The Legend of Storma

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The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Wed Dec 25, 2013 1:40 pm

The Legend of Storma

...Many aeons ago, when the Galaxy was still young, and alien civilizations were just beginning to discover the wonders of technology, the planet Krylon was not a great, united world, but a divided one, the population a scattering of tribes that dotted the land, seeking to survive, and sometimes engaging one another in brutal wars, wars that could last generations, and wars that sometimes ended with no victory. Regardless of the great losses, the beginnings of what would someday be a great Empire began in turmoil, with two tribes, vying for control of one another, in a battle that was so old, that none could even remember why they were fighting. These two tribes, the Tribe of Hardel, and the Tribe of Glerdish, became the birthplace of legend, and this legend, was the Legend of Storma...

Damien stepped out of his father's house, closing the door behind him, and taking in a deep breath of the fresh, morning air, laced with a mist that obscured shapes in the distance. He let it out, and then stretched out his wings, relishing the feeling as the wind filled them with the promise of flight and freedom, that today would not be like the rest. It was a day to remember, for it was a beautiful morning, though clouds obscured the bright blue sun from view. The world was filled with beauty, in the young boy's eyes, even though others would find reason to complain. It was a gift he had been born with, to see the good things in the world when nobody else could. Damien thought that the world was beautiful, regardless of the weather, because it was the way nature intended for it to be. It was only made ugly when many tried to change something that was perfect, as the farmers always did. Krylon was stronger, and the world would not be controlled by any mortal man. It was this strange way that Damien looked at the world, that made him special, for it was rare to find anyone so young, capable of thinking at such a depth.

In appearance, however, Damien was unremarkable, perhaps even sad, for as a child of Hardel, from the house of Aesir, he was expected to have been much stronger, but for whatever reason, he was not. In truth, for five years old, Damien was small, and dwarfed by the presence of other boys his age, who were almost twice as tall. Nobody had grown in their adult feathers yet, but it was clear how different the young boy was, compared to the others. Too young to have a mane, he was instead covered with a soft grey fuzz, the only spot of color on his feathers being his wings, which had grown deep sky blue flight feathers. In appearance, he was no more than a mere puff ball of a Chimerosu with scrawny limbs, clearly a runt, but at his young age, it was possible for him to still grow and catch up to the others, and so, he was treated with the same respect and kindness as all the other boys, though a few who could never change their opinions cruelly whispered when he was not there. Damien was safe as a young chick with no adult feathers, but when he was old enough, if he did not match the size of the others, he would never be treated with respect ever again. This dark truth, however, was unknown to him, and none of the young chicks yet understood this, for such things were the ways of the adults, their caretakers, upon whom they were still dependent for survival.

Taking another deep breath, Damien opened his wings to their full span again, before closing them, and running off into dirt roads that marked the paths, to look for his friends who he knew would be waiting for him. Every day, they would leave their homes, and go to the village square, long before their elders were prepared to venture outside, and thus, they were the only ones there. Chicks were forced to stay inside during their first four years of life, but when they turned five, and finally grew their flight feathers, they were allowed to roam and explore as they pleased, so long as they stayed far away from the forest north of the village, a dangerous place for young chicks to be. Damien arrived and found that his friends were already there.

There were five friends that Damien had, there was Horatio, the leader, and the largest of chicks, his great size and apparent strength the immediate reason for his position of authority. He was treated as a leader by the adults, and soon, everyone followed their example. He behaved like a leader, as well, if not a bit proud, for he constantly preened himself, even though there was no point, as baby feathers could never be properly groomed. The second-largest was Samson, Horatio's second-in command, and already displaying a hot, fiery temper at an early age that had on many occasions caused him to do rash things. The third largest was Marcus, perhaps the most cautious of the three, who disliked doing anything that could cause him to be subject to punishment. The fourth largest, Wendigo, was known for his silence and logic, for he rarely spoke anything, as many words he found unimportant, for he only needed a small selection of words to voice his opinions. Finally, the smallest aside from Damien, was Hamish, a typical clown and practical-joker, who was ironically always clumsy at the wrong time, and thus found that just as many people laughed at his expense as they did at those he pranked. Completing this circle of friends was Damien, so small that even Hamish was large compared to him. Damien was always something of an outsider, even though he didn't know it. His idealistic opinions and creative ideas, borne from a mind and heart that was at the very core of its essence good, did not fit in, for already the others had adopted a slightly darker outlook on life from their parents.

Today, they had arranged a game of Truth or Dare, and before Damien had even arrived, they had all conspired to have him do something that would have great consequences if he failed. "Hey, Damien, glad you could make it, we're playing truth or dare." Horatio said, a slight smirk on his beak. Everyone wore a similar expression, but Damien didn't notice, oblivious that they had something planned for him.

Still smiling, Damien nodded, "Okay." He was always willing to go along with what Horatio said, considering that was what others seemed to do.

Horatio nodded, "Alright, that's great, because we already have a dare for you. It's a good one." He turned to Hamish, "Care to explain, Hamish?" He asked.

Hamish folded his arms, and flicked his tail, "Of course, Horatio! Explaining things, that's my specialty. Okay, here's what you gotta do; you know that cellar that Chief Raiknar has in his house, that he doesn't tell anybody what's in it? Well, here's the thing, tonight, all the adults and parents in the village are going to go and hold a war meeting in the Great Meetinghouse. Everyone will be there, and that means nobody will be watching us. More importantly, if Raiknar is there, then he can't be at home, can he?"

Samson spoke up, "Okay, Hamish, get to the point."

Hamish held up his hands, "Alright, alright, well, here's the thing, tonight, when everybody is distracted with the meeting, we're going to go over there, and we're going to have you break into the cellar, to see what's down there."

Damien winced, "But, if I get caught-"

Horatio cut him off, "That's the name of the game, you do this, and we won't call you a sissy."

Damien winced at the harsh term, of course, people picked on him because of his size, but they were just ribbing him, right? They wouldn't really-

"Come on, Damien, there's no way you could get caught, those meetings last hours, It'll only take a few minutes." Horatio said.

After a pause, Damien took in a deep breath, and sighed, "Alright, I'll do it. Tonight we sneak out?" He asked.

Horatio went over and patted him on the shoulder, "Now that's what I like to hear. Just meet us in front of Raiknar's house." He said.

Damien nodded, as the first group of people arrived in the square, and the mist and clouds began to dissipate, revealing a bright blue sky, lit by a blue-white sun. Everyone then laughed, and began to nudge each other playfully.

I hope this doesn't get me in trouble
, Damien thought.

...If only he knew what was going to happen next...


Last edited by ViperaUnion on Fri Aug 14, 2015 8:09 pm; edited 2 times in total

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sun Dec 29, 2013 1:37 pm

Later that same day, right after the sun was about to sink beneath the horizon, Damien, Horatio, Samson, Marcus, Wendigo, and Hamish met in front of Chief Raiknar's house, which stood up on an old hill, overlooking a steep cliff side that dropped into the ocean below, to carry out their plan...

Damien flew in and landed on the hill, to discover that his friends had once again arrived before he had. Horatio turned to him, "Great, you're here, that means you can go in and check out that cellar." He said, before nodding to Hamish. Hamish, having become somewhat an expert at lock-picking, could go anywhere he pleased, as there was no known lock he couldn't open. He walked up to the lock on the Chief's door, and proceeded to pull out a feather he had hidden in the tuft of his tail. Baby feathers were too small and soft to work, but adult feathers were much stiffer, and could be used. Hamish had plucked out one feather about a year ago, and never lost it, which saved him time and his valuable feathers, as the only usable feathers any of the younger boys had were the ones on their wings, and they needed those to fly. Regardless of the trials Hamish faced after he had to wait for his plucked feather to grow back, it was worth it, as it only took about five seconds before the lock holding the door closed clicked open, and allowed everyone access inside. Nobody took a step forward, however, and soon, Hamish backed up to stand behind the others, and Samson roughly shoved Damien, causing him to stumble forward.

"We're going to close the door behind you, Damien. Also, another thing, when you get down into the cellar, you have to bring something back, to prove you didn't just lie about it." Horatio said, folding his arms, "Got it? Alright, then, get down there." Without waiting for a response, Samson and Horatio forced Damien inside, and shut the door, holding it closed so that he couldn't get out, "You can come out when you go retrieve something from the cellar." Horatio said, responding to the urgent poundings on the door that suggested Damien was panicking. In truth, it was a very harsh thing to do, but considering that Damien had consented to performing the dare, everyone was going to make sure he went through with it. He was not allowed to walk out on them, considering that just sneaking out of the house after dark could get everyone in deep trouble, if they were caught. The longer Damien took to do this, the greater the risk that the meeting would be over before everyone left, and the more likely that they would be spotted away from home, or someone would suspect they had been up to something.

Inside the house, Damien stopped pounding on the door, and sighed, looking around the room. The aged, greyish-blue wood that was typically used to build houses was prominent in the house, in planks on the floor and walls, in the logs that formed support beams for the ceiling, which held up another floor, and then the roof. There was a stone-lined fireplace off to one corner, and in the other, a square door in the floor, no lock visible, but with the clear aura about it that it wasn't acceptable for anyone to go down into the cellar it led to. The story was that Chief Raiknar's wife had been carrying an egg, and that when she tried to lay it, the chick inside had tried to break out of the shell at roughly the same time, as eggs often hatched only a few days or hours after they had been laid. The incident resulted in his wife bleeding to death, and the chick died soon after. The rumors of the village was that he had cleared out all the things belonging to his wife, and had placed them down in the cellar, where he could not see them. Damien and his friends had been hatched close to that time, and Damien had overheard his parents talking about it, once. He didn't quite understand how eggs were made in the first place, except that they came from females and that they hatched into chicks, but nobody had really ever wanted to answer that question, stating he would be told when he was older, so he finally gave up, and let his mind wander about the subject on rare occasions when the subject crept up.

Damien steeled his nerve and opened the cellar doors, looking down a spiral-like staircase of a hallway that led deep into the ground, the dark grey stone illuminated by two torches hanging on the wall. These torches could be grabbed from where they were held in place, and had small cages around the burning flames, glass allowing light through, and the top open so that smoke could escape and not stain the glass. It was a feature all torches needed, as feathers were generally flammable, making any dealings with fire risky. If one plume caught, all of them did, and therefore it was not uncommon to find people who worked with fire wearing leather gloves that covered their arms up to their elbows. Even more extreme, some plucked out the feathers on their arms just to the elbow, a painful practice, and even applied the juices from an animal's stomach to the bare skin, making it impossible for the feathers to grow back, as the presence of scarring in the areas the feathers grew from prevented them from coming in. Magnus, perhaps the best blacksmith in town, had done this, and claimed that though it had hurt, it had made it possible for him to make the works he was famous for, as he had a better sense of what he was doing through touch. He had brought up several times having Damien as an apprentice, and Damien's father, Aesir, seemed interested in his son filling the position, as being a blacksmith could keep him from having to fight in the war. Damien's mother had been gone for several months, fighting on the front with the Glerdish, and it was a risky thing to do.

Taking a torch from the wall, Damien started down the stairs, discovering that the cellar wasn't directly beneath the floorboards, but perhaps an entire floor beneath the rest of the home, making it a dark, impenetrable fortress in the ground, where the only exit was the door Damien had entered through. It was dismal, and Damien thought he could hear water dripping in the room. The house where the Chieftain lived had been re-built multiple times, but the cellar had been there since the beginning, and was much older. It sounded like there was a leak somewhere. Eventually, though, Damien finally reached the bottom of the staircase, and found himself in a large room practically three times larger than Raiknar's actual house. The torchlight only allowed him to see roughly five feet in any direction, so everything around him vanished into darkness. The room itself was rather empty, with stone walls and floors that were cold when touched to the feet, and wooden support beams that had been replaced at some point in the past held the roof, rafters making a grid of planks that had a decent space between them and the ceiling. Damien looked around to see if there was anything he could grab, but he couldn't see anything. The room was for the most part completely empty, and there was a damp chill about it, as well.

Taking several steps forward, something shifted on the floor, and Damien looked down to see a plate lying on the stones, smeared with something, as though there had been food on it, and it had not been cleaned, despite the fact that all the food had been eaten. What was a plate doing down here?

Damien was so focused on trying to solve the mystery of the plate, that he didn't see the silver tail flicking right behind him.

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Fri Jan 31, 2014 6:50 pm

Damien, after staring at the plate on the floor, decided that he would take the object as proof that he had been in the cellar, but in the back of the mind, something nagged at him. What if his friends thought he had simply taken an uncleaned dish from Raiknar's table, rather than go down into the cellar? He could maybe go deeper into the cellar, and see if he could find something else, but there was something oddly disturbing about being in the dark room. He felt like there was some presence other than himself in the room, like he was being watched. It was almost like he could feel breath tickling the fuzz on the back of his neck. He felt a slight gust come from behind him, and shivered, immediately wondering how there could be any moving air down here so deep underground. Ultimately deciding he didn't want to be down there any longer than he had to, he bent down to pick up the plate, still holding up the torch.

He suddenly felt like a powerful blow had been dealt to his outstretched arm, knocking the torch out of his hand, and causing it to roll a distance away, as another, mysterious gust of wind flickered the flames, and finally, extinguished them, plunging the entire cellar into darkness. It was a darkness so intense and solid, that Damien couldn't even see what was right in front of him. It was like he was blind, and he found himself fumbling for something to guide himself as he rose, his heart fluttering with panic, and his whole body trembling with terror. He hadn't been imagining it, there was something down here in this cellar, and whatever it was, it had attacked him. Damien could already feel his arm bruising, and somewhere beyond his frantic thoughts he wondered what could be so strong to do that.

He didn't get much of a chance to wonder, as he felt another powerful blow strike him between his wings, knocking him down to the hard stone floor. He heard the flapping of wings, of small talons scraping against wood, and realized that he was being attacked by someone from above. Hurriedly scrambling back to his feet, he closed his eyes, ultimately deciding it didn't do him any good to have them open, he couldn't see down here without a torch, anyway. He listened, and heard another flapping of wings, and felt air currents drifting through his feathers. Damien guessed where the unseen attacker was, envisioning the invisible wings flapping as they stirred up the still air of the room. He turned around, and caught a small foot before it could kick him, and with all his might, shoved it away, hearing something slide along the floor. His arms twitched, he wasn't used to this kind of exertion, he would be sore tomorrow, for sure, if he got out of this.

He waited again, to hear the attack come, but this time, there was no stirring of still air. This time, there came a metallic rattling, heavy iron dragging against the rough floor, the sounds of dragging chains. They came at the same time he heard feet other than his own stepping against the floor, and realized that his attacker must have a chain bound on one foot. Still blindly moving, he shuffled his feet as he followed the sound, and felt something light and soft touch his feet. Young Chimerosu down, like his own, came to mind, the same, remarkable texture and fluffiness that he knew. He kept following the sound of the chain, and felt more feathers under his feet.

Damien then heard something, bigger than him, but still too small for an adult, collapse heavily over in one corner, and he could hear a sound as though a cloud of down had been on the floor, like bedding. The chains rattled no more. Damien craned his head, and now used to hearing, he could hear heavy gasps, as though whoever it was that was kept prisoner down here had badly exerted themselves in attacking him. That wasn't normal, no Chimerosu was supposed to grow tired that quickly, unless they were extremely old, or sick. Still fumbling around, Damien moved about, and then flinched back, as he felt his foot graze what felt like a tail. The invisible shape in the darkness shifted, and when Damien was prepared to run blindly to the other side of a room, a he felt a powerful hand seize him, making him wonder how such incredible strength could belong to anything that sounded so weak. The vice-grip tugged him down, and he felt a tickle on the feathers around his face, as a beak pressed itself close to his ear.

"Who is he?" The voice asked. Damien froze, as he realized that this was another person, and more wildly, it sounded like a girl his age. What was a little girl doing chained in Raiknar's cellar?

Damien flinched, "Uh...Hi?" He said, not sure how to respond. Who was who, and why was she asking him? Was she asking him who he was?

"Who is he? He comes from the Surface Place, only father comes down Below. Is he not allowed here? What is he doing here? Father doesn't want the Surface Ones to know Storma is here."

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sat Feb 01, 2014 4:53 pm

Damien winced, "Father? Chief Raiknar doesn't have any children, his wife died and so did the chick." He said, parroting what everyone in the village knew by this point. "Who are you, what are you doing in the Chief's cellar? Why are you chained down here?" His brain scrambled for some sort of logical explanation for all of this, but the ones that would make sense were too horrible to think about. It horrified him that a person was chained under Raiknar's house, and for a long time, at that. It was pitch dark in here, and he didn't see any torches giving light. Why would anyone keep a girl his age trapped in the cellar for years? He didn't have a daughter, Chief Raiknar's only child had died while hatching.

The voice scoffed, almost harsh, "That is what Father wants the Surface Ones to think. Father lies, father never says kind words. He keeps Storma Below, with chain bound on her foot so she can not go to a better place. Storma's mother is gone, but Storma lives, Father just fails to like her." The voice came off scathing, as though there had been a grave insult in denying that she existed. "Storma will ask him again, who is he?" The demand came more forcefully, this time, and though the girl, whose name appeared to be Storma, gasped as though she had flown for days without rest, he felt her grip on his arm tighten considerably. It was like a clamp, and he felt as though his arm would be torn away if he resisted. He struggled a bit more, and then gave up, deciding there was no escaping this girl with incredible strength, despite whatever seemed to be wrong with her.

"My name is Damien. My friends dared me to come down here and get something to prove I did. We aren't supposed to be here, I could get in trouble if I get caught. Can you please let me go?" He asked. His heart was still beating fast, though his pulse settled a little when he realized that she wasn't a blindly hostile presence.

There was a pause, "I know not what this dare is, but if Damien needs something to prove he has been here, Storma will give him proof. Proof for the Surface Ones, his friends." There was a shifting, and Damien felt a stiff shaft, like a flight feather, being pressed into his hand. Abruptly, he was shoved away, and he stumbled back and fell, once again, he found himself fumbling for a guide. Storma could see in this, Damien still couldn't believe anyone could see past their beak, it was like having ink in his eyes.

"How do I get back to the stairs?" He asked

"Damien must walk to his right, and find the wall." Damien did as instructed, and walked to his right until he felt his fingers graze smooth stones. "Now, turn around, and keep walking straight. Stairs to the Surface Place is that way." Storma's voice said, a voice in the darkness, belonging to a person Damien had touched and felt, but never actually seen. Damien felt along the wall, and found the steps. He climbed up them slowly, and walked along until he reached the house above. He walked over to the door, and knocked on it, hoping he hadn't been abandoned.

The door shook, and then opened, everyone had still been waiting, "So, you're back? What did you bring to prove you were down there?" He asked.

In response, Damien held what he hadn't looked at that Storma had given him up to the light, for everyone to see.

It was a feather, a perfectly formed flight feather, but it wasn't blue.

It was a deep, dark, emerald green.

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sun Feb 02, 2014 8:34 pm

Damien's circle of friends stared at the green feather for a long time, but, not understanding how real it truly was, nor really caring, they immediately accused him of bringing something fake. Regardless, however, the feather did serve as proof that he had been in the cellar, and as such, they didn't tease him about being a coward, though they did laugh at his notion that it was real. This one incident, however, had opened a rift, as everyone realized how different Damien was from them. Gradually, they began to treat the young boy differently, but nobody would notice, until much later, how this would affect their lives. The next day, perhaps the greatest blow, the one that would irreversibly separate Damien from the rest of the tribe, occurred...

As the sun set, Damien arrived back at the two-story wooden house where he and his father lived. He entered through the pale grey wooden doors, to see that his father, Aesir, sat at the dining room table, his head down, as he silently wept. Damien felt his heart, which had been light moments ago, drop like a stone, as he walked up to see why he was crying. "Dad, are you okay?" He asked, tilting his head to one side, an anxious look creeping into his gaze. His father looked up, and slowly turned to see his son watching him. His eyes had turned a tinge of purple, irritated from his hysterical weeping.

"Damien, sit down." He said. His son, not knowing what else to do, did so, walking over to a chair and taking a seat. His father wept a bit more, choking on his breath, before he found his words again, "It's...it's your mother....she...." He dissolved into hysterical sobs again, as he tried to find the strength to say the news aloud. Damien, however, sensed what he was about to say. His mother had been fighting on the front with the Glerdish, while his father raised him. If it was bad news about his mother, that could only mean one thing. His father found his words again, "She's been killed!" He cried, before his head collapsed to the table again, tears streaming down his face. The sobs wracked his frame, and it seemed that his whole world had collapsed.

Damien, stunned, sat there in silence, before his own tears began to flow. Having always been quiet, compared to others, he made no sound to signify the agony in his heart. He didn't cry much for his mother, whom he had not known well, but his father. His father was beginning to fall apart, and it scared him. He had never thought his father could be shaken by anything, but this was horrible. A hole opened in both of their hearts, and neither knew what to say to the other. Damien couldn't make it better, and his father was in no state to console his son.

They wept for what felt like ages, before Damien's father dried his tears, and looked up at his son again. Damien had forced himself to hold in the tears, and he now sat, numb and confused, not sure what else to do. "Damien," Aesir said, looking at him, his eyes hurt, "I've been talking to Magnus lately. I have decided, you will start work as his apprentice tomorrow." He said. What he didn't say, however, was that he couldn't stand to see his son also die in the war.

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sat Feb 08, 2014 1:13 pm

...On that horrible, grieving note, the one that took his mother away from him forever, Damien's life changed forever, as he began training as a blacksmith under Magnus, and as all his other friends delved into combat training, preparing for the day when the next generation would fight in the war against the Glerdish. In the following eight years, the boys aged, grew, and continued to mature, growing even further apart. As was the case of many Chimerosu, the memories of the first five years of life began to fade, and soon, the boys training to be warriors forgot that they had anything to deal with the blacksmith's apprentice in the past. Damien, having failed to catch up with the other boys as he grew up, remained small, and physically weaker. Because of these small differences, he became a social outcast, and former friends became bullies, preying on their sole victim...

Damien was in the woods outside the village, trying to find some peace of mind, as well as attempting, in a typically-effective way, to avoid running into Horatio, Samson, Marcus, Hamish, and Wendigo. They would be free from combat training for the next hour to eat lunch, and often, if Damien was caught in their path, they would start to taunt him, sometimes even resorting to force, though thankfully, the worst they had done was shove him to the ground. They hadn't resulted to actual punches and kicks, yet, though he was positive he wouldn't be safe from such abuse for long. It got worse every year, but Damien would survive it. He always scrapped through, and some day, he would show them he could do something great. He just needed to endure it, because he always knew that deep down, they didn't actually have the guts to do something that would kill him. That was the thing about him, somehow, Damien always felt like he could look at someone and see the very soul that made them who they were.

Now thirteen, any trace of baby feathers was long gone, fallen out and replaced with the stiffer deep blue plumes of an adult's. Despite still being regarded as small, Damien had grown larger, and though in general, he still lacked strength or definition, his wings, which he used far more often than most Chimerosu who might have preferred to walk somewhere, rippled with the muscles used to flap them. He was always hoping he would be taller, and maybe inherit some of the physical prowess that his father seemed to have without working to get it, but it seemed he took more after his mother, who supposedly had to work to maintain any sort of musculature at all. In truth, most people thought Damien looked like his mother, although the general memory of her was so faded, people couldn't quite clearly remember what she looked like. One thing was certain, Damien had nothing in common with his father in regards to appearance. His feathers were a tinge deeper blue than his father's, much bolder in color, the stripe markings darker and more defined. His wings were shaped differently, with narrower tips, and somewhat more compact in their span, more like a forest-dwelling bird of prey, versus his father's, which were enormous, with fanning edges that made it possible for him to soar, much like the rest of the Chimerosu in the Tribe. Damien was incapable of soaring like everyone else, so he had to flap his wings more often, but he was also much better at maneuvering than everyone else, perhaps more so than any other Hardel member. He also regarded himself as generally swifter, and thus, in his own way, a better flier than anyone else. In addition to his strange wings and flight patterns, Damien had pale, nearly white rings of feathers mid-way down on the back of his lower legs on all four limbs used for walking, and his mane was shorter and would spring out, almost tousled-looking, like most would look if they had been caught in a rainstorm. He also had to constantly bathe, for he had never seen a Chimerosu produce so much oil as he himself did, and such sleekness of the feathers was seen as dirty. Indeed, he looked nothing like his father Aesir.

Having found a weapon that agreed with him, after failing miserably on multiple occasions to wield heavier weapons such as maces, axes, and swords, Damien had become a proficient archer, his sharp eyes easily hitting a mark across a long distance. He often used hunting as an excuse to escape the torture inflicted on him by the other boys his age, but this came at a cost. Despite his incredible skill, Damien often spent more time reflecting and thinking than he did actually doing what he said he was. As a result, he seldom brought back any Meebuck kills, and as a result, people thought he was either chronically unlucky, or a terrible shot. They found him laughable, and didn't even bother to so much as glance at his bow. Supposedly, real men fought in melee combat, not like cowards standing outside of battle with flimsy little arrows. They didn't see the beautiful carvings Damien had made into the wood of the bow, which he had made entirely himself. A near-white wood, the bow featured a pack of hearing hounds, prancing about, with two on opposing ends howling at two separate moons, where the string of the bow was attached. There was nothing warrior-like about the carvings, but the bow was a thing of beauty, and despite how delicate it seemed, it was sturdy and worked.

Sighing, Damien took off his quiver, and began fiddling with the arrows, before accidentally, they all slipped out, spilling all over the ground. As they did so, something bright slipped out of it and drifted on the wind. Damien looked up at it, and snatched it, before looking at it more closely. It was a deep, dark, emerald green feather, slightly iridescent in the sunlight that came into the clearing, and clearly, real, not dyed. He stared at it, and a powerful nagging began in his mind, as he felt flickers come back to him. Suddenly, there was a flood, and he remembered what he thought he had forgotten, for in some Chimerosu, memories were merely buried, and not truly forgotten. This trigger brought all of it back, and he suddenly remembered how this feather came to be in his quiver. He had put it in there to hide it, but still keep it with him, for the sole purpose of never forgetting, around the time that he had begun molting into adult feathers, where chick fluff would not have hidden it.

It had been given to him, by someone down in Chief Raiknar's cellar, someone who had been chained down there against her will, someone the exact same age as him. What was her name? He couldn't remember, and he wished he did, names were perhaps the most important thing, in such a world that he lived in. That someone had claimed to be Chief Raiknar's daughter, and when Damien had told Horatio and the others...he had been friends with them, once...they hadn't believed him, they had told him the green feather was fake, but this one was undoubtedly real.

His grip tightened on the feather, and he gathered the arrows back into his quiver, shouldering it once more, so that it fell between his wings. He rose from where he had been kneeling, and turned to head back to the village. He needed to remember, he needed to know who was trapped in the cellar beneath Raiknar's house. He needed to help that person; what if she was starving, or worse? He couldn't live knowing that he might have refused to help someone who desperately needed it. He was the only one who remembered, so he was the only one who could help.


Last edited by ViperaUnion on Wed Jun 03, 2015 9:24 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Mon Jun 01, 2015 10:22 pm

...Damien, the sole Chimerosu in the Tribe of Hardel to recall the existence of Chief Raiknar's daughter, quickly plotted a means to rescue the imprisoned female. Despite breaking into the Chief’s house carrying extreme penalties, which would be far more severe for adolescents than for young chicks still covered with down, he was willing to take such risks. It was not a matter of challenging authority, but doing the right thing because it was not forgivable to ignore the situation. Being cunning, however, Damien had little trouble finding a way to break into the cellar for the second time in his life…

Later that night, after having been scolded by several neighbors for spending the entire day hunting, but not succeeding in bringing down any game whatsoever, Damien made an excuse to go to the forge. In no way was this perceived as strange; Damien was the apprentice of Magnus, and when he was not hunting, he was learning the blacksmith’s trade. Despite suggestions from Magnus that he should perform the same ritual as serious blacksmiths, by plucking the feathers on his arms and bathing them in stomach acid to prevent re-growth, he insisted in using long leather gloves to protect himself from the flames and hot metal. As soon as he arrived, he took off his quiver of arrows and set down his bow, in favor of donning the attire of his future trade. With his front protected by a long leather apron, and his arms up to just beneath the shoulder stuffed inside sleeves of leather, he began sharpening several swords on a grindstone.

Moments later, Magnus arrived, ducking to avoid hitting his head on metal-plated shields that adorned the walls directly above the wide open entrance. “Ah, Damien, what are you doing here?” He asked, walking over to a table behind him and, carefully avoiding crushing the quiver of arrows and bow, grabbing a rucksack, beginning to fill it with supplies.

Damien shrugged as he sharpened one particularly dull sword, sparks falling harmlessly off of his leather apron, “No success in hunting today; I kind of want to lie low for a bit, before the neighbors kill me.” He said, “That’s three days in a row, I haven’t managed to hit anything big, and even common, small game isn’t working out so well.” He said, not caring if Magnus, too, believed like everyone else, that he was a terrible hunter.

Magnus paused, “Damien, are the other boys mistreating you?” He asked, after the long absence of words.

Damien continued to sharpen the sword, not replying.

Magnus seemed to take the silence as confirmation of his suspicions, “Damien, I’ve suspected it for a very long time, but you never say anything. You know I am aware of this, but if you don’t tell me, I can’t help you.” He said, “It isn’t right, how they treat you, and going and hiding in the woods doesn’t help. People don’t like unsuccessful hunters, and I know very well that you are an excellent shot. I have seen you practice on the target behind your house; perfect accuracy almost every time. Why aren’t you showing people what you are capable of?” He asked.

Damien shook his head, and sighed, before speaking, “Archery isn’t viewed as anything in this village; it’s a means of hunting, but the warriors that are home call archers cowards if they refuse to swing a mace or slash with the sword. The metal we use is light; our bones are hollow, but regardless, everything is too heavy for me to utilize properly.” He said. “Good or bad, I’ll always be a failure to the people in this village.”

Magnus frowned, and shook his head, “What is it, that makes you think that way?” He asked, “That isn’t the Damien I know.” He said.

Damien seemed resigned, “People are cruel, especially when all they can think about is violence, and selfish, petty glory steeped in the blood of slaughtered victims. What admiration is there, in killing someone else? What are we fighting for? Does anyone even remember why?” He asked. Magnus would know he was talking about the war, and how senseless he viewed it to be, but such talk would have been taboo anywhere else. Magnus was the only person Damien shared his opinions with. Damien finished sharpening the sword, and set it down, grabbing another dull blade from the pile he had made, “Perhaps this village, this whole world we live in, makes me feel as though my soul were dying.” He said.

Magnus felt deeply frightened with these words. What would happen, if those dismal thoughts continued? Would he take his own life? “Damien, you have to let others help you, and regardless of how anyone feels, we are at war.” He said.

Damien stopped sharpening the sword for a moment, and looked over at him, his unusually dark blue eyes distant, “I cannot change how I think and feel. What would telling people do, that could possibly improve things as they are now?” He asked. “They would receive a slap on the wrist, but everyone likes them more than me. In the end, they will catch me alone, and they will ultimately beat me, for attempting to stop them. People have seen them do things before, but nobody does anything. I dislike it, when people claim to be wonderful, but in reality, they see something they could prevent directly in front of them, but do nothing.”

Magnus shook his head, “Damien, not everyone is like that.” He said.

Damien simply continued to gaze at him, “A lot of people are.” He replied calmly, before turning back to sharpen the sword. The tension in his wings and shoulders suggested that the conversation was now over.

Magnus could only look, sigh, and return back to packing things in the rucksack. There was nothing else he could do other than prepare for the meeting at dusk. He would often keep notes of important information, and generally, bring small amounts of food as well. Sticks of charcoal for writing, paper, a few pieces of fruit and dried meat; he wanted to ensure that he wouldn’t forget anything, and that those who hadn’t eaten enough during mealtimes would be able to last through the meeting. Sometimes, particularly if there was a large issue at hand, a meeting could last all the way through the night until dawn.

After he finished gathering his supplies, he shouldered the rucksack between his wings, looking regretfully at Damien, “Well…I’ll be off, then.” He said. Damien silently nodded, and Magnus, after a brief pause, turned and walked out the way he had come from. From there, a group of people could be seen slowly making a progression towards the Meeting House, a gigantic stone building nestled between the trees with its back to the northern woods. Damien continued to sharpen swords until the very last traces of people had vanished. Even the boys who bullied him would not be present; the war meeting only had reason to involve adults and anyone planning on participating in the war. Damien was in the right profession and age group to avoid it.


When everyone had gone, and the streets were deserted, Damien took off his blacksmith’s attire and once again donned the quiver of arrows, and took up his bow. The weight of the quiver against his back was a comforting sensation, like an extension of himself. Damien left the blacksmith’s shop, and in the shadows of the newly-born night, he opened his wings and flew, as though he had become one with the wind and sky. He landed before Chief Raiknar’s house and approached it, plucking a feather from his mane, and inserting its plume into the lock on the door. Hamish, who often played cruel practical jokes on Damien, had considered himself to be the only Chimerosu in the tribe capable of picking locks, but Damien had learned how to create locks, and therefore, was secretly even more adept, doing more than simply jamming the feather and shifting it until it opened.

With an expert setting of tumblers, the lock fell open, and a gust of wind blew the door inward. Damien carefully caught it before it slammed against a wall and produced any noise, and stepped inside, cautiously shutting it behind him. He faintly remembered the room, which had not seemed to change, through all of the years that its sole resident had lived here; perceived sole resident. There was a second person imprisoned against her will, but she might have never seen this room in her entire life. Damien just hoped that in his absence, nothing horrible had happened; what if she had died here?

Drowning out his doubts, Damien walked over to the cellar doors and opened them; two torches winked at him, and he grabbed one, silently recalling that last time, he had been attacked and had left the extinguished torch where he had dropped it. What had Chief Raiknar thought, when he found that torch mysteriously lying on the floor? Damien knew that while it might have been suspicious, Raiknar might have assumed that it had been placed too loosely on the wall, and had slipped out of its bracket, thus the reason nothing happened after he had left with the green feather. Damien, having sufficiently pondered things, remembered the events clearly as though they had happened yesterday. Unlike today, however, that occasion was one where nobody would have any worries or suspicion. By taking the girl out of the basement, it would be an automatic conclusion that someone had broken in, found her, and then released her.

Damien did not bother thinking about those complications yet, however; he would worry after he had gotten the female out of here. He swiftly descended the spiral stairs, and walked into the gigantic room, filled with darkness so intense that he could not see anything at all except within the small sphere of light provided by the torch. He looked around, this time actively searching for signs of life, “Hey,” He whispered, his voice echoing through the vast emptiness, “Is anyone in here?” He asked. There was silence, and then, it was followed by a draft of air, and the rattling of chains. She was still alive, but it still sounded wrong, like she was sick.

“…I remember…his face….” A slow, ragged breath followed the words, “…Truth or dare….” It said.

Damien held up the light, so that it shined on a form hunched over on the floor a distance away. It was a female Chimerosu, like him, but a wailing sob nearly caught in his throat. She looked weak, and although it was not suggestive that she had gone without food entirely, she was very thin. He could see the indentations of the spaces between bones in her feathers, which had lost any and all traces of shine, almost looking like a dull grey. Her beak looked like it was cracking, and the skin around her nostril-slits was dry and flaking. She seemed to shiver constantly, because she was struggling to maintain her own body temperature.

Damien swallowed, and, trying not to panic, replied, “I came here several years ago; I’m glad you remember me.” He walked over slowly, and knelt down by her, “I’m going to help you leave this place,” He said.

The female looked at him, something resembling hope flickering in her eyes, which, despite her illness, seemed to burn like fire, “…Torch is bright, Storma remembers breaking it.” She said, blinking rapidly. She shifted, looking away, the chain on her foot rattling horribly, “….Storma cannot see Damien…too much light…” She muttered. “…Father not let Storma go…Damien must hurry…” She said, taking weight of the situation, “…Damien pull chain off Storma’s leg...Storma kept here with chain on Storma’s foot.”

Damien nodded, “I know, hold still, I’m going to unlock it.” He assured her. He then looked at the shackle around her foot, and noted a tiny lock on it. Using the same feather he had used to break into the Chief’s house, he shifted the tumblers in the lock, the sound of moving parts magnified by the size of the room, until finally, the shackle clicked open. Damien pulled it off of Storma’s foot, and kicked it into the far corner of the room, where someone would have to walk very far in order to notice anything was missing. Hopefully Chief Raiknar would not linger down here, but he was still bound to find out that Storma had been taken, when she didn’t eat the insufficient food that he gave her.

“Alright,” He said, his heart beating quickly with fear of being discovered, “The chain’s off; come with me, and if you can’t see in the moonlight, hold onto my arm, and don’t make a sound.” Carefully, he helped Storma to her feet, abnormally light as she leaned heavily against him. She obeyed, however, and didn’t speak, seeming to know that this might be her only chance for freedom. Quickly, Damien led her back up the stairs, placing the torch back where he had originally taken it from, and checking with a swift glance behind that there was no trail to mark that he had been there. He helped Storma out of the cellar, and quietly shut the doors, before leading her without pause out of the room and outside, closing the door, and using his feathers to set the tumblers on the lock; it would be as though nobody had broken in, far more flawless than Hamish’s flashy adopted tactic of showing off by leaving doors open.

“Storma, can you see?” He asked her, looking at the thin female.

Storma gave a slow shake of the head, her eyes blinking rapidly, “Too bright….no ceiling…Surface Place….sky…night….?” She drifted off. She had never seen the night sky before, and although she registered nothing solid above her head, everything was still too harsh for eyes that had never seen any light other than the faint flames of a torch.

Damien shifted slightly, so that he wasn’t as burdened by Storma’s meagre weight, “Alright, so we can’t fly home, then. We’ll have to take the long way around, in case the meeting is over before you can hide.” He said. With this, he began leading her down the hill and along a ridge on the cliff beneath Raiknar’s house, which would hide them from anyone, even if they stood right by its edge. There was a pathway along the sides of this bluff that led all the way to the other side of the village, where Damien’s house was. Most Chimerosu did not know that this path existed, primarily because the shoreline that ran along its base disappeared with the tides during the daytime; there was no reason to look at it except to view the sunrise or sunset. Most Chimerosu were either asleep or at meetings, but the ridge was a good place for anyone who wanted to watch that enjoyed solitude, as Damien did.

Leading her along the southern ridge, Damien kept Storma to his left as he traveled to the eastern side of the village; Chief Raiknar’s house was the farthest west. Damien knew Storma was blinded, so he kept her between himself and the wall, to prevent her from falling. It was dangerous to bring someone who could not see onto the path, but it was even more hazardous to travel straight through the village. When they arrived at the end of the cliff path, Damien led her back up to the grassy main ground, and over to the lines of houses with their backs to the steep drop, one of which was his own home. They ascended the steps of the back door, and Damien slowly opened it, looking inside.

In Damien’s home, the first floor was a dining area and kitchen, a fireplace burning cheerily in one corner. To prevent hazards, the ground was lined with bricks, preventing stray sparks from causing the house to catch alight. Although the fire still had a bit of life left in it, nobody was there to maintain it, which meant Damien’s father, Aesir, was still at the meeting with everyone else. Damien looked around once more, just to be sure, and pulled Storma inside, quickly shutting the door.

“…Something warm…” Storma whispered, still not able to see, except through rapid blinks.

Damien nodded, “It’s a fireplace that warms the entire house; we aren’t safe just yet, keep following, I’ll tell you when you can talk again.” He said.

He pulled Storma up the first flight of stairs, which led to a hallway splitting into two rooms. One was Damien’s; the other was his father’s. At the other end of the hallway was a ladder that seemed to never have use, leading to a trapdoor in the ceiling. He went over to it and climbed up the ladder, pulling open the flap and coughing as the door hit the ladder, causing the ancient dust to be disturbed. He came back down and helped Storma climb up the ladder and into the room above. He then followed, and pulled the trapdoor closed behind him.

The room had the triangular roof directly above it, and was not as tall on two sides. The peak of its height was at the center, and a small round window, so old that it had turned yellow, cast pale moonlight in from the west. The attic room was not claustrophobic, and a faint draft seemed to have prevented the dust from settling as badly as it had done on the ladder. Although Damien’s father did not know that he would be hiding someone in the loft, Aesir never came up here. Storma would be safe here, for a time, among the ancient animal furs and hides that his mother had originally painted with brilliant colors. Damien had hated that his father had hidden them; his mother’s art was simple, but had always been soothing. Once in a great while, he would come up and look, but Aesir never did.

“Alright, you can talk now,” Damien said, as he pulled off his quiver and the bow strapped to his back, setting it down by his side as he sat down. There was a woven mat on the floor; a special kind of tree sap that had been placed on the long strips of vine allowed it to retain its brilliant blue color. The simple paintings belonging to Damien’s mother filled the entire room with color, even if it seemed somewhat cluttered. Storma, whose eyes finally seemed to be adjusting to the dim light of the loft, seemed amazed by all the colors, all of the things that filled it. Damien then became aware that she might have never seen any objects other than a torch, plates of food, and the chains she had been bound by.

“…Storma…likes Surface Place…no ceilings…new Places not Below…big water…small fires in sky…stars…big glowing torch…moon…Storma likes night.” She said. Storma had various limits on her vocabulary, but Damien thought there was something beautiful about the way she had described it, the way she spoke about things as she had seen them for the first time. It was beautiful, but also sad; sad that years of her existence as a chick had been stolen away in Chief Raiknar’s cellar. In many ways, Damien felt almost as though Storma had emerged out of a dream. A chick that had died years ago, a person that had never existed; her feathers were extremely dull and grey from her poor heath, but the feather she had given him from her wing at the age of five had been a brilliant emerald green.

On the night that Chief Raiknar had claimed that both his wife and child had died, a green Chimerosu had been born.

...And so it was that Storma was rescued from the cellar, and taken into a new room, that, to her mind’s eye, was like to anyone else a castle in the sky…

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ViperaUnion
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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Fri Jun 05, 2015 10:13 pm

...The next morning, Chief Raiknar, in the process of bringing a plate of food down into the basement, noticed something very strange. There was a complete absence of the rattling of chains, which should have signified that his sole prisoner was still there. Upon further investigation, he grew furious, as he discovered the evidence of an intruder in his house. There on the ground lay an open shackle, as though Raiknar himself had given the culprit its key. Later that afternoon, Damien sat in his room, deep in thought, as he often was…

Damien had been quietly pondering in his room, as he whittled carvings onto a piece of wood, where Storma could hide without fear of discovery. Although she seemed perfectly happy being in the loft all day, without a chain around her foot, he knew it was no better than Raiknar’s cellar. It was only moving from one prison to another, if all she could do was remaining in that room. Storma was a person, and all of her life, she had been denied basic freedoms that others took for granted. To be able to see the outside world and breathe fresh air, to fly in a wide open space: Raiknar had denied his own daughter these things.

The sheer absurdity, the cruelty of what Raiknar had done, still haunted Damien’s mind. What would drive someone to do something like that to their own daughter? The story everyone considered to be true was that the basement contained the belongings of Raiknar’s late wife; Storma’s existence had been covered up by the claim that she had attempted to hatch while her mother was still trying to lay the egg. It was a risk, since Chimerosu eggs hatched extremely soon after being laid, but occurrences of internal hatching were extremely rare. Damien suspected that what had happened to Raiknar’s wife was true; she had died trying to lay the egg, but the truth was, it still didn’t explain Raiknar’s actions concerning his daughter.

Damien kept musing over the subject, until he reached several conclusions. The first was that, while Raiknar could have gotten over the death of his wife, where the life of his daughter was concerned, he might not have been able to tolerate his daughter’s appearance. Raiknar had not physically harmed Storma, perhaps out of cowardice, sentiment to his wife, or because he truly felt that to kill his own child would be atrocious. Despite this, he had locked her up in the basement to hide her existence, and most likely, he didn’t even look at Storma. Storma might have been taught basic communication, which could have only come from Raiknar, the only person who knew she was alive, and she had even been given a name; despite this, her speech was poor, and the food she had been given was not sufficient for her needs.

The only thing that Damien could see that might have caused Raiknar to lock Storma away was her unusual coloration. There was no other viable option; even if Storma might have to some extent resembled her mother, it wasn’t enough to warrant the Chief’s behavior. Damien suspected that even when she had hatched, Storma’s chick down might have also been an unusual color; perhaps not green, but something other than a dark, ashen grey. Damien recalled a real event that had supposedly happened to the great-grandparents of many of the people in the Tribe of Hardel, before Raiknar had even been born. It was a story about a Chimerosu who went by the simple name of Twister.

Twister’s mother had laid his egg when his father had been away fighting against the Tribe of Glerdish, and he was not supposed to return from the front of the war until a month later. When Twister hatched, his mother loved her son, but refused to let anyone look at him, supposedly scared whenever anyone asked about his whereabouts or status. When her husband returned, she timidly permitted people to see Twister for the first time. The chick had been abnormal; Twister was born blind, and, instead of having non-functioning eyes, he had no eyes at all. Such a birth defect might have caused others to bully him, but according to the stories the elders told; Twister lived well into his advanced age, and was uplifting to everyone around him, never once thinking that it was strange how he could not see.

Damien suspected that Storma, like Twister, was hidden by her parent, because Raiknar could not accept his daughter’s unique coloration. In this case, however, it had not been one short month, but many years; Raiknar had not permitted people to think that Storma had been alive. He had claimed that she had died, deceiving the whole village, and had locked her away. Whether such a thing was done out of fear, or because Raiknar refused to acknowledge Storma as his daughter in a proper sense, Damien didn’t know.

Damien was abruptly disturbed from his thoughts by the sound of someone knocking on the front door, which echoed up the stairs to the second floor, and right through the open door of Damien’s room. His heart began racing, as he anxiously began to wonder, had someone seen him? He heard the knocking grow more furious in force, until his father answered, “Coming, coming! Hold on a minute!” Aesir called. Damien heard him walk from where the kitchen was and over to the door, where he opened it. “Ah! Furel! What can I do for you?” He asked. Furel was the father of Samson, and the second-in-command of Chief Raiknar. He also happened to live all the way over on the other side of the village.

“Ah! Good afternoon, Aesir, I hope you are doing well?” Furel’s voice drifted up the stairs; Damien could hear the entire conversation.

“I have been well, but what brings you here?” Aesir asked.

Furel cleared his throat, “Well, ah, it seems that last night, someone broke into Chief Raiknar’s house. He didn’t notice until this morning, but in broad daylight, it’s a lot easier to see that there are things missing. I’ve been asked to look around and see if I can get any information on the whereabouts of the thief…” He said. Furel and Aesir had a very good relationship; a former warrior of high caliber, Aesir commanded great respect from the majority of the village. It was whispered about that it was such a shame that his son was so frail; many had hoped that Damien would have displayed the same strength and courage as his father.

Damien began to uneasily rub at one of the pale, near-white feathered spots that were present at the back of each of his lower legs; he had developed this habit when they had started to itch and tingle, sometimes even burn, on certain occasions. It was burning right now, and Damien held his breath, although he wasn’t in the same room.

Aesir puzzled over the question, before shaking his head, “I don’t think I have any ideas, Furel. My son spends most of his time hunting in the woods, or at the blacksmith’s shop. He wasn’t home when I came back, but Magnus said that Damien was in the forge, working on sharpening the blades and adjusting maces, although I wouldn’t know how a blacksmith would adjust a simple metal ball.”

Damien’s mind pictured both Chimerosu shrugging, dismissing the irrelevant question.

“Well, if you had any ideas, what would you guess?” Furel asked.

Aesir hummed for a moment, before responding, “I would think it would be Hamish, was the door left open?” He asked.

“No, that was the creepy part,” Furel replied, “The door, every lock in the house; it was perfectly set, just as if Raiknar himself had locked them. Whoever broke in knew how to mess with locks.”

Aesir seemed to think for a moment, “Well, my best guess would be anyone who doesn’t train as a warrior; people who work with small parts like tailors, or artisans; someone with skilled hands who wasn’t at the meeting.” He said.

Furel was quiet for a moment, mulling it over, before responding, “Alright, I guess that narrows things down a bit. We need to catch the culprit and punish them; we don’t need a thief in this village.” There was a shifting of something, perhaps Furel’s feet on the floor, “Well, I suppose I’ll be going. You take care, Aesir, and let me know if you think you might have found any leads. If we don’t find anything by this afternoon, tonight’s meeting is cancelled, and we’ll be searching homes.” He said.

With this, the door could be heard closing downstairs. Damien knew that his father would not come upstairs or call him over in order to tell him the news. Rumors spread like wildfire in the village; Damien would likely find out very quickly on his own, and Aesir and Magnus both believed that Damien had been at the forge maintaining the weaponry. Damien felt a strong tug of guilt at deceiving his father and his mentor, but the chances were that if caught, it would be better if Damien alone was held responsible, and no one else. In addition, there wasn’t even a reason to be suspicious, Damien, despite being a blacksmith who also knew how to make locks, was not the only person who could have picked a lock and re-set it. Also, while Damien had taken time to bring Storma to his house and hide her in the loft, even talk for a bit, he had rushed back and risked injury by sharpening two swords at a time, at least until he heard noise coming from the Meeting house. The result was that he had work that showed extreme care, but enough of it that it covered for his absence. Most would have considered simply returning to previous tasks to be sufficient, but without any substance, any proof that Damien had been there for longer than he actually had been, it was see-through.

In the end, however, for all of Damien’s careful planning, he knew he would have to do something, or he would get caught, and if it was possible for him to keep it secret, Raiknar would just lock Storma in his cellar again. Damien had to somehow hide Storma, and not only did he have to find a hiding place before nightfall or earlier, it couldn’t be anywhere in the village, because all of the buildings would be searched. He could only conclude that if he hid her somewhere, it had to be outside, and not in a traditional spot. The woods ran the risk of being searched in secret while the village was examined publicly; it was too traditional a hiding place. Ultimately, the best hiding place boiled down to one spot: the bluff.

The cliff side path, the same one that Damien had just used to bring Storma to his house the previous night, was the best place to hide her. It was not so narrow that it would be uncomfortable; Damien and Storma were able to walk side-by-side when crossing it, so there was no need to worry about balance or falls. Storma’s eyes had adjusted sufficiently to the increased light by sunrise, so there was no risk of her blindly walking over the edge. Additionally, she listened to Damien, perhaps knowing as much as Damien did that one false step could cause her to become trapped in Raiknar’s cellar again. Although he had no desire to force her to spend an entire night outside on a rocky bluff, nobody would bother thinking to search there; they didn’t know it existed, and even if they did, what were the chances that they would suspect the alleged ‘thief’ knew?”

Quietly, Damien resumed whittling, listening to the sounds inside the house, until he sensed Aesir walk over to the front door, open it, and quietly close it behind him. Nobody thought someone would be able to sense things from so far away, or through walls or other barriers, but Damien, being a hunter, had attuned his senses, so the slightest sounds gained his attention. Although Chimerosu were able to sense air current changes naturally, that was only important when flying; most of the time air current changes were ignored. In addition to learning how to listen for the faintest amount of information, Damien had learned to constantly take into accord drafts and air currents, regardless if he was flying or on the ground. In this way, as a hunter, he had a powerful sense of his surroundings, and things were not able to sneak up on him; it was part of the reason for how he could shoot something that to others would have been hidden.

When his father had left, Damien slowly rose, setting down the whittling knife and carving on a shelf near his bed, and made his way to the end of the second-floor hallway, climbing up the ladder and into the loft. Storma, having never seen anything resembling daytime before, stared out the window, although it was so clouded by age that most things were obscured. Damien felt that it was probably better this way; if the window were clear, then people would notice that someone was looking through it. Because it was brighter outside than in the loft, however, nobody would register a Chimerosu in the shadows, and Storma was free to make out any shapes that she found interest in. She did not recognize the strange, leather-winged animals that glided through the sky, or the odd, wispy white things drifting in the azure blue.

She heard Damien enter the loft, however, so she spoke, although she did not take her eyes away from what she saw, “Surface People, Storma sees Surface People walking around on big solid dust floor.” She said. She didn’t know what the dirt road was called, or that in the outside world, untouched land was called the ground. Floors and dust were all she knew, but it was descriptive enough for Damien to understand it.

Damien nodded, “The people are walking down the dirt road. The floor is called ‘ground’, Storma.” He said.

Storma looked up at the cloudy sky, “What is Surface People word for flying white feather?” She asked.

Damien tilted his head, “Those are called ‘clouds’.” He answered. Although most people in the village would have been irritated by being asked questions about what certain objects were called, when it was taken for granted that someone would know, Damien did not seem to grow tired of providing answers. Storma, despite her language not being as polished as anyone else her age, and lacking many words for common everyday objects, possessed a surprisingly wide vocabulary, despite having spent her entire life in the cellar. Damien suspected that Raiknar had at some point taken the time to teach his daughter at least rudimentary communication, as well as basic descriptions and objects. Despite this slight evidence of something resembling fatherly love or concern, it seemed that once Storma was able to form sentences that a person could understand, Raiknar had abandoned the venture. It was possible that Raiknar, early on in Storma’s life, had been more concerned with her health and development, as she was a dependent chick who would not have survived without someone feeding her and providing care. He might have grown more neglectful over the years, but much of that was a mystery.

Pushing thoughts of the Chief of Hardel’s cryptic actions into the back of his mind, Damien acknowledged that Storma had somehow developed her own language, containing words and phrases for various things that were descriptive enough to effectively carry over their meaning to others. ‘Surface Place’ was Storma’s name for the village that she had never gotten to see until now. ‘Below’ was a title she had given to the cellar, because of the knowledge that it was underground beneath the surface. ‘White flying feathers’ and even ‘big solid dust floor’ were descriptive enough for Damien to recognize what Storma referred to. Damien did not know if he understood her because it was easy to understand, or if it was because he was gradually adjusting to her manner of speech. For all he knew, anyone else would have been completely confused.

Before Damien could enter into another long conversation, however, he had to immediately remind himself that Storma and his own person were in danger, as long as Storma remained in a place that would be searched by Raiknar’s men. It was very hard, however, for him to feel stressed or worried around her; she was so unaware of the danger, and her speech was so simple that it flowed like poetry. She also whole-heartedly trusted him, and being trusted with the responsibility for her well-being made Damien feel like none of the villager’s opinions mattered. Storma’s happiness alone, in the simple actions of examining the morning sky, brought Damien more joy than news of foes slain in the war. It also affirmed his feelings towards the never-ending obsession with violence; it seemed even more senseless now, than it did before.

“Storma, I need you to follow me. Bad people are going to search the homes tonight; they’re looking for you. You need to hide, and if we wait for too long, more people will be around. I need you to come with me before there’s too much risk of being seen.” He said.

Storma looked back at Damien this time, and nodded, “Storma does not like Father, Storma does not like Below; Storma does not want to go to Below.” She said. She seemed to somehow immediately understand the connection between her disappearance from the cellar, Chief Raiknar, and the village. Damien chided himself for thinking she would not fully understand; she was his age, and regardless of how little she had actually been taught, she was very smart.

Damien led Storma through the trapdoor hurriedly, keeping her close by his side so that she would not be left behind. They made their way down the stairs and out the back door, past the thick straw bales with wooden targets on their front that Damien used for archery practice, and over to the edge of the bluff, where they both immediately disappeared. When their heads were below the ledge, Damien paused, checking for any indication that they had been seen. When there was none, he continued down the path until they were at the spot the furthest down from the top, dark blue waves crashing below, although only a faint spray reached them; the shoreline normally present at the bottom had vanished as soon as the sun had risen. Here, Damien stopped, examining the area, and acknowledging that it was large enough for a single person to spend the rest of the day and night here.

“Storma, I do not like making you do this, but you must stay in this spot until tomorrow morning. Any other place is too dangerous for me to hide you. I will come back with food and water, but you must hide here.” He said.

Storma looked down at the ocean, now seeing what she had heard the night before, “Big water,” she murmured, “Sea.”

Damien nodded, “That’s right. The sea swallows the ground at the bottom of this rocky wall during the day, it’s called either a cliff or a bluff. The sea spits up the ground when night comes. The moving of the water is called ‘the tide.’” He explained briefly, to dispel questions. He had to move away from this spot quickly, at least until later, or people would wonder where he had been. He had left his bow and arrows at home, so he could not have been hunting. He would make an excuse for it by going into the northern woods a ways and collecting sticks appropriate for making arrows; straight branches were surprisingly hard to find, so any number would have been acceptable if he was found by a secret patrol, if Raiknar sent any.

“Storma, I have to leave quickly, or people may be unhappy if they do not know where I am. I do not want them to know you are here.” He explained.

Storma nodded, “Damien has helped Storma leave Below, Storma will let Damien protect himself from Father.” Once again, she seemed to know that her father was the one who was responsible for the incident, and that somehow, Damien would be punished. He had told her that he had not been permitted in the cellar, so it was also possible that the conclusion was an obvious one.

Damien gave a brief smile, and turned and quickly ran back up the path, using his wings to move even quicker, until he reappeared behind his house. From here, he darted off into the woods, and disappeared.

…And so it was that Damien’s daring actions had placed both himself and Storma in possible peril. Whether or not he would be caught, or if Storma would be discovered, was a mystery to them both. The fear of discovery, of being captured, was immense, and although Storma maintained a calm face, her own feelings were in turmoil. Both were under great stress, but despite this, they worked well under the pressure. It was necessary for them to do so, for being discovered might threaten their very survival…

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sat Jul 04, 2015 2:34 pm

…Later the next morning, Damien returned to the bluff in order to recover Storma and return her to his attic. As his father had been warned, all of the houses in the Tribe of Hardel had been searched in the afternoon the day before. The night that followed, Damien struggled to sleep as he saw a multitude of torch lights slowly combing the woods, searching for what had been stolen from Chief Raiknar. By morning, it was announced that the thief had gotten away, but Damien knew better…he had to find somewhere to hide Storma that was safer…

Damien saw Storma look up as he carried the plate of food down to her. Knowing that she would have been hungry after sitting on the bluff all throughout the day and previous night, he had taken the liberty of going hunting extremely early in the morning, before the sun even rose, and quietly cooking a small tree-dwelling animal in his home’s fireplace. His father Aesir had been among the men privately asked to aid in the night-time search of the woods, so there had been no risk of him wondering why his son was cooking so early in the morning. Damien knew, however, that he and Storma had survived most of the previous events by sheer chance and luck alone. While it was also true that Damien considered what Raiknar had done to his daughter to be wrong, he could still not help but feel conflicted. He had deceived his father, his mentor, and the entire village. Although nobody but Aesir and Magnus had been nice to him, there was still a crushing sense of guilt; lying was wrong, regardless if it had a noble cause behind it.

Swallowing these doubts, however, Damien did not know if he really feared being captured, by this point. He was sleep-deprived and anxious, and if he was caught, he would either be killed or exiled to the Wilderness that spanned a vast, unexplored area beyond the northern woods. They would either execute him in any one fashion among a multitude of different methods, or he would be sentenced to travel out into places unknown, fated to be torn apart by wild animals that were said to be impossible to fend off alone. Exile was exceptionally cruel, and for those slated for it, the unlucky prisoners would be held in cells, released into the Wilderness at least one month apart, to ensure that they would not make contact and work together with other exiles. There was risk, though, already, even before rescuing Storma, that Damien would at the very least be exiled.

In the Tribe of Hardel, it was something of a tradition to weed out the weak, and no less, in an exceptionally cruel manner. It was not right for one such as Damien to know about such things, but he was thirteen, and old enough to know about the ceremonies of his people. The Sifting of Ages, held every thirty years, was an event in which all of the male children of a generation, ranging in age from thirteen to seventeen, were pitted against each other in bitter competition, doubling as entertainment for the entire tribe. This was not merely a contest, however, but a vicious test of survival. The main event was the melee combat, in which boys would select a weapon and fight each other until the opponent either forfeited or was knocked out; killing was strictly forbidden, but injuries still resulted.

The groups would be paired, the losers would be weeded out, until a final round of combat was held and an ultimate champion was crowned. Then, there came the redemption rounds, in which the losers of the first round battles fought each other. In the redemption rounds, weapons were not used, only sheer physical might, in order to conserve the energy of the contestants. Redemption rounds were held until only one person had truly lost. The boys were barely given sufficient time to rest between fights, and the entire event was finished by the end of the day, beginning at dawn, ending at dusk, unless there was a large group of people in the competing age groups, in which case it would go through the night and end by daybreak. Everyone was obligated to participate if they met the criteria.

Damien knew that the next Sifting of Ages would happen in two years, when he was fifteen. He also knew, however, that nobody would be thirteen or fourteen, so fifteen-year-olds would be the youngest age group. The youngest age group was in the most danger of complete loss; even the strongest boys like Horatio or Samson would be easily dispatched by older boys that were sixteen or seventeen. It was not uncommon for the entire redemption portion of the dark celebration to consist entirely of the youngest Chimerosu present. What Damien knew, however, was that if he were forced into the redemption rounds, he would lose. He had not caught up to the boys in strength as he grew older, and that meant his life meant nothing as a warrior. His arrows made no difference.

Morbidly aware of his own time in the village growing short, Damien supposed that the most he could do was try to protect someone else with his life, instead of living entirely as a useless hunter that no one cared for. Quietly, he handed Storma the plate of food, and sat next to her, staring out at the low-hanging sun as it slowly rose into the sky. “Sorry that I left you on the ledge like this, Storma. I didn’t know where else to hide you,” He said, feeling ill at heart. He was living in a tribe filled with horrible, evil people, who casually did terrible things, and only now was he beginning to realize the depths of it. Perhaps it might be better if he was exiled, so that he was no longer associated with them; suddenly, even learning how to sharpen a sword, knowing what it was used for, sickened him.

Storma took the plate of food from him, and looked out over the ocean, before returning her gaze to him, “Damien looks filled with despair. Damien has seen many sad things in Surface Place. Storma knows. Surface People do bad things to Storma and Damien and all people like them. Surface Place is bad; Storma and Damien should not live with Surface People with eyes that do not see bad things when Surface People do them.” She sighed, before taking a bite of food, chewing, and swallowing, “Damien caught food with his flying beaks, Damien has good eyes.” She said. Damien’s eyes widened and he looked at her, and she proceeded to respond to the question forming in his real beak, “Storma saw Damien pretend to get food on big grass things. Damien hid and got food for Storma, Damien took big risk.”

Damien proceeded to close his beak, before responding with something different, “I sometimes feel like this place is suffocating me, like I can’t breathe. Everyone, even the people I love, I just…I can’t stand them. They know that they’re helping people make weapons for war, or trying to make it so people our age grow up to fight and kill Glerdish warriors. I don’t understand it, how they can be so casual about it.” He then took a deep breath, “Are the Glerdish like Hardel, also? Do they spend their days in that swampy territory they call home killing their weakest members and glorifying their vanquished foes? Isn’t all of this wrong? Nobody even tells us why we’re fighting, anymore, and I doubt anyone remembers.” This was the first time he felt like he wouldn’t be penalized or stopped from giving his opinions.

Storma continued to eat as she spoke, “Storma does not know why people do bad things. Broken people, something inside hearts not working, Storma thinks. Surface People need truth brought to light, but some people more broken. Bad broken people hate truth, hate Storma and people like Damien, hate people that like truth.” Having already eaten all of her food, she set it aside, and looked at Damien with her sunken eyes in an almost skeletal face, “Storma want Father love Storma, but Father hate Storma, so Storma try to hate Father, but Storma still want Father, even when Father hurt Storma.” She slowly stood back up, looking thin and weak, but somehow, stronger than she had looked previously, “Storma not like Surface Place. Damien help Storma leave. Storma put Damien in danger.”

Damien felt his heart practically stop with shock, as he sprang back to his feet, “But you’re not strong enough to leave the village,” He had to keep himself from yelling out the words. “There are no boats here, and the only place you can go is north to the Wilderness. It is not possible to go into the wilds, even if you were healthy. The animals there will kill you.” His voice came out stunned. She had suggested a radical, dangerous idea that could very well end with her death. Damien could not let her die when he had tried too hard to keep her from death already.

Storma shook her head, “Storma not weak, Damien let Storma hide in Damien’s House until stronger, then Storma leave. Damien not make Storma stay in Surface Place. Storma want Damien live.”

Damien shook his head, “You can probably hide in the loft for a bit longer, but I can’t let you go into the Wilderness, Storma. I can’t leave you in a place that would kill you.” He said, feeling himself grow upset.

Pausing for a bit, Storma sighed, “Storma will agree with Damien, but Damien must find way make Storma safe and Damien also safe. Nobody be hurt by Father. Storma want no person hurt.”

Damien felt himself calm down, “Alright, well, before too many people are active, I’ll take you back into the loft. Hide there, and if you hear any voice other than mine, don’t make noise, or you might be found. I don’t want them to find you.” He said. “Come with me.”

…With this, Damien led Storma back to his house, where he returned her to the loft, where for an entire three months she did as instructed. Damien would bring Storma food, and Storma would remain quiet whenever someone other than Damien was inside the house that she could hear. With great care placed into providing healthy meals, Storma rapidly began to gain weight and muscle, her body restoring itself after years of neglect. Her dull grey feathers returned to their original brilliant emerald shine, and her movements and voice grew stronger. At night, Damien began taking her into the woods, and in his private hidden clearing where he often only stayed with himself and his thoughts, he began teaching her how to fly. Once Storma could fly, he taught her how read, and how to write her name, and the basics of tracking animals in the forest. However, one night, when Storma could finally pass as normal, she emerged from Damien’s house while he was still asleep, and vanished into the forest, leaving no trace of where she had gone.

The next morning, Damien awoke and with dismay found Storma was missing. He searched the northern woods, and reached the conclusion that she had ran away into the Wilderness. Aware that he could go no further, he returned home in a depression, which continued to linger long after Storma had left.  He became quiet and withdrawn, until finally, he was declared mute, after refusing to speak, even when threatened with severe punishment. The two years before the Sifting of Ages began to pass, and as the war with the Glerdish worsened, Damien grew increasingly distant from everyone, even his father and Magnus, as he remained silent, never revealing what afflicted him.

Finally, the week before the Sifting of Ages’ beginning ceremonies, a youthful stranger arrived in the village, introducing himself as Graven, and proceeding to trade with Hardel in place of his reportedly ill father, before being imprisoned under the suspicion that he was a Glerdish spy. That day, a trial was held, and without proper defense, Graven was convicted and thrown into a cell, to be kept for obtaining information about the Glerdish. Despite this, the young Chimerosu insisted that he was from the Tribe of Kaleen located far to the west. Angrily, Graven refused to speak of the war, and repeatedly accused Hardel of extreme cruelty, deeming the Sifting of Ages unjust, and claiming that his mistreatment would be deemed an act of war by the Kaleen.

Three days after this routine, Graven resigned himself to getting no further with screaming angrily at the citizens of Hardel, and sulked about in his cell behind the Great Hall, until the night before the Sifting of Ages, when a silent young flightling emerged from the woods that he had seen before, who was weaker than the others, and was, according to everyone else from what he had managed to overhear, mute, after an unknown cause took his voice two years ago...

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ViperaUnion
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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sun Jul 05, 2015 2:00 pm

...When Damien emerged from the woods, Graven stared at him, aware that he was apparently reactively mute, much like everyone else in the village, when he never responded vocally in any circumstance. Having only seen him in a crowd, it was the young Kaleen trader’s first time seeing what he actually looked like…

Allegedly being fifteen years of age, the Hardel archer Graven had heard many call Damien, wore a simple dark grey-blue leather quiver on his back so that it was situated between his wings, the three straps that supported it comfortably resting over his chest. Arrows filled it; the feathers used appearing to have been plucked from his own mane, having a characteristically oily shine. Damien’s feet were wrapped with well-fitting strips of soft leather the same color as his quiver, in contrast to the heavy metal greaves of Hardel armor. The straps went under the bottom of his feet and covered the upper part of the front and back of each foot, before wrapping around his lower legs and ending beneath the joint of his leg, notable care taken not to crush any feathers so that ones left bare seamlessly went over the leather. Damien’s toes were left free, and the soles of his feet were protected, but he would still have the flexibility akin to one without anything on their feet at all.

More fitting of an archer, Damien wore different gloves on each hand made to match the rest of his attire in color. His dominant hand being his right, the right hand was fitted with the glove that would have been used to pull back an arrow. This glove covered his first, second, and third fingers, leaving his thumb and fourth smallest finger bare, only needing to protect the sides of his fingers that could be injured by the friction of the arrow when it was launched. His left hand, used to hold the bow, was fitted with a differently designed glove that covered the thumb and first finger, along with the base of the second finger to allow a better fit. Other fingers were left bare, and this glove also consisted of an arm guard, protecting his forearm from friction burns along the side.

To Graven’s eye, Damien appeared to be a very professional hunter, although it seemed that Hardel was not fond of archery, for whatever reason considering it cowardly in contrast to melee weapons used to fight at close range. Graven had also heard that Damien was not actually a hunter, but the apprentice of the blacksmith Magnus. Despite this, however, Graven saw hardly any indication of Damien’s actual profession, and if it bothered anyone that Damien seemed more like an archer than a blacksmith, he did not appear to be concerned. Damien’s bow, which he was carrying in his left hand, was beautifully carved, something Graven doubted that anyone in Hardel would have done aside from Damien himself. Under normal circumstances, the young blacksmith’s apprentice might have put Graven’s mind at ease, but the complete absence of any expression on Damien’s face, along with his time of arrival, made him nervous.

“You, there, what are you doing here? Are you not supposed to rest so that you can effectively participate in that barbaric Sifting of Ages? You will be banished if you fail to defeat your opponents. You should not be here; you should be at home trying to…” Suddenly Graven paused, as he realized that Damien would not voice an answer. He had also noted something that he hadn’t immediately thought about. Damien was very small, much smaller than anyone else that appeared to be of the same age, and he was only three years younger than Graven himself. Damien’s growth, for whatever reason, was stunted, whether it was due to naturally being small, or because of a lack of proper nutrition or even stress that took all the energy away from his body as it attempted to develop. It seemed as though Damien was constantly tormented by a group of boys his age, and thinking back, Graven even recalled perhaps seeing a certain degree of physical abuse by Damien’s peers.

Graven came to a sad realization: Damien likely believed that if he was unable to fend off his peers in a normal situation, he would not stand any chance of survival in the hideous celebration that was supposed to occur in the morning. It was possible that, behind the apathetic expression that Damien wore like a mask, he was tormented by the thought of his own impending death, and the helplessness of knowing he had already lost. As he had stood in the cage outdoors behind the Great Hall, Graven himself had experienced a terrible feeling that his own life would end, but even so, Hardel had deemed him more valuable alive than dead. As long as Graven seemed capable of providing information, he would be permitted to live. Damien, however, probably felt even worse, knowing that the absolute loser of the Sifting of Ages would be exiled, forced out because they would be deemed useless entirely.

Graven lowered his gaze away from Damien, shaking his head slightly, “I’m sorry…” He said, not sure what extracted the apology from him. As expected, the blacksmith’s doomed apprentice said nothing in response, and continued to stare at him in an eerie, ghost-like manner. Graven looked back up at him, meeting that gaze, although it made him want to look away, how ghastly it was, seeing someone who to their own mind’s eye was already dead, already fading into the desolate ether. “Why are you here? Your name is Damien, correct? Why have you come here? I am of no help to you…” Graven felt himself filled with despair, even though this time, it was for someone else, and not himself.

Damien looked over into the distance of the town, where Graven knew that the people of Hardel had been preparing an arena over the course of the week for the Sifting of Ages. It would sit empty through the night, but would be filled with spectators the following morning, thirsting for the blood of the ceremony’s participants. Graven felt a wave of nausea pass through him at the thought, and saw a brief flicker of emotion on Damien’s face. The silent archer clenched his free hand into a fist, his left hand’s grip on the bow tightening. He seemed to shudder at what he knew would happen; he was frightened, and at the same time, filled with a rage so blindingly dark that Graven was taken aback by it. All in the brief show of emotion through the mask Graven saw these things.

Struggling at first to find the words, Graven finally responded, although there was no conversation to speak of, “You don’t like what Hardel is doing. You hate it, and not just because of what’s happening tomorrow.” He said, voicing aloud what he felt that Damien was thinking. “The entire war has turned your tribe into a group of savages.” He said, although the statement was partly his own opinion; he was appalled by the behavior of Hardel as a whole, and wondered that if the Kaleen found out about his imprisonment, whether or not it would be good to go to war over it. War had become central to Hardel, and the Kaleen were focused primarily on trade. War might be an enormous mistake, with high penalties, although all the same, a part of Graven wanted some sort of punishment for the evils of what had been done.

Damien tore his gaze away from the arena in the distance and sighed, shaking his head slowly, and in the dim light, Graven thought he could make out tears. Surely, even if he was not what the tribe wanted in its young boys, he had people that he loved and was attached to. Even if Damien refused to speak, he still cared deeply about those people, and the thought of not being able to see them again would be torture. It was this, and perhaps more; Damien may have felt sorrow and remorse over the entire village’s actions, somehow responsible, although he had no control over their actions. There was something even deeper than this, but Graven was not sure what it was; it was likely whatever had caused Damien to fall silent, the thing that was so terrible that he refused to speak at all.

“Why have you come here, Damien?” Graven pressed again, this time certain he had accurately named the young flightling. Damien looked up at Graven, the eyes through the mask suddenly glinting like a knife, that terrifying anger again. He reached up and plucked a feather from his mane, and stepped up to the cage, eyeing the lock, and then raising his gaze to look up at Graven, giving a slight shake of his head. Graven realized that Damien believed him; out of the entire village, Damien openly believed that Graven was not from the Glerdish, but of the Kaleen. Graven’s voice caught in his throat slightly, “You believe me?”

Damien gave another faint, barely perceptible nod, and inserted the plume of the feather inside of the lock. His hand made precise, delicate motions, as though he already knew about its inner workings; there was nothing abrupt or probing about it that suggested that he had never touched it before. There was a turn of the wrist, and the lock clicked. The door of the cage began to slowly swing open, and Damien caught it, slowly moving it aside to prevent even the faintest sound of clanging metal that would alert anyone to what he was doing, allowing Graven to step out of it. A traitorous action that was filled with rebellious intent, kept completely silent with the perfection of a master.

When Graven stepped out of the cage, Damien slowly closed the door back where it was, re-setting the lock so that it was as though Graven had vanished; no one would have known that it had been opened, were it not for the sudden absence of the prisoner. “I did not know feathers could be used for that purpose…” Graven said quietly, to which Damien responded with a small nod, and the faintest hint of a devious smile. Graven’s eyes widened, “You’re the blacksmith’s apprentice, did you, perhaps…?” Damien nodded. It had been Damien himself who had designed the lock on the cage, although any blacksmith specializing in something other than weapons would at least once or twice look at locking mechanisms. “They made you design such a cruel thing?” Damien shook his head with another sigh, before straightening up.

The young mute Chimerosu looked over his folded wings at Graven, tapping the finger on his free hand on one of the cage bars, his tail twitching slightly. It seemed almost as though Damien had done something like this before, as if he had already practiced the motions of helping Graven escape once before. He pointed at Graven, and then gestured with a thumb away from the village. Graven had to leave quickly, or he could be caught, and then forced to confess who had released him. Graven looked around, “Where? They destroyed my ship.” He said.

Damien shook his head, and proceeded to point at the northern woods. He then reached over his back and pulled a folded-up piece of parchment from his quiver, extending it out to Graven. The Kaleen trader took it from his hand and unfolded it to reveal a roughly-drawn map marking the village, and the northern woods. There was a red line marked leading from the village into the woods, trailing off the map in a westward direction. It eventually moved to follow a river. Graven thought he recognized it as the one that, far into the west, moved south, and traveled right through the heart of his village.

“This is a land route…” He said quietly, amazed. Damien nodded in response, and hurriedly jerked his head at the woods. He then clasped both hands on Graven’s shoulders, looking intently at his face, a pleading of sorts in his eyes. Graven realized that Damien was, in his own way, desperately searching for someone who understood how broken the people of Hardel were. Damien was searching for someone who could reveal the truth without fear. Graven would go free, but Damien was still imprisoned in this village, and if he failed in the Sifting of Ages, he would be sent into the great unknown, his way of escape to other places cut off by stationary guards that would be post at noon the next morning before the ceremony even ended. His only way of avoiding the patrols sent to kill him when he was exiled would be to head into the mysterious Wilderness, which was filled with terrifying creatures that were said to have ripped apart anyone who ventured there.

Damien had set Graven free, his final act in an attempt to stop the horrific violence of Hardel’s people. He was sending all of his hopes and dreams with him, someone who could still carry such a will. Graven would live, and Damien would die at either the hands of his own people, or in the jaws of a savage animal. It was all that Damien could do, because in his own eyes, he had already come to view himself as dead. It did not matter whether or not Damien was caught, because he would die regardless. It only mattered now that Graven lived, or Damien’s efforts would amount to nothing but a desperate action done in vain. Damien silently begged for Graven not to die, and to flee, so that someone would know what had happened in the Tribe of Hardel.

After the silent message passed, Damien released Graven’s shoulders, and pointed towards the woods, and when Graven continued to stare, shoved him, although it barely made a difference, as small as Damien was. This sent Graven momentarily stumbling, before he ran into the woods, disappearing, and relying on the light of a full moon to guide his way towards the river that he was meant to follow.

As he ran through the trees, Graven resisted the urge to stop and look back at where he had come from; every second counted, because someone would be sent to search for him the moment he was found to be missing. He said nothing aloud, but in his mind, he screamed with every fiber of his being, I will not let them do this to you! I will come back, and if I must, I will take my friends and comb every inch of the Wilderness to find you! They will not kill you! Graven could not permit himself to do nothing and allow the one who had freed him to die. The pain he had seen on the flightling’s face: his deep, heartbroken sorrow, mixed with anger so violent and deep, had greatly touched Graven’s heart. Graven could not permit someone who so desperately needed someone to care to die in bitter silence.

What was done in the midst of the people of Hardel was evil, and in answer, a single person’s scream of agony echoed in silence, never heard, but felt, all the same.

…And so it was that the next morning, there was a brief delay of the Sifting of Ages opening ceremony, as the alleged Glerdish spy was found to be missing, absent from his cage, although the door was closed and the lock set, as though he had vanished into thin air.

When a brief search revealed nothing about the fugitive’s whereabouts, the border patrols meant to prevent the exile of the Sifting of Ages from escaping into a place other than the Wilderness were sent out early, and a deeper search of the village was initiated, but by this time, Graven had already escaped to areas outside those marked as territory belonging to the Tribe of Hardel. He was already making rapid progress towards returning to the village of Kaleen by land, his boat that he had originally used to travel to Hardel having been confiscated and destroyed.

In the meantime, Damien, aware that today might be the day he was exiled from the village, handed over his bow and all of his arrows to his father, Aesir, as they were forbidden as weapons in the competition that dominated the rite of passage. If Damien were exiled, he would be permitted to take the empty quiver, along with the gloves and foot bindings that he wore as attire, but weapons would be forbidden, lest he kill one of his pursuers who would be sent to ensure that he was truly chased into the Wilderness. Silently without speaking, Damien made these preparations, setting things out so that he could leave the village quickly, for in his mind’s eye, he had already lost.

Horatio, Samson, and the others would ensure that Damien out of the group of youngest boys was exiled. They would also be likely to join the chase to either drive Damien away from Hardel territory, or to kill him, if they managed to capture him. He stretched and prepared himself to avoid any injuries that would damage his body and make escape difficult, although injuries would still regardless occur. Shield the wings and the legs from injury, protect the arms so that they can be used to make a new bow and arrows. These were the motions that he made to protect himself.

Finally, after the search for the fugitive in the village was called off, people gathered in the arena prepared for the occasion, and the Sifting of Ages began…

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Tue Jul 07, 2015 8:23 pm

…And so it was that Damien left his house, Aesir solemnly staying behind, whether it was to greet his son’s triumphant return, or to provide him with a final meal, the only comfort permitted to the unfortunate parents of the exiles created by the Sifting of Ages. The young Chimerosu made his way towards the heart of the village, where the small arena had been quickly constructed with wood, sharp spikes creating walls around it, and chains hung from larger buildings preventing escape into the air. Outside the arena, before anyone else had even arrived, Damien was there, but a threat was already waiting for him, ready to begin the adversarial spirit early…

Damien had been about to enter the arena when he sensed a change in the air currents, followed by a sharp pain at the base of his left wing. His heart immediately raced, as he stumbled forward and promptly turned to look at the attacker, lowering his head on reflex to avoid a fist as it nearly brushed the tips of his horns. His hands tightened into fists, and he instinctively began to reach for a nonexistent arrow from his quiver, before suppressing the motion. Foul play before the Sifting of Ages was strictly forbidden, and anyone who participated in it, whether one of the two people fighting was the instigator or the victim, was punishable by immediate disqualification from the beginning rounds. It was a swift way to move someone one step closer to becoming exiled, before the competition even began.

Damien’s face remained blank as he hid his surprise at seeing Horatio towering over him. Horatio, to his eyes, had been a glory hound, and Damien had been positive that the ringleader of the group of bullies that picked on him would try to win the entire competition, only to fail and simply survive the redemption rounds. Anger boiled that Horatio would sacrifice even a somewhat-noble attempt at success for the sake of sending Damien to his death. Although others likely felt that there was a chance of simply waking up in the morning and going about their day after the ceremony, Damien considered the entire affair a matter of deep severity. The one who tried to make Damien lose in this competition was not simply someone playing a game, but someone actively trying to take his life. It was appalling, how rapidly one degraded to a murderous killer at such a young age as Horatio was.

Saying nothing, Damien tilted his lowered head quizzically, as he snatched Horatio’s wrist when he tried to withdraw it, tightening his grip so that his hand went numb. Horatio prepared his free arm for a punch, and Damien looked at him with pleading in his eyes, giving a small shake of his head.

“Why don’t you tell me to stop?” Horatio said quietly, trying to prevent himself from being heard, although there was no sympathy or mercy in his tone.

He pulled back his arm and aimed a punch at Damien’s face, but rather than take the punch, Damien released Horatio’s wrist and used his wings to back away before anything connected. Horatio recovered his stance and took several steps towards him.

“You know what? This is why I can’t stand you. You’re a runt, and you were already pathetic enough for not being able to lift a sword or a mace. You didn’t even try to learn how to fight with a knife.” Horatio began, drawing ever closer, his tail flicking like a malicious beast preparing to pounce on its prey. “…Not only that, you treat arrows like they would work in battle. As if they could hurt a warrior clad in armor,” He spat the words out with venom, “You won’t wear armor, you insult the traditions of this whole tribe by coming wearing that empty thing on your back; how weak are you that you can’t even take it off? Are you so pathetic you’re not complete without those flimsy arrows?”

In truth, Damien often felt comforted by the weight of the arrows on his back, and the quiver felt painfully light without them. He was content to hunt game alone in the woods, with his ever-reliable weapons of choice within reach. He didn’t have to tackle the animals with a spear, and they died quietly, never quite knowing what had killed them. A good archer did not let them suffer and live out their last moments in blinding terror. Anything that took the animal’s life frightened it, but archery was far more merciful, if the aim was good and the arrow hit its mark. Damien seldom, if ever, viewed archery as a weapon used in battle, although almost everyone else in Hardel did.

“You are a disgrace to the entire Tribe of Hardel,” Horatio hissed.

At the present time, Damien found Horatio’s words to be nothing more than background noise, and was more focused on folding the wing that had been attacked even closer to his body, and frantically wondering if it had been injured too badly to fly. It throbbed, but there was a good chance, based on how Horatio had attacked him, that there was only a bad bruise; flapping would hurt, but it would not be impossible. Damien continued to back away from Horatio, trying to filter out the words that assaulted him, hoping to avoid as much injury as possible.

“We can’t have runts like you running around, you’ll weaken all of us with your cowardly ideas, why don’t you fight me and stand up for yourself? Better yet, yell for help, if you’re brave enough to make any sound at all. What happened? Up until two years ago, you would always scream for help, did you just give up?”

The final statement almost made Damien’s eyes fill with tears, as he remembered what had happened right before he found himself unable to speak. He had rescued the imprisoned daughter of Chief Raiknar, allegedly dead soon after hatching, and she had run off into the Wilderness when he had not been watching her. He blamed himself for her death; it was foolish to entertain the notion that she had survived. Even the most experienced of people who ventured close to the Wilderness under a regular basis were found dead, and Damien would soon die just like them. It was true that he had never been caught, but twice already Damien had released imprisoned people, and he was surely slated for death, even though there was no solid proof of his crime.

Raiknar had lied to the village, claiming he had found the items that had been missing, but Damien knew this was a lie, and the Chief also knew that the thief was aware of this. Raiknar had claimed that if the criminal would come forward and confess their crime, even if only in private, that they would be granted complete amnesty. Damien knew, also, that this was a lie; whoever confessed would be seized and exiled, or even executed, for falling for such a simple trick. Raiknar, upon seeing that the trick failed, knew also that whoever it was that had committed the act of releasing his daughter was clever enough to be aware of it. Raiknar had silently scanned the faces of the tribe, even two years later, visibly wondering who had managed such a seamless break-in.

Horatio saw the faint misting of tears in Damien’s eyes, and laughed, “So you did give up, huh? Well, don’t worry; I’ll make sure you get what you’re expecting.” He mocked cruelly.

Damien was aware that Chief Raiknar was still wondering how the prisoner named Graven had escaped. He had gotten out of his cage, but there were no signs of any sort of mutilation on the lock or on any other mechanism of the design, another seamless crime after two years of a trail going cold. Raiknar knew, if no one else did, that somehow, the one who had freed Storma had also freed Graven. The liberator was a silent threat that Raiknar would now wish to kill in silence. Not only freeing a prisoner of war held for information, but someone who could single-handedly destroy the Chief’s credibility as a whole.

“Why don’t you scream for help?” Horatio suggested, snapping Damien out of these unassociated thoughts.

Damien continued to back away until he was pressing the entire length of his body along the outer-walls of the arena, and began to think as Horatio closed in about how he would survive this encounter. It was true, if he fought back, that he would immediately be placed among those who were supposed to fight in the redemption rounds, but so would Horatio. There was little doubt in Damien’s mind, either way that he would wind up being exiled as the weakest member of his generation. The beginning rounds of the Sifting of Ages, he also knew, were fought with melee weapons, while the redemption portion was fought with merely brute strength. If Damien made his decisions based on the conclusion that he would become an exile, trying to survive as long as possible before he was killed by wild animals, he would have to continue acting with the goal of avoiding as many crippling injuries at possible.

Damien knew that melee weapons generally did not include just blunt instruments that could break bones, but sharp, cutting tools, which could be just as dangerous by damaging sensitive muscles needed for movement. Wounds resulting from cuts also bled. Blood meant a trail that people tracking Damien could follow, and it was no mystery that exiles caught by the parties sent after them before they could enter the Wilderness were killed. It was possible for many different kinds of trails to be eliminated by flying low and moving between trees, but blood would drip onto the blue leaves and clearly mark a path. Damien would have been allowed to bandage injuries during the last meal he would have with his father, but even so, large wounds could rip open and soak through the bindings. Even then, it was safer to leave as soon as he was finished eating, rather than sleep for one final night and wake up to escape early in the morning.

In the end, Damien concluded that the safest way to avoid the threat of being tracked through a trail of blood was to eliminate the possibility entirely.

Damien waited until Horatio came close, preparing to throw a punch at him, and just as Horatio attempted to deliver a blow to Damien’s beak, he ducked, causing it to glance off one of his horns, cutting along the top of his attacker’s fist. Damien rapidly thought with alarm of ways to end the fight quickly, and reached a conclusion:

He bit Horatio’s arm.

“Ah! Let go of me! What are you, an animal!?” He cried, partially with anger, and somewhat with a degree of shock that Damien would actually resort to biting, of all things.

It was then that several villagers emerged from their houses around the square and noticed the fighting and moved to stop it, “Hey, hey, you two! Break it up!”

Damien heard the familiar voice and felt Magnus tightly grab him by the base of his wings, pulling him away from Horatio; Damien quickly released his attacker’s arm, having barely resisted the urge to gag. He felt a face press close to his ear, “What are you doing, boy? This counts as an immediate disqualification into the redemption rounds.” Magnus whispered sharply, a mix of shock and anger in his voice. At the same time, Horatio was receiving a similar scolding from Furel, who was working to hold him back, with his son standing behind him. Samson shot Damien a look filled with anger and disgust, Damien’s bite having been hard enough to draw a small amount of blood where the sharper tip of his beak had broken the skin, as well as pull a few small feathers.

Damien made no sound to explain himself, nor did he fight against Magnus, having no desire to actively engage in violence. When it seemed that he would behave, the blacksmith released him, and the silent apprentice simply straightened up, wiping off his beak with his right arm that did not have a guard. Damien kept his face as blank as possible, but was disgusted by his own actions; blood in itself was not a terrible thing, but the thought of accidentally ingesting Horatio’s made him want to vomit. Hopefully he would not face Horatio during the redemption rounds, or Damien would be severely injured before he was able to go through the process of forfeiting. Samson, however, who would be motivated by the desire to impress his friends, would be just as dangerous, especially after witnessing the fight that had resulted in Damien and Horatio’s disqualification from the main competition.

Samson walked up to Damien, and spat in his face, forcing him to wipe off the saliva with disgust, though he did not take the obvious challenge in it, “You think you’re so tough, picking fights with us before the competition even starts. Are you trying to bring everyone down to your level?” He challenged him, intentionally trying to make him look like the instigator.

Damien, without letting his face betray his own inner feelings, slowly tilted his head to one side as he stared at Samson with the most apathetic look he could muster. It was clear what he intended to covey: What level? Damien had never considered himself to be high on the social ladder, but he generally viewed those who bullied him as no better. It was true that Damien was weaker, but he had managed to gain a small level of grudging respect for his willingness to hunt small game for those who asked, as well as for his swiftness in preparing equipment at the forge for Magnus’ clients. Nobody did anything to stop people from hurting Damien, but this did not mean that on rare occasions there was not an absence of concern. Mostly females with young chicks of their own who chose not to become warriors seemed to be affected by the abuse; he had seen worried looks cast in his direction whenever he was left walking with a limp or with visible injuries by a small group of people on several occasions. This did little to make Damien feel better; however, as there was never any action taken in his defense, and even if wives mentioned the issue to their husbands, it was stated that Damien should handle the problem himself.

“Enough, enough!” Furel said gruffly, as Horatio finally stopped trying to attack Damien. “We will save that energy for the arena.” He said. “Why don’t we go inside and set you up in the dugouts, where you’re supposed to be?” He suggested, choosing to ignore the obvious negative feelings between Samson and Aesir’s son. Although Aesir was a close friend of Furel, Raiknar’s second-in-command would rather it be Damien who was exiled, if he was forced to choose between his son and someone else.

“An excellent idea, Furel,” Magnus agreed, and they began leading the boys into the arena to the shaded areas around its very edges, reserved for the participants of the ceremony. While Samson separated from the group and sat at one side of the arena, Horatio and Damien were forced to sit on the other side, where those who lost were meant to stay until the redemption rounds. Furel got up to go speak with his son, but Magnus proceeded to sit down on the bench between Horatio and Damien, keeping them apart. As the sun rose, people gradually began to arrive, filling up the benches where the spectators sat.

Damien looked at all the excited faces, and felt his heart sink; how oblivious were these people, when they were about to tear apart a family, if not Damien’s, someone else’s? The only people who sat with serious expressions were the ones who had young boys that they might lose. Nobody else seemed affected by the horrific cruelty about to occur.

Just as these depressing thoughts filled his mind, Magnus clamped a hand on his shoulder, leaning over and whispering to him so that Horatio wouldn’t hear, “I wish you luck, Damien. If you win, I won’t hold you accountable for whoever leaves. If not, I won’t let a single weapon of mine be used by the party. You’re as much family to me as if my own blood were in your veins.” He said. A look of pain entered his eyes, “I won’t be implicated in this tournament,” He said, scanning the crowd that Damien was watching.

Damien blinked, his vision growing clouded as it filled with tears. For all of his logic, there was something so awful about what was going to happen. He was scared, but crying for someone to save him was too far gone. That option had left him when he had lost his voice. He wished someone would yell for this hideous ceremony to stop, but he knew that nobody could override the bloodthirsty cries of the majority. He was a Meebuck that had been born among a pack of Vorakil hearing hounds:

A defenseless creature of peace among a savage group of warlike monsters.

…And so it was that Damien remained in the dugouts, and the ceremony began. Throughout the day, everyone watched as young boys tested their strength in brutal combat, attacking each other with axes, swords, and maces, until an ultimate winner was crowned. As the sun began to set, the winner presided over the redemption rounds at a special seat next to Chief Raiknar himself, the standard for the rest of the village to follow.

As people lost the redemption rounds, it came to Damien’s turn to fight, although unlike the others, he had no previous injuries. In order to match the contestants properly, it was declared that Damien’s opponent would be Horatio. Should Damien fail to defeat Horatio, he would have to fight against Marcus, who, despite being larger than Hamish or Wendigo, had lost previous rounds due to his overly-cautious nature, although he was naturally strong. Whoever lost the round against Marcus, or if it was Marcus himself who lost, they would be exiled from the village…

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ViperaUnion
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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Wed Jul 29, 2015 8:07 pm

…And so it was that Damien and Horatio gathered in the center of the arena, after spending the entire day spectating as others violently fought, either using maces, axes, and swords, or their own natural strength. As was tradition, Damien and Horatio would fight each other and prevail through sheer physical prowess alone…
 
“Alright, take your places!” Chief Raiknar bellowed from his elevated platform, where the victor of the Sifting of Ages presided over the competition next to him in the winner’s seat.
 
The victor, from the house of Folyn, who was also Magnus’ nephew, was a future warrior at the age of seventeen named Dakster. The standard for the next generation to follow, Dakster possessed great strength and power, in addition to attractive looks and an admirable amount of intelligence. Despite this, however, Dakster was often prone to having a poor work ethic, seldom doing chores or other helpful tasks unless asked, and often preferring to spend all of his time performing physical training. He was also somewhat egotistical, to the point that he was convinced of the idea that any female in the village whom he chose to flirt with would swoon. Although it was true that a large number of females did fancy Dakster for his looks and strength, there were also many who found his heartbreaker personality to be irritating, and gave him barely a glance before walking the other way.
 
As Damien and Horatio gathered in the middle of the arena, Damien noted that, for all of his victory and triumph, Dakster did not appear to be happy that he had won the Sifting of Ages over everyone else. Forced to fight, he wore multiple bandages on his body from injuries sustained in combat, and struggled to produce a smile that to any observer looked more like a grimace. He was most likely sore from the day’s exertion, his mind worn out by the mental stress, and the wounds would without question still hurt. It also did not help that the round he was about to watch involved an unruly future warrior and the apprentice of his uncle. Dakster was strongly aware that Magnus cared deeply for Damien’s well-being, and Dakster personally had nothing against the apprentice, although he found Damien’s pattern of mutism to be strange; if Damien lost, Dakster knew his uncle would be almost inconsolable.
 
At the present time, however, Damien had to quickly disconnect himself from thoughts about anyone other than his opponent; he had to give Horatio his full, undivided attention, or he might sustain far more damage than just a few cuts and bruises. Chimerosu had very sharp horns, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to be used in a fight; as sharp as they were, severe injuries could occur if they connected with anything other than the thick plate of bone that protected the skull. Even passively, Damien had already given Horatio a cut on one hand, and the damage had been done by the momentum of Horatio’s fist alone. Although it was forbidden for someone to kill their opponent during the Sifting of Ages, even if the person would have been the losing exile, accidents happened. Damien did not want to be ‘accidentally’ killed by a deep cut to his vitals, although the plating along his stomach meant a perfect strike was needed for such an injury to occur, and a passing scrape would do nothing.
 
“Ready? Begin!” Raiknar called out the beginning of the match, and Damien and Horatio began to circle each other.
 
Damien remained quiet, watching Horatio’s wings and feet, and keeping his distance so that he could see both at the same time. He had to predict his opponent’s moves, at the very least, even if he was unable to dodge them, additionally taking into account anything that could be potentially thrown at him. Sharp horns and powerful wings were a risk, but the most unique power in the Chimerosu arsenal, camouflage, was not available to either of the combatants. It was forbidden for them to use the ability in the Sifting of Ages because it took away the skill-related aspect of the competition. In most cases, camouflage was such a prevalent ability among the creatures of the world that it was also not unusual for a large amount of the population to either instinctively identify distortions in the air as a hidden threat, or even develop eyes capable of perfectly seeing through the illusion.
 
Damien noted a slight twitch in one foot, and quickly used his wings to get out of the way as Horatio launched himself forward, but even with his ability to predict the move, Damien’s reaction was too slow to avoid being grabbed by the tail. He winced as he felt the bones being cracked by vice-like fingers, and struggled to hold down a scream as sharp horns cut into his body right above his left leg. The limb itself was narrowly missed, but the two sidelong cuts began to bleed, and they burned like fire. The observing crowd cheered at the wounds, and Damien felt outrage fill his heart, overwhelming any previous despair he might have experienced over the enormous support people held for the competition. Slowly, a deep-seated anger began to burn, and he found himself whirling around rapidly to retaliate.
 
Damien’s neck stretched out in a swift movement, as he harshly bit Horatio at the very base of his head, before quickly pulling away, ripping out a large portion of the feathers that made up his mane in the process, and then spitting them out in disgust. Horatio screamed with shock, once more surprised by Damien’s sudden willingness to return acts of violence. The crowd disapproved of the move; biting was the lowest form of fighting possible, although, judging by the bald patches that were slowly beginning to turn red and develop bruising, it was still effective. Angrily, Horatio felt the spots where the feathers had been, and the fleshy part of his beak turned a brilliant red as he turned to glare at Damien, “You’re going to regret that!” He growled.
 
Damien, rather than verbally responding to anything his opponent said, lowered his head, tilting it to one side and opening his mouth slightly, while at the same time giving Horatio a disdainful squint. The horrible truth was that Damien remembered his earlier years, unlike everyone else. The bullies that he recognized as Horatio and his posse had once been the blacksmith apprentice’s closest friends, but they had turned on him as everyone grew older, being swept up in Hardel’s barbaric traditions in the process. Damien’s friends-turned-enemies likely didn’t remember, but somehow, the knowledge that he had once trusted them made him feel even more angry, with the realization that he had been betrayed over shallow reasons. Suddenly, Damien also felt sickened, just by looking at Horatio’s face, that he was expected to weakly take ferocious beatings that left him sometimes badly injured, and not fight back.
 
Damien prepared his footing, and Horatio lunged to grab him, although this time, Damien managed to time himself better, flying directly over his opponent’s back and landing behind him. Without pausing, he turned around and slashed along the base of Horatio’s tail with his own horns, a wound to closely match the one that he had given him. It was then that he realized he was making a mistake in attacking so aggressively; he was leaving himself too open. He moved to back away, but he wasn’t quick enough.
 
Screaming, Damien’s foe contorted his body, smashing his skull into Damien’s side, directly behind his first pair of legs on the right side, causing him to stumble away, with excruciating pain shooting along his entire body from the blow that had been dealt to his liver. He felt his legs go weak and fell over, suddenly unable to catch his breath, and curled up, trying to minimize the agony of it. Horatio prepared to walk up to him and deliver an even more ferocious attack, his horns having not left any cuts from the liver blow, but Chief Raiknar immediately stopped the fight from progressing any further.
 
“Enough! Damien, son of Aesir, is unable to continue! The winner is Horatio, son of Furel! Damien shall move on to fight Marcus in the final round for the Sifting of Ages!” He declared.
 
There was a cheer at the round’s conclusion, and, as he slowly began to catch his breath again, Damien blinked his eyes wildly, looking at the faces from where he lay on the ground. Then, almost in defiance of his own failure to succeed, he rolled onto his stomach and slowly stood back up, brushing off some of the dust that had collected in his feathers, and tightly folding his wings against his sides. Resisting the urge to rebel or do anything else that would be regarded as poor sportsmanship, despite the high stakes of the competition that could easily result in someone’s death; he turned and extended a hand, his palm vertical, out to Horatio. It was not uncommon for good sportsmanship to include the winner shaking the loser’s hand. There was a clear challenge in Damien’s eyes, however; he did not actually want to shake Horatio’s hand: he wanted to see if Horatio could live up to the standards of a fair game, as the Tribe of Hardel appreciated.
 
Horatio eyed Damien’s hand suspiciously at first, but upon realizing that the crowd was waiting for him to shake it, he extended his own and did so. Damien maintained a grip that was firm, but it was not so tight that it caused any discomfort or injury; in addition, although there was subtle pressure from Horatio’s hand to tilt Damien’s palm upwards, Damien did not do so. The handshake would be performed as though they were equals. In this slight, non-violent gesture, Damien would not yield to anyone else.
 
When the shake was done, Horatio moved to push Damien’s palm away, but the blacksmith’s apprentice held it, making eye contact with his rival for what might be the last time. Damien’s face wore a strange, grim expression, and to Horatio, it seemed as though this person that he viewed as so inferior was searching for something. Whatever it was, Damien looked for it in Horatio’s eyes, and, failing to find it, gently turned his hand so that Horatio’s palm faced towards the ground, an intentional act of declaring Horatio to be higher than himself. Then, Damien simply let go of Horatio’s hand, and turned, walking back to the dugout, where he would have a brief amount of time to rest and bandage his injury before the next fight. The blue sun began to sink low on the horizon, and the sky was beginning to grow dim.
 
For a few moments, Horatio stared after Damien in confusion, before slowly turning and walking to the dugout area where those who had been spared in the ceremony by victory were waiting. As he did so, he couldn’t help but shake the feeling that Damien had somehow, by openly admitting defeat with a simple yielding of the hand, deeply insulted Horatio, not merely as a warrior, but as a person overall. It was as though, despite his selective mutism, Damien had openly declared the Sifting of Ages to be worthless, just through movement alone. In addition, Horatio was unable to dismiss the memory of the look in Damien’s eyes from his mind. It had been the look of complete despair, so great that there was no room for any hope, not for Damien’s belief that he would live, or even for Hardel growing stronger by weeding out the weak.
 
For some reason, Horatio thought that he should have been happy, but he was unable to enjoy the pain he had delivered, or relish the victory of his battle. His foe had somehow taken that from him, although he did not know how. An action that should have made Horatio’s heart swell with pride instead filled him with disappointment and frustration. He didn’t understand it; when he never spoke, what was Damien thinking?
 
Suddenly, Horatio wanted to turn back and wring Damien’s neck, while at the same time demanding that he explain himself. He knew that wouldn’t work, though; he had tried beating words out of him before, and Damien had not only managed to successfully flee on occasion, but he managed to sustain the injuries without making any sound at all. Trying to corner him so that he couldn’t escape, even so that he could bring Damien a few steps closer to a well-deserved exiling sentence, had ended with no words, and several nasty bite marks and cuts, as if intentionally to add injury to the already-existing insult. Trying to make Damien break never worked; even before he stopped speaking, Damien had endured everything, and while he had always asked for everyone to stop, he never once tried to insult himself or beg for mercy, as everyone wanted. No matter how much Horatio and his friends tried to beat him into submission, Damien had never once admitted they were better than him.
 
In the end, it seemed Horatio would never get his wish, unless he caught Damien during the chase the next morning, when he would flee as an exile. Damien would have to fight Marcus, but Horatio knew that, for all of Marcus’ cautiousness, Damien was also extremely wary of things around him. He had to be, given that he had been jumped so many times. Marcus, however, was far stronger, and would probably, after seeing Horatio deliver a blow to what seemed to be a sensitive spot, try to beat Damien quickly by hitting the same area, having been more severely weakened by multiple fights.
 
…And so it was that Horatio, sitting down in the dugout of those who would survive, waited for the thirty minutes allowed between the rounds to end, as there was no one else left to fight during this time. During this time, Damien returned to the dugout where the only remaining person aside from himself was Marcus, who was covered in bandages after frequent cuts from his opponent’s horns. During this intermediate period, while the spectators left to quickly fetch food and provisions, or relieve themselves, Damien took great care in disinfecting and tightly bandaging the cut above his hind leg, tying the bindings to ensure they could not come loose…
 
As Damien finished the final knot on the bindings over his wound, he heard retching behind him, and saw Marcus over in a corner, violently vomiting after drinking so much water that he had exceeded the capacity of his stomach. Throughout the entire Sifting of Ages, Marcus had displayed tendencies towards drinking water as though he were a sea creature removed from the ocean, highly in part due to his severe anxiety regarding the event. Although the water was intended to stop the nausea that had developed due to stress, too much had made it worse. It was likely that the reason Marcus had lost so easily was not entirely due to his cautious nature, as Wendigo had been even more so watchful of his opponents, but because the frequent vomiting was weakening him. Although water was meant to cure dehydration, and vomiting could cause it, there were other problems that could result, small imbalances that Damien didn’t quite understand, although he knew how they were fixed.
 
Despite the negative feelings between Marcus and Damien, it often seemed that Marcus beat up Damien only because he gave into peer pressure easily. Never once did Marcus actively seek out and attack him unless Horatio or someone else had put him up to it. It was because of this, and the fact that they were both at risk, that, rather than ignore Marcus’ problem, he felt a strong degree of sympathy. He reached over and grabbed a piece of fruit that was left in a box for those in the Sifting of Ages to eat during breaks; he would never finish one himself, as there was not enough time and it was difficult to have an appetite given the situation. It was a variety that was extremely sweet, with qualities that seemed to stop cramping muscles. He broke it in two, and, taking a bite out of one half, walked over to the still-recovering Marcus and tapped him with the back of his other hand that was still clutching the uneaten half.
 
When Marcus turned around to look at him, the cere of his beak ghostly-pale, Damien extended the uneaten fruit to him, clearly in an offering, partly because it might help stop the weakness Marcus had been feeling, and secondly, because it would not be right to waste food. Marcus squinted at it suspiciously, “Why are you giving me this?” He said, sounding weak and ill. Damien shook the fruit half slightly, wordlessly insisting that Marcus take it, as he took another bite out of his own. Marcus, as he sat down on one of the benches, looked down at his hands, “…I guess we’re both going through the same kind of thing right now, aren’t we?” He said.
 
He reached up and took the fruit half from Damien, and looked at it, slowly turning it over in his hand, “…Was it always like this? For you, I mean? Were you always scared, thinking that you might finally get killed?” He asked.
 
Damien simply blinked at Marcus as he continued to eat his fruit while standing, his face betraying none of his emotions behind an expressionless mask.
 
Marcus sighed, drawing his front pair of legs that hung off the bench up so that they were folded beneath him. “I don’t know why I did those things. Is it our fault you decided to stop speaking? Do you hate us?”
 
Damien continued to eat, but shrugged in response, his eyes now watching the spectators that still milled about in the arena. He was still listening intently, however. In all honesty, Damien didn’t know if he really hated any one person; he was angry, and wanted to get back at a lot of people, but he didn’t enjoy that feeling. It made him feel empty inside. He hated this event, however, and the war that had led to its creation. He felt for certain, however, that the main cause for his silence was not Marcus and the rest of Horatio’s posse, at least not completely. In the end, however, Damien had no desire to voice his thoughts. He had not spoken in two years.
 
Marcus stared at the fruit, and took a bite, before speaking as he continued to chew, ignoring any sort of manners, although they didn’t matter, given the situation, “I’m sorry that we always picked on you, it wasn’t right, but I guess I didn’t know how bad it was until all the older guys in the village did a number on me.” He said. “I just heard Horatio tell me to do it, and I didn’t really think about it. I probably should have, but everyone kept saying that the strong should dominate the weak.” He then quickly swallowed a bit of food, and caught himself, “-I don’t mean that you’re exactly weak…sorry to say that…uh…I just…didn’t ever really understand what I was doing until I was on the receiving end of it. I guess I’m really an idiot…” He seemed to be struggling to find words, as there would be no verbal reply to what he said that would carry on the conversation.
 
Damien proceeded to shrug again, not sure what the appropriate response would be. He supposed he should just let Marcus continue speaking until the break period was over.
 
After a pause, Marcus broke the silence again, “I don’t want to die, but the only way I can save myself is if I beat you…I don’t want to fight anymore, but if I refuse…” He drifted off.
 
Damien shook his head, not wanting the statement to go any further. No matter what, someone would have to win, and the one who lost would become an exile, and likely, they would be killed by whatever wild beasts ran loose in the Wilderness. He knew, however, that there was a way of not fighting that would still achieve end results. He pointed at the arena with his free hand, and then at himself, before shaking his head slowly, and eating the last bite of fruit.
 
Marcus seemed to stare at first, before it dawned on him. He shot up and shook his head sharply, “No, don’t just tap out!” He said, trying to keep his voice low enough so that no one eavesdropped, although he struggled to do so. “You have to fight me, I can’t feel right about myself if you just let me win like that!” he said urgently.
 
Damien looked at Marcus and slowly folded his arms, tilting his head suspiciously.
 
Marcus then found himself faltering, even though he had belittled Damien so much that he should have never felt a need to obey the authority that he seemed to be exerting now. “…I’m sorry….it isn’t really because of how I’d feel….everyone else would…laugh at me…” He said slowly. He couldn’t take what Damien had been through himself. Perhaps it wasn’t Marcus’ self-image, but it still always boiled down to what happened to Marcus in the end. If he lost, death was an obvious result. If he won, he would feel guilty for what he had done, no matter how hard he would try to forget, and if that victory was due to Damien forfeiting the match, Marcus would be the laughingstock of the entire village for surviving due to his opponent’s cowardice. No matter what angle the issue was approached from, it always ended with Marcus choosing the most selfish option. He seemed to realize this, and looked down, ashamed of himself.
 
Damien seemed to exhale, almost like a sigh of surrender, as though he were giving in to some sort of incredible demand. In many ways, he was, as if he believed he was going to lose the fight regardless, he would have wanted to avoid as much injury as possible. Marcus was making it difficult, by wanting to fight simply for the sake of evading social pressure. Damien, tapping one foot, slowly unfolded his arms and turned, pointing at where Horatio had struck him, and, tightening a hand into a fist, moved to tap it, before quickly re-folding his arms, as though wanting no one to see.
 
Marcus frowned, before once more, understanding the meaning, “You mean just punch you there? Why?” He then remembered that when Horatio had done it, Damien had collapsed in enough pain to be declared unfit to fight, thus ending the round, although not long after the blow, he had seemingly fully-recovered. It would not seem strange if Marcus had been observant enough to try to attack in the same place. “You want me to just finish it, like that?” He asked, filled with disbelief.
 
Damien simply turned and walked away to the far end of the dugout, giving no answer.

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ViperaUnion
Serpent Queen

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sat Aug 15, 2015 8:23 am

…Inevitably, the time of the break was soon over, and the crowd of spectators gathered once more to watch the closing battle of the Sifting of Ages. The battle, between Damien, son of Aesir, and Marcus, son of Garfriel, would decide a matter of great importance: who would be permitted to stay, and who would be exiled as the weakest of a generation from the Tribe of Hardel…
 
Their faces grimly set, Damien and Marcus made their way into the center of the arena of the ceremony, taking longer than necessary to do so, each step lingering as they walked. Neither of them wished to fight, but they were not given a true choice; even with the option of forfeiting the match left available, it was not worth the consequences or the shame. Marcus, riddled with wounds from previous matches, favored his right side as he limped. Damien, despite only having a true injury above his hind left leg, had a haunted, harrowed look as he gazed at the silent crowd gathered in the stands. One contestant looked too pitiful and in pain for the fight to seem fair, while the other wore an expression so stricken that he seemed more like an animal led to slaughter, than anything capable of defending itself.
 
The two boys faced each other, making no sound except for their breathing, and hearing nothing save for the beating of their hearts. The stillness permeated the arena, as the two combatants waited in stifled agony for the chief to order the beginning of their battle. It would happen so quickly, faster than anyone could process when it began, but until then, the silence drew itself out, spanning seconds, minutes, hours, and days. What seemed to be ages passed in wordless terror, as they scanned each other’s faces. A faint misting of tears filled their eyes, but even so, there were no words to describe the pain, sorrow, and heartache that they felt. This was suffering without any end, made clear in the absence of speech and motion.
 
Mercifully, Chief Raiknar broke the silence, “Ready? Begin!” He bellowed, his voice echoing, shattering the spell.
 
Startled as though out of a trance, Marcus lunged forward, attempting to hit Damien with a poorly-aimed punch. Damien, seeing the move long before it came to execution, effortlessly moved to one side, causing the blow to miss entirely. Despite having already made clear his intention to throw the fight, he had no desire to receive any injuries other than what was absolutely necessary. Marcus had not aimed for the sensitive area that Horatio had struck previously, but instead had targeted the first opening he saw on Damien’s shoulder. Marcus, tears streaming down his face, was shocked by the ease at which his attack was evaded, and immediately hated himself for what he was doing. He could see Damien preparing an attack of his own, leaving his liver wide open for a strike as he moved to slash at Marcus with his horns, leaving his right side vulnerable.
 
Marcus, knowing that Damien’s attack would re-open bandaged wounds if his horns connected, realized that he had to take this opportunity, if he wanted to minimize injury to both himself and his opponent. The least he could do was give Damien a fair shot at survival as an exile, by decreasing the number of wounds that could bleed, grow infected, or otherwise hinder his movement. Without thinking, Marcus lowered his head and bashed his skull into Damien’s side: another liver shot. Once more, he had obeyed a plan given to him by someone else, and executed it perfectly. His heart filled with dread, however, even though he knew that he was victorious, as he watched with horror the consequences of what he had done.
 
Damien stopped short, moments before his horns would have begun to cut flesh, and collapsed, curling up on the ground, grinding his beak in agony as the pain shot along his body for the second time that day. The breath left his lungs, as he thought of the few people that he knew and loved. One by one, he counted those memories, and for each one apologized for his betrayal, and for the sadness and grief that he knew would come. With silent tears pooling about his face, he locked those precious moments away, knowing that nothing would undo the damage that he had done. The blacksmith’s apprentice would never again be seen in Magnus’ forge, and Aesir’s young son would never return. Damien was a painful memory that would fade into oblivion, remembered with heartache until nobody could recall even the features of his face.
 
“Enough! Damien, son of Aesir, is unable to continue! The winner is Marcus, son of Garfriel! This concludes the Sifting of Ages!” Chief Raiknar’s voice echoed, monstrous, as the crowd began slowly cheering, graduating Marcus for his success, and for winning the right to stay in the Tribe. Nobody wept or cried over Damien’s defeat, except for one. Aesir, who was at home, unable to bring himself to watch the awful spectacle, was still waiting for the news. Magnus, however, who stood by one of the entrances to the arena, unseen, looked at Damien in shock and despair, before openly placing his head in his hands, unable to contain his tears. It would be Magnus who escorted Damien home to his father, for the last meal that he would ever be given in the Tribe of Hardel, before he was expelled the next morning. They both knew, though, that Damien would not even take the time to rest before he fled.
 
The Chief gazed down at the two contestants, “Congratulations, Marcus, on successfully escaping defeat in this round. As for you, son of Aesir…” Raiknar leveled his terrible gaze on Damien, still collapsed on the ground, “-As is tradition, you have lost the entire Sifting of Ages, and even now lay crumbled in defeat...” He said slowly, his voice deep and rumbling, “…You are hereby banished from the Tribe of Hardel... You will have until tomorrow morning to vacate your home and leave this village and its surrounding territories…Any refusal to comply shall be punishable by death…From this moment forward, you are an outcast among us, and are no longer welcome here…” He finished the dark sentence, before raising his voice once more, “Marcus, go with your friends and celebrate your victory on this day! Damien, away from us!” He commanded. The crowd cheered wildly.
 
As the pain in his body dulled, Damien closed his eyes, suddenly not wishing to get up, and unable to meet his mentor’s gaze, as Magnus wept nearby. It was over, and he had lost. He slowly rose to his feet, unsteady as the throbbing subsided, and raised his head, scanning the faces in the crowd with a distant look, as though he were far away. To him, the cheering had faded, and had been replaced with the ghastly howls of mindless beasts, demanding the blood of anything that was not of their breed. Revulsion and anger rose in Damien’s chest, and he looked down at the ground, a deep sense of loathing filling his heart, and burning until nothing remained. Once more, he felt himself become empty, and the regret faded, the faces of the jeering Tribe of Hardel becoming a distant memory, numbing out the doubts and fears.
 
Deep inside of himself, Damien felt something break, resonating within every fiber of his being, but he was now no longer certain of what it was. Hollowed out, and shattered into a thousand fragments, he was numb to both the joy at his imminent death, and to the tears of the ones he loved. Suddenly, all he wanted was to leave this place, and these people, behind. He no longer remembered the names that those faces belonged to, and suddenly, he no longer understood why anything mattered. Nothing made a difference, so why was there a reason in caring? He would leave and tear himself apart until Damien no longer existed.
 
As Marcus’ friends ran up from the victor’s dugout to congratulate him, and the crowds in the stands began filing out of the exits to the arena, Damien slowly turned and walked over to Magnus, stopping in front of him as though he would have kept moving, and had only been obstructed by a wall. Damien continued to keep his silence, but his face was blank, and his eyes had a look so distant that it seemed as though he were not completely there.
 
Magnus, weeping hysterically, embraced his apprentice tightly, “My boy, my boy…” He cried bitterly, “…Why?!” He demanded, anger in his voice. He had watched the fight between Damien and Marcus, and knew that Damien could have successfully defeated his opponent, as wounded and shaken as he was. “There must be something, some mistake, something that we can…” He drifted off, rage and denial becoming sorrow, and choked on the words that followed. “Why would you do this? Why?” He grieved, before burying his face in Damien’s mane, “You are the son that I never had…” He clutched Damien so tightly that the remaining logic in his mind wondered if his ribs would snap. Damien, however, did not return that embrace, the one that was so strong that it was as if it was feared that he would dissipate into a vapor. His arms hung limply by his sides, and he made no motion to comfort the one that he had once so deeply cared for. What good was grief and regret? Damien felt tired, and wanted to leave this place.
 
Magnus, gaining only slightly more composure, released Damien, and desperately tried to dry his tears before failing, his jaw dropping uselessly at a loss. He closed it wordlessly, before weakly making a suggestion, “Alright….” He said regretfully, “I’ll take you home, my boy…” He shook his head, wiping away the tears and forcing himself to keep his eyes from growing damp again. They were red, however, and it was clear that he still remained on the verge of a meltdown. He grabbed Damien’s wrist so tightly that his knuckles turned white, almost enough to leave a bruise, and slowly, he led him out of the arena, away from the weight of all the staring eyes of the dissipating crowd. Damien listlessly followed, making no move to resist, nor giving any indication that his mentor’s grip hurt. He had lost the energy to protest or complain.
 
Nobody stopped the pair as they made their way through the dirt roads of the village to the eastern outskirts, where Aesir’s home stood apart from other houses, its front faintly illuminated by the setting blue sun. The sunset, with its fading rays of light, painted the world in a beautiful, ethereal glow, as though it had been transformed into a lantern in the darkness. Damien felt his heart ache with a dull, resonating pain, at seeing the simple two-story home that he had lived in since the day he was born. He wanted to turn and run away from it, suddenly hating the sadness in his heart. He could not permit himself to regret what he had done. It would destroy him completely, if he gave in to it. It would be even worse when his father received the news.
 
Every muscle in his body tensing, he braced himself for what he was about to face.
 
Earlier, at the arena…
 
Horatio, Samson, and Hamish were unable to contain their happiness, and clustered tightly around Marcus, congratulating him. “Hey! Nice job, Marcus! You made it!” Hamish exclaimed with delight. He punched Marcus on the shoulder playfully, and laughed, “I’m relieved that you won, you had me scared. What was with that one punch? You weren’t even aiming; did Raiknar’s bossiness scare you?” He teased. He punched Marcus again, although there was hardly any force at all; it might as well have been a puff of wind. Although he was happy to see that all of his friends had survived the Sifting of Ages, his enthusiasm was drained by the exertion and injuries that he had suffered. Much of his playful banter was forced, although the statement of his fears had been sincere. He kept showering Marcus with compliments and teasing remarks, however; anything to distract himself from the pain and stress of the day, though it did not completely work.
 
Samson grinned at Marcus, a large cut along the left corner of his mouth left by a wayward horn making it look like a ghastly sneer, although he was unaware of his own appearance. “I’m glad you survived this; what would we have done, if you’d not managed to win? I don’t think I’d want to go out and chase you down. That really bugs me, although we would have had to do it. Dad wouldn’t have given me a choice, and I don’t think anyone else’s parents would have let us get away with it, either.” With this statement, his smile fell into a firm, hard line. “Why did you keep losing? We’re supposed to be the future generation! Don’t put us through that!” He snapped, revealing his disapproval of how much trouble Marcus appeared to have when he was fighting. He had been scared and disgusted at the same time, partially because he had been afraid that he might have actually cared about the person who lost the entire ceremony, and secondly because he couldn’t believe that he actually had those sentiments. He was a strict believer of the tribe’s traditions. He shouldn’t care about whoever lost, because then the guilt would gnaw at his heart for the rest of his life. He shouldn’t suffer for following in the footsteps of his ancestors.
 
Simultaneously, Horatio and Hamish turned to glare at Samson, “He’s alive, isn’t he?” Horatio demanded harshly. He was partially angry that he had been cut off as he was about to say something himself, but more than this, he was mortified at Samson’s sudden change of tone. The truth was that as the years had passed, Samson and Horatio had begun to argue with each other at an increasing rate. Horatio was used to giving orders, and having them followed, but Samson often had his own ideas, and fiercely defended them, to the point of ramming them down other people’s throats. Their friendship had survived through all of these arguments, and they constantly tried to see eye-to-eye, but the debates still occurred, and none were pleasant. Horatio was prepared to say more, before he realized that they were beginning to go down a wrong path, and stopped himself.
 
He held up a hand appeasingly, “Look, let’s just…not talk about what could have happened right now, okay? We’re all tired, we’re beat up, and let’s face it, none of us are really as happy as we’re pretending to be. I don’t want to fight anymore today. I’m just relieved that everyone is here.” He said, confessing what he really felt.
 
Samson snorted, saying nothing at first, intending to defy the compromising hand, before finally yielding with a sigh, “Yeah, I know what you mean. I wasn’t really mad, I don’t think, I was just…scared…” He looked away, annoyed at his own statement. It sounded pathetic and weak, to be so terrified on the behalf of someone else, and then have no fears at all for his own person. After a moment, he looked back at Marcus, “Sorry I said that, it wasn’t right…I just…please, don’t scare us like that again!” He said, something approaching desperation in his eyes. “I don’t want to lose you guys.”
 
Wendigo, who was apart from everyone else, leaning against one of the wooden posts holding up the temporary dugouts, folded his arms, “Alright, now that everyone has gotten things off of their chest, can we have a real, serious conversation?” He asked, abruptly interrupting the group. He neither congratulated Marcus, nor joined the others as they encircled him. He remained silent most of the time, reserving his opinions, and often seemed appalled by the cheerful, upbeat manner of his friends, especially if their teasing was directed at himself.  A being of pure logic, and more of a solitary loner of sorts, Wendigo did not always spend his days with the rest of the group. Even now, his cool demeanor seemed unaffected by the day’s struggles, and he appeared to be more concerned with whatever topic he was about to bring up.
 
Deciding to overlook Wendigo’s rude interruption, Horatio tilted his head, narrowing his eyes suspiciously, “What is it that you wanted to talk about?” He asked. Everyone in the group turned their attention towards their most reserved member. Wendigo seldom spoke, therefore, he often had no trouble gaining anyone’s attention, and people rarely, if ever, interrupted him.
 
Wendigo scanned the faces of his friends, “The first thing I would like to say, is this. What will we do, now that we have seen what an actual battle might be like? Do you all still think that you would like to become a warrior? Although they are respected, Hardel cannot stand on its own if there are no other professions. You have seen just from today that only fighting three or four people one-on-one is tiring. Are you entirely positive that you would like to go to battle, where you will be forced to slay perhaps dozens, or fight in an unfair battle alone against more than one assailant?” He asked, tilting his head.
 
Nobody voiced a reply, waiting for Wendigo to finish. He was merely giving them a pause to take in the question. He had approached something that was a genuine issue, as warriors, regardless of their strength, needed support from others. Everyone had taken for granted that they had wanted to fight in the war against the Glerdish, but after participating in a real fight in which they could have been killed, whatever the rules had been, their beliefs about what their future professions would be might have changed.
 
Wendigo continued, after letting his friends ponder the question, “I have decided. Any of you who are still set on becoming warriors, I will not be joining you on the front.” Everyone gasped, but before anyone could say anything in protest, he continued. “It is not that I am afraid of being hurt or that I am disturbed by inflicting pain on others.” He said. “I simply cannot find myself drawn to the idea of spending all of my days doing nothing but fighting; perhaps in certain cases, it may be an art, but it is not an art that I care for enough to devote my entire life to it. I have kept silent about it for some time, but I have been looking into a different profession for an extended amount of time, now, that I find more appealing.”
 
Horatio finally spoke up, “…What is it…? What is it that you would like to do more than being a warrior…?” He said, amazed that anything would seem better, although even in the back of his own mind, he had begun to seriously consider the reality of the risks associated with fighting in the war. It was no longer characterized by the vague concept of glory as he defeated an enemy. His friends all looked as though they were in a sizeable amount of pain, and even against Damien, his only opponent during the ceremony, he had felt no joy, even though he had hated him for as long as he could remember. The wound at the base of his tail still throbbed from where Damien’s horns had cut him. The truth of fighting and war was that if you participated in it, you would likely get hurt. Strength and size did little to prevent it.
 
Wendigo looked at everyone intently, “I have decided that I shall become a surgeon.” He said.
 
Everyone immediately expressed outrage, “But most warriors would rather die than have surgery! It’s too risky! Everyone will run away from you!” Samson exclaimed
 
Hamish stammered, “S-S-Samson’s right, Wendigo! People can’t handle that kind of pain! A lot of them die from shock! People love doctors, but they’re all too scared of the one surgeon we have!” Although there were many doctors to treat the injured in Hardel and on the front, there was only one individual in the medical field that could be called a surgeon, and the chances of his assistance being called for were so low, he was able to remain in the village. Sercival, despite knowing more about the body than anyone else, was so greatly feared that he was often avoided, even though he was perhaps even more capable of providing proper treatment than any other medical personnel. Although he was also a doctor, and well-versed in common and specialized procedures, his status as a surgeon was enough to dissuade any potential patients. The nature of surgery was excruciatingly painful, as a patient was fully-aware of the operation taking place, and felt everything that was done to their body; it was too horrifying for anyone to ignore.
 
Marcus, despite having said nothing since everyone had crowded around him, paled, before trying to form a smile. He was, like the others, afraid of Sercival, but he still seemed like he was trying to be supportive of his friend’s decision. It was likely that they would see the old surgeon on a frequent basis. If Wendigo wished to learn surgical procedures, he would likely ask Sercival to make him his apprentice.
 
Horatio was too shocked to form a proper response, “You actually…want to do that…?” He asked, mystified. He couldn’t imagine anyone other than Sercival laying claim to the title of surgeon. “But…surgeons cut people open…and…they feel it, they’re aware of it the whole time!” He said, mortification setting in.
 
Wendigo unfolded his arms, and walked up to the group, everyone aside from Marcus reflexively backing away, “I don’t care if they scream.” He said. “I don’t care if it hurts. If you agree to have surgery, then you agree to suffer through it, or die trying. This prejudice against Dr. Sercival must stop. He is growing old, and though many refuse it and pass away, surgery has saved lives. There must still be someone around when he is gone to perfect the art. If we were able to find a way to stop patients from feeling pain, or render them unconscious or uncaring about what the surgeon is doing, then nobody would react as they do now.”
 
Everyone was shocked into silence, realizing that there was something resembling strong emotion in Wendigo’s voice. It was something that they had never heard before. “I shall become a surgeon,” He repeated, “I will be feared more than death itself, because nobody else can stand what I will do. That is why they are not surgeons. Blood, and the very concept of making incisions on a living body, even a corpse, is enough to terrify most. I am not afraid of those things, and mark my words; I will find a way to make surgery painless, so that you will stop penalizing someone for something that could truly be a wonderful thing. Surgery and those who perform it are feared like monsters, but I will make the world see that they are capable of miraculous things.”
 
With this, Wendigo turned and walked away, out of the arena, not allowing any room for protest.
 
Marcus, having been silent the entire time, finally broke down into hysterical tears, unable to handle any more of the day’s stress. “What’s going to happen to us…?” He asked bitterly, while at the same time hating himself for doing something as embarrassing as crying in front of his friends. Despite this, he could not stop himself from doing so. He had just killed someone, and everyone was afraid of Wendigo, even though what he had said made perfect sense. His friends were arguing, he felt sick, and everything hurt. He felt as though the whole world was falling apart.
 
“Marcus! Hey, what’s the matter, it’s okay! It’s okay! It’s fine! Wendigo won’t be any different just because of his decision. We’ll miss seeing him on the battlefield, but at least he felt like he could tell us! He looks like he’s been thinking it over a lot, and he really cares about it!” Samson rambled out, shocked by the sudden emotional response. Normally, he would have reacted with anger and irritation, but Marcus bursting into tears was too abrupt for him to be anything other than startled.
 
“T-that’s not why I’m c-crying!” He blubbered, desperately trying and failing to regain composure. “I-I killed him! He’s going to die and w-we’re s-s-sitting here, arguing, and t-telling each other w-why what we like to do is a t-terrible idea! C-can’t we j-just be ourselves?” He put his head in his hands, covering his face, ashamed of his tears, and humiliated by his own outburst, “I-I d-don’t want to be a w-warrior, either! I w-want to become a s-shipwright!” Marcus knew he sounded completely childish, but he was unable to keep the decision to himself, now that Wendigo had already broken the news of his chosen profession. He saw no reason to keep his decision to himself, either. He was also unable to stop crying, because he was so incredibly depressed, he was unable to properly control his emotions. He had just killed someone, and he was never going to be free of that guilt.
 
“Hold on, killed who? You mean Damien? We aren’t supposed to care about stuff like that!” Samson weakly tried to calm his friend down, but he also felt irritation creeping in at Marcus’ remorse over defeating the one person that everyone in their group was supposed to hate. Just like Wendigo, who often seemed to slip away before the group could approach Damien and give him a beat-down, Marcus’ hatred of the weak often seemed half-hearted.
 
Marcus tried to dry his tears, finally having mild success, before forming a reply, “That’s easy for you to say! Didn’t you watch when Magnus was escorting him out? His mentor and his dad are going to be depressed for days! Not only that, but Damien was acting weird, like he wasn’t entirely there. He became mute two years ago, so something really bad must have happened to make him like that. What’s this going to do to him?! Yeah, I get it, we’re supposed to not care, but it’s not that easy when you see someone completely fall apart and accept that they’re going to die and just completely lose the will to do anything to protect their own life!” He snapped, uncharacteristically vocal about his opinion.
 
Samson snorted, “You’re going to have to forget that, Marcus. We can’t stop this from happening, and it’s not good to blame yourself for something that we can’t control. I can barely believe you care for someone that weak!”
 
Marcus’ sorrow turned to a deep-set anger. He glared at Samson, “Look, I know we beat him up, and I know we’re not supposed to care about the weak, because the weak die, but not everyone here is able to numb themselves to that. Just because we did stuff like that, though, didn’t mean it was right. I don’t ever want to pick on anyone ever again! Damien wasn’t even going to be a warrior, from the start! He was going to be a blacksmith, and blacksmiths don’t need to be strong or capable of fighting. They only need to be good at what they do.”
 
He continued, “All of you have seen the weapons people got that Damien worked on; you don’t want to say it, but he’s already rivaling Magnus. The craftsmanship of his work is professional and beautifully done. The blades cut easily, and none of the metals he’s ever smelted himself have been imperfect enough to snap or bend. You know that a warrior whose weapon breaks or bends will die, so how about you realize that Damien’s work could have meant the difference between life and death for other people? I know you don’t like him, but I’m sick of this shallow hatred!” He affirmed harshly.
 
Samson was about to say something, but Horatio stopped him, and spoke instead, “I get what you mean, Marcus, but if we let ourselves care, then we won’t be able to live with ourselves. We won’t pick on anyone else, there’s no reason to. I can’t like Damien, no matter what is done, I can’t change my mind on that, but that doesn’t mean that what you’re saying isn’t true. I’ll even grudgingly admit it, Damien was a good blacksmith. But still, we can’t pretend that we can stop what’s going to happen; nobody would listen to us.” The truth was, even though he still had a strange, nonspecific hatred for Damien, he couldn’t help but be shaken by Marcus’ sudden change of attitude. Marcus had never opposed anything that the others had said before. Horatio himself was beginning to wonder, after his own fight with Damien, if there hadn’t been more to the blacksmith’s apprentice than he had thought there was. In truth, Damien frightened Horatio, to some extent, always seeming to know something, but never saying anything.
 
Marcus, after a few moments, sighed, “Sorry…I’m just…really stressed right now…I really don’t think that I want to chase Damien tomorrow with everyone else. I’m just ready to go home…” He said. He looked between Samson, Horatio, and Hamish, “I’m tired, so I’m going to go rest. I’ll see you guys tomorrow…maybe…” He then turned and slowly limped out of the arena.
 
After he had left, Samson growled under his breath, “This is getting ridiculous. Anyone else decide not to be a warrior?” He asked.
 
There was no reply, and Hamish changed the subject, “I think everyone left wants to be a warrior, but still, I’m pretty surprised. Wendigo wants to be a surgeon and to find a way to kill the pain or make someone not care, so I guess you could say he’s not doing it because he wants to scare people. I think he’d make a good surgeon, though; he’s pretty meticulous with his hands, and I really believe that was one of the qualities you had to have, if you’re going to be poking around like that. Marcus has always liked ships, so I can see him being a shipwright, too. We need ships, anyway, since the battlefield is easier to reach by sea than by land or air, and we have to send supplies, too. He’s always at the western docks, watching people, so I guess it was only a matter of time before he decided to join them.”
 
He looked between Samson and Horatio, “We’re going to be warriors, but let’s not start excluding Wendigo and Marcus, just because they decided to do something different. In a way, it’s better to do something else than be a warrior who only fights half-heartedly. We need to respect that they wouldn’t have been good warriors, because they can’t take pride in it. It’s better if they do what they like.” He reasoned. “Plus, they chose good professions, and Wendigo is going to try to make surgery something people can’t be scared of. Let’s support them.”
 
Samson huffed begrudgingly, “Fine, whatever, wasn’t happy to have them walk out on us, though,” He grumbled.
 
Horatio grinned at Hamish, “As much trouble as you stir up with your pranks, you’re a good friend.” He said. He looked up at the sky growing dark, “It’s getting late, let’s all head home.” He said.
 
Together, the three left the arena.
 
…And so it was that Damien prepared to face his father, and the Sifting of Ages prompted life-changing decisions…

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ViperaUnion
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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sun Sep 06, 2015 10:58 pm

When Damien entered his father’s house, Aesir slowly looked up from the kitchen table down the hallway, no light illuminating the home save for the faint setting sun through the windows, and the light flickering of candles from within their protective stands. When he saw the looks on Damien and Magnus’ faces, he knew what had happened, before anyone even said anything. Magnus reluctantly released Damien’s wrists, and with one last, regretful embrace to the apprentice that he knew he would never see again, turned and left, closing the door behind him, leaving the son and his father alone in silence…
 
His face faintly illuminated in the darkness by flickering candlelight, Damien stared at his father, his expression blank. Throughout the entire house, there was no sound; even outside of the home in the immediate vicinity, there was not a single noise. It was as though a spell had fallen over it, a curse that made things so deathly still that it was as if they stood not in their house, but inside of a tomb made of stone, buried deep within the ground. The air was still and so heavily charged with despair that it felt as if one would suffocate, or collapse under its weight. Yet, despite this crippling burden, it did not feel solid, but rather, so hollow that it was as if it contained a void.
 
The house of Aesir, for many years, had been tainted with horrible loss, and endless mournful cries and bitter tears had been shed within its depths. Sad tales of death echoed within its halls, so inviting to guests, but a constant reminder of pain and anguish to those who lived there. Once home to a father and mother who raised their new son with joy in their hearts, remembering those days made it so much worse, and the house stood against the horizon, a mere skeleton. The loving mother was dead, slain by the hands of a foe in battle. The feelings of loss that had faded with time returned, stronger than before. The son, so early in life preparing to meet the same fate, gazed hollowly, as though his soul had left him.
 
Together, the father and son stood together, one gazing into the abyss of a place that no one else could see, and another looking at the empty shell that the cruel world had created. The father saw his son, the void that had opened inside, the nothingness that had been burned into him by the merciless society that he had so desperately tried to change. Inside that void was darkness so immense that he felt as though he would be swallowed up inside of that lifeless gaze, and in the midst of his grief, he wanted to scream; he wanted to rage out at the world for what it had done. The son saw shadows, the expanse of death before his eyes as he emptied out the memories that had kept him tethered to the world. Within the endless chasm he found what had attached him to this place, and shattered it into pieces, ripping apart the shreds of his heart and willing the vile feeling that he had once hated to fill his being, to replace the gaping hole where his fragmented spirit had died.
 
As Damien faced the pain and the brokenness and embraced it, the anger began to burn, consuming him and blazing out of control. He no longer tried to suppress that feeling, the terrible rage that had once left him hollow. There was nothing left to him but this feeling, this awful emotion. He screamed inside, hating it, the way it stuck to him like a toxic odor, and yet, loving the wound, the depravity that it created as its virulence bled out, corrupting the shattered remains of his soul. He would let a monster be born inside the void that his body contained; he would let himself become what the Tribe of Hardel had always wanted from their sons. He hated it; he loved the ugliness and wanted to vomit as he felt the feeling rise within himself. Dead inside, he numbed out the fear and the joy. He felt nothing at all.
 
Aesir, finally breaking the spell of silence, spoke, his throat dry, “I made something for you…it’s delicious…” He said. He couldn’t believe how pathetic it sounded, but he had to say something, anything at all. He would have spoken anything that would have lifted the weight that was strangling him. He felt a wave of nausea overcome him, and forced himself to choke it back down. His throat was parched, and his throat grew sore. His head hurt, and he wanted to lie down and forget the world.
 
But he couldn’t.
 
As he looked at his son, he desperately searched for something, and wanted to weep; he could not find any trace of him anywhere, even though Damien still stood before him in person. He slowly reached out and grabbed his son’s wrist, feeling the steady, even pulse, and the warmth from his body. Aesir was still there, but where had his son’s spirit fled? Damien had left, terrified of the brutal world that he saw, and the boy who had returned had his face, but the glimmer of light was gone from his eyes. In the eyes of this stranger standing before him, whose heart still beat steadily, Aesir saw nothing, neither joy nor sorrow. For a brief moment, he thought he saw something, but that flicker disappeared, and what he had caught in that gaze had been so ugly, that he flinched away, suddenly afraid.
 
Forcing himself to remain calm in the sharp, bitter sadness and awful terror that gripped his heart, Aesir continued to speak, his throat numb, “Please,” He said, hearing pleading in his own voice, “Won’t you try some…?” He asked. He wanted to rage at the village, he wanted to march out of his house and strangle the chief, his neighbors, choke the very life from their veins for what they had done. His one and only son stood before him, and already, they had taken him, murdering him before his very eyes. He would do anything, anything to have his son back again. He wanted to cry, he wanted to scream and curse the world for casting this fate against him. His thoughts came rushed without logic, and yet, he continued to speak, forcing himself to act strong, if only for Damien’s sake.
 
Damien slowly looked at Aesir’s hand around his wrist, and reached over, gently grasping at his father’s fingers, forcing him to release his arm. He then walked around his father, as though he heard nothing, and stood by the kitchen table, blankly staring at the plate of food that had been prepared for him. After a long, painful moment, he slowly reached out and picked it up, walking over to a corner by the back door, and sitting down, coiling up on the floor, refusing to take his place by the table, as he once had. He no longer belonged in this house, and he intended to leave as soon as he was finished. He ate with his hands, opting not to use any utensils, and as Aesir watched, he noted that his son did not eat calmly, but as though he were forcing himself to take food, having no true desire to eat when everything in his mouth turned to ashes.
 
Aesir felt himself involuntarily move; the sight of his son, backed into a corner like an animal, looking so displaced even in his own home, made him want to cry. Aesir wanted to embrace his son, to give him some comfort; something resembling a world where he wouldn’t have to feel alone, but when he came near, Damien flinched away, reacting as though his father’s touch had burned him. When he opened his beak in an almost threatening manner, Aesir felt himself worry, just briefly, that the boy might even bite him in retaliation, but he knew that couldn’t be true. Seeing what his son had been reduced to, the way he behaved as though he could be attacked without warning, made rage fill his heart again, but it was tinged with great loss. The will to survive was strong, enough that he would come to view himself as little more than an animal at the bottom of nature’s hierarchy; his only option was to eat with haste and flee like prey pursued by a pack of hounds.
 
After a long, painful silence, Aesir spoke again, “…You don’t have to go just yet, Damien,” He said, his voice somehow feeling disconnected from himself, “…You can still sleep here, for one more night…” He said.
 
In response, Damien momentarily stopped eating, and slowly looked at Aesir, tilting his head slightly, the awful, hideous gleam creeping back into his gaze, the thing that had been hiding behind his vacant expression from before. Earlier, his son had tried to hide it, to show nothing of what he felt, but this time, Damien made no attempt to hide how he felt behind a mask. Feeling dread rise in his throat, Aesir forced himself to choke it back down, suddenly, inexplicably, terrified of what had happened to his son. The look that Damien had given his father was filled with such a menacing light, so uncharacteristically nihilistic, that for a moment he wondered if this person before him was actually his son. Had he finally been driven over the edge by the constant pressures placed on him, from those who tormented him, from the expectations of the entire village? Was it somehow Aesir’s fault that Damien had become like this?
 
Aesir was left speechless, wordlessly opening and closing his beak, but unable to say anything in response. Surely Damien didn’t think that his father, also, intended to kill him. Was it this, or was it that he had been attacked so much that it was instinctive, to jump to the conclusion that suggestions were intended to cause harm? Aesir had known that whenever he or Magnus were not present to protect him, that Damien had been teased and taunted by bullies, but did they also make suggestions that he perform actions that were also self-destructive? Did Damien wish for death, or was it that his trust in other people had been completely shattered, and he no longer had any hope or faith in anyone, even his own father?
 
Aesir, against his better judgement, felt his eyes fill with tears, “Damien, I…” He looked down at his feet, “…I would never hurt you…you know that, don’t you…?” He asked, hating himself for ever having to ask his son such a question, when for two entire years, there had never been an answer for anything. The truth was that sometimes, Aesir wondered what had happened to his son, if there had been something so terrible that it had completely traumatized him, and he had fallen mute because it was too horrible to speak of. Aesir often wondered if it was something he had done, some hidden need that he was unable to provide for. He still remembered that first, awful day, when Damien had fallen silent, and no matter who it was that attempted to coax words from him, all efforts were in vain. For so long, Aesir had watched his son, living as though he were burdened with immense pain, but unable to find an answer. In the end, the only question that remained in his mind, was why?

Damien, seeing the hurt in his father’s eyes, knew that he should erase the savage gleam that he could feel in his own gaze, but as much as he might have wished, he could not stop the vile look from showing. The ugliness poured out of him, saturating his entire being, staining it with the hatred and rage that he felt for the world. From the inside, the monster that had seized control of his fragmented spirit was delighted, reveling in the pain and destruction that it had already caused, the way it was severing the bond between father and son, that agonizing, painful connection. Another part of him, the small pieces of what he had once been, the memories that even now he was attempting to bury, screamed out in anguish. He was happy that his father was becoming more distant, even if by his own hand, but at the same time, he hated himself, for all of the things that he was suddenly so willing to destroy.
 
Unable to hide his ghastly expression, Damien covered his eyes with one hand and turned away, all he could do to spare his father the weight of his blinding rage. He had done nothing to deserve it. Still, why did it have to matter, whether or not Damien greeted his father with joy, sadness, or anger? He was going to die. What was the point in sentimentality? The only odds that mattered now were how long he could last before he was eventually caught by something and, finally, his life in this world would be brought to an end. What was the point in indulging himself, when it would make these things that he had loved so much more difficult to forget?
 
After a silence so long that it grew painful, Damien slowly uncovered his face, finally able to hide behind the mask again, and rose up onto his feet, having eaten his food quickly, no attention given to manners or any sort of ceremony. He had to leave this place, or he would die here, unable to stop himself from bashing in his own skull against these wretched walls. Too many precious people had died, too many people had so willingly given themselves over to savagery, and now, Damien was no different. He hated himself, he hated the toxic feelings that now rotted out his soul, and how he had so quickly allowed himself to show it to his father. He looked sidelong at his Aesir, and finally, gave a small nod; regardless of who Damien wanted to rip apart, he still knew his father all too well. He never willingly hurt his family. Yet, at the same time, even though he truly loved them, he had. He was once a warrior, but now he was too meek, too soft to protect them; somehow, Damien hated that, and yet, he still felt the twinge of loss, even as he tried to find reasons to bury it.
 
With no words to mark their parting, Damien set down the half-eaten plate of food, and slowly proceeded to walk over and push open the back door, gazing out into the vast expanse of night. The sun, having set so quickly, had left no traces of itself in the shadows. Clouds had begun to gather in the sky, and the moon was only a faint glow behind the clouds. Even at a distance, Damien could hear the ocean waves as they buffeted the cliffs; a bad storm was coming. It would be best for him to flee into the woods now, before it began. Clenching hand he had placed against the door into a fist, he felt himself fighting the urge to look back, to catch one more glimpse of the one who had raised him, his father, but he did not.
 
With a deep breath, he took a deep breath, and heard Aesir try to say something, “Damien, wait…”
 
-But it was too late. The lingering hand left the door, and it closed shut behind him.
 
…And so it was that, in the faint light, a silhouette darted across the grass on the outskirts of the village of the Tribe of Hardel. Fleeing with such swiftness and warily avoiding even the faintest rays from windows, the shadow moved as though it belonged in the darkness, where the sun could not touch it. A heart that had once longed for the brilliance of the rising and setting of the sun, one that had delighted in flickering candlelight and the cheerful flames in the hearth, suddenly feared all of these things. The rising of the sun was a death knell, the sight of one’s face in the light sure to send pursuers. It was better to hide and conceal oneself, never to be seen. The shadow passed into the darkness cast by the trees, and once more, everything was as it had always been.
 
In the village, warriors who were meant to join the hunting party the next day awoke suddenly from their slumber, reaching for their weapons earlier than expected, before fighting the urge to leave in honor of the traditions of their forefathers. There was no lack of resolve or questioning in their actions; they had killed, and would someday kill again. Their time in this village was borrowed, until they were sent into battle once more. They wanted nothing more than to rest and, for a time, to forget the violence of the things that they had seen. It mattered not if their quarry escaped, as long as it took the only path left open to it.
 
…There were others, however, who were not so complacent. Those left in search of answers, suddenly finding questions where they had once known so surely what the truth was. So shaken was their resolve, they found no peace that night, and reached for their instruments of destruction. Though they did not know the meaning behind the questions that they felt rising in the back of their minds, they knew who held the answers. They had to try, one last time, to learn the truth, or it would be gone forever...
 
Horatio was suddenly woken up by the sound of rocks being thrown at his window, although initially, he had already been struggling to sleep. No matter how hard he tried to rest, his mind would not slow down, and he could only manage a light, uneasy slumber plagued by frequent periods of awakening. There was no struggle in rising from his bed; he knew that he would not be able to sleep, as much as he wanted to. Though the fatigue seeped deep into his hollow bones, there were too many things to think about. There were too many unresolved questions, and he had no answers.
 
He walked over and opened his window, before ducking rapidly to avoid another flying rock. It landed and chipped on the hardwood floor, and he looked at it, briefly wondering if the sound it produced would wake up his parents in the room below. The then remembered that if it had hit him, it would have been extremely painful, and proceeded to turn around and glare down at the person who had thrown it. “What are you doing?” He hissed quietly. Standing behind his house, Hamish and Samson looked up at him, Hamish having been the one who was throwing the rocks, and Samson folding his arms expectantly, tapping his foot as if in a hurry to be somewhere. Hamish had a small, narrow sword strapped to his back, and a mace rested neatly between Samson’s wings.
 
“Hey, Horatio, this isn’t the time to be sleeping in bed!” Hamish softly called out, trying not to wake anyone. “Damien’s already left; he’s in the woods by now!” He said.
 
Horatio strained forward out of the window, “What? I thought the chase wasn’t until tomorrow!” He argued.
 
Hamish folded his arms, dropping the last rock that he had been holding, “Listen, if he isn’t considered a part of the tribe anymore, then of course, why should he care about our traditions? He’s better off leaving early, if the party isn’t sent out after him until tomorrow morning! He might reach the wilderness before anyone even wakes up!” He explained. The first thought that came to mind was that they would have a boring chase, if Damien was nowhere to be found. The second thought was that one last time, if they managed to catch him without people watching, they didn’t have to kill him, and they might be able to make him talk again. His inhibitions about speaking might have vanished with the realization that he might never be able to see another person’s face ever again, and also, Hamish and his friends might not ever have another chance at seeing if they could manage to do it.
 
Although in his head, Hamish felt an odd sort of guilt at the concept of hounding Damien, as he planned on doing, he was also filled with burning curiosity. It was hard not to wonder about what someone was thinking; especially when that particular someone never spoke. Additionally, Damien had fallen mute long before he reached the age where his voice would break, and then settle into its adult range. Although when they reached adolescence, initially, boys would find their voices deepening slightly, it was not the true breaking that happened somewhat later. When their voices fully developed, it was impossible to tell who was speaking, unless you actually saw that person and recognized them. Females, while also eventually developing voices that were unrecognizable, had a more gradual, smooth transition, with none of the awkward cracking found in males.
 
Hamish was both curious about what Damien’s voice might sound like, and also, wondered what secrets were hidden within the far reaches of his mind. Although much of his manner made him seem immature, with little real understanding of the world around him, Hamish was actually extremely aware of what he was doing, and was not blind to the more serious undertones of the events that were transpiring. He might have been, in fact, more sensitive to such things than anyone else, but because of this, it was also far more painful and upsetting. Hamish was not good with at dealing with stress, or baring his soul for the world to see, and therefore, he often hid what he really felt behind a cheerful, upbeat façade. He was seen by everyone as a prankster and a clown, but that was not actually what his real personality was like. Not even Hamish’ closest friends knew this; Hamish merely allowed them to think that he was a clumsy oaf, because the one thing that he feared more than anything else, was being alone.
 
One of the deepest questions in his mind, was that, while everyone else had been fooled by his manner, had Damien ever really believed it? For as long as he could remember, compared to everyone else, the former blacksmith’s apprentice had always seemed to take Hamish seriously. Instead of viewing Hamish’s lock-picking pranks as childish antics, he had viewed it as a challenge. During his time at the forge, Damien had, over time, developed increasingly complicated locks that were incredibly difficult to open without the proper key. Hamish always felt that the development of those locks never had anything to deal with keeping him out of places or containers, but rather, as an attempt made by Damien to further his own skills, to make locks that were impossible to break.
 
Hamish was certain that, whatever the answer was, Damien knew things that nobody else had awareness of. Hamish was one of the three people that had always participated in jumping him for a beat-down, but for Hamish, it was seldom because he wanted to prove his own superiority. Whenever Damien had looked at him with those brilliant, pale eyes, Hamish had felt as though he were gazing into the very depths of his soul. It was as though, unlike everyone else, Damien never saw the illusion that Hamish had tried to create. Hamish, deep down, had always felt afraid, because he knew that the one person that he had constantly hurt was aware that he had been lying to everyone. No matter how much he tried to attack Damien, in hopes that he would remain silent about such things, Hamish had never been able to dispel his fears.
 
With these thoughts whirling in the back of his mind, Hamish smiled up at Horatio, “Come on, get down here, we’re going after him,” He said, trying to look cheerful, despite the situation, and the lethal weapon pressed between his shoulders. Hamish had no intentions of removing the sword from its sheath, but if they caught him, and Damien thought that everyone planned on taking his life, he might actually try to strike killing blows with his horns. Even the most harmless individuals could be shockingly violent when they thought their life was in danger; Damien had proved that much when he actually displayed something resembling fighting capability during the Sifting of Ages. Also, despite the fact that Damien seemed to have a deeper awareness of the motivations behind people’s actions, he was by no means sympathetic towards Hamish and his friends. Why would he be, when he had nearly been killed multiple times, and it would easily seem like they planned on actually doing so, this time?
 
Horatio grumbled, “Fine, but I’m not going downstairs and trying to grab my battle axe for this; I’d wake up mom and dad.” Instead, he stepped onto the windowsill of his bedroom and glided down with his wings, landing a short distance away from his friends. Samson gave his friend a questioning look, wondering why Horatio was refraining from bringing a weapon, despite his claims. Samson had originally planned to finish Damien off, if they caught him, but Hamish had pleaded with him not to do so, that he had something he wanted to ask the exile. Horatio noticed Samson watching, and responded, as if to the unspoken question, “I have something I want to ask that runt.” He said, his voice low and harsh. He was trying to make sure that Samson would not interfere; he was a free agent, and would do so if he was not carefully watched. Although they were friends, Horatio still knew better than to trust Samson with Damien; Samson was obsessed with Hardel’s traditions, and even if he was not a true killer, he was willing to become one.
 
Horatio, quickly spoke up, to prevent any sort of conversation, “Let’s hurry up and go, if he’s on the move, he won’t stop until he’s outside of our territory.” He said. While Hardel would send exiles out into the Wilderness, and would chase them through the northern woods, it was considered foul play to continue pursuing them after they had left the tribal lands. It was also extremely dangerous, overall, to go into the Wilderness. Although it might not happen immediately, the longer one stayed in that unexplored region, the more likely that they would be found and killed by something. There had been attempts in the past to go explore it, but after the majority of people never came back, and the few who survived had barely escaped intact, it had been decided that everyone was better off marking the borders between tribal territory and that land.
 
“-But what about Marcus and Wendigo-“ Hamish began, but Horatio stopped him.
 
“We can’t ask them to come with us. They aren’t planning on becoming warriors anymore. There’s no need to involve them in this. They aren’t interested, and it would be wrong to make them get into a conflict like this.” He said. “Come on, let’s get going. You wanted me to come, and I’m here. If we stay here for much longer, we might lose our chance.”
 
Without giving anyone time to respond, Horatio broke into a run, heading towards the north side of the village. It was dark, and they had no lanterns or torches with them to help them see. The moon was completely hidden by the clouds, and there was the rumbling of thunder starting in the distance. Even far away, the waves breaking against the bluff were turbulent, and audible. It was difficult to see, save for natural night vision, and the coming weather would make flight risky. When they reached the woods, flying would be possible, but dangerous. In a confined space, Horatio and his friends could not open their wings to their fullest span, and in most cases, the trees were too close together to allow soaring flight, such as the kind that Chimerosu in Hardel were adapted for.
 
…Meanwhile, as Damien made his way through the northern woods, with Horatio, Samson, and Hamish in pursuit, the seafaring merchant, Graven, had successfully returned to his home village, Kaleen, via a land route. Having arrived through the eastern border of his tribe’s territory, returning without both his boat and the merchandise that he had been carrying for the purpose of trade, he was quickly ushered into the house of Kaleen’s chief, Kordinan…
 
Chief Kordinan, despite being the leader of a tribe filled with exotic riches, had perhaps the most modest dwelling among all of the citizens of Kaleen. Located high-up, and surrounded by a dense grove of trees, it was almost impossible to tell that anyone lived in his small, cabin-like house. The only indication that there was anything concealed on top of the northern cliffs was the long, winding staircase carved into the stone. Chiefs had always lived in the same place, but, despite the staircase being incredibly old, the building itself was new. The presence of brine and salt in the air, created by air currents that flowed from the ocean into Kaleen from both the east and west, often caused wooden structures to decay at an accelerated rate. It could easily be said that Kordinan’s home was not, in a traditional sense, new, as it was the same exact building that all previous chiefs had resided in; instead, all of the materials that had originally made the house were gradually replaced over time.
 
Graven sat at one end of a square table, meant to accommodate up to four people. At the other end of the room, standing before a large open fireplace, Kordinan placed a packet containing various herbs and rewl into a small kettle of hot water. The chief seldom invited guests over to his home, but it was well-known that Kordinan was the golden standard of hospitality. His house and all of the furniture it contained were notably plain, but one could hardly care when someone, despite being the highest-ranking official in the village, was so courteous to others. When Graven had arrived at his house, Kordinan had insisted that he take a seat at the table, while he prepared his own signature blend of herbs and rewl, something to remove the fatigue that made Graven struggle to keep his eyes open.
 
As Graven quietly sat, waiting for the chief to ask questions, Kordinan looked over as he stirred up hot embers with a metal poker, “You are very quiet,” He noted. Graven and Kordinan had never properly spoken to each other in person before. Kaleen was a large village with many merchants, and the chief seldom tried to interfere with trade, unless it involved a security risk. This emergency meeting, held in the middle of the night as the wind began to pick up outside, was the first time that Graven had ever actually interacted with the leader of his village directly. He was somewhat nervous.
 
Kordinan looked back to check and make sure that no hot embers had rolled past the stone surrounding the fireplace. “You came back without your vessel and the supplies you were carrying. Were you attacked by pirates? The warriors said that you had flown for an entire day and night without rest, and entered through our eastern border. If someone is attacking Kaleen’s merchants, it concerns me,” he said, his voice calm and even. “You have nothing to fear from me, you are not in trouble.”
 
Graven finally managed to choke out a few words, but his voice was hoarse; he had long since surpassed his limit, both physically and mentally, “…It was…Hardel…” He then coughed roughly, and Kordinan walked over to a pitcher that was sitting on a tray, along with several wooden cups. The chief poured water out of the pitcher into a cup, and handed it to Graven. The exhausted merchant gulped down the cup, and coughed, having drunk it too hastily, before recovering. “The Tribe of Hardel, to the east of us.” He said, “I arrived with my vessel at their docks, and they arrested me.”
 
Kordinan’s eyes narrowed, “Without any warning? Surely, they would have seen all of the crates and have known that you were a merchant?” He said. It made no sense that someone would be arrested and thrown into prison without proper cause, although, to be fair, Hardel had not seen anyone from Kaleen in over three centuries. Kaleen had, for the most part, restricted its trade to lands in the south and west, preferring to keep away from the east, due to various currents and reefs that made traversing the waterways dangerous. The Tribe of Hardel and the Tribe of Kaleen had engaged in friendly trade before, but even via the land route that existed, a large mountain range and dense forest separated the two. Hardel, for the most part self-contained, had few goods worth trading for, and so it was largely ignored by merchants in favor of other, wealthier communities.
 
Graven shook his head, “I wanted to go there because I didn’t have a larger boat, or anything high-quality that I could offer for trade. In the archives, it seemed like Hardel would be my best destination, since smaller vessels can reach it without any trouble, and it would have been a very short voyage. I was also eager to see if they had become more focused on trading in the past three-hundred years, since nobody else had tried to go there in so long.” He sighed in despair, “Unfortunately, I could not be more far from the truth. They were at least hospitable to strangers in the past, but now, they are so entrenched in war with another tribe that all outsiders are suspected of being spies sent by the enemy.”
 
He rubbed his eyes tiredly, “When I was arrested, they threw me inside of a small cage. It seems that they do not even have a proper jail, for instead of being inside of a building devoted to that purpose, it was outside, behind their Great Hall. They interrogated me, demanding to know who had sent me, but even when I told them that I had come from Kaleen, they continued to accuse me of being a Glerdish spy. They continued to do so for three hours, refusing to give me either food or water, until they finally gave up and left me alone in that state of confinement. Not only did they treat me like a threat, but, as they herded me towards that cage, I passed an arena that they were building for some sort of ceremony, the barbarians…” He placed his head in his hands; it hurt, but he was also aghast at some of the things that he had learned about Hardel.
 
Kordinan tilted his head, “What was that arena for? I know that I don’t need to ask you whether or not you learned the meaning of it; it is clear to me that you did not like what you saw.” He said.
 
Graven looked at the chief, “I do not know when they founded the tradition, but it seems that every thirty years, Hardel hosts a ceremony known as the Sifting of Ages.” He looked as though he were about to break down and cry, “They take all the young boys between the ages of thirteen and seventeen, and, on the day of the ceremony, force them to fight each other, wielding swords, maces, knives, and axes, with non-lethal force. They battle one-on-one, and keep fighting until a winner is crowned. Then those who lost previous rounds engage in unarmed fights, until an ultimate loser emerges.” A tear came from his eye, glimmering against the soft down of his face, “That loser is then cut off from the village and exiled, and, if he does not leave the next day and reach the northern Wilderness before being caught by patrols sent out after him, he is killed.” He struggled to keep control after this, his frame wracked by barely-suppressed sobs.
 
Kordinan’s eyes widened, partially out of concern for Graven, but also, in horror. “Why? Why would they do such a thing?” He shook his head and walked away from the table to go stir embers in the fire again, before using a ladle in order to place the herbal rewl in two cups. He carried them over to the table, setting one down in front of Graven, and then sitting across the table from him with his own. Neither took a drink, however. It was hardly a situation that called for trying to relax.
 
Graven shook his head, his jaw opening and closing wordlessly; he was at a loss. “…I don’t know…because they’re at war and want strong warriors…?” He ventured, unable to understand the logic behind the Tribe of Hardel’s savage blood sport.  He was quiet, before speaking again, “They would hate their own chicks, if they were not strong. The few young boys that I saw from the cage were always practicing with weapons; some were even already wearing full suits of armor. They practically worship their warriors, and all other professions are inferior.”
 
Kordinan finally raised his cup to his beak and took a sip of the rewl, tasting the bitter drink, and finding it appropriate for the occasion, “How did you escape? Did they let you go? Why did they not return your vessel and supplies?” He asked.
 
The merchant looked away sadly, “I did not escape; three days after I had been stuck in that cage, a boy appeared in the middle of the night. He picked the lock on my cage, and handed me a map that directed me through Hardel’s territory, so that I would be able to find my way back here.” He shook his head, “Out of all of them, even the chief himself, no one believed me except that boy, and somehow, he found out how to accurately direct me. It is possible that Hardel does not keep archives like Kaleen does, or if they do, nobody is willing to read them. It is unbelievable, still, that if they have any existing records about Kaleen, they would not even go through the trouble of trying to find them, before accusing me.”
 
There was a rumbling of thunder, and Chief Kordinan looked outside the window by the table, briefly, before returning to the conversation, “If they are at war, they would be suspicious of everyone. They may have arrested you first, before trying to discover your origin. It is possible that their history about our village is too sparse; three centuries with no visitors from Kaleen, and a ship that was not marked with our tribe’s symbol. Their logic was probably this: If Kaleen has not visited Hardel in over three hundred years, what has motivated them to do so, now?” The Chief then leaned over the table, looking intensely at Graven, “Graven, while I am aware that you are not one of Kaleen’s merchants that I have personally commissioned, and it may seem frightening to approach the Chief to ask for it, you should not have gone to a community that has not been visited for longer than a century with an unmarked ship.”
 
Kordinan rose from the chair and walked over to the fireplace, poking coals to make the flames cast more light, “My reasoning behind marking vessels is to identify merchants that have been vouched for by the Chief; they will not attempt to cheat those that they trade with, and it also permits you to mark the sails of your boat or ship with the Tribe’s symbol. You do not need that mark to trade with people familiar with Kaleen, but among strangers, or those that have not seen any of our people for a long time; I would prefer that you ask me for a commission, even if this was only your first time making a voyage with the intent of bringing back cargo.” He said.
 
He then turned and went back over to the table, standing by his chair, rather than sitting down, “While I cannot withhold my own agreement, that Hardel’s current practices are savage and barbaric, I must also remind you of the political situation. Without Kaleen’s mark on your ship, you had no credibility, and a spy would certainly take goods if he were pretending to be a merchant, though, not as much as one with more experience that was legitimate. While you may not see it in such a way, you were suspicious, and records were not recent enough to give you credibility.” He proceeded to take his seat again, folding his arms in front of him, and leaning on the table, “Now, with that statement out of the way, what about this boy? Was he prompted to help you, or was it on his own free will that he decided to assist in your escape? Do you know anything about him?”
 
Graven made a pained expression, and looked out the window, watching flashes of lightning as they briefly illuminated the dark skies; the rain had not come yet, but as the trees violently whipped in the wind, he knew it could not be far away. “That boy, I did not know much about him, but, it seems he is well-known throughout the village, and not in a positive way.” He began, “When I first saw him entering the woods at a distance, likely to hunt small game, I thought he was too young to be doing so; he looked about nine or ten years old. Then, sometime later, I think perhaps five hours after I saw him go, he came back empty-handed, and was jumped by three boys, I think they were fifteen or sixteen. I saw them drag him out of view, and that was it.” His eyes misted slightly at the memory, “I thought that he would call out for help, or do something to protect himself, but he never did.” He took a deep, wavering breath, “That was the first day after they had thrown me in that cage.” Graven said.
 
Kordinan frowned, disturbed, “Go on,” He said.
 
Graven nodded, rubbing his eyes, trying to dispel the tears and exhaustion that weighed heavily on his frame. “The next day, if I listened carefully, I could hear people as they walked past the Great Hall. It was their meetinghouse, and there was much activity around that area. I tried to yell at them to let me go at first, I was angry, but nobody ever listened. My voice would grow sore, so I stopped. That was when I started to overhear the news and gossip through their conversations.” He said, “That was how I learned about their Sifting of Ages ceremony. It was three days away, at the time. I also heard mention about the boys in the village; they were participants, so there was much discussion about them.”
 
Graven shook his head, fighting the urge to fall asleep; even though he truly wished to remain awake; his body wanted to give out on him. “The one boy in particular, was not, in fact, ten years old; he was fifteen, and the same age as the boys who were attacking him. He was just, for some odd reason, much smaller than everyone else. Whenever he was discussed, they referred to him as Damien, and from what I can tell, two years ago, he had mysteriously fallen mute. He was ridiculed for his physical weakness by most of the warriors, but several females, I sense that they might have had chicks of their own, were concerned about him. In the arena against the other boys, there was a great difference in strength, power, and training. Most were trained as warriors in melee combat; Damien, from what I could tell, was the apprentice of a blacksmith; I believe I heard someone refer to that particular fellow as Magnus.”
 
Kordinan nodded slowly, listening intently, “I see, and you said that the loser of the Sifting of Ages was exiled, possibly killed? If he was fifteen, then this boy, Damien, would have been a participant. It also seems that he has been treated quite horribly by his peers: from how he reacted to being attacked, it has happened many times. Not only was he persecuted by others without anyone moving to his defense, but it seems that he might have also suffered some sort of traumatizing event, if he refrained from speaking, despite no physical disability preventing him from doing so. I suspect he made no effort to speak to you, either, Graven?” He said.
 
Graven took a moment to gain composure; all of his energy was gone, and the memories of Damien deeply hurt him. “He never spoke to me, Kordinan, much less approached me, until that night that he came and picked the lock on my cage. He communicated entirely through gestures and body language. From that alone, he revealed to me that he was the one who had made the lock on my cage.” He then frowned deeply, “At first, when I saw him, I yelled at him for not trying to sleep so that he was ready for the ceremony; I thought he was like the others, excited to fight, but then I remembered what I had seen and heard. He used a feather from his mane and picked the lock, and then he gave me a map that I suspect he drew himself, and sent me back here. I followed the river. I can’t say for certain that I know what he was thinking, but, I think he wanted someone to stop Hardel, or perhaps, even the war.”
 
Kordinan sighed, “Graven, you are indebted to that boy; had they decided you were no longer useful for information, Hardel would have executed you. I suppose, as Chief of this village, I also, in a way, owe him, for saving one of my citizens.” He turned and looked out the window, as the first heavy downpour of rain began, “What was his mental state, from what you could guess? Did he seem…stable? You know what I am implying that I might do in response to this news.” He said.
 
Graven nodded. He knew as much as Kordinan, that someone needed to halt the war that had caused Hardel to regress to its current state. He also knew that such an environment as what the tribe had created was slowly corrupting the minds of its youths. Taking even one person out of that hazardous environment might save their entire life. Kordinan was a kind, merciful chief; he would take in a complete stranger under his roof. Graven knew that if it was within his power, Kordinan himself would go out and bring the boy back; that was simply the kind of person that he was.
 
Graven stared out the window at the relentless rain, “I don’t know,” He answered, honestly unsure, “He seemed sane, to me, but at the same time, the expression on his face, and the look in his eyes…even now, it haunts me.” He turned his gaze back to the chief, “I think that in his mind, he held the same beliefs about Hardel as we do now: he believes that his own people are barbaric and that their war with the Glerdish is the root cause, but...” He paused for a moment, and took a sip of rewl from his own cup, but by this time, it was already cold. He had to think carefully about what he wanted to say, next, and his throat was growing dry again.
 
Finally, he found the words, and continued, speaking slowly, “…It was…as though he were wearing a mask…there was no expression on his face, whatsoever. It was frightening, because when he first approached me in the middle of the night…I thought he might hurt me.” He shook his head, still fighting the urge to sleep defiantly, “Still, then, the look in his eyes…” He looked at Kordinan intently, “…His eyes gleamed like fire, and yet, they were distant, as though he were looking from a far-off place…” He coughed, unable to keep his voice from growing hoarse, “He seemed to believe that he was already dead, and in that gaze, I saw sadness…sadness, and rage…”
 
Kordinan raised his head, “I understand the previous three expressions, but…rage? Why rage…?” He asked, although it seemed as though he were partially questioning himself. He shook his head, unable to understand.
 
Graven sighed tiredly, “…Who can say, sir? I only know what I was able to overhear…I am certain that there was a reason.”
 
A thought then occurred to him.
 
He straightened suddenly, “Kordinan, this is serious; the Sifting of Ages happened today, if they did not stop it to look for me when they discovered that I was missing!” He unexpectedly raised his voice, and then lowered it to an appropriate volume when he realized it. He had also referred to the Chief by his first name alone, without proper respect. He would have to watch himself, but this matter was more important. “There is no possible way that he won that ceremony, not if he truly gave up before it even began; they will exile him tomorrow if we do not do something.” He was hardly able to control himself, now. It was a combination of concern and exhaustion that made him somewhat irrational. “Please!” He pleaded, “We cannot just sit idly by and do nothing!”
 
Kordinan held up his hand, “Stop, and think for a moment,” He said.
 
Graven shook his head wildly, “No, we have no time for that!” He said.
 
Kordinan’s calmly met his frantic gaze, “I never said I would not do anything. I agree with you, but you are shouting, and are at your limit. You need rest.” He said. He slowly rose from his chair, “Feel free to stay here, for now. Sleep while I am gone, and douse the fire, before you do.” He said, walking over to the door, preparing to go out into the rain. He looked over at Graven, still sitting in his chair, “I will prepare a commissioned boat for us; we will set sail immediately for the Tribe of Hardel. We have put off diplomacy with them for far too long. While I do this, you will rest, or you will not be able to function. If the boy is nowhere to be found in Hardel, I will send a few brave souls into the Wilderness.”
 
Kordinan then sighed, as he raised a hand and placed it on the door, shaking his head, “If he is not in Hardel, though, he may already be dead.” He then looked back at Graven, “Graven, you said your name was? Listen, Graven: You must only be eighteen or nineteen years of age, yourself. You are barely older than this boy that you are trying to save. You may regard yourself as an adult, and Damien as a young flightling, but that is not so.” He said.
 
He continued, “You are both still very young, and it seems that now you share the same plight, in the sense that you have become entangled in something far more serious than what those your age should be forced to go through. From what I have seen and heard, both of you carry yourselves with great maturity, for your age, but still, Graven, you yourself are still immature, compared to that boy. Even grown men have failed to carry themselves as well as this Damien fellow has done, considering all of the trials that he has been put through. What that boy knows that you have not yet learned, is that allowing your actions and plans to be clouded by emotion will hurt you. There is nothing wrong with having feelings to motivate you, but if you let them obscure your judgement, it can result in a dangerous folly.”
 
Kordinan pushed open the door, and held up an arm to keep his face from being buffeted by a wall of rain, “-Still, though,” He muttered quietly, as he began closing the door behind him, “Neither of you should have ever been put through this.” He said.
 
With that statement, Kordinan was gone.
 
…And so it was, that as a violent storm began to make its way inland, an exile fled through the woods. As he swiftly darted through the trees, a threat followed in the distance, bent on capturing him. While this dark pursuit took place, a leader prepared to make his way east, determined, along with a young merchant who had witnessed its horrors first-hand, to take a stand against the evils that had grown within the shadows…

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ViperaUnion
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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Thu Dec 24, 2015 9:57 pm

…As the dark skies violently began their downpour, the trees of the northern forest were joined by four shadows, the first entering half an hour before being pursued by three others. The first silhouette, the smallest, was familiar to the ancient wood, so often seen moving in silence. Once having visited the trees during the day, it now seemed to be a creature of the night; it moved swiftly and with purpose, each movement graceful and fluid in the darkness. The three shadows that followed it were strangers, crashing clumsily along, snapping twigs and shouting as the rain and winds moved to oppose them. Their progress, obnoxious and loud, was no secret…
 
Damien was no stranger to the forest north of Hardel. It had so often been the one thing that had brought him peace and comfort in the world. The woodlands were familiar to him, every tree and stone had been explored, every path and landmark known by heart since a very young age. Even in the darkness of night, with the clouds obscuring the moon and rain pouring down, concealing what lay in the near distance, he knew this place. It did not matter if he struggled to see in the dim light; his memories continued to guide him.
 
Moving with the stealth of a practiced archer, Damien placed his steps carefully on instinct: not a single twig or leaf would crack underfoot. Doubtless, most slow movement would have been drowned out by the downpour, but he would take no chances. The sorrow he had felt from before began to fade as he moved further away from civilization towards the Wilderness, his emotions finally finding some sense of stability. Despite himself, his movements became more confident, as he remembered that he no longer had any standards to follow, and therefore there were no rules regarding how he should behave. He had long ago considered the woods almost like a second home, and now, it was his only sanctuary. If the domain of his enemies were the walls and roads of the village, then Damien’s was the dense groves and underbrush of the forests.
 
His hands tightening with these thoughts, almost as though he were still carrying his bow, he moved like an armed warrior. He could not describe it: this feeling of release, as though he had been trapped within a cage, and had finally been set free. Reflecting back on his life in Hardel, he realized that, just as he had felt safe and at home within the woods, he had constantly felt imprisoned within the Tribe. Though he was permitted to go anywhere he wished, he was bound by the expectations of others. His full potential would have never been reached because, just as Hardel had shunned artisans and any profession outside of warfare, Damien’s talents did not conform to their ideals.
 
Past the strange happiness at his liberation was anger. It was so potent that it was like venom flowing through his veins. He wondered if it were his sanity slipping away, or if it was perhaps because he no longer cared about what would happen, regarding the Tribe. Hardel did not concern itself with what happened to its exiles once they were driven from its territory. Damien could no longer regard it as his home; it was filled with more enemies than loved ones, and a hateful part of him wanted to watch the entire village burn. The toxic nature of his own thoughts frightened him, and yet, he was unable to stop himself from feeling a twinge of delight at the notion.
 
As he slowly padded along the forest floor, rain harmlessly beading along his feathers, Damien gradually became aware of the sound of crashing behind him in the distance, too abrupt and conspicuous to be an animal. Someone was following him, though for some reason, this did not seem to alarm him, as he thought it would. He knew that there were enemies in the Tribe of Hardel: people who would chase after him, even if it meant becoming cold and miserable in the current weather. By comparison, Damien was warm, and felt completely at ease: he had forgotten to wash the excessive oil from his feathers as he stressed over the Sifting of Ages, and it seemed that it was now beneficial. The water could not penetrate down to his skin, and a characteristic that he had once regarded as an issue with hygiene seemed to exist for the purpose of making his body waterproof.
 
He paused, and took a moment to camouflage himself, pressing his side against a nearby tree as his body shimmered to match his surroundings, only the faintest distortions hinting that anything was there. The rain and darkness, interrupting his pursuer’s vision with the constant movement of a thousand tiny reflections, would easily hide Damien’s presence. He heard footsteps splash through puddles and snap brittle twigs that had only moistened through their bark, before the sound of voices was close enough that he could distinguish the number of people, and what they were saying. As he listened, he felt a menacing chill creep slowly through his limbs, as he recognized three voices: Horatio, Samson, and Hamish.
 
He had to stop himself as his breath caught in his throat; though his voice remained absent, he didn’t trust his own lungs not to give him away. The sudden appearance of those whom he had come to view as the most despicable of all bullies took away any sense of peace that he might have had. He had just begun to sort out his emotions, but hearing their voices made the wounds raw again. Perhaps he had not recovered from the shock as much as he had initially thought. Damien, filled with conflicting emotions, felt hot tears mix with the rain, even though he no longer knew or understood why he was crying.
 
Until the bitter end, it seemed that Horatio, Hamish, and Samson would chase Damien, not even giving him the mercy that a wild animal would afford; wild creatures killed swiftly, and for the sake of food. Knowing them, Damien’s attackers would surely beat him until he was completely mutilated, unrecognizable as himself, before ending his life in the slowest, most painful manner possible. How unfair was it that Damien, after having come to see them as something less than civil beings, still felt hurt by their actions, even though he had no reason to care about anything that they did? Why was he the person who was attacked as something unfit to live, when real monsters walked in the open, celebrated by those around them?
 
Damien resisted the urge to bolt, knowing that a hasty retreat would immediately tell the three where he was. He knew that he wasn’t alright, but he couldn’t stop to collect himself, either. He would have to move away slowly, and just let them believe that he had reached the Wilderness long before they could catch him. If he reached the clearing dividing Hardel and the unexplored northern lands, he could break into a run then; there were no twigs or brittle matter that would make noise loud enough to give his location. He would have to just move slowly, and hopefully, they would run past him, and not bump into him on their way.
 
Struggling to contain a voiceless sob, he wiped the tears from his eyes and slowly began to walk, moving away from the group, positioning himself so that he was on the other side of the tree trunk, moments before the trio burst into the area where he had just been standing, mere seconds before. Damien kept his hands tightened into fists, his heart rate quickening at the realization that he had almost been caught. Despite the emotional turmoil, his instinct to survive was still strong enough to tell him how dangerous this was. He was close enough to reach around the tree and graze the tips of Hamish’s wings with his fingers. It was a miracle that it was raining; otherwise, they would have seen his outline.
 
Hamish looked around the woods, lagging behind Samson and Horatio as they went ahead, and Damien ducked his head behind the tree trunk, just in case there was still a risk of being spotted, despite his camouflage. Briefly, however, he turned his attention to something other than his enemies, as he noticed something on a low-hanging branch, and wisely moved away…
 
 
Hamish squinted into the murky depths of the forest, but didn’t see anything unusual. There were leaves among the underbrush rustling occasionally as raindrops hit them, but otherwise, there was nothing that indicated that a Chimerosu had passed through. He gritted his beak, hopelessness setting in, further encouraged by how cold, wet, and miserable he felt, increasingly regretting having tried to go out in this kind of weather. What had possessed Horatio, to make him want to interrogate Damien? As for trusting Samson to let Damien go if they caught him, why did he trust the young warrior so much, when it was obvious that the two were constantly arguing over what they should do next?
 
He looked over at where Horatio and Samson had moved further away to search in different directions, before raising his voice, “Nothing over here!” He shouted, before shaking his head, and leaning against a tree that he was standing next to. The dampness was really beginning to take its toll, and he felt himself shiver slightly, before forcing his muscles to lock. It would look pathetic if he failed to suppress it, even though he felt extremely cold, with the water soaking into his feathers. What was the point, really, of him trying to make a joke out of chasing after Damien? Hamish and the others weren’t little anymore, and secondly, after the Sifting of Ages, everything ached. They had cuts on top of bruises, and no matter how much anyone tried to fake their enthusiasm, nobody had the energy to chase after anyone else.
 
Horatio seemed to notice Hamish’s apparent exhaustion, and trudged over, snapping several twigs as he went. “Hey, are you alright?” He asked, tilting his head slightly. He was fighting the urge to sneeze, and tensed his neck accordingly. “You look like this is wearing you out.” He said.
 
Hamish looked at his friend and leader, “I’m sorry I woke you up,” He said, before shaking his head and resting it against the bark of the tree. “Why did I even suggest this?” He muttered, before a thought came to mind, and made him laugh slightly, “…I guess, if I really think about it…I think I’m going to miss that guy…Damien…” He resisted the urge to cry, although it seemed completely irrational, given the situation. He was afraid of being alone, and yet, he was acting out-of-character in front of one of his most important friends. He was so dangerously close to being alienated for this, but for the moment, he just felt like he needed to say what was on his mind. Suddenly, it seemed like what Marcus had said earlier was hitting him like a solid wall.
 
Horatio, perplexed, laid a hand on Hamish’ shoulder, “What do you mean, you’ll miss him?” He asked, his face serious, “This isn’t like you, Hamish. You were always the guy who joked around, but it looks like this is bothering you a bunch.” He said. “What is it?” He asked, “You were the one who suggested we come out here.”
 
Hamish sighed, and turned to look at his friend, “Whenever I used to pick locks, Damien would make them more complex. They always got more difficult, and at first, I would get mad, but I guess, after a while, I started looking forward to it. It was a challenge, and I think maybe that some part of me is afraid that nobody will make lock-picking more difficult…” He laughed uneasily, before scrambling for more words. His jaw hung agape, before he found what he wanted to say again. “I guess…what I’m trying to say is…I think just a little bit, I understand what Marcus meant earlier…about not being numb…” He felt a warm tear streak down his face, but desperately hoped that the rain was hiding it. “I still want to be a warrior, but the more I think about it, the harder it is for me to think that what we’re doing…just chasing people for the sake of it…is the right thing to do…”
 
Horatio, dumbfounded by his friend’s sudden change of heart, scanned Hamish’s face, looking for any signs that his friend was trying to tease him. Despite how intently he searched for it, he found no humor or laughter in what his companion was telling him. Hamish was completely serious, and there was no foolishness in what he was saying. What was going on with his friends, so suddenly, that was making them emotional like this? “Hamish, if you feel that way….I wouldn’t have held it against you…you know that…right…?” He said. “Whether or not we say it….we’re all going to have things….that we…kind of miss about him…” He then suddenly noticed something move behind his friend on a low-hanging branch.
 
“Hamish! Look out!” He suddenly shouted, before grabbing his friend and sharply leaping backwards, causing both of them to fall onto the ground in a painful heap. There was a cold, menacing hiss, as Samson shouted something unintelligible and ran over, grabbing the two and lifting them up onto their feet.
 
“Let’s back away slowly, alright?” He said, having his friend’s wrists in a vice-grip as he slowly pulled them away from the source of the hissing thing that had startled them so suddenly. He swore quietly under his breath, forcing himself to speak in a hushed whisper, “A Baquona, it’s unusual for them to be active in this kind of weather. We must have made too much noise and woken it up,” He said. “Don’t make any sudden moves.” He said.
 
Coiled around the branch was a pitch-black, slimy creature with hide as thick as armor. Its eight legs, ending with razor-sharp claws, gripped the branch tightly, as a scythe-like tail flicked irritably. Its head atop its long, ribbon-like neck reared up, the skin changing to a brilliant red, and it snarled, baring rows of sharp fangs, dripping with acidic venom. Fierce, glittering yellow eyes fixed themselves on the three, and the creature pulled back, prepared to strike again, if the group did not leave immediately. The Baquona had been asleep, coiled around the tree branch when constant, faint vibrations had disturbed it. When it woke up, it realized that a large creature had gotten close to it, and angrily lashed out to bite it. Luckily for Hamish, Horatio had pulled him back before the dangerous animal’s fangs could pierce flesh.
 
 
In truth, the Baquona might have continued to sleep, had it not been for Damien’s deliberate attempts to disturb it by knocking his fist gently against the base of the tree. Hamish had made him far too nervous, leaning against it, and Damien had no desire to stand directly next to one of the most lethal animals in the Tribe’s territory. He had seen many Baquonas before when he went out hunting, and he knew that, unlike most creatures, they appeared to be deaf to audible noise, responding more to vibrations through the ground than anything else. In daylight, they were nearly invisible, stalking prey unnoticed until the final moments when they struck. They were not an outright aggressive species, and normally flashed warning colors to intimidate anything that came too close before attacking. If, however, there was a constant amount of noise and disturbance, they would be sufficiently provoked to strike at whatever was bothering them.
 
Damien knew that it was risky, intentionally agitating something that had enough power to make people lose entire limbs, but he needed to get away from these people, whose words only served to make his confusion worse. Forcing himself to steel his nerve and keep his breathing even, he slowly rose to his feet and began to creep away, warily watching for any movement that might indicate another dangerous creature hiding in the vicinity. Occasionally, he glanced back at the three warriors who had been chasing him, just to ensure that their focus remained fixed on the Baquona. Although he was gradually moving further away, and they weren’t looking directly at him, Damien found himself fascinated by what he saw in their eyes. He had seen anger, contempt, arrogance, and sadness, but this time, he saw something completely new: fear.
 
It was strange and incredible to Damien’s mind that, as small as it was, something like the Baquona could create such immense terror in three strong individuals at once. The creature merely had to flash the color red across its skin, and everyone immediately regarded the animal as a lethal threat to their safety. With its stealth unrivaled in the world of beasts, and the power to kill its victims without ever needing to fight, its very nature opposed the ideals taught by the practice of warfare. Hardel depicted the Baquona as underhanded, deceitful, weak, and cowardly, but in truth, that was not what the real creature was like at all. It was the most efficient of creatures, taking the lives of its prey swiftly, and, despite its diminutive stature, frightening even those who would boast that they were not afraid.
 
Tearing his eyes away from the sight, Damien moved further away, until he heard nothing else of the young pursuers that had been chasing him, and, when he saw the trees thinning ahead, he broke into a run. He soon found himself emerging into a large clearing, with torrential rain pouring out over it. With the trees no longer obscuring his vision, he now saw the Wilderness in the distance, as well as the violent lightning flashing across the skies. He knew immediately, just by the sound of the howling winds, that he was at risk of being struck, and that he would want to get to the other side of the meadow as quickly as possible. He sank down onto his stomach, bunching his body tightly against the earth, trying to make himself less of a target, and began to crawl through the wet grass and soil towards the safety of the trees.
 
When he managed to reach the very edge of the Northern Wilderness, he felt a tingling feeling overcome his body, and instinctively knew that there was no point in moving slowly: positive streamers; he needed to get out of the field immediately. He felt his pulse accelerate rapidly, and he found himself beginning to panic, but a rational voice continued to warn him that he needed to keep calm, or everything could end, here and now.
 
He sucked in a deep breath and forced all the energy he could muster into his wings, launching himself into the trees, mere moments before a blinding flash of lightning struck the ground, exploding behind him with a deafening sound.
 
Slamming sidelong into a tree, he felt his entire body go numb, his ears ringing, and he began to grow dizzy as the edges of his vision started to blur and swim in black. He was about to pass out from the shock to his system; he knew this, even though the nauseating pain and agonizing sting against his side should have clouded all of his senses.

Weakly, he noted a rocky outcropping with a dark space underneath it, and, summoning the last of his strength, forced himself to rise onto his feet, shakily, and stumble towards it.
 
When he reached it, Damien rose, teetering on the edge, before realizing his mistake, as everything finally went dark around him, and he began to fall: It was a crevice, and he did not know how far down it would be.
 
Too late to worry about that now, he thought bitterly.

And he fell.

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Fri Jan 29, 2016 6:57 pm

…When Damien finally regained consciousness, he had to blink painfully as faint rays of sunlight streamed down from above, shining into his eyes…

Damien’s vision was not clear or stable, at first. He continued to blink and shift around on damp stones, trying to make the blurry images come into focus. As he did this, he recognized that the cavern he had fallen into was shallow enough to allow filtered light into its mouth, and that he had been fortunate enough to land on a mostly-flat, slightly inclined floor of pebbles. Though this aspect of his situation brought a small sense of relief, it did not prevent him from realizing various other troubles. His body ached all over, his tongue felt dry, and his head throbbed. One side was bruised from his collision with the tree, and his other side felt no better, Damien having landed on it after falling a decent distance, though not enough to cause serious injury.

Forcing himself to summon the strength, despite how heavy he felt, Damien shifted so that he rolled over onto his stomach, scraping his nails into the softened wet gravel, and hearing water accompanying the movement of his tail. The cavern had absorbed most of the rain that had fallen into it, but some had accumulated behind Damien, deeper in, and a portion of his lower body was sitting in it. He would have never realized it, given the newly-discovered waterproof properties of his feathers, were it not for the cold sensation on the two large cuts that he had bandaged. He had not noticed it before, as he had been focused on other concerns previously, but now that he seemed to be safe, all of the things that he had not felt before were suddenly there.

One of the things Damien was certain of was that he needed to remove the bandages, or the dampness would promote infection in his injuries, more so than leaving the wounds exposed. Another thing that he knew was that his throat was parched, and needed to drink something. There was water behind him, but he needed to be certain that whatever he drank from was clean, or he could grow sick; he recalled former warriors telling stories about how those who had decided to drink standing water had died from dysentery. He pushed himself up so that the frontal part of his body was raised into an upright position, though he could do little more than this at his current level of strength, and with how narrow the cavern was. He looked up at where he could see the opening of the cavern, but it was so steep that he could only see the faint rising outcrop of stone above where the pit began, and the cloudless blue sky above.

When he had fallen, it had been a straight shot down to the bottom of the cavern, but now he was unable to see how he could climb out. It was possible, if he was very careful, but otherwise, his chances of easily getting out were slim. The stones had accumulated a slimy red coating from constant moisture, and there were not many outcroppings that he could grab onto for purchase. As he shifted to take in his surroundings, he recognized something brittle touch one foot, and realized that he was not the only creature that had fallen down into the cavern. The skull of a small Meebuck, only a fawn, greeted him with hollow sockets, telling him the story of how it had died.

The gentle, rounded curves of the not-yet developed skull told him that it had been a female, and the absence of any other skeletons told him that it had died alone. Her mother must have known that it was hopeless, and that there was no way of rescuing her. A large, cracked bone told Damien that the fawn had broken her leg, and that she must have been in severe pain. He knew that it was nature at work, that some creatures died this way, but still, Damien felt his heart ache. He knew that the fawn had been scared, and that she had been tormented endlessly by things that she could never control. By the time the end had come to claim her life, death must have seemed like mercy, putting an end to her suffering.

It was only a Meebuck, an animal killed for food on a regular basis. Nobody would care how it had died, most would never know that it had fallen into the cavern, and even then, it would probably mean nothing to them. It was simply an old skeleton, the flesh having long-since been torn away by insects and decay. If it had meant something before, it would someday crumble into dust, into oblivion, and melt into the earth, as though it had never been there. Every true story was meaningless; it was the arrogance of the living that motivated them to pretend, to think that they would someday find a way to escape. Even if something had been left behind, it was only a faint memory, destined to fade.

Taking a deep breath, he sighed, acknowledging the finality of what he had seen, and turned his attention away. A grave might be shown respect, but even so, the dead were not here, and they could not help him to survive in this situation. He shifted his focus to the damp bandages on his lower left side, where Horatio’s horns had cut him, and slowly began to remove them. As they loosened, he detected a faint, sour odor coming from the injury, and took it as a bad sign. The smell indicated that infection was trying to form, however mild, and if Damien attempted to use the water behind him to clean it, there was the risk of something worse entering the wounds. Taking into account the appearance of it, it was better than it could have been, but still, the flesh was ragged, and would not seal easily.

After thinking for a moment, Damien worked up some saliva in his mouth with some difficulty; it was hard to produce any when he was still in desperate need of clean water, but it was the best he could think of. He spat it into his hand, and gently applied it to the wound, wincing, because it stung badly as he did so. Although it was not always effective in preventing infection, it must have had merit; many animals had a tendency to lick their wounds, and it was sometimes even a compulsion in Chimerosu, as well. Some illnesses were believed to be transmitted by saliva, but surely, in this situation, the least Damien could do was this. He was already at risk as it was, and he was neither a doctor, nor someone blessed with convenient medical supplies.

Once he had done the best he could with first-aid, given that he had no better alternatives, he turned his attention to escaping the cavern, to the best of his ability. He felt around on the slick stones, trying to find a spot that was free of the slimy fungus that was making escape so difficult. He was not able to find any dry areas, so he tried to feel for something he could dig his fingers into, hopefully a place solid enough to give purchase without sending rocks cascading down over his head. Finally, he found one spot, and pulled himself up, wincing as he scraped his back beneath the empty quiver he was wearing on the roof of the small crevice. It would not be enough to break the skin, but it may have damaged a few feathers, and it would be bruised, later.

Slowly, keeping a close eye on his surroundings to ensure that he would not carelessly injure himself a second time, he felt for another foothold, and raised one of his feet to grip it, testing it to see if it would support his weight. It slipped slightly, and then held, but Damien could not prevent the small amount of movement from making his heart beat a little faster. He did not want to fall, or he could break a limb like the fawn had, and then escape might be completely impossible. Forcing himself not to look back at what could potentially happen, he kept searching for places where he could gradually inch further up out of the tunnel-like mouth, and found one, and then another, and a third one after that. Damien kept climbing, until finally, he was able to raise his head out of the cave, breathing in fresh air.

Just as he did this, he felt one of his footholds come loose, and, without thinking, he scrambled, snatching a broken root that snaked away from a nearby tree, just as two more stones broke away, cracking against the gravel cave floor beneath him. Now, Damien was supported by both hands gripping the tree root, and a single foot that was still firmly in its spot. The other three feet dangled uselessly, and he might slip completely if he tried to scramble for new places to put them. He knew, however, that if he could just get his first pair of legs out of the cavern, he could use his wings to finally escape. With freedom just within reach, Damien did his best to pull himself out using the root, his small arms burning as he tried to lift his full weight. Without his legs to push him upwards, this was extremely difficult, and it seemed that he was only succeeding in scraping his chest and stomach, damaging the strap of his quiver.

Then, without any warning, as if prompted by the inopportune moment, a shadow cast itself over Damien, but he could barely keep hold of the root, much less turn his head to look. He only knew that a very large Chimerosu was suddenly there, where he couldn’t see them, and that he was in no position to defend himself if they were hostile.

His heart suddenly began racing with terror, and Damien frantically pulled with all of his strength, trying to get out so that he could run away. He bit onto the root with his beak, straining with his neck and arms at once, finally inching out of the hole enough to use his wings. He flapped them furiously, disturbing a flurry of wet leaves and twigs, and sailed forward, only to painfully crash back into the ground and skid to a halt at the base of the tree that he had used to free himself.

Stinging from the countless bruises, he found himself struggling to catch his breath; he had exhausted any energy that he might have had. His limbs burned like fire, and he was dying from thirst. Even though he was not sure how long he had slept inside of the cavern, he felt weak, and was overcome by waves of nausea. His whole body shuddered from the strenuous burden that had been placed on it, and every time he tried to rise to his feet, his legs contorted wildly and slipped out from underneath him. Damien had, in a short period of time, escaped death on multiple occasions, but his strength was now completely gone.

He saw the shadow out of the corner of his eye, but his legs would not work properly. A terrible, heavy sensation like lead sank into them. Damien closed his eyes, coughing weakly, and became still, resigning himself to whatever fate awaited him. He was certain that the shadow he had seen was still there, but whoever it was, they were moving so quietly that he could not tell exactly where they were, if they were going to leave him, or if they were slowly advancing towards him to kill him. He did not want to die, but he was no longer capable of protecting himself. He did not look; he did not want to see the moment when the blade came down.

He sensed a faint air current, the stranger standing over him, and then felt an arm lock around his neck, lifting up his head.

Something forced his beak open, and water rushed down his throat.

Damien sputtered, coughing hoarsely in surprise, his body weakly contorting in response as he tried to pull himself free. There was no hope of him doing so; however, as the headlock he was in felt as immobile as forged metal. The more he moved, the tighter the grip became, until finally, he started to gasp, his breath having been cut off. The arm loosened, easing the constriction on his windpipe, but remained tight, refusing to budge. There was no killing intent, but it was clear that this Chimerosu had no intention of letting him go. He could do nothing more but close his eyes tightly, a migraine shooting through his skull.

The stranger kicked him over onto his right side, stopping the ground from obstructing his lungs, and avoiding putting pressure on the two open wounds on his left. He felt his head being lifted up again, and more water was forced down.

At first, he failed to swallow, instead spitting up more of it, but eventually, he was able drink some, and finally, whoever had given the water to him took away the container, lowering his head back onto the ground. He tried to open his eyes to see who had seemingly come to rescue him, but his eyelids were heavy, his head hurt, and his vision had gone too blurry from the exertion. He could feel his body growing heavy, trying to give out on him, and as the small amount of what he could see began to swim in black for the second time in recent events, he heard a voice.

Damien”

That voice was the last thing he heard, and as he finally sank into unconsciousness, he couldn’t help but think about it. He did not recognize the sound of the voice, but something about it, the way his name had been said, was strangely familiar. He was not sure why, but for some reason, as he lost all connection with the world, he felt his heart growing just a little bit lighter.

Just a little bit.

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ViperaUnion
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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sat Apr 09, 2016 4:39 pm

…The first thought that ran through his head when he woke up for the second time, was that it was dark. It was terrifyingly dark, and he could not see…

Damien squinted into the gloom, but the shadows concealed his surroundings so well that his eyes might have been closed. As he breathed, he felt the dampness as it entered his lungs; there was the smell of wet soil hanging in the air, and he could faintly hear the babbling of a stream nearby. He was sprawled over a dense bedding of moss and leaf litter, strangely soft, and something heavy was draped over his body. Trying to move, he found himself becoming tangled in it, and quietly wondered what it was. It felt smooth, and remarkably soft, almost like the shed skin of a baquona, once it had dried in the sun. A part of him wondered whether or not he was dreaming. Something about where he was, how this felt, did not seem real.

Wondering for how long he had fallen unconscious, Damien reached around to touch the injuries above his hind leg, and felt a small jolt run through his body, when his fingertips met what felt like fresh bindings, instead of open wounds. Through touch, he recognized what felt like a large, soft leaf, held onto the two slash marks by some sort of vine. He could feel something fluffy, like moss, which had been placed over each individual cut underneath the leaf. Damien had not initially noticed any of this, but now he was fully-aware of the fact that while he had fallen unconscious, someone had carried him to this place. His body still ached with a multitude of bruises, so it must have not been long ago that this had happened, but regardless, now that he had returned to his senses, he realized that he was now trapped by a stranger, and that he had no idea where he was.

He was also weak, tired, and hungry, and even though he tried to struggle against whatever sort of blanket had been placed on top of him, Damien felt too weak to escape, even if he were to be free from this current predicament…if it was actually a predicament, and he should be afraid. Would an enemy help him, only to kill him or hold him prisoner? It went against common sense…but then again, Hardel possessed no common sense. The entire tribe was taken by madness. He was just another victim of their insanity.

Damien was abruptly pulled from this train of thought when he heard the sound of large footsteps coming from somewhere behind him. It was relatively silent, but he could hear leaves rustling in response high above him in the canopy. Something big that walked on two legs, some creature that, as far as he could tell, was very, very large.

It was coming towards him.

Feeling his heart beat even faster at the prospect that he had been abandoned, that he had been left at the mercy of some large, predatory monster that would eat him, Damien struggled in vain. Meanwhile, the strange animal continued to come ever-closer, until finally, Damien froze, still as a statue, as he heard the massive feet come to rest right behind him. He felt a wave of nausea wash over him when he felt the presence of the creature, whose body radiated heat, lean over him, sniffing, its breath ruffling the feathers of his mane. The faint breaths that came from its nostrils felt more like powerful gusts of wind, and Damien, unable to see, could only guess at its size. The creature must have possessed nostrils as wide as his fists, and its skull alone probably surpassed the largest Hardel warriors in size. It had a very faint, rancid smell, like most predators that would spill blood, but overwhelming this was a sharp, clean scent, almost like rewl, which Damien could not properly place.

Damien really hoped that it was not hungry.

The creature, continuing to sniff him, as though extremely curious, abruptly stopped, and he could sense it lifting its head away from him, though what it was doing, he was not sure. He heard a shuffling sound, and then the steps of the strange animal moved away, as though it were in a hurry.

Damien waited for a few moments, straining his ears until the noise of footsteps had long-since faded, before once more trying to struggle out of whatever he had been entangled in, before finally managing to get one arm free, and then another. Successfully detangling himself with the aid of his hands, Damien broke free of his strange, and stumbled to his feet, suddenly remembering his situation as his tired legs tried to give out beneath him. He tried desperately to make out some sort of image in the gloom, but it was still too dark for him to detect anything at all. It was impossible to see, and Damien was still not sure if the large predator would come back for him. If it did, this time, it might try to chase him, and he knew that he was in no condition to escape if that occurred.

He had to get away from here, but where?

Damien, not sure of what else to do, slowly began to move forward, towards the sound of the running water in the stream, deciding that if he could follow it, it might eventually lead him out of this place of perpetual midnight. He lightly shuffled his feet on the ground, wary of sticks and twigs that might snap underfoot. He wanted to break into a run, but in this case, it might be even more dangerous to run, than it would be to move slowly, and risk something arriving before he had completely left the area. He was not nearly as bad as he had been previously, but he still felt weak, and to a lesser degree, ill. Who had rescued him, and of all places, why had they left him in a place where dangerous carnivores could reach him?

Just as he felt the promising sensation of coolness on his feet, when Damien had reached the stream, he felt a powerful shove from behind. He toppled over into the stream with a loud, deafening splash, and with horror, Damien realized that he had been caught trying to escape, not by the creature, but by another Chimerosu. He dug his hands down into the smooth pebbles of the brook, and rose to his feet, stretching his wings out, ready to use them as weapons, although they ached terribly. He turned to face in the direction of the person who had pushed him, trying to look as fierce as possible, although he was not sure how anyone could see in this darkness. He wished he could ask what was going on, and where he was, but his voice had fled, and he had not spoken in years.

Damien stumbled out of the stream, another blow knocking him back into the mossy bed of the clearing. A pair of feet landed behind him, but whoever it was, he could tell that they were keeping their distance. He looked around, thinking that perhaps this stranger was circling him, looking for an opening. His heart was beating rapidly again. He did not know if this person was a friend or not. He only knew that he was in a strange place, and that he was afraid.

“Damien stand, but Damien hurt. Weak.” He heard a female voice comment, oddly husky, and the accent, overall, something that he had never heard before. Although the voice itself was strangely masculine, the accent practically sounded as though it were a growl or snarl, the manner of speech almost feral in nature. It was also achingly familiar, the way his name had been said, but Damien could not see the stranger to know who it was. He did not recognize this voice, but something painfully ripped at his heart when he heard it. Something that he had kept buried deeply within him pleaded to see this person’s face. He was sure that he knew her, but in this place, in this situation, his mind almost refused to believe it.

Could it be?

Damien turned towards the sound of the voice, squinting, trying to make out shapes in the darkness, to see this person clearly. His hands, cold and feeble, shook, and his legs strained with the effort of lifting his body off of the ground, but still, he needed to know. He could not collapse; he would not allow himself to rest until he knew.

“Damien must sleep. Mist Trees safe place. Clear Wings help.” The voice commented, and Damien realized that it sounded almost…worried. “Damien must sleep.” She repeated, this time, somewhat more alarmed and forceful than before.

Damien took a step forward, having to catch himself as his leg tried to collapse.

“Sit.” The voice was suddenly very close, and Damien realized, before he had a chance to react, that he had been forced to the ground, his arms seized by hands that gripped with enough strength to cause bruising. He winced, and the stranger loosened her fingers slightly, but refused to let go.

Damien could not see, but he knew that one wing had been pinned under the stranger’s foot, and that his back pair of legs had also been caught, somehow. Was she using the toes of her hind feet? Sometimes Chimerosu could do that, but it often required actively learning the skill.

“Damien must sleep,” The female urged, not letting go.

Damien could only imagine how he must have looked. He probably looked like a terrible, beaten mess, by the end of the Sifting of Ages and his painful fall down into the cavern. He likely had several feathers that had been completely ripped out, and any part of him that did not have feathers was probably discolored by bruises. He had two gashes down one side above one leg, and his limbs shuddered spastically from time to time. If he was right, this person could see clearly, even if everyone else was rendered completely blind in this place.

Damien didn’t struggle, but he didn’t speak, either. His tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth, and he could only look up into the darkness, his pale eyes trying and failing to make out the face of this one person. Was it really? Could it even be possible, after this many years?

Seeing that he did not struggle, the female released his arms and legs, backing away from him. “Damien hurt. Storma help. Damien safe. Mist Trees safe.” She said.

That was all the proof that he needed, and before he even knew what he was doing, a choking sob escaped Damien’s throat. He closed his eyes, renewed tears streaming down his face.

Little did he realize that this was the first sound that he had produced in years. He did not even care. She was alive. She was alive.

Storma was alive.


“Damien cry? Cry? What Surface People do? Surface People hurt?” Storma, in the gloom, backed away, not sure how to respond. It was dark, and even though Damien himself could not see, Storma’s eyes could make out everything in the surrounding area perfectly.

She had been horrified when she had found him. His face was disfigured from bruises, and ugly gashes ran down one side of his body. She knew that it had been him, but she did not understand why. Her Father had kept her prisoner in Below, and Damien had set her free and made it so that the Surface People would not see her. Even so, Storma had to leave the Surface Place, because the Surface People would hurt Damien if they ever knew; that much she had been aware of. She felt guilt wash over her, remembering how she had left without saying anything, thinking that Damien would be safe if he could not find her. She saw now, however, in the way that his composure dissolved into a fit of tears, that he had been hurt, despite even her best efforts.

Storma felt anger rise in her chest.

What deed had her Father and the Surface People committed, for things to be like this? She had left him, and Damien was now almost too weak to stand. She had seen him trying to climb out of a cave, and he had been asleep for an entire day and night after she found him. Storma had almost thought that he was dead, but even so, had continued to carefully coax water down his throat, even as he was unconscious, unaware of his surroundings or what was occurring. She was not sure how long he had been trapped, but he was thin; she was able to slip water into his beak safely, but Storma could not give him food, for fear that he would choke. Perhaps he might have felt the pangs of hunger, but he probably had no idea that he had lost so much weight. It did not take long for someone to lose weight if they went without food.

Endless Sky Fires later, after Storma had left the Surface Place and found Mist Trees, she found Damien. He was smaller than she remembered; or perhaps he had always been this size, and she had just grown larger. For some reason, she thought it was strange, how small he was. It was as though, while the world aged and grew around him, Damien had remained unchanged. The Clear Wings had seemed saddened when they saw him, and it did not seem to be simply because of the fact that he was gaunt and injured. They sniffed at him frequently, as if his smell was filled with sickness, and he needed to be cared for. The Clear Wings covered him with many layers of their shed skin to keep him warm, and walked around him carefully, almost as though he were one of their own sleeping hatchlings.

Damien was small, and for some reason, Storma knew, by whatever means, that it was not normal. It was as though he were a tree that had grown in rocky soil: the roots would hold, but could never go deep, and the tree would never grow big. In such a way, Damien had grown in Surface Place, where the Surface Ones kept him from becoming what he should have been. He had blisters with something hard beneath them on his legs, and newer ones were forming on his forearms. She had placed soothing saps on these, but their location was in perfectly the same spot on each limb; it seemed normal, like when the Clear Wing hatchlings began to develop teeth and chewed on branches because it hurt. Something sharp was cutting Damien’s skin from within, but Storma did not have any words to describe it.

Damien’s voice was different, too, although Storma knew her own voice had changed. Damien’s was different than what she remembered, but if it was normal for voices to change, his voice was unique. It was deep, harsh, and rasping, and sounded dry, as if he never spoke. There was something in it, however, that flowed smoothly, by whatever means. Storma could not recognize anything else, however, because he seemed unable to form a response. She only knew about it because of the few times she had heard others speak in their water-like ringing, pure and high, on the night of her rescue.

Storma looked around, before lowering herself down by Damien’s side, “Storma know. Surface People need truth, but Surface Place is evil. Evil hate truth and people like Storma and Damien. Hide truth, hurt people who know truth, who like truth.” She said, recalling how he had claimed that they hurt those who wished for peace, for an end to fighting, this thing he called ‘war’. “Damien safe, Storma hide Damien where Surface People not find. No Surface People find Mist Trees.” She said.

Just then, He Whose Wings are Night, leader of the Clear Wings, began to approach from the edge of the clearing, and Damien’s head bolted up, eyes looking blindly in the Clear Wing’s direction, his gaze filled with fear. Storma grabbed his arm when he started to rise from the ground, as if to flee. “He Whose Wings are Night is good. Help Damien. No scare, no hurt. Big, not like Damien and Storma, but help.” She said, trying to reassure him, realizing that it would make sense, if he could not see anything in the dark. She had forgotten.

Damien froze as He Whose Wings are Night lowered his head, snout inches away from his face, and sniffed, scales like silk brushing through the feathers on his mane briefly. Damien looked faint, as if he would pass out from fear, but he still retained his consciousness. “I can’t see…” He said, his voice so quiet, it was barely heard. He then seemed stunned, as though he had realized something, and touched the tips of his fingers to his beak. His other hand shook, and Storma released his arm, grabbing his wrist gently, trying to make the trembling stop.

A choked sob escaped Damien’s throat, and He Whose Wings are Night released a small breath of pale vapor, silently and invisibly slipping Sleep-Maker Mist into the frightened Chimerosu’s lungs. It would not make Damien sleep, as he had been asleep for far too long, and it was not sufficient to render him unconscious. It would force him to be calm, however. Though the Clear Wings did not like to do these things, to force feelings that were not there, it was sometimes needed. It was bad to be this scared, or this shocked. Damien seemed afraid of his own voice, as though he had just realized it was there, and somehow regarded it as a different thing from himself.

He Whose Wings are Night nudged his snout under Damien’s hand, a sign that he was a friend, and felt as the boy’s pulse settled through his palm. After a long silence, Damien spoke again, “…My voice…why…?” He seemed confused, but he was no longer on the verge of panic. “Storma…you were gone…where have you been?” He lowered his head, shaking it, and wondering if this were just a dream.

“Storma found Mist Trees. Storma not tell Damien. Storma want Damien be safe.” She replied.

“I thought you were dead…” He said in response, shaking his head, “I thought it was my fault…I have not spoken in two years.”

Storma did not know how long a year was, but she knew that it must have been a long time. “How many Sky Fires is two years?” She asked. Damien inclined his lowered gaze in her direction, somewhat. He was able to function, now, and although he knew that this was not normal, he did not presently care. Storma did not understand how horrible it had been. His mouth had been shut forever, it seemed. When Storma was dead, so was he.

“How many Sky Fires make the moon? Two tens and four moons. Several more after, but how can I explain…?” His voice drifted off, as if he were not sure if it truly belonged to him, still.

Storma, who knew that the moon grew and then shrank, recognized that it had been a very long time, from what she knew. It had been an extremely long time. Damien had not spoken since she had left.

Her heart sank.

He had thought she was dead. How awful might that have been? She could not imagine it.

She reached for his hand and held it tightly in hers, “Storma live. Damien did no wrong.” She said. “Surface Place hurt Damien, Storma not let Father hurt Damien again.” She said, looking at He Whose Wings are Night, looking for guidance. He offered none.

Storma looked back at Damien, “Sorry, Storma make Damien scared. Storma hurt Damien. Storma never want hurt Damien.” She told him.

“I know that you did not mean for it to be that way. Despite this, I cannot go back to Hardel.” He said, his voice becoming calm as the full effect of whatever he had breathed in helped to settle his emotions. “They will kill me if I go back. I cannot let them catch me.” He then struggled to rise to his feet, but his legs now weakly crumbled beneath him.

“Damien thin. Need food and water.” Storma said, letting go of his hand and rising. “Storma bring food. Damien bring Storma food when Storma hungry. Storma want help Damien.” Storma then opened her wings and flew away, but to where, Damien was not certain.


Damien remained there, with the ‘Clear Wing’ pressing its snout against his palm. It did not seem hostile, but still, it had done something, surely. He was too calm for this situation, but strangely, he could not bring himself to feel scared. It was as though something were dulling his senses in this situation, almost like a medicine that numbed him to those extreme emotions. Not only this, but as his voice had disappeared with what he presumed was Storma’s death, it returned with the realization that she was still alive. The only person he could truly regard as a friend had returned from the dead, he was face-to-face with a gigantic creature that he could not see, and whatever spell that had once held his tongue was now broken.

Most people would have experienced a complete meltdown, but for Damien, who felt as if he had been drugged, maintaining composure was surprisingly easy. He did not know if it was because of whatever the Clear Wing had done, or if it was because he had always been forced to operate under extreme stress. When he was in a good condition, it was everything he could do to still function, learning the blacksmith trade while at the same time being constantly attacked by bullies in the village. It took massive fortitude, as it were, simply to value one’s own existence when others either did not care, or actively loathed it. Despite this, however, Damien was not well, so the situation was different.

Storma had treated his injuries: somehow, she had learned a degree of skill with medicine, and no matter how crude or primitive it might have seemed it worked. Despite this, however, Damien still felt weak, and a constant, dull pang of hunger lingered in his belly. He felt better, but could not completely ignore the bruises all over his body, or the fact that he had experienced multiple severe shocks to his mental and emotional state in the past few days. Perhaps he was saner than he thought, to reason out these conclusions, but still, he was sure that the Clear Wing had done something to him. He had already behaved in an unstable manner, and he could still feel the animosity, hatred, and disillusionment boiling somewhere deep inside; since they had formed in his heart, they had never disappeared.

The most disturbing aspect of Damien’s sudden awareness of his own feelings was that, rather than succumbing to them against his will, he had complete control over these emotions, and how much he could involve them. He was sickeningly aware that, after the Sifting of Ages, something cruel had formed inside of him, as though the very nature of who he was had been somehow irreversibly damaged. Hardel did many horrible things, but mostly because of tradition, and partly because they did not fully understand how wrong they truly were. For Damien, who knew better, there was no excuse for why he would behave with such malice or nihilism. He could only conclude that at some point in recent history, his calm façade that he had so often used to hide his true feelings had broken, and at that time, the Damien that everyone saw was someone so ugly, so hateful, that it filled people with shock, and even a touch of fear. It was the same kind of horrific expression that someone might show in a battlefield, right before taking down multiple foes in a suicidal attack, as life had seemingly lost all meaning.

Damien patted the Clear Wing’s snout, before leaning his head against it, so that his beak touched the creature’s face, in something eerily resembling a kiss or prayer. “I should be happy, you kept my friend safe, and she has survived for two years without me.” He said to the Clear Wing. Damien knew Storma had called it, ‘He Whose Wings are Night’, but even for Chimerosu language, which was naturally very complex, with long descriptions, it was a complicated name. The creature was presumably male, but Damien still could not see, so he was not positive what a Clear Wing was. He did not know if it could understand him, but he spoke to it, anyway, “I should be happy, but I feel as though my heart has been crushed. They have taken my joy away from me.”

A deep, rumbling growl came from the Clear Wing’s throat, as if in response, and it lifted its head away, before Damien felt something smooth, like the blankets from earlier, slip over his back. What followed was a strange melody of whispering hisses and clicks, oddly quiet, despite Night Wing’s size. He then heard what he imagined was multiple other Clear Wings close by. Mist Trees seemed to be their range, whatever they were. To think that these gigantic creatures had taken Storma and himself in was incredible, but the calming effect of whatever had been done to him kept Damien from experiencing anything beyond mild bewilderment.

Damien heard the sound of flapping wings, and turned his head, looking out into the darkness where he knew Storma had already returned. Something was placed down on the ground in front of him, and the faint scent of blood came from it. It was meat; as a hunter, he would never forget the characteristic smell of cleaned game. Was Storma intending to start a fire so that he could see, and cook it? He could not smell smoke anywhere, as if she had done so before, and secondly, he doubted that she had ever learned how to make one.

“Storma bring food. Damien eat.” Her voice sounded in the shadows, and when he did not immediately move to take it, she picked up whatever she had brought, and place it in his hands. He felt the characteristic texture of something that had been freshly-killed. It did not disturb him, as he himself had prepared kills before, but regardless, he recognized that it had already been stripped of its pelt, and what seemed to be certain portions of its bowels. Storma expected him to eat this, without it being cooked, first.

She had given him raw meat as food.

Damien looked where his hands should have been, perplexed, before Storma spoke up, “Damien sometimes eat burn meat. Storma eat, no burn. Taste good later. Clear Wings eat no burn.” She said. Apparently, it was a taste that became more pleasant the more often you ate it. Damien was not certain he agreed with this, but at the same time, starting a fire might upset the Clear Wings, and as they were large and friendly, he did not want to anger them. Secondly, if Storma had eaten food like this for two years, she was still healthy, and had seemingly suffered no negative effects. He was still not sure about this, however, and he hesitated.

“Damien not get sick. Stomach feel strange first seven Sky Fires, but then not.” She said.

Damien, finally deciding that, if he refused to eat this, Storma might try to force it down his throat, he hesitantly picked off a piece with the hook in his beak, chewing and swallowing, all the while trying to suppress the urge to gag at the texture. It was not so much the taste, but the concept that it was raw meat, and the fact that even in the barbaric society of Hardel, this would be considered savagery. As he ate, however, he could not claim that it was as horrible as he would have thought. The taste of blood was foreign, but it did not make him want to vomit, and soon, pressed by hunger, his inhibitions about eating it were gone, as well. It was likely that his stomach would initially rebel against it, but the body could adjust, given time, just as Storma had claimed.

He could hear Storma slowly pacing around the clearing, “What Father do?” Storma asked, stopping abruptly.

Damien looked up, and shook his head, wishing that he could see, “The Sifting of Ages. I was exiled.” He said. “Hardel either exiles or kills who they regard as weak. I was not strong enough to fight, so they made me leave. They will kill me if I return, or if anyone from the Tribe sees me.” He replied.


Storma, in the darkness, looked at Damien, who still tried to see, even though it was clear his eyes could make out nothing in the shadows. He had calmed down, and it was likely that this state of mind would remain, even after the Sleep-Maker Mist’s effects wore off completely. “Damien not weak.” Storma said, “Damien not big, but Damien knows things. Surface People make wrong choice.” She said, shaking her head, unable to believe that she had met Damien because of her Father’s cruelty. “Damien grow strong, no fear Clear Wings.” She said.

Damien then laughed, but there was something in it that made Storma’s heart ache. Even though it sounded cheerful, as if he was amused by what she had said, there was still a hint of sadness in it. There was great anguish, Storma knew, in what had been done. Storma had been rejected by Father, and Damien had been rejected by Surface Place. Was it strange that, even though they had no reason to want acceptance, they still desired it, even though the people they wanted approval from were also the very people who had hurt them?

It broke her heart. It truly broke her heart. The only person Storma had ever known who had shown her kindness was Damien. To see his happiness taken away filled her with rage.

She could not forgive them for this.


Meanwhile, in Hardel, at dawn, four days after the Sifting of Ages…


Aesir was woken up by the sound of loud banging on his door, and its frantic rhythm told him that he could not take his time in reaching it. Hurriedly rising from where he had fallen asleep, holding Damien’s old bow, he rushed over to the front door and opened it, coming face-to-face with Furel, his old friend. Aesir blinked at him, darkness having crept under the former warrior’s eyes the grief of losing his only son still fresh after four days. The hatred that had revealed itself behind Damien’s otherwise-indifferent mask still haunted him, and that would be the last he would ever see. Sleep seldom came, only by accident; it was fleeting when it did.

“What is the meaning of this, Furel? Am I not entitled to my grief?” Aesir demanded, one hand holding the side of the door, nails scratching against the grey wooden frame.

“I am profoundly sorry for the loss of your son, Aesir, but I was coming to retrieve you on Raiknar’s orders. A marked ship has been sighted, approaching our western shores.” His face wore a disturbed expression, “The crest is from the Tribe of Kaleen.” He said.

Aesir’s eyes widened slightly, “You don’t think…”

Furel shook his head, somewhat concerned, “It might very well be. That alleged spy that we captured, who somehow managed to escape, is probably on that ship.” His eyes looked at Aesir regretfully, “It seems increasingly likely that we were mistaken, in accusing him of being a Glerdish spy, and imprisoning him. If we are wrong, however, I am surprised that the response came this quickly.” His eyes hardened, “Raiknar has requested our best warriors, in case this is a scouting boat followed by raiding ships. That man, Graven, must have flown the entire journey back home, for them to sail towards us within such a small amount of time. Kaleen is not far from us, but we are divided from them by many obstacles.”

Aesir clutched Damien’s bow, in his other hand, tightly, “Raiknar believes that they may wage war over this?” He asked, “It is ultimately our fault.”

Furel shook his head furiously, “Even if it is, we cannot say so in front of Raiknar, unless the Chief himself accepts responsibility.” He then placed a hand on Aesir’s shoulder, “Please, come with me, I understand your pain, but we need you.”

Aesir looked down at Damien’s bow in his hand, “I would have best died alongside my wife, than having to lose all of my family.” He turned and walked back into the house, setting the ornately-carved bow on a table, before going to follow Furel, “Why do I care, what happens with Kaleen?”

“Maintain your composure, Aesir,” Furel reassured him as the two set off in the direction of the docks. “You still have the village of Hardel, and all the people in it.”

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Re: The Legend of Storma

Post by ViperaUnion on Sun Jul 31, 2016 7:42 pm

….And so it was that Aesir, whose son had been lost to the cruelty of the bloody tradition, the Sifting of Ages, proceeded to travel slowly to the docks, where the ship of Kaleen waited, bearing the freed prisoner, Graven, and the Chief of Kaleen, Kordinan himself…
 
All around the western docks, warriors gathered, tentatively holding their spears, unsure of what would appear from the boat from Kaleen. On a universal level, everyone knew that Graven, whom they had held prisoner against his will, had been telling the truth about his identity as a beginning merchant. Everyone was aware that Hardel was to blame for this incident, and that their ignorance had caused them to draw ire from Kaleen, which had ignored their village for generations. Hardel possessed nothing of value that would be worth trading to the massive port that gathered treasures from across the sea. They were not here for the purpose of exchanging goods.
 
Chief Raiknar, who stood closest to the ship as it approached, wore a grim expression on his face. He knew that he had been stubborn in insisting that Graven was a Glerdish spy, but it was difficult to believe that someone would suddenly appear from Kaleen, when it had ignored the Tribe for as long as it had. Outsiders were also never to be taken lightly in times of war. Despite this, however, one part of him was delighted that Graven might potentially be on this ship. One question that often heavily rested on his mind was how he had escaped. He felt a cold thrill at the possibility of learning the answer, and then finally locating the culprit behind the break-ins that had left him living in fear for so long. His secret had been discovered. He would silence the one responsible, no matter what their intentions were.
 
The boat docked, and wordlessly, the ship was moored, the Kaleen workers silent as they tied sturdy ropes to the strong metal hooks. A plank was brought out, and slowly, Chief Kordinan stepped off of the ship, his silent, cold gaze scanning the faces of the Hardel warriors. He carried no weapon, but his presence alone filled the welcoming party with a strange combination of alarm and guilt. The seriousness of his aura alone was enough to tell that there would be much explanation needed for what had been done in this Tribe. The face of someone everyone knew all too well, Graven, their former prisoner, followed closely behind, his expression nervous, but set with determination.
 
An attendant scurried out past Kordinan, and unrolled a scroll that he had been holding, clearing his throat.
 
“Announcing the arrival of Kaleen’s lead vessel, Chief Kordin-“
 
The chief held up his hand, silencing the speaker, and locking eyes with one of the closest Hardel warriors, spoke, “Now is not the time for formalities, I believe. Where is your chief?” He asked, his voice stern.
 
Chief Raiknar’s eyes narrowed, “I am he.” He replied. “What business does Kaleen have here?” He said, his voice calm and collected.
 
“Your tribe’s actions, of late, have been disturbing.” Kordinan began, jumping straight into the matter, rather than introducing himself. “True, we have not contacted Hardel for many, many seasons, but regardless, you still imprisoned one of my citizens, and left him outside, exposed to rain and to the heat of the sun.”
 
“His ship was not marked,” Raiknar replied, his harsh gaze resting on Graven, who instinctively shrank back. “Hardel is at war, and we have no reason to trust an outsider’s word.” He replied evenly.
 
Kordinan nodded slowly, “I see, that may be fair, however,” His gaze turned vicious, “What of this ceremony, this tradition of yours? This, ‘Sifting of Ages’ that my citizen heard of while he was imprisoned here? Is such a barbaric thing not a clear violation of the rights given to every Chimerosu upon their birth?” He questioned.
 
Raiknar’s beak curled into a cruel smile, “Hardel does not have nearly such a flowery image of what should be done with our children. In war, we are only as strong as our weakest links. We eliminate the weakest, and that is done by making them work to prove who is capable, and who is not.”
 
“In Kaleen, all children are taught different trades, and are left free to choose their profession. There is no stigma against the artisan, no ill will towards those who promote culture or whose hands make works of beauty.” Kordinan began, “But my citizen has watched your children single out the smallest amongst them, and beat them to the point that they can scarcely stand. He has watched a child who was abused to the point that he became mute.” His eyes narrowed, “In such circumstances, I think you know which child I speak of.”
 
“Ah….Damien, I see….that boy’s name is still being whispered, then? Why do you know that name, and why do you care about such a runt?” Raiknar tilted his head to one side, “By what means do you know that the boy was mute?”
 
Graven, suddenly, stepped out from behind Raiknar, “Damien set me free, as a last act of defiance against all of you.” He shouted, making his voice loud enough for everyone to hear.
 
A collective gasp rose up from the citizens of Hardel.
 
Kordinan turned abruptly, “Graven, let me speak-“
 
But he had already been cut off.
 
“How long did all of you people just sit there and watch the other kids beat him?” Graven demanded, sick of being startled into silence, his voice having returned, even though he knew he had been ignored before. “How could you just watch him go off, and then decide for yourselves that he should just die? Did you think he didn’t know that? He’s mute, not stupid!” His voice became hysterical.
 
“Every. Last. One of you,” Graven’s words filled with rage, “Should be ashamed to be alive. That kid hated you, and he told me that, without speaking a word.”
 
Raiknar’s face went pale, “That boy….” His eyes narrowed, “That boy was responsible for all of the chaos, all of it?...Of course, of course, we all knew that he was always thinking….we always wondered what he was thinking about, in that head of his…in his silence….” He spoke more to himself than to anyone else.
 
He then suddenly began to laugh, “It does not matter, because Damien is gone! The traitor was exiled four days ago!”
 
Everyone, both the people from the Kaleen vessel and from Hardel, looked at the chief in shock.
 
Graven’s beak clenched, and opened it to speak again, but Kordinan put a hand on his shoulder to stop him.
 
“Traitor, perhaps, but he was wiser than you, for having better judgement of character. Innocent….I think not. Perhaps not an innocent child at all….perhaps he knows something….? To prompt such a relieved reaction from you….” Kordinan’s words stopped Raiknar’s laughter.
 
He was right.
 
“That boy knows too much.” Raiknar said calmly, not caring if the rest of the village listened or not. “I have been searching for many years for the sneak who has been unearthing all of the secrets that kept this village safe. Break-ins with flawless accuracy, and no evidence, important objects disappearing…” His eyes went cold, “He broke into my house many years ago, but had a perfect alibi, and there was nothing incriminating, there was nothing that we could suspect.”
 
Raiknar’s hands clenched into fists, “I should have known from the skill; he was too clever, he spoke to no one and only worked. He had all of the time in the world to develop such talents.”
 
“Wait, do you mean my son!?” Aesir stumbled out of the crowd, and all of the surrounding warriors flinched away, unsure of how to react.
 
Damien’s father looked at Raiknar, and then at Graven, “You….my son released you!? I…I couldn’t believe my own ears, but when the Chief himself claims it to be true….”
 
His eyes uncharacteristically filled with tears, “Ah, I should have never come here, I can scarcely stand to hear his name spoken, and I cannot contain my grief!” He wiped arm across his face, “He was not himself when he fled from here! It was as if his heart had been turned to stone, or as if the spirit had left his body!”
 
Furel appeared behind Aesir, and took his shoulder, “My friend, please, this is not the place for tears.” He seemed uneasy. This situation was not pleasant.
 
“You are Damien’s father, I take it?” Kordinan turned to look at Aesir, “So you, too, are a victim? Why did you not defend him?”
 
“My words were heard by no one. He would appear home limping, covered in bruises, but how can I help a son that refused to even speak to me? He never told me anything, and not Magnus, his mentor, either.” Aesir teared up again, “I have already lost my wife, and now, my son.”
 
“I see….” Kordinan mused.
 
Raiknar, seeing that this madness would not end unless something was quickly done, raised his arm, “Warriors, seize them!” He commanded.
 
“Yes, Chief Raiknar!” The shout rang out.
 
But before they could do anything, something strange happened:
 
 
A meebuck, out of nowhere, galloped onto the docks, taking a spear that had just been thrown, dying in Kordinan’s place. It screamed, an eerie, almost person-like sound, and died.
 
….All groups fell silent….

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