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I wrote this about six years ago on another forum, back when I first began writing (or at least when I returned to it). I thought I would post it here. I was going to post it in the Story/Poetry thread, but it is rather long. The general setting is from that site, but the story is my own.




The Hunt

by

Horrible Aesthete



Paeli sat languidly at her desk, dreaming idly of a land without sacred rituals and incessant prayers, without endless tests and tedious lessons. Her papers lay about her in a hopeless jumble, a mere few minutes’ time separating her from four blissful days of freedom. Many feet below her on the forest floor the preparations for the festival of Elrahur, marking the beginning of the Spring Equinox, would already be in full swing. There, amid the commotion and celebration, her friends awaited her arrival.

“Paeliora Wynwryn!” snapped Dalend Kal-K’therin sharply.

The firm voice of her teacher wrenched Paeli from her fantasy. She jerked upright in surprise, scattering smudged bits of parchment in every direction. So startled was she by the pronunciation of her full name she very nearly fell out of her chair in surprise.

“Perhaps the Treatise on Herbal Medicines and Natural Remedies bores you, Eledal Wynwrynn?” said the Dalend, pushing his silver-rimmed spectacles further up on the bridge of his nose.

“No, Dalend.” she said, burning with embarrassment as she felt the eyes of her fellow students upon her.

“Would you care to share with the rest of the class what is so terribly important?” he asked.

“I…” she began hesitantly. “No, Dalend. I am sorry. I must have lost my train of thought for a moment.”

“Well, please do try to concentrate for these last few minutes of class.” With this he continued his lecture. A short time later, he ended his discourse and dismissed the class. Paeli rejoiced, quickly gathering up her papers and setting her feet toward the door.

“Mistress Wynwrynn, hold up a moment, please.” said Dalend Kal-K’therin. Paeli sighed inwardly in exasperation and turned reluctantly to face her instructor. She had been so close to escape.

The Deland approached her saying, “Ah, my young Eledal, where is your focus? Though it is spring and the great festival is unfolding outside, your thoughts must remain with your studies. I know the bright flame of youth rages within you, but you must attempt to put aside your emotions. In two weeks time your final test will be administered, and, if you pass, you will move on to the next stage in your education. I do not need to tell you the importance of this test. Of all my students, you have the greatest potential, and it is for this reason you must remain diligent in your studies.”

She turned her head down, embarrassed at his praise. He reached out with his hand and gently lifted her chin until her eyes met his.

“I would not tell you this,“ he continued. “If I did not know your humility. I know, too, that these subjects come easily to you, that you are often bored with these lectures, but this is only part of your education. Have you not wondered at the prophetic dreams which visit your slumber, at the secrets they reveal? You are possessed of a very real, very intense spirituality. More so than your classmates, more even than anyone I have taught in the past. This is indeed a rare trait. Others of your class were chosen for their scholarship alone, or at the request of their parents, or for myriad other reasons. Many of these will fail and move on to other occupations, for they lack something I cannot teach. You were chosen for a different reason, for that most uncommon of qualities; a simple, devoted spirit coupled with a strong sense of compassion and a deep inner wisdom.”

Why is he telling me this? thought Paeli. She already knew that she had far surpassed her classmates, a fact that caused her no small amount of guilt, for she wanted them all to succeed and sensed no small amount of resentment in some of the more ambitious students. She felt self-conscious enough already, and did not feel as though she needed any reminders. Besides, the festival awaited. She shifted her feet nervously, and the Dalend, sensing her discomfort, dismissed her saying only, “Remember your tests, young one.”

She rushed out the door and onto the wide terrace which encircled the great trunk of the ancient oak. Here, high above the world, she felt near to Kainna, chief deity of the Dalmites and creator of all the universe. She paused a moment to marvel at the azure brilliance of the mid-afternoon sky and to breathe deeply of the invigorating spring breeze. Mounting the long spiraling staircase, she began her slow, giddy descent to the festivities below.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Paeli launched herself into the frantic swarm of activity that had engulfed the settlement of Beyudu, stopping here and there to greet a neighbor or to admire a particularly attractive decoration. Her long black hair swung freely behind her, drawn together in a single, elegant braid.

Her large, brown eyes darted about wildly, trying to absorb the forest’s lush metamorphosis. All about her the drab signs of winter were fading, replaced by the first verdant sprouts of spring. Newly risen saplings mingled with tender, broad-leafed ferns in a charming imbuement of subtle yellows and vibrant greens.

She wove her way through the tangled brush coming at last to a small clearing nestled along the banks of the peaceful river, Aira Lillrian, at which were gathered her two dearest friends. They rose at her approach and greeted her heartily; Raya, her long, impossibly tangled hair strewn with leaves and twigs, and the brawny, grinning form that was Jar’th. With them was a stranger, a slender young man with large, expressive eyes. He, too, rose to meet her, bowing formally and saying, “Do you not remember me, Cricket?”

The sound of her childhood nickname drew from her a sigh of joy and recognition. “Rynn!” she cried, leaping toward him and clasping her hands around his neck in a warm embrace. Though caught off guard by her unexpected onslaught, he returned the hug wholeheartedly, if slightly off balance. He had left Beyudu five years ago at the age of eleven and she had not seen him since. Stepping back, she observed how much he had changed. The shy, gangly boy had been replaced by a thin, athletic young man, though his quiet, reserved manner remained unchanged. Paeli had just entered her sixteenth year, and he was older by a month only. In fact, the four of them were approximately the same age, though Raya had them all by a year, having just entered into her seventeenth season. There was so much to catch up on, Paeli did not know where to start. “Where have you been? What have you seen?” she asked him.

Before he had time to answer, Raya interrupted, “My friends, there is a festival on! Let us go and take part in the celebrations. You can reminisce while we walk.”

As the four companions made their way back to the merriment, Paeli pressed Rynn for information, eager to know all that had happened since their parting. She learned that he had spent the last five years with his father’s tribe far to the west along the Tarinian border, the last two years of which he had spent honing his skills as a warrior and learning the ways of the forest. Whereas Paeli, Raya, and Jar’th were Beyudi, Rynn was of the Duissa Tribe, which had been all but eliminated by the Tarinians. Now the Beyudi and Duissa lived together in Beyudu, though many of their customs were different. As he spoke, Paeli admired his large, sensitive eyes, and his extensive eye-lashes, the tips of which reached almost to the bottom edge of his eyebrows.

Meandering through the various stalls, the group of friends sampled the vast assortment of food and sweets, with the ever-voracious Jar’th gulping down copious amounts of delicious, intoxicating, honey-flavored mead as they went. With the onset of dusk, small, carefully controlled fires were lit, each surrounded by its own band of dancing, singing revelers.

It was at one such fire that Paeli and her comrades stopped, seating themselves comfortably around its warm and inviting glow, Jar‘th and Raya resting on one log, and Paeli and Rynn on another. Generous flagons of mead were passed around, and they settled into amiable, half-drunken conversation.

“Has Raya told you of her latest scheme?” asked Jar’th, grinning widely and putting his arm around Raya’s shoulders.

“Its not a scheme you big lummox.” she said, removing his arm and giving him a push which nearly caused him to fall off the log.

“Hey, you almost made me spill my mead!” cried Jar’th, attempting to feign irritation, and failing. Righted once more upon the log, he took a long pull from his mug.

“It’s like this,” said Raya.“I wish to join the ranks of the Amari…and this great mutton-headed lunk beside me wants to join as well.

Jar’th glanced over to Raya’s other side to see to whom she was referring. Finding the place empty, he shrugged and took another drink of mead.

“As you know, the Amari do not select everyone who applies,“ continued Raya. "Though I have a plan that should all but guarantee us a place. There have been animal attacks recently to the north. Two Fieren were killed, and an Amari barely escaped with his life. From what I have been able to gather it looks like a lancori attack.”

Paeli looked up in alarm. “A lancori?” she said, “But they are not known for attacking people.” Though she had never seen one of the great cats, she knew them to be reclusive, rarely venturing near to Dalamite settlements. She knew also that they were fierce and powerful, achieving a size much larger than that of a full-grown man.

“Not usually they aren’t.” said Raya, “But it has been known to happen. At any rate Jar’th and I intend hunt the creature and return with its hide. This will almost certainly win us a place among the Amari.”

“It sounds rather dangerous,” interjected Rynn, his quiet, steady voice barely audible above the din of the festivities. “The lancori are not beasts to be taken lightly. Not to mention that they are beloved of Elaen, and so protected by her blessed hand.”

“Then this one is a she-devil, possessed by Araessi, and as such cannot be allowed to roam free. We will be doing Elaen a favor by releasing the beast’s tortured spirit.”

“Then I shall come with you.“ declared Rynn resolutely. “You will need all the help you can get, and I have been trained by the best trackers in Kilarel.”

“I shall go as well.” said Paeli, smiling “I am not about to let the three of you rush off on some mad adventure while I remain behind to study The Many Medicinal Uses of the Kiva Root with Dalend Kal-K’therin. She felt a pang of guilt at the thought of neglecting her studies, and could already feel the Dalend's disapproval settling on her like a shroud. Nevertheless, she could not allow her friends to rush headlong into something potentially dangerous. Too, there was Rynn and his wistful, luminous eyes.

“So be it!” shouted Raya. “We leave in the morning!”

They toasted their decision just as a roving group of musicians entered the tiny camp. Rynn took from his tunic a flute and began to accompany them. The tune was bright and infectious and soon Jar’th was up performing a lively, if somewhat inebriated, jig.

Paeli had been furtively watching Rynn throughout the evening. She admired his deft fingers as they moved expertly along the smooth contours of the flute, choosing each note with practiced ease. She had just been about to ask him to dance when Raya beat her to it. She had little time for disappointment however, for the next instant Jar’th had grabbed her up and they were spinning around the fire in time with the music.

At last the dance came to an end and it was time for sleep. They would need all their strength for the next day’s journey.

~.~

Raya awoke before the first hint of dawn showed in the eastern sky, a dull mead-induced throbbing just behind her eyes. Ah well, she thought, nothing a little water and some moving about won’t fix. No surer cure for a hang-over than an early morning trek. She began hastily packing her gear for the trip ahead: her spear, her trusty hunting knife, and two days’ ration of felamin- the sticky meat and herb mixture favored by her people during long trips. Slinging her bow over her shoulders and seizing her full quiver of arrows, she left the tiny treetop structure where she dwelled with her parents and slid down a thick length of rope to the ground below.

Hastily, she made her way to the meeting place; her bare feet treading lightly on the luxurious carpet of earth and moss, her lithe and muscular body moving swiftly through the dense undergrowth. There were few indeed among her people who could match her speed.

As she walked, she breakfasted on an apple and mulled over the situation. What had seemed such a simple plan yesterday had now been complicated by the inclusion of Paeli and Rynn. Damn Jar’th and his empty-headed enthusiasm! This was dangerous business, and hardly a place for Paeli, who was more accustomed to books and learning than to dealing with the harsh environs of the forest. Jar’th, she knew, could hold his own, and could be counted on when the going got rough. As for Rynn, he was a stranger to her now. She had been pleased by the generosity of his offer, and certainly he was brave enough- and handsome enough if she were honest with herself -but she was uncertain as to whether or not he could be trusted in a pinch. She should have put an end to this the night before. Curse the reason-negating powers of mead!

When she arrived at the designated spot, she found Rynn already there, watching the crimson sun break on the horizon. They had chosen for the meeting place a small hill just north of town at the forest’s edge. Here the thick growth of trees and vines gave way to a small patch of grass and gently rolling hills before being once again enveloped by the vast canopy of foliage.

As she approached he turned toward her with his deep and innocent gaze, the shy hint of a smile on his lips. She was utterly perplexed by this creature, different as he was from her, or anyone she knew, save, perhaps, for Paeli. Jayla was wild and impulsive, rushing head first into every situation, and only stopping to see the results when all was done and over. Jar’th she could understand; simple, jovial, motivated by his sacred trinity- wine, women, and song. But Rynn was something new; foreign and complex. He was silent and observant, infinitely calm and relaxed, yet at the same time remarkably intense. His wide, liquid eyes seemed to take in everything at once and to give it back touched with compassion and understanding. He was at once naïve as a kitten and wise as a sage. What does he see with those eyes?

“You are early.” she said.

“Yes. This land, the land of my birth, has been lost to me these long years, I want to absorb as much of its beauty as I am able.” he replied.

“I see you packed lightly.” she said, observing that he carried only a spear and dagger, the same equipment she herself carried.

“No more so than you.” he said smiling, “For, what else do we truly need. Kainna shall provide all.”

How like Paeli he is, thought Raya. Spiritual and pure.

They where soon joined by Paeli, who carried only a simple wooden staff. Her braided hair glimmered in the morning sunshine, as bright as Raya’s dagger. All about her were secured tiny pouches containing her many medicines and herbs. Around her neck hung one of the clear, pear-shaped stones known as the Tears of Kainna.

Paeli greeted them and offered the blessing of Kainna and Elaen. Raya observed that Paeli had been a bit shy in greeting Rynn, and supposed that she too had noticed the boy's beauty. The three of them waited some time for the arrival of Jar’th, watching the sun’s leisurely ascent, chatting about the previous night’s festivities, and planning the adventure ahead.

At last Jar'th appeared, munching audibly on a large haunch of mutton.

“Where have you been?” demanded Raya. “We’ve been waiting the better part of an hour.”

“Breakfast.” said Jar’th with a burp.

“Breakfast? Then what do you call that?” asked Raya, indicating the mutton leg.

“This? Oh, this is a snack. I am still growing, after all,” he said with a wide grin, revealing generous portions of pulpy, half-chewed meat.

“Your body may be growing, but your brain is shrinking.” said Raya shaking her head. She noticed the large leather pack Jar’th carried. More food, she thought with a sigh.

The four companions gathered up their gear and set out for the northern forest, Raya in the lead.

They crossed the meager expanse of meadowland, waist-high blades of grass whispering against clothing and skin as they went. It was not long until they once again entered the forest, and the way became choked with brambles and great snaking vines. The going was slow, and they fought for every step. The massive tangle of thorns seemed to lash out in ever increasing attempts to pull them down into the dark depths of the forest floor, as if the very plant life had been imbued with some mysterious, vampiric life force.

The small group continued in this manner until they came to the banks of the Aira Lillrian river. Here the foliage was not as thick and the going was easier. Raya lead them north, following the gentle curve of the river, until they stood at the foot of the Elbin Bridge. It was here, Raya told them, that the first of the attacks had occurred. A lone Feiren had been killed. It had been his responsibility to care for the trees in this part of Kilarel, and his tent had been located not far from the bridge.

They searched the area for any indication of the beast, but the only signs they found were too old to give much more than a faint suggestion of the lancori’s general direction. Raya knew enough of the lore regarding the beasts to know that a single lancori maintained a hunting range of roughly fifty square miles, though in all of the reports regarding lancori attacks on humans, the creature in question had maintained a much smaller range, preferring to hunt near human settlements. She recalled too, that once the creature began killing humans it did not stop until it had been hunted down and killed. It was as though the beast were indeed possessed by some evil demon, and only in death was it free of the vile influence.

Even with the range thus reduced, the area to be covered was still immense, and Raya knew that the chances of coming upon the creature were not great. They would need luck on their side. Also, they would have to contend with other hunters, for certainly Amari had been summoned to deal with the threat. All they could hope for was some auspicious piece of evidence, a fresh set of tracks or a recent kill perhaps. She ardently hoped they would not stumble upon any more Dalamite victims.

They searched for the remainder of the day, until twilight had settled over the wood, thwarting any further attempt at detecting signs of the lancori’s passage. With the imminent onset of night, the weary band pitched camp, and in no time had coaxed a robust fire into existence. A chill wind blew through the infinite network of trees, a reminder that winter had but newly relinquished its icy grip on the world. The companions huddled near the heartening warmth of the fire and supped on the days rations. Raya noticed that everyone had become more accustomed to Rynn’s presence, and there was much friendly jesting and easy laughter.

They would pass the night in shifts, each taking a turn at guard duty. Raya took the first watch, keeping the fire lit and checking the perimeter. She was relieved two hours later by Rynn, who bid her good night and seated himself beside the fire. When Raya did
not take her leave, but rather sat watching him, he looked up at her quizzically.

“Tell me of the border lands.” she said. “You have been to Venar Woods?”

He smiled, “The lands along the Tarian border are a wild and untamed area. And yes I have ventured into the Woods on occasion.”

“And what of the war?” she asked

“The war is at a standstill.” said Rynn, “There exists in Venar now a tenuous truce, and the threat of its collapse hangs ever present in the air, dark and oppressive. From time to time small skirmishes break out, and we are called to battle.”

“Then you have fought against the Tarians?” she inquired.

“Yes,” he replied

“And you have slain Tarian warriors in combat?’ she asked, clearly awed

“Yes.” He stared into the fire.

“And what is it like, killing a man?”

“Same as killing anything else,” he said. “I do not enjoy the taking of life, but neither do I abstain from doing what must be done. My enemy knows he is my enemy, as I know he is mine. There is between us that bond. We are where we are for that purpose alone, thus we can kill one another without hatred, and with a mutual sense of respect.”

She had never heard war described in such a manner. She had assumed that to war against another required hatred and anger, she had always been taught so, but here was Rynn using the word respect, he whose entire tribe had been brought to the verge of annihilation. She considered his words. “But you are Duissa,” she said at last.

“Yes, Duissa.” he responded thoughtfully.

“If only everyone could come to regard the war as you do. There is such honor in your words. But everyone does not see it in this manner, thus are atrocities committed and excused.” she said.

“It does not matter if all see and act the way I do. It matters only that I do.” he replied.

His words had a profound impact on her. So gentle was his nature and so noble and magnanimous his perspective. She rose and approached him, taking his hand a pressing it to her heart. “Come” she said . “Over here, to the edge of the fire, away from the others.” She brushed her fingers along the edge of his cheek and up through his dark hair.

“I cannot,” he said, looking away.

“What is the matter?” she asked.

“My heart belongs to another,” he confessed with no small amount of difficulty, obviously not wanting to hurt her. "It always has."

“Ah.” she said, lowering her gaze, her dark hair falling about her in a tangle of twisted locks, green leaves, and tiny twigs.

“It isn’t anything about you,” he said awkwardly. “I am incredibly flattered. It is just-”

“This person who has stolen you heart, she wouldn’t have long braided hair and ink smudges on her fingers by any chance?” Raya interrupted, looking up and smiling.

He said nothing , but his shy and embarrassed smile revealed everything. She again brought her hand to his cheek and said, “You truly are a beautiful person, and she a very lucky woman.” With this she turned and made her way to the place she had chosen as her bed. She was disappointed, but also she was inspired and greatly moved by his words. She had never been one to fret over futile desires, and she thought that he and Paeli made a perfect match. With these thoughts, she drifted off to sleep.

~.~

Rynn awoke the next morning refreshed and ready for the next day’s journey. The revelation of the night before had been not only an explanation to Raya, but also a confession to himself. It had liberated him of his denial and so he was able to give free reign to his emotions. He glanced over at Paeli as she ate her breakfast, admiring the graceful line of her neck and the simple humility with which she performed even this most mundane of tasks. Alas, there could never be anything between them, but this produced in him no feeling of despair. He could at least revel in the sensation.

After they had all taken their breakfast- with Jar’th eating enough for the other three put together- they broke camp and renewed their search. Two hours travel found them farther north along the river and quite some distance from the bridge. Rynn noticed the tracks of many animals, but none matching those of a lancori. Often he would gaze over at Paeli, though when she caught him watching, he would attempt to play it off as though he had been stretching his neck or looking for signs of passing animals.

They scoured the great forest the whole of the day, but the search proved fruitless. Toward dusk, with the sky slowly fading to black, they made a gruesome discovery. In a clearing, amid an enormous swath of felled trees, the rotting carcass of a lancori hung from the limb of an ancient oak. Nothing of the animal had been used. The putrid flesh and matted hide still clung to the bone. From the many wounds on the animal, it was obvious that it had been tortured.

It took all of Rynn’s fortitude to keep himself from retching. Turning to look at the others, he found Raya trembling, eyes closed, fists clenched in rage. Enormous, silent tears streamed down Paeli’s face. Even the perpetually buoyant Jar’th was somber, his eyes downcast.

“Who would do such a thing!” cried Paeli.

Certainly, this is not the work of Dalamites, thought Rynn. Apart from the devastation of the trees, which no Dalamite would even allow himself to consider, there was the matter of the animal. Such treatment of a fellow creature was unforgivable. The beast had died a humiliating, demeaning death, made still worse by the fact that it had been left intact to rot. Surely, Elaen would punish such wanton and disrespectful behavior.

They cut the poor creature down, built around it a great pyre from the fallen wood, and watched in silence as the flames consumed its battered body, all the while offering prayers to Elaen and Kainna.

As the last of the flames died, the group began to feel better. As terrible as its death had been, at least now it was honored and its spirit had been returned to Kainna.

With darkness fully upon them, they moved a bit further up-river and made a hasty camp. Encouraged by food and the presence of a campfire, the companions soon fell to joking and laughing as before. Finally came the time for sleep. It was Paeli who took the first watch this second night, and Rynn who relieved her when his time came. She took her leave and he settled in for a long, quiet couple of hours. As he sat gazing into the fire, his thoughts turned to the great cat. They had all supposed the mangled creature they had discovered earlier to be the same one they sought, and so tomorrow they would begin the journey back to Beyudu. He was not so certain. Although it was difficult to discern just how long the creature had been dead, he felt that it was longer than the time of the last attack. Within a few moments, his thoughts had drifted elsewhere and he sat as if mesmerized by the dancing flames of the fire.

“What do you see when you stare like that?” The voice was Paeli’s.

He started a bit in surprise, having thought her fast asleep, and said simply, “The same as anyone, Cricket, a flickering fire, and now, a young woman who should be sleeping.”

“No,” she laughed, “it is more than that. When you stare as you do, it is as though you are lost within yourself. What is it that you contemplate at these times? Or is your mind merely a great blank canvas?”

“There are those who would make quite a strong argument in favor of the latter,” he said, smiling. “I think of a great many things. Often I think of the elegant simplicity of the forest and I attempt to see each object not as man has perceived and labeled it, but as it actually is. I find classifying everything according to some arbitrary name, or some preconceived notion, to be rather limiting. I believe our minds are capable of much more, but that we must first unlearn that which causes our mental process to stagnate.”

“And are you often successful?” she asked.

“I like to think so. Though, actually, it is the goal that I pursue rather than the end. Perhaps the success lies in the attempt. Or, more likely, I am merely wasting my time.” he said with a soft chuckle.

“I find that highly unlikely,” said Paeli, edging closer to him. “Turn your mystical gaze on me, oh Wise One, and tell me what you see. What is there about this being known as Paeliora Wynwryn that no one else recognizes.”

“That nothing frightens you,“ he replied unhesitatingly. “The others- Raya, Jar’th- they appear bold and fearless, but in the end, in the far corners of their minds, there is that unnamed terror which at times causes them to cry out in the night. You are wholly without fear. Your faith in Kainna does not allow for it. You have been so since we were children. You are so now.”

She knew his words to be true, though she never would have admitted them to herself. She regarded him as though she were seeing him for first time, and suddenly leaned over and brought her lips to his.

At first he accepted the kiss, then, thinking better of it, forced himself to stop. Placing his forehead against hers, he said, “Though I want this more than anything, it cannot happen. Not now. At the end of the week I begin training as a Telen. From then on I shall be alone, with only the forest as my companion. I have not told the others, because I think it best that they not know. You see why what is between us cannot be, don’t you?”

“I see nothing,” she said, rising at once and fleeing from him into the brush.

He called out to her, but she did not return. He sat down and cursed himself as a fool. He was so upset, so confused. He wanted to cry. He wanted to scream. Instead he returned to watching the fire. What has gotten into these women, anyway? He wondered. Two in as many nights! There must be something in the air. Tomorrow I shall take first shift! From the fire, the soft the outline of Paeli’s face stared back at him.

Some time later Jar’th came to relieve him. Rynn gratefully returned to his place of sleep, anxious to fall into a deep slumber and attempt to dream away what had happened. Instead he found Paeli waiting for him. He started to speak, to apologize. She put her fingers to his lips, silencing him, and reached back to undo the long braid of her hair, allowing it to fall freely about her back and shoulders. She then untied her tunic and let it fall in a bundle at her feet. The light of the three moons illuminated the intricate silver tattoos that adorned her tawny skin. She drew him to her bare body and the two descended as one to the mossy forest floor.

Not long after, they heard the approach of footsteps. “Rynn.” said Jar’th, brandishing a torch and coming near to them. “I thought I heard somethi-” Jar’th stopped in mid sentence as he beheld them. “Oh…uh...” he stuttered. “I…uh…think it must have been back over this way.” he managed at last, hastily retreating back to the fire. The giddy couple giggled to themselves when he had gone, and hoped that morning would never come.

Dawn found Rynn as happy as he could ever remember himself being. He and Paeli had drifted into slumber perhaps an hour before sunrise, and despite having gotten very little sleep, he felt rested. He left Paeli still drowsing soundly, her breathing soft and even, and made his way to the river, careful not to alarm Raya, who was still on watch. Paeli’s spicy fragrance still clung to him, a heady mixture of dew, freshly turned soil, and exotic herbs, and he savored its rich, musky aroma.

The river lay at a distance of forty odd feet from the camp, and in no time he found himself kneeling before its gently swirling waters, cupping handfuls of the cool liquid to his parched lips. He washed his face, and then, looking down, he found what they had been searching for all along: lancori tracks, large ones. And they were fresh, no more than an few hours old. Glancing about he saw that the tracks came from the south and stopped just north of where he was now standing, at a small, overgrown depression. Upon closer inspection he found that the grass here had been pressed down. Obviously this had been the beast’s bed of the previous evening. So close to the camp, he thought. And traveling in our same direction.

A sudden revelation struck him. This was no mere chance encounter, the beast had been stalking them, probably waiting for the opportunity for one of them to wander too far from camp. Paeli! he thought, alarmed. How near had she come to stumbling upon the creature last night?

He was unable to finish the thought, for he suddenly sensed a presence behind him, and the feeling caused a tingling sensation along the nape of his neck. A deep, unremitting and barely audible growl caused the blood to drain from his body, as the ceaseless revolution of the universe came to an abrupt halt. Time slackened its rapid pace until he was able to feel each individual beat of his heart. Rynn’s entire existence now consisted of this slow violent pulse and the dull rumble of the creature behind him. His senses came suddenly and vividly alive, the world appearing to him in brilliant flashes of gold and emerald.

He was terrified to turn around, but he found he could not fight the compulsion to do so, knowing all the while what he would find. Turning slowly, he came face to face with the impassive gaze of the lancori. Its large yellow eyes regarded him impersonally. The great cat was immense, easily eight feet in length not counting its tail. Its sleek ebony fur glistened in the morning sunlight as it crouched not six feet from where Rynn stood.
Rynn could sense the tension contained within the beast’s motionless form, the tacit threat of it almost tangible in the still morning air. The lancori shifted ever so slightly, drawing itself into a still tighter coil of barely contained ferocity. Soon it would strike. Rynn knew that he must choose his next move, or else meet the beast unprepared. Any movement now would shatter the thin wall of indecision which separated the two. Flight was out of the question, the beast would easily overtake him, and he had left this spear in the camp. His only recourse lay in his hunting knife. He reached for its well-worn handle and drew forth the deadly, curved blade. Instantly the mighty feline pounced and was upon him.

~.~

Paeli roamed the dense woods as she had for many moons, her ample paws treading softly over the luxuriant covering of leaves and moss. She turned her massive head this way and that, her sensitive nose searching the air for any scent of prey. She hungered, and soon she would feed. She issued a call to her life-mate, and he answered with a hearty growl. The two hunted together, as always, many yards apart. This allowed them to cover a wider area than would be possible were only one hunting alone. They knew this part of the forest well, for it was rich in game.

As she meandered through the maze of trees, the forest began suddenly to take on an unfamiliar aspect. Two wide mud tracks, which had not been there before, snaked their terrible way through the forest, and all about her the towering trees lay in ruin with only jagged stumps to mark were they had once stood. The air became suddenly thick with foreign scents, cruel and unpleasant. The acrid smell of smoke caused her to wrinkle her snout in disgust. Here was danger.

She called once again to her consort, but this time no answer greeted her. She cast about wildly for his scent, at last detecting it and honing in on its source. She found him in a smoky clearing surrounded by tall, two-legged creatures with yellow hair and raucous voices. They were taunting her life-mate, prodding him with long, pointed weapons and burning torches.

Paeli roared savagely and leapt at the creature nearest her, catching it by surprise and ripping out its throat. She was immediately set upon by a mob of the evil beings, and they began jabbing at her with their fierce weapons. At last, outnumbered and overcome by the choking fumes of smoke, she fled, easily outdistancing her attackers. She stopped only when exhaustion had overtaken her, and she collapsed panting onto the cool earth.

Many minutes passed before she had regained enough of her strength and daring to chance a return to the clearing. She approached cautiously, lest the evil ones surprise her. She found the area deserted, the creatures having long since moved on, but she detected a wrongness. A great sense of loss overcame her as she moved through the smoldering remains of the forest. At last, she found the still, lifeless body of her lover. His corpse had been slung from a low-hanging limb, and blood oozed from his many wounds. She howled in lamentation, a high-pitched, haunting wail of sorrow and grief. But she remembered the creatures- their scent, the taste of their blood- and she would have her revenge.

Rynn’s anguished cry woke Paeli with a start, the dream still vivid in her memory. Tears coursed down her illustrated cheeks as she moved toward the fire to inform the others.

~.~

Raya heard Rynn’s cry, and was instantly up, spear in hand. Soon she was joined by Jar’th, also armed and ready. Paeli approached them, mumbling something about a dream, but Raya silenced her with a wave of her hand and led them to the source of the scream.

They found Rynn lying face up beside the river, two great scarlet gashes had laid bare the flesh of his chest, and a savage bite wound had nearly severed his shoulder, but he was breathing. Paeli cried out and rushed to him, cradling his head in her arms. He looked up, at first not recognizing her in his pain. Finally he said weakly, through clenched teeth, “The…lancori…I…wounded it….it can’t have gone far.”

Jar’th gently lifted Rynn and carried him back to camp, where Paeli began to clean and treat his wounds, her warm tears mixing with the crimson flow of his blood. As she worked, Paeli gave them a brief, almost hysterical account of her vision. “Tarian loggers,” she said in conclusion, “They are responsible for this.”

Raya heaped wood upon the still glowing embers of the campfire and soon it roared into raging life anew. “Paeli, stay here with Rynn,” said Raya. “The creature will not dare come near so bright a fire. Jar’th come with me, the cat is weakened. It must not escape.”

As she and Jar’th ran back to the river Raya considered Paeli’s dream. Had anyone but Paeli told her of such a wild and impossible dream she would have at once laughed and called her a liar. But she had never known Paeli to be mistaken in her visions. Truly she was favored by Kainna. She at once felt a deep and genuine pity for the lancori. Still, it must be stopped, she thought. Else it will continue to kill innocents.

She and Jar’th easily found the creature’s blood trail. Rynn must have wounded it deeply. They tracked the beast to a grassy knoll, where it lay panting in pain and exhaustion. Motioning for Jar’th to stay back, Raya approached the creature, spear raised. The great cat pulled itself up for one final, desperate attack, and launched itself at Raya. Setting her spear, Raya caught the beast squarely in the chest, ending its life almost instantly.

Raya felt sick. How is it, she wondered, that the thoughtless cruelty and rampant greed of a few evil men can cause such misery. Kneeling beside the noble creature, she stroked the soft fur near its ear and whispered a prayer to Elaen.

Neither Raya, nor Jar’th could bring themselves to skin the animal. It seemed sacrilegious, and attempting to move the creature proved impossible, for it was far to heavy. They collected as much deadwood as they were able and constructed a pyre similar to the one they had erected for the creature’s mate. They lit the structure, keeping a silent vigil until the last of the flames had faded away, and then returned to Paeli and Rynn.

Rynn survived the attack, though it was many days before he was able to move. Paeli cared for his wounds, applying various cures she had learned during her training as an Eledal, and he healed quickly.

Raya and Jar’th spent their time hunting and exploring the nearby area, the meat from their kills providing sustenance for the party. At last Rynn had healed such that he was able to move, albeit slowly, and the small band of friends began the trek back to Beyudu. They had much to tell regarding the Tarian presence and the destruction of the trees, though there was among them an unspoken vow never to speak of the lancori, that its integrity and nobility might remain intact.
 

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Breathless and beautiful!

I will cherish!
 

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Enchanting! You truly have a gift for creating a fascinating story and characters! :D
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Beautiful and moving! Thank you so much for sharing this with us! Have you written anymore? I feel like there is more of the story yet to be told :laughing:

Thank you very much! I am glad you enjoyed it. It is the first story I actually plotted (the idea to use the dream sequence actually came to me in a dream. I was stuck and thought about the solution so much that I actually solved it in my sleep). Prior to that I either participated in RP threads, or made them up as I went along.

I have written a few stories, though no additions to this particular one. I tend to prefer stand-alone stories. Perhaps I could post another. I would like to branch out and to write something more substantial some day, a novel perhaps. I have tons of ideas, and a philosophy I would very much like to express, but not a great deal of follow-through.

I would love to read some (more) of your work as well, and Dalien's, Vizier's and anyone else's who would care to share.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Ok, one more of mine. This is something I wrote that is actually published as part of the official lore, written more to give a feel for this particular culture than to convey anything particular.


The Gift

by

Horrible Aesthete


Morning sunlight broke upon the sacred desert city of Sakril revealing all her many-spired splendor, in glaring contrast to the flatness of the surrounding landscape. Built as she was upon Sakoia’s desolate coastal plain- a rather monotonous and uninspiring tract of land running the length of the southernmost coast of the country- Sakril embraced her position on the southeastern tip of the great desert with all the tenacity of her determined and resilient inhabitants; braving the violent squalls of the ocean as well as the brutal sandstorms of the desert. Here, within this most regal of cities, stood the house of the Zebirjai family, members of the Nazjin, Sakoia’s esteemed merchant caste. The sandstone structure was magnificent, even by Nazjin standards, replete with an enormous courtyard containing an abundant orange grove.

Teja Zebirjai watched the breathtaking sunrise from the balcony of her spacious bedchamber. Lost as she was in her thoughts, she scarcely noticed as the sky suddenly burst into a dazzling exhibition of violet, crimson and orange; the very clouds seemed to catch fire as the vibrant conflagration spread slowly across the heavens. Today was a special one for Teja, for it was the day her only son would catch the first glimpse of his potential bride. Even now, Teja could feel a heavy knot of nervousness growing steadily in the deepest regions of her stomach.

Turning from the casement, Teja once again entered her sleeping room and began to prepare for the day’s busy activities. Carefully selecting an outfit from among the very best of her vast wardrobe, she slipped out of her sleeping gown and leisurely dressed for the day, relishing the delicious feel of the silk against her tawny skin. Though the many pressures of her hectic schedule barely allowed her time enough even to eat, Teja would not be rushed. This was the one luxury she afforded herself, and she entertained no thoughts of forgoing her simple pleasure, even on this most auspicious of mornings.

When she was done she admired herself in the looking glass. The style was that of the Nazjin, unchanged for countless centuries. The colors were her own: a gossamer, flowing shirt of palest lavender, billowy pants of dark purple fastened at the ankle, and a pair of shoes with pointed toe. About her waist was tied a graceful sash the very color of spun gold. A matching scarf covered her hair and fell loosely about her back and shoulders.

The years had been kind to Teja. Though she was rapidly approaching her forty-fifth year, she was still able to attract no small amount of appreciative glances from young lotharios during her infrequent trips to the market. As is so often the case, the relentless march of time had served only to enhance her already considerable beauty, refining the radiant, unformed blossom of youth into a still more profound and sculptured elegance. She was a creature in transition, greeting the inevitable with a graceful nod. A twice borne butterfly emerging from a return to the cocoon, grown all the lovelier from the extended incubation. Even the faint streaks of white in her raven tresses, which had first appeared less than a year ago, merely helped to add a new and wondrous dimension to her gracious, stately beauty.

Satisfied with her appearance, Teja applied a light coating of kohl to darken her eyes, and hastily exited her room, intent upon beginning the day‘s activities. As she descended the sweeping staircase, she decided to first visit the servants, to assure that all was in a state of readiness for the impending meeting. Her husband, Zartuk, had no doubt risen early and gone to his workshop so that he might at least put in half a day’s work before the meeting with the girl’s parents.

His work is like a child to him, she thought fondly, an amused smile spreading over her features. And he the overbearing father. How he coddles and worries over it. And the more he indulges it, the more spoiled and demanding it becomes. She could see the same intense passion in her son, Ishkar, as he worked along side his father. The vision always filled her with pride.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, she quickly spotted her Darzu servant woman, Hazabel, on her hands and knees vigorously scrubbing the stone floor. The Darzu represented the lowest caste in Sakoia, and only the most menial, wretched jobs were reserved for them. The Zebirjai family had employed Hazabel and her husband, Jahur, for many years. Despite the inherent aversion members of the higher castes bore for the Darzu- Teja included- she often found herself in awe at the couple’s diligence and hard work, as well as their uncomplaining nature.

At Teja’s approach, the younger Hazabel looked up from her work. The Darzu woman was perhaps only a bit over thirty, but her slight frame showed the marks that intense manual labor can leave upon a person. Her dry skin was pulled tight against the bone, and her hands and feet were calloused from years of unforgiving exertion. Still, Teja could not help but notice the beauty of her features; the slow grace of her movements, the quiet lines of joy that played about the edges of her eyes and mouth. Try as she might, Teja could not summon a picture of what the woman had looked like when she had first come with her husband to the house of Zebirjai.

“I see that you are already hard at work,” said Teja, pleased. “This is quite an important day. Everything must be in perfect order.”

Momentarily ceasing her well practiced movements, Hazabel replied, “Yes, mistress, I awoke well before dawn, and the preparations are nearly complete. Even now, Jahur is arranging transport for the girl and her family. I have only to begin preparing the feast, and to send Rashana to the sweet shop to fetch the bukimish.”

“And where is that daughter of yours?” asked Teja, unable to keep the irritation from her voice. Teja had never cared for the girl, finding her to be both lazy and insolent.

“I fear she broods, mistress,” answered Hazabel apologetically. “A terrible melancholy has seized her these last few days, and she will neither tell me the cause, nor eat, nor do much of anything else. I do not know what else to do with her, but I assure you, she will be on hand to help with the day’s events.”

“See that she is,” said Teja, a bit too sharply. “After all, I do not pay you her share of the wages that she may sit idly by when there is work to be done.” She did not enjoy scolding someone of Hazabel’s gentle and long suffering temperament, but Rashana vexed her beyond words. She would be glad when the week had finished and the unruly child was gone forever from the house of Zebirjai.

“It will be done.” said the Darzu woman, returning to her work. If there was displeasure at Teja‘s harshness, it did not show upon Hazabel’s serene features.

Teja continued with her inspection of the house. Everything was as Hazabel had said. The house sparkled as though a great deluge had passed through the front door and exited the back, taking with it all the grime and filth two decades of habitation can produce. Her examination took her outside, where she admired the building’s imposing exterior. Jahur had even taken the time to shine the great bronze dome, a feature which was a great source of pride for the Zebirjai, and which set their home apart from those of their neighbors. Teja made a mental note to grant Jahur a generous bonus upon the next payment of his wages.

Thoroughly satisfied with the state of the household, inside and out, Teja once again entered the grandiose dwelling, intent upon finding her son, and assuring that he was prepared for this, one of the most important days of his life. Today he would meet the partner she had selected for him, and, if she were to his liking, would make a decision which would enter him into the final stage of his adulthood, and propel him headlong into his future.

As she made her way to his rooms, Teja passed the kitchen where she happened to spy Rashana sitting upon the floor hunched over one of her husband’s books. Instantly incensed, Teja very nearly charged into the room and yanked the book from the girl‘s hands, but then stopped herself, instead taking the opportunity to observe the young Darzu woman. As much as Teja had grown to dislike Hazabel’s daughter, there was also within her an intense undercurrent of envy. That one of Teja’s status should even contemplate, however briefly and hypothetically trading places with so humble and unfortunate a creature was unthinkable by Sakoian standards, yet the desire was there nonetheless. For all of Teja’s wealth and social standing, Rashana possessed the one thing that Teja had never tasted: freedom.

Since birth, Teja’s life had been laid out before her like the very book Rashana was now perusing, and she had never once veered from the path dictated to her by her membership in the Nazjin. Her coming of age festival, known as Kar’Tulor to the Sakoians, had passed, but she had felt no tangible change in her situation. Her marriage, pleasant as it had turned out, had been arranged by her parents, just as she was now organizing Ishkar’s. At every turn she had been instructed what subjects to study, what foods to eat, how to properly manage a household. One did not truly grow within the ranks of the merchant caste, children merely continued the practices of the parents in an endless cycle of stagnation. Her husband Zartuk was a glassblower. His father had been a glassblower as well, and his father before him, and so on, back to the day’s before the founding of Sakoia. And now, Zartuk would pass this legacy on to Ishkar. Nothing ever changed.

For the the Darzu life was different. Within a week, Rashana would begin her sixteenth year and pass into Kar’Tulor. At this time she would leave her parents and her old life behind and forge her own path in the world, for such was the custom of the Darzu. She would pursue the jobs she desired, within the narrow scope available to the Darzu, of course. She would marry whom she wished, would travel to wherever her feet might take her. True, it was a harsh lesson, an abrupt awakening, but Teja considered the freedom worth any ensuing hardships. There was a certain fire, an innate sense of adventure to the Darzu that she found lacking in certain members of her caste. At last Teja stirred herself from her reverie and entered the room, her anger rekindling itself almost at once.

“So, you can read?” accused Teja. “And where would a lowly Darzu child develop such a skill?”

Rashana jerked her head upward in surprise and closed the book. “N-n-no mistress,” she stammered. “I merely enjoy the symbols. They are so…beautiful.” The young woman rose and bowed her head in shame.

The girl’s sudden humble display of submission almost caused Teja to simply dismiss her and be done with it. Rashana was of a rather striking beauty, though a wild and uncultivated one. Her hair fell in knotted tangles about her face and there were dark smudges on her cheeks, but beneath this unrefined exterior existed an allure as tumultuous and passionate as the raging sea during one of its many storms. Here was a creature with the fierce, untamable eyes of a panther and the heady aroma of an exotic spice.

Observing the girl now, at such close quarters, Teja recalled her dislike for the traditional dress of the Darzu women. Rashana wore little clothing: a revealing bodice, barely enough to contain her bosom, and a simple wraparound skirt which often showed more of her legs than covered them. Such brazen displays of flesh were forbidden in the desert, by decree of the Surric. Only the Darzu were exempt, for they were barely considered actual citizens, and some, especially among the high caste Zarim, actually considered them less than human. Teja had tried to overcome her disgust for the outfit, to simply ignore the scanty clothing as she so often ignored the Darzu as a whole. While this technique had succeeded in allowing her to forgive the older women, such as Hazabel, the younger, unmarried Darzu women still caused her a high degree of unease.

“So,” continued Teja, “Rather than assist your parents on this busiest of days, you would instead waste your time admiring a book which you cannot even read? Either make yourself useful, or make yourself scarce. This house has no room in it for indolent freeloaders. Only a week left under my roof and you think to mock me on the day of my son‘s most triumphant moment?”

Expecting a barrage form the girl’s usually clever and venomous tongue, Teja was taken aback when Rashana instead burst into tears and fled the room. Gathering up the book, Teja once again set out to find her son, trying all the while to make sense of Rashana’s bewildering response.

At last she discovered him, near the front door just returning from a walk. As his mother, she knew him better than anyone, knew his penchant for taking long walks, especially when he was agonizing over some particularly worrisome quandary. He smiled at her approach; a tall, handsome young man bearing an obvious resemblance to his father. Though where his father was hirsute and rather roughly hewn, Ishkar’s features were smooth and shaven. She took his hand in hers and stoked his cheek.

“Today is the day,” she reminded him. “I had not realized the notion of marriage caused you such turmoil.”

“Believe me mother,” replied Ishkar, smiling. “I know well what day it is. And, as for any unpleasant thoughts, they have vanished. My morning’s contemplation has left me resolved to place my trust, as ever, in the capable hands of my parents. My future is writ upon the stars in the night sky, as predictable as the tides, and I shall delight in whomever it is you have chosen for me. We shall build a life together, this woman and I, and bear you more grandchildren than there are dishonest merchants in this city.”

Teja laughed at his lighthearted banter, pleased at his trust, yet frightened by it as well. At times she was so unsure of her decisions she wondered that anyone should trust her even to choose the well at which they should draw water for the evening meal. “I just want a good life for you,“ she said, squeezing his arm affectionately. He bent to kiss her cheek, and together they turned and entered the house.

The remainder of the morning progressed quickly, until at last Zartuk returned home and it was time for the arrival of the girl and her family. Jahur had also returned, and had managed to procure an elegant carriage in which to fetch the guests. Teja saw her husband wince slightly, no doubt at the thought of spending so much on renting a vehicle to bear their guests such a paltry distance, but she simply tugged teasingly at his carefully maintained beard, reminding him, silently, that so much of Sakoian culture was made up of rituals involving ostentatious displays of wealth, and that it was all merely a game.

At the appointed time, Zartuk himself took the carriage to fetch the potential bride and her parents, for no respectable member of any caste would deign to ride in a wagon driven by a Darzu, much less one who was a simple servant. Presently he returned, having covered the whole of the ridiculously short distance with such ease and speed that the horses still seemed as fresh as when they had first been hitched to the carriage and were eager for something more strenuous. Dismounting the elaborately decorated wagon, Zartuk helped first the veiled girl, and then her mother, to the ground. The young lady’s father, a rotund and flamboyantly dressed fellow with great sweeping mustaches, refused all aid, nearly falling from the carriage before catching himself and cautiously negotiating his way to the safety of the ground.

Handing over the reigns to Jahur, Zartuk announced the guests, the Yaturyims, to his family. The father was Namir, the mother Sarsha. Each bowed deeply as they were introduced, though Namir’s movements were somewhat curtailed by his considerable belly. Finally, it was time to announce the prospective bride. “And this,” said Zartuk dramatically. “Is Mishmeh.”

Teja could sense her son’s anticipation, could hear his slight intake of breath as the girl stepped forward. With delicate hands and slender perfectly formed fingers, Mishmeh reached up and removed her veil, revealing a face composed of high, delicate cheekbones, large, doe-like eyes, and a petite nose drawn slightly upward. Her skin was like richest honey, and her full lips the very color of pomegranate. Venturing a glance at her son, Teja could see that he was pleased with her choice.

Experiencing a great feeling of relief, Teja realized that the difficult part was behind them. All that remained were the formalities; namely settling the bride price and deciding upon a date. Entering the house, the two families were greeted at once by the tantalizing aromas of Hazabel’s cooking. Zartuk lead everyone into the dining room, where they took their places around the table, seating themselves carefully upon the carpeted floor. Presently, Hazabel and Rashana began serving the various courses.

Typically, Sakoian meals consisted of a spiced meat stew known as kolmah coupled with the flatbread called taktak. These had been omitted in favor of rarer delicacies- cheeses and olives imported from Omest, dates from Achursul, and best of all, a dish prepared by Hazabel from the very freshest of fish from the local market. Having been born originally in Dauler, a prime fishing town, Hazabel had learned no end of seafood-based recipes from her mother, who had cooked for no less powerful a figure than the Rika of Dauler himself.

The sumptuous banquet was an utter success, delighting the palates of everyone in attendance. Before long, the feasters fell into a comfortable casualness and the talk eventually turned to the matter of the bride price. Teja was well aware of the Yaturyim’s situation, knew that they were not as wealthy as her own family, and that to have their daughter join the Zebirjai family was to them both a great honor and a way to increase their status. For their part, the Yaturyims realized that their circumstances were known to the Zebirjai‘s, and so the deliberations over the bride price proceeded easily, with no attempt at treachery. The whole affair was little more than a formality for people as wealthy as these two families, and the true end objective was the happiness of the future bride and groom.

Ishkar and Mishmeh said nothing, for, once the two had accepted one another, they would play no further part in the negotiations. From the corner of her eye Teja could see the young couple curiously studying one another from across the room with an intensity borne of instant attraction. Smiling, she turned her attention once more to the lively conversation.

At last, after a few hours of socializing and formal haggling, an acceptable price was settled upon: a hefty sum of gold and jewels, two camels, and Zartuks’ finest horse. Teja knew that Zartuk would be glad to pay it. To have found his son so suitable a match, and one born to such an esteemed and good-natured family, was a rare feat indeed. Teja felt a sudden surge of pride. After all, it was she who had discovered the girl, and she who had initially approached Mishmeh’s mother and put the idea of marriage into her head. She felt that she knew her son’s heart better than perhaps he knew it himself.

Zartuk instructed Hazabel to fetch a bottle of mishuja, a sickly sweet and disarmingly potent Sakoian date wine, and the members of both households drank a hearty toast to the future newlyweds, thus signaling the end of the meeting. Zartuk drove the Yaturyims back to their home, and Teja sat a while with her son, eager to hear his thoughts regarding his bride-to-be.

“She is even more beautiful than I expected,” Ishkar confided to his mother when they were alone. “I could not have chosen a better mate in years of searching. I must confess a certain reluctance upon first hearing that you had found for me a bride. How pleased I am to discover that my fears were entirely unfounded. There is much inquisitiveness in her large eyes, and I detect a compassionate spirit beneath that demure and lovely countenance.”

Teja listened intently as her son extolled Mishmeh’s virtues, contented in her son’s enthusiastic approval of her choice. At last she allowed him to escape to his room, and hastened to the kitchen in search of Hazabel, that she might express her immense gratitude at the exquisite feast. Passing by her husband’s study she glanced in and saw Rashana, huddled once more over the book Teja had confiscated earlier. Enraged almost beyond words, Teja stormed into the room, seizing the hapless Darzu girl by the wrist and prying the book from her fingers.

“You have scoffed at my authority for the last time!” cried Teja, eyes flashing violently as she delivered a sharp slap to the girl‘s cheek. “Are you so slack of memory as to forget that this room is off limits to you, has always been so? And that book! Is that not the very book I took from you earlier today?” The tome, Teja noticed, was a compendium of the flora and fauna of Sakoia.

“Please return it,” pleaded Rashana, a look of desperation suddenly forming on her face. “It is all that I have left!” Teja yielded somewhat as she beheld the glistening streaks upon the girls’ grubby cheeks, the result of tears which had long been dried- tears which had not been caused by the sting of Teja’s blow. The hesitation allowed Rashana enough latitude to wrench free her arm and to snatch the book from Teja’s hands. Exploiting her sudden freedom, the younger woman rushed from the room and was out the door before Teja could catch her. An unquenchable fury swathed Teja like a shroud, and she decided to retire to her bedroom, that she might somewhat quell her anger before deciding upon a course of action. When she was more sound mind she would seek out Hazabel and demand that she discipline the child.

Once in her rooms, Teja changed from her formal clothing into a much more comfortable gown, and positioned herself upon her balcony to watch the weary sun sink below the horizon. Sometime later, when the moon was half way up, there was a knock at the door to Teja’s sleeping chamber, and she opened it to reveal the rather solemn figure of Hazabel. Teja’s anger, which had been temporarily forgotten in her quiet contemplation of the moon, suddenly returned to her as she remembered Rashana’s behavior. She opened her mouth to demand that Hazabel return the book, but before she could so much as utter a word, Hazabel began to speak.

“Though you are of the upper caste, and though this is your home, if you ever again lay a hand upon my daughter, Edalirin himself will not be able to protect you from my wrath.” Hazabel’s words were calm and precise, without a hint of the rage she so obviously felt. Teja felt instant shame descend upon her like a plague, yet, at the same time, she marveled at the Darzu’s ability to control her tongue. The Darzu were known for their wild emotions and violent tempers. Yet, here was Hazabel speaking in as carefully calculated a tone as Teja had ever heard.

Again, Teja attempted to speak, and again Hazabel cut her off, saying, “You, with your sheltered life, understand nothing. You for whom marriage is as simple a matter as purchasing a goat. What do you know of young love? Rashana has been chastised, and has realized the error in her impetuous behavior. It will not happen again. Any future discipline shall be applied by my hand alone.” With this, the Darzu servant bowed to Teja and made her way back to the room she and her family kept near the kitchen.

Teja was stunned, and felt sick with humiliation at her hasty actions regarding Rashana. She had violated a sacred trust she had not even realized existed, and she fervently hoped that it could be mended. At the same time, in the back of her mind a question lingered- what had Hazabel meant by young love? Was Rashana in love? Was this the issue that had been causing her such anguish? Teja resigned herself to apologizing to the young woman, in hopes that it might in some manner repair the rift which had arisen between she and Hazabel.

Rushing from her room and mounting the staircase, she had been just about to descend when she detected familiar voices coming from below; one belonging to her son, the other to Rashana. Drawing nearer to the banister, she listened intently from the shadows. The two were sitting together on the bottommost step, a book spread out between them, resting in their laps. From her position Teja could observe them without being seen herself.

“Do you recall when you first began teaching me to read?” asked Rashana. “I was seven then, and you were ten. Do you remember my clumsy beginnings, how I stumbled over each of the unfamiliar letters?”

“I recall it well,” replied Ishkar, turning over a page of the book. “As though it were only yesterday. And I recall, too, your utterly pig-headed refusal to learn them.”

“Yes, and your even more determined commitment not to indulge my stubborn childishness. In the end, yours proved the stronger will, and now the world holds no secrets but that I may seek them out between the covers of a book. But what shall I do now?” she asked, her voice suddenly serious. “With my teacher departing to begin his new life, and I, soon to be nothing more than a grain of sand upon the winds, torn from the arms of my family and cast into the great unknown.” So captivated by the romantic vision of freedom was she, Teja had never considered that young Rashana might not so wholeheartedly embrace the idea of leaving her family. She felt a sudden tinge of pain for the girl.

“There is nothing more I can teach you,” said Ishkar, simply. “You know all that I know, and your experiences shall instill you with an even broader and more wondrous understanding of the world.”

“All?” said Rashana . “Are there no more secrets you might impart? Now the student becomes the teacher.” Taking hold of his hand, she brought his finger to a passage in the book. “Read.” she commanded.

“From their earliest beginnings,” intoned Ishkar obediently, tracing the flow of the words with his finger as he read. “The delicate petals of the Zahuyah flower burst forth from the constraining darkness of the earth seeking the welcoming light of the sun, striving for its bright and nourishing warmth. This simple, lovely flower dwells but a short time before it begins to wither beneath the harshness of those same shimmering rays. Within a matter of a few hours of its birth the flower’s valiant struggles cease forever and it dies, but not before releasing the seeds from which will sprout the next generation of Zahuyah.” As he finished the paragraph, Ishkar looked up at Rashana questioningly.

“Do you remember the passage?” she asked, her voice grown suddenly husky with a quiet, desperate earnestness.

“Yes,” he replied, a growing confusion showing in his voice. “Yes, I remember. This was the first passage you were able to read unassisted.” Teja also recognized the passage, it was from the book Rashana was so consumed with, the volume on the plant and animal life of the desert.

“And is this all that is between us? After all these years, mere words on paper?” she asked. Suddenly, Rashana reached out, and, taking hold of Ishkar’s hand, brought it to her heart.

At the sight of a Darzu becoming so intimate with her son, Teja was seized by an anger and an almost uncontrollable urge to reveal herself and physically separate the two. Only through a colossal act of will was she able to restrain the impulse.

Ishkar shrank back slightly in bewilderment, the book falling to the floor between them. It was some moments before he was again able to speak. “Of course that is not all,” he began, carefully choosing his words so as not to cause undue pain. “There are countless memories, intricate moments from our lives, secrets only we two will ever share. But this,” he brought her hand to his heart. ”This cannot be. We dwell in different worlds, worlds which must remain forever apart. We live in a land where even our friendship is forbidden. Do you suppose the rigid lines of caste should be more forgiving of lovers? No, the only future for members of such unions is exile and death.”

“Then…you will marry this Mishmeh?” she said, her voice low and choked with emotion.

“I will.” he replied, heavily. “But know this; however far you travel, however many miles separate us, you will remain forever here, in my heart. And always in my thoughts will be the nagging curiosity of what might have been.” Brushing back the loose tangles from Rashana’s face, Ishkar kissed her lightly upon the forehead and departed.

Rashana stood for a moment after he had gone, then, gathering up the book, she sat upon the step, drew her knees up to her chest, and wept. Stifling tears of her own, Teja withdrew once more to her room and spent the rest of the long night in quiet contemplation.

The remainder of the week passed quickly for Teja. There was much to be done before the wedding. The bride price had to be arranged and preparations were needed for the wedding feast. She ordered new and resplendent garments for the groom: an elaborate turban replete with a glistening ruby at its center, an azure vest over a sparkling silken shirt of purest white, and golden, billowy pants. Bejeweled slippers with pointed toes completed the picture of eminence. The wonderful occasion was to be held four days from the couple’s initial meeting, on the very day of Rashana’s Kar’Tulor ceremony.

At the end of each day, Teja found herself exhausted, but, upon retiring to her chambers, her slumber was plagued by bouts of restless insomnia. Every day, Teja looked for Rashana, though she only ever caught fleeting glimpses of the girl; moping in some remote corner of the garden or milling about the crowded streets in front of the house. There was no trace of girl’s former liveliness.

At last, the day of the wedding arrived, and more perfect weather could not have been desired. The sun shone, though with a somewhat subdued zeal, its usually unbearable heat displaced by the coolness of an unexpected ocean breeze. As the wedding procession promenaded down Sakoia’s main thoroughfare, the doorways filled with all manner of curious onlooker. A Sakoian wedding was indeed a sight to behold, attracting members of all castes, and decorating the beige drabness of the city with a single vibrant, multihued brush stroke.

The bride and groom were each borne along by separate, extravagantly decorated carriages, with Ishkar’s heading up the parade, and Mishmeh following closely behind. Members of both families walked along beside the wagons, passing out sweets to the gathered throng of spectators. Arriving at the site chosen for the wedding- a great plaza overlooking the sea- the convoy stopped and the guests got their first glimpse of the young couple.

In his new clothing, Ishkar presented the very portrait of the regal patrician, but it was Mishmeh who was the true focus of attention. She was clad in a gossamer gown of purest pale blue silk, with a saffron sash tied about her waist and a pair of graceful leather sandals. Her jet black hair was worn up, held in place by numerous bejeweled combs. The kohl around her eyes enhanced her already perfect features, stressing the limpid radiance of her eyes, which shone like molten pools of amber.

The ceremony itself was brief- days of preparation for a ritual which lasted but a mere few moments. The priest, a man of perhaps thirty-five, was dressed in the customary garment of his office- a plain white linen tunic tied with a simple length of cord. His face was smooth and his head completely shaven. Invoking the name of Zahmeh, the goddess of love, his deep voice intoned the poetic words beautifully as he carried out the ancient sacraments. At last, the priest finished speaking and the young couple were as one under the eyes of Edalirin, as well as the laws of Sakoia. Teja beamed with pride as Ishkar bowed to his new bride and then, taking Mishmeh’s hand in his, the two led the wedding guests to the awaiting feast.

During the banquet, Teja maintained a jovial façade; congratulating Mishmeh’s parents and expressing her joy at the union, but at the periphery of her consciousness there lingered the uneasy thoughts of an impending obligation, and the feeling that the wedding might last too long and keep her from fulfilling it.

As soon as the festivities were over, and the newlyweds had been whisked away to their new place of residence, Teja bid a hurried farewell to the gathered guests and hastened back to her home. Once there, she espied a group of people gathered in the garden, the attendants of Rashana’s Kar’Tulur ceremony. I am not too late! she thought, relieved. There is still time. Hurrying upstairs, she seized a package wrapped in silk from her bed and made her way out into the garden.

There were few gathered for the coming of age ritual: only Rashana, her parents, and some few of their Darzu brethren. Teja waited patiently as the small bowl of water was passed around from one person to the next, with each participant taking a sip before continuing the progression. Finally, the bowl returned to Rashana and she finished the remainder of the water, signifying her entrance into adulthood. Watching the young woman, Teja suddenly felt the last vestige of her dislike evaporate, as she realized that, but for some mere circumstance of birth, the child could well have been her own daughter.

Waiting for an appropriate time, Teja approached, much to the surprise of all gathered. Members of the higher castes were the rarest of oddities at a Darzu Kar‘Tulur. Standing before Rashana, Teja carefully placed the package into her hands and silently bid her open it. Nonplussed, the young Darzu woman carefully unwrapped the silk covering and held up her prize. It was the book, the one on Sakoia’s flora and fauna, the one from which Rashana had first learned to read. A smile of joy spread slowly over Rashana’s features, and Teja brought her hand to the girl’s cheek, brushing it lightly with her fingers. Not waiting for a response, Teja turned and began walking back toward the house, but not before noticing the look of approval and forgiveness upon Hazabels’ face.
 

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Another of my early works, cleaned up a bit, from the same forum:

The Harbinger

by

Horrible Aesthete

Ishtuk knelt attentively upon the rocky precipice. Dazzling sunlight glinted in brilliant golden splinters from the polished finish of his bronze helmet. Peering down into the narrow valley he could just make out the distant figure of the madman pacing wildly before the entrance of his cave, spewing forth his thunderous stream of incomprehensible gibberish.

For two days, he and his fellow Nejohl had kept a constant vigil upon this lonely rock face. For two days, they had witnessed little more than a withered old man caught in the throes of hopeless insanity. We have come to battle Darzu rebels, thought Ishtuk. Not to spy on so feeble and pathetic a figure as this. Edalirin only knew what interest the Zenjish had in this raving lunatic, but this was not a question Ishtuk was allowed to ask. He was Nejohl after all, and Nejohl did not question the commands of superior officers. Nejohl followed orders.

Suddenly, his experienced ears detected the sound of stealthy footsteps behind him, followed by a brief signal- the call of a bird- confirming the approaching figure as his relief. The footsteps belonged to Nezrim, Ishtuk’s most trusted companion. Ishtuk stood up, ready to relinquish his post, but Nezrim only smiled, shaking his head and beckoning Ishtuk to follow.

The two made their silent way back to camp in the manner in which only experienced Nejohl are capable. The encampment lay on the other side of the mountain, situated on a flat outcropping of rocks. As he walked, Ishtuk considered the events that had led to his being stationed in this Edalirin-forsaken land.

From what Ishtuk understood of the uprising, it had begun in the scattered villages along Sakoia‘s northwest border, and was the direct result of a sudden revival of the teachings of the long-dead prophets Bakwere and Ipek. A few years ago, a new prophet calling himself Urthual had appeared among the people, reviving these ancient prophecies and spreading dissent.

The rebellion had spread quickly over the northern region of Sakoia, and there was a chance it could threaten Verem herself if something were not done. Its membership consisted primarily of individuals of the Darzu, the lowest caste in Sakoia. The prophecies of Bakwere and Ipek identified the Darzu, not the Zarim, as the proper rulers of Sakoia, a title they were eager to claim. Exploiting these beliefs, Urthual had managed to attract a great many Darzu from all parts of Sakoia, who, unhappy with their lot in life, were more than content to bolster the ranks of the rebel army. As far as Ishtuk was concerned the Darzu’s treason in rejecting the coming of the First Surric so many centuries earlier, had rendered them a people forever cursed, deserving of whatever fate Edalirin deigned consign to them.

Only this past year had the Ehjwan been able to rout Urthual and scatter his followers, though he had escaped, and, along with the other survivors, had managed to seek refuge within the deepest confines of the desert, and in the northern mountains, where Ishtuk and his comrades now found themselves.

Ishtuk had never seen the man speak, or even met any who had, but the results of his teachings were apparent in converts such as the crazy old man they were charged with watching. It sometimes seemed to Ishtuk that for every grain of sand in the desert there was some delusional soothsayer who professed to see divinations in the dung of camels. Thrusting these thoughts from his mind, Ishtuk focused his concentration once more on the path ahead.

When they finally arrived, the Zenjish gathered all of the Nejohl together. “The time has come.” he said. “My patience is exhausted. We go now to confront the old man. Prepare yourselves, for we are undoubtedly walking into a trap. As you well know these follower’s of Urthual are quite fond of ambushes, craven low-caste scum that they are.”

At last, thought Ishtuk with relief. An end to this dreaded inactivity.

The soldiers made their way into the valley and proceeded to the old man’s cave. The grizzled hermit stood with his back to them, facing the cavern entrance. He wore only a dirty leather loincloth, tied to his narrow waist by a length of cord. His skin was black with filth and soot, and his sparse beard was twisted into a chaotic tangle of matted bristles. Maniacal incantations issued ceaselessly from his tortured throat, and the violent movements of his arms were those of a man possessed.

“Hail, Grandfather!” cried the Zenjish, as the small unit of Nejohl neared the cave.

The only indication that the old man had heard was a sudden increase in the tempo and volume of his sermon. Refusing even to face them, the ancient ascetic seemed to mock them with his impudence. Perturbed, the Zenjish signaled Ishtuk to confront the elder Darzu.

“Old man,” said Ishtuk, placing his hand on the man’s shoulder. Suddenly, the hermit whirled around, causing Ishtuk to draw back in horror. Where should have been two eyes, only hollow, blackened sockets remained. The old man’s eyes had been burned from his head.

“Stay your hand, unbeliever!” shrieked the hermit. “Followers of falsehood, all of you!” The feeble mystic was hopping from one foot to the other, issuing curse after curse, as his shrieking voice reached an earsplitting crescendo. “Now!” he screeched at last, “Slay them all!”

The attack, though sudden, was hardly unexpected. Men poured down upon them from the surrounding mountainsides, materializing as if by magic from the jagged outcroppings and sparse shrubbery. Prepared as always, Ishtuk’s fellow soldiers drew back into a tight, protective circle. The fighting was swift and fierce. Eshbeh, the youngest and least experienced of Ishtuk’s unit, fell first, the unforgiving shaft of a spear protruding from his side.

Though the Darzu outnumbered them three to one, the Nejohl’s superior training and armor held the day. At the end of the confrontation the ground was littered with the corpses of Darzu warriors; not one had escaped. Ishtuk himself had slain three. The battle had claimed only three Nejohl.

The old man had also survived. He stood mumbling his mysterious incantations, swaying unsteadily back and forth as if in a trance. Two of the Nejohl seized him roughly and bound his hands from behind. The small band of soldiers lead the prisoner over the mountain and into to their encampment. Men were sent back on horseback to retrieve the bodies of their fallen Nejohl brethren.

Sometime later, The Zenjish called Ishtuk into his tent and said to him, “Ishtuk, my friend and most competent warrior, I charge you now with the gravest of missions. The man we hold in our custody is of great importance to Sakoia. He is a prophet of the Darzu, a disciple of Urthual, and as such may possess knowledge which will allow us to crush this insurrection before it has a chance to spread to the south, or, Edalirin help us, to the very gates of Verem herself. You are to escort him to Verem for interrogation. Choose two men to accompany you. You leave at dawn.”

The speech left Ishtuk feeling both honored and dismayed. The Zenjish’s trust in him caused his heart to swell with pride, though thoughts of the mission ahead produced in him nothing but irritation. Any among them could have been charged with so insipid a task- babysitting a blind lunatic! Better to pick one of the less experienced men for such a job. Still, he had never known the Zenjish to act rashly. Perhaps this errand was indeed as vital as he claimed. Too, it would be wonderful to once again behold his beloved Verem, to stand within its magnificent walls and allow its regal splendor to wash over him. With these thoughts, he entered his own small tent and began preparations for the next day’s journey.

Dawn found Ishtuk and his entourage packed and ready to depart. He had chosen as his companions men upon whom he knew he could depend; Nezrim, his long time friend and comrade-in-arms, and Jabir whom he deemed to be a both an honorable soldier, and a man possessed of a well developed wit; as quick with a joke as with a sword. It was Ishtuk’s hope that Jabir’s light banter would ease the monotony of the trip. They mounted the horses and set out; the old man seated upon a steed of his own, securely tied and uncharacteristically silent.

Verem lay to the south and east, a journey of four days. The first day passed easily, the miles dissolving quickly beneath them. They laughed and joked amongst themselves, entertaining one another with wild tales of past adventures; stories of glorious battles and beautiful maidens. At last darkness fell, and they stopped to make camp for the night. Ishtuk built a fire to ward off the chill evening air, and the men gathered before its comforting glow. As the time for sleep approached, Ishtuk declared that he would take the first watch, and so bid his fellows goodnight.

Assuring himself that the prisoner was secure, Ishtuk settled himself before the fire and prepared for an uneventful night. The first hour passed quickly as he busied his mind with thoughts of how he would spend his few days of leave in Verem. He would first visit the Temple and give his thanks to Edalirin. Then he would wander through the market district. He never grew weary of watching the great throng of passersby, or of sampling the exotic wares of the vendors. He had come from Omest, far to the west, born into an esteemed family of the Ehjwan, a caste known for its mastery of arms. His father had been a prestigious officer in the Nejohl, and Ishtuk was well on the way to following in his footsteps. Like all Ehjwan, upon passing into Kar’Tulor Ishtuk had joined the military, where his razor sharp mind and quick reflexes had allowed him to rise swiftly to a position of prominence. It was not long before he was recruited into the elite ranks of the Nejohl.

An unnerving feeling suddenly crept into Ishtuk’s veins, shattering his reverie and causing an involuntary chill to run the length of his spine. Someone was watching him. He jerked his head up with a start and glanced around. The old man sat just at the edge of the fire, seeming to stare at him with his blank unseeing eyes. So close was he, that Ishtuk could easily have reached out and touched him.

But that is impossible, thought Ishtuk. The man had been firmly bound to a small tree, not five yards from where he now rested. Ishtuk had tied the knots himself. He looked over at his companions who lay still curled up in their furs, sleeping soundly. “Grandfather,” said Ishtuk warily, his hand on his sword. “Stay where you are. I do not know how you managed to untie yourself, but if you so much reach to scratch your nose, I shall kill you where you sit.”

“Would you Nejohl? Would you slay a feeble and unarmed old man?” the hermit’s raspy voice was the very embodiment of the desert- arid and impossibly ancient. His tone was as smooth and even as the great drifting dunes, fashioned from an eternity of erosion and slow, suffocating death. “These are not your ways. I sense in you great strength and a pious devotion to Edalirin. You seek to uphold His words and to punish those who would seek to harm His people. Edalirin has spoken to me, He has shown me His will.”

“Blasphemy! You speak lies!” cried Ishtuk, “The Surric alone knows the will of Edalirin!”

“The Surric? An usurper, appointed by men to serve the causes of men. It is not for men to decide the identity of the Chosen One. Have you not noticed what passes for virtue under the rule of the current Surric. The cities are nothing more than havens for sinners and heathens. The valuable resources of the desert, entrusted to us by Edalirin himself, are squandered on those who ignore the will of Edalirin and think only of their own petty desires. I can see into your soul, Ishtuk, son of Kijkar, and I know that these thoughts are the thoughts of your heart.” With these words the hermit rose and approached Ishtuk.

Ishtuk tried to rise, wondering how the old man had known the name of his father, but found himself unable to move. “You know nothing of my heart, crazy old fool!” he cried, attempting to will his paralyzed limbs into movement.

“It is you who do not know yourself,” replied the hermit, bending down until his face was level with Istuk’s. Ishtuk stared into the two deep ebon pits that had once been the man’s eyes, trying in vain to avert his gaze. The old man’s lips curled into a black and broken grin as he said, “It is written, Ishtuk of the Nejohl. It is you who shall deliver Sakoia from its current despot, it‘s false God-king. You shall abandon your station…indeed, abandon even Sakoia herself for a time. But it is through you that the dynasty of the Surric shall at last be brought to an end. You are the Chosen One.” Ishtuk stared in disbelief as the fiery form of a crimson eye appeared on the man’s forehead. The man muttered something unintelligible and bent to kiss Ishtuk‘s brow.

Ishtuk awoke with a start, the image of the old man still vivid in his mind. He had fallen asleep at watch, an offense inexcusable for a Nejohl. This had never happened to him before. He had not even been drowsy! He glanced hastily over at his comrades, reassured to find them still in the solemn embrace of slumber. Had they witnessed his failure, he would never have been able to live down the shame. The old man’s words still echoed in his mind: “You are the Chosen One, you are the Chosen One, you are the Chosen One.” He suddenly leapt up and rushed to the place at which the old man had been tied. He found him fast asleep and still lashed securely to the tree. It was only a dream after all, he thought, somewhat reassured by the thought. But how real it had been! Trying to still his racing mind, he went to awaken Jabir for his turn at watch.

The second day passed much as the first, though the companions were not as talkative; their progress not as swift. The previous day’s gaiety had been replaced by an air of unspoken tension. Ishtuk perceived the change, as he would have noticed the increasing pressure of a gathering storm, though he was so absorbed in his own ruminations that he gave the feeling little consideration. The dream continued to haunt his waking hours, and his consciousness remained lost within the abyss of those cavernous sockets; the blazing image of the blood red eye seared forever into his memory. And most disturbing were the words, those terrible, deceitful words. That he, Ishtuk, Nejohl and faithful defender of Sakoia, should choose to abandon not only his beloved Nejohl, but Sakoia herself? That he should harbor such treasonous thoughts? The very idea was preposterous! The Surric was his lord and his life. That he should question the Surric was impossible. That he should seek to supplant him- absurd!

It was only a dream, he told himself again, but, try as he might, he found little comfort in the thought. It had been so real, after all. But from whence had it sprung? Certainly he had harbored no such thoughts prior to this trip. Perhaps somewhere deep within his subconscious there did indeed dwell such a being; a traitorous sympathizer; a betrayer of all he had ever stood for. He shuddered at the thought. The old an was wrong.

When they at last stopped for the night, Ishtuk found that he was more weary then he had ever been in his life, more so, even, than during his initial training with the Nejohl. The stress and worry the dream had caused him, coupled with the growing tension among his fellows, had drained the very last of his reserves. He again took the first watch, for he wished to be done with it as quickly as possible. He spent the entirety of his lookout in a heightened state of alertness, casting nervous glances at the old man to assure himself that he had not awakened. He dared not allow himself the luxury of sitting, lest he should again fall asleep at his post. He was thankful when Jabir came to relieve him, and at once fell into a deep and restful sleep.

Ishtuk woke to Nezrim’s hand on his shoulder. There was a problem. Jabir was nowhere to be found. All of the young man’s possessions, save for his sword, were still in the camp. He had not even taken his horse. They began a fruitless search for him and finally gave up in frustration and began the day’s journey without him. Neither of them spoke that day, and more than once Ishtuk caught Nezrim staring at him in a strange manner. That evening it was Nezrim who took the first watch. With only the two of them to stand guard, there would be little sleep for either.

Ishtuk awoke some time later to an anguished cry, and found Nezrim sitting beside the fire, shaking violently. Ishtuk approached, seeking to comfort him, but Nezrim stopped him with a violent gesture saying, “Stay back, my brother.”

“But what is the matter?” inquired Ishtuk, perplexed.

“It is the old one.” said Nezrim, a tremble in his voice. “He comes to me in the night. He shows me things. Terrible things. He speaks of the Chosen One.”

Ishtuk stared at him as the impact of his words slowly took effect. The dream. What could it mean? How can two men have the same dream? he wondered.

Nezrim continued, his voice wavering and full of terror, “He stares into my soul with those charred and infernal remnants, and within their sunless depths the future is unveiled. And it is a doomsday too terrible and too bleak to be imagined. I see death and famine. I see the people starving amid full stores of grain, crying out in thirst as the Water of Life flows all around them. I see the immoral and unclean exalted, the honorable enslaved and led off in chains. And through it all, that eye, that hated, crimson eye!” He stopped, overcome with despair, and buried his face in his hands. Ishtuk made a movement toward him.

“I told you to stay back!“ cried Nezrim, rising and drawing his dagger. “And amid all this tragedy and
despair I see the cause of the suffering seated upon the holy Tar’il. The Great Defiler. The Betrayer. The Sightless One. And as the figure turns I behold its face, the face of the End of All Time. It is your face, my brother!” With this, Nezrim launched himself at Ishtuk.

A brief struggle found the more experienced Ishtuk in possession of the dagger. Nezrim lay prone beneath him and at his mercy. Ishtuk knew that he should kill him, it was the proper punishment for treason, but the horror of the moment had left his mind numb, and this was, after all, his dearest friend.

“Go!” said Ishtuk, “Leave your possessions, leave your horse, and never let me see your face again.”

When Nezrim had gone, Ishtuk broke camp and roused the old man. His mind was reeling. His one clear thought was to make for Verem as quickly as possible, for he could not endure another night with the hermit. Half a day’s ride would bring him within site of its massive ramparts. The old man stood unmoving, a slight smirk playing upon his cracked and blackened lips. Infuriated, Ishtuk struck him hard across the face, knocking him to the ground. He at once felt the tingle of guilt along his spine. Evil though the old man was, this was not the way of the Nejohl. He helped the old man up and onto his horse, and they set out for Verem. The sun was at its apex as they began the long climb down into the canyon known as the Azar Qas Verem. Two hours later they entered Verem’s imposing gates.

Ishtuk led the old man through the bustling city, his mind numb from the events of the last four days. So intent was he on delivering himself of his ill-omened charge, he scarcely noticed the familiar scenery unfolding around him. His keen memory guided him automatically to the great square of the Ivu Yatanum, or Forbidden Palace, a place he had not seen in the two years since the campaign against the Darzu had begun. The great mosaics, which had once inspired in him such untold awe, now were nothing more than one more expanse separating him from his goal.

At last he stood before the massive golden doors of the Ivu Yatanum. The guards recognized Ishtuk and immediately allowed him entry. Hastily, he made his way to the great Temple of the Seekers, dragging the old hermit behind him as he went. He was stopped by the guards at the temple gates, and a young, shaven-headed Inari priest in simple white robes approached him. Listening carefully as Ishtuk explained the situation, the priest bid him wait and shuffled off into the mysterious recesses of the temple.

After many moments the priest returned with a small company of soldiers, and said in a deep and melodious tone, “You have done well, Ishtuk of the Nejohl. Your job here is finished. We shall now take the prisoner into our custody. Go, enjoy a few days’ rest in the city. Return to the Hall of the Defenders in three days time for your orders.”

“Wait,” said Ishtuk, “I have information concerning the prisoner. Strange happenings occurred during the journey. I lost two good men.”

“We shall take that into account, Nejohl.” the priest replied curtly.

“Will you now?” cried Ishtuk, infuriated. “What you shall do, holy one, is patronize me no longer! I would speak with the Ki-Lorlai at once. This is of dire importance!”

“You forget yourself, young warrior. You have done Sakoia an invaluable service. Go now, before you have a chance to undo the greatness of your deed, and earn for yourself instead a place in the stockades. Edalirin is wise.” With this, the priest dismissed Ishtuk, and turned once again toward the massive doors of the temple. The soldiers followed, bringing the crazy prophet with him.

Furious as he was, there was nothing Ishtuk could do. He was merely a Nejohl, and as such, subject to the orders of his superiors. Damned presumptuous clerics! Curse them all! He would make his report to the Sirzul, the commander of Verem’s contingent of Nejohl. Perhaps a fellow Nejohl would understand the seriousness of these events. After all, losing two soldiers- one of them to treason and the other to desertion- was no small matter.

His thoughts were interrupted by a passing procession of clergy entering the temple, no doubt returned from some secret ritual or other. As they filed by, Ishtuk noticed one priestess slightly behind her brethren. She was of a rather striking beauty; head cast slightly down in reverent humility, delicate hands clasped before her in pious supplication. Her pale, austere robes were draped elegantly upon her graceful form, her long, black hair was pulled up in the simple style favored by female members of the priesthood.

As the column neared Ishtuk’s position the priestess suddenly glanced up at him. There was a slight twinkle in her eyes, and she smiled shyly at him before returning her gaze once again to the ground before her. He stood mesmerized as her pleasing figure retreated toward the temple gate, his gaze fixed upon the slender curve of her elegant neck. As she neared the temple gates, she again turned her gaze toward him. At once the city ceased its tumultuous clamor. Time itself suspended its relentless rhythm, and for this briefest of moments the universe contained only these two foreign planets, drawn into a single, rapturous orbit around the common star of mutual infatuation. The brief spell ended as quickly as it had begun, and the priestess turned and followed her fellow clergymen into the temple.

The encounter had had a profound in impact on Ishtuk. He stood entranced, the wondrous image of the priestess emblazoned upon his mind. I must see her again, he thought. But first, there was the matter of the old man. He turned his steps toward the Hall of Defenders. Entering the gate, he made the long walk to the office of the Sirzul. To speak with Verem’s Nejohl commander directly was an incredible breach of protocol. He knew that he should utilize his chain of command, going first to a lesser officer. Had he been in a rational state of mind he would have done just that, but the strange events of the last few days, particularly that of losing his dearest companion, Nezrim, had impaired his thinking. He knew that he must act or else succumb to his grief, and he had not the patience left for dealing with the tediousness of military bureaucracy.

As he approached his destination, he was surprised to see the same priest who had greeted him at the temple. The man was just leaving the Sirzul’s office, and he gave Ishtuk an imperious, knowing nod as he passed.

Ishtuk knocked at the door and stood at attention outside, waiting to be called in. In a few moments he heard the gruff voice of the Sirzul, “Enter!”

He had never spoken to the Sirzul before, though he knew him to be a man of honor who was genuinely concerned with the welfare of those under his command. Entering, his gaze fell upon his commander; a giant of a man, impossibly strong, with a large, jagged scar on the left side of his face where some fierce sword thrust had fallen just short of claiming his eye. Ishtuk saluted.

“Speak, warrior.” said the Sirzul. "And choose your words carefully, that their importance might justify this violation."

Ishtuk proceeded to tell his story, beginning with the attack on the cave, and putting special emphasis on the dream, the disappearance of Jabir, and the treasonous actions of Nezrim.

“You were right to come to me, Ishtuk.” said the Sirzul, “I shall forgive your breach of protocol, for I know your reputation and I can see plainly upon your face the great stress this has caused you. I can assure you, the old man is being questioned even as we speak. We shall learn the truth. Try to put these tragic events from your mind. Rest and gather your strength.”

“But sir,” said Ishtuk. “Should I not be present at the interrogations? I am, after all, the only witness.”

“That will not be necessary,” The Sirzul’s voice now held the faint air of irritation. Clearly he was unaccustomed to such abject insubordination. ”All questioning will be handled by the office of the Ki-Lorlai. Your only job now is to recuperate so that you may once again join your unit in the north. Inquire no more into this matter. Dismissed!”

Ishtuk saluted and left the office. The Sirzul’s words had helped to somewhat ease his disquiet, though there was an element of secrecy concerning the old man that Ishtuk found disturbing. It was unheard of that a witness should not be consulted in a case of such importance. And then there was the overly coincidental presence of the priest. Something was being hidden. He tried to take comfort in the fact that the old man was in custody and that the Sirzul had at least been made aware of the situation.

As he exited the Hall of the Defenders, he found that night had fully claimed the bustling city. The unsteady flickering of torches and oil lamps illuminated the crowded streets, casting exaggerated shadows on the walls of the city. Though he was weary to the very bone, Ishtuk decided to postpone sleep‘s welcoming embrace. He would neither allow himself to wallow in self-pity over his predicament, nor drown his misery in spirits. Casting all other thoughts from his mind, he focused instead on the haunting face of the priestess, and made his way to the temple.

From the temple guards he learned that a group of priests left the temple every hour beginning at dawn and ending at nightfall, returning just before the next patrol departed. They did not know the priests’ destination, nor what is was that they did on these excursions. Thus informed, Ishtuk returned to the Hall of the Defenders, entered the great barracks, and fell into a much needed sleep.

The first rays of morning revealed a much refreshed, if somewhat impatient, Ishtuk. He breakfasted quickly and rushed to the temple. Positioning himself where he might observe the comings and goings of the great edifice, he waited. After three hours spent watching the departure and return of three separate groups of clerics, he began to wonder what he would do if she did not show today. Perhaps this was her day of rest, if priests were allowed such luxury. He sighed and settled himself in for a long day. He would wait as long as was necessary.

His diligence was soon rewarded, for he spied her in the very next procession. Keeping carefully out of sight, he followed the small group of priests. Their course meandered through Verem, coming at last to a spacious park which harbored row upon row of bountiful orange trees. Here the company halted and dispersed, with each priest and priestess wandering according to his or her want through the pleasant garden. No doubt this was an hour of rest for the cloistered acolytes, a respite from their many religious duties.

Finally, the object of Ishtuk’s desire wandered away from the protective eyes of her companions. He seized immediately upon the opportunity, maneuvering himself so that she might see him, and furtively signaling her to follow. He led her to a secluded spot, a small alcove within the city wall, where they might observe without being observed.

“You! The Nejohl from yesterday?” she said in a low and earnest whisper. “What are you doing here?”

“I had to see you again,“ he said. “I have thought of nothing else since that brief encounter.”

“Have you taken leave of your senses?” she exclaimed, “Surely you know the laws. This meeting is forbidden! Do you not know what shall happen if we are discovered here? You must leave at once!”

He did, indeed, know the consequences. The Nejohl were forbidden contact with female members of the clergy. For this Inari- a woman- to be found alone with a Nejohl…she would be severely reprimanded- he would be executed.

“I do not care!” he said, “Let them slay me. I shall die with the image of your face emblazoned upon my memory.”

“You are a crazed and sentimental fool!” she declared with a laugh. “Now go! I could not live with myself if so handsome a head were removed from its body, and all on my account.”

“Only if you promise to meet me.”

“Meet you?” she asked in disbelief. “And how shall I do that? When every eye in the city is upon us, so much so in fact, that we dare allow ourselves no more than a shy smile, or a furtive glance in passing. Is it not bad enough that we flaunt this flagrant violation in so public a place, must we also advertise it all over the city of Verem?”

“Steal away in the night, bribe the guards, anything! I must see you! There must be a way!” he said beseechingly

“You are bold, Nejohl. And careless. And stubborn. You will not be content until your head rests upon the chopping block…although persistence is a not altogether undesirable trait. Alright then, I agree, if only to remove that piteous expression from your face. I am allowed a reprieve of two days every few months, during which I may meditate freely, and at a place of my choosing. “

“Excellent!” said Ishtuk. “When and where then shall we meet?”

“Tomorrow. It will not be safe to meet within the walls of the city, there are too many prying eyes. Outside the city, at a distance of two miles, on a tall hill overlooking the canyon, rests the desolate ruins of a temple.”

“I know the place.” he said.

“Tomorrow then, at mid morning.”

“And you will be there?” he inquired, imploringly.

“Yes, yes! Now, go!” she said, pushing him away.

The next morning Ishtuk made the journey to the ruins. According to legend, this had been a temple to some ancient and forgotten desert god. Now little remained, save for a few crumbling walls and the scattered outline of what must have once been a tower. Ishtuk sat upon a large stone and waited, scanning the road for any sign of the priestess. Presently, she appeared and began the slow accent up the narrow, rocky trail to the temple.

As she had reached the top, Ishtuk greeted her. “Did you have any trouble getting away?” he asked.

“No,” she replied, “This time alone is our own. We are not so cloistered as you might imagine. Now, what is so urgent that I must make such an arduous journey? ”

“Tell me why you have come, and you shall have your answer.”

“You presume much, Nejohl,” she said, the hint of playful laughter in her voice. “I only agreed in order that so noble a warrior might not lose his life foolishly. And I fulfilled my promise only because I knew that you would persist in your efforts if I did not.”

“Then you deny that something magical passed between us?” he said with a smile.

“I deny nothing...and neither do I confirm it. I will say that there is that about you which I do not find entirely disagreeable.” She seated herself lightly upon the rock beside him.

“Well, that, at least, is a start. I should hate to think that my undying love is returned by anything less than indifference and a grudging air of tolerance,” he laughed.

“This is no laughing matter.” she said, becoming suddenly serious, “You could have been killed yesterday. Do you not realize how different are our two worlds? That which is between us cannot be allowed to grow. The world denies it. Edalirin Himself denies it.”

“Then why does He allow it to happen at all?“ he asked. “Perhaps it is Edalirin, in His wisdom, who has brought us together. And who are we to argue with the desires of the Gods.”

“Blasphemer!” she exclaimed, “Edalirin please forgive the reckless impiety of brutish warriors.“ With this she gave Ishtuk a gentle, teasing nudge.

“If I am indeed to die, at least tell me the name of she whose beauty is to be the cause of my demise.”

“It is Zahmeh,” she replied. “After the Goddess.”

“Yes,” he replied, “The Goddess of Love. A truly beautiful and fitting name. Mine is Ishtuk.”

The remainder of the day was spent delighting in one another’s company. Ishtuk told her his life story, of his previous life in Omest, and of his subsequent rise through the ranks of the Nejohl. Zahmeh, in turn, told him of her childhood within the confines of the temple, and of her dream of one day completing the Path of Edalirin and helping her fellow Inari to do the same.

That which had begun as a sudden overwhelming infatuation, soon blossomed into the first glowing embers of true love. Their rapport became that of childhood friends, and they spoke easily and freely to one another.

As the time for parting came Ishtuk hesitantly drew near to her and lightly took hold of her shoulders. She trembled involuntarily, and in her shyness could not bring her eyes to meet his. He cupped her cheek in one hand, gently tracing the delicate outline of her neck, and guided her lips to his. The kiss was warm and meaningful, and with it, the bond between them was sealed.

It was decided that Zahmeh would depart first, and that Ishtuk would follow behind at such a distance as would not invite suspicion. As he walked the few miles back to Verem, Ishtuk felt as though he were floating a few feet from the surface of the road. So light was his heart, he felt he could fly. The nervous flame of love burned passionately in his chest.

At one point he stopped, and an unnerving feeling suddenly washing over him. He looked about wildly, and thought he could perceive a figure in the barren field beside him. The old man! But that was impossible, for he was locked safely away in the stockade. The form was there but a split second. When he turned to look again, it was gone. A hallucination? Yes, a mere illusion, he assured himself. Brought on by fatigue. Still, he felt his previous feeling of unease returning.

Presently, Ishtuk again came to a halt. In the distance he could see that Zahmeh had stopped and appeared to be talking to someone. After a few moments she came running toward him.

“Ishtuk, we have been found out! We must leave at once. I have just spoken to one of my fellow priestesses. She is the only one I entrusted with the secret. The entire Palace is in an uproar. In the confusion she stole away and rushed immediately to warn us. It will not be long before they are upon us.”

Ishtuk’s Nejohl training sprung into immediate action, and he quickly evaluated the situation. Dusk was rapidly descending upon the great desert, and soon they would have the obscuring cover of twilight on their side. Not long ago, they had passed a small encampment of traveling Nazjin merchants, and so they hastily retraced their footsteps, coming upon the group just as they were beginning their evening meal. Not wasting any time, Ishtuk rushed to the place where the merchants’ horses were tethered, and, untying a sturdy mare, pulled himself up onto the powerful beast’s back. The men were instantly roused from their repast, and, drawing their swords, fell into pursuit.

After scattering the remaining horses, Ishtuk seized Zahmeh and hauled her up into place behind him. Drawing his scimitar, he swung its curved blade in wide arcs, keeping the merchants at a safe distance. At last he managed to break free of the angry Nazjin, and to coax his steed out and away from mob. Ishtuk knew that now only luck and his meticulous training could save them.

“If you know any prayers for wayward lovers, now is the time for them!“ he shouted to Zahmeh. She only clutched him more tightly about the waist, pressing her cheek into his back.

Time was their chief ally. Edalirin willing, this head start would allow them to keep well ahead of their pursuers. Unfortunately, the merchants would no doubt betray their course to the pursuing Nehjol. Somewhat reluctantly, Ishtuk decided to leave the road altogether and head east. Their only hope lay in fleeing Sakoia altogether and seeking refuge in the distant neutrality of the Bloodlands. To the north, the jagged silhouette of the Vrolinir Mountains reached toward the heavens. The young couple carefully hugged its rugged boundary, ever prepared to lose themselves among the many caves and crevices if the need presented itself.

At last Ishtuk chanced upon an opportunity. In the hazy half-light he perceived, on a high ledge, the dim outline of a cave. He knew that they could not ride forever, that they would become hopelessly lost in the darkness of impending night, and so he decided to take a chance. Dismounting, the two fugitives carefully led the horse up the stony mountainside and onto the rocky outcropping. The cave was large enough to conceal them from the road below, and, as night descended, there would be no means of detecting them. They passed the night fearfully, in one another’s arms.

Morning drew near and still there was no sign of pursuit. Ishtuk thought that perhaps their followers had not been able to find their trail, though he knew that if there were Nejohl among them, and there probably were, it would not take them long to discover it.

Before the first red rays of dawn broke over the horizon the intrepid couple were once again headed east, toward freedom. For the next three days they traveled hard and fast, sleeping at night and riding by day. Not once did they catch sight of anyone following them. They came upon a small village on the second day, where they stopped to briefly to water the horse. From the villagers Ishtuk purchased water skins and provisions.

They at last came to a great rushing river which issued forth from a steep valley in the mountains. With no small amount of difficulty, they forded the river. Here the landscape began to change. Instead of dead and lifeless desert, they now came upon sweeping grassland and rolling plains. The fifth day brought them to a still larger river, many yards across at its widest point, though experimentation revealed it to be no more than knee deep. And so they passed from the sacred lands of desert into the wild and foreign refuge of the Bloodlands.

Ishtuk at last knew they were safe, for their pursuers would not follow them into the Bloodlands. They eased their pace and began to enjoy the newness of their surroundings. The cerulean sky rose above them, and thin wispy clouds glided past in grand succession. Great waves of golden grass spread to the horizon, interspersed by gently rolling hills and steep tableland. Coming upon a small pond, they stopped to water the horse, and to take a moment’s rest beneath a small clutch of trees.

As they sat beneath the pleasant shade, she in his lap, his arms encircling her, Ishtuk took her small hand in his and said, “Fate has set us upon this uncertain path. There is no turning back now. Have you any regrets?”

“None.” she said, without hesitation. “It is by your side that I shall remain. Our destinies are now interwoven. We shall put our faith in Edalirin, and trust that our way is His way.” He bent and gently kissed her hair. Their course was decided. The future lay here, within this new and unfamiliar land.

They traveled the better part of the day, at last happening upon a small village of thatched mud huts. As they entered, an elderly gentleman approached them and said in Sakoian, his accent thick, “Greetings, Noble Guests. I can tell that the road has not been kind. You are tired. Please allow and old man and his wife the great joy of entertaining you with food and drink. We are but simple folk, yet you shall find us friendly and hospitable. And, besides, my wife is the grandest cook in all the Bloodlands. She will be delighted with the company, for she grows weary of wasting her talent on my faded taste buds.“

The weary couple gratefully accepted the invitation, tethering the horse and following the wrinkled old man into his small, though immaculate, hut. The man provided them with water with which to clean themselves and presented his wife, a plump and perpetually smiling woman with infinitely kind eyes. As she prepared the evening’s meal, the old man regaled the young couple with amusing stories and village gossip. Ishtuk, in turn, explained that he and Zahmeh were farmers from the desert lands, come to seek a better life in the Bloodlands. He carefully skirted the truth, for he felt certain that criminals would not be welcome in the peaceful atmosphere of the village.

The old man’s wife presented them with a great feast, each dish more wondrous than the last. The recipes were unknown to Ishtuk and Zahmeh, though they could recognize within them some influence of the desert. After the meal, the old couple directed them to a local farmer, who they said might offer an opportunity for work.

The farmer’s rather large hut lay on the outskirts of the village, amid great fields of barley and wheat. He was a kindly man and he offered them a small hut in which to live.

“Since my old tenants departed, some years ago, my northern fields have lain fallow.” Said the farmer. “I will provide you the seed and a place to live, and all I ask in return is half the year’s harvest. Take these once bountiful fields, and make them flourish once again.”

And so began a new life for Ishtuk and Zahmeh, and it was a time of great happiness. Ishtuk rejoiced in learning the simple ways of farming. He enjoyed the feel of the sun on his back, and the smell of the soil as he tilled the great barren fields. Zahmeh worked beside him. Having performed the great chores of the temple, she was not unaccustomed to such work, and actually knew a great deal about raising crops. They became fast friends with the local villagers, particular the old man and his wife. During this time Zahmeh grew round with child, and the couple exulted in this great blessing of Mirsha.

It was at this time, shortly after Zahmeh had become pregnant, that Ishtuk’s nightmare began. It came to him nearly every night, always the same dream: He would find himself naked in a wide empty expanse of desert. Before him would be a large, glittering throne. Suddenly all would be cast into darkness, as though a great shadow had eclipsed the sun, and a dark figure would appear. The image was that of the ancient hermit, surrounded by scores of unsmiling tribesmen. The tribesmen would overwhelm Ishtuk, seizing him roughly by the arms. They would and lash him to the throne, holding his head firmly in place. The old man would approach, his lifeless sockets oozing rivulets of black bile, a red hot, sinister prong in his hands. He would draw ever closer to Ishtuk, brandishing the implement before him. At last, he would slowly begin to plunge the fiery spikes into Ishtuk’s eyes. Ishtuk would wake screaming and drenched in sweat. When Zahmeh pressed him he would say only that it had been an unpleasant dream. He saw no need to worry her. It soon became such that he feared to sleep, lest the horrifying dream take hold of him once more. Consequently, he was often haggard and irritable.

The months passed in this manner, with the couple scarcely noticing their steady progression, until at last Zahmeh entered into the throes of labor, and a midwife was summoned from the village. The birth was a long and torturous one for Zahmeh. Her agonizing screams issued mercilessly from the small hut. As he waited outside, Ishtuk grew feint with fear, and his skin became cold and ashen. At last the terrible cries ceased and the mid-wife exited the hut and approached Ishtuk.

“I am sorry,” she said sadly, bowing her head and touching his arm in sympathy.

Immediately Ishtuk’s heart sank, his limbs growing numb and lifeless with terror. “Zahmeh!” he cried. Rushing into the hut, he found her lying upon the bed, still and very pale. Great tears of despair welled in his eyes, and he felt the life-blood drain from his body.

As he took her hand in his, he felt her move ever so slightly. He perceived the faint rise and fall of her chest. He sighed heavily, his legs nearly collapsing beneath him in his relief. If Zahmeh still lived, what could have caused the midwife’s condolence? The child, he realized with a tinge of fear. Spying the tiny bundle in Zahmeh’s arms, he fearfully and carefully lifted the blanket which covered the infant, trying not to waken the sleeping mother.

Gasping, he drew back in horror and bit his hand to avoid crying out. It was a girl child, small and pallid. But it was not the child's pallor that had caused Ishtuk's terror. Upon her brow, faint, but unmistakable, was the red outline of a birthmark in the form of the hateful eye of his dream. Slowly, unconsciously, the newborn opened her eyes, revealing round, colorless pupils which gazed up into nothing. The child was blind.
 

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Cool story bro.
Seriously though, good work :tongue
If you're not getting published now..:
GO FIND A PUBLISHER! lol
 

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I seriously suggest putting it in a google doc and publishing it into a link that you can throw at people. this format is kinda hard to read.

Commentary:

+Good descriptors
+great vocabulary
+flows well
-descriptors lack action, largely passive - they don't draw the reader
-Weakness in dialogue; its hit and miss, and also, everyone seems to speak in exactly the same way.

+World creation is well thought out
-characters somewhat flat, but still believable. may be symptom of dialogue/the way they think.

clearly you've put a lot of effort into the world. I encourage you to develop it more.

Dialogue is a common problem in writers. I overcame it not that long ago by actually emulating natural speech patterns of friends or people I've met, or movies, archetypes, etc...you get the idea. There's no easy way to write dialogue.... it takes practice.


I feel bad commentating though...I'm incredibly secretive of the novel I'm working on. Partially due to embarrassment over the length of time its taking me to write it (I've hit writers block at least a dozen times now, plus constant interruptions from other things), and partially because I just don't want to share it. =p

Publishing: Try http://www.authonomy.com/
 

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
Cool story bro.
Seriously though, good work :tongue
If you're not getting published now..:
GO FIND A PUBLISHER! lol
Thanks a lot!


I seriously suggest putting it in a google doc and publishing it into a link that you can throw at people. this format is kinda hard to read.

Commentary:

+Good descriptors
+great vocabulary
+flows well
-descriptors lack action, largely passive - they don't draw the reader
-Weakness in dialogue; its hit and miss, and also, everyone seems to speak in exactly the same way.

+World creation is well thought out
-characters somewhat flat, but still believable. may be symptom of dialogue/the way they think.

clearly you've put a lot of effort into the world. I encourage you to develop it more.

Dialogue is a common problem in writers. I overcame it not that long ago by actually emulating natural speech patterns of friends or people I've met, or movies, archetypes, etc...you get the idea. There's no easy way to write dialogue.... it takes practice.


I feel bad commentating though...I'm incredibly secretive of the novel I'm working on. Partially due to embarrassment over the length of time its taking me to write it (I've hit writers block at least a dozen times now, plus constant interruptions from other things), and partially because I just don't want to share it. =p

Publishing: Try authonomy writing community - Helping writers get published
Actually I cannot claim credit for the creation of the world (or rather only partial credit). Thanks for the honest critique. I am struggling to get better, and have some hope of publishing a work at some point in the future. Your novel intrigues me. Anything worth writing takes time. I have problems with writer's block as well.

Dialogue is definitely something I need to work at. Again, much of my problem is similar to yours, or has been in the past, namely not enough time. I finally have enough time to attempt to somewhat hone my work, just need to get over the writer's block and dive in. To my credit, I have gotten somewhat better over the years since these were written, but still along way to go I fear.
 

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Another of my early works, cleaned up a bit, from the same forum:

The Harbinger

by

Horrible Aesthete
I think this story is absolutely wonderful. The surprise ending was fantastic! I find it very interesting that the prophet's words are coming true and then include the surprise ending...there must be another story coming. I wait in anticipation for this! @HorribleAesthete, you did it again...another great short story! Keep writing! I like your style tremendously! :happy::wink::happy:
 
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I started reading, but it was just so long, I have to put it away to read as soon as I can. However, as so far, I enjoy your writing and hope to reach your level somewhere in my life. Well done. I'll let you know what I think when I'm done.
 
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