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"Shattered Soul" Prologue by Myristica

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"Shattered Soul" (Prequel to "The Harp & Sword Chronicles") By Myristica
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The Oracle Da'Reel and the Emerald Shrenka tribe are introduced as the Emerald Dagger of Translation makes itself known, but...is it benevolent or malevolent?   

(Sorry for the HTML coding for the italics, but I'm posting this piece in other areas, and the coding has to stay. :( )

 

Book I - “SHATTERED SOUL”

By: Myristica

Revenge is sweetest to a warrior who has already lost his soul.

2005 by Myristica 2005 by Myristica

 

PART I – HARP SONG

(Author’s Note: I wish to make it very clear that the character of the ‘Piper’ in this story, though portrayed as evil, is in no way whatsoever a reference to the ‘The Piper’ from Led Zeppelin’s cherished song: “Stairway To Heaven”.  His origin will be revealed as the story goes along. ~Myristica~)

 

<i>Prologue: “The Dagger”

“To be an oracle requires patience, Auria.  Are you sure you wish to become one?”

Da’Reel-</i>

 

 

The oracle Da’Reel tried to ignore the dreams.  By the Goddess He’lon she tried. 

But it was no use.

Like an assault of clanging symbols and chimes, the dreams would not let her rest.  Their message screamed for acknowledgement, and she had no choice but to follow their lead.

It was the colors and music that grabbed her.  Green, like the emerald of her tribe, red like blood, blue like the sky, and the flowing stringed melodies that did not rest or pause in their vibrating song.  All these things symbolized something. 

<i>Something…</i>

Perhaps she would learn the answers once she found the cave, for the caves of Sholen were what called to her in her dreams.

So many times she had entered the caves of the Sholen Hills to meditate and seek answers, to seek guidance from He’lon or any God who would reveal the answers to her numerous questions.  However, this was one time she doubted the Gods would have the answers she sought.  This time she had a feeling the answers would come in a way that would threaten even their unchallenged omniscience.  For the dreams stemmed from a source unfamiliar to Da’Reel: unfamiliar and unyielding in its demands of her.  It enticed with a yearning to connect with her, to dance with her, to enfold her presence within its influence.  And the simple message had been: <i>‘Come.’</i>

As she moved through the trees of the Shrenka lands, she listened to the sounds around her, felt the shifting breeze over her skin with its inconsistent currents.  Dead twigs and dried leaves did not crackle beneath her leather-clad feet as she walked, for she knew how to use air to her advantage.  Sentries of her tribe would be out this far, and she could not chance being heard.  Not that her being out at this hour, or this far from the village would constitute trouble with her Queen. She simply did not wish to involve anyone in this quest, not until she understood more what it was about.

She took a moment to gaze up at the sky.  The night was clear.  Eclipse’s attempts to threaten rain had been held back by another force more formidable than the Goddess of darkness and manipulative magick.  The clouds had disappeared by midnight and the stars shone bright against the velvety black satin shroud of night.  The ground was not even covered in mist.  The chill, however, was enough for Da’Reel to pull the hood of her gray cloak over her black streaked, auburn mane.  She pinned her salar cloak tighter around her neck as she navigated through the trees to the main path that would lead her to the Sholen caves.  The ash staff with the emerald jewel at the top was clutched tightly in her left hand.  It looked like a typical walking staff, resplendent with carved designs and some jeweled adornments, but for one exception—the palm-sized emerald jewel at the top was not physically attached.  No wooden or metal prongs held it in place.  The emerald was not set within a molding.  It was believed that the emerald was held there by magick.  It was for this reason alone that the Emerald clan of the Shrenka warriors were revered more so than any of the other six Shrenka tribes.  No other clan could boast of such mystical happenings associated with their sacred oracle’s accoutrements.  

This staff made the Queen of the Emerald Shrenka the highest Queen within the Shrenka tribes and it meant that the oracle of the Shrenka was the highest oracle.  When the Goddess He’lon spoke to Da’Reel, she summoned the oracle through the staff.  So…why had not the staff summoned her this time instead of the dreams?

Answer:  Perhaps it was not He’lon who had summoned.

Possible.  The feel of the dreams already brought this suspicion to mind.  However, it could also mean that He’lon was coming to her some other way, perhaps as a means to test her link to the ways of things within the spirit realm. 

Whatever the reason, Da’Reel knew she could not ignore the dreams least she go mad.  Of course, it would not be the first time an oracle went mad, but never in the history of Enreak had an oracle gone mad within the Emerald tribe.  Da’Reel refused to be the first.

She neared the path, turned in the direction of the caverns, and picked up her pace. 

The moon was full.  The position of the stars indicated the Equinox comet would come soon, but she could not see it yet.  Not even a hint of the tail was evident.  Soon.  Very soon.

It was possible the dreams were a result of the approaching comet.  Perhaps the dreams were part of a prophecy to be given to the High Oracle of Shrenka.

Conjecture, yes, but worth considering.  Da’Reel, though never assuming, was well known for her constant questioning.  The one question on her mind now was which cave called to her for audience?

There were dozens of caves in the hills of Sholen, the place all Shrenka and Rantha tribes went to for meditation and prayer.

Da’Reel reached down to her hip to reassure herself that the sacred dagger of questioning was still there.  Many times the act of divining required blood to spill.  Sometimes an animal sacrifice would do, other times Da’Reel’s own offering would be required.

It was said the Gods required blood because they had no blood of their own, that they found the bloodletting rites sufficient enough to curb their cravings.  And their craving for blood was great. 

Da’Reel sometimes felt that it was too great, like a drug.  The more the Gods tasted, the more they wanted. 

There were many times that even the Dolens, the priests to the Gods of the Aggregate, performed human sacrifices during times of tribulation.

Harsh winters, floods, signs in the sky that no oracle could translate, famine, drought and plague.

Da’Reel had her own theories on these sacrifices.  Of course, they were based on bias against the Dolens.  It was her opinion that the Dolens were manipulative, greedy bastards whose only reason to stay on the good side of the Gods was so that they could partake of Ranor’s Fire.

Ranor, the King of the Aggregate, was the God of fire and light.  To bask in his presence, or even within his residual essence was, to the Dolens, a type of reward for obeying the wishes of the Gods.   The reward was in many respects a drug-like state of mind where any physical pain or emotional weariness was lifted, leaving the person transfixed in a state of bliss.

Simply put, the Dolens were addicts, craving the power of Ranor’s Fire and they would do anything to get it.

Da’Reel found the Dolens to be nothing less than prostitutes, selling out their honor for the sake of a few hours of drug-induced euphoria. 

Still, the humans of Murgatara had no other form of sacred leaders, and if they didn’t see the need to question those leaders, then they deserved the tyrannical rule the Dolens placed over them.

Not that Da’Reel needed to concern herself with the politics of those within human or Dolen societies.  Though the Shrenka Goddess, He’lon, was part of the Aggregate system of Justice, the Shrenka were not part of Dolen jurisdiction.  The Dolens were of the patriarchal mindset, overseeing the human race.  Shrenka were matriarchal.  It was the only division of religious worship based on gender that existed.  And the Rantha stood with the Shrenka in that respect, even though they followed the path of their father, Rantha, the God of the Forest and of the Hunt.

The Race wars which had occurred over a hundred and fifty-years before sealed the division between Rantha, Shrenka and the Dolen order with the agreement that each society would leave the other alone.

As long as neither race betrayed the Aggregate, the agreement would stay in place. 

Many of Da’Reel’s Shrenka sisters and Rantha brothers had died during the time of the Race wars.  It was a moment of history that still sent a gnarling snake into her stomach, ready to strike at any dissident within the Dolen order who would try to force their judicial system onto the Shrenka and Rantha tribes again.

Da’Reel stopped walking and lifted her face to the night air once again.  She smelled a hint of jasmine on the breeze and looked up to see she was near the foothills.  However, the sound that reached her ears was not the song that beckoned to her in her dreams.  Her trained sense of hearing honed in on the warrior that followed her; a young warrior, not yet skilled in the tactics of stealth.

Da’Reel straightened where she stood, set her staff on the ground at an angle to her side.  “Why do you follow me, Auria?”  Her low and soft voice filtered through the air.

The response was a whispered, biting curse.  Da’Reel smiled and turned.  “In order to track you must learn to use your Shrenka blood.  With your natural grace you should have utilized air rather than the leaf and rock-covered ground.  Your footsteps were very loud.”

The younger female stepped out of the shadows.  “I saw you leave the village without word to the Queen.  I was more curious than thinking.”  Auria’s voice was that of a young girl, whiny and very arrogant.  Oh, the young never knew when to admit they did not know everything.

The hood of Da’Reel’s cloak fluttered slightly over her face.  Perhaps it appeared too intimidating.  Da’Reel was a reader, and could sense the feelings of those within her race of Shrenka as well as other beings.  This girl was nervous, but she was also determined to find out just what her oracle was doing.  There would be no sending her back to the village with an authoritative reprimand. 

Da’Reel stepped up to her.  “You have always been more curious than is healthy, Auria.  Your curiosity will be your downfall if you do not harness it.”

Ignoring her, the young warrior, around the age of eighteen human years, gestured to Da’Reel’s staff.  “It does not glow.  If you are not being summoned, why do you seek the Goddess?”

“None of your concern.  Besides, our Goddess is not limited in her powers.  She can summon through means other than the staff.”

“Through dreams?” Auria asked, tilting her head inquisitively.

Da’Reel stilled.  This information was perhaps even more curious than the dreams.  Auria had never shown any interest in the oracular arts before.   “What do you know of dreams?”

Auria shrugged, the arrogance clearly evident in the gesture.  “Only what I have dreamt.”

Da’Reel was not willing to give the girl a foothold.  Whatever Auria was up to, the oracle somehow felt it was for personal gain.  “And what have you dreamt?”

Auria looked both one way, then the next.  The extra caution amused Da’Reel to the point where she had to stifle her lips from twisting into a grin.  The girl before her was a common nuisance among the tribe, but Da’Reel refused to stifle the spirit of anyone who showed interest in their destiny.  And who was Da’Reel to say the girl did not have a destiny as an oracle someday?

“Strange dreams,” Auria whispered, excited and careful at the same time.  “Dreams full of color and music.  Had you not come here, Oracle, I would have come on my own.”

Da’Reel studied the younger warrior.  Auria’s red-streaked black hair hung in a ponytail off to the side, in order to make room for the sword strapped firmly to the scabbard on her back.  She had worn no cloak over her animal skin warrior attire, though after the hour-long walk they had just taken, the blood pumping through her veins would keep Auria warm for the time being. 

“You say you have had dreams of color and music?”  Da’Reel prompted.

“Indeed, Oracle, as have you.  Dreams you cannot interpret, which is why you have not discussed them with the Queen.”

Auria could be annoying at the best of times.  She was now bordering on aggravating. 

“Discussing my interpretations with the Queen is none of your concern.”

“It is if I am to be your replacement.  Since I, too, have dreamed these dreams I can only assume I am to be Oracle one day.”

Da’Reel smiled again.  So, the child wanted to take on the responsibility of oracle.  Little did she know what those responsibilities did to a mind and heart.  “One dream does not an oracle make, Auria.”

“No, of course not, but interpreting dreams is part of that calling.”

“And can you interpret this one?”

Auria lifted her chin, affronted by the patronizing tone of her oracle.  “It is a beacon,” she replied, haughtily.

“That is an opinion, not an accurate interpretation.”

“Well, can <i>you</i> interpret them?”

“No,” Da’Reel replied without hesitation.  “And that is the difference between us, Auria.  If you are to be my replacement one day, you must not be so impetuous with all you observe.  For what you may see may not be what is there.  It is the duty of the oracle to interpret the hidden mysteries of what is revealed, to see underneath the obvious.  You’re a naturally curious creature, what are the questions one must ask to obtain the answers?”

“Why is He’lon sending us dreams?”

Da’Reel raised a finger.  “Why do you think?”

“To give us a message.”

“Indeed, but why such a message?  And why in this manner?  And are you so sure it is He’lon sending the message?”

Auria slumped, the haughtiness suddenly draining from her.  “I…” she started, stopped, and then put her hands defiantly to her hips.  She would not be pushed into a corner.  “Who else could it be?”

Da’Reel raised her chin, and removed her cloak.  The girl had spirit, and if anything, Da’Reel could commend her for that.  There was no sense denying Auria was part of this, but to how far she would remain a part of it was what Da’Reel wished to measure.  “That is one of the questions we will answer once we get there.”

Auria blanched.  “You mean you’re letting me come with you?”

“Well, Auria, you did receive the same dreams as I have.  Either we’re both hallucinating, or we’re both being called.”

“Well, I didn’t take any dream root before sleeping.”

The girl felt it important that she be above reproach.  Da’Reel inwardly smiled.  Auria would learn.  In spite of her inexperience, she would learn and one day look back on this moment with laughter. 

“Neither did I,” Da’Reel replied, shrugging.  She had nothing to prove to this child, but she was not about to let her get a foothold within Da’Reel’s authority.

Da’Reel hitched her cloak and the two warrior women continued their journey into the hills of the Sholen caves.

 

<<<<<>>>>> 

 

At first nothing unusual happened when they approached the caves.  The moon was shining bright enough that no torch was necessary to navigate the terrain around them. 

Inside the caves, however, more illumination would be welcomed.  Da’Reel looked at the emerald on the end of her staff.  It had yet to spark into its summoning light. 

“Why will it not glow?” Auria asked.

Da’Reel waved her hand over the jewel, thinking maybe it might turn on when connected to her energy, but nothing happened.  “I’m not sure.  It may not be He’lon that summoned us here, as I said.”

“Then, should we have heeded the summons at all?”

Da’Reel felt the question relevant, but did not answer.  The Gods were the Gods.  If they spoke in riddles… 

Petulant over being ignored, Auria huffed, “Well, then, which caves do we check?”

“We check them all until something happens.”

“That could take all night,” the younger woman complained.

“Do you have somewhere else you’d like to be?” Da’Reel turned to her would-be apprentice and arched a brow inquisitively.

Auria sighed.  “I suppose not.”

“To be an oracle requires patience, Auria.  Are you sure you wish to become one?”

“And just how patient were you to learn when you were my age, Mistress?”

Da’Reel smiled.  “Very patient.  Oh, don’t give me that look.  It’s a fact.  It was one of the characteristics bestowed upon me at birth.  It was how Vereene, the oracle before me, chose me for her apprentice.”

“Then if patience is required and it is something I lack, why have I received these dreams and not someone else within the Emerald tribe?”

“Perhaps when we locate the sender of the dreams we can ask them.”

“Them?”

“Indeed.  It could be a God, or Goddess, or both.”

“Now you’re assuming.”

“No.  I’m speculating.”

“What if it is neither?”

Da’Reel shrugged again, silently wishing that Auria would be silent at least for one minute.  One minute to focus, to gain insight, to possibly hear what they were called to hear.  “Then the mystery will truly be a mystery.  Come, let us try that cave.”

“But it’s not deep enough.”

Da’Reel gripped her staff.  Though a patient women, it took something like Auria’s constant questioning and assumptions to veer her off that path.  “Why must it be deep?”

Auria sputtered, “Well, if it’s a mystery why would it be hidden in such a shallow area?”

“To put those that assume off guard, of course.”

<i>There.  Nibble on that one, you little sprite.</i>

Auria made a face.  “You’re enjoying my mistakes, aren’t you?”

Da’Reel grinned.  In fact, she was.  Auria might be annoying and somewhat prone to pushing patience to its highest extreme, but Da’Reel could not help it if, in the jousting, she found Auria a bit entertaining.  “I would be more serious about teaching you if you’re arrogance was abated, Auria.  If you are to be my apprentice then you need not try so hard to impress me.  Just let it happen.  If you have the calling, the talent will come on its own.  Trust me.”

Auria let out a resigned breath, said nothing in protest—which Da’Reel instinctively thanked the Gods for small blessings—and followed the oracle into the cave.

In the darkness of the cold cave there was nothing to indicate strange goings on, nothing to indicate an unknown presence awaited them.  Just a small enclosure with hollowed out stone for walls, loose dirt and some oddly shaped logs for travelers who may need a fire within the shelter of the cave during a storm. 

Auria straightened, satisfied.  “There, see?  I told you nothing significant was…”

The glow pouring out of the wall to their left silenced her self-righteous air.  She slowly turned to look over her shoulder as Da’Reel faced the source of the glow.  “You were saying, Auria?”

Auria could not reply.  The greenish glow that pulsated like a heartbeat forced her throat to stop working on the vocal level.

Da’Reel cautiously stepped toward the wall.  Near the ceiling of the cave, imbedded within a small fissure, was a dagger.  Even though buried to the hilt, which looked silver—but in the greenish glow it was hard to say for certain—this dagger was unlike any Da’Reel had ever seen.  The hilt and pommel were of a craftsmanship unique to her eyes, and she had known many crafters of metal in her young life. 

“Oracle, what are you doing?  Don’t go near that thing, we don’t know what it is.”

“We know, Auria,” Da’Reel whispered her reply.  “If you do not know, then why in Shrenka’s name did you come with me?”

Auria looked confused.  “This can’t be the source of the dreams…can it?  I hear no song, only a gentle hum.”

“Perhaps that is the song.  Perhaps that is the natural form of it, and it came to us in music only we could understand.”

“You’re speculating again?”

“I am.”

Da’Reel stepped closer to the dagger and Auria stepped further away from it, crouching against the cave mouth.  “Oracle, please, I do not wish to be the one to report that you were killed by some strange artifact.”

Da’Reel tried to abate the young warrior’s concern.  “I am perfectly safe, Auria.  Stay back if you do not think so.”

Auria stepped back another foot; half in, half out of the cave, now.  “Oracle, please!”

“Silence!” Da’Reel shouted, her anger exploding from the force of the command.

Auria shrank back, yet Da’Reel did not apologize.  She turned back to the dagger and took another step closer to it.  “It seems…alive somehow.”

“Alive?  How can a dagger be alive?”

Da’Reel slowly shook her head.  “I don’t know.  But this one obviously is.”  She reached up toward it.  And like a lover’s hand, that sense of knowing caressed over her heart and soul.

Da’Reel shut her eyes as an image, unbidden, tracked across her mind…

<i>A young boy, about seventeen years old with hair the color of silken straw and eyes as blue as a clear spring sky, was on the ground.  The hand of another rested on the youth’s chest, over the heart as if easing away fear or pain…or both.  The hand belonged to another young man, broader in the shoulder, with long black hair tied back by a leather thong.  He couldn’t have been much more than five or ten years older than the youth, although exact age difference was unclear.  However, the contrast in height and size was evident.  The older, stronger young man was dressed in warrior attire and the youth was dressed in royal clothing.  Da’Reel took the older one to be a guard or protector of the younger.  A warrior guard?  But then, who was the Noble?  Da’Reel knew of no Royal youths of that age or appearance.  The warrior guard was also unfamiliar.

The youth smiled grimly up at the guard who gazed upon his charge, anguish seeping out of his stoic resolve.  “I am here, Nevome,” the guard was saying.  ‘Nevome’…the sacred word of bonding between a warrior guard and his charge.

The youth nodded, though it was obvious he was sick and weary, perhaps even dying.  “As always you have been,” he spoke, resting his own hand on top of the one covering his chest.</i>

The image faded and Da’Reel opened her eyes again.  She looked at the dagger, unable to comprehend what she had just seen.  “What was that?  Are you a sender?  What are you?  Where do you come from?”

“Why are you talking to it, Da’Reel?” Auria asked, taking a cautious step forward once more.  “I didn’t hear it speak.”

Da’Reel ignored the girl as other images came to her mind.  They were, at first, brilliant flashes of the same two young men, varying times, varying scenarios and varying emotions, but one instance caught her attention and held it firm...

<i>The youth was near death and being carried in his protector’s arms.  The young guard was walking down a corridor strewn with broken shards of crystal and jewels, things that could make him a wealthy man, but he saw none of them.  Even though they cracked under his booted feet, jingled with others as he unconsciously kicked them aside, they could have been dead twigs for all he cared.  His gaze remained focused ahead of him as though nothing mattered but his destination.  He walked toward a mist of sparkling light, the brilliance of which reflected the tears streaming down his grief-stricken face.  He held out the limp form of the youth, whose limbs and head hung as though lifeless. “I have brought him as you requested, but I must ask one thing from you.”  The guard pulled the body closer to him again, holding him as one would a wounded child…or lover.  He gazed at the mist of light with sound determination.  “Let me die with him that he may not die alone.  Without him I am dead already.  It is not something beyond your power to grant.”</i>

The image ended suddenly and Da’Reel gasped again, falling back a few feet.  Her hood fell away and her black-streaked auburn hair spilled out, covering her suddenly ashen face. 

Auria took a quick step toward her, but Da’Reel thrust out her hand.  “Stay back, Auria.  That is an order!”

“But that thing is doing something to you, Oracle!  It is evil!”

“It is not evil!  It is…showing me things…images.  I must try to understand them.”

“What images?”

Da’Reel regained her balance and, brushing her hair from her face, she squared her shoulders.  She set her eyes upon the dagger again.  She would not be turned away by its unfamiliar power.  “Tell me why you are showing me these things.  What have I to do with you?”

The pulsating light of the dagger intensified, forcing Da’Reel and Auria to throw their arms over their eyes as the sheer brilliance momentarily blinded them.  In that instant lightning bolts flashed from the dagger and etched markings along the wall behind the two women.  They turned to watch as the bolts carved out words in the ancient Shrenka language: <i>Eschtor meisht boinat ieckstae poranto veasht novee coming.</i>

“What does it mean?” Auria whispered, reaching out in fear to clutch Da’Reel’s cloak. 

Da’Reel slowly turned back to the dagger, translating for the girl as she did so.  “‘Sorrows known shall bleed into one.  The time has come for the Song.’”  She moved closer to the dagger.  “By the Gods!  What are you?”

The dagger shot out from the wall in a quick movement surprising both warriors, but what stunned Da’Reel completely was the craftsmanship of the actual blade.  It was made in the shape of a triune, completely of emerald, the jewel of her tribe, the symbol of vision and clear sight.  In her mind she heard the words and the song that strung the words together in harmony.  <i>(Heed my call, Singer.  Do not fear)</i>

Da’Reel cowered away, uncertain if she was going mad.  Not even her gift of vision seeking gave her any insight.  There had never been any mention in the history of Enreak or even in its folklore of an emerald dagger; not even the records of the Aggregate System of Gods bore any clues or hints of such a weapon.  “What are you?” she asked again.  Whatever was happening scared her, but it also fascinated her.  How could this piece of, whatever it was made out of, be alive?  How could it speak to her, move on its own power, summon her like some God?

Da’Reel stepped closer.  “Tell me who you are!” she shouted.  Auria followed, reaching back to unsheathe her sword.

“Auria, no!”

“That thing is a dagger, Oracle!  And it seems very interested in you!”

Da’Reel raised her hand.  “Child, listen to me very carefully.  If you strike out at it, the contact of your metal to the emerald may not be what you expect.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying to use caution, Auria.  Heed me.  Sheathe your sword.  I sense a great power from this dagger.  None of our metals can stand against it.”

“How do you know this?  It’s only emerald.”

“It is emerald, yes.”  Da’Reel studied the dagger as it hovered in front of her.  “But, I believe…it is not of our world.” 

Da’Reel looked at the emerald on her staff.  “My connection to He’lon is not affected by it.  Both emeralds, but this one summons and He’lon’s jewel does not.”

Auria stood there for a moment, grasping her sword’s hilt with both hands.  “Oracle, I do not like what this dagger is doing.  I don’t like that it’s speaking to you, that its most destructive end is aimed at you.”

“We often fear what we do not understand, Auria.  Sheathe your sword, now!”

“No. I will not.  I’m sorry, Da’Reel, but I sense no connection to this dagger as you do.”

Da’Reel turned to her, questioning.  “You feel nothing?  You, too, were called.  You sense nothing at all?”

Auria shook her head.  “Nothing, Oracle.”

Da’Reel lowered her hand.  “Then perhaps you are not to be oracle.  Perhaps you were only called to witness what is about to happen.  Whatever happens, Auria, know I am not afraid.”  Da’Reel made a gesture to the dagger.  She held out her staff to it; then tossed it to the ground, an unexpected gesture of surrender.  “What are you?” she asked again.  “Speak to me!” 

The dagger hovered like a humming bird, the tip of the blade pointing at Da’Reel.  <i>(I am the answer you seek)</i>

It then shot across the length of the cave, stabbing into Da’Reel’s skull.

And though it had happened too fast for Da’Reel to react, Auria turned and screamed, running all the way back to her village.

 

<<<<<>>>>> 

 

Queen Kyleeta jerked awake at the shrieking that shattered her peaceful sleep.  “Damn it all to the pit,” she muttered, as she sat up in her animal skin covered bed.  “Ronare!  Who disturbs our peace this hour?” she called out.

Her guard stepped through the animal flap that was used for a door on the Queen’s hut.  “It is Auria, my Queen.  She is hysterical.  She is screaming something about Da’Reel being killed.”

“Hysterical?” Kyleeta grumbled as she threw her pelts off of her and swung her legs over.  The actual report of Da’Reel being killed did not daunt Kyleeta in the least.  It came from Auria and that girl had a severe talent for exaggeration.  “Well, we best find out what the problem is or we’re never going to get any sleep tonight,” she muttered.

Ronare drew closer and assisted with putting Kyleeta’s salar-skin robe around her shoulders.  A yellow striped red fur.  The salar cat was one type of animal whose skin was worthy enough to adorn a Queen.  The Queen Elect would have to battle the salar in order to obtain her own pelt for the coronation ceremony.  It was a dangerous task, and sometimes those in line to be Queen failed to achieve it.  Their bodies would be burned with honor and the next in line would succeed to the throne.  It was the custom that if you could kill a salar, you would be a worthy warrior in battle.  Kyleeta had proven herself within the first hour of the hunt.  Cut, fanged and sliced by the man-eating cat’s claws, it had still been a good fight and Kyleeta had come back with a gleam in her eye that proved she could take on any threat and win. 

The robe was looking somewhat worn in places, but it was still the symbol of her rank among her tribe.  She wore it without complaint of its appearance. 

As Ronare helped with the clasp that hooked over Kyleeta’s left shoulder she continued.  “Auria seems extremely agitated, Majesty.  Though her past conduct dictates we be wary, the way she is acting now leaves me to question if there might be some cause for concern.”

Kyleeta snorted as she entwined her leather belt around her waist.  “What was He’lon thinking in creating a spineless Shrenka warrior?”

“Perhaps to test your skill at turning sap into amber?” Ronare questioned with a hint of a smile behind her normally stern looking brown eyes.

Kyleeta snickered.  Leave it to her serious, yet dry-witted guard to come up with an appropriate theory.  “Or, better still, to test my patience with children in preparation for when I finally give birth,” she opined with a hint of sarcasm.  It had been twenty human years since she had become Queen and she still had to find a suitable Rantha mate to make her womb fertile.

Ronare finished dressing her Queen then stood back to examine the finished work.  She knew her Queen was just releasing frustration over this last failure at conceiving.  The Red Moon Day had come and gone three weeks before and still there was no sign that the Rantha seed had taken.   “You will conceive one day, my Queen.  The Gods must be waiting for the right time.”

“So you keep telling me.”

“And so you should start listening, my Queen.”  Ronare flashed her a mischievous grin. 

Another shriek pierced the air and Kyleeta cringed with pain.  “Damn that whelp!”

“May I interject, my Queen?”

“By all means.”

“Da’Reel is no where to be found.”  Ronare reached down and smoothed down the bottom portion of Kyleeta’s leather skirt that had folded up.

Kyleeta shrugged.  “I’m sure we’ll find out the answers soon enough, Ronare.”  She turned and headed out of the hut.  “And to think the hunt for the salar was dangerous,” she grumbled under her breath.

Ronare stifled a grin.

The two walked over to where Auria was being held at bay by two sentries of the tribe.  “Auria!” Kyleeta’s booming voice roared over the girl’s hysterical screaming.  “You will cease this deplorable behavior at once and tell me what in Shrenka’s name has you so terrified!”

Auria forced herself to calm down, but she could not stop trembling.  She went to one knee before her Queen and bowed her head.  “Forgive me, Majesty.  It is Da’Reel.  She and I were summoned to the caves of Sholen when an unusual dagger was revealed to us inside one of the caves.  It was unlike any we had ever seen.  It was made of emerald and it seemed to be alive.  The blade was three sided in shape, like a triune, and it pulsated with light.  I watched as it communicated with Da’Reel and then…and then…” she began to weep uncontrollably again.

“Auria!  Then what?” Kyleeta demanded.  “I will not tolerate hysterics among my warriors!  You are Shrenka!  Act like it, woman!”

Auria hitched a breath and tried to regain control of her emotions.  “She’s dead, my Queen.  The dagger pierced her skull.  Our Oracle is dead!”  Auria turned tear-filled eyes up to Kyleeta.  “Forgive me, my Queen, I do not mean to disgrace the Shrenka name by my outbursts, but I saw that thing kill her!  We must do something to protect the tribe!”

“Do you think this…emerald dagger will come after us?” Kyleeta looked at her dubiously. 

“It saw me, I’m sure of it.  It knew I would come to warn you, to tell you what I saw.”

Auria threw herself at Kyleeta’s feet.  “My Queen, I could not save her!  I beg forgiveness!”

Kyleeta rolled her eyes.  “Da’Reel…dead?” she snorted.  “I’ll believe that when I see her lifeless body, and even then, I won’t be so sure.  Come, Ronare, let us go to the caves of Sholen and see for ourselves.”

Auria pulled away from her Queen and scrambled to her feet, horrified.  “You do not believe me, Majesty?”

“It’s not that I doubt what you saw, Auria, but I question Da’Reel being dead.  You do not know her as well as I do.”

“But…” Auria pointed in the direction she had just come from.  “The dagger piercing her skull…how can anyone survive such an attack to the head?”

Kyleeta grinned at Ronare who grinned back, amused laughter stifled behind significant muscle control.  The guard to the Queen knew what was coming.  “My bet is on Da’Reel’s skull.  What say you, Ronare?”

“Indeed, Majesty.  If anything can deflect a blade, it’s our Oracle’s head.”

“You laugh at me!” Auria shrieked with scorn.  “You laugh at my fear!  You laugh at me!”

“Auria, get a spine!” Kyleeta ordered.  “I said I believe what you say you saw.  I just doubt seriously that this dagger killed Da’Reel.  Now, show me where this cave was you both went to.  If anything, I’m very curious.”

Ronare’s voice interrupted.  “Majesty, I do not believe journeying to the caves will be necessary.  She comes to us.”  The guard pointed and all the warriors within the village turned to see Da’Reel approach them…enshrouded within a mist of light.

“What in Shrenka’s name…” Kyleeta muttered as she took a step toward the manifestation.  “Ronare, do you recognize that?”

The guard stepped closer to Kyleeta.  “No, my Queen.”

“Anyone!” Kyleeta shouted.  “Step forward if you know what this light is!”

None of the warriors complied.

“It is the same light we saw in the cave, same pulsating glow, but what it is I cannot say,” Auria whispered, dumbstruck.

Kyleeta shook her head.  “An unusual dagger, an unusual light.  I can officially say this is…unusual.”

“I told you!” Auria wailed.  “I told you!  That dagger has taken possession of her!  It’s using her body!”

“Auria, be silent!” Kyleeta roared.  She looked at Ronare.  “If she screams again or even whines…cut her tongue out.”

Auria stiffened with fear.  “My Queen, you wouldn’t!”

Ronare pulled out her dagger and placed it to the young warrior’s throat.  Auria gulped.

Kyleeta grinned.  “If you keep dishonoring the name of Shrenka, I will be within my rights.  Now, hold your tongue or swallow blood.  Your choice.”

Auria froze and gulped once more.

Satisfied that she would hear no more whining from the hysterical warrior, Kyleeta turned her attention once again to the oncoming figure of her oracle.  “I’m going to talk to her.”

“My Queen, I must ask that you let me go,” Ronare protested.  “If what Auria saw is any indication, there could be danger.”

Auria said nothing, but she nodded vehemently, making affirmative noises.

Kyleeta shook her head.  “Ronare, you are Queen in my stead should something happen, but I know Da’Reel.  She would never hurt me.”

Ronare inclined her head in respect.  “As you say, Majesty.  I need not ask that you exercise caution?”

Kyleeta pondered this request for a moment.  “Someone give me a sword.”  She turned to her guard who arched a brow.  “Just in case,” she assured Ronare as a sentry handed her a sword.  She gripped the hilt tightly and started walking toward Da’Reel.

The rest of the village warriors watched in wonder and curiosity as their Queen approached the mystical manifestation of this supernatural presence.

As she neared the mysterious light, Kyleeta could see that Da’Reel’s eyes were closed and a mark in the shape of a triune was centered on her forehead.  In the oracle’s hand was a dagger made of emerald, just as Auria had reported.  The blade was three sided and it, too, glowed with pulsating light.  Kyleeta took a few moments to study the situation before her.  When it appeared that the light was willing to allow the scrutiny as well as the approach, she asked, “Who are you?  Why have you taken our Oracle?”

Kyleeta instantly winced and dropped her sword as words filled her mind.  She had never been a reader before and Da’Reel had never been gifted with the sending ability, but the lack of those abilities did not stop the words from flowing.

Ronare saw her Queen falter and instinctively took a step toward her, when she caught herself.  “She knows what she’s doing!” the guard called out to the rest of the warriors.  “Stay back, do not interfere!”

“But that thing could kill her!” Auria whined, her pitiful feminine voice raking over Ronare’s nerves like thorns.  She turned the dagger on her again.  “The order to cut your tongue out has not been retracted, Auria!  Do not tempt me!”

Auria backed away, her face pale.  Though her lips quivered with fear it was to her credit that she did not speak out again.

Ronare and the other warriors turned back to the spectacle before them.

Kyleeta forgot they were there.  She had forgotten Auria’s whining voice, Ronare’s hinted fear and Da’Reel’s plight.  All she could focus on were the words hitting her brain with gentle, yet determined tones.

<i>(Bring him to us.)</i>

Kyleeta shook her head, responding with her mind, <i>“Bring who?”

(The one we so long to unite with.  Is he here?)

“Who are you looking for?”

(Nevome and Nevarie.  Child of the pureness.  So long have we waited for his birth and life.)

“You speak the words of bonding between Warrior Guard and Royal Charge.  We carry not such words among the Shrenka.”

(Oh, the longing!)</i> 

The voice echoed in Kyleeta’s mind like an ocean wave rolling out from the shoreline.  <i>(We have so long ached to be joined.  Please, bring him to us.)

“Tell me who you speak about?  I’m not sure I understand.  Who are you?”

(We are the way, the foundation…we are the truth.)

“What truth?”

(We must join with Nevome and Nevarie.  We must unite and open the sky and the earth.  Is he not with you?  His force sings to us from your Alliance.  His soul calls out strong and sure.)

“There are many Nevome and Nevarie within the Alliance of Kingdoms.  Can you not tell me which one?”

(I sense him near, yet so far away.  Will he not come to us?)

“Why do you wish to join with him?”

(To bring forth the truth.  No…he is not among you.  The one we seek for is not here.  Not within reach.  Soon, my Lords, my Ladies.  Not for some time yet, but soon.  We must wait.)

“Why have you captured Da’Reel?  Will you release her?  Is she all right?”

(She is unharmed.  We needed her body to speak.  For so long we have waited.  It is not time to join, but it is time to become aware.  The Guardian speaks of such a time as this.  We are content to wait.)

“I don’t understand.  Are you of the Aggregate?  Who is the Guardian?”

(We are one and not one.  We are the creators.  We yearn to reunite with our children, but they are not ready for us.  The way must be prepared.  The way must be revealed to all who will listen.)

“Then you are not part of the Aggregate?”

(The Aggregate are not part of us.)</i>

In an instant, Kyleeta was thrown back away from the light.  She crashed onto her side, dazed and shaken, but otherwise all right.  However, when she looked up at Da’Reel, she saw her oracle’s eyes were open.  What she saw shook the Queen of the Emerald Shrenka to her very soul.  Da’Reel’s eyes were no longer the color of the sky…they were encrusted with emerald…or they were emeralds.  Kyleeta couldn’t tell which.

Da’Reel aimed the dagger above her head and a light burst forth surrounding the entire village of the Emerald tribe.  The warriors fell unconscious to the ground and Kyleeta heard one final declaration within her mind.

<i>(Understand, Warrior.  You are not our enemy, but those you serve have stolen what does not belong to them.  The time has come to put things right.)</i>

Before falling into darkness with her sisters, Kyleeta’s final thought was how beautiful Da’Reel looked…and how utterly terrifying.

 Chapter 1 to be posted within a couple of days!