A young girl versed in the uses of holy magics aids in the effort to defend a stronghold.
| "They are coming," Calium sheathed a ruby-hilted broadsword, “by nightfall” he concluded.
“Let them come,” a boy said in a perfectly conversational tone. A deep, almost fiery crimson shone outward from the boy's eyes in pinpoints of red-hot rage, "Let them come and I shall burn them all!"
"Calm down, Brace" his twin sister touched his shoulder. They were both twelve years of age, one practiced and schooled in the art of fire manipulation and the other in clerical magics. Inwardly, she knew that her brother's magic would probably save them from what was coming. She also knew that while Brace possessed such power he lacked emotional control of his magic. This was why she came along. The bond they shared allowed her to keep her brother from losing himself in that terrible sea of anger.
“Alaya is right. We were sent here because we could do the job, do not let be a slave to your emotions." He took a knife and began to whittle away at a stick, forming the first inklings of an arrow-shaft, turning his back on Brace completely.
She pulled a small grimoire bound together with pieces of rotting leather and worn twine from her burlap traveling pack. Like spilled blood, a terrible scarlet filmed over her sight and the book slipped from her fingers with an inaudible thud.
“What do you know?” he asked angrily, the rage pounding in the back of her mind like a war drum.
Alaya’s ears roared with blaring whispers and if Calium did reply she certainly did not hear it above the internal cacophony. It was mindless. A thousand tortured souls screaming in hatred, calling for vengeance, and demanding retaliation. She fell to her knees with a moan, burdened by the reddened pall that enveloped her entire world.
“See what you’ve done!” she heard Calium’s voice pierce through the impenetrable agony.
Her senses reeled and she siphoned every bit of willpower to raise her head just a little to see both of them pushing at each other. “Please,” she asked feeling her eyes burning, “don‘t fight each other, not now, not ever..”
The veil of crimson whirled away from her sight and her head no longer throbbed with white-hot pain. Instantly, Brace was at her side, picking her up and holding her against the sharp-smelling leather of his breastplate. She felt her legs limply hanging from his hands as she was hoisted up into the air, carried into the stronghold, and laid onto a cot in the barracks. All the while, Brace’s tear-stricken voice murmured over and over again, “Please forgive me.”
She awoke much later with a pained sigh, brushing aside the sheets and half-fell from the cot unto her feet. Alaya stumbled to the window seal where her well-worn grimoire and thin reading spectacles laid in waiting. Gripping the hem of her robe, she rubbed a hand against the wet frost of the glass panes until a circle of clarity formed thereon. She gazed out into the wintry heavens, the waning sun playing hide-and-go-seek behind a sheaf of clouds, turning the sky a hundred shades of salmon.
Alaya lowered her gaze and opened her grimoire, studying old spells, reading up on new ones. The text's pages were a crisp, antiquated golden yellow. She looked up from the book and it was already nightfall and torches of the diminutive stronghold were alight in a smoldering glow. The rusted hinges of the door creaked loudly as it was opened from the outside, she turned and saw Brace standing a few feet from her, with that all-knowing smile spreading across his lips.
“What’s funny?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” he scratched the back of his head, “he -- no I -- think that you being here is a mistake.”
“No,” she said firmly.
“I lose control and you become pained or worse,” he lowered his voice a bit to a whisper, “and me knowing that I hurt you brings me more guilt than you could ever imagine.”
“You can never hurt me,” she said, nearly moved to tears, “I want to be with you, I could never live without you.”
“Wait,” he bowed his head and her sight filmed with red for a brief moment. The wicks on two candles sitting on the pine table burst into flame, candlelight streaked across the darkened room chasing the shadows away.
“Did that hurt?” he quickly asked.
“No,” she rubbed her temples, “just made everything red.”
Brace smiled again, his head nodding with approval, “While you were sleep, Calium helped me through some mental exercises, I think its working.”
“Usually when you use your magic, voices come into my head yelling about destruction,” she whispered, “it didn’t happen this time so the training Calium is doing must be doing some good.”
“Hopefully, he can help me figure out why you see and feel the same things I feel,” Brace said.
“I dunno, I tend to like what your teacher said, about us being linked,” she grinned.
“Perhaps,“ Brace started off but shook his head in mid-thought. “Calium is down waiting for me,” he said as he back-walked toward the door.
She waved to him as he left and heard the staccato of his boots trailing toward the iron-toothed portcullis. Alaya rubbed at the window again and gazed through it, both Brace and Calium were hovering holding a caught catfish over a makeshift cooking pit made from rocks and sticks.
"Fishing in the moat," she laughed, shaking her head. "yet again."
Alaya focused once more on her grimoire, wanting no part of the roasting catfish, she would gladly forage for some berries in the morning. The Holy was her focal point of study. Many believed and do still hold the belief that clerics are merely priestesses or priests, without any true power that can be manifested on the mortal plane. She worshipped the Goddess of Life and her learned charms were centered around this deity. Flamewind represented healing, protection, and rebirth and these were the spells Alaya studied -- the spells she could only study.
Alaya continued to read the grimoire until the candles no longer provided adequate light. She rose lightly to her feet, pulling the cowl of her deep brown monk's robe so her small frame was enveloped from from head-to-toe. She opened the door and walked through the hallway, her stomach twisted coldly and the feeling of something just not right grated along the edge of her consciousness. Directly in front of the portcullis was Brace and Calium, sprawled haphazardly near the cooking pit asleep, along with the remnants of their meal scattered in the dirt. All around the stronghold, in a circle, were shadow shapes, black as ink, fluid as liquid. If some mad summoner had bred a griffon and man together then overstuffed its maw with yellowed teeth, it would look something like what Alaya saw.. The creatures were a soft, almost transparent blackness that was unlike the churning of clouds and the rippling of shadow but having some characteristics of both. Deep sanguine eyes were set into those being's faces burning with malevolent intelligence -- that is what scared her the most, scared her motionless.
One of the bigger beings uttered a shriek followed by several authoritative-like howls and hoots. Three of the shadow shapes moved from their position from the circle and collectively flowed toward her. In the back of her mind, the familiar, foreign rage built up like a raging ocean behind a dam --
She felt heat, incredible fire that singed her face.
That shook her catatonia and she saw three of the shadow shapes lying on the ground, burned to a crisp, wisps of smoke wafting from their charred bodies. Calium and Brace were fighting, not on the ground sleeping as she remembered it. The trickle of thick, hot blood ran down her forehead and it hurt to move her neck. She must've fainted or been knocked unconsciousness, though, she wasn't sure of which.
"Calium! Nightweaver at your flank!" she heard her brother shouting above the chaos. That familiar voice forced her to fight back the pain and lethargy and she lifted her head to see what was going on. Calium rested one hand on the riser of his longbow then slowly pulled it back toward the nock of bow leaving a tightly-controlled line of frost to rest between his fingertips against the bowstrings. With a graceful arcing of his hand, he let loose a magical arrow which left a trail of excruciating blue-white frost hanging delicately in the air. The small line of coldness struck one of the nightweavers then continued with momentum unchecked; boring a hole in four other nightweavers behind the first target.
"What the hell?" Calium shouted as five nightweavers fell to the ground with an unforgiving thud. "They keep coming and coming, we can't keep this effort for much longer." He slung a longbow over his shoulder and unsheathed a broadsword. They were surrounded by an growing number of nightweavers, it seemed no matter how many were killed, more kept appearing to replace those who fell. She wanted to help so bad, but her charms were centered around healing.
Brace flung a few half-hearted fireballs toward the nightweavers. Alaya felt her brother's rage dissipate, then turn into fear, not good since his magic's power which was hinged on his anger was now ebbing away. Sweat poured down his face, blood trickled from his neck to dye his tabard a terrible crimson, and he was visibly tired. Calium looked worse, his parrying was sloppy and the creatures were cutting into body with teeth and claw, leaving deep, blood-filled gashe, yet like the iron will of some alchemist's steam engine he kept going despite the obvious pain.
"We need to retreat," Brace shouted over the din of battle. He was strong for his stature, but unable to do much without magic.
"You can go. I will keep them off, we can't let them get into Enrandia." That distraction was all one of the nightweavers needed before rearing up its claws and sliced through Calium's chest. The creature picked up the remnants of his body and greedily stuffed it in its insect-like maw with a horrifying slurping noise. In the next instant, Brace's shock of his friend's death gave the opportunity for a nightweaver to slay him with a sweeping slash across the face. Primal shrieks of battle turned into piercing cries of triumph as the creatures flowed over Brace's body daring him to miraculously get back up again.
Alaya not only saw her twin die, but she felt it. Where there had been his presence in the back of her mind, was now nothing, it was as if he had ever existed. Grief closed in around her like an all-encompassing cloak and she wept into the stronghold's pavement. Her heart sank and so did she; falling in a murky ocean of depression that swept her into a sadness too intense for tears or sobs. All she could do is ride the maelstrom of emotions unable to act, think, or to feel.
"Brace?" she whispered in complete disbelief. Numb pain exploded across her backside followed by a wraith-like cackle of victory. A kind of pearlescent darkness eerily crept across her line of vision, like thick dye spreading from a tipped inkwell, and it occured to her that she too was dying by the same hand that killed her twin and mentor. She, unlike them, embraced the white blackness and the impending death with all of her heart and soul. Inwardly, there was the faint hope that she would find solace in the bleak, unfeeling darkness that enveloped her entire world.
"My poor, poor Alaya," a voice whispered through the churning, seemingly impenetrable white mists.
All she could see was complete whiteness, moving brilliance that caused her to heavily squint. "Where am I?"
The voice whispered again, feeling as if the words evaporated from her mind and condensed into the voice that she heard. "In my sanctuary, my young acolyte. No one can hurt you here, you need not be afraid here."
She fell to her knees in homage and a slender hand instantly pulled her up. Alaya kept her head bowed, closing her eyes against the tears that slipped passed her long golden eyelashes. The hand released her arm and lifted Alaya's chin upward and her gaze met a set green eyes that caught the mind's attention and held it entranced. Her vision clouded with a sea of flames for a brief moment and felt something light, almost insignificant leaving an indelible impression upon her soul.
The woman closed her eyes and Alaya felt her mind move to her own will again. "That," she said, "was your first lesson." The green-eyed woman enfolded Alaya in an embrace and the child wept until she had not the strength to shed another tear. All the while, the woman caressed Alaya's golden hair and hummed a tune that sent waves of peace flowing down the child's center.
"Yes, I am Flamewind," the woman finally said, pushing Alaya slightly away so they could look at each other.
“I’ve felt so alone, for so long, I am glad it is over,” her whole body jerked involuntarily for a moment.
“It is not over,” the woman hid a smile. “You are very much alive in the other world.”
“How?” Alaya asked.
“My sweet, sweet child,” Flamewind enfolded Alaya in her embrace once more. “Listen to me,” the goddess whispered into child’s ear, “Your mortal body is that of steel, strong, yet not unbreakable. Likened to steel, when your living shell is shattered, it can be melted under the flames of life then re-forged and tempered under the hammer of your soul. This is the -- .”
“Meaning of Rebirth,” Alaya felt the words flow from her lips without even realizing it.
The goddess leaned forward and kissed Alaya on the lips and it left something wet on her tongue tasting unaccountably like a sweet, spring raindrop dripping from a petal of a rose. "Though you may not have always seen my face, I am pleased with you and your works. Merely close your eyes and I will be there. That, Alaya, I promise you to the end of all time."
In a burst of heat, she was no longer with Flamewind, instead she was in front of the stronghold. Her monk's robe heavily burned and it seemed that the wound on her back had been cauterized to stop the bleeding. She felt incredibly sun-burnt and struggled to her feet, her sandals knee deep in a kind of black-white ash that crunched noisily underfoot. Alaya walked until she was no longer hampered by the ash and was on solid footing once more.
Brace's torn body was right where she remembered and she steeled her mind, promising herself not to cry when she got within a good seeing distance. Alaya removed her burlap pack, it was filled with dry twigs, leaves, sticks, all covered with a blackened sticky mixture -- her book was no longer there. She didn't need her grimoire anymore, she knew all of the charms she would ever need.
Kneeling with caution, she hovered over her brother's body, spreading the refuse in an outline around him. It was still night though, the creatures of shadow no hovered around, deep black shapes imprinted onto the earth suggested they had been burned alive; but by what she could not discern nor did it seem very important at the moment.
She rose up with a sigh, her face tear-streaked and burnt, the pain of the world upon the shoulders of a child. Her heart went still as she bowed her head, clasped her hands , and murmured a prayer. Streams of light poured from the sheaf of clouds in the night sky, bathing the area where she knelt, filling her soul with transcendent peace and security. The sweet, familiar, lilting voice echoed softly in her mind once more --
"I hear you my child and I have answered."
Spectral threads of flame danced in the heavens, beautiful dancers of immolation, twisting in a graceful pattern before converging into one tight ball of fire. The wind howled madly, smashing into the hovering flame, sending threads wisping away from the fiery sphere, circling around it until it resembled something like hurricane with a crimson eye. Alaya felt the wind moving her body but she kept praying, focusing on the power of her charm, not letting anything break her intense concentration.
An avian cry of monumental exertion rang out from the firmament. The fiery maelstrom pulsed once, opening into a churning tunnel, from which a ghostly bird of spectral flame flew out with a rush. Its entire body was that of flame; tendrils of fire rose outward from its body before seeping back inward, the creature was like some twisted, bird-like incarnation of the sun itself except it was somewhat transparent. The bird of flame hovered over Brace's body, its ethereal eyes gazing at the fallen specimen before it -- then once, incredibly, an eyelid of pure flame appeared slightly over of its eyes and it came down near the beak in an achingly human-like blink. This was no simple magical construct. This being was intelligent.
The bird let loose another screech and the funeral pyre around Brace's body roared up with a rush of fire. White hot flames exploded outward forming a circle of immolation around Brace's corpse. The fire continued to burn and intensify, pillars of graceful ghostly flame licking toward the heavens, each one rivaling the next one in height and intensity. With a triumphant cry that could only be described as bird-like, the fiery creature reared and dove into the circle of flames, its arched wings reminiscent of a hawk diving for some foreseeable prey. It smashed into the pyre kicking up an avalanche of quickly receding fire and out of those flames a new, smaller bird rose out of the ashes.
Alaya opened her eyes to see her brother, stumbling from the epicenter of the ashen ruin. She climbed to her feet and ran toward Brace’s outstretched arms; together they held on to one another, bathing each other in a wordless emotion. The ghostly bird circled once, then soared into the sky with a joyous keen, leaving a trail of red flame in its wake.