Blood Shores Legends of the Guardians
“Aryaunna!” Zane rushed after her. “Where are you going?”
“To finish this,” she answered too low for him to have heard her. “It’s not over, Zane,” she spoke louder. “There’s another soul’s light that shall not know another moon rise.” She was going after the magistrate.
The Drow had returned home. All of them, from Mount Dia and from the field alike. The battle was over. Those who’d survived had gone to lick their wounds, and tend to their dead.
Raif had told Zane of Elizabeth. Raif blamed himself, just as Aryaunna and Allos both did. Mayla had only spared her a single tear of mourning before devoting herself to care for the wounded Drow, of which there were many. Korena was with her. She, too, had blocked out her feelings to care for their fallen. Smears of blood marred Korena’s snow white flesh. Her eyes looked dead to the outside world for the pain she buried deeper with every wounded Drow she cared for. The image of such an innocent young girl, changed so completely by this hell, Aryaunna would never forget.
Drow soldiers, who were still able, gathered around Aryaunna and Allos. As one they picked up Elizabeth, carrying her locked in their arms securely. Elizabeth was as much one of them as Aryaunna or any other. Allos kissed her cold lips as they lifted her. He would walk holding her hand with them. Elizabeth kissed her sister’s cheek, and touched to her blood stained stomach tenderly, as if she could still hurt her if not careful. Elizabeth’s life blood coated her fingers, glistening brilliant red in the grey light of another dawn rising.
Standing motionless, Aryaunna watched them walk away with her sister. Touching to her forehead, she stained her flesh red in a slow sweep from the middle of her brow around down and across to her far cheek. She didn’t need a mirror to draw the symbol across her cheek bones. Tonight the Emissary marked herself, too, as a daughter of Luvea.
Lips pursed, she called for Sita. Sita launched away from Veyn to her dearest friend’s side. Aryaunna was nye the mare’s mistress, they were friends. Veyn ran after her. “She’s well,” he called after her eagerly, panting as he was out of breath. Sita was very fast. “She’s not injured. I’ve fed her!” he yelled at Aryaunna, who seemed in another world, despite seeing her just feet away. “I cared for her.”
Mounted upon Sita’s back, she looked down to the boy who was more man than most she’d ever met. “You have, my friend. For that I am eternally in your debt. I shall care for her now. Your people need you.” Her head nodded to the village behind him. He didn’t look back. She couldn’t blame him for it. Who would willingly look to such pain and anguish.
Eyes locked on Aryaunna, he walked right up against Sita and Ary. “I will, Emissary. Will I see you again?”
“Perhaps. Perhaps one day. I’d like to think so.” Sita’s large black velvet nose bumped against his chin and shoulder, saying her own goodbye. Veyn’s fingers brushed the mare’s neck gently. They would miss each other. Knowing it was time to go, Sita turned away from him, and carried Aryaunna into the wood.
“Ride on,” fell a whisper as the white mare took off with the Emissary.
There were but four guards within the church. Two stood at the outer gate. If Aryaunna was here, then the war had been lost. Their swords rose together against her. She walked alone, as Sita waited in the trees for her. As their blades rose over head, their mouths stretched wide as they cried out in anger, and to rally their hate. Nimble fingers positioned the sleek, black, blades as her arms lift. Before they could see her intent, she released. Like arrows, true to their aim, the blades flew forth.
The sharp gasp of silenced breath. The wet sound as the blades hit target. Heavy thuds followed.
Rolling one to his back, upon reaching them, she took hold of the blade and jerked it straight out. The other had fallen to his knees, stuck there, sitting on his feet. Sheathing the blade, she turned to him. Taking his dirty blonde hair in one hand, she grabbed the hilt in the other, and pulled. As she released him, he fell face first in the mud.
Though many must have remained in the church, the halls were quiet. A servant carrying a bundle of logs stopped in a barren stone hall a stone’s throw from Aryaunna. Clearly nervous of a stranger covered in blood, she hugged her bundle of logs to her body as she stared doe eyed at Aryaunna. “Has your magistrate fled?” Aryaunna’s cold whisper carried through the empty corridor. The young girl shook her head no slowly. “And the others?” The other members of the church were just as guilty.
Shaking her head no, the girl’s eyes narrowed. “Nye my magistrate. Nye my church.” She spat to the floor. Keeping the logs bundled tight in one arm her left shot out as she pivoted to point behind her. “The magistrate is in his room with Head Mother. Two guards block the door.” Looking at Aryaunna and past her, the girl pointed. “The rest gather in the great hall.” It’s where she was going with the wood. Her freed arm returned to her burden. It was a heavy load.
“If you’ve gone for wood then they haven’t barricaded the doors yet,” Aryaunna said it almost as an observation. “You would be very wise to leave this place.” The girl nodded, she understood what was being told to her. Aryaunna began to walk towards the girl.
As she approached, a small hand on her arm stopped her from walking past. The softest whisper fell from cracked lips, “Upon your return the floor will be wet by the door of the great hall.” She said nothing more as her eyes locked with Aryaunna’s. She gave the girl no acknowledgement as she continued past her for the magistrate. Lilith watched Aryaunna walk away, knowing after this day she would be free. One way or another.
Stone walls surrounded her, but underfoot were wooden planks. Thuringian forest had once spread out to the coast of Gaul. Much of it had been cut down to build Kenan and the church. That had all been more than a hundred years ago.
As she’d been told, two guards stood outside the Magistrate’s bedroom door. Each step was heavy, noisy even as she’d not tried to hide her coming. The guards stood silent as they watched her walk through the halls. They’d had to have been mindless not to know who she was. From the look in their eyes that wasn’t the case. They turned to face her as she came upon them, and then turned their backs to the walls. “Leave, least I change my mind,” she whispered low so as those nearby wouldn’t hear her.
Their heads bowed, eyes cast down as they walked past her. These were not soldiers. They were stable boys, enlisted in the absence of the guard. She waited until the hall was empty. Sword tight in her right hand, the butt of her left banging against the door. “Wood for the fire,” she called as she pushed the heavy wooden door open. It wasn’t barricaded. They hadn’t gotten word that their war had been lost.
Pushing the door open, the Magistrate lifted his chin to see who intruded upon their discussion. His room was nothing less than his own cathedral. Colorful glass filled the windows, creating beautiful patterns. Rich red curtains draped to the floor alongside all five windows to protect from the cold at night. A plush elaborate tapestry covered the floor beneath his massive four poster bed, and well past. The bed was custom carved in splendid details in dark rich woods not custom to these lands. Silks covered his feather bed as well as himself in thick robes.
Wood burned down to coals in the fireplace, the reason they’d let her in.
“You,” he gasped, eyes narrowing as his lips curled back from his teeth as if he may growl at her.
“Me,” Aryaunna agreed. Her voice lacked all emotion. She did not mock him, nor feel foreboding anger that pushed her on. The Guardians themselves had brought her here. They had allowed her each step. They had filled her with their fire, the powerful essence that burned inside of her. It was coursing through her veins, far stronger than any adrenaline could have been. “I’ve come to end you, Mestophylies.” The Guardians had told her his true name as she rode through the wood, to Kenan, this vary day. “You already know this, though.”
“You think you can defeat me?” his voice echoed through the chamber like thunder trapped inside a mountain. The heavy door swung shut behind her with a bellow of its own. A show of his power. Closing a door. Aryaunna would have smirked had she felt any emotion at all. “I have lived for centuries, and you are an infant!” his voice hissed in rage.
The Head Mother had stood so abruptly her chair had tumbled over. Her back was to the wall, fingers outspread against the stone, as if looking for a magic door that would give her salvation. There was one, but not near her. Aryaunna knew them all.
This man, if he could be called a man, was said to be fortified with stolen magic. Aryaunna’s power was indeed her own, but despite months of effort she’d come not one step closer to controlling it. It was entirely at the will of the Guardians. She could feel it in her now though, surging, aching to be released.
Swords still in hand, bloodied by death, she walked forward towards them both, one slow step at a time. Elizabeth’s death had somehow emptied her. While she’d longed to see the Magistrate- Mestophylies’ blood, the rage she had always imagined would be fueling her during this moment was absent. Perhaps it was for the best.
Warmth spread from the center of her chest, out through every limb. “If you have the means to stop me then you should do so now. Because believe it or not, there are those out there that hate you more than I do, and they’ve given me their strength to see you die this day,” Aryaunna’s voice resonated through the chamber.
“You are nothing! I have killed legions like you, and hundreds far stronger. Dragons have fallen at my feet.” Thick velvet red robes hung on his shoulders, sliding down the boney slopes as he threw his arms out like a mad man. The spread of his arms and parting of his robe revealed the white silk bed dress beneath.
Above that, however, something else was revealed. A heavy chain around his neck bore a medallion. More than a medallion though, it was a stone. She’d seen something like it once before. So long ago the memory couldn’t be placed. The electric blend of blue and red so alive meant it could only be one thing, dragons’ breath. The medallion hung on the chain in an ornate pendant, securing the stone in place. It was the conduit of his power.
Blue light radiated from the stone, absorbing into his body. Blue flames flickered over the flesh of his hands without harming the man even in slight. Flames dripped from his fingertips onto the floor. Smoke swam through the air as the flames simmered on the floor without burning out.
Heat flushed through her veins, fueling her body with a surge of energy, radiating through her very swords as she continued the walk forward. Raising his hand high, flames engulfed his fingers as he reared his fist back. A blaze of light lit the room as the fire flew from his fingers for Aryaunna. The ball of fire hit her sword as she rose it to deflect the torch coming straight for her. Fire lit her sword, scorching up the blade to her hands where it extinguished- as if the sword had consumed it entirely. “Your dragon’s fire is stolen. Time to give it back.”
Mestophylies’ eyes went wide with fear.
Their cries soon echoed down the hall. The moment had not been as monumental as she’d hoped. The Magistrate fought her as well as he was able. Power or none, he’d sat idle for decades swimming in the luxuries of his stolen life. He’d been confident that his soldiers could defeat her and the Drow. Gaining Valhanna’s army had been his insurance.
The Head Mother died quickly.
It hadn’t been enough. Nor had his stolen magic against her fated power. Everything he tried crumbled against her. It was futile. His ill-gotten Faye immortality was useless with his head on the floor, detached from his body. The pendent hung around her neck, and would until the moment came where she would destroy it.
The room glowed with the burning embers deep in the hearth, and an oil lamp burning brightly on an otherwise barren bedside table. Even in the light of day, inside the castle walls was dark and dreary. Lanterns and torches decorated the walls throughout the somber chambers.
The light of the lantern captivated her. Aryaunna’s reflection danced and wavered upon the surface of the glass. The girl staring back she did not recognize, nor did she wish to. It was only the symbol drawn in her sister’s life blood that she saw.
Resting the blunt of her blade up on her shoulder, she picked up the lantern and left the room. No attention was paid to the bodies obstructing her path. As if they were no more than pebbles on the floor, she walked around them. Hesitating by the fireplace, she looked at the smoldering, orange, embers for a moment as she considered action. Extending her blade, she flicked a few of the coals from the hearth over onto the ornate rug covering much of the floor. Aryaunna did not linger then to see if it caught.
Walking through each hall, down each corridor, she thought of the many times before she’d walked these halls. Just then it didn’t feel like her own past, more like a story she knew intimately well. She did not feel like the same girl. How long had it been? She wasn’t sure. Maybe a fortnight, maybe a few decades. It felt as much.
Not a soul passed by her in the halls on this walk. Not a soul was heard, even upon approaching the double oaken doors, laden with iron hinges and bolts. The floor glistened as if water had been spilled. But the substance was much thicker.
Soft steps carried her to the doors, careful of the spill under foot that spread under the crack between the door and floor, she leaned her ear to the door.
Whispers could be heard, bouncing off the stone walls within. They were anxious, but thought themselves well protected. Yet they’d heard the cries. Still, wouldn’t their church protect them? They had no idea they’d cast themselves within what would be their tomb. Every scar the Guardian’s had taken burned inside of her still, these so deep they could not be erased.
Backing away from the door, she held the lamp high as a sneer curled her lips back. “This day you die for your heresy!” the words hissed out of her lips just like she’d heard them spoken the first day, and so many since as innocents were slaughtered in their streets. Her mother’s death was so vivid in her mind she could almost hear her mother’s voice.
When you shed tears, know they are my tears. When you smile, know it is my smile. When the wind kisses your cheeks, know it is my kiss. You are blessed, my children, by the Guardians themselves.
The screams which resonated behind her as she walked at a leisure pace out of the church she did not hear. The cry that stopped Aryaunna’s heart was one no man could ever make. “Sita!” she cried as she took off running. Sword still gripped in her fist, she ran.
“Go home, Allos,” she warned, not bothering to stand from her place on the ground. Sitting with her back against a tree, she stared at the small fire before her. A sword balanced on her thigh, held with one hand as the other polished. At her feet was a large, flat, rock she’d drug up from a thawing creek. Upon it were many small blue, and red, shards.
“Just Allos?” Raif asked as he came up on her left, Allos standing back behind on her right.
Aryaunna sighed. Without answering them, she continued to tend to the weapons surrounding her. She sat upon a small log to keep her bottom dry whilst cleaning her weapons. Dinner cooked over the fire. She couldn’t remember the last meal she’d eaten, though it hadn’t crossed her mind to consider until she’d decided to stop long enough to take care of the medallion. It’d been beautiful as it shattered. Billows of smoke of the same color as the stone seeped from its shards. The power had been released.
Allos came up and knelt by the flames. The heat of the fire nary reached his ice laden soul. Raif tended to the skinned fox heating on a spear, wedged into some rocks over the fire. The three didn’t speak again until they’d finished their meal. Raif had taken it upon himself to clean the fox skin properly, leaving Allos and Aryaunna to themselves mostly. “What did it feel like when he died?” The Magistrate. Word had spread quickly.
Taking in a deep breath she thought on how to explain it. What did it feel like? “It felt… very… anticlimactic,” she finished at last. There was little else to say to it. He tried to fight her. She took his head. That was it. She’d thrown a knife into the heart of the Head Mother. When Mestophylies fell, she withdrew the blade from her chest, and sent another down upon her neck. She’d take no chances that magic would see any of them walk away.
Weapons clean and put aside, Aryaunna spun a small black dagger in her fingers as she watched the flames lick at the chilled air. “You did not come to her pyre,” he said at long last.
“I’d seen enough bodies lain to rest. I chose to honor Elizabeth with a pyre of my own making.”
One brow arched beneath his hood. “With Reign?”
Her whole body flinched. She’d spent three days looking for Reign. She climbed and crawled every crevice of Mount Dia that she’d ever known. Called his name until she grew so hoarse she hadn’t been able to call for Sita. She had no idea where her Dragon was. Allos missed the fear and painful flinch of her body. Drowning in your own misery can cause one to miss many things. She did not answer him.
When it was clear she wasn’t going to answer him, Allos’ eyes clinched shut as he let out a heavy breath. “I’d have come with you. I’d have honored her with you.”
“I know you would have.” His eyes were swollen, red rimmed, circles black beneath. She wondered if he’d slept since the fight. Unlikely. “I had to do it alone.”
Raif hung the skin over a low hung branch before sitting down between them. A voice inside of her said to force them away. Yell, cry out, anything to make them leave. Beg them to go home, care for their own, more so to leave her to her pain and sorrow in peace. Yet she couldn’t. Words fell away from her lips before they could part to speak them.
Digging into a small satchel, Raif loaded a wooden pipe of dried herbs. With a small stick of kindling he lit the end. Thick smoke enveloped them all, as if enclosing their small group in a cloud. A cloud that could not be seen by others, protecting them from the prying eyes of the surrounding wood completely. Allos laid down beside the fire. As if Mother Nature had reached out to pull him to her breast, he could not resist. He lay watching the ever burning flames as silent tears stained his face with his pain.
Raif slept with his back against a tree. Through the night Aryaunna watched the flames burning. Content to let Sita rest, and her companions be still. It was near dawn that she heard Allos’ breathing grow steady and deep, sleep taking yet another victim. It would never take Aryaunna again. She’d paid a great price to never more have to bear its burden. Already, Ary was starting to wonder if she were done paying the fare yet. Aryaunna’d lost more than she’d known she had.
Day and night traded places time and again. Each night she warred within herself over making them go. Days turned to weeks. Full moons came and new moons passed. The moon offered the only mention of time changing. They came upon villages, chiefdoms, townships, and small farms in between; fighting monsters that weaker men could not. They aided those that they could however they were able.
Raif bore the skin of a man always, hiding his Drow nature from all others. She’d questioned him once, to clarify his intent not to argue it. These people were afraid of what they could not understand. It was safer this way for all of them.
Spring brought warmer days, but the nights still carried winter’s frost. Summer brought salvation of warmth, and long lasting light into the eve.
Even still, Aryaunna never slept. Just as she never stopped looking for him. If Sita was well enough rested, they rode together at night. Aryaunna’s eyes on the sky, looking for him always. The shimmer of moonlight on scales. She called to him. She called to her Guardians, as well her mother and sister. Tears fell, soaking into the earth with the blood and sweat of battles past.
When kingdom pitched war between kingdom they would beg and bribe to sway the trio to fight on their side. Men young and old swore their lives and arms to fight with her, for her. Time again she refused them, going to every length to stop wars before they could start with Allos and Raif ever at her side. The Emissary had become a beacon of hope throughout the lands as her own battle waged within her ever still. Treaties were written in her hand, signed by warring kingdoms to bring peace and partnership.
Not every war could be stopped, though. The three fought through fire and brimstone in war, and battle, with legions of warriors. While gold kept the three alive, it was not what influenced their blades.
Never did they stay anywhere long. No homes were kept, no true peace did the three ever find. Ever still they searched on. When their aid was given, and she knew for certain her dragon could not be found, they moved on again. Though neither Allos nor Raif dared ask Aryaunna about it, not long had passed before they realized their Emissary had lost more than the last of her bloodline. She had lost her dragon, and her Guardians, too. The cold breath of being alone chilled her bones even on the hottest of nights as her companions slept.
Seasons came and went again and again, until they had known each one many times over. Another summer had come upon them, only this one did not bring with it salvation from cold. It brought death.
The lands they walked were barren, and dry. The spring rains had not been generous, and an early summer was upon the land. With it came disease, locusts, hunger, and death.
“This land is sick.” Allos knelt in what should have been a lush field, digging up the roots of a thistle plant, inspecting their decrepit state.
“You say you’ve been to this place once before?” Aryaunna asked him as she stared, as she so often did, at the skies above.
“When I was a boy, I came with Collin.” Collin had died in battle at the hand of the church those years past. “It was beautiful here. Green, not like Thuringian, but lush. The land thrived. Farms were heavy with livestock and gardens.” As he stood, the two looked over the rolling hills beyond. Brown, black where the locusts clustered feeding on whatever they could find, including other locusts.
Allos remembered sheep in great flocks, looking like small white clouds dotting the countryside. “Aside from your friend Cassius, do you know people in these lands?”
“Nye. That was many years ago. More likely those I had met have long since returned to the earth. Cassius was a boy.”
Raif’s eyes gazed upon the burning sky above. “Not a single cloud in the sky. I’ve not seen one in days.”
“It is worse than what I expected,” Aryaunna agreed, looking out over the countryside. “Cassius said his home was outside of Athens. I assume that is Athens.” Her gaze traveled over a city of white stone.
“Aye. Cassius’ home is near the woodlands. It should be this first ravine. The roads should be safe. He said the soldiers have not traveled the outside roads since the last harvest.” Aryaunna’s brows rose as she adjusted her belt. There was no hiding her weapons beneath a cloak in the midst of summer, within the heart of Macedonia especially. “What?” his brows knit in question as he eyed her.
“It’s not the first time we’ve heard that,” Raif explained, bringing a smirk to the corner of Aryaunna’s lips.
“Indeed, let’s hope this time it’s true.” Aryaunna smiled if just in slight as she eyed Allos, walking down the hill.
“Somehow I doubt it,” Raif mumbled, walking alongside Aryaunna, leaving Allos to follow. The horses followed behind, without need of a lead. Allos and Raif’s horses followed Sita without waver, and Sita never strayed far from Aryaunna’s side. With the heat of the day, they’d ceased riding. It put too much strain on their four legged companions.
“We do stick out,” Allos commented. “We’d be easy to spot even at a distance.” Despite the heat, Aryaunna wore nothing but black. Additionally, Allos darned a red hooded robe. Raif blended in better than either with his patched leather trousers, white tunic, and an open brown vest. Against a barren countryside, they stood out in the light of day easily enough.
“Then we’ll make haste. We’ve not the time to wait for nightfall. Sita,” Aryaunna called. Running her hand along Sita’s cheek and through her mane, she spoke lowly, “It’s just a short ways. Water and rest wait us all.” Before she’d finished speaking, she’d mounted the mare’s back. Allos’ rode a brown steed called Zeva. Raif rode a red Arabian, Vemor, gifted to him after saving a Sheikh’s daughter.
They’d barely begun the downward slope when Raif eyed them. “Allos, the next person who assures you we’ll have safe passage, cut their tongues out,” Raif suggested subtly.
“Allos, Raif, get to Cassius, make sure he’s safe. Don’t wait for me!” she yelled out to them as she took off to the east.
“I hate it when she does that,” Allos grumbled as Zeva and Vemor began to gallop full stride down the hillside.
“As I said, their tongues, my friend.” Raif kept eyes on the east as they rode.
Sita ran hard, racing down the hill at speeds she’d not felt in ages. Hooves pounded the dirt with such ferocity that a cloud of dust filled the air like a wall. A wall that could be moved through, yet not seen through. Sita was faster than any horse this side of Dia. She was Faye.
“Let’s play with them, Sita,” Aryaunna’d not drawn her swords. She wouldn’t need them. Two steeds reared up, nearly dislodging their riders as Sita looped around them in a wide circle. Sita kept up her pace three laps before Aryaunna slowly sat up. The steeds had barely calmed, neighing and whinnying, feet kicking in angst. “Easy,” she called to Sita, and the steeds, coming to a halt just feet in front of them.
Both riders were just as agitated as their horses. Blood vessels bulged from their foreheads, pulsing in time with the steeds’ flaring nostrils. “Easy,” she called louder. “Come, Sita. Let us meet them.” Light with the reins, she urged Sita forward. “Gentlemen,” she greeted with a nod of her head and a slow smile. Her eyes roamed them, looking for weapons, though her smile implied alternative intentions.
“It’s a woman,” the one on the right scoffed, surprised and amused.
“Brilliant deduction, Nikos,” his partner grumbled.
“Has the Achon sent me a personal escort?” she questioned with her easy smile. Sita angled slightly, taking one slow step forward at a time. All eyes remained on the two. Even the steeds watched Sita with complete focus. It wasn’t long that both horses turned around, following the direction Sita came to a stop.
As the dust cloud settled to the ground, their focus was in the opposite direction of where Allos and Raif had ran for. “Are you alone?”
“No, of course not. I have the blessing of two companions. And two steeds as well, best keep your distance. You’re going to excite my poor Sita.” Her teeth caught just on the inside of her lip as she looked Nikos and Petos over again. Keeping her eyes on them, insured their eyes stayed on her. “Tell me, just who are my companions?” Her brows rose expectantly.
“I am Nikos.” His smile was warm. Eyes locked on her, his head nodded to his left. “This is Petos. We’re soldiers of Athens.”
“My escorts are soldiers?” she sounded excited. “How divine indeed.” Turning Sita around, she began to walk her towards Athens.
“Where are you going?” Petos called. The two were right behind her.
“Athens of course, with my two escorts.” As my companions stay safely away, she thought silently. Nikos rode beside her as Petos remained just behind them. She could feel his eyes on her. Or more specifically, the black hilt gleaming in the sunlight at her side. Nikos seemed less interested in her weapons than he was her.