Story VIII – No More Words

It was cold and raining, with the sun somewhere buried behind the clouds. Wendal stood on the balcony, his hands gripping the wood railing, peering somewhere distantly to the south. Within the shuttered home behind him, a woman stirred in the kitchen, preparing food for the last meal of the day. She took some plates from out of the cupboard and set them on the table opposite each other. The rain continued to pour down, filling the home with the sound of soft tapping and an occasional gust of wind scurrying across the roof

Once Wendal had his fill of staring out into the storm, he returned to the interior of his home. Waiting for him there was Annka, and she was almost ready to serve their food for the evening. However, there was a tension that filled the air of their cramped living space that was hard to ignore. They almost didn’t look at each other, only passing their eyes over in a sort of casual recognition; absent the formality and attentiveness of the love they used to share.

Wendal was the first to speak, and he did so in an almost mournful fashion.

“So, this is it?” It was a question that didn’t need asking. They were both aware of the demise of their union. Beleaguered, Wendal grasped for straws, hoping that there was still a reconciliation to be had between them.

“Yes,” Annka said suddenly. “This is it. As soon as the storm clouds clear, I will be on my way.”

“Trapped with me for one more night?” Wendal said with words weighed down in bitterness.

Annka did not have a response to his quip. She pulled the meat from the fire and carved it with a sharp knife on the kitchen counter. Wendal sat at the table, looking at her.

“I can’t help but wonder why you said all of the things you said to me. Was it a way to gain my trust? Only to then throw it away? I don’t understand how we got to this place. “

A lengthy silence filled the space as Annka stopped cutting the meat and set the knife and carving fork down. She turned slowly to face Wendal.

“This is not really about you at all. I’m doing what I need to do for myself.”

“That much is abundantly clear,” Wendal jabbed. “But you still haven’t taken responsibility for your words. It was your language that invited me to love you. It was your eagerness that told me there was a future to be had. Now I find you leaving, running off to a distant horizon where you believe the future is brighter?”

“I don’t have to justify anything to you,” She said softly and with a coldness in her voice. “I get to make the decisions in my life. Right now, I just need to focus on my goals and my future, which don’t include you. “

“Well, who does it include then?” Wendal asked angrily. “Don’t think me a fool.”

The vein of Stream that crept along the base of the railing outside had gone from a pale blue with flickering white, to a deeper red, flashing with yellow. As the tension in the room began to grow, the Stream bore the weight of the anger, frustration and sadness that permeated the small home that these two had made for themselves. A home that was soon to be unmade bye this chasm that had formed between two once loving partners. As Annka’s bitterness grew in the conversation, the Stream danced with flecks of purple. Her resentment of the circumstance was palpable.

“I was wrong to have invested in you,” she said in anger. “You said it yourself, you’d never move south with me back to Realm. Even though all my family is there, you would rather we stay here in the Fold for the rest of our lives.”

“Our home is where we make it, Annka.” Wendal gestured around the open space of the one room home. “We have all this for ourselves, and your family has only ever disapproved of you and your choices. Yet, you’d give up this life, your freedom, to be back with them in Realm? Is there not a way that you and I can still stay together, and they could be a part of our lives?”

“We’ve had this talk before,” Annka said bluntly. “This never goes anywhere. You just don’t understand that I need to do this for me. I need to get away from this place, and you. I need to be my own person again.”

“Don’t expect me to be here when you come back.” Wendal barked. “Why you ever wanted to be with me I don’t understand. All along, you were only interested in yourself, and your idea of what your future should be. If I had your attitude, I would have left for the Academy years ago. I put all of that aside when I met you. I wanted to give this a chance, and a safe place for it to grow. Clearly, our minds were very differently aligned on this.”

More silence filled the space but instead of looking away from each other, they were locked eye to eye. Her brown eyes were open wide and filled with frustration, while his blue eyes were glistening with fresh tears on the way. She boiled with words she was unwilling to say.

“You are not the one for me.” She said then, as if to put a final book end on the conversation. With that statement she crushed flat any hope that Wendal had of reuniting the two of them. Their conversations had become increasingly ensnared by bitterness and a lack of honesty. It was only now, in these gruesome moments, that the sting of the truth was revealed. She had no place left in her heart for him, and her treachery had broken his. He knew that she had already intended to find another, a man of Realm who would support her and live beside her in the Southern Spiral or the City of Realm.

It seemed to Wendal that it was only recently that Annka had come up with this idea for what to do with her future, but his nagging judgments clouded his logic. He mused that it was only as the regularity of life in the northern Fold began to set in, and the two of them achieved a symbiotic bond, that her desire to break free became apparent.

Yet, he thought that she was only flying from one cage to the next. If she could not find peace with Wendal in the free lands of the Fold, she was unlikely to find peace living in a culturally oppressive place like Realm.

“You can serve yourself,” Annka snapped, gathering up her belongings in the travel bags she had prepared earlier. Her garments, tools, supplies and a weapon were all tucked neatly into one bundle. She grabbed her winter clothes from the wall hooks and dressed herself rapidly for travel, even though the gale outside was still blowing rain against the walls of their home.

“Now you’re leaving?” Wendal was surprised. “You do know that there is a torrent of rain falling outside, and a fierce wind as well? “

“I don’t want to be here anymore!“

“Whatever you think you’re running from, you’re carrying it with you when you go. This was home, and somehow, you’ve decided to throw that away… for what?”

“For a life that is just for me.“

“You keep saying that, but what does it mean? You’re still going to look for someone new once you’ve arrived in Realm, how much about you will it be then? I don’t know who you think you’re trying to fool, but it’s not me.“

Now that she had readied herself for travel, she gave one final look at the place that had been her home. The meat was still warm and wet with blood, having been carved and left uneaten. The potatoes were steaming but she was already gone. She had moved on from this place and this time and was resolved to make a future for herself and not anyone else. she didn’t resent Wendal, but she didn’t love him. Not the way he loved her. His effusive affection only reminded her of how temporary he was, and how little interest she had in investing in him for the long term.

A few months back, she made the journey south to see her family in Realm. There, she got a taste of a different type of life, one where she was needed, one where she was depended on. She felt those things from Wendal too, but not in the way that she did with her family. When Annka was with them there was a sense that she was bigger than her previous self, or somehow more relevant. That brought her the feeling of being a decision maker in her own life. She no longer wanted to be a partner with someone else when she could have authority, and the ability to decide her own fate without needing to consult anyone. It was inherently selfish, but the allure was too great for her to pass up. When Annka came back from her trip south, things were never the same again.

“I don’t care about the storm,” she said gruffly. “I’m leaving now.”

“Are you going to eat dinner? The resting hours will soon be upon us.” The Stream confirmed, turning back to a blueish purple color. Somewhere distantly the sun was still shining above the clouds. The rain fell hard, and the wind whipped across the grasslands and through the rolling foothills. Wendal new that above all that fray, there was warmth and light.

“Goodbye Annka.” Once the words had finally escaped his lips, he felt the threads of his soul being pulled apart. She was really going, and there was nothing he could do about it. His heart began to break, slowly, as though being eviscerated like the meat on the counter-top; exposed, bleeding and growing colder by the minute.

Without any additional ceremony, she turned, opened the door, and walked through it. He heard her footfalls go down the front stairs of the porch, and then she was gone. She took her horse and began the slow journey south across the soggy plane, towards Realm.

He held himself together until he was sure she was out of range, and then let the tears come down his cheeks. He didn’t whimper or sob, but Wendal did feel the knife of sorrow twisting deep in his chest. He recalled all the beauty they had made together, and all the laughter they’d shared. He would not forget Annka, and just because she was gone, that didn’t mean the feelings he still had for her would miraculously dissipate. The pain held him in a shadowy embrace for many hours.

The transitions of life were still a mystery to him, but he found himself often on the beneficial end of changing circumstance rather then the benefactor of misery.

As the storm above slowly dissipated, shafts of glimmering sunlight broke through the clouded sky. Wendal mused that even in the face of such torment, light would still fall across the land again and turn the leaves of the trees out to receive it. Just like he had noticed earlier, behind the veil of pain, there was the sun with its warmth, and a hope for something better.

Story II – Terrorism

A group of four Jeshan Shifters crept along a south-facing outer wall of the City of Realm, shuffling horizontally, hiding in the blind spot underneath the extended parapet. There was a naturally occurring Stream vein a short distance away which would have typically prevented this type of intrusion from transpiring without being seen or felt. However, the group of Shifters spent a long time earlier in the day, before making their journey, moving that vein away from the base of the wall slowly. It took time, dedication and skill to accomplish, but they were not flagged or perceived for completing this critical task that would enable their infiltration of the inner City.

It had taken them several hours to prepare, but now they just needed to avoid being physically sighted instead of detected by the Bessans patrolling the ramparts. They slid sideways for a short distance until they came to a protrusion forming the base of a tower, which had a small, unlocked hatch leading underneath the wall itself. Once it was open, they filed into the dark and cramped passageways, recalling the maps they had memorized down to the number of steps. Corridors, cells and catacombs covered the entire distance from wall to City-center; formerly dungeons and secret escape tunnels used in times past. The Jeshan Shifters would be forced to navigate in complete darkness as they gathered themselves, heading into the tunnels that led under the Great Keep.

Shortly past the midday hour, Bessan Shifter scout 18902 at the south perimeter defenses reported a bandit militia of less than 200 Humans firing arrows at the patrol guards on the City wall bordering the woods. She also noted that they had a Shifter with them, who had taken up a position at the base of the wall. That section of the defenses was lightly patrolled as travelers did not often come to the City of Realm by way of the southeastern lands. The rolling hills and deep, wet forests were home to few.

The City Commander on duty took the situation quite seriously and called for the general alarm. Soon, the ringing of the Keep’s booming bell tower was blasting out the cry to take up arms or seek shelter. The sound hammered off stone buildings and down narrow alleyways for all to hear.

Soldiers piled out of their barracks and formed up in the cobblestone streets, some for the first time. They followed the instructions of their leaders, and marched towards the gates in their colorful, shiny armor. The City of Realm readied itself for battle for the first time in many generations, and common people quickly shuttered themselves indoors fearfully. They ran from the open marketplaces, common areas and businesses to find shelter in their stone houses while others fled to the northeast and the safety of the harbor.


“You hear that?” One bandit outside the wall said, nudging another. “Now we’ve really pissed them off!” They laughed as the sound of the Keep’s alarm bell rang out into the southeastern woods. A smattering of skilled and novice archers were pestering a substantial fighting force of the City’s soldiers collecting behind the southeastern gate as they waited to enter combat in the woods. The archers made quick work of those on the wall, while many arrows flew up and over hoping for a lucky strike on an unsuspecting militant. There was a cluster of no more than fifty bandit infantry guarding a Jeshan Shifter at the base of the outer fortifications, protecting him from projectiles or harassment. The Jeshan was not powerful enough to break the wall with his Shifting but could sway it a fair bit. It wobbled and shook under his influence while men teetered and pitched on top of the walkway, some falling off. More bandits were hiding further back in the trees, waiting for an opportunity to rend Realm’s poorly trained soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. These raiding bandits were brutal fighters, and the cadets in their colored armor had only their numbers to hide behind, not experience or skill.

Realm’s soldiers came pouring out of the gate in a single column into the wood bordering the City wall. They scattered into a defensive perimeter around the area they intended to protect with many more of them rushing out to take up staggered positions, with their swords and pikes glistening bright. A few hundred of them filled a large clearing around the entrance to the City and held their ground.

The bandit Jeshan Shifter waited until the Realm’s soldiers had filed into their defensive positions before using the power of the Stream to sink them all in thick, knee-deep mud, liquifying the earth they all stood upon in an instant then hardening it again. A few hundred of them stood paralyzed, or toppled, and, generally, were unable to escape or defend themselves.

The men of Realm were butchered by a wave of lethal arrows and bandit men darted in to skewer helpless soldiers with spears or pikes, while even more cadets of the Red Army fell to the next rain of projectiles. A group of archers in the deep woods continued to fire at the stranded soldiers, while some redirected their attention to the walls again, keeping them clear.

The cadets of Realm abandoned their posts, as they could not defend the gate or the wall from the Shifter without risking being shot by an archer. The men of Realm stayed away from the walkway where the raiders had range and huddled in a nearby tower while their brethren on the ground tried desperately to close the gate.


“There must have been a hundred archers or more, all very well concealed!” Proclaimed the City Commander, disgusted with the turn of events as he read the report. “We need more soldiers out through the south gate immediately and tell them to dispense of the archers first. Send all 500 men! Keep that gate open and keep the soldiers running through it!” the Commander said. His steward turned and left to deliver the orders.

Meanwhile, Lord Emperor Marion Dimsdale III had gathered the heads of the royal noble houses for a meeting in the war room of the Keep, given the unfolding events and the general anxiety caused by the disturbance. While there, the nobles and their top advisors peered out from the upper levels of the central tower, down at the southeastern wall of the City, a great distance away. Smoke was rising from deep in the woods and the first reports were of heavy losses for Realm.

The nobles grumbled over the situation and many messenger birds carried news back and forth from the command center. The small solitary tower just outside the protection of the Keep was where the City Commander oversaw the defenses; a structure only used when the City was under siege.

The Lord Emperor turned to his Field Marshal and nodded, communicating something mutually understood, as reports continued to come in of the Commander’s blunders. The Marshal turned and went about enacting the Lord’s request, disappearing down the corridor. The nobles noted that no previous Lord Emperor in the last hundred years had been forced to sound the alarm and defend the City from attack. “These are strange times… a Jeshan Shifter openly attacking the City?” a noble was heard to question. The Lord Emperor looked out across the expanse of the City.

“There is nothing to fear Lord Bethel,” He cooed reassuringly. “This is Realm.”

The Commander, from his lookout a few hundred yards from the Keep, was sure the soldiers of Realm would handle the bandit rabble, despite the initial losses. The Bessan Shifter slave at his side held a vein of weak blue Stream in her hand. “Is everything normal? Are they attacking from any other districts of the City?” The Commander snapped at her.

The Shifter peered into the Stream but focused on the areas where there was noticeable conflict. The Jeshan at the wall was hard to ignore. She saw the few but quarrelsome bandits in the woods, and that the perimeter defenses were secure and had been monitored constantly for intrusion. She saw people sheltering in their homes, while some were fleeing on ships. There was nothing abnormal going on from what she could see, given the situation.

“Everything is fine, except for what 18902 has reported at the southeast wall, all areas say no unusual activity. The Stream is undisturbed, no artificial tampering, all access points to the City are secure.”

“Excellent.” The Commander said. “We should have this taken care of in no time.”


Far outside the wall, a sum of soldiers nearing 5,000 was gathering at an area designated by a letter that circulated throughout Strayalis and parts of the northern Spiral as well. There was to be a raid on one of the large cities in the area of the meeting site, and all who could fight were welcome to come. The meeting place was several miles east of the City of Realm, on a sheltered overlook, but none of the bandits perceived the City as the target. It was believed that his meeting place was chosen because of the proximity to some of the smaller cities of Realm like Gateway and Harveston, but roads also led both east and west from their vantage point as well.

The letter had the mark of a well-known Syndicate, and Shifters had used the Stream to verify, many times, that the intent of the message is not a game or jest. Action will be taken, as stated, and those who gather to await the “signal” will be rewarded. Kijj had sent many skilled warriors; they were confident their island City was not to be the target. The coastal City of Karthanis sent many men too, in hopes of raiding something other than Karthanis.

The event had attracted all: from grotesque figures hardened by battle in the arenas, to simple folk of the Trader’s Fold or Realm. They thought themselves capable of riding to battle and winning something of value for their kin, even if it had to be taken from someone else.

The Shifters present near the encampment indicated that they were passing the midday hour, and the signal would be coming soon. Even more men arrived from the eastern cities, eager to be a part of what was to come. The City of Realm had not yet taken notice of the army camped a short distance away, for no animal or Human scout traveling nearby was permitted to survive long enough to find them out.


Near the southeastern gate, the distractors had accomplished what they were intended to, but most favorably, had also come into possession of the gate itself and were confronting any soldiers that came out of it. The bandits and defenders of Realm continued to fight in the woods nearby, with a terrible advantage going to the raiders in melee combat.

Then, at the blaring sound of trumpets, armored cavalry of Realm came charging out of the forest with the Field Marshal in the vanguard, trampling all in their path. The destriers slammed through the bandit encampment, flanking and then slaughtering the archers in an abrupt and unexpected attack. The charging horses smashed men flat as they carved a path through the woods, leaving many of the bandits dead in their wake. The remaining survivors in the woods fled west, abandoning their friends at the wall and gate as the cavalry cut them off.

The Jeshan Shifter looked at the wall, closed his eyes while holding on to a vein of Stream, and caused it to grow up, into the City. He knew his time was running out, as his remaining infantry protectors were not going to last much longer. The importance of the next few seconds became apparent as he focused all his concentration into sending the glowing vein as far into the City as he could.

The ribbon of glistening white Stream expanded over the peak of the wall, back down, and along the ground in the direction of the Great Keep. It crept and grew across the cobblestone street as fast as the Jeshan outside the wall could push it.

The Lords of Realm on horseback spotted the Jeshan Shifter channeling and the Field Marshal ordered a full attack. The horses changed direction and charged the infantry guarding the Jeshan. The bandits held out their spears; a few with swords behind them stood their ground against the onslaught. With each passing second, the Stream grew closer to the Great Keep, until it was just outside the steps of the entryway.

The Jeshan was consumed in the cavalry charge and butchered quickly, along with the remaining infantry. His Stream vein started to roll back a little, but then, it accelerated forward until it crept all the way inside the main hall of the Keep. It spiraled down the stairs and into the dungeons where the group of Jeshan Shifters that had been navigating the dark passageways under the City were waiting, calling to it. They reached out and pulled on the Stream towards themselves, once their ally Shifter had propelled it far enough inside the City for them to ensnare. The City of Realm had been designed in such a way to make it difficult for Shifters to use their power while within the confines of the walls, and certainly not without being noticed.

In the command center, the Bessan Shifter felt, then sighted the Stream vein intrusion as she shifted, peering into the situation. “Sire,” she said flatly. “I think something is happening.”

He sternly looked down at her, perplexed. “Report at once.” The other Bessan Shifter slaves became united in their concern over the unfolding events.

“That Stream came from outside the wall and it’s being pulled from…” She paused, swallowing hard as the Stream revealed the full view of what was happening. “There are Jeshan Shifters inside the City… beneath the Keep…” She trailed off, as the other Bessan slaves realized what terrible calamity was likely in store, and that this intrusion had been totally unnoticed until now.

“Alert the guards of the Keep at once! Commune with the other scouts and call everyone you can to the site where the Shifters are hiding!” The Commander blared, hoping his elevated tone would somehow affect a speedy resolution.


The cavalry mowed down the last of the bandit raiders outside the City walls and rounded up the remaining soldiers of Realm at the now liberated southeastern gate. As they looked about the battlefield, a great cheer went up amongst the men as they stood, victorious. “Send a bird to the Lord Emperor in the Great Keep right away, young squire,” said the decorated Field Marshal from atop his glistening white steed. “We have won the day!”


The Bessans realized the pending doom too late to do anything about it. These Jeshans had eluded them somehow and had breached their defenses in a most devastating way. Now that the plan was complete, the Bessans saw what was about to transpire and a great wave of terror swept them all away.

“Oh sire…” the Shifter beside the City Commander said, as the Stream fell delicately out of her hand in defeat. She looked at him, eyes wide with the truth. “They have a Streamstone and they’re going to kill us all…”

“What did you see!?” He screamed

Their run through the dungeons was over and, together, they held the Stream tightly in their hands. One of them clasped a crudely arrowhead shaped crystal and they all marveled at it once it caught the light of the Stream, radiating with unbridled power.

“Streamstone,” one of them said.

“We must be quick, they know we are here,” said another.

“By the light of the Stream be bound, brothers. For Strayalis! For the end of Realm!” They chanted together, clasping the Streamstone as one.

Closing their eyes, the Jeshans surrendered their life-energy and bodies to the Stream, as the ultimate sacrifice to serve as the fuel for one final action. All were absorbed into the Streamstone as a great power began to reverberate and amplify. They had one more shift; one last act before their deaths:

With the energy of their combined life forces, they commanded the Stream, through the power of the Streamstone, to unleash a violent expansion of the earth around them; growing outward and upward indefinitely, until all of their vital energy was gone and the Stream could be shifted no more.

Suddenly, behind the City Commander, the Great Keep of the City of Realm exploded outward from the base in an expanding, rising ring of flying earth, rock and shocked brick, extending violently over and above the City. The resonating blast grew upward in a towering column of accelerated debris, climbing high into the sky. The monstrous blast tapered as it rose above the City forming an echoing spire of dust and haze while displaced earth, rock and tons of stone bits rained down on the City, pulverizing it.

Mammoth hunks of the fortifications as large as whole City blocks slammed down into the homes of the nobility, merchants and upper class. The area around the mount of the Keep was completely consumed by a great wave of roiling dirt and rubble as a shower of debris fell in most of the inner-City urban area that little could hope to survive. Whole tower sections crashed down onto entire neighborhoods and historic districts, erasing them under huge piles of crushing brick in an instant.

A burning wave of charged dust came roaring down the streets as the debris fell, swallowing up the City in a few moments. Millions of homes were obliterated under a crushing rain of earth and brick fanning out in all directions. It did not seem possible that many in the area behind the inner-walls could have survived the complete devastation.

The outer City wall and districts were pelted with huge pieces of the Keep and rock that had been cast violently into the air. They smashed against the ramparts and some blasted through them; sending even more brick debris flying about violently. The extensive damage inflicted on the City and the defenses had exposed it to attack from all directions; there were great gaping holes in the fortifications that cavalry would have no difficulty riding through.

Smaller bricks and chunks of the Keep landed in the outskirts, often rolling through many houses before coming to a stop or cratering hard into homes, shattering everything around where they impacted. A cloud of vicious, choking dust then fully enveloped the City and all became lost to sight. The Jeshans had given their life to destroy the City of Realm, and most of those who lived there, and they had succeeded.

No bells rang out, just the faint sounds of screaming could be heard carrying over the wind. The constant coastal flow slowly pushed the dust of Realm out to sea as the shock of the sight began to take hold on those who had seen it.


The 5,000 raiders stood at the edge of the woods a few miles away, dumbfounded by what they had just beheld. “Do you think that was the signal?”


Story I – The Bessan And Her Mark

In the perpetual dimness of the northern Trader’s Fold, a young Bessan Shifter, clad in the armor and black cloak of an Academy Ranger, was crouched motionless. The Ranger’s eyes were closed, yet she seemed to stare off at something distant. Without sound, she unpacked her bow and collected an arrow from the quiver draped over her shoulder. In her guiding hand, she also held a sparkling vein of Stream. The eternal twilight of the Fold made the glinting heartbeat of the pulsing ribbon of light in her clutches seem even more alive, and it told her the time to rest was approaching. The young Ranger used her shifting and focused her thoughts through it, then, abruptly, released the arrow into the sky. Her eyes remained closed as the projectile vanished on a trajectory taking it a great distance away.

Motionless, as if carved in stone, she listened. The Stream flickered as she released it quickly, and, without hesitation, sprang to her feet and was on the move. Accelerating in the general direction that her arrow had been fired, she followed the course of her projectile precisely. The Shifter sprinted through the landscape for several minutes, paused to snap the Stream briefly, then charged off much in the same direction she had been going. The Ranger’s leather armor was well maintained, oiled, and fastened; practical and effective like a trained scout of the Academy would wear. She ran swiftly and uninhibited through the hilly savannah with her short sword and daggers tucked away efficiently at her sides. Though she was fair, everything about the way she carried herself told a story that she was a hardened warrior.

Stopping, the Bessan Shifter paused and surveyed the clearing she had come upon, seeming to recognize the place. As if from memory, the Ranger reached down and dabbed at some blood on the ground.  Crouching low between the bent stalks of grass, she snapped the sparkling green and orange Stream back into her hand and closed her eyes once more. Like a few moments earlier, she delicately unsheathed her bow, notched an arrow and aimed into the distant sky. Several long seconds passed before the Ranger took her shot. The projectile, again, was launched on a high, deep arc into the wilderness, vanishing from sight quickly.

Coming back to life without much pause this time, the Bessan raced forward, releasing the Stream and achieving a full sprint rapidly. Her short, raven-black hair frolicked about her shoulders lightly as she ran fiercely through the dimly-lit landscape. Climbing up over a hill and back down the other side, the huntress closed in on her prey. She slid quietly through the tall grass and could feel the thick stalks tugging at her short cloak and sword scabbard.

Breaking into an open area she came upon a truly miserable creature, reduced to dragging himself along the ground with his arms. This Human was now hers, and by the looks of it, the multiple and crippling wounds he’d received had left him surly and defiant despite his new predicament.

“Well,” he said, hands in the dirt. “Now you have me.”

“Indeed.” She said flatly. “Humans are not difficult to catch when they flee from justice. There is much you don’t understand about the Stream.” She jerked the broken shaft free of his calf, rendering a great shout of agony from her captive.

“Would you have stayed? I doubt you would have. You know what fate awaits me. I’d like to prolong my life, or, what’s left of it,” he mocked painfully. “I knew exactly what I was doing. I don’t fear you, or the Academy. You filthy, condescending Shifters are all the same.”

“I don’t mind your indignant nature, Humans often resist out of instinct, even when there is no escape,” she said flatly. “I want you to tell the Instructors what you know, and then, die in agony in the catacombs of Naruna.” With a smile, she jerked her second arrow free and enlarged the Human’s wound significantly. He screamed in pain, but quickly it turned to a kind of laughter.

“Quiet,” she muttered. There was a line of trees not far ahead, which seemed a much better place to stop for a time. She did have reservations about starting a fire in this area, as there could be bandits or mercenaries nearby which roamed and pillaged the smaller townships of the Northern Fold. Nevertheless, she needed to risk fire to cauterize her captive’s wounds before he bled to death.

“Don’t you want to know why I did it?” He said, almost boastfully through his gnashed teeth.

“I don’t care.” The Ranger replied, dragging him along, towards the trees, as though he were a sack of useless meat incapable of self-driven movement.

“Of course you do,” he continued. “Those were your friends. Your precious fellow Rangers and Shifter scum all died in the fire of the ruined city as it fell in upon itself. I helped the Anten. I helped them get inside and I helped them get the bridge down. Though, they hardly needed my assistance. I watched it all. I saw them come up right from under your noses and there was nothing you could do.” He had a sort of twisted smile at his recollection. “I did it so that your world would burn, and theirs would prevail. The time of the Shifters is ending.”

“I don’t need you to tell me what I already know, Human.” She quipped, clearly uninterested in the invitation to be outraged. “The Academy will extract everything you know about this betrayal, whether you want to give it to them or not. They will enter your mind and rip it away from you, so maybe the information you have can still save many others who have yet to be victimized by this heinous scheme. Then, when the Instructors are satisfied that they have deprived you of your usefulness, you will die in agony as I have said.”

When she reached a favorable campsite, she tied her prisoner’s hands and feet down to a stake in the earth. The Bessan Shifter used her elemental mastery to take a flint spark and quickly create a small campfire by enlarging the spark into flame, with the help of the Stream. She heated her dagger and cauterized the moaning Human’s wounds as his screams echoed loudly into the forest lowlands. He had been weakened to a degree that made him largely dependent on her for everything, which, she mused: much better than him getting away. It’s unneeded trouble to lose him and then spend time finding him again. Our business is to the South, not the East.

Her instincts were to put out the fire as quickly as possible after it had served its usefulness, but it had still taken time and her smoke had been visible. Once the dim had returned, she surveyed the clearing in the low brush near the edge of a deeper wood. It was a place of scattered trees, softly-rolling hills and tall grass. The forest ahead was quiet, almost noiseless, but the sound of the hissing wind continued to churn and roil the grass and send leaves flying about haphazardly.

Looking South, the faint orange glow on the horizon had a tint of red to it. That’s where the city was. Somewhere across that vast plain, many hundreds of thousands of innocents were dead; a smoldering ruin is all that remained of a once proud bastion.

The Academy must grow to understand how this happened, and what it means for the security of the Fold. How far does this treachery go? Have other cities been affected? It could show her, if she asked, but she truly did not want to see the carnage of it. She felt it, however: the bleeding wound these events had left upon the natural order, and her accumulating sorrow of not one but many catastrophes. There are many who have died, and their screams are all I can hear when I open myself to the Stream. She knew in her heart that the great city founded by the true Last Knights of Realm had been sacked and burned to ash, to then be ruled by creatures that eat the flesh of all those they slaughter, leaving no Humans or Shifters alive in their wake.

Her captive rolled over in his restraints and put his belly on the ground, forcing his head into the dirt. He closed his eyes briefly, pausing, but then opened them with sudden attentiveness. “You know,” he began casually. “You’re going to die here.”

“Really? Are you going to get out of those bonds and kill me, Human? I doubt you can even walk very far on your own.” She snapped.

He lifted his head from the ground suddenly, looked around the perimeter of the clearing, and raised his voice. “As a matter of fact,” he said boldly, twisting around to face his captor and seeming encouraged, “I don’t think we’ll be going to Naruna at all. No, I have decided I am going to escape right now.”

Alerted by his unusual behavior, she continued to banter while looking around the perimeter of the clearing, “and just how did you plan on doing that?”

“Not me,” he said. “Those Anten behind you might help me, though.”

Several Anten entered the clearing, spotting the Ranger right away. The leader of the patrol leapt at the Shifter and tried to flatten her. The agile Ranger was able to act quickly and dart away, popping up beside her captive. He was writhing on the ground while shouting something in the Anten tongue, she guessed. If that utterance is what he had his hopes of survival staked on, he’s in trouble, she thought, quickly slicing his bonds.

While trying to drag her prisoner with her, the Anten she escaped from initially then lunged forward and grabbed her leg. In an impulsive reaction, the Shifter snapped the Stream to her hand and used her mastery of the ethereal elements to blast the Anten in the face with a jet of black, tainted fire from the tips of her two, pointed fingers. When the black fire crackled into existence, a thunderous boom of sound and force resonated outward, terrifying the other Anten in the patrol. The explosive shock that radiated from the Bessan’s hand blew the ashes of the fire skyward in a plume, pushed her and her prisoner apart and flattened the grass all around. The scalding flames ripped through the Anten’s skull but turned back to a yellow-orange again as it ignited the surrounding grass quickly.

Two of the Anten who had moved in for the kill were ensnared by the engorging flames and they flailed about and rolled in the dirt to extinguish themselves. Yet, the Anten’s dead grip held her foot even as his body incinerated, and the flesh of his face melted away to the bone. The Anten in the patrol began to run about wildly, still recovering themselves after the concussive blast.

The flames grew brighter and larger, basking the area in radiant light, bordered hungrily by the darkness. The Ranger severed the dead Anten’s arm with her sword, grabbed her prisoner, and carried him into the contrasting area beyond the illumination of the fire. “If you run from me, I will find you.” The Shifter whispered to him, clearly in agony herself from some unseen wound. He paid her no mind, pushed away from her and limped off into the rolling grasslands to the East.

By conjuring fire from nothing, she suffered the poisonous, tainted effects of violating the natural order. The Shifter grabbed her stomach and lurched away, reeling, through the grass. She stumbled forward, light headed and disoriented, unable to snap the Stream or shift. Wobbling about, looking for something to hold onto, she reached out with her hands desperately to avoid falling. Finding the trunk of a tree, the Bessan remembered her training: Breathe. Let it pass through. Breathe!  The Shifter took several minutes to regain composure as the symptoms relinquished control.

Things became clearer in the dim sky as she gained greater distance from the fire. Just above the Western horizon, the Blood Moon was rising. The skilled Ranger crouched and slid through the brush as the Anten darted about, searching. Then, the screams of her prisoner cut through the night air. He seemed to have been captured and was very likely being eaten alive. Damn. She knew the mission was over.

The Bessan entered a small clearing and headed towards the deepening darkness of the wood when an Anten attacked from the seemingly empty shadow of the high, tall grass. The Shifter whirled about and dodged the fierce swing of the Anten’s axe instinctually as it cleaved the air where she had been standing. Spinning away, she created some distance between herself and her foe with her agility. It spat and hissed at her angrily, then charged, great-axe in its clutches.

Snapping the Stream back to her palm again, she shifted and thrust him backward with a mighty gust of air following her outstretched, clenched fist. The wind was already blowing all around, and her acceleration was empowered by that alignment, harnessing the energy of order rather than the corruption of violating it. The Anten was shoved away hard as he reeled against the torrent, displacing him some distance and keeping him from melee range.

The feral savage was swift, strong, and did not lose its footing when the wind knocked him away. Instead the warrior recoiled and leapt vertically into the air with astounding might. The vicious, savage Anten raised his axe high above his head and released a chilling, guttural scream; hurling himself skyward with deadly intent.

The Bessan Shifter looked at him for a moment as she communed with the Stream. She used it to locate the other Anten, noting that they were far enough away to have this fight go immediately undetected. The power of the moving air all around coursed through her; the twisting, churning energy that was easy to feel but impossible to see. Using the Stream as her guide, she brought into focus what would be the most efficient way to resolve the combat.

Decisively, the Shifter held out her flattened hand as her brutal enemy reached the peak of his leap. Then, with authority, The Shifter clenched her fist and brought the elemental force of the wind in behind the Anten, flattening him violently against the ground. His body impacted at fatal speed and was ripped into chunks, which disappeared into the tall grass at the perimeter of the clearing. Little more than a stain of fresh blood and some disturbed plants remained as the Shifter released the Stream and sprinted for the cover of the trees. Once she had some distance from the scene of her battle, she looked for a place downwind to avoid the Anten in the area, which would surely investigate the scream of their tribesman. The Anten are patrolling in the Trader’s Fold. She thought fearfully. We are at war, and the Last Knights are not going to save us now.

Waiting high in a tree for a few hours, the Shifter remained motionless until the Anten patrols had moved on. She went back to her prisoner’s remains and searched through what was left of him. Within his saturated garments, she found some handwritten notes in a language she didn’t understand. It was an item she would have to bring to the Instructors at the Academy of Naruna. “It’s something,” she sighed. “It’s better than nothing.”

“I may have lost the mission, but I have not lost hope.” The Ranger muttered to herself as she stared back at the land set ablaze by her defensive fire. It was aggressively spreading into the deep woods.  “This land is burning.” With that, she took to foot again, heading back Southeast across the Fold to the city of Naruna and the Academy.

Stories Of The Kingdom

I have been working in the universe that the events of my novel will take place in for some time (more than a year), having completed 6 short stories with a plan for at least 10 or more before beginning work on the novel. These vignettes are not a part of the story arc that my main narrative will encompass, but are instead a trip down the road of “what if.”

I use these short stories to cope with my own emotions at this trying time in my life, as well as expand my writing ability, understanding, skill and technique. I continue to revisit and rewrite a lot of this content as the years go by. The short stories that will be published as posts on this site should be thought of as unique glimpses in to parallel realities that transpire within the context of the KoR universe, but will not ruin the fun and adventure of the actual story once it is produced.

So, as I promised about a year ago, and have tried to live up to, I present the Stories Of The Kingdom: each to be published in the order that they were written, revised and now republished. I hope you enjoy them, and I’d appreciate your feedback if you have any.