My unfinished submission for the Original Character Tournament, Round 1.
|Time is running out. Besa presses herself against the cavern wall, using cool jagged rocks for balance, raising one knee and then the other, calloused fingers making quick work of the laces on her boots. She kicks them off and they land in light splashes, shallow puddles strewn across the cavern floor, dipping into the river stream where the Guide impatiently waits for her. Through the curtain of rain descending in a white mist shrouded rush over the entrance of the cave, Besa squints her eyes and sees the night’s darkness begin to lift, entering into the earliest hour of the morning.
“Hurry,” The Guide whispers, his hoarse call echoing across the dark water, and sloped walls.
Besa peels off her socks, stuffing them inside the boots, and nervously turns around to fling off her cloak, shivering as the cold draft haunting the cave lashes out and strikes her skin, goosebumps erupting on the dark caramel cream flesh. The unclasping of her belt leaves her feeling naked, standing barefoot on the hard cavern floor with nothing but her messy tumble of dark curls bound in a loose braid, and her tunic hanging loosely down her form, no longer tightened around the waist.
“What are you doing?” The Guide demands, wading in the water, the river stream splashing at his skin, small eager waves attempting to lure him deeper into the darkness.
Besa crouches in front of her belt, unbuckling one of the pouches and draws out the toy horse, raising it to her lips and pressing them tightly to the faded wood. She lowers it back down, intending to leave it, but the thought of pirates gives her pause, and though she has more valuable items in her possession (the modest amount of coins, the medical herbs, and the identity papers that gain its owner safe passage through certain soldier infested large cities and capitals), it’s the horse whose absence would sear a hole in her heart.
“About time, you fool.” The Guide growls, watching Besa splash into the water, his eyes narrowing at the clenched left hand she has curled in a fist, using it help to move clumsily towards him. “We haven’t much time before the pirates are due to arrive. Do not fall behind.”
He turns, sliding easily through the water, like scissors cutting through cloth. Besa clenches her fingers tightly around the horse, and urges her body forward, kicking hard and pushing her arms out, drawing them in, blinking through the darkness and water splashed against her face, clinging to her lashes, droplets patterned around her eyes. Gradually the struggle of keeping herself both afloat and moving forward provokes a flush of heat that sparks within her chest and spreads throughout her body. She is river flame, flickering in uncertainty and blazing with slow, ever-shifting purpose.
She keeps her eyes as best she can on the rippling muscles of the Guide’s bare back, both of them swimming parallel to the curved path of the sloping cave wall. Every so often Besa reaches out to grip the cave wall with one hand, her nails scraped across the slippery rock, gripping tight when the river increases its speed and tries to drag her off course. The Guide doesn’t inquire after her, assuaged by their two mingled breaths, his steady exhalations of air and her labored pants. Above them, a melody of bat wings and soundless song, guided by their vibrations that strike obstacles in their way, flapping hard and keeping to their dark stone sky.
“Help!” The river churns and Besa’s hand slips from the crook in the rock wall, her fist useless, clenched tightly around the wooden horse. For a brief moment she has no thought, propelled into the center of cold darkness...
“I have you!” And a strong hand reaches out, its grip tightened around her arm, and with a labored grunt drags her back against the cold rock wall. The call was strange, strangled and high pitched, almost feminine, but then the Guide talks again, and Besa lets the unease sink beneath her mind. “We’re almost there. Hang onto me.”
Besa takes a breath and struggles against the tide to get behind him, her arms thrown around his wide neck, her chest pressed against his broad back, the toy horse clenched against his neck. When he swallows she can feel it in her hand. He pushes forward and begins to swim, hard cuts into the water, and she hangs on for dear life.
Coe Luna rests on the water, its borders outlined by the mountain forest and wall of jagged rocks sloped into the sea. Wooden bridges are built between the cracks, leveled platforms stretched out into the crystal blue expanse, where ships are free to dock. Independent of both Dolmar and Malbetha, Coe Luna acts as a neutral port city, spared from the consequences of war as best it can, situated between the two kingdoms.
Off the coast there is a cave, where pirates are fabled to favor, hiding their stash of treasure, for the simple reason that no magical beings may ever enter, and those without mystical gifts cannot steal without painful sacrifice. Besa knows these stories from childhood, plopping down at a campfire while the merchant does business in the city, eagerly draining every legend from a story teller’s lips.
She’s rather confused, then, by this turn of events, dripping wet and stumbling back through the darkness, now lit by a torch casting shadows on the narrowed cave walls, watching as the Guide straightens up to his full height, and immediately begins to shrink. Dark brown hair sprouts into long ruby locks descending in waves over a slim distinctly feminine frame. A rich blue texture drapes the woman’s body, and one of the bats flapping overhead suddenly descends with a soft, crooning call, and lands on her shoulder.
“I - you - what are you?” Besa trembles, frightened.