||Fantastic Valencia - Ch. 1
|Fantastic Valencia - Chapter 1
Shasta held his breath, his bow drawn as he stood in the tree, his earthen clothes blending into the the foliage of the forest. Golden eyes watched the men below. There was uncertainty to their origins, but it was likely that they were guardsmen from the capitol. The group of young men who stood in the trees watched carefully, their lithe forms silhouetted in the foliage. In the years following the fall of the royal family, the woodland people had closed off their borders to all but the occasional member of the beast folk. The forest was their home, and they kept it to themselves. They were the Jadu, the race that the outsiders called woodlings. The group of scouts kept their eyes downward, secure in the knowledge that they were as yet, unseen. Shasta glanced up, himself barely able to notice his compatriots hidden in the trees.
As they watched, a loud whistle pierced the silence of the woods. The men on the ground stopped and looked around. “What was that?” one of them exclaimed, drawing his sword. The lightly clad men all followed suite. They were ill suited for the woods. And though they tried to be quiet, the broke every branch they came across.
The leader of the grouped, an angel, turned around and was about to chastise his men when one of Shasta’s fellows stopped him. “I wouldn’t move too suddenly… That was our brethren. They just found yer companions.” The angel drew his own sword and aimed it at the boy in the tree. Silvery white wings unfurled in anger.
“Woodling, you dare threaten us? I am Lord Dexter McBane! And you are one man against many!” The angel blustered angrily. The gathered men in the trees let out a laugh, making themselves known to the guards without exposing themselves. The forest folk quickly went silent again, their presence known, but not visible to those below. The wind rustled the leaves enough to break the relative quite of the woods. Dexter’s face paled as he realized just how much of a disadvantage he and his men were at. That was more than enough for him to put his sword away. “I guess you do have good reason to threaten us…” his response was rather sheepish. There was only so much he could do now to keep his men alive. He wanted to be proud. To rush into the fray and defeat his enemies.
Enemies that clearly held the advantage.
Shasta stepped forward and dropped out of the tree, landing with just enough sound to attract the group’s attention. He slowly walked up into striking distance of the group. He was dressed from head to toe in pattern dyed leather. “Hey, Mato… They don’t look like they have anythin’ valuable…” Shasta released the draw on his bow as he came in close. The golden eyed lad was well built, and even amongst his people, had an air of wildness about him. And among the creatures of the world, only the beast folk had golden eyes. For anybody else to have them was beyond strange. “I say steal their swords and send them on their way… Let ‘em go back to the king. Send a message.”
Dexter brought his attention towards Shasta, whose face was partially shrouded by his gear. “What message do you want to send to His Majesty…” The angel’s voice had bit of defeat in his tone, but still all the bite of contempt for his situation. The wind picked up again as the Jadu leader Mato dropped out of the trees as well. The raven haired young men both stared at the angel. “Well? What? Do I need to tell you why I am out here at all?” Shasta looked over to his friend.
“Well, that would be nice of yah…”
“Shasta! Knock it off.” He knocked off Shasta’s hood as he did. Partially as chastisement, and partially as a joke. In their own woodlands, the inhabitants did not feel threatened by the interlopers. In fact, they didn’t even fear the king. Shasta smiled and then looked back towards Dexter, eyes glinting. The angelic lord took a step back in surprise. What he saw simply did not work in his world view
And he wasn’t imagining what he saw. Dexter’s mouth dropped open, staring at Shasta.
The Jadu boy took a step back and questioned the strange look. He was used to the strange looks from his own people, but not from outsiders. “Is there somethin’ on mah face?” He didn’t have even have time before Dexter dropped his sword and took his own backwards steps. The angel didn’t think he would encounter such a creature anytime in his life. But here it stood before him. Something out of myth.
“Va… Va… Varjadu!” The angel’s face went pale, his men were confused. The normally strong willed and confident angel was uncharacteristically frightened. And that was enough to unnerve the men. Dexter pointed at Shasta. “You… You… You’re a…a… a Varjadu… I was simply sent to scout your woods, I swear Lord Shasta!” Dexter responded quietly, more frightened then he had ever been in his life. He wanted to live. His father had told him stories of the Varjadu. Stories that he was now facing in person. He ignored the leader of the Jadu. “I would rather walk away from this one alive, my lord. Me and my men.” Shasta shrugged his shoulders, the forest clothes, barely showing the movement, looking at Mato.
Mato just returned the shrug. “I hope yah know yer way back out. Because we’ll be followin’ yah until yah are clear of our borders… Do yah understand?” Mato waited until Dexter gave his assent before the pair of wood dwellers vanished back up into the canopy of the forest, leaving the angel and his men to wonder just how serious the woodling’s threat was. Knowing that more than half of all the scouts sent into the woodlands never returned, the small party was content to be the lucky ones that walked out. Dexter didn’t know which was worse right now. The possibility that he wouldn’t walk out of the woods alive, or the fact that he was and would have to face the king’s anger. Hopefully the idea of bringing the men back alive would help quell that.
Still, there was always the chance of not walking away.
After the boys made sure that the intruders of the woods were gone, they quickly made their way back to their village. The day had been long, and the border guards had held their own against the few scout parties that king Matthias sent. And still the men guarded their borders as if an entire army was invading. While Mato and the others went to their usual tasks after a guard duty, Shasta decided to go to his familial home. The whole encounter in the woods refused to leave his mind. Especially the word ‘Varjadu’.
There was one thing that made him happy in the whole situation though. No matter how he felt now or might feel in the future. The village was calm. The red wooded homes had a sweet scent to them. It was the one thing that made the whole day worth it. Knowing that his home was safe. The failing sunlight filtered in through the trees as he walked through the town. The calm was broken by the occasional child running between the trees and buildings. It was idyllic, though Shasta knew that the moment he got home, he had to face his biggest obstacle. His sister and his cousins. Aside from him and his father, the household of the Rava family was one made up almost entirely of women. A fact that was bolstered by the inclusion of his mother’s sisters and his maternal cousins.
He sighed. Such was his life. But he wouldn’t trade it away for anything. He pushed the door open as he reached the rather large house. Inside, the smell of a massive feast being prepared greeted him as it usually did. By the scent of the house, it seemed that his father had managed to kill a rather large deer for himself. Something that was becoming more and more scarce as the months went on. “Mother? Aunties? I’ve returned…” He sat his forest gear down. The earth tones of those clothes was too subdued for the boy’s taste, but it was necessary in the wilderness. The vibrant clothes of the Jadu people, their art, their culture. The entire society was far deeper than outsiders would ever likely learn. Most outsiders called them woodlings, or elves, though the Jadu hated both terms with a passion. They were a closed people, who were proud of their ways. Outsiders only ever saw the occasional patrol, never the villages or citizens.
Shasta made his way to the kitchen. His red haired aunts were laboring over a pot when he walked in. “Aunt Ayria? Aunt Alia?” He asked, not trying to startle them. Last time he had burst in, they had nearly had his head after he knocked over an entire pot of sunroot stew. He made sure not to repeat that mistake. There was something about the red haired members of his family and the tendency to fly off the panhandle. Shasta smiled at the sight in front of him. The red clay covered walls gave the room a warm feel, as well as keeping the actual heat in. The women were preparing a feast for the family.
His enjoyment was quickly interrupted by a small pair of hands covering his eyes. “Guess who, brother!” The sound of his sister made him smile. They were a few years apart, but Shasta always enjoyed the company of his sister. Arana had their mother’s hair and eyes, but their father’s tenacity. The two had been as close as could be for as long as the young man could remember. A fact encouraged by his elders. Despite being the only boy to four red haired girls, Shasta always maintained a level of respect from his family. Most any of them could take him in a fair fight. All of them except for his sister Arana.
“Down, Arana! Do I have to get father!” He laughed, falling over into the kitchen. And getting the full attentions of his aunts. Arana brushed her hair from her face as as she gave a laugh. The petite girl smiled as she pushed herself off of her brother.
Their aunt Alia wiped her hands on her smock before waving them at the siblings. “Shasta! Arana! Shoo! Food shall be ready in due time!” Alia chided as she looked at the siblings. “Yer mother is in the hall cleanin’ the room up fer dinner. Go help!” She said, sending them on their way. Alia would not have any of her niece and nephew’s antics in her kitchen. “And send Sabri and Isala in here, if yah would…”
The two siblings gave a nod before beating a hasty retreat into the main hall. Arana poked her brother in the ribs. “So, did yah scare off any o’ the outsiders tahday?” The girl was inquisitive. Even though she was of age to join in tasks outside the village, she had been strictly forbidden from venturing too far from the outer wall. A restriction that made the girl all the more inquisitive when her immediate family went hunting or were on patrol for the week. Thankfully, Arana had plenty to do in the village to occupy her time. The girl’s brilliance surpassed many of the scholars and artisans in the town. An intelligence she directed to being a storyteller and singer for the village. A job that kept the younger villagers from wandering off into the woods and getting lost.
Shasta gave Arana a cheeky smile. “I’ll tell yah after the evenin’ meal, okay? The last scouts we met were rather strange…”
Across the kingdom, Lord McBane made his way slowly back to the capitol. If this was to be his last day alive, he would face it like a king. Though he very much didn’t want it to be his last day. He took a deep breath and sighed. The King had a reputation for having a very strict code of punishments. Dexter was certain his failure would warrant being stripped of his titles. He sighed again, more deeply this time around. The tower at the center of the city shimmered in the fading sunlight, the rainbow hues of the oncoming night reflecting off the palace's white marble creating a beauty unlike any the world over. Dexter remembered a time when the kings would have the court mage summon aurora one night of every year. It was the people's way of celebrating the coming of spring and the coronation of the king.
Though such celebrations had not occurred since the last court mage, Lady Asthore, vanished, almost thirty years before.
That had been before the decline of magic users in the world. Now only a few hedge wizards existed here and there. Small local healers, fortune tellers, and the like. All other magic users had vanished almost a decade before the old king's death. Dexter wondered if the disappearance of the mages had been a sign of decline. Angels were insanely long lived. And while the general was relatively young, he had still seen the last eighty four years. Heck, he had been a lad when King DeMonte's father had been born. All the kings had died young, though each had their own reasons. King Nicilo had died in a jousting accident, and his father, King Savino, had been killed in battle in the last Beastling War. It seemed the fates had been adamant about ripping the royal line from the Lacenvian people.
Still, even if he was a bit strict, King Matthias was chosen to succeed the Scaveran line of royalty. And he had not been wholly heartless. Dexter gave a weak smile as he passed the fountain that had been dedicated to King DeMonte, Queen Ariadne, and to the the unborn prince who would now be on the throne had he survived. The statue of the royals that adorned the fountain was a beacon of remembrance for the royal family. It was the reason he still served the throne.
Pushing open the palace doors, Dexter was quickly greeted by the Kings personal advisor. A woman whose very air bothered the man. Lavender hair, azure eyes, pale skin. The way she held herself, she almost seemed to glide across the floor. And her eyes. It always came back to the small witch’s eyes, and how they seemed to pierce their way into a person's very soul. And today, those eyes seemed expectant, if not a little bit disappointed. "The King is waiting for you in the library, Lord McBane..." The quiet voice was flat as she addressed the angel, her frame hidden in her flowing robes. Dexter wasn’t certain how much of her frame was unliving clothe. “He bids you join him immediately…”
Dexter frowned. So the king knew he had returned. The angel had to wonder how the man knew such tidings. He looked away to send his men on to the barracks, returning to the young woman to thank her. "Thank you, Lady Ro...sa..." the petite woman was gone. Dexter hadn't even heard her leave. A quiet shudder went up his spine. He hated things like that, and the fact that she just vanished as she had gave him the heebie jeebies.
The angel walked slowly down the corridor in the direction that he knew the library sat. It was rare that the king visited the library. If it wasn’t for the palace servants, Dexter was certain all the books would gather dust. That was the way of things. The king kept his own council, he had his own private library. What tomes that interested the man had been removed to that secret room long ago. The whole day was baffling to the general. First he walked away unscathed from the woodlands, and then he gets summoned the moment he returned, and summoned via a very terrifying woman.
He made it to the door of the library. He stared at the door for half a moment before pushing the carven oak barrier open. The smell of old books hit Dexter full force in the face. The library was easily as old as the kingdom, and some of the books even older still. Inside the king stood staring out the window. He didn’t turn away as Dexter approached. “Please forgive my quick summons, Dexter, I saw you and your men approaching from the window here.” Dexter saw Matthias’ pet hedge witch sticking her head out from behind the stacks of books. “And sorry for Lady Saria’s… being Lady Saria. Sometimes I wonder if I should put a little bell on her.” The king finally turned around to face Dexter, his silver circlet glinting gently in the dusk sunlight. “I take it your quest was a failure… Though I suppose I should consider it lucky that my men made it back alive…”
Dexter gave a deep bow. “We were set upon by a group of woodlings, your highness…” The angel lord stood respectfully. This was turning out better than he had expect, though he was still scared something horrible would happen. Still, he had to wait and see. “They turned us back, but they did catch my other scout party… If Lady Asthore were still here, we would be…”
The king interrupted Dexter before he had a chance to finish. “But she is not here. And even in the past, not even Lady Asthore or the other great mages were able to penetrate the ancient magic that guards the forest. All we have left are weak magic users. None exist like they did in the past.” He looked over to where Saria was standing and watching, half hidden. “Sometimes tactics must change…” He waved his hand from inside the lavender cloak of office, the pale rainbow hued tunic briefly appearing underneath. The blue-eyed witch disappeared in a heartbeat, off on some predetermined task for. “You are dismissed, General, and I expect a full report soon, if you will…”
Dexter gave a nod and turned around. The report was now his task, though he would omit encountering the Varjadu boy. The lord didn’t even have proof that the woodling was the Varjadu. Perhaps he was just a beastling that had been raised by the woodlings. The two peoples had been allies in the past, after all. He pushed the thought out of his head. He would research it later.
Matthias watched as Dexter left the room. Despite his calm exterior, inside the king was seething with anger. He had meant for the angel not to return from the forest. Yet here the angel stood, alive, and none the worse for wear. He was the last remnant of the old regime. The one thing that stood in the way of a complete takeover. And he was the one person he could not kill outright. In order to make the people side with his policies, he had to martyr the general. And every time he walked away from a skirmish unscathed was another missed chance at preparing a full scale invasion of the woodlands. He wanted the power that sat at the heart. The power he knew was there. But without troops, and without the loyalty of the people, any attempt to enter the woods would be futile.
Matt closed the door of the door to the library and cast a silence spell on it. That way none outside could hear what occurred inside. Saria appeared moments afterwards, stepping out of the shadows with a handful of people in tow. “Your highness, I’ve brought the others like you requested…” Her quiet voice belied the power within her small frame. Matthias nodded.
“Alaric, Saria, Aemilia, Machiko… as you are no doubt aware, my latest attempt to rid myself of… my problem, has met with failure. I am running out of ideas, and thought it would be best if I asked your opinion of what to do next.” The gathered people shuffled uncomfortably. It was not common for the serpent to ask for help. In fact, it never happened. And each of them knew the price they would pay if they proposed an idea and it failed. Saria stood emotionless as the others fidgeted.
Machiko was the first to pipe up, the nervous twinge in her voice betraying her feelings. Her armor gave a slight rattle as her body shivered in fear, her brunette hair tied up in a tight ponytail. “Your highness, surely you don’t mean to… to… send us into the woods.” Her voice quavered a little as she asked. Normally Machiko faced her enemies without emotion, reserve, or mercy. But even she knew that she stood no chance against the woodlings.
It was if the very thought of the woodland dwellers made their enemies weak.
Matt gave a wicked smile. “Now there is an idea! Let’s send one of you into the woodlands!” He said gleefully, sarcastically. His expression darkened instantly. “And risk my best generals!? My court mage?! The leader of my assassins?! Do you think me stupid!? I would never send my strongest weapons in the vanguard!” he slammed his fist on the table. His anger finally bubbling over. He had dealt with enough stupidity this day, and did not want to deal with more. His eyes flashed golden as he stared at them. “I cannot send Lord Dexter again any time soon, because he would begin to suspect something. And without the Three in my employ, I cannot even begin my search for Queen Ariadne!” he rubbed his the bridge of his nose, eyes closed. “No… I need options… And I need to be rid of that damned angel! His loyalty to the throne is, commendable, but what he stands for is a thorn in my side. Machiko… Think upon that one for me. Find a way to get rid of him. It must be an accident or enemy action. We mustn’t raise a hand against him…”
The blonde assassin Aemilia stepped forward, her common maids outfit hiding her true strength. The well built woman had an idea. One that was crazy enough that it could work very well if acted upon by the right persons. “Your Majesty, perhaps General Elkin is right, whether she realizes it or not. Send one of us. Namely. Send me and my siblings… You had us made to hunt your enemies, then let us hunt your enemies…” Matthias brought his head up. She was right. Were the woodlings not like any other political enemy? Hadn’t the trio of assassins not been made to hunt magic users? As much as he hated to admit it, the homunculus was right. Saria had indeed made them to hunt other magic users. Perhaps their unique skills could be used to seek out and destroy whatever it was that was guarding the woodlands. That and they would not be expecting a maid.
“A good idea…”
The coal winged harpy Alaric stood forward, his race’s pride getting the better of him. Harpies were not known for their common sense, nor their self preservation skills. They were winged barbarians, and Alaric stood a testament to the very essences of the species. “Send me, your highness! I’ll take a squadron of my best men into the woods and kill them all!” Matthias raised his hand to silence the harpy.
“And that is a stupid idea. I tried that years ago. And the only reason you are general now is because when we found your brother’s body a few days later, he was filled with enough arrows to fill three quivers.” That had been a mess. The silver winged harpy general had taken nearly a hundred men to raid the woodlands and kill any that stood in their way. But he had come back a pincushion for woodling arrows. The only reason they knew the small army had been destroyed out right was that the woodlings had brought all the arrow filled corpses to the edge of the woods. They hadn’t even bothered to retrieve the arrows.
“No, Alaric. I appreciate you on the battlefield, but subtly has never been your strong point…” The harpy took his cue, closed his mouth, and stood back, stewing in his own anger, knowing that he had lost the argument. “Aemilia I won’t tell you how to go about your mission, but what I want you to do is simple. The old queen might still be alive in those woods. Kill her, and her child if such a child still lives. And failing or succeeding at that, I want you and your siblings to seek out the source of the magic in woodlands. The latter is more important, as once the magic is gone, invading the forest will be much easier.” He waved his hands, dismissing the lot of them. “Saria, stay…” he said as the witch was preparing to leave as well. He had a special task for her.
“Yes, your highness?”
“Keep an eye on Alaric. I don’t trust him to not do something stupid… Make sure he doesn’t.” the witch nodded and vanished into the shadows again. Matt was so close to ruling all of the ancient kingdom. All of what his ancestors had lost, and had been denied to him by the Jadu people. And he didn’t need a cocksure and stupid harpy screwing it up.
Aemilia made her way to her private chambers. Her siblings sat motionless against the wall, ready to fall in line with her commands. She sighed. They were the only reason why she continued to work for the king. Whatever Saria had done to Aemilia to give her independence had been denied to her siblings. The two were practically mindless dolls, with enough intelligence to get their job done and make it back in one piece. Matthias and Saria had promised to give them true life once the King’s plans were complete, but a part of Aemilia doubted that. The young woman pulled up her sister’s arm and etched a small rune into the girl’s arm, before doing the same to her brother. They were cold to the touch, proof that they really didn’t live. “Sveta, Vincent… We’ve a task to complete…” The other two came life, almost on cue. Their voices speaking in a strange harmony with each other, yet even more emotionless than Saria’s.
“What is it sister?”
“What task does father have for us today?”
Aemilia looked at the two. Vincent’s white hair stood a stark contrast to Sveta’s brunette locks. They were siblings in name only, each having been made differently from different materials. To see them, one would have to question why three such disparately different people traveled together. “We are going into the forest. We are to seek and destroy the heart of all magic, and if she still lives, Queen Ariadne…” the assassin changed out of her maid’s outfit and into her travel gear. The two living dolls quickly became animated as they prepared to travel as well, their blank expressions and movements almost mechanical in nature. It was strange to the leader of the three. Her siblings required no food, no sleep, nothing. They were like wooden puppets, yet she had need for all. She sighed. Why was she so different from them that their needs were different? She wasn’t about to dwell on it. She had a task at hand, and letting her emotions get in the way of the job was a sure way to get herself killed.
That was one thing they did have in common. They could all be destroyed, even if Aemilia was the only one that happened to have a true life spark of any kind. The rest of the evening was spent in silence as the three prepared. The eldest sister would rest for the night while her siblings prepared. She was in need of sleep, and the others could prepare. By the time she awoke, the trio would set out. With the spring darkness settling, Aemilia knew they would have only a few hours to make it too the woods and into a safe hollow. She had options, but her primary goal was to get as far in as possible without being found. And hopefully not run into any of the beastlings. Woodlings could be reasoned with. Beastlings could not.
· Mon Mar 03, 2014 @ 11:43am · 0 Comments