained and came out the victor. Maura, instead of letting her be captured drank wormwood poison.

King Alther on his large black charger, Megero moved in front the slaves that were lined up by the knights.  Lucrus was kneeling among his fellows smeared in dirt and bleeding from the corner of his mouth. His chest was bear with scars old and new from the neck down to his waist like a road map over his flesh. He looked up at the king with an expression of defiance unsure if he would be enslaved by another soulless regime.

“Do you know who I am?” The shining sovereign asked in a calm tone of voice, stopping in front of the dirty man catching the look he was getting. It intrigued him.

“You’re King Alther, of the Four Territories. You are the legacy of the Great Bear.” He replied in a croaked voice, light blue eyes squinting as the sun glinted off his armor. On his knees he shifted causing the shackles around his wrist to clang. The older man gave a small nod of his head.

“I can see in your eyes that you have not let your shackles drag you down. I have come to liberate those taken by the crazed harlot queen. I give you your freedom, but give you an opportunity to become one of my knights.”

The offer surprised Lucrus greatly but he gave a small chuckle. “I was born a slave. My mother and father were of the Wooded Place enslaved by that queen. I have spent my life trying to carve a place in the world. You are offering me an honorable place among your chosen. How so you know I am not going to kill you in your sleep and take off with your best whore and gold?” he asked boldly. A silence fell over the soldiers until the king started to laugh till his whole body shook. The others joined in uncertainly.

“That is the spirit I’m counting on. You serve me well and you will hurt for nothing. You will have to go through training, but if you can survive it then you will rewarded. You can go off into obscurity into the east you are now a freed man, but I think you are worth more than that.”

“How could I say no to such an offer?” He asked calmly and raised his shackled wrists up. The two men stared each other down until the king unsheathed his sword and brought it down on the chains between the iron shackles.

 Not only did the king free him from slavery, but had him taken into the fold of the knighthood to be trained. After five years of hard training he proved his worth in a tournament on May Day winning the highest honor of the land. Lucrus was put in the seat of captain despite the objections from those born in the Golgothian knighthood. The long years to come he protected the king from his enemies and gained to admiration from the men in the guardship.  Now the king he had come to love as a brother and serve as his sovereign was dead at the hands of his own son. It left a bitter taste in his mouth as he looked upon the smug young man sitting on the throne smiling at him.

“Very good, Captain. You have proved your loyalty to me enacting my first order. I will keep that in mind in the future” he said easily, dismissing him. The knight wanted to tell the king that he didn’t think it was right what they were sent to do, but he knew what would happen. It was a coward’s choice to hold his tongue that he would accept to survive. The beaten and defeated man who once won his sword was now a weary man wondering what he was doing with his life.

 

Underground of Crags Arch: Western Territory

 

The Council of Five has been convening for seven days since the king of humans had died. The Sythians, the eldest and most noble race were driven to the brink of going underground with his crusade to wipe them out. His knights, the Golgothians have been taking up arms against them since the vow was broken between their sovereign King Fabian and the human sovereign, King Ursa. Two of them were there at that dinner party that changed the fate of their people forever.

A great feast was held in the Hall of Uriseas in the great city. King Fabian a handsome man of three-hundred years sat next to his best friend the human sovereign. He was tall and imposing, in his silver and aquamarine armor with the symbol of a trident on his armor. The Sythians were once fishermen and harvesters of the fruits on the trees. It was when the Shadow People came down from the mountains to raid and pillage that the great priest of Sarena, goddess of the earth and of the underworld, went to the sacred river and prayed for their people to be saved. The goddess heard their prayers the moment when things looked the worst. Serena gave a double ended blessing; they would be given immortality and the abilities to destroy their enemies, but they are also cursed with blood lust. King Fabian had seen the tide turn in the battle, but the cost was disheartening. It took centuries to find peace with the human race that they were taken away from by fate.

King Fabian sat upon the high throne next to King Ursa  as dinner was served. There was mirth and joyful sounds as mugs were slammed down upon the table as bawdy talk went around the High Table. Broiled fish seasoned with crushed garlic, barley, and lemon. Wild Elk was caught and trussed up with roasted vegetables and saffron. For the Sythians , roe deer was sliced open  on a table next to the High table. The blood was served in wooden goblets before it congealed . Wine and sweet mead was poured for the human guests. Goblets never were empty.

As dinner was about to be served King Ursa rose from his seat and placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder and moved behind his seat slowly falling into shadows, the fire playing off his features. Fabian briefly looked over his shoulder, bringing his goblet to his lips, shoulders moving with amusement at a joke one of his compatriots made. The smile was still on his lips when the wood suddenly splintered from the middle of his chair, the glistening of a sword came through coated in blood and through Fabian’s chest. The metal had shattered on the sides, metal pieces caught in his heart. The dawning realization hit the table that King Ursa that it was King Fabian who wielded the bloody weapon. A hush had fallen over the room as if sucked out of the hall.  Then volley of voices and raised bodies rose up like a wave rushing upon the rocks. It was Fabian who quieted them all.

“There is only one ruler in the Four Kingdoms.  I am the son of the Great Bear! Knights, leave no witnesses.” King Ursa commanded. What brought upon this betrayal was known, but out of the clashing of sword and blood shed on both ends only two survived, slipping out in the chaos, Faltas Mordel and Adric Talus.

Now the two of them stood with the remains of the Sythian court centuries later. Prince Argos surprisingly harbored no hatred toward the human race. He had loved his father greatly, but his anger was directed at the men who betrayed him instead of the whole human race. This merciful outlook was not shared by the remaining council members, but with the death of the human king who kept his men out of the Western Territory now dead. His son Damon on the other hand from the rumors that had reached them would not be so merciful. This meeting was put together to determine how they would respond to this.

“I don’t think we should jump to conclusions” King Argos said raising a hand up slowly. His wings fluttered as he leaned back in his high stone chair. All of the Sythians had long chiropteran wings, similar to the bat but unrelated.

“But if they do your highness…what then?” Faltas Mordel asked, standing at his right with a knit brow. He loved the boy almost as his own, but sometimes questioned his merciful judgment. The elder felt that that honorable point of view was a bit of a weakness, and why their kind is almost extinct. He didn’t speak of this not because he feared reprisal, but he didn’t want to burden the prince with further guilt. The prince never got the chance to step into his father’s robes all the way due to King Ursa’s crusade against their kind. By the time King Alther came to the human throne there were too few of their scattered people to rule over. It was a hardship they have had no choice but to survive.  Now the threat was impending.

“The sword that has taken the blood of many tribes and kinds will bring peace…” The voice came from down the table from the only woman on the council. Zee Mordel, the sister of the council member was a seer who looked into the ponds of the sacred and read the stars. Women in their culture were given the same rights as their men, and always held a place on the high council and in the king’s court. Everyone stopped to listen to what she had to say believing it is the words of the goddess being channeled. When she said nothing more Argos leaned back putting his fingers to his chin in thought. Zee was dressed in a dyed wool  draped over her thin form.

“The sword? It must mean the sword of King Ursa that was recovered from the king’s side in the Battle of Shadow’s End. The battle where the King fell at the hands of the warrior, ser. Talbet Drak. Ser.  Drak was slain soon after. The sword of the king the Highborne was kept by the Sythians. “What does that accursed blade have to do with challenging the human regime?” Talet Drak commented calmly.“The sword was forged in the heart of Dragos Rock by the mountain people as a gift from being liberated from the Shadow King, a strange being from beyond the wild woods. There are spells attached to that blade. It was a miracle that we got it.” Adric Talus argued fiercely, blotting his forehead with a handkerchief.

“With the six sacred stones of the Hall of Clothos backing them up we have very little power to rise again. We have been beaten down so far I don’t know how we are to recover.” Said another member of the council commented. He was a paunchy man with a pale face and watery eyes, his robes barely fitting his well-fed body. Alaister Gres was had been a wealthy cattle owner in his unblessed life, now he sat on the council with the prince.

. “We will use the sword and cut down our enemies” Talbet declared, slapping his hand on the table with a smile on his lips.

“No!” the old seer spoke up raising a gnarled finger in the air.

“No?” Everyone in the council except the woman who objected and the prince were quiet looking pensive. The prince looked lost in his thoughts and looked at the old woman who spoke with a look of drawn curiosity.

“NO!” she repeated in a firmer voice. “The sword is to be given great magic, but will be placed in a safe place for its true bearer.”

This caused uproar in the room until the prince silenced them with a shake of his head, rising to his feet slowly.

“It will be done. Where will it be safe enough to await this hero?” Argos asked the woman with the greatest respect. His father had taught him the power of the goddess was not one to be mocked or looked down upon.

The woman was silent as she sat there, her hands placed upon the stone table. “The only safe place is the falls where neither man nor Sythian will dare travel. The fall of dragons and nymphs where magic runs clean and feeds the great rivers” was her reply in a rasping voice. Dragus falls was known as an orphic place of supernatural wonder.

Prince Argos looked around the table from where he stood.

“The sword will be moved from the vault, imbued with every magic we have and placed at the Falls. It will be done as soon as possible. The goddess is patient in life and even in death.”

 

 

 

 

 

2.

Catacian Complex: Northern Territory

 

Captain Lucrus stood in the middle of the courtyard with his arms crossed over his chest, his brown eyes fixed on the two children practicing. Years at the side of the king he couldn’t shake the events twenty years hence. The straw that broke the camel’s back was the burning of the Hinderland two years ago. The screams of women and children mingled with that of Eilan’s cries of suffering as she died. Unable to continue his service he asked the king to take a different position. The king refused him of course not wanting to lose his right hand. It was on the eve of the king’s natal day that the king, in a good mood told the captain that he was to stay in his position, but would train the young of the knighthood to choose one to take his place.

Now Lucrus stood there watching the youths practicing in their swordsmanship. These boys were taken from their homes as the chosen few who would someday put on the armor of a knight, and perhaps a royal guard. The lanky boys were like pups trying to fight like wolves. Only two of them caught his interest, the two boys of the house of Hexus.

Markus was tall and stocky well his younger brother Dominic was thin and lanky. They were practicing their swordsmanship with wooden swords, clanking together with each move. The older boy was a bit slower than his brother, but hit like a battle axe. Dominic was like the sword he held moving with each blow his brother dealt and parried. The house of Hexus was known for pumping out great soldiers since the time of King Ursa.  Out of all of the boys he would bet his gold on the younger boy fitting into his armor someday. He saw Markus as being too kind for the role and not as clever. The captain of the guard must always be clever and strong. In this line of business kindness was not rewarded favorably, he knew from personal experience. Shaking his head to do away with the cobwebs he again looked at the two boys.

“Enough for today.” He called to the boys who were practicing in the field and turned to walk back into the shady compound.

Dominic looked at her brother and smiled, his black hair falling in his eyes a bit.  Markus rubbed the dust off his face, the sun glinting against his eyes.

“Are we going in?” Markus inquired to his brother, being eleven years old. He was dressed in a leather tunic with long pants and boots. His dark haired brother smiled and shook her head slowly. “No, there is a lovely tree I want to get to the top of. If we get high enough we can see into the lady’s maid chambers” the younger brother commented, smiling. At ten years old, Dominic was already showing interest in the fairer sex.

“I don’t think we should. Captain Lucrus would give up a sound beating if we are caught. The older boy was more cautious then the younger, always reserved and gentle spirited. He had all lot more honor and nobility then those his age. Dominic was already up the tree when her brother turned to address him. The boy was an apt climber since he could walk. There were always more to see when up high. The younger boy was already near the top of the trees, his fingers wrapped around the branches as he lifted himself into position to look across to the high window. Markus sighed loudly and started to climb the tree after him. The brothers were always getting in trouble, but it was Markus who was cleaning up after his younger brother. He was not as nimble as his brother as he joined him in the high tree, feeling apprehension at his brother’s welfare and that of himself if they were caught. Dominic leaned against the trunk of the tree, leaning forward a bit. He was always more intellectual then most his age who were obsessed with chasing dogs and sneaking food. His mind was always like a steel trap.

“Dominic, we should go inside” his brother advised him as he felt his grip starting to slip. He leaned closer to the tree trying to catch his breath. He could hear Dominic laughing as he glanced down at his elder brother. The pleading had gone on deaf ears as they climbed. Markus’s eyes were fixed on his brother’s form as he felt the grip coming undone. “Dom…”he said, but was lost his footing. His hands grasped the branch. Markus looked down at him seeing him dangling. Instead of helping him he gave a shrug of his shoulder, seeming fascinated by the prospect of his brother falling.

Markus lost his grip and he fell, the sky spreading before him as he crashed to the ground in a heap, his right leg and ribs cracking…

 

Hall of Clothos: Northern Territory

The rain was pounding the marble floors making it slippery to the unwary. The young girls stood side by side with hands raised to receive the cold droplets that would cut the humidity that has rolled across the land of North Territory. Sera being nine- years old was almost identical to her twin sister Asura except the color of her eyes that was a dark blue well her sisters were light. Both girls wore blue orange tunics with matching loose trousers, their hairs done in four plaits, two hanging in front and the two behind their skinny shoulders. Their feet were adored with matching kid sandals made of imported silk from the Isle of Gralos that the feared King Damon ruled and used greatly as a port and trading market.

They were standing hand in hand looking out at the breathtaking valley below them as they did when the weather was like this. It was strange behavior for two little girls to do, but since their dear mother passed on in a sickness and their father who died in the great Battle of the Southlands they only had each other in the entire world. The cold and rainy days was a reminder in spite of the relief it gave. The fate of the two girls would have been to begging and drudgery for them if the great astrologer of the king, Talbus took one look at the little lasses and knew they were special. After confirming his hunch he concluded to the king that they were to be chosen as guardians of two of the sacred stones. After that announcement from the wizen man the king had seized their assets; their father's land, home, and property for payment for the lessons and care the girls would undertake and thereby erasing their former lives. The residence they took up was called the Hall of Clothos, a structure of stone nestled on the edge of mountain protected by steep cliffs and one road leading to its entrance. The measure that the builders made seemed unnecessary since no one, even the enemies of the former king would dare attack this sacred place. Here the six great stones of Alynpia lay in a silent circle and its hall is where the guards would be trained.

The six children both male and female studied and learned in a palace filled with rooms for study and contemplation and vast gardens where herbs were grown for medicine and the sereneness was enjoyed. The children would learn the skill that was chosen for them for the good of the land.

"Sera, Asura! Don't stand there gaping at sky like turkeys. All of the others are waiting for you" Amerus, their gray haired tutor chided them, standing in his crisp white toga and leather sandals. Asura let out a long sigh and squeezed her sister's hand and turned running up to the old man and standing there.

"We were wondering where the rain comes from" Asura said her lower lip pouting a bit, her light blue eyes looking up at the scholar. He chuckled and studied her for a long moment. "They are mysteries that no one fully has to the answer to" he replied his light gray eyes flickering to Sera still standing there gazing out thoughtfully. He walked up to her slowly and placed a hand on her shoulders. Her eyes were soulful as she looked up at him pensively, always the more serious of the twins.

 "Amerus, I always wondered if they were the tears" she said very softly. Amerus bent down very slowly due to the weakness in his knees and looked at her.

"If they are tears then who sheds them?" he asked her, studying her face. The little girl shifted slightly where she stood and gave a slight shrug of her shoulders. "Mysteries" she replied after a long pause. "Perhaps they are" he said, the corner of his eyes wrinkling with amusement. These moments were ones that made him question if healing was the skill best for little Sera. It was her twin who was the Guard of the Stone of Wisdom which was only somewhat fitting. Asura had a mind for studying, but she never questioned the world around her which was a pity in itself. He mused further as he led the two girls to the heavy wooden double doors that were open to invite the cool breeze from the rain. At the round table sat on lounging pillows were three boys and one girl, turning their head coming to attention as the teacher joined them with the two girls trailing. It was unusual that there were three girls and three boys to be Guards of the stones but didn't change the trials that would be ahead of them. 

Amerus went down the three steps and approached his cushion and sat down arranging his robe. The children were dressed all alike in orange robes, the color of initiation. When they were trained fully in their own specialties they would don the shades of the stones they were sworn to protect. These study sessions were to teach them history, geography, math, and other important learning before they would focus on their own skills. Asura plopped down next to a sour looking young boy with black hair cropped cut to the back of his neck. Emrick was destined to study and protect the Stone of Time to his irritation. At the age of nine he felt he had all the time in the world and couldn't see the wisdom that would come with his soon to be status. He would rather be Guard of the Stone of War, or slashing a sword in the training hall of the Gogothian Knights, the protectors of the land from its enemies. The other three were Retuna, a shy girl who would Guard of the Stone of Elemental. Next to her was Calus, a kind faced young boy who was to guard the Stone of War not yet fitting the role he was to take over in the future. Finally sitting across from Sera sat Talos, Guard of the Stone of the Unseen that would be a challenge of its own for the somewhat sheepish boy.

Amerus snapped his fingers and a wordless servant brought him the large rolled scrolled and blended back into the scenery. With great care he unrolled it upon the round table, the scent of age wafted in the air.

"This is a map of the world we live in that separates the civilized from the barbaric." he said in a quiet voice. He didn't need to raise his voice as the six children looked down at the old map.

"The four provinces of the land, broken up by war and natural erosion" he told them, flattening the old scroll with his wrinkled fingertips. "We live in the Northern Territory that is protected by the Gogathon Knights. They have kept the peace and protected you children until you are ready to harness the power of the stones" he said stretching his hand out, pointing to the place on the map where they are.

"The Eastern Territory is filled with simple people and fields that give us the goods we use every day. We must pay respect to the farmers and gardeners that provide the things we need" he said calmly eyes sweeping over the young ones listening intently. He took a moment to make sure there weren't any questions posed before continuing.

 "The Southern Territory is a land of uncultured nomads and outlaws." he said. Calus leaned his elbows on the table, resting the side of his face against his cheek. "I have heard rumors from the servants that they are criminals and thieves" he chimed in his voice filled with curiosity. The elderly instructor peered over at the boy at the other end of the table with his pale colored eyes.

"Yes, that is true. They are people who have been driven to the point of desperation after the great battle that claimed the king's brother Prince Robert the Kind" he said calmly.

"I have heard that creatures live in the Western Territory that snatch people in the night “Emrick asked leaning forward a bit on his cushion, quirking a curious brow causing all the students to rise to attention, all eyes on the scholar. For a few minutes the room was silent as Amerus removed his glasses, polishing them with the front of his robe before replacing them on the bridge of his nose.

"So you have heard the stories about the darker race. It is best that I tell you the true story to dispel any rumors you might of heard."

 the scholar turned his back to the group and stared silently at the mural of an old palace spiraling to the sky.

"Centuries ago in this very city the old civilization lived. Sythians and humans lived together in harmony and understanding “he said which caused many whispers behind his back. “The story that has been passed on from our ancestors was that the Syths started the battle which caused great bloodshed and fed their unnatural hunger for blood. Before that moment the Sythians fed off of animals and did not indulge in the arcane feeding on the blood of humans. This great change was a great and terrible event. The Sythians almost destroyed the human race until the great King Ursa called upon a sorcerer, a mage named Bulrius who told him to seek a great stone in the palace of the Sythians. That stone would have the power to weaken the Syths. Ursa was given the map and created a small force of men. They stormed the castle and found the stone on the table under the great hall in a secret chamber. Using the spell that was given to him the king charged the stone and fought the Lord of the Sythians and killed him. The story goes that the Sythian priest, Darius took up the Lord's sword and with all his magic and skill shattered the stone into six pieces so it could never be used again by us humans. They were wrong of course because the six stones from that great stone b `ecame those that you protect and serve" he told them finally.

All six children looked at Amerus with a look of absolute awe.

"What happened to the Lord King’s sword?" Calus asked cocking his head to the side.

"No one knows and those who have sought it have never found It." the teacher replied fixing them with a weary glance. "The sad part of this story is that the Sythian Lord and King Ursa were friends once. This great battle turned friends into mortal enemies."

When class ended Asura looked at her sister and walked out of the room with the others to the garden to play and relax. Sera stayed behind to talk to Amerus and approached him from the other side of the table, her fingers sweeping along the smooth surface.

"Amerus, did the Sythian's really start the war? “She asked her blue eyes taking him in. Such a question from someone so young surprised the old man causing him to grimace lightly.

"History is written by the victor, young one. We will never know who started the conflict but we know that it still wages on in our time". Amerus placed his hand on her shoulder and walked out of the room, leaving her pondering the carefully put words.

The sun was shining outside when Sera stepped out causing her eyes to ache from its brightness.  Before her was the large marble courtyard filled with rushing fountains and colorful flowers. Stepping down the steps Sera saw her sister sitting with Talos, whispering secretly. It puzzled her at that age why the two of them spent so much time together. Jumping down the steps she walked up to the nearby fountain that was a woman holding a pitcher, pouring into the lower fountain. Sitting on the side of the stone she gazed down at the water at her reflection.

Feeling a slight jolt of a hand pushing her forward she swallowed in a breath as she fell into the water. The young girl didn't realize that she was being held down until she couldn't rise. She heard running feet and with her arms waving she finally caught her breath. Emrick was standing over her, his eyes narrowed.

"You know I should report you to the knights. They say that if you do not drown you are a witch. “He said in a low voice and turned and ran off into the garden hedge maze, leaving the others baffled. There were no adults around to tell of Emrick's behavior. Calus, his brown ponytail moving against his shoulder placed a hand on her arm lightly.

"Are you alright?"He asked frowning a bit. Seras nodded her head, but knew that Emrick hated her but she did not know why. If she knew then the lengths that Emrick would go to destroy her she would have been wearier of his machinations.

The next few days were hard work as the lessons continued and the afternoons were unusually warm. The trying lessons and training were to be rewarded when the Festes Festival was underway. Since the day at the fountain Sera has avoided Emrick the best she could. She couldn’t all together hide from him as they rode down to the village to take in the festivities as was tradition of the Northern Territory.

The festival of Festes was to celebrate the creation of the Gorgothian Knights that protected the land. The village people had prepared things for the large celebration. The men had swept out the streets and the women had set about washing the windows till they shined with the morning sun. Men with carts and wire brushes were sweeping and scrubbing down the cobblestone for the large parade that would commence. Sera, her sister, and the other protectors were placed on horses to be part of the procession. She felt a fearful twinge in her stomach. This would be the first time she would be in the parade since the festival was only every ten years for reasons she did not know. When the time came she sat upon a white mare nervously tugging at the front of her dress as she sat side saddle. The dress she was wearing was unusually colorful due to the festivities.

She was garbed in a forest green gown that tied in the back with a cream under dress. Her long golden hair was braided in its usual fashion, but woven with ribbons. Sera wiggled in her saddle having to ride it side saddle that was uncomfortable and made her bottom itch. Looking over at her twin she marveled at how she could sit still with pose even at their young age. To Sera’s bemusement her sister, Asura looked quite natural upon her honey colored mare, her eyes forward and calmed. This was always the difference between the two sister were their temperaments. Shifting slightly in her seat she looked out at the crowd on either side of the cobblestone street who were cheering and waving the flags of the four territories. Confetti fell from the upper windows of homes and shops and music could be heard from miles from the band. The senior officers of the Gorgothian Knights had the honor of being part of the procession. The others stood on each side of the street in strict formation, but had the luxury of watching the others go by.

The knights were garbed in their shining silver armor with a red embroidered shirt and woven black pants under it. The sword issued to them hung at their sides glinting in the sunlight. Captain Lucrus was standing among the new recruits, branding a nasty scar along his jaw from the war. Being hailed as a war hero he was rewarded with training the next generation of warriors. Standing at his side was his most promising soldiers. At the age of thirteen in the youth recruit program, Dominic Cain was at the top of his class and most obedient member of their close knit warrior community.

 Even King Damon had made the young boy part of his court, impressed by his maturity and won over by his flattery. The dark haired looking young man was watching the parade as his superiors passed with an unreadable expression on his face. The older man watched the boy always uncertain what was going through his mind. His eyes flitted to those passing and a smile split over his lips.

“Look boy, it’s the Stone Protectors come all the way from the great Hall of Clothos” he said and raised his gloved hand and pointed to the children on the horses.

Dominic turned his head and looked at the group with mild, polite interest. This expression was unchanged until he saw the dark blue eyed girl on the white mount. Though the girl next to her on the horse was identical it was the dark eyes that interest him. The thirteen years old boy was quiet as they passed then spoken in a serious, calm tone of voice?

“Captain, who is that girl, the one with the dark blue eyes? “He asked, the sound of awe creeping into his voice.

 The captain couldn’t help but chuckle at the boy’s reaction his shoulders shook a bit under the metal armor.

“That girl you so admire is Lady Sera. She is the Protector of the special stone of Healing. When she is older she will draw the power from it and help us” he replied wistfully. The young man seemed to be pondering this, rolling this information over in his mind as he stood there.

“Someday when I become a man of honor I will make that girl my wife” he said with firm sureness. Such words would be usually treated as fancies of a young boy, but the look on Dominic’s face was that of a determined adult.

“You have many years to make that so” The captain said calmly, patting the boy’s shoulder.

 

3.

Hall of Clothos: Northern Territory

 

Sera hopped around the room she shared with her sister, her body hunched over and her head tilted to the side. Huffing loudly she rolled her neck to try to get her long braid from her face as she searched for her shoe. It was permissible when she was a child to be late for class, but ten years and one day has passed since the celebration had come. Now at the age of nineteen not much has changed in her personality. Asura stood in the doorway and rolled her eyes behind her sister’s back.

“You can borrow a pair of mine. You are going to be late with your one on one time with Amerus and even in his advanced age he only has so much patience” she stated. A smile spread across Sera’s face as she turned on one foot and looked at her sister, almost losing her balance.

 “Do I look alright?” she asked and lowered her raised foot. She was dressed in a rose pink tunic and long skirt. Now that she is studying in her own right she had more open options for dressing. “You look fine! Honestly if I didn’t know you were dressing for a certain someone I would think you were crazy” she said with a note of teasing in her voice. It was common knowledge that Calus was courting her to be his future mate; they had grown very close for a few years now.

Asura sighed and turned on her heels, her purple gown swishing around her as she led her sister down the stairs to the main atrium. Amerus was sitting waiting for her, over the years he hadn’t changed much, but his eyes were filled with weariness and tiredness. Waving his hand for her to sit down across from him.

“Today you will be turning your lessons into actions. Instead you will be going village to use your art of healing to care for the sick” he said knowing that this was a good opportunity for the young woman to be able to not only practice her skills, but to also get to know the people she is protecting. This sent a strange tingle of excitement through her at the thought of going out by herself and proving herself. Up to now it was still all lot of studying and learning, but now she would be doing things by her own merit.

When dismissed she left the atrium to see Calus standing on the other side, the sunlight is glistening on his golden hair. He was dressed in the military issue uniform of those of a knight, but his cloak was black instead of the usual red. He was staring up at the painted vaulted ceiling, the shadows playing against the battled hardened face. It made her chest flutter as she stood taking him in silently. For a moment she forgot herself imagining herself in his strong arms. Clearing her throat she drew his attention to her presence. He blinked as if waking from a dream, his eyes glazed and unfocused for a moment. She wondered with amusement how he survived on the battlefield. Of course she never saw him on the battlefield and hoped to never see him shed blood in war, still seeing that shy and awkward boy he used to be. Even now she could see the playfulness in his eyes at catching her seeing him absolutely caught off guard. Letting out a slight cough a sheepish smile his friendly brown eyes looked at her with great affection.

“Sera, Where are you off to today? Don’t you usually have a class with Amerus?” he asked as she crossed the marble floor to meet him.

“I did, but he is instead sending me into the village to use my healing skills on those in needs” she said unashamed of the pride that seeped into her words. Calus raised a hand and rubbed the side of his hair and nodded his head

“Well enjoy your trip” he said looking like he was suppressing a yawn like a little boy. It took all the power of her being to not giggle. He seemed to notice the curve of her lips and shook his head a little and before she knew it he swept a strong arm around her waist with great gentleness. Sera could feel his muscular arms, bare of adornments at the moment made her quiver a little in excitement. Her gaze met his with warmth as he leaned in to kiss her. She could feel his warmth breath against her cheek.

“Come back soon my little Sparrow” he whispered and pulled back instead of completing what he meant to do. As he walked away she felt disappointed rising in her and a deep frown changing her mood. For a moment she just stood there watching his retreating form wanting to call him back to her, but she knew that wouldn’t be a good idea. Biting at the corner of her lower lip she turned on her heels scuffing the marble and left heading for the village Caltas.

The village would be considered typical with its thatch roofed houses and widespread marketplace. This one was blessedly protected by the Gogathon Knights and had clean drinking water from the river of Tythes that fell off the Dragus Falls. The fields brought in corn and wheat well each house had a garden of its own for fresh produces. It was the most prosperous in the Northern Territory. Walking into the bustling marketplace the scents and sights assaulted her senses making her a bit giddy and comfortable at the same time. Walking down the cobblestone street she already saw the people getting ready for the celebration tomorrow. Down the street was the House of Healing that was her destination.

A screech filled the air nearly deafening her as she raised her eyes to the sky. The once sunny sky was now dark cloud, and the wind had picked up. Sera had no idea how the weather could suddenly change so rapidly, but what happened next would almost bring to her knees. From above leathery wings dove down and picked one of the men in front of the shops and carried him off the ground then dropping him on the roof of one of the houses. A nearby woman screamed as one of her cattle that had been grazing in the pen had been torn to pieces by the creature.

Sera took refuge behind a cart and beheld the terrifying scene. These creatures were the Sythians of legend. Their futures and physicality was humanoid, but they had long bat-like wings attached to their lower back and mouths filled with sharp canines. There were only a handful of them flying around dressed in tunics both male and female. The chaos caused her head to hurt, her eyes unfocused as she looked over the top of the cart. The sound was deafening as she felt helplessly trapped in something her mind could barely comprehend. She closed her eyes for a moment, her golden brow knitting together. In vain she tried to imagine herself to be somewhere else, anywhere else as these creatures swooped down in what seemed like bloody vengeance of sorts.

 When she felt that she couldn’t take anymore and at any moment she would be discovered and gutted she heard new sounds of heavy hooves and crossbows letting lose lithe arrows. Forcing her eyes open she placed her hand on the cart, bracing it, willing herself to stand up. She rose form crouched position and found herself face to face with one of the Sythians crouched on the cart looking right back at her with amber colored eyes. Despite the fear that was rising in her chest she took a millisecond to notice that the creature looked exactly like a human with noticeable variations. The face was angular with high cheek bones and thin eyebrows. The eyes were golden with a predator look about them.

Dressed in a toga they had a long tail coming from the base of their spines that curled around their clawed feet. The most awe inspiring part of their physique was the long bat like wings, the stretched skin grafted against the almost visible bones underneath. This being was female as it crouched on the cart looking back at her, lips parted in an antagonizing snarl. Sera looked back knowing that any moment she was going to be torn apart by the razor sharp nails on the creature’s hands, her bones crunching under the fanged teeth. Her shoulders hunched in anticipation as the Sythian brought its arm back, fingers splayed to strike.

The strike would never come. Instead an arrow flew through the air striking the beast in the chest causing it to fall back and off the cart. Sera stood frozen in her spot as she watched it happen.

“That was a bit too close for comfort, wouldn’t you say?” a deep melodic voice spoke behind her. The one who spoke was standing a few feet behind her, breath warm against the nape of her neck causing her to shiver deliciously. She realized quickly that it wasn’t a voice she recognized which gave her pause. Turning she found herself looking up at a solider, no a knight. The man stood a foot taller than her with a lean muscular build visible even in his heavy armor. She found herself unable to draw breath as she found herself staring into his face. His face was thin, with high cheek bones and a slender nose. His lips were thin but sensual that accented his features perfectly. What set him apart from other handsome men were his smoldering blue eyes. The way he looked at her was what she could liken to the Sythian, almost predatory in his gaze. Sera knew this should frighten her, but this was the man who fired the shot to save her life.

“Are you alright?” he asked cocking his head to the side causing strands of his dark hair to fall against his cheek. His hair was cut short in the back with a few long strands to grace his hardened features. His question pulled her out of her stupor as she opened her mouth to speak.

“Yes” was the only response she could croak out in her shock. Reached out he grabbed her hand and held it in his own.

“My name is Dominic Hexus. I am a member of the knighthood” he told her in his rumbling voice. Sera had naturally figured that out by his armor, but his words gave more weight to it.

“My name is Sera. I am the Protector of the Stone of Healing. I came to the village to hone my skills” she replied unable to draw her gaze from his.

“Well, Sera I think your skills will be well needed now. I came at the right moment to save you” he said with a dry chuckle that seemed strange to her. Did this massacre amuse him? Looking around she saw the bodies of the Sythian lying on the cobblestone in disarray. There were injured villagers, but she didn’t see blessedly any dead villagers. Letting out a breath she turned her head and looked at him and slowly lowered her hand from his grasp.

 “Then I have work to do. Thank you, Dominic. I wish there was a way I could repay you” she told him as she started to back up from him. Realizing she had let go of his gloved hand he felt disappointment rising in him. Finally he had found her after all of these years, when serendipity worked in his favor and he was already losing her. He knew he couldn’t let that happen.

“Of course you have no need to thank me. It is my duty to help those in need against our enemy” he found himself spewing the words that came from the years and years of vigorous training. Keeping down his jittering nerves he locked gaze with her realizing how big her blue eyes, so innocent. Strangely this gave him the confidence to continue.

“I hope I get to see you again and partake in your company in a quieter situation” he said attempting to sound humble. Seeing her cheeks reddening gave him a satisfaction that almost had him groaning in anticipation.

“Excuse me, but doesn’t a solider thrive in the battlefield, and fret when in moments of quiet reflection?” her reply came that caught him a great solider off guard. He was absolutely baffled by her turn of phrase not used to women being witty in his company. He reflected that this was a quality that was amusing in young maids, but would be ironed out and stopped when they became wives. For the moment he would take enjoyment of it.

“Yes, that may be true the battlefield is when a solider appreciates those moment where he can banter with a beautiful woman” he countered giving a smile. He remembered the vow he had made out loud to the captain and to himself that he would have this woman someday.

Dominic again swore to himself he would fulfill this. There was nothing in his life that he has wanted that he has not taken. As a solider he tore through the masses, monster and human alike without blinking an eye. Even in his personal life he took what he felt her deserved and dealt with the consequences swiftly and without mercy. For now he would let her walk away and go about her task of being a healer. The time would come when her attention was his and his alone. Smiling to himself he watched as she helped get the wounded into the house of healing.

On her return to the House of Clothos, Amerus sat her down and insisted to know what happened in the village verbatim. The old man was absolutely shaken by the things that had been out of his control. The thought of her getting hurt seemed to shake him greatly. Sitting across with him she recited her version of the events the best to her ability.

 Amerus looked relieved when he heard that she was saved.

“You saw the Sythians? Tell me about that” he said unable to mask his relief was replaced by heightened interest in the rare encounter. Sera didn’t want to think about those creatures that attacked the village and terrorized the people as it was traumatic, but she understood the academic interest her teacher and mentor had. Looking into her mentor’s eyes she wondered how she could explain the man she had met, who had saved her life. The words themselves could not describe it. It was those eyes that left her breathless. Sera walked into the hall after debriefing her mentor and walked out into the hall. Calus was leaning against the wall waiting for her and hurried to her when she left the room.

“Sera, thank the gods that you are alright. I heard what happened down in the village. I should have been there but the Captain was putting me through some exercises.” He said running his thumb over her brown and down the side of her face, reassuring himself that she was really there in one peace.

“I’m okay, and I helped the injured. It is a relief that none of the villagers were seriously injured. The creatures seemed to come out of nowhere” she explained frowning a bit as the memory of it washed over her. Seeing the flicker of terror in her face he enfolded her in his arms, pressing her face against his armored chest.

“It’s over. I promise that I won’t let anyone harm you” Calus vowed softly to her still stroking the side of her face. Sera knew he was distraught and wanted to put his mind at ease, but the attack left her uncertain, she was left pondering what she witnessed. She followed when Calus took her hand and led her to the garden. The flowers in the garden were almost in bloom around the stone benches splashes of reds and blues. The vines crept around the statues. Sera sat down on the cool bench and looked at him her eyes tracing the worry lines that had formed on his face. The shakiness in her joints had ebbed away by then leaving her mind clearer than before. The creatures that had attacked the village were terrifying, but now that she came to think about it they had attacked the healthy men and cattle. When she saw Calus’s brow knitting together she forced a smile.

“I will be alright. I was saved by the Golgothian knight, Dominic” she told him. There was a long moment that Calus stared at her.

“I am thankful. He is a great warrior” he said calmly, though there seemed like something he wanted to say but he wouldn’t allow himself. Reflexively she reached up and touched his cheek.

“What is it?” she asked, cocking her head to the side studying the thoughtful look on his face. The warrior shook his head slowly as if removing the doubt in his mind.

 “I will have to thank him when I see him again” he commented quietly. There was something he wasn’t telling her and she could read that in his eyes and the lines in his face. The hesitation to speak his mind when it came to this man who rescued her made her feel a bit uneasy, but she ignored that sense not wanting to cause him further distress. “If that is what you wish” she replied after a long pause.

Sera would not see Dominic again till ten days hence. It was when the Gogothian Knights would come to the Hall of Clothos with the king himself to speak to the Protector of the stone of the Unseen. This role was filled by Talos of course who was given a big responsibility that the uncertain young man was reluctant to give. He couldn’t deny the king’s request and fly against the traditions of the land.

The House of Clothos was decorated for the occasion and a delicious banquet was laid out by the servants who took up residence in the house. On the long dining table the guests including the king’s men, the knights, and some courtiers the delicious scents wafted in the air of the open dining area. Roe deer was roasted with sliced apples, cloves, and chopped onions. Ducks were caught the night before and cooked with potatoes. Fish and fresh seafood was cooked and displayed on green leaves with sumptuous dips and dressings. Wine and mead was in copious supply, and for desert wafers with fruit and clotted cream were served to entice the pallet. Everyone enjoyed the merriment of conversation and tuned played by hired musicians. This was a momentary escapism to the serious going on that would commence afterwards.

Talos was sitting among the guests only eating bread smothered in honey and water as was the way before he would divine the unseen. He looked absolutely glum clothed in a black robe with a purple sash around his waist. Sera’s sister Asura’s body language told Sera that she wanted to go to her beloved, but it would be inappropriate.

Sera was sitting next to Calus dressed in an orange one shoulder dress of thin cotton and wrapped around her slender form. She sipped from her glass realizing there were eyes on her.

Dominic was sitting at the end of the table next to King Damon. Unable to help herself she turned her head thinking she would catch his gaze, but when she looked at him his focus was on the king, talking boisterously with him. This made her wonder if she was losing her mind, or that she wanted the handsome knight to notice her. This sentiment couldn’t be helped despite her feelings for Calus or the hesitation he had shown after his comrade in arms had saved her life.

Turning her gaze from him she studied the room well taking a gulp of her wine not realizing that Dominic was looking at her, amusement glistening in his blue eyes. After dinner was finished and the dishes were cleared away the king stood up and looked at the assembled party.

 “Ladies and gentlemen, before the Great Seeking begins I have a happy announcement that will lighten the blow of anything that might be foretold” he said with a note of humor in his voice. “

Today my Captain, Lucrus Arelius will be retiring his position at my side.” He started which caused a ripple of commentary and well wishes. “In his place will Dominic Convas will be promoted to the rank of captain. It seems quite fitting since Lucrus has trained him and made him candidate years ago.” He continued.

The hall filled with applause at this as Dominic stood up from his seat and gave a nod of his head. The king raised his hand and smiled at the crowd and chuckled.

 “With this promotion he has also chosen a bride. It has been approved by me and the girl’s guardian. Stand up Sera, of the House of Clothos” he said and waved his hand in her direction.

For a moment she didn’t realize he was addressing her as she sat there with the cup half way to her lips. Upon it sinking in she raised to her feet everything going a bit hazy. This absolutely blindsided her and made her feel dizzy and caught off balance. The mingling sounds of congratulations and chortles about how this was clearly a surprise to the bride to be filled her ears. She wanted to object and cry out, but she saw that there was nothing she can do. She was a bird stuck in a net. Like a bird in a net if she struggling would be futile.

After dinner she didn’t get her chance to talk to anyone as they were ceremonially ushered out and led to the sacred chamber where Talos would divine the secrets of the unknown. The guests went to another room to wait patiently to hear the news. The protectors of the stones were allowed to hear the proceeding with the king.

Talos dressed in his dark robe, the hood pulled over his head walked to the middle of a sparse room that had a pedestal in the middle with a large bowl on it. The bowl itself was made of chiseled onyx with clear spring water from the falls of Dragus.

Talos was standing behind the pedestal his eyes raised toward the high vaulted ceiling in a moment of meditation. The room was cold and damp causing Sera to inhale a slow breath, her nipples hardening under her dress. The whole room was still, all eyes on the Protector of the Stone of the Unseen. Breaking the tension Talos dipped his head and looked down into the unmoving water in the stone basin. Sera stood there still mulling over her engagement, unsure what to do with her hands at her side.

Talos’s breathing was barely audible, his eyes fixed on the water. Flames from the torches at each corner of the room were the only illumination allotted in the room. His grey eyes studied the unmoving water, allowing himself to go into a trance. The moments seemed to slow down as his heart started to pick up a beat.

“The Jackel King is on a throne of snakes biting at the night. The whispers of the Golden Prince flows through the air. The sword of blood will be pulled from the stone and turn the flowing tide of battle.” Talos’s voice was raspy when he spoke, his voice foreign and unrecognizable. “The land in the south will burn to ash and an old evil will be unleashed” he whispered, his body trembling from the strain.

King Damon who was listening felt like he had been punched in the stomach by the words from beyond. He hadn’t thought about his little brother since he had become king and cast the squealing little bastard and his mother. This prediction disturbed him more then he let on. What struck him as almost impossible that his brother had survived? Damon’s first order of business when sitting upon the crown was to send away that woman and his half-brother into the west land. The Sythians should have killed him, but from the words of the Protector of the Unseen had made him second guess himself. Damon’s father and his ancestors had taken part in this type of ritual since the beginning of time.

The predictions hadn’t been wrong from what he knew in the land’s long history. A fiery knot was in the pit of his stomach as he stared at the seer feeing a tingle of determination and fanatical sense of purpose. He would find the sword of the vampires and slay his brother if he was alive. Anyone who challenges him will fall on to their knees and beg for forgiveness before meeting their bloody end. The thought of it amused him greatly. A smile almost betraying his true feelings, but he suppressed it and stood observing the young man who was five years or so his junior. Talos’s body trembled as he leaned over the bowl the strain taking over causing him to collapse in Asura’s waiting arms. She was standing there knowing well what happens when her beloved when he is called upon to speak to the spirits.

Sera watched them feeling jealous rising in her chest. Oh how she wished she could have a relationship they do, a connection so deep that it became intangible. Calus and Emrick hoisted the passed out Talos and helped him to his sleeping quarters with Asura trailing behind. Sera hadn’t noticed them until now being so focused on Talos and his cryptic words. Sera glanced at the bowl before leaving the antechamber. As she walked she tried to discern Talo’s words, but she felt a buzzing the back of her mind.

Feeling slightly queasy and off balanced she walked to the large garden. Some of the flowers were in bloom, but most of them were ready to bloom in a day or two if the weather is favorable. She desperately needed to clear her head as she felt herself losing strength. Sitting down she felt the muscles in her legs starting to ease from their spasms. Sera couldn’t keep the words that came not from the predictions of Talos, but the ones declaring that she was betrothed without her knowledge or consent. Inhaling slowly she forced her mind to recall the breathing exercises of her youth.

“You always found peace in the garden, my sister” the soft voice of her sister commented lightly. Sera found it slightly unnerving when her twin moved without making a sound. “I need the calm to inspire my own mind to find tranquility. Asura, what can I do? I am going to be married to a man I did not ask to be betrothed to” her voice had rose in pitch as the fear started to rise in her body. Asura sat down on the stone bench and reached out, squeezing her sister’s hand.

 “It is rare that one gets to choose who they get to marry. You know this is so. The protectors of the stones are not allowed to get married and live the typical life. You know that Talos and I are very much in love, but there will be no family for us” her voice was steady and soothing hiding her own emotions.

“You will get to have the things that are forbidden to all of us” she reached up and tapped under her sister’s chin with her fingertips lightly. Asura had grown to become wise and gentle, removing any doubt of her fate. Sera’s instincts were to yell, and object to her circumstances, but her sister’s words sobered her up. The sadness on Asura’s face filled her with guilt.

“Don’t worry. I have met him before and he is quite heroic and handsome” she told her other half reassuringly. It wasn’t until this truth was spoken that she knew she was being foolish. Sera stood up and forced herself to smile, though deep inside she had misgivings. Grabbing her sister’s hand she led her into the coolness of the manor house. They walked along until the sound of raised voices causes both of them to stop in their tracks. The yelling voices came from the open doorway before them.

The two women would recognize the indignantly angry voice of Calus who didn’t seem able to control his raging emotions. The second voice was quiet and tired. The argument seemed to be one sided since Amerus spoke only a few words amidst the young man’s torrent of shouts.

“How could you do this, old man?! Marrying her off to that boar of a man. He might be higher rank then myself but he swoops in like a thief in the night to take the one thing that means more to me than anything.” There was a moment of silence and the elderly man gave a pained sigh. Calus’s tone was the height of disrespect in his fury. Amerus raised one of his hands in a motion of pause.

 “I did what was requested of me, Calus and nothing more. Dominic is in his right to ask for the hand of any woman. He has the blessing of the king and I could do very little.” Sera knew that it wasn’t her place to interrupt the conversation, and what she was doing now was unorthodox.

“You are her guardian, you are the guardian of all of us.” Calus tried to argue the weariness and sadness was rolling through him. There was a silence that permeated the hallway and the room the conversation was taking place. There was finality to its nothingness. Sera knew that even with her feelings toward Calus that it had no bearing in the reality they lived in. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but downing it was the only choice she had. A chapter of her life was over and the next uncertain moment would be written out on the ever moving wind.

 

 

 

3.

High Temple: Northern Territory

 

The wedding took place in the early morning the dampness clinging to everything. The high temple to the deity of the land called the Great Builder. The bells rang outside its timber reigniting through the country side.  The high sprawling tower was built in the high point of the Northern Territory built by King Alther when he was crowned king. The church was filled with upper nobles, knights, and the guardians.  King Damon was sitting in the front aisle with his men at his side. It was common knowledge that King Damon and Dominic have been close since the knight had gone up in the ranks under the rule of the king. There were rumors and speculation about how close they are and what things have been hidden after one of their nights of revelry. Naturally these were dismissed as amusing stories and nothing more. 

The king was dressed in glinting gold armor that was more for ceremony then battle.  Usually stoic he seemed amused by event leaning back in his seat.  Dominic was standing in front of the priest dressed in his best armor. He looked like a dark angel in his black armor and dyed crimson cape falling from his shoulders.  He was clean shaven; dark blue eyes scanning those who came had come to attend his special day. 

Dominic felt pride welling up at him that he had quite a turn out for his wedding, the servant glad that they had the day off from work were outside the chapel in celebration of his day. Of course it was his bride’s day as well, but she was to be his wife. His and no one else’s.  He looked at the door where his lovely bride will come from feeling a sense of anticipation rolling through him. The image of her writhing under him in their wedding chambers made him start to harden under his armor, but he mustered his resolve knowing that waiting made it even sweeter.  Shifting his weight back on his heels a bit he ran his hand lightly along the hilt of his ceremonial sword, wetting his lips with his tongue lightly, breathing in the stale fragrance of the flowers decorating the chapel.

Sera stood in one of the back rooms staring at her reflection in the tall looking glass. She was garbed in a white lace dress that hung along her lithe body, beading on the bodice. Her hair was done up in a bridal braid, a single braided strand along her forehead with flowers woven into the braiding. At her side stood her twin, her hands resting on her sister’s shoulders.  Asura’s  eyes were fixed on her twin’s face, a frown on her own  clearly not approving of this marriage.  The looking glass reflected their  forms, so alike at face value, but inside so different.

 “Today you will walk the path that is treaded by most women, but I had not expected it for you, my sister. You deserve better then to be the simple wife of a warrior” Asura  said, her lips pursed in a thin line, brow knit, and eyes fixed on her sister in the looking glass. Sera turned her head and studied her sister silently for a moment, taking in her natural doppelganger.

 “I know that you have taken a lover among the circle and that is your business, marriage is mine” she replied, her words holding a finality that made her twin flinch. After a long weighted silence Asura relented and let out a soft sigh.

“This is the path you have chosen and cannot be changed” she said with a hint of sadness. Walking to the table next to the full length looking glass she picked up a box and brought it over.

“This is my gift to you. Promise me that you will always wear it and think of me” She opened the box where a beautiful blue green stone laid heavy on a silver chain. Sera could swear when she removed it from the box that the colors swirled in the dim lights of the room. Convincing herself that it was her imagination she let her sister place it around her neck, it falling between the tops of her breasts. 

The bells of the cathedral rung and the double doors opened revealing Sera who stood there in her long lace gown. The thin gossamer veil, hiding her face from those observing her.  Dominic smiled slowly seeing her angelic form coming toward him. Every person in the cathedral turned in their seat to set eyes upon the bride as she walked toward the high marble altar in front. 

Calus was the only one who didn’t looked at her, looking pained as he sat ridged in his seat with the others. Sera stopped next to Dominic who looked like a shining prince in his full armor. Dominic reached out and took his bride’s hand and squeezed it gently in his own. The ceremony commenced, the high priest speaking from the large book he held. Vows were exchanged and a cheer went up in the cathedral from the spectators. Asura stood among the other protectors clapping, her hands and cheering with the others despite her feelings toward this marriage. 

A huge banquet was held in their honor of this wonderful day. Suckling pigs had been roasted earlier that morning. Fish, muscles, and clams were shipped in from the ocean. Water fowl and other birds were caught and cooked with delicious spices.

The bride and groom were sitting at the high table looking like a perfect couple.  The knights were sitting around eating and chatting happily feeling relieved to have a moment away from battles. The mood was jovial and light. The children of the soldiers were sitting in a circle by the roaring fire as one of the knights; Markus was telling the children stories that made them giggle happily. Physically he bore a striking similarity between himself and his younger brother Dominic, but he was warm well his little brother was more stoic. Leaning against the chair was a wooden cane that he leaned against when he got tired. He had been injured when he was young from a fall that he never recovered full from. There were rumors took being passed up for Captain in stride, though everyone thought that the elder would get the job instead of the younger.

The older brother was married to a kind woman named Lonia who gave him two young sons and a daughter, and was soon to give birth to another child.  Markus was pleased that his brother found a wife for himself, but was none the less surprised by it. Dominic was known for his womanizing ways since he first came into manhood, but there is a time in every man’s life when they have to settle down he reasoned.  He had a sneaking suspicion though that his little brother wouldn’t change his ways.  Shaking his head he looked down at the children waiting for him on baited breath for him to continue the story.  Dominic was sitting draining his goblet as he smiled at his friends and allies, feeling very confident with his new bride at his side.

The newly appointed captain looked at his new wife and gave her a smile. Sera looked upon Dominic with her navy blue eyes, unable to believe that was the bride of the handsome captain.  Her new sister-in-law, Lonia was very kind and welcoming to her. Lonia was sitting at a few people down with her three year old daughter, Kora on her lap, fussing a bit. Sera watched her with the toddler imagining herself with her own child on her knee, and turned her head looking at Dominic who was pouring himself more wine. 

After the revelry died down Sera stretched and got out of her chair, Dominic by then was standing by the fireplace with some of his brethren tossing dice. In a daze she knew that when she walked into her bridal chambers she would not be sleeping alone. She knew she would have to walk this road alone. Feeling her feet heavy on the ground she walked through the double doors of the great hall, and made her way down the hall.

Sera knew that her new husband’s friends would bring him in when he was well ready to consummate their marriage. Upon entering her chambers she felt a chill creeping through her. Shaking it off, undoing the sash of her gown and placed it on a nearby chair.  Undressing she walked to the bathroom leaving her clothing laying on the floor planning on picking them up later.

The great cathedral was resurrected by the king and had many rooms that boarded monks, soldiers, and visiting dignitaries during special events.  The bathroom was fully furnished with an oak bathing basin in the center of the room. Copper pipes laid under the stone foundation that tapped into a hot spring under the ground giving them hot water.  Crossing the bathroom into the center she admired the tiling on the wall that climbed almost up to the vaulted ceiling.

The room was circular with a stain glassed window of an armored angel with a yellow backdrop.  Sera filled the tub to the top and blended some rose oil in it to make her skin fragrant. She washed her body free of the sweat and nerves of the wedding procession away. Sitting there she stared at the stain glass mirror in front of her, the amulet hanging between her breasts. 

“I will not let my nerves get the best of me.” She told herself firmly as she squeezed the sea sponge between her hands, the water dripping over her stomach.  Knowing that she could not stew in the tub all night she forced herself to her feet feeling the cold of the room. Shaking it off she reminded herself that she is the Guardian of the Stone of Healing and would not let her childish fears overtake her. He saved her life, asked her to marry him. It wasn’t like it had been arranged by some uncaring parents or she was kidnapped and forced to marry. She agreed to become his bride. Telling herself these things over and over she dried herself off and padded back into the bedroom.   She knew that her new husband would be coming in later after he finished drinking with his friends.  Lying down upon the bed she closed her eyes and drifted off into a light sleep.

Dominic stepped into the chambers of his room; he was wearing only his breeches since he lost the rest of his clothing, including his best boots in a hand of cards. Looking down at the sleeping angel on the bed a smile crept to his lips. She had the covers draped over her body, her bare chest and arms peek-a-booing from the top. A part of him didn’t want to disturb her slumber, but the ache in his breeches reminded him as his right as her husband. This wasn’t the first time he has deflowered a virgin before, he had many times enjoyed the spoils of the battlefield and looked into the faces of fathers who thrust their daughters at him in hopes that their own lives would be spared. This situation was different though. The girl laying in such relaxed slumber is his lawful wife.  Reaching out his fingertips caressed her soft skin with the back of his fingertips. “Wake up, my beautiful bride.” He said softly as he gazed down on her face.

Sera’s eyes fluttered open and found her gaze meeting that of Captain Dominic. The color rose in her cheeks as she let out a soft breath, drinking in his handsome face.

 “I must have fallen asleep” she said drowsily, stifling a little yawn.  He leaned down and brushed his lips to hers, his fingertips slowly moving to touch her sides.  Her fingers came up and caressed his chiseled cheek and smiled softly.  Reaching out he grasped the sheets covering her body and slowly slid it over her skin, his eyes not leaving hers. Sera shivered despite there being a warm fire in the hearth. Sliding back he undid the lace of his breeches and slid them down, giving her the first look at his nude form. His calves and thighs were toned from the rigors of training and battle. His cock was hard between his legs with a bead of pre-cum clinging to the tip.

The mixture of drink and seeing her laying there had aroused him beyond measure. It was difficult for him to control himself gazing at her on the bed. Sera stared at his body fully and felt her breath catch in her throat. Not wanting to seem too eager she took her time to study every inch of his athletic, but somewhat scarred skin. He had a few knick and evidence of battle.  She could see the want in his eyes and knew that he was trying to hold himself back. Stretching out she opened her arms out to welcome him. He nestled himself between her slightly opened legs and raised one of her legs smoothly, his hand stroking the underside of it gently. Leaning forward he eased his hardness into her body, taking her virginity. Sera’s brow knit at the ache that took a toll through her. Her sister had warned her that a woman’s first time can be very painful, but it would pass and never be experienced again.  Dominic held her leg and bent his face down to nuzzle her tears away.

“It’s alright my little dove” he murmured. Feeling the slight pain pass she opened her eyes and looked up at her husband. He smiled at her and started to rock his hips, easing himself deeper in her causing her to feel a strange sensation. With each thrust she felt her own body relaxing, filled with a delicious feeling she could not describe. He laid a soft kiss upon her throat then drew one of her pert rose-colored nipples into his mouth. It filled her with an incredible sensation causing her to cry out. His mouth and touch made her feel warm all over.

 Dominic rolled his hips against hers easing himself, deeper, and deeper. Sera felt that it must be madness as it went on and on leaving her dizzy and delirium with the new sensations he was giving her. Dominic groaned and arched his back as his climax hit him, emptying himself within her. Letting out a deep breath he laid his face against her neck. Sera lay under him catching her breath slowly as he climbed off of her and collapsed at her side, after a moment she heard his soft snoring. 

Laying there she stared up at the ceiling unsure what to do with herself now. Sitting up she turned her legs facing the edge of the bed. It was the first time she experienced the ache in her muscles and saw the blood on her thighs. Forcing herself to a standing position she walked to the bath, mustering all the strength she had left.  Sera quickly cleaned herself up and slipped into a nightgown and got under the covers with him, pulling the covers over her body shivering.

The fire had died down by then leaving coolness in the large bedroom.  The lit candles were the only illumination she has. The amulet that her sister had given her still hung between her bare breasts, a habit she would not part from.

The next day Dominic and his soldiers rode off on campaign leaving Sera to take in her new surroundings. The Golgothian Knights lived in the Catacian Complex. It was a sprawling building with high towers and courtyards in the middle, the white marble gleaming when the sun rose.  It was the home of the knights and their family. Sera had woken up to find that her new husband was gone, but knew she should of expected it. Rising from her bed she felt the ache all over her body and saw the droplets of blood on the sheets. Blinking away the sleep from her eye she swung her legs around and placed her bare feet on the bed. The door opened and a girl about fifteen stepped in wearing a very simple brown dress, her hair pulled back in a braid.

“Miss I am sorry to interrupt your rest. My name is Marie. I your maid and I will help you if you need anything.” She said her brown eyes lowered in respect. Sera looked at the girl and stretched a bit.

“Can you draw me a bath, please?” she asked in reply. Marie nodded her head and hurried to the bath and started to fill it with warm water. 

“The Captain is a handsome man. You’re so lucky to be married to him” The young maid said as she put rose and lavender oil.  Sera felt surprised by the tone the maid spoke about her father, though it could be an innocent comment. She didn’t know why she had a strange nagging feeling in her gut. Casting it aside she walked to the bath and studied Marie’s shining face and polite smile.

 “Yes he is” Sera said softly now standing next to the bathtub. Marie reached over and turned off the facet.

“He is very popular among the girls in the home. Out of all of the knights he is a devil with an angel’s face” Marie said and curtsied, leaving the room before Sera could question her further on her cryptic words. 

Undressing she slid in the water and sat down, feeling her muscles start to relax in the warm water.  Leaning back she let her head lull against her chest a bit, her eyes half closed.  She wore the amulet her sister gave her around her neck that lightly caressed the top of the water.  She started to slip into deep dreams.

A spiraling staircase leading upward toward a grand room. The sunlight glinted through stain glass windows upon the stone steps. At the top of the stairs was a large circular room with a metal staircase in the back. The walls were covered with tapestries and shelves of old leather bound books and scrolls. A roaring fire lay in a white marble fireplace, crackling soothingly. The room had two large arch windows without glass in them. Standing before a long oak desk stood a man. It wasn’t a human man, but a Sythian man. He had pale skin with muscularly beautiful features. He had golden yellow eyes, a slender nose, and his lips thin but full.  The man was dressed in a soft white robe the clung to his muscular form.  On his back were sprouted midnight black wings that were folded slightly. His head was bowed slightly, eyes half closed with a frown tugging at his lips. He stood before a pile of papers looking miserable. Turning he walked to the window and stared out. The ground below was filled with mutilated bodies of other Sythians. Men, women, and children had been horribly slaughtered by someone. This was the reason for this man’s sorrows.

Sera woke up with a start realizing she fell asleep in the tub. The water was freezing cold by then and her skin was all pruned. The dream had startled her and confused her. It was vivid and real as if she had gone up those stairs and seen this man. Sliding out of the water she quickly toweled off and looked at her reflection in the mirror.  Staring at her pale reflection she could have sworn she saw the amulet against her breast giving off a slight glow. She got dressed and walked down to the high board where lunch had been laid out by the servants.

Lamb was roasted with garlic and peppers stew and fresh bread was place out with warm cider and cinnamon sticks to go in it. Sera  was surprised to see Markus sitting there leaning back in his chair a bit, his elbows resting on the large table. Upon seeing her he motioned for her to take the seat next to him. Walking over she took a place at his side.

“I thought you would be out on campaign with the others” she said, cocking her head to the side slightly.

“I decided not to go since my dear Lonia is close to having her baby. The doctor says it will be any day now, and I want to be there to ease her mind.” He replied and gave a relaxed smile. This was highly unorthodox among the men since they usually aren’t even in the room when the blessed event happens. Choosing to refuse to go on campaign makes me look weak, but I don’t care. Lonia is my angel” he said adamantly as he sat in the chair, a goblet of wine in his hand.

Markus would never admit to anyone, not even his wife that he was becoming disenfranchised by battle. He saw no glory in the battlefield anymore. He often didn’t agree with his brother’s methods of torture and he has seen things that he would take to the grave.

 Sera sipped her drink looking thoughtful. She touched the amulet around her neck lightly and again was reminded of the vivid dream she had. The being in the dream was a Sythian. She knew from the description she has grown up hearing.  In her wild dreams since she had seen them as being horrible monsters that snatched babies from their cribs. The man she saw in her dream though was beautiful and sad. His emotions had moved her greatly, but she wasn’t even sure if what she saw was real or not. It gave her a lot to think about well her new husband was out on campaign.

 

 

 

Maladus, On the Territorial Boarder

Dominic sat on the end of the straw bed in the room where he stayed in the small village of Maladus. It was one of the outposts he visited on the boarders the Western Territory. 

The Western Territory is where the Sythian, vampires held sway.  He felt like it was trying to get rid of ants under a brick. Kill a few and hundred mores scuttle out from the cracks. The thought of it filled him with a deep seated rage. He knew that soon they would capture the eldest of the Sythians, the last ruler since their ancient king passed away from the first battle. Once they capture and execute him then he knew that the others would fall.

 Brena, his lover and mistress lay stirred a little on the bed, spread out like a feline. He stood up and started to get dressed having grown bored with her  tonight, perhaps  before he went home to the stronghold he would take her again for his amusement.  She didn’t wake by the time he opened the door and stepped out.

He felt restless wanting to throw himself into the ecstasy of battle. The class of swords, and the iron of blood filling his nostrils.  A smile spread across his lips as he went to saddle up his charger.  Taking off in a gallop he brazenly crossed the border that was a field of corpses hoisted up on wooden stakes, impaling them.

Slowing his horse he looked around at the dead grass, red from the seeping blood and saw movement in the distance. Getting off the horse he patted the horse’s side and walked slowly toward the sound. Silently he stalked his way until two figures became visible.

A Sythian man and a toddling little girl were at his side. The little girl was just coming into her wings that were folded against her pink dress, her dark hair in a messy ponytail. In her hand she held a raggedy doll that had black hair of yarn and a simple dress.  Holding her father’s hand she looked down at the ground, scavenging for small animals to feed off.  Since the knights had begun their ruthless display killing all the livestock and animals that thrived in the area, they were forced to leave their territory to look feed off humans or starve to atrophy.

 Not wanting to take the risk some families scavenged for what they can. The small child let go of her father’s hand seeing a small colter lizard crawling along an ancient log.

“Daddy, It’s a lizard!” she cried and hurried after it. Her father gave his child a wistful look, his golden eyes filled with sadness, knowing that a small lizard would not be enough to sustain his small child. If they didn’t find bigger prey then they would go home hungry, and the thought of that broke his heart.  Both were not aware of the danger coming their way. Running to the log the little girl she jumped forward and tried to snatch it, but it eluded her finding its way in a hole. She pouted and stared at the hole where the lizard had escaped. She looked up when a shadow cast over her. Looking up her eyes widened at the sight of man in the glistening armor.

 For a long moment she was rooted to the spot unable to move, fear galvanizing her. Her father had spotted Dominic as well and ran over scooping her up as Dominic raised his sword to cut her down. Grabbing the small child, the male Sythian turned his body and took the blow of the weapon, coming down hard on his back and tearing right through his right wing. Blood sprouted from the wound as he placed her down, his knees shaking badly.

“Run my child! Run!” he cried as he fell on all fours. The little girl let out a whimper and looked at her father and turned and started to run through the field. Being too little she has yet to learn to use her small wings.  Dominic watched the Sythian running through the tall grass and pulled his sword up and brought it down again, decapitating the man. The toddler hurried through the grass gasping for breath holding the doll in her little hand. Hearing footsteps she foolishly turned and found Dominic was mere feet from her. She let out a cry of fear and dropped the doll to the ground, terror showing in her big golden-yellow eyes. 

“Hello little one” he said smoothly and raised his sword, dripping with the blood of her father. The girl stared at the man in his armor, looking into his blue piercing eyes. Dominic smiled widely and brought the sword down.

 

Catacian Complex: Northern Territory

 

Sera woke up restless in bed and pulled the sheets off of her form. Getting up her bare feet touched the stone floor. It has been two week since her husband rode off on campaign. She found distractions in the families that lived in the Catacian Complex.

 Lonia had given birth of to her daughter, a healthy girl named Talia. Having her monthly bleed she found to her dismay that she was not with child. Of course she has not been married long, but she feared that he would die in battle and leave her alone in this strange place. It made her miss her sister and her friends in the Hall of Clothos.

The distance between herself and her twin was incredibly difficult. She often thought of Calus who she once had soft feelings toward, but she had made her choice and married Dominic. Sera hoped that soon she would get to see her sister soon. The dream came to her again of the Sythian man who stared out the window in sheer misery. Having overcome the overwhelming fear of the recurring dream she started to wonder about the man. He mostly stared out the window at the macabre landscape that lay below the window. The

Sythian often switched his attention from the window to stand by the table in the center of the circular room covered with old tomes.  She tried to reach for him in her dream, try to speak to him but she could not. It was as if she was looking in behind a window. 

It brought out all lot of strong emotions out of her. She reasoned that it was because she was missing her husband, but each time she had the dream she wasn’t sure.

Walking across the cold room she made her way to the basin on the table. Pouring the water into the bowl she washed her hands and face lightly. The fire by now was almost out casting the room in darkness.  Sera stared down at the clear water lit by the moon through the window. Staring down at herself she watched in awe as the water shivered and rippled, transforming into the image of her twin sister. Excitement ran through her, recognizing that it isn’t her own reflection at all.

“Sister, I thought I thought I wouldn’t see you for some time” Sera cried happily with fingers curling against the sides of the basin. Asura smiled at her sister, but it did not reach her light blue eyes.

“I am glad to see you as well. I feared that I would not get a chance to speak to you” she replied cryptically. This puzzled the healer as she studied the face in the pool.

“What do you mean by that?” she questioned, finding the statement odd. It filled her with a sense of palpable dread. Asura sighed audibly and gave a slight shake of her head.

 “Two nights ago I read the Cards of Fortune and they spelled things to come, things of great misfortune. My question was about you and it warned of great danger. It compelled me to use this mirror of divination here in the Hall of Clothos to seek you out. What relief I feel to see that you are unharmed, but I cannot shake this feeling” her twin, her natural reflection that peered back at her with brow knit with worry. Sera gave a slight shake of her own head.

 “As you can see I am very well.” She told her, but her words faltered a bit as the shadow of doubt once again unfolded upon her.

“How is your marriage to the Captain? Are you happy, sister?” Asura pried itching to find out if the choices her sister had made were the right ones for her.

“I must confess that he is off on campaign. He has been for a week protecting the land from the rising darkness that plagues our land” Sera replied quickly, not wanting to hear the ‘I told you so’ from her twin. From where she stood before the basin she could glimmer a touch of smugness tugging at her sister’s lips.

 “He will return soon and all will be right again” she added defiantly standing up taller than she was before. 

“If you are happy then that is all that matters to me sister” The guardian of the stone of wisdom finally conceded, knowing that it was too late to further warn her sister about the man she wedded to. The deed had already been done.  This didn’t erase the fear for her sister’s safety though. Sera looked at her older twin wondering if she should ask her about the strange recurring dreams she was having, but she thought that would compound her sister’s concern and compel her to make the long journey here. It was a treacherous path from the high north filled with bandits, cutthroats, and other creatures including Sythians who have spread out their hunting grounds. Instead she saw the wisdom in holding her tongue, feeling that this creature that she kept dreaming of might not be as dangerous as the knights have attested to. 

“What about you and Talos? How have the both of you been? And Calus as well?”she asked throwing the questions out to her sister to distract her from further asking questions about her personal life.

“Talos is well and handsome as always” she reported, the warmth creeping into her words as she spoke fondly of her lover. “As for Calus on the other hand I don’t see much of him which is a shame. He is always with Amerus, thrusting himself in his studies. I think he is still heartbroken over you choosing the captain over him” she continued, not holding back on her tone of continual disapproval. 

“I have made my choices and I am willing to accept what may come”Sera said wistfully as she looked at her sister in the reflection.

“I hope that is so, my dear sister” Asura replied sadly. Before another word could be spoken the water rippled as the power that connected them in the reflecting basin had loosened its grip. Unable to stifle a sigh she returned to her bed and laid down not sure if she could forget the prediction that the cards her sister had drawn. If there was indeed danger on the horizon she would have to face in with strength and humility.  Laying back she closed her eyes, her arms tucked behind her golden halo of hair. Drifting back in an uneasy slumber.

A week later, Dominic and his men returned to Catacian Complex.  To everyone’s surprise the captain had brought a woman with him, his lover from Maladus, named Brena.  Everyone but Asura knew that this woman was one of Dominic’s many light skirts. Sera ran out hearing the trumpets blasting signifying their return. She didn’t think anything of the girl on the back of the horse, not noticing how she clung to her husband possessively.

“Dominic I am happy to see you, my dear husband” she said cheerfully. Dominic smiled widely pleased that his wife had come out to greet him as she should.  He slid off the horse and reached out and took her hands in his own, then pulled her into his arms kissing her deeply. Sera returned the kiss feeling the color rising in her cheeks. The captain turned and helped the girl off the horse and then looked at his wife.

“This is Brena. She will be your new maid. I feel that Maria is lazy and doesn’t know her place.” He announced as if this was some great gift to his wife.  Sera looked at the girl who looked a few years younger than her as she curtsied and softly murmured a greeting.

“Welcome to the Catacian Complex. I am quite new here myself so we should stick together” she said warmly, having no suspicions about the motives of her husband.

 Brena gave her new mistress a sulking look when she wasn’t looking. It wasn’t her plan to become the serving of the woman who had stolen the love of her life. She planned in making it very difficult on the other woman. Brena knew about the reputation that the Protector of the Stones had with their magical abilities and sorcery. The rumors in her small village were like a wild fire. The Protectors before them had kept the Sythians at bay, but at what cost? She felt that the healer, Asura who had stolen Dominic’s heart must have used her magic to do so. That meek woman that she stared with resentment couldn’t possibly be his beloved. Smiling to herself she knew that Dominic would come to her bed once he got bored of his new wife, and perhaps she Brena would get pregnant with his child before this woman. The child would be illegitimate, but it would show that bitch that he wanted a family with her!  Putting her plan together mentally she followed Sera into the complex.

“What the hell were you thinking?! Bringing that whore here” Markus yelled throwing the cup of mead against the wall.

“You have just gotten married. Isn’t it enough? You show great disrespect toward her” The older brother was absolute beside himself in rage. He already saw Sera as her dearest sister and her brother’s behavior was almost too much for him. Dominic didn’t seem moved by Markus as he leaned back in his chair.

“What I do is really none of your concern, big brother. Sera is my wife, she belongs to me” he replied in a calm voice, almost wistful.

“I can do as I please with her and with the whore I brought back with me. There is no law against it.” Markus ran his hand over his face and let out a long sigh.

“It’s not right. You incur the wrath of the Great Builder on your head for betraying your vows to your wife” the older man reasoned. 

Dominic raised his eyebrows and suddenly started to laugh, it animated his whole body.

“I had no idea you are a religious man, Brother. Perhaps you should have been a preacher instead of a warrior. Between the two of us I don’t believe in what the bishops say. They might think that there is something special about those stones they protect, and that they have some sort of natural magic from the planet. It’s a crock in my opinion. My wife is just a woman and women are weak.

“Dominic stated and leaned forward a bit, a smile crossing his lips. “You might be fooled by that plain little dove you have in your bed, but I know better.” The older man knew he should blow up in anger at his younger brother, but he realized it would do not good. Such a jaded creature as Dominic would come to a bad end.

4.

The months to come were surprisingly quiet as Sera went about her womanly arts. She got up early and made sure her husband’s armor was polished and that the servants in the quarter they were staying was clean.  When she wasn’t doing that she was using her given gifts as the healer of the complex. Soldier, their families, servants, and slaves came to her for care. Her husband’s had gifted her with a room that was stalked with herbs, cloths, fresh water for washing, and other items needed.  It kept her busy and got her the reputation of being a good person. Being busy kept her mind busy from the dishearten knowledge that she has not yet gotten pregnant with a child. Standing in her healing room she washed her hands with rose water and dried them off.

Sera sighed softly and glanced out the small window into the side yard.  She was already packed and ready for the trip to the Adonus Mountain Retreat. It was an old Sythian castle ruin that was now a beautiful retreat sight for the soldiers and their guests. It was one of the unusual phenomenons in the land. The old ruined castle had underground hot springs and reflective stone walls.

Dominic had decided that he would take her there along with her servants. Markus and the other men were coming as well for a whole different reason. The ruined castle had rumors of a legendary sword that was crafted together by the legendary human king and the former vampire sire. It was said to be the most powerful weapon in existence, but has gone missing over the centuries.  Sera thought it was a nice trip and finished packing up her supplies. She could see out the window, Brena removing some sheets from a clothing line, but not without a painstakingly slow and bored look on her face.  Since the day her husband had brought the young woman to the compound she has been a lazy and combatant. She couldn’t understand why the girl had agreed to be a servant when she clearly didn’t want to do it. Sera didn’t like the way the girl looked at her husband as well with a needy and possessive look. The healer wasn’t a jealous woman, but it made her uneasy. Naturally she wanted to send her packing, but she didn’t think Dominic would let her dismiss her when he went through all the trouble to bring her here. 

Shaking off her bad feelings she finished tying the bag closed and went down to where the horses were waiting. The servants had already packed everything they would need for the trip the night before and the horses and cart were saddled. Dominic was standing next to his horse and smiled at her, clad in his casual armor.

“Good morning, my dear” he said smoothly and mounted the horse and offered his hand to her. She was dressed in a pink gown with breeches under it so she ride astride with him comfortably. The ruins were a three days ride from her home. They would be passing the Hall of Clothos, but she knew Dominic would not stop there. These long months the only contract with her sister she has had was in the bowl in her room, and her one visit when Amerus developed a cold and needed her healing aide. Getting on the behind her husband she slid her arms around his waist, nuzzling her face against the back of his cool armor. She grew to love him since they have married. To her he was a loving husband and only raised his hand to her once.  Sera was not aware of his bloodlust and general lust, that under her roof he was having sex with her new maid. Even if she had any inkling of it there was nothing she could have done about it. By law they were bound together till death. The group traveled during the day not running into any bandits who dared to cross the Golgothian Knights. 

The old castle itself was laid at the base of the Adonus Mountain. Two of the four sprawling towers had been destroyed and decayed over time. The stain glass windows were mostly broken or obstructed by plant life that took it over. Most of the castle was habitable, but sections of it were blocked off due to its dangerousness. There was a man on a horse with escorts at his side.

Dominic slid off the horse upon arrival and helped Sera down from the horse. She smiled at her husband hoping that perhaps the new setting would inspire them to have a child. Turning she felt her heart start to drop when she recognized Emrick coming toward them.  She thought her blood turned to ice at the sight of him. The mean spirited boy hadn’t changed, but he committed his devious acts under the crown of King Damon. Becoming the High Bishop of Golgoth he had thousands of devoted followers, and did his work in the name of the Great Building. He was known for his angelic face and fierce fanatic beliefs.  She knew his true face from the experience she had during her childhood. Dressed in his long purple robe with gold on the trim he opened his arm in a welcoming way.

“Welcome my children. The Great Builder himself has blessed your travels here. “He said and smiled at them, the hood placed on the top of his head. Emrick had sheared off, leaving him bald. The priest embraced Dominic briefly then turned and looked at Sera.

“Ah, I am pleased to see you are well, my child. I see that the years have not obstructed your beauty and grace” he said lightly, but there was a flash of pure venom in his eyes.  He embraced her briefly as he had her husband and turned toward the entrance. Sera knew that Emrick still was that horrible person he used to be, but now he was in power greater than the stone he was sworn to protect.

As the High Bishop under the King he used his power not to protect the people, but to use the art of divination to aid the royal in battle strategy and petty things.  He led them into the old castle with a grand sweep of his robed arm. Sera along with her the others walked into the castle, except the servants who were unpacking the luggage. The entrance to the castle was covered with old tapestries that were faded and torn away. There were two stairs leading to a second floor. The reputation of the castle was made for a reason. Instead of stone walls like the grand buildings crafted by humans these walls were multi-colored, shining surfaces. The sunlight from the morning sun streamed through the broken windows, bouncing off the reflective surfaces in a dazzling array of colors. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she stared at the beautiful sights before her.  Emrick was standing there watching her silently then he looked at Dominic.

“I take it your lady will want to go up and rest, and then soak in the spring.  Captain, we have been here for four days and still no sign of the sword” he commented with a note of frustration.  Sera was perplexed by this realizing that her rest and relaxation wasn’t the only reason they were here. This filled her with mixed emotions, but she didn’t say anything.  Dominic nodded his head and looked at Sera.

“Brena, take your lady upstairs. There is a room already there” he said in a soft voice. She hadn’t realized her maid was there until he mentioned her name. Turning her head she realized that the girl had materialized at her side. The girl touched her arm and led her up the right stairs and took her down the hall.

“You must be so tired, milady. You will be able to take your mind off the fact that you have not given your husband a child “she said lightly. The comment was most likely innocent, but it was a barb threaded in her heart. Not responding she walked down the hall, glancing at the tapestries that they passed the thread so faded the pictures were not distinguishable. A pair of double doors led to the room she would be staying with her husband. It was a large room with a four poster bed and an en-suite bathroom that was refurnished for visitors. Her bags had already been unpacked and the clothing put away.

“Do you want to rest or go to the spring?” Brena asked with an air of impatience.  Sera stood there for a moment in the center of the room and looked at her.

“Go down to the spring” she replied though her legs hurt. Brena nodded and led her back down the stone stairs. She was taken to an underground spring. The walls like the ones built in the castle were the reflective material covered the cavern. In the center was a clear font of water that filled almost the entire underground room. Turning she looked at Brena wondering if she was seeing the same beauty she was, but found that the girl was gone. Her brow knit as she looked around, but figured her servant wanted to give her privacy. Undressing she stared down at her reflection in the mirroring water and stepped inside. At first she was surprised that the water was warm, expecting it to be cold like the rest of the water in the land unless it was warmed up by fire.

 Lowering her body into the water she looked around the chambers. Sera felt her muscles relax as she let out a deep breath. Looking at the opposite wall she noticed a mural on the wall of a beautiful winged woman, holding a chalice with a symbol emblazoned on it. It was the image of a snake cannibalizing its own tail. For a long moment she stared down at the mural that seemed to be perfectly kept despite the moist conditions. Finally she closed her eyes and drifted off into a light sleep.  She didn’t know how much time passed when she finally opened her eyes. “Brena?”she called groggily. No answer came to her though. The maid had left to find Dominic and have sexual relationships with him.

Once again her eyes focused on the mural and she noticed that the symbol on the chalice seemed to give off a glow. The torches were the only illumination in the antechamber. It took Sera a moment before she realized that the reflection was coming from the amulet around her own neck. Left in a stunned silence she reached down and touched the gemstone that glowed in the shadowed darkness. She did not have time to respond to this shocking turn of events when another one came upon her. The mural with a low hiss slid to the side reveal a dark passage way. Blinking she waded her way over to it for a better look.

The amulet she wore lit up the secret hallway. It was strange to her that instead of fear she felt a strange sense of déjà vu and curiosity welling up in her. Quickly she went back to the side where she came in and grabbed up her removed gown. Holding it above her head she went back to the tunnel and climbed into the entrance. It was tall enough for her to stand up fully. Sliding the dress over her body, it clung to her nude form.

 A part of her advised her not to follow this strange dark passage, but the rest of her wanted to know the secrets that lay inside. The stone around her neck lit the way down the dark corridor. Sera found her way to the end of the corridor and found herself at the foot of stairs. Turning her head she looked back at the way she came and only met darkness. The door she entered had closed behind her without her even realizing it. It seemed that the only way was up these stairs. Taking her first steps she let out a soft breath and proceeded upwards. 

“How long do these stairs go?” she wondered out loud as she continued to go up and up.  Water dripped from the top of the caverns causing her to realize that she must be in the mountain itself. The healer felt the ache in her legs, but finally she was rewarded seeing two double doors ahead. She exhaled a tired sigh, her hands wrapping around the handles and pulling them open.

The door opened without resisting her. She was admitted into a large circular room all lot like the room style in the House of Clothos. The walls were covered with bookshelves covered with more books and tomes then she has ever seen in her whole life. There was a cozy hearth in the middle protected by stone around it keeping the scattered pillows from being engulfed.  A small stairway was leading to a hidden second floor. There were high windows that looked out at the Arcadian Sea. The mountain itself was hollow, having been carved out to be made livable. Her bare feet cool against the marble floor as she crossed the chamber and looked out at the dark sea. But who lived here in the mountain? Someone must be living there if there is a roaring fire. The books and tomes looked like they were well kept and cared for.

“Who are you? How did you get here?” a soft slightly accented voice brushed her consciousness. Turning she saw vividly the man from her recurring dream. He looked equally baffled to see her standing there in his home. For a moment she couldn’t speak as she drank in his whole being in the firelight.

 “The way to this room has been sealed off with special magic” he said in her silence.  The man’s golden eyes looked at her face then down at the amulet around her neck.

 “I see…”he murmured. “Do not be afraid of me. My name is Argos Erelius, Prince of the Sythian race”he explained to her his hands moving animatedly, but trying not to scare her. Argos was exactly the way he looked in her dream, but very real. He stood in front of her his expression imploring for her not to turn away.  Finally catching her voice she looked at him, shaking herself out of the large shock.

“My name is Sera. I am the protector of the stone of healing. I was raised at the Hall of Clothos. You’re not going to kill me are you? “She asked with trepidation. Shaking his head he frowned deeply at her question.

“No, I have no desire to drink your blood. Humans think we cannot stay sustained without blood. We live off the essence from the life’s blood, but we can go centuries without gorging ourselves on it.” He told her, folding his bat like wings around his form a bit.

“I have to admit that I am glad to finally have company after the self-imposed isolation. That amulet you wear around your neck is from one of the same stones that the humans protect to this day. It was the stone of immortality that was broken in the conflict between my father and the humans”. Sera shifted in the spot she stood.

“You have been hidden here this whole time?” she asked her voice being stronger then it was before. Argos sighed as he bowed his head, his shoulders hunching a bit.

 “I admit that I am a coward to be hiding here well the rest of my kind are hunted down. I have spent centuries reasoning in denial that I being the royal line had to stay and go on, but in truth it wasn’t noble. “he said quietly, his expression filled with shame. The look on his face broke her heart as she looked at this figure of the man in absolute despair.

“I don’t think you are a coward. I think you are trying to survive the worst of times. When I was a young initiate at the Hall of Clothos, I was told of the story of your father and King Ursa and how society broke down under fears and suspicion. What really happened?” she asked knowing that it wasn’t the best time to ask, but the questions rose in her. She could hear the audible sigh that rippled through his body causing his long wings to shiver slightly.

 “It would take a very long time to explain the full truths that lead to the disillusion of humanity, and the thoughtless blood thirst of my kind” he told her and glanced toward the window.

“Your library collection is very impressive” she said changing tact. In time she figured he would open up to her. He blinked at her words then his eyes lit up.

“You like to read?” he asked with a child-like curiosity. Seeing that they have a common interest made her smile widely.

 “Yes, I have always loved to read and learn since I was a small child” she replied. Argos seemed to be considering her words carefully, knowing that it would be dangerous if he made a miscalculation. Her being able to come to this place using a piece of the Omeron stone was no mere coincidence.

“You can come and read from these tomes and books when it pleases you” he suggested and smiled at her warmly. Sera nodded her head and looked into his golden eyes.

 “I would like that very much “she said after a long moment of considering. She knew that coming here would be dangerous. If her husband and the others of the Golgothian Knights found out they would kill him and see it as the greatest victory.  Reading her face he let out a soft sigh

 “You fear that you will put me in danger in coming to visit me. I know they are here. “He said softly. 

“They are searching for the ancient sword made by my father centuries ago. I wouldn’t worry too much about it” Argos waved his hand and walked to the window and looked out.

“I want you to come and see me. The silence is almost maddening” he told her wearily.  Sera walked up to him and placed her hand on his arm, feeling the muscles relaxing under her fingertips.  He turned his head from the image of the breathtaking scenery and looked at her. 

 “You are like no other human I have met. You radiate a kindness from your very being, and you are beautiful. It humbles me with shame that I have judged your kind for so long. Perhaps you can teach me to forgive them.” Argo gazed at her thoughtfully.

“They want to kill you. Doesn’t that scare you?” she asked. There was tightness in his cheek as he turned his gaze away.

“As I said before I am a coward to hide here.  They think that killing me will frighten the rest of my kind into submission, but I don’t think they are so weak. I believe in them and in the prophecies” he commented. This got her attention peaked as she touched his arm again.

“Prophecies? “she couldn’t help but inquire. He smiled slowly and walked to the books and ran his fingers along their bindings.

“There is a prophecy that says that the man who is meant to find the sword will bring peace between the Sythians and the humans. This will change to the four territories. I believe in these prophecies that were foretold by our astronomer Mikanose, centuries ago. My faith is all I have left amongst this bloodshed.” Sera took that in and nodded her head.

 “I would like to learn about your culture. Your kind has attacked my people, but I understand that not all of you are monsters” she said softly.

“I don’t about the prophecies you speak of, but true or not I want to find some way to help.”

 

Adonus Mountain Retreat

 

Sera found her way back to the bathing area from the secret tunnel. Stepping out into the water she removed her dress again to again not get it wet. Wading across the warm, steamy water she felt the coolness of the air contrasting against it. She reached the other side of pool and climbed the stairs. Pulling the wrinkled dress over her body she left the bathing chambers, unable to find neither hide nor hair of Brena.

 Where was the girl? Yes, she was lazy but to not be on duty was almost unheard of. Feeling a bit disgruntled at it she held the towel to her hair and walked down the hallway. The longer she searched for the girl, the more annoyed she felt. A few rooms down she heard strange noises coming from behind the door. It sounded like an animal groaning. Looking around for a guard or someone, not sure if she should handle this by herself. Finding no one around she walked to the door and touched the handle.

Pulling her hand back for a moment she hesitated realizing that it might be something more obvious than what she first thought. Surely she didn’t want to interrupt someone in the throes of passion, but on the other hand this might be where her wayward maid is. Pushing on the wooden door, she eased it open a little bit.

 On the bed were two naked figured tangled in a sheet. The sound she was hearing was her second guess.  Immediately she knew the woman, her head thrown up back in absolute abandoned passion.  It was Brena with her arms and legs thrown around her lover’s strong body. It must be one of the guards from the strong arms and torso who was shirking his duties to take a tumble with a disobedient servant girl. Starting to ease herself  from the room she stopped when she saw a scar on the man’s back, it was a deep line going vertical next to the spine. 

Her heart dropped in her stomach as she stood unable to tear her eyes off of the man’s nude back. If she needed more evidence the man raised his head and she could see it was her husband, Captain Dominic. Sera felt the cold running through her as she stood frozen to the spot. She knew that it would make her feel even worst if she was caught standing there.  Her hand clasped over her mouth she forced herself to steady her breathing and back away. Closing the door she ran to her chambers leaving droplets of water in her wake.

Throwing her door open she went to her bed and could no longer hold back the sobs caught in her throat. The pain seared in her whole being as she laid there on the bed she shared with her husband, the one who betrayed her. The worst part about it was that there was nothing she could do about it. If she told her husband what she saw then he would remind her that she is his wife and had no right to tell him what he can do.  She knew he might even blame her for his transgression. As a child she thought that being a protector of a sacred stone made her immune to these things, but she wasn’t in the House of Clothos anymore. As a wife she has no power to wield. This knowledge made her feel miserable and lost.

The next few months were the hardest for her pretending in the face of her husband that she didn’t know of his betrayal. Sera went about her wifely duties, but she spent most of her time with her sister-in law and the growing daughter Melody. Aside from using her healing art to care for those in need she had a secret of her own.

At night she would slip into the secret tunnel in the hot spring under the guise of taking a bath and went to see Argos in the mountain retreat. She didn’t feel it was on the same level as her husband’s infidelities, especially after that day she found out all lot of things her husband was guilty of. Most of them were rumors, but she wasn’t as innocent as she once was. Over the months she has spent her time with Argos and learning from the ancient tomes, trying to learn as much as she could about the ancient kind and their prophecies, especially concerning the stones. It was an amazing secret that they shared together.

The Sythian prince was a well of information and stories of the centuries that he lived through. He revealed to her that he had a family of his own once, but they died as causalities of battle. It was the hardest part of his life, but he had forgiven those who did it seeing them as ignorant and what they have done. The massacre now was what pained him greatly. It was the horrors against his people in the present.

Beside a roaring fire they talked for hours on end, studying and discussing, books scattered all over the marble floor. Some nights they just talked and laughed to gather, her husband spent most of his time away from her so he didn’t even notice. Argos first started as a mentor and friend, and then they became lovers.  It was betraying her husband, but it didn’t feel like a bad thing.

Sera sat on the marble floor with her winged lover, dressed in a simple silk wrap that clung to her body. She was sipping sweet wine looking over one of the tomes open on the floor. A map lay next to it.

“You’re telling me that the sword isn’t even here. That it is hidden away in some cave. Well the Golgothian Knights would love that information “she said lazily.

“That is something they should never know. They have no concept of what that sword really represents” He said quietly and leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers.

 “I promise I wouldn’t tell them anything. Why should I give loyalty to the man who betrayed me” she replied with a shrug of her shoulders. The awe she had felt toward her husband had fallen away. It was really her own fault for marrying a man she thought was a guardian angel, when he was really a devil. The irony wasn’t lost on her that the Sythians who were considered evil were beautiful beings driven to be scavengers, well the humans who were vulnerable and led to do horrible things in their ignorance. 

“He did what was in his nature. The way a man treats others shows the true nature of his heart” Argos mused quietly. 

“Well, what is in my nature then? Being here with you?” she asked with her knee resting against her chest as she looked into his eyes. The Sythian man took a long moment considering her question.

“I think you are a woman of good substance. You have been hurt so greatly and all you want is to be loved. Love is the most fundamental desire that surpasses all races, gender, and nationality.” Placing his glass aside he took her face in his hands and pressed his lips against hers passionately.  She drew herself into his lap, sliding her arms around his neck, sliding her fingertips along his sensitive wings.

Argos shivered in response and slid the bottom of her wrap aside, caressing her legs gently. A moan passed over her lips in their joined kiss, his touch so soft, yet filled with great intensity.  She positioned herself on his nude form raising her to join with him. Draping herself over him she slipped his member deep within her body.  His groan of pleasure gave her great satisfaction as she started to roll her hips along his. Argos reached up and took her breasts into the palm of his hands, caressing her tender skin. 

Sera stroked his hair as she rocked her hips against his, feeling every inch of him stroking her insides. Moaning in sync with him she slid her legs around his waist, heels digging into his lower back. He placed his hands firmly on her hips and pumped his hips off the marble floor to meet her steady movements. Sera arched her back against him feeling their pleasure rising in unison. She looked deeply into his golden eyes feeling pure joy in his arms. Moaning out his name she hit her peak, shuddering on top of him. Argos groaned and nuzzled his face into the hollow of her neck, joining her in pinnacle of passion. Breathing against her neck he felt the temptation of the vein in her neck, pumping against his cheek, but he would not do that. He adored her too much to bring her any pain.

“You need to go upstairs and get some rest before you go back to the waking world” he whispered softly. Sera nodded her head and gave him one last kiss before getting up and went up the spiraling stairs to the huge bedroom on the second floor. It was a place she didn’t take much notice to until they got to know each other better. The first time she came into this room she admired the carved wooden pillars of the four poster bed. Birds and flowers seemed to come to life in the oak medium. The scent of sandalwood and vanilla permeated in the air at all times. A warm hearth laid in the middle with bricks surroundings it. Just like the room below, books laid on the shelves and tapestries hung from the walls.

Smiling to herself she walked to the bed and slipped under the cool covers she closed her eyes and drifted asleep.

Sera was not sure how much time had passed when she opened her eyes. The first thing she heard was a clanging and thumping noise. It struck her as odd as she rose from the bed, pushing the covers off her body. Getting up she tried to clear her head as she made her way to the door. The sound continued but then she realized it was voices yelling. Panic rose in her as she threw the door open and moved hastily down the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs was the most horrible sight that she would never forget. The Golgothian Knights stood with weapons bared. They had strung Argos up with his arms above his head, tied tightly by ropes.  He was bleeding profusely by his head and chest, the blood dripping down his stomach and onto the marble floor below. Her poor lover was on the edge of consciousness, his lips moving but no sound coming forth except a raspy sigh of pain. 

“You filthy creature! Did you think we wouldn’t find you?” The voice was of Emrick, standing at Captain Dominic’s side giving a toothy smile. Argos made no response to the taunting, his pain overwhelming.  Sera against her better judgment moved off the bottom step and let out a throaty cry. They all turned and looked at her standing there. Dominic’s face expressed absolute surprise at her being there.

“Sera…how…”he whispered, his blue eyes fixed on her. Emrick didn’t look surprised at all, but gave her a look of triumph.

“Don’t you understand, Captain? This witch has been colluding with him all this time. She has been the snake all along, the poison to your saintly being” he said, his voice rising in conviction. Dominic’s expression turned from bewilderment to pure, unadulterated rage. 

Markus was there still looking absolutely caught off guard, his eyes flickering from Sera to his brother then back. Sera felt her whole body starting to shake under that look of anger from her husband.

“Bitch” Dominic whispered from between his grit teeth. Turning he faced Argos strung up, one of his wings clearly broken.

“You and this creature. You will watch your lover die” he told her in a tone of voice just teetering on the edge of insanity.  Unsheathing his sword he raised it and brought it down on the top of Argo’s chest and slid it down to his navel, causing the Sythian to scream in agony. The blood poured all over the marble staining it. Sera wanted to go to Argo, to give him some sort of comfort but one of the other knights had grabbed her in a tight hold. Dominic wasn’t look at her the whole time as he looked at his victim.

 “Any last words, you bastard?” the confident Captain asked as he grabbed Argo by the hair, pulling his face up to look at him. Argo battered and bloodied opened his golden eyes and looked past Dominic to where Sera stood.

“Sera…” he whispered in a shaking voice. This seemed to enrage the captain as he thrust his hand into Argo’s bloody chest and pulled out his heart with a sickening squishing noise. Argos let out a shuddering breath and went still as a silent hush came over the room.

Sera stared at the man she loved laying now dead, strung up like a piece of meat in the lauder, and then at the heart that lay in the man who was her husband holding the heart aloft. Dominic then dropped it to the ground and kicked it aside as if it was nothing at all. Sera’s sobs were deafening as she hunched over where she stood, still being held. Dominic finally gave her his attention.

“Emrick was right about you, but I didn’t want to see it. You’re a lying whore” he hissed and nodded to the man holding her. Grabbing her by her wrist he tossed her to the floor. She slid over the sticky marble being coated in blood of her former lover.

“H..how?”she asked in a trembling voice, looking up at them.  It was Emrick who laughed at her words

“Do you think you are the only one who has figured out the secrets. That stone that lies around your neck is part of an evil stone that has been lost for centuries. You see I found a piece of it as well. I knew you are a sinful woman, but I never suspected you to be this wicked. I was told by your lawful husband that you took bathes for hours on end. Finding that strange I went to check on his complaint and I saw you going into the tunnel. At first I couldn’t figure out how you were doing it. For weeks I pondered on this, but then saw the shine of your stone, and it came to me that you were using that evil thing to get in. The Great Builder works in mysterious ways” he said with a satisfied smile.

“Your god is a lie” Sera said coldly, her eyes narrowing as she looked at him. The first kick took her by surprise, her face forced to turn to the side. Feeling the ache in her head she turned and looked at Dominic who was raising his foot to strike her again.

“Blasphemous harlot” he spat out brought his foot down on her stomach, his heel digging into her side. Groaning in pain she looked up at him. The look in his eyes told her that he intended on killing her. His neck stomp she felt a rib starting to snap, over and over he continued the assault.

“FOR THE BUILDERS SAKE” Markus cried, unable to bare this any longer. Dominic stopped and looked at his older brother, his eyes wild with animalistic anger.

“By the law you cannot kill your wife, no matter what she has done. We are not savages” Markus knew that if he tried to save his sister-in law he might get accused of the crime of adultery.

“At least banish her for her crimes against you” he pleaded his case. His words seemed to sober his brother up a bit. Dominic looked down at the bleeding woman at his feet and slid a bloodied hand through his black hair.

 “You are right…as usual. Bundle her up and put her on my horse”he commanded giving a sidelong look at two of his brethren in arms. Sera felt herself lifted from the floor and carried out of the room before losing consciousness. In her passed out state she was wrapped in a blanket and placed onto the back of Dominic’s chargers.

Dominic felt numb as he started off toward the Southern Territory. Upon arriving he got off his horse and picked up the bleeding and battered body of his wife and laid her in the sand.

“You are nothing to me now. You might have been part of the protectors, but that no longer matters. You will die out here in the desert. This is your payment for your betrayal. “He said softly, bent over her.  Standing up he once again mounted his horse and left her to die in the hot and dry conditions, not giving her a second thought.

 

5.

 

Tiberian Pass: Western Territory

 

The sand rolled along her bare legs and arms on a hot wind. The heat seared her skin. She tried to breath but her throat hurt from lack of moisture. Wounded from the vicious beating she endured at the hands of the captain left her emotionally and physically in pain. The injuries kept her from moving very much. Closing her eyes to keep the sand out of them she let out a strangled cry. There seemed to be no salvation for her in this fiery wasteland she had been left.

Sera laid there contemplating how she got to this place. Her sister had warned her over and over that her fate would meet unhappiness, but she did not listen. Cursing her stubbornness she felt that she was reason her dear Argos was dead, his heart laying discarded on the floor of the room they once shared such joy in. Letting out a deep breath as she groaned softly, shutting her eyes for a moment brow knit.  Every muscle in her body ached as she moved her arms and legs slightly. Footsteps hissed in the sand and a long shadow overcast her. Shaking she tried to blink away the sand clinging to her eyelashes as she raised her head off the ground meagerly to see who it was, rescuer or executioner.

Before her stood a man wearing a turban and heavy clothing, his face half hidden by a scarf.  Sera was still too weak from the brutal attack by Dominic that she knew if he tried to harm her she would be unable to defend herself. With the last of her strength she raised her shaking hands to her face. Two strong hands picked her up and started to carry her away. Sera shut her eyes tightly to keep the piecing sun out of her eyes. She couldn’t bring herself to look at the person who was taking her from her sandy fate.

Sera felt her world turning once again when she was taken to a large nomadic village. The flurry of white tents and fire pits, the scent of cooking food and burning wood filled her nose. Camels and horses made animal noises, mingled with conversations going on around her. She wasn’t sure if this was her salvation or worst her terrible demise.

She was carried through the village to a tent and out of the blistering sun. The person who had taken her out of the dry oasis laid her carefully down on an elk skinned cot. Sera tried to blink away the sand and turned her head to face two women standing by a hearth in the center of the tent. The tall figure that had brought her there had turned and retreated from the tent. One of the women that was older looked at Sera laying on the cot.

“There, there you have been badly injured, but we will take care of you. Don’t try to move” the elderly woman said tenderly. Both women were clad in simple brown robes; their hair was covered by the hood.  Skin was tanned from the harsh conditions they lived in. The elder woman carefully removed Sera’s clothing well the younger boiled water and prepared healing ointment.  As a healer she knew that their first concern was her health before finding out who she is. Laying still she allowed her eyes to flutter closed for moments at a time. The eldest woman Magda wiped the wounds on the girl’s body and shook her head, a frown furrowing her brow.

“The poor thing, left out to die in the desert. It’s a miracle our lord found her before the vultures got to her” she remarked. The younger woman looked at her mother then down at the sleeping girl as she brought the small bowl of ointment made from crushed herbs over. Kanai looked at the young woman who was beaten and bruised with a feeling of wonderment. No one she has heard of has survived the harsh climate of the desert. That was except their lord of course.

 Their nomadic tribe has moved from place to place for centuries. It was said that the tribe was men and women from the once great city who left during the breakdown of their doomed society, and fled the war that would result from it. Seen as cowards and outcasts they moved from place to place to avoid the clashes between the Sythians and humans.  After generations when the Great War had ended their decedents continued to travel as their ancestors had.  It was twenty-two years ago that a young babe was found in the desert just like this girl had. Seen as a sign from the Goddess of Night, Habera the nomads had taken in this child and raised him among their people. As he grew it was clear that he was gifted and talented when it came to combat. He proved himself when he went out into the desert and slayed the great Eberset, the desert snake that roamed in the ancient cave of the Shadowla. 

The Eberset was known for attacking caravans that adventured through the desert. Its sharp spikes would cut through the sand, the orange scale sleek enough that it would roll off its back. It would come up from the sand and consume the weary travelers. The treasure would be taken back to the great underground cave as its bounty. The young man who had come to be raised in the village swore that he would hunt down the dragon and put a stop to its bloody onslaught. He tracked the beast to its cave and using only a spear and a shield made from the elder of the tribe he slew the beast and took the monster’s eyes as proof. Returning to the village he was baptized and renamed, Cabel.  Lord Cabel had become the leader of the tribe and considered lord of the Southern territory. Cabel married the daughter of the elder and stayed loyal to her until she died on her sickbed. He was a good and honest man who protected his people. It was Cabel who found the young woman laid out in the sand, prepared for death to come to her. Instead of letting her perish he took her back to the village.

Magda saw this as fate that brought this girl here. Wrapping the wounds with great care she covered Sera with a blanket. Giving a nod to her daughter, Liza she directed her out of the hut to let the strange girl get some rest.

“How is she doing?” the soft, smooth voice of their leader asked, his arms crossed over his bare chest. He was clad in leather breaches and protective leggings. His long white blond hair fell down his back in a loose ponytail.  In rest he wore no protective armor due to the heat of the desert.

“She will recover from the wounds that had been inflicted on her. Someone had done quite a number on her, and left her to die. A great cruelty was done on her “she shook her head, unable to believe that any human being would do such a thing on another. It seemed absolutely inconceivable to her. Cabel frowned deeply and stared at the other woman with his green-blue eyes.

“You would be surprised how corrupt human beings can be. This girl I have a feeling was put in our charge for a reason, though it is unclear now” he commented briefly and walked to the entrance of the tent. Sliding two fingers between the seams he looked in at the woman lying on the cot resting. For a long moment he just gazed at the beautiful woman lying wrapped in a blanket, her head tilted to the side slightly. Angel or demon he would find out who she really is and what role she played in his destiny if any at all. Backing away he let the flap fall naturally and looked at the old woman.

“Tell me if there is any change in the girl” he commanded and walked away.

“Lady Sera…Lady Sera” a voice, a familiar voice was calling her name. She opened her eyes and saw the face of Marie standing over her, stroking her face lightly. Dominic had dismissed Marie when Bertha was brought back from his campaign. No one knew what happened to her, but it was clear that she had come to live with the nomads after her dismissal. Sera felt unsure how much time had passed since had been brought to this place.

 “Marie…I am so glad to see you” she croaked out softly. The girl had been sweet and kind when she had come to the complex. Newly married and brought there, Marie had made her feel comfortable. It was a difficult day when Marie was sent to the high road. It warmed her heart to see her servant safe and healthy.

“How is it that you came here, Marie?” Sera asked, feeling drowsy but in less pain then was before. Marie smiled and held her lady’s hand gently.

“I came here after Captain Dominic turned me out. I wandered for some time till I saw a traveling bazaar. I went to see their wares when I realized too late that they were slavers. I was captured by them and taken across the desert. I was brought to this village and the lord of the nomads who abhors slavery slew the slavers and freed me, and the others. I have been here ever since.” She relayed the tale.

“You must have been terrified” Sera said with a concerned frown.

“It is nothing compared to the pain you have suffered, my lady” she replied.

“How is she feeling?” a voice spoke from behind Marie. The young maid turned and perked up looking at the man standing calmly at the flap of the tent. 

“She seems to be recovering quite well my lord, Cabel” Magda replied easily, before Marie could chime in excitedly.  Cabel’s eyes were fixed on Sera who tried to sit up, holding the blanket against her chest.

 “Don’t try to sit up. Your wounds are too great. Tell me who are you and where you came from” he told her in an even tone of voice. Marie was bustling to answer these questions, moving from toes to heel. Cabel paid her no mind as he watched the woman sitting on the cot. Straightening up she held the blanket firm against her bare chest, her eyes fixed on this enigmatic figure standing by fire light.

“My name is Sera, the protector of the stone of healing.” She told him raising her head high. No matter what Dominic did to her she still had that title that not even the king of the land could take away from her.

“A stone protector? How can this be that one of the great ones was left for dead in the desert?” he told her skeptically. Affronted by his tone she frowned deeply.

“I will tell you my story, but not with everyone standing here. It is my story to tell and since you saved me I owe you answers.” She replied tersely. Finding himself intrigued Cabel looked at the others and nodded his head.

“Leave us. I would like to hear this tale the young woman has to weave.” he said with a nod of his head. The others left the room leaving the two staring at each other silently.

 “Well what brought you to this place?” he asked calmly. Sera let out a sigh and proceeded to explain how she came to meet and marry Dominic, about Argos and both she and the Sythian prince met a grizzly fate. Cabel had stood there listening silently to her story feeling lured into her tale then fueled with silent outrage. He heard rumors of the cruel acts that went on behind the walls of the great city, but for a woman of high birth to be treated with such inconsideration and cruelty was unimaginable. If a wife in his tribe betrayed her husband she would be set free from the bond holding them. An unhappy woman was not a productive woman. The female being was not an object, but an equal helpmate in the role of society.

 “You have been through much. You need to rest for now. Then we will talk again” he commented and left her to rest. 

The story he told her was quite fantastical and crude. The look in her eyes told him that she wasn’t lying. Why would she? As he walked away from the tent many thoughts came to mind. This could possibly be the moment he was waiting for. To have a member of the protector’s circle was an opportunity not taken lately. The healer out of all of them was a godsend. All of these years in the desert, barely having enough food to help his people and constant oppression from the crown he wanted to finally free them. The only way he could figure out how to do that was to stop find the legendary sword that has killed thousands of men and creatures of darkness. If he could find that sword he could confront the king, and put an end to his reign of terror. His people would no longer have to pay the unfair taxes placed on trade and the abuse from the passing soldiers.

 The woman had met the Sythian prince, and spent time with him. Perhaps she has gleamed the location of the sword from the ancient texts. It was truly a long shot in the dark, but it was all he had. Sliding a hand in his hair he walked to his own tent and poured himself a drab of liquor. He had to take this slow, or he might lose his chance. Downing his drink he looked into the fire with a thoughtful look.  The fire licked the wood mirroring his own growing desire rising like a phoenix inside his chest.  This rare chance would be considered farfetched, but after years of bending to the crown he wanted nothing more than to protect his people. It was his mentor, Kalas who told him first of the story of the sword. It was said to be missing for centuries. The tale had become folklore, but the old man had believed it. It couldn’t possibly be a coincidence that he found her laying helplessly in the sand. Rubbing his hand along his shaved cheek he placed his hand lightly upon one of wooden braces keeping the tent up. Leaning closer to the fire, Cabel stared down at the fire as if daring it to burn him. The fire warmed his chest, pain brandishing him as he gazed down at it. Finally he eased off of it and leaned back on his heels.

Three days later Sera were up and about, exploring the village. It was a lively place with children running and playing, dogs barking and old men sitting together talking.  It was a peaceful place that seemed without care. The shadow of it reminded her of the warm innocence of her childhood. Her savior, Lord Cabel stood by one of the many fires talking to two other men. She felt a shiver run down her spine when their gaze met. Murmuring something to one of the other men he approached her slowly.  Her eyes fell on his biceps moving as he walked in her direction, his long white blond hair moving slightly in the wind as he walked.

“You and I have something very important to discuss” he told her casually. She opened her mouth to comment, but he was already guiding her to one of the tents. Sera let herself be lead and stepped into the tent that was held open for her. It was just like the other tents, but in the middle was a wooden table covered with maps.  Cabel moved around the table then looked at her for a long moment.

“You are a member of the protectors of the old stones. Those stones were used by our ancestors to protect and keep land from drying up” he stated. Sera knew this already, but it would have been rude to comment. Instead she gave a nod of her head in ascension.

“I have been waiting for a sign from the goddess herself that would signal my time to stop the killing.” he continued. “I don’t know what your guardianship to the stones connects to this, but being a healer it will make my journey easier. “he finished and flicked his gaze to the rolled up maps on the table.

“What journey may I ask?” she inquired starting to frown. The nomadic lord walked to the table and slid a few rolled up maps and took up one of them.  Unfurling it upon the table it was a detailed drawing of the whole of their world.  It would be if there wasn’t a part of it missing, a whole part of the Eastern Territory was blotted out as if unmarked. Sera knew that farmers and traders lived in that area. The Dragus Falls and the streams of Melus were the best fishing places.  It seemed very strange to her. 

“I can see from the look on your face that you are confused by the missing part of the map” he said with a calm look on his face. “I have a theory that the rest of the map was hidden away the moment the sword was hidden away. The sword of many names that has slew a thousand men and monsters. There is a prophecy that the one who can take up the sword will rule the land. Only the destined one can take it. It seems like a long shot like many things, but I believe that this is the answer to a riddle of centuries.” He told her.

“The Golgothian Knights are seeking the sword. They thought it was in the old castle, but it always seemed like it would be too obvious” she told him. Chewing on her words he nodded his head slowly.

“I am impressed. I admit that I didn’t think you would have such a sound mind” he commented, smiling faintly. Giving him an affronted look she crossed her arms over her chest meeting his smoldering gaze. He laughed at the offended expression on her face and decided to change his tact. It took all that she could muster not to get caught up in his green eyes. 

“I think the sword is there in that hidden part of the map. I also know where that part of the map is being hidden.” He told her raising a finger and smiling. Sera shook her head at his expression of triumph. So like a man to think he is being clever.

“If you know where it is then why haven’t you pursued it before? “She asked raising her eyebrows at him.  Cabel let out a deep breath and placed his hands on the large wooden table.

 “I have stared at his map for hours on end. The piece of the map that is missing is being held by a hermit named Drelis who used is known as the Undying. It is said that he has was once the advisor to King Ursa during his reign over the first city of Golthos. “He recited what he heard. This interest Sera greatly. She had not heard of these things. It made her realize how little she knew about the history of the world she lived in.

 “How could a man live that long?” She asked feeling like an absolute idiot.

 “There are many things in this world that would surprise you” he replied sagely. Sera looked thoughtful as she gazed at him.

“To answer your question I was waiting for a sign to tell me the right time to pursue it. It might sound foolish, but the hermit isn’t going to give it to me easily. You are the answer, the key.” He told her. She was unsure of this absolute confidence in her.  Putting in trust in him didn’t seem like something she wanted to jump into. The last man who saved her life ended up betraying her in the worst way. Having nothing left she continued to listen to what he had to tell her.

“I am sure with you at my side I will get that map from him.” Looking at him standing there waiting for her reply. Thinking that he must be a bit mad to be going to this length for a map to go in search of a sword that might, or might not be findable seemed absolute mad, Sera let out a soft sigh.

“I don’t see that I have much choice but to go with you into the caves and find this man.” She told him, watching his green eyes light up. Cabel held his composure but inside he was teeming with excitement. 

“Wonderful! We will be leaving in the morning” he announced and turned leaving her startled.  Standing there she stomped her foot in the dirt realizing that once against she was being moved around in a chess game that she had no control over. She could of told him that she would not go along with his foolish schemes, but then what would she do? If she didn’t help him she would most likely have to leave the nomad village. Being an outcast from the people she knew and the life she had before she lost her former identity. What else could she do but to follow this wild man into the unknown and hopefully discover her own destiny?

 

6.

Sera was awaken by Marie and taken to a small stream to bathe. Such water sources were rare in the vast desert. Undressing she slid into the waist deep water and started to wash herself. Once again she got dressed and returned to her tent. The servant girl was in the process of packing her things for the journey.

 “Ooh you get to travel with Lord Cabel. How lucky of you getting the chance to be alone with him” the other woman said smiling widely. Tilting her head to the side, Sera walked to the bag Marie was filling with clothing, bundled food, and other supplies.

 

 “You’re not coming with us?” she asked trying to muster the feelings that were rising in her.

“Me? No, of course not!” Marie cried. “Besides you won’t need me on your journey. Lord Cabel will keep you safe from any danger. He is wonderful” Marie chatted on, letting out a soft, breathy sigh. Sera weren’t much older than the other girl, but her experiences made her feel all lot older. Loving and losing two men in her life made her feel like she knew all lot more about the nature of men then this starry-eyed girl.

“I am going to complete this task and come back. That is all” the healer said in a calm tone of voice. Helping Marie place the last items into her bag she went out to where Cabel was waiting. In the glint of the morning Cabel looked at the young woman coming toward him, now garbed in a cloth top and breeches for horseback riding. Giving her a hand up her swung her leg and held onto him tightly. Their bags had been tied onto the side of the horse for traveling. Her hands lightly pressed against his stomach as they started off across the dessert.

“You have told me your story, but you have no told me what brought you to the arms of your winged lover?” He inquired curiously. He figured that a normal woman would not have fallen for a Sythian prince knowing that they are a dangerous race of beings.

“Meeting Dominic I thought I met a hero from a fairytale. Handsome, strong, and brave. I didn’t see the monster he truly was. He lied and betrayed me.  All lot of women could overlook infidelity, but he was secretly cruel and merciless. Argos despite being a Sythian was kind and gentle, truly kind and gentle. My love for him lead to his death and my exile. This might sound strange, but I do not regret my feelings for Argo” she said.

 “You are a very passionate woman. You looked beyond skin deep and overcame fear. That is admirable” he commented as he drove his mount further into the desert.

They traveled through the rest of the day and set up camp at night. Sera helped him put up the tent and quickly realized that it was very small quarters. Cabel was standing there, his chest plate in hand. He cast it aside next to the tent and looked at her. A smile played across his lips noticing that she was staring at his bare chest. Feeling the color rising in her cheek she walked slowly to the traveling tent and slid into the cramp small conditions. Reaching down she grasped the necklace she still wore around her neck. It gave her all lot of trouble through her life, but her sister had given it to her and that’s why it meant so much to her. It still gave her strength and right now she needed it. Laying on her she pulled the blanket over her body. She felt the strong body of Caleb slid in at her side, his chest a mere inches from her back.

“The nights are uncommonly cruel to the unwary.  Stay close to me for body heat, the temperature is dropping steadily” he murmured, his lips mere inches from her ear. She felt a delicious shiver running through her very core at the intimacy between them.  Cabel felt her soft breath ripple through their bodies lightly touching.

 “Get some rest. Traveling will be hard for the next few days” he said quietly, his fingers sliding a strand of her hair from her face. Turning her head she looked at him slowly with her blue eyes, locking gaze with him. He gave her a soft smile, his hand reaching down to press against her stomach pulling her closer to his masculine form.

“Sleep” he murmured in a lulling voice as he watched her.  Turning her head  back down she closed her eyes and drifted asleep, feeling safe in his protective arms. The next few days they got to the mouth of a large cave, the stone black as onyx.  Sliding off the mount, Caleb helped her down and looked over at the mouth of the cave.

“This entrance is the labyrinthine caves where the hermit, the Undying one lives.” He announced and moved his head side to side to get the kink out of his neck. Reaching into his saddle bag he pulled out a bottle, some spare cloth, and a flint. Walking to the entrance of the cave he picked up a stick and wrapped the strip of cloth around it. Next he lightly sprinkled the content of the bottle into the cloth and finally struck the flint. Creating his torch instructed Sera to tie up the horse and started to walk into the mouth of darkness.

 From the heat of the desert then submersed into the cold, dampness of the cave made her feel a bit uneasy. Reaching out he took her hand and helped her along the path as he held the torch aloft.  Sera followed him along unable to see more than a few feet in front of her. Shivering she had no idea where they were going, hoping they wouldn’t get lost in the perpetual darkness. 

Caleb was holding the torch with one hand with the other he dug out a piece of paper. It was scribbles he had made out of here say to those he spoke to about the whereabouts of the hermit. He knew he was banking all lot on all of this, this one single gamble he hoped would give him the chance to protect his people. Leading the wisp of a woman along the rocky path he realized he had let go of her hand along the way. Turning his head quickly he found her standing right behind him, not missing a step. Relief washed over him that she hadn’t lost her way. Looking back down at the piece of parchment in hand he studied his own handwriting. Tucking it back into his belt he reached out and took Sera’s hand lightly.

 “I am glad you haven’t slipped away” he called back to her.

“You really think I am useless don’t’ you?” she said back at him, frowning deeply. A chuckle came forth from him as he walked along.

“You’re such a little thing. I was afraid that the darkness ate you up like a fly in a spider’s web” he commented. He smiled to himself when he heard her huff in annoyance. They walked around for what felt like hours, only stopping once and a while. The darkness started to press on them as they came to a stone bridge. The tinkling of water could be heard from below them. Sera held onto his hand grasping harder when the torch went out.  Cabel cursed under his breath and waved his hand in the darkness.

“Don’t worry I will light it again. Just stay very still. The bridge is very narrow.” Reaching into his belt he pulled out a the flint and tried to light it. Sera looked into the darkness hearing scratching noise in the dark.

“There is something out there in the darkness. “She whispered to him, her voice barely audible over the sound of the waterfall. Making an annoyed sound in the base of his throat he was more focused on lighting the flint to listen to her concerns.

“Dammit Cabel there is something out there!” she cried and pounded her fist into his arm causing him to groan. The flint clicked and fire climbed the moist rag, wrapped snugly around the stick.  He opened his mouth to retort at her mild assault when he saw a dark figure come out of the darkness letting out a roar. A creature that looked like a giant cat pounced on him, its tail was that of a great serpent whipping out at him. Losing his balance he hurtled forward off the bridge. Grasping the edge he dug his fingers into the stone. The torch had tumbled on the stone where they had come from.

 “Cabel!” she cried and backed off the bridge as the creature growled menacing at her, it’s gaze moving from her to her companion, dangling from the bridge.

“Be careful! It’s a Jaxopla. It can spit acidic venom” Cabel cried as he tried to hoist himself up, seeing the creature’s attention was on her. Swinging his body he grabbed the side of the stone with his other hand, the coldness of the cave and sprinkling of the water causing a chill to creep over his body. He felt his fingers slowly starting to lose feeling.  The Jaxopla stared at Sera with its golden eyes, its growls a chorus with the water trickling down, and the hissing of the great snake.

“HEY, YOU BASTARD!”  Cabel yelled on the top of his lungs. The creature turned its large head and opened its mouth, baring its great fangs at him. It raised its clawed paw and swiped at Cabel’s arm leaving a huge gash causing a cry of pain to come forth. Sera knew she couldn’t just sit stand there on that tiny piece of bridge well that creature forced Cabel to fall to his death. Letting out a shaking breath she backed up and reached down, taking hold of the torch. Starting forward she swung the torch at the Jaxopla’s head and ended up thrusting it into the beast’s right eye. It wailed in agony, blood and puss pouring from the wound. It backed up and ended up hurtling off the side of the bridge.

Sera hurried forward and grabbed Cabel’s arms. The adrenaline rushed through her giving her the strength to pull him up with her. She fell back but luckily landed safely on the ground in front of the bridge. Cabel looked down at her since he had landed on top of her.

“You really are something else, Lady Sera” he said softly, his fingertips stroking her forehead lightly.

“Who would of thought that I would save your life” she murmured in reply looking into his green eyes. Sera looked at him knowing that from the look in his eyes that he wanted to kiss her. Instead he eased himself off of her and shifted his arm, realizing for the first time that he was greatly wounded.  Quick to action Sera sat up and looked around in the darkness.

Feeling around in the darkness she found a bone and pulled out a cloth from his pocket and the small bottle and created a new torch. Lighting it deftly she handed it to him and started to study the wound. Hearing him wince she focused her attention on it and placed her hand upon it gently. Focusing she closed her eyes and let out a deep breath.

Cabel watched her and to his amazement he saw her hand start to glow. It didn’t sink in till that moment that she was the protector of the stone of healing. That she had the power to heal. Yes, he had brought her along because of what she told him, but in truth he didn’t believe it until he saw it. When Sera removed her hand the wound was gone, only leaving behind the trickles of blood.

 “Let’s keep moving” she said and got to her feet, wiping her hands together.

 

7.

Forgotten Trail

They found their way to a shanty hut. It was grafted together with pieces of old wood. The scent of mold and must rose to Sera’s nose causing her to gag a bit.

“Oh that’s the smell that makes you feel sick.” He remarked, his lips forming a wide smile. Rolling her eyes she approached the hut with caution. From the ordeal they have already experienced she was expecting traps.

“Hello. Is anyone here?” Cabel called out and kicked a stick lying on the ground, testing the stone floor before them. Nothing seemed out of place when they approached the entrance. A shuffling noise echoed in the cave and a man wearing raggedy clothing came out. His beard was to his waist, but his eyes were filled with intelligence.

 “I haven’t had such interesting guests for quite some time “He wheezed raising his arms out in greeting. Sera sent an uncertain gaze to Cabel then back at the man. Cabel after almost getting killed was not in the mood to trade words for a man who most likely was mad as a hatter.

“We have come for the missing map piece” He told the man. Sera sighed at her companion’s lack of tact and shook her head. The man chuckled softly, that after a moment grew into a loud giggle.

 “I know what you want, but why should I give it to you?” he queried raising his eyebrows.

 “If you don’t I will have to make this very difficult for you” Cabel growled with impatience.  This sent the man into more inane laughter.

 “If you kill me then you will never find out where I have hidden your prize” he laughed. Sera were starting to think that they would never discover where the map piece was.

 “That necklace you’re wearing is very pretty. Ah, yes I like the way it shines” the man remarked raising his gnarled fingers to point at it, his brown eyes dark like onyx. Cabel let out a growl of frustration.

“Enough about jewelry! Tell me where the map is.” Sera reached down and touched the necklace around her neck. It was the last gift her sister had given her, the one that opened the door to the secret staircase. The amulet had given her all lot more trouble than good. Gazing at it the answer came to her. Ripping it from her neck she held it up in front of herself.

“I will give you the amulet if you give me the map piece “she offered. The hermit’s eyes seemed to light up at her words, looking at her face then down at the amulet.

 “Now, that is something I willing to trade for” the old man replied and walked into the hut.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Cabel watched her, frowning a bit.

“That necklace has only given me woe…and besides…we cannot get the map piece without giving him something” she said, knowing how much this meant to the nomadic lord.

Cabel felt truly touched by her words down to his core. They have not known each other long, but this woman has put her trust in him, fought a wild beast, saved his life, and now was given up something she prizes for him. No one has ever given him such consideration. He was raised by the nomadic tribe, but they always made him prove himself since he could walk. Even his marriage to his late wife Kara, gods rest her sweet soul had been to prove his virility to his people to extend his legacy. Sadly the fates had taken her away before she could give him children. Now this beautiful and brave young woman was making sacrifices for him after losing everything. It left him in absolute awe.

“I am sure” Sera said softly, looking into his eyes.  By then the old man had come back with a scroll rolled up. 

“Here it is! “He said and offered it to Cabel who took it quickly. Sera handed the necklace over to the hermit who let out a hoot of excitement. Quickly Cabel handed the torch to her, unfurled the map piece, and took the full map out of his belt. For a moment he stood staring at the two pieces and then a smile crossed his lips.

“We are off to the Dragus Falls. There is a cave in the falls where the sword is. I should of known it was right there in front of me!” he told her with a note of triumph in his words. The old man was cradling the amulet with both of his crinkled hands. “Well you better hurry then. I have seen in the rain pools that drip down into the cave. Hurry! Hurry! Soon it will be discovered” the man said in a breathy voice. Sera stared at the man, but felt Cabel’s hand in her own. Turning her head she looked at him.

“We have to hurry” he told her and taking the torch from her he started to lead her away. The old man watched them walk away and smiled widely, chuckling under his breath.

“Fools” He whispered and reached into his filthy pocket and pulled out another piece of the stone, giving an even wider smile.  Staring at the retreating couple the hermit’s skin started to smooth out, his complexion becoming young and vibrant. The length of his body stretched and his clothing clung from his body. Emrick stood there were the old hermit had been. Smiling to himself he held the two pieces of the amulet. Using his abilities to divine the future he had seen this coming, but he had a surprise for the two of them when they got to the falls. The amulet of the ancient stone would secure his own future.

 

Dragus Falls

Sera didn’t remember the trip to the falls. It was the morning of the fifth day that she awoke on the back of the horse. On the night before they mutually decided to press their luck and keep going. The first sound she head other than the pounding of the horse’s hooves was the sound of water streaming down. The feeling of fresh air, mingled with bead of water hit her face waking her up. Shifting her body on the back of the horse she looked over his side and saw the falls. It was a pool of water culminating from six different rivers. Instead joining into an ocean bed it was a long drop into oblivion.  In awe were they at the sight that they didn’t notice the group of soldiers on foot and on horses before them. There in his shining armor was Captain Dominic with his Golgothian Knights standing at the ready.

“Lord Cabel, of the nomadic tribe. The great bringing time protector told me you would come. I guess I was right to believe him.” He announced dramatically.  Cabel felt immediately uneasy at this and narrowed his eyes. Having no choice, but to face this trap he dismounted and helped Sera down from its back.  Sera turned her head and looked at her former husband, the one who had left her to die. Dominic looked at her and raised his eyebrows.

“Back from the dead? Doesn’t matter I guess. I thought you were a witch and this confirms it” he said in that confident tone of voice, never wavering. Sera felt a chill running down her spine remembering the way he discarded her in the desert. Cabel looked at Dominic as if he had swallowed something unpleasant.

“You must be the spineless coward who would abandon his own wife to the desert” he retorted at the captain. Dominic seemed unfazed by the barb and gave a slight shrug of his shoulders.

“She isn’t my wife. Brena come out and meet our guests “He said waving his hand. Traipsing out from behind one of the horses wearing a beautiful gown, adorned with jewels was the servant girl. Brena looked at Sera and smiled.

“I am his wife now. It would be blasphemy against the Great Builder for such a great man to be married to a witch” she said her voice filled with superiority.  Markus was there behind the rest of the men, staring at Sera. He looked like he wanted to do something, but not sure what exactly to do. By sending her out into the desert he had spared her life, but now it looked like she would die anyway.  Sera wanted to remark back at the horrible woman, but she knew it wouldn’t do much good in her situation. Dominic stood there watching this, feeling a bit disappointed that a bigger show wasn’t going to happen.

 “This has been an interesting reunion, but it doesn’t matter much. Your life doesn’t matter anymore. “He commented crossing his arms over his plated chest. 

“You have come to the falls to pursue the sword. I know where it is, but of course I can’t let you take it” The captain said in a voice of strange calm. At that moment it dawned on Sera that Dominic knew nothing of the prophecies. She knew that Cabel was confident that he was the one who could remove the sword from the altar and lead the people of Golgoth to peace. If Dominic knew of these things he wouldn’t be so confident.

This piece of knowledge burned within her. She glanced at Cabel to see if he has figured this out as well. Cabel’s eyes were fixed on Dominic. He was already removing his curved sword from its sheath and looked at the captain.

“Oh. I see. You want to battle me to the end. Good! If you had surrendered then it wouldn’t have been much fun” Dominic chuckled and pulled out his own sword.  Cabel charged at Dominic and the fight began. Blow by blow the sound of metal meeting metal echoed in the air. Dominic was a trained solider in the ranks of the Golgothian Knights, but Cabel was a legendary warrior of the desert. Sera stood there feeling her heart hammering in her chest, she could only stand there and watch, the same as everyone else next to the falls. Dominic jumped back and suddenly grabbed a handful of rocks from the ground and threw it in Cabel’s face, throwing him off balance and went in for the kill. Cabel cried out feeling the rocks smack him in the face, the pebbles clinging to his skin. Knowing that there wasn’t much time to lose he bent over and plowed himself into the other man’s body.  Dominic had been readying his sword to strike Cabel down, but was forced back and stumbled back. The lord of the desert had let go just in time to see his adversary fall straight over the side of the falls. Brena let out a screech at the sight. The knights stood there unsure what to do as their leader had fallen to his death.

 Sera felt her feet leading her to the edge where she looked over, seeing only gushing water. “Time to go” she heard the familiar voice behind her.

Caleb grabbed her hand and quickly pulled her away and around the falls to the side. “STOP THEM” one of the soldiers cried.

 This pulled them out of their stupor and they followed, except Markus who stood there with his hands resting on his belt. His brother had just plummeted to his death and now his former sister in law was running for her life. In a sense he blamed himself for this since he had enacted the law and forced his brother to spare her. He didn’t feel regretful of this though, because despite the blame he placed on his actions he had said some time ago that his brother would end up being his own doom. Finally it had come to pass.  Brena was kneeling on the ground sobbing pitifully. A part of the man wished the damn woman would throw herself off to join his brother. Brena had been nothing but trouble since Lady Sera had been exiled, walking around like she was entitled. Markus wasn’t sure how he was going to explain all of this to the rest of the protectors, the story being heartbreaking and shocking. Standing there he stared off at the horizon, the sun glinting off the falling water.

Cabel led Sera around the side of the falls to stone stairs that had been camouflaged by the water. It would not of been noticeable if one was not looking for it. It was slick and treacherous. The knights were closing in so they had only one choice but to go forward. Gripping his hand for dear life she found herself bounding down the stairs leading down into a cave. She felt if she had to end up in a dark cave again she might lose it. Strangely the inside of the cave was lit by torches that gave off blue flames.

Running inside with Cabel they found themselves in an octagonal chamber. In the center was the stone altar with the sword lodged into it. For such a legendary story the walls and altar were bare without markings or decoration. Sera stopped next to it and looked at Cabel. The man stood there beholding the sight of it. The clamoring of the armor of the knights he moved forward and wrapped his hand around the hilt and pulled…

The sword to his dismay didn’t budge. “What the hell” he whispered unable to believe this was happening. He was so certain that he was the one who could take up the sword and save his people from the oppression.

“Cabel!” Sera cried as the knights filled the cave room, but he couldn’t hear her. The blood rushed to his head and only a whooshing noise came to his ears. He failed. He let down his himself, and more importantly his people. He bet everything on this one path to find it was for nothing. He didn’t even try to defend himself as two of the knights approached him. Sera’s eyes widened as she saw that he had given up all together. Again working on impulse she approached the stone altar and grabbed the hilt. A hiss came forth from the metal sliding forth from the stone and meeting the cool air. Holding it aloft her pointed it at the knights.

“Let him be! “she cried. The hands dropped from Cabel’s arms as a silence filled the room. He turned and saw Sera standing there holding the legendary sword. The hilt two blazing snakes wrapped around it with sapphires for eyes. The sword was long with symbols emblazed in length of it, the language of the Sythians.  Cabel realized that it wasn’t he who was meant to pull the sword and save his people, but this girl. He saving her in the desert was part of a bigger thread of destiny. Markus came into the chambers and looked at Sera standing there holding the Sword of Blaze and then at the knights standing staring.

“Gentlemen, our leader is dead and the Sword of Prophecy has chosen its champion. You must each choose who you want to follow. For quite some time I have been party to horrors and followed my brother into battle. I have taken orders without question, but the day my brother cast this woman out I came to realize what we have been doing all along. The laws said to exile her to the desert, but I have seen dark and bloody things that are far worst. This world isn’t the world I my daughter to grow up in. I want a better world without the violence and blood that I have witnessed. We have sworn to protect our people, but we are shed so much blood. I am going to follow her and seek a newer world. Those who still follow the rules of our order then go back, but those who want to finally see change we can make a difference” Markus announced standing there. The other men looked at each other. A few of them turned and left the cave well others stayed.

 “Thank you, Markus” Sera said softly knowing that this must be hard for him.

“I feel like we wronged you that day” he replied nodded his head slightly. Cabel stood there still in shock that she had pulled the sword from the altar. Having the sword lowered before her she watched him to see what he would say if anything at all.

“Let us go back to the village. We have all lot of planning to do if we are to take on King Damon and his troops. His knights are fractured leaving him vulnerable. He won’t like that all” he murmured and gave her a faint smile. “You want to still do this even though I pulled the sword? “She asked him.

 “Of course I do. As I said before you are quite a woman” he commented. Leaving the cave they walked up the steps and stood by the falls. Sera had realized that Brena was gone, along with the knights that decided to return to the king. Cabel turned his head and looked at Sera his expression calm and unburdened.

Together they stood in the morning air, the sun warming their faces. Holding the sword at her side she looked deeply into his eyes, smiling. This was a rare moment, standing on the cusp of a new tomorrow. At that moment they didn’t think about the uphill battle they would be fighting together. Tears rolled in her eyes obscuring her vision as she felt the emotions rushing through her. He reached up and brushed a stray strand of her hair from her face and stroked her cheek. Wordlessly he leaned forward and pressed his lips to her forehead, drawing her into his arms. For a moment they stood there in each other’s embrace, taking that rare moment before they step in the gloomy future.

 

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