Stalwart timbers towered into the sky, attempting to claim the title of woodland titan from the Maulker Swamp redwoods. The warm midday light trickled down through it’s amber leaves, lighting the ancient children and keeping cruel darkness away from it. It reminded her of the ancient forest her master would train her and her sibling-pupil in, jumping and hunting wild game or fiercer, deadlier, prey.
For a moment, she could hear his voice, his hand upon her head, and smell the clean forest and sea air of Soteria.
“This is the swath of land, Kyria. The beast is said to hold it as it’s territory.”
For the first time in their near two-hour journey her knightly companion spoke.
“Before we enter, there is something I must do first.” His deep voice held a air of unease that she had heard from many others before.
Deliberately slow she draped the curtains of her cloak over her shoulders and behind her. Her shoulders rolled and twisted, manipulating her swallowtail coat to a more loose and mobile position.
She rested her hands upon her bandolier, an elder dragon hide fashioned as a waist cinching corset and one that often frightened many a foolish challenger; calmly she turned her helmet and then her body to the man.
He stood just a half head taller, a feat uncommon with men on account of her six head’s worth, but this man was a whole manner of uncommon himself. His broad-shouldered form was armored in blue-gold metal, wrapping him head to toe. A simple designed great helm shielded his face, lacking any frivolous designs some of the Honorblade Monastery possessed.
His own cloak, shorter and more a purple scarf, wrapped his neck and shoulders, displaying a grand broadsword slung behind him.
He was a foolish man if he thought to take her barehanded, her thoughts spoke as she looked into the helm’s face.
Instead, he proceeded to take a knee before her, bowing his torso to her with head low. She remained still, having had others attempt to trick her like such in the past.
“I feel I have greatly dishonored you in my behavior in our travels, on account of your silence and the awesome gaze of your crystal helmet. Forgive any dishonor, Kyria Mandyas, or declare the slight so I may right it!”
A gentle self reprimand ran through her thoughts, a reminder of her failing to initially communicate with the man. A gloved hand rested softly on the man’s shoulder, issuing a forceful shake of his head.
“I beg your forgiveness Kyria Mandyas, as I had not heeded and learned from the enthusiastic rambles about you from my darling son. Stay your hand of anger!”
Silently she sighed, taking hold of the man and hoisting him to his feet, forcing him to gaze at her. Facing him, she indicated to herself and crossed her fingers in front the mouth of her mask. A few moments trickled between the two as the man looked to her, before he finally nodded.
“I see. An oath of silence then?”
A common enough statement earned her common response of a nod of her head, as the man visibly relaxed.
“I see, forgive me then for my ignorance.”
She quickly waved off the knight, whose name she had neglected. Visited by embarrassment, she withdrew her Ironhide-bound parchment book and charcoal stick, scrawling a swift request before turning it to him.
“Ho? You do me the honor of using my title; what shall I call you? Oh ho, you are too kind Kyria Mandyas. Mathain of House Galan; it’s an honor. Pardon my shyness on our initial introductions, I was only bashful at my son’s idol.”
Hoping that the man wouldn't continue apologizing for every action, she waved off his apology before giving a small bow. Undraping her cloak, she waved for Mathain to follow.
The light of the meadows was quickly muted when they entered the forest. The underbrush was thick with life and noise, choirs of songbirds, insects and other animals filling the air, eased by her overwhelming aura of calm that covered her and her knightley companion. Much to his credit he made hardly a sound as he marched in his large armor. Curiosity getting the better of her as they walked a stretch of even ground, she glanced over her shoulder to eye his feet; greaves and sabatons greeted her gaze.
“Ho, surprised by a silent oaf hm?” Her helmet directed to his helm, an air of humor about him. “My House trains in heavy armor from a young age: eats, sleeps, and especially hunts in it. It’s practically a second skin.”
A gentle nod of her head replied, before one of his fist’s banged against the breastplate, with hardly a sound heard.
“Dunamis Binding to muffle sound and increase durability helps as well.”
A silent laugh accentuated by bouncing shoulders was her only response, as they continued their march.
As the hour turned to two, they had stopped to gather their breath and rest their feet. Mathain went about feasting on a few provisions, as she wrestled their current position in her mind. Though it had only been two hours, she should have been able to grab a scent, a memory of aura from the ‘dreaded beast’ they were hunting by now. Having apparently eaten near a hundred various livestock and two dozen citizens of Southwestern Soteria, such a beast would have had a monstrous amount of aura.
She sensed nothing. She could find no track, no markings of territory, no tree rubbing by claw or hide.
A silent sigh and a lean against a nearby ancient pine brought her gaze skyward. Eyes following along the many hand and foot holds along its trunk lead her to the nearest branch some eighty meters above her.
Shouts of encouragement from her sibling-pupil rang in her ears, the feeling of adrenaline coursing through her as she fought to keep her aura in her arms engaged as she climbed. The smiling bearded face of her master far below her as she stood atop her first branch shone in her mind.
“Perhaps an aerial position would assist us, Kyria Mandyas.”
She turned to the knight, who had, she hazarded to guess, been staring at her during her reminiscence. A bounce of her shoulders and shake of her head answered him.
“Surely it’s in your power to climb it. My son often says you are a woman of great ability, able to wrestle eldarians and uproot redwoods with your bare hands.” He laughed at the memory, she was sure.
“Besides,” Mathain continued, an air of sincerity about him. “A warrior can recognize another’s air of wistful remembrance of their training. Elevation is always good to possess, as control of the high ground has won many a battle.”
Again she found herself lost in remembrance, thinking back to her childhood matches of strength with youngling dragons. She shook herself from it, and relented to the disarming man. In a heartbeat she launched into the air, her feet landing against knotty outcroppings along the truck and propelling her along. Without a bounce the branch became her perch as she looked down on the man who, to his credit, remained standing.
“Well then.” came his profound response.
A meter of pause.
“Shall we continue our hunt?”
Before any response could be given, not a meter ahead of them a beast came tumbling out into their swatch of clearing, heaving and grunting. Nine heads tall, hundreds of pounds of visible muscle, and a hide of dark gray fur.
Eyes widening, she had no idea that they were dealing with a Tartarian Boar, identity confirmed when it turned to Mathain and revealed its four tusks. As she stared it down, a feeling overcame her that she hadn't felt for some time. Her limbs tightened, her blood slowed, and a slow smile creeped across her face.
For a moment the boar stared down Mathain, before, to her surprise, it sniffed the air and about-faced them and began a mad sprint away. However, not before it seemed that Mathain withdrew a length of rope and lassoed the creature’s head.
“Now hold a moment, you devilish swine.”
As soon as the length lost it’s slack, she watched as Mathain was pulled along by the boar, his feet digging into the ground as he quickly disappeared into the underbrush ahead. With dilated eyes, she sprang after the duo, launching branch to branch.
A Tartarian Boar.
Looking to close the meters of distance between her and the roaring swine for the last half hour, her attention had become engrossed in the feeling of an unrestrained hunt. Had Master Ares known what beast had plagued this region, he would have found some way to substitute his responsibilities and join her; it was the first beast they had hunted together when she had been but thirteen years.
Now, nine years later, that same excitement coursed through her. The only question that flickered in her thoughts was curiosity as to why a normally ravenously herbivorian creature had taken to omnivorism.
She positioned herself to launch from her branch to blast down to the beast, to tackle and begin a match of strength.
An inferno of pain gripped her heart, engulfing her mind and very essence, wrenching control of her flight from her as her aura blasted her from the branch.
With unabated speed her body overshot the beast, blasting past Mathain’s overhead.
“Kyria!” came his frantic cry.
In some sort of mystic experience, she watched as she hewed the dense forest’s ground for dozens of feet, Mathain having released his hold on the beast to sprint after her with enhanced speed, dodging dust and debri from her wake. The prey quickly darted off into the forest.
Ancient pines, small and giant, failed to stop her as she cleaved through them, both upright and felled, bouncing along after each tree.
What would have been a surprise to her cognisant mind was Mathain passing her to catch her somewhat slowed body, stopping both of them significantly softer than a pine would have.
“Kyria Mandyas, by the Weaver, what has happened!” He demanded in a panic, cradling her to his larger frame.
She seized with pain as her soul returned to her body, a pain unrivaled by any she had ever experienced. Never before had she been so, immobilized; not, at least, since that time. Waves of agony kept any control, any motion from her limbs, from her grasp.
“Kyria, what must I do?! How broken is your body?! Surely you can shrug this off!”
At the quaver in the man’s final statement, she wished nothing more than to level a deadpan glare on him.
She was an Es’sean, not immortal. She could feel countless bones broken in her body, several puncturing her lungs, and one or two escaping her skin.
The breaks would heal, dislodged pieces reabsorbed and replaced, skin punctures closed, but it would take time. Even though her auratic control was lost to her, she could feel it working quite fiercely to repair her body.
A rustling in the foliage several meters away from their spot at the end of her destructive trail drew Mathain’s attention, who gently moved her to look as well.
Rope dragging along with it was the Tartarian Boar, whose eyes bore down on the two of them. Slowly Mathain stood with her spasming form, careful not to spark the boar into a rage.
“Kyria, I fear I may have to bring some more pain when I make our escape. I do hope you pardon me.”
Her reply would have been another neutral glare and a wave, but she instead settled with heaving and mutely coughing large globules of blood onto his breastplate, her solid magic-bound crystal helmet becoming porous, allowing it to ooze from it.
She felt as Mathain readied to make his escape, pouring his personal aura into the aura reserves in the legs of his armor to add to their power. To their surprise, the beast seemed to look with curiosity and concern in its eyes as it began to slowly creep towards them, head low.
Confusion crossed her mind as this creature, who had seemingly been hunting and terrorizing the countryside, had not a drop of blood or gore within it’s fur, no sign of any blade cut or burn.
Her confusion ended instantly.
From the darkness a massive ashen thing as thick as the pines whipped out. Like the crack of thunder, the boar’s body was launched into the pines, the likely crack of its’ spine following suit as it roared. Springing forth, attached to the identified tail, was a hulking creature, two of its six limbs reaching out for the immobilized screeching boar, as a cat would a mouse.
Blood and gore were thrown about the clearing, bathing her and an understandably horrified Mathain on account of his smell of fear sweat, all built up aura was released.
Once beautiful and vibrant colors were now muted, ashened and covered in sangria veins. Immaculate and preamed scales were raised and incomplete, burns and blade scars shining.
The sounds of screeching and goring having died out, she watched in horror as its massive, decaying, horned head began draining the leaking aura and matter from the corpse.
“By- By the Weaver. What in the accursed void is that.” Mathain whispered out, his voice nearly lost.
By the honor of her King Ares, this was the beast? A void cursed Eldarian Cadaver.
It was no wonder she couldn’t sense any unstable aura or aura bloating; the cursed beast was undead and undetectable.
The agony had lessened to the point where she raised her arm not trapped against the rigid man, and attempted to pound on his breastplate, the attempt ending as a weak tap.
It seemed enough as the man twitched in place, gingerly shaking his head as he stared down the beast. At it’s slow turn to them from it’s kill, respect for Mathain grew as in an instant all spareable aura from himself and the armor was forced to his legs. In a breath he sprang back, twisting about-face to land and bounding away from the now roaring cadaver, the forest filling with the sound of bone rattling.
For minutes Mathain worked to put dozens and more meters between the beast and them, each landing and subsequent launch off racking her burning nerves. After the tenth minute’s launch, against her will another torrent of bloody sputum coloring Mathain’s chest, bringing him to a screeching halt. His head whipped about, landing on a nearby dried creek bed underneath a fallen pine. He rushed as carefully as he could with her to their temporary shelter, another roar of teeth-chattering filling the forest.
As soon as the 6 foot wide trunk was overhead, Mathain gingerly laid her out, body just short enough to be hidden sideways by tree. Kneeling, the man worked to catch his breath, his own body shaking.
“Was-” he huffed out in a whisper. “Was that Cadaver? Never in my wildest nightmares did I think dragonoids could be corrupted in such a way.”
Slowly she nodded her head in response, the very action searing her neck. The man stiffened at it and slowly looked about them, thinking he could spot the creature.
“Have you-” the man cleared his quivering voice. “Have you ever fought one? Can it be done?”
For a moment, she pondered a response. Had she ever fought one, no. Could it be done; possibly? Feeling the piercing eyes of the knightly father before her, fighting for an answer, she knew.
A slow nod of her head.
The man heaved a sigh before her with a nodding head, digging into one of the larger pouches on his bandolier belt. From it he withdrew a shining, fleshy soft blue chunk, no larger than an apple.
A Aura gem, to think this man would carry such a thing. Did he have such aura control that he could store his own in such crystals? The only ones capable of such things were Es'seans.
“My house prides itself on aura control, so much so that we are one of the only able to do so without being Esseans.” he answered her unspoken question as he looked back at her. “Do you have your own?”
At her craning her chin down towards her own bandolier he nodded, digging into the only pouch large enough for one, pulling out the largest one. It pulsed with an angry red, burning his gauntlet as he placed it in her open upward-facing palm. It would take some time and her control back but she would siphon the energy.
Mathain took his between his two hands and siphoned out the aura, the blue draining into his hands, leaving a shriveled grape-sized shell. Tossing it into his pouch, he brought forth a necklace, hidden behind his breastplate. From it hung a ring seemingly of hair, golden blond and dirtier blond intertwined. He brought it to the mouth of his helm.
“This is a talisman of my wife and son, Kyria.” She could feel his eyes burning with fire on her. “I aim to return back to them alive, to drag Kyria Mandyas with me to meet and bless my son. Mark this well.”
She honored his words with a nod. His ritual done he returned the necklace, drawing forth his blade, a noble hand-and-a-half blade of similar color to his armor. His free hand dug in another pouch, pulling with it a palm-sized stone of red glow. Into the crossguard it slotted, giving the length a soft red glow.
A Igni emblem. This knight was indeed prepared.
Another roar bellowed around them, this time evidently in their small clearing. They looked as best they could to Mathain’s left. Down the length of the dried creek some seventy-five meters from them stood the Cadaver, crouching low to the ground to peer at them in their shelter. She looked to Mathain to gauge him only to see him already leaving the safety of their burrow. He stood tall, bending back some and limbering up, swinging his left-handed sword a few passes.
“Heal quickly Kyria Mandyas, the hunt is upon us.” He called, a three-foot heater shield springing from his forearm bracer, gold and silver metal gleaming from what she could see.
She fought to drain the aura from the crystal, the red gem bubbling and warping as the color seeped out. Her feeling had all but returned, and with it, a new agony of broken bones. Her eyes watched with fear and fight as Mathain rushed to meet the monster, the shield shrinking smaller than it was.
The beast hissed at him, taking a prone seated form, corpse front arms crossed and head high.
Mathain skidded to a stop, riverbed shifting beneath him as he braced, shield up and sword pointed out. To his surprise a barrel sized stone soared at him.
With the elegance of a dancer he stepped underneath and around it, shield helping direct its’ path. An orange sized stone found home against his helmet, knocking him into almost falling.
Her hand slowly tightened around the gem, the bubbling and warping increasing as she watched, forcing what little aura she could control to mend her. She had never seen this form of combat from a Cadaver. They were mindless husks.
Mathain now worked to dodge volleys of projects, large and small as he danced about. The beast now had begun a series of interspersed hisses. It was laughing, the cursed thing was laughing, to her morbid discovery.
With another large stone dodged under, on the backswing Mathain seemingly pulled something from his pouches, lobing it as he returned to face the Cadaver. Bowman-like precision directed its’ path towards the beast’s head. It’s tail intercepted the object, as a new hiss of pain left it, a cloud of silvery powder exploding around the tail.
A silvermist bomb? The knight seemingly had every item for a cadaver disposal event.
At the newfound pain, the Cadaver seemed to have lost all enjoyment for newfound irritation as it glared at the stance firm knight. With eyes narrowing to near slights, its tail surely looked a blur to Mathain as she watched it make to spear him.
Every fiber of her being fought to spring to battle to protect the man, to stop the tail of destruction. Eyes clenched shut as she crushed the aura gem in her grasp.
Another hiss of pain rang in the forest, drawing her attention to the flopping four feet section of tail, sizzling and decaying into ash. Mathain returned to a ready stance, facing down the Cadaver looking to its tail as the flame around his blade flickered out as it dangled by his side.
Eyes snapping to Mathain, the beast sprung up in a blink, arms outstretched towards him. Mathain readied his shield, a full three feet in length, his sword held in hand beside him in a limp arm.
A dingy sized boulder roared past him into the Cadaver, knocking it backwards over itself and into the treeline of the clearing.
He hazarded a glance over his shoulder, to see her marching towards him, massaging and rotating her throwing arm.
“Ho.” He chuckled out, a wince heard in his words. “Perhaps uprooting redwoods is not such an outlandish thought.”
She humored him with a nod while facing the rousing beast, right arm outstretched, a soft red air coalescing in her open grasping hand.
As the man fancied humor and grandstanding, she figured she’d indulge and join him. Afterall, the pounding in her chest far surpassed the energy of the Tartarian boar.
It wasn't every day that she faced certain death at the hands of her first Draconian Cadaver.
The shimmering red haze slowly pulled apart in her open grasp, parting to reveal a yellow-white rod, which she took hold of. Pulling further, the haze revealed a six foot length of yellow-white staff, an additional foot long enlarged spearhead formed at the top. She flourished it, spinning it overhead before she stood firm, aiming it at the now standing beast.
The beast glared down her weapon, an intelligence glowering in it’s eyes, seemingly understanding the speciality her weapon had in dealing with its ilk. Slowly the beast’s injured tail began to reform, a frustrated hiss spewing from it.
She spared a glance at the knight, nodding at his still dangling arm. He glanced at it, huffing and flopping it about.
“In my hasty reaction I obliterated the connecting muscles in it.” He turned back to the beast as it finished reforming. He returned to his former stance, shield held strong.
“I can still -.”
The man collapsed upon his shield, the magic rune tag hissing where she had stuck it to the back of his armor. From her side, a haze of red air took the form of a tendrilian arm, taking the man’s limp body under their previous shelter.
To her slight amusement the beast whipped its head fiercely around their clearing. Her beloved runes would render Mathain undiscoverable by the beast, every ounce of the man’s usable aura wrenched from him to construct a spell of invisibility. At least for a time.
Teeth-chattering filled the clearing partnered with thundered feet.
Blurring into her pouches, metallic orbs were crushed, a fine copper and silver cloud engulfing her. Blood-red glow lit the cloud as sterling spikes propelled into the eyes and face of the beast, her spear following their path into its snout.
Hisses rang forth, as it pounced blindly, hands coming down on empty gravel as she slid underneath, the gravel scattering as it sprung up. Its’ teeth snapped wildly around it, sangria liquid pouring from its rapidly healing eyes while she sprung to her feet beneath it.
Her two arms of blood-red aura emerged on her sides, grasping her four-handed U’velad before her, the swinging tail ignored.
Hands of flesh joining aura, she split with an animalistic grin as she sprinted beneath the beast.
A slide and overhead spin, the broad executioner’s seven foot blade bit through the front two limbs, the dropping beast drenching her as she spun into the air.
With a roaring beast she landed, guarding the shelter once more. She nashed her teeth with a noiseless snarl, legs tight to spring to battle. Aura slammed the beast’s head to gravel by the spear, pinning the maul shut to the ground.
Heart pounded as the beast glared with hatred. Leathered hands twisted the handle.
Sprinting the twenty-five meters between them, eyes narrowed as if to pierce the neck themselves.
Blade drawn back to destroy, agony ripped through her, limbs lost to her.
A redwood limb whipped her into the right-most treeline, bouncing her across the ground and into a now destroyed boulder. Her stony crater expelled her, dropping her limp body against the floor, leaving her to stare down the galloping beast.
Her limp arm twitched, fingers feeling for her blade. Gone. She called for her aura, called to her spear to come. Silent.
The beast skidded to a halt above her. Angry eyes sneered down at her helpless form, a gleam of vengeance introduced to her.
Jaws wide made to end her.
A guttural yell rang in her ears. A leaping blur of fiery red sprung to the beast’s neck.
Fire ran along it, a choker of melting red was visible to her.
Matthain released the blade, his hands grabbing the horns of the beast to pull leftward, directing the body to fall away from her limp form.
It crashed, where he continued to pull the head from the body. With a furious yell he wretched it free as he fell to his back, heaving.
Almost immediately her aura returned as she called her body to stand. She marched over to the fallen Matthain. A hand raised, waving her off.
“Body. Burn it. Ironsteel salt it.”
Giving him a node she called to U’velad. It flew to her; in it’s pommel rested the still brightly glowing emblem of Galan. A glance to him was spared but she went about her work.
Such pain had never been felt before, her hands gripping her blade tight. Fury imbued strikes hacked the now flaming body, fires hotter than forge blazed in her eyes and soul. Red arms joined the blade, making messier and quicker work of the corpse.
Red hands would grip the throat of the dark Aurist that had anchored her. Her fits were undoubtedly done by such a character, and she would find the one who accomplished such a feat.
Four hands dug out coppery orbs, producing clouds of sterling, as aura manipulated the dust to encase the scattered piles of sangria ash, creating a miniature sterling box. Ironsteel salt was ground upon it, the aura in the box hungrily absorbing the purifying measure.
She joined the quiet man, who heaved as he did before her hour long ritual. Kneeling to join him, a soft hand rested upon his chest, aura slipping past the magical wards to check him.
“Ho,” he sighed out. “Your aura has a soft feel to it Kyria. But you needn’t worry. I used my spare Aura gem. Broken as I am, I won't die.”
Her checking confirmed the same. She felt his massive sigh, his hand moving out his necklace again, placing it to his helmed mouth.
“I believe I’ve earned you explaining my condition to my dear wife. Perhaps a hug for my son; a blessing even.”
A series of soft shoulder bounces greeted him, her hand patting his armor and her head nodding.
I confess I didn't enjoy this much, but it's hard to say exactly what's wrong with it. I could say that the descriptions or lack thereof left me groping to figure out what was going on. The worst part for sheer confusion is the bit where Kyria launches herself "dozens of feet" through the pines; why does that happen?