Author: Dark Puck PM
The after-effects of an assassination and an uprising ensnare a young girl, a princess, a theif, and others in a struggle that will change the outcome of their world.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Adventure - Chapters: 2 - Words: 4,664 - Reviews: 7 - Favs: 1 - Updated: 06-17-03 - Published: 02-24-03 - id: 1243591
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Elves, according to the Archer:
"Nasty, vicious little buggers, and deadly with a sword."
two years later . . .
you expected it to be sooner?
Slit-pupiled yellow eyes surveyed the dining hall carefully. Noisy with the chatter of teenage girls, the din hurt his sensitive cat's ears. Where was – ah. Madoc Llwellen found the girl, head bent over a book as usual. Madoc bounded to her, ignoring the cries of the cat-fearing and cat-hating. Purring, he leapt into her lap. Danika Hunter put her book down on the table and smile, stroking his grey-striped fur. "Bore da*, Madoc," she said softly.
He twined his tail around her wrist, wishing not for the first time that he could greet her in kind. Instead, he intensified his purr. She laughed quietly and scratched his ears; Madoc closed his eyes, lost in feline bliss. Poor girl, with only a cat for a friend, he thought. Danika talked to him as if he were a person – okay, so he was, but Dani didn't know that.
She, quite simply, didn't belong here. Derek had known that all along, and he was right – this finishing school was indeed the safest place for her – but still . . . . Meical's tail, Derek, why'd you have to go and get yourself killed?
Cat and girl looked up at the owner of the voice, a pretty brunette named Ari Idwal. "Hello, Ari," Danika replied, still speaking softly. Madoc wasn't sure if Danika was ever loud. "What do you want?" Ari ignored Madoc's stare. "What are you reading?" Danika tensed. "'The Legend of Meical Cadwgwn,'" she replied. Ari raised an eyebrow. "You're reading about Shifters?" Danika held the book defensively against her chest. "I like it."
Ari smiled. "So did I." Madoc had not expected that. Ari sat in front of Danika. "I have an . . . unusual interest in politics," she confessed quietly, "and everyone knows Shifters are a big issue these days." Madoc's ears perked up. This was unusual for a noble, let alone a female!
Ari and Danika discussed the book, and Madoc noticed that while Ari carried the usual human dislike of Shifters, she wasn't fanatical about it, and also was aware of the Shifter's side of the story. Highly unusual for a human.
A sudden pounding at the door halted their conversation. "Open for the King's Chwaerch!" Madoc froze. The Chwaerch, the Shifter-hunters. Oh, no. The school's headmistress, Lady Cyndeyrn, opened the door to admit five men – a captain, a pair of lieutenants who looked enough alike to be twins, a tall, dark-skinned mage, and an even taller, badly wounded scout. He looked to be about Danika's age, though scouts as a rule were seventeen or older. He was standing on his own, but was swaying with pain and fatigue.
The mage spoke for the group. "Your pardon, Lady, but we need your assistance. Early this morning, we were ambushed by a band of Renegades and lost our archer. Sekt here," he motioned to the wounded boy, "tangled with their leader, an elf. We would like to leave him here to recuperate while we hunt them down."
Though it seemed to be a request, Madoc as well as anyone with half a brain knew it to be an order. By law, civilians had to obey the Chwaerch; it was only a matter of time before the privilege was abused.
"Leave him, by all means," Lady Cyndeyrn said with a curtsy. "Are the Renegades near? I must think of the young ladies' safety, after all." "I understand fully, and in answer to your question, I'll say no. We took the greatest care in covering our tracks, but the elf's group may be heading this way. Please do not allow the girls outside the grounds." The woman curtseyed again. "Yes, sir. Danika," she snapped, "get over here and help this man to the infirmary."
Danika obeyed, stroking Madoc's fur apologetically as she set him down. The Catsken felt eyes on him and looked up; his amber gaze met the mage's. Concealing his shudder, he licked his paw and washed his face as if unconcerned before dropping to the floor and padding away.
Adar Sekt opened his eyes when a small, cool hand touched his. The hand's shy-looking owner gave him a tiny smile and said softly, "Please, come with me." "Diolch i*," he murmured, starting to follow her. His injured leg gave way, and he fell, only to be halted by a small, slender, surprisingly strong pink-clad body. The girl staggered under his weight, barely managing to stay up under his weight.
The mage, Nathaniel Starflare, threw him over his shoulder as the scout lost consciousness.
"Where to, miss?" the mage asked. Shyly, Danika led the way to the infirmary. Upon reaching it, the mage looked around with a frown. "Where's you healer, girl?" he asked. She looked down. "We don't have one," she replied. "Magic frightens Lady Cyndeyrn. She thinks a healer would turn our minds." The mage was silent for a moment, and then his eyes met hers. She jumped as she realized that they were like hers, but much darker, a deep, mesmerizing violet. Her own eyes were pale lavender.
"A powerful enough healer could do that," he said, almost to himself. His eyes trapped hers, holding her in place; a change seemed to come over him. "Not much time," he murmured. His left hand came up to rest his index and middle fingers against her forehead. Purple light blazed –
"No self-respecting healer would turn minds, girl," the mage told her. "Now, how will you care for his injuries without a healer?" Danika stood as tall as she could. It didn't make much difference. "I can clean and bandage wounds," she said proudly. "My brother taught me how." The mage grinned at her. "Did she say your name was Danika?" She nodded. "Danika Hunter."
"What a coincidence. My name is Nathaniel Starflare."
Dani made a face. He knew her prename meant 'Morning Star'. The mage gently patted her atop the head with one large hand. "I knew your brother. He was a fine man. I was sorry to hear he'd been murdered." The hand cupped her cheek for a moment, and then he seemed to withdraw into himself. "I leave our scout in your capable hands, Miss Hunter. We'll soon return.
And with that, he took his leave.
Adar Sekt awoke to a small, cool hand on his forehead, and he opened his eyes to see the same girl who had halted his fall. She'll be a beauty when she gets older, he decided, especially with that hair. She can't be older than thirteen, though. He closed his eyes as the hand withdrew; she'd not yet noticed he was awake.
Why isn't there a healer? he now wondered, allowing his thoughts to roam freely. He had noticed a light flush to her cheeks, probably because he was stripped to the waist. A wet cloth gently was drawn across the deepest wound in his broad chest – Starflare had killed the pain, but it still . . . .
Danika gasped as a hand engulfed her slender wrist. "That tickles." The young scout looked up at her, mischief in his green eyes. "Mae'n chwith gen i*," she apologized. He grinned. "That's all right. Starflare put a painkiller spell on me." She smiled a bit as his eyes focused on the wall behind her, and his expression grew horrified. The girl turned, but she could only see the wall. Confused, she returned her gaze to the brawny scout. He could only manage one word.
She couldn't help herself; she giggled at the horror in his voice. "Terrible, isn't it?" she asked quietly. "If that's the only colour they let you see in these places, it's no wonder girls are so silly." It suddenly occurred to him what he had just said. "Uh, I mean, um . . . ."
"Don't worry. I'm not easily offended," Danika said before noticing a minor problem. "You, um, you're . . . still holding onto me." He grinned. "I know." Much to her annoyance, she flushed yet again. "Unless you let go," she informed him, "those wounds will become infected and you will die slowly and painfully of blood poisoning."
He promptly released her.
Danika returned to cleaning his wounds, blushing and trying her hardest not to stare at his bare chest. "Stop twitching," she ordered him a few minutes later.
"Whine, whine, whine; you're exactly like –"
Adar Sekt looked at the girl as all colour drained from her face. "Derek," she whispered, lips trembling. Without warning, she fled, leaving behind a rather confused scout. He heard a sigh, then, "It was going so well, too. She laughed." Adar turned his head to see a man dressed entirely in black lounging against the wall beside the open window. The boy could have sworn he hadn't been there a second earlier.
His eyes, disconcertingly enough, matched Starflare's exactly, but his long, braided hair was a rich, golden blond that stood out oddly against his black clothes. A longbow rested idly in one hand; a quiver full of arrows leaned against his boot. He wore an archer's wrist- and arm-guards and leather vest to protect his clothes from his bowstring. His face was hidden from view by a black mask that covered him from the nose up. All these details gave Adar the man's identity.
"The Archer," he breathed.
The Archer laughed. "Relax, kid. I only dropped in to see how she was doing." Adar was confused again. "Why?" The grin of the Archer was not comforting. "Personal reasons." The scout took the hint and shut up. The blond walked over to Adar and checked the girl's work. "Nice to know she remembers what she was taught."
"Who was Derek?" Adar blurted out before he could stop himself. The Archer was silent for a long moment. "Her older brother," he said at last. He died – was murdered – when she was thirteen. He . . . loved her, very much." Adar looked at him. "Did you –"
"Kill him? Yes, I did. I . . . didn't know about her. I promised him I would look out for her, before he died." He laughed bitterly. "My one and only assassination: Derek Hunter." Adar's green eyes widened. "She's his sister?"
Derek Hunter had been well-known among the King's Chwaerch as the only human the elves and Shifters, if not liked, then respected and trusted. The Archer's gaze caught and held the scout's. "Be warned, Adar Sekt. The one who hired me was someone inside the Chwaerch."
The redhead's jaw dropped. "My name – how –" The Archer grinned. "I know everything, kid. If there's something I don't know, I had damn well better learn it. Look after Hunter's sister while you're here. I have a few things to take care of."
The next thing Adar knew, his visitor was gone. Then something occurred to him. Wait . . . he said Hunter was his only assassination. If that's true, it means he's not an assassin . . . . So why are so many assassinations accredited to him?
"If scouts are the most important part of the Chwaerch," Iradælic Midaris mused, inspecting a broken sword, "why are they given the oldest, most shoddily made weapons?" "Because the Chwaerch are cheap?" Aodhán Swiftswimmer suggested. *No,* Tristine O' Luighseach objected, *it's because this scout was only a boy.* "It could be either one," Halcyon Cadwgwn put in quietly, "but that kid had never fought with a sword before. Oh, they showed him how to use it, but that was his first battle." His companions stared. Rarely did the Raptor speak more than one or two words at a time, except to Irad in private conversation.
Irad nodded. "He's a natural. If he'd had some real training, he might – might – have been able to defeat me."
Utter silence as the others stared at him. "In, oh, thirty or forty years," the elf added. Sighs of relief were heard as Halcyon hid an amused smile. Elves were all skilled swordsmen and Irad was among the best. The big elf sighed. "The scout has got to have elven blood in him for him to be that good in his first fight. I wasn't toying with him, Tris." The Catsken lashed her tail before Shifting to her human form. "I realized that, Irad. It's a pity his sword broke. He seemed rather honorable . . . for a human, that is."
This was true. The boy's honor in not striking down a fallen opponent had saved his own life, and he didn't even know it.
Aodhán looked at the fifth and final member of their group. "You're awfully quiet tonight. What's on your mind?" The Wolfkind came to attention with a start, and the Selkie laughed. "Welcome to reality, Meic," he teased. "What had your mind all tied up?"
Irad's attention was caught. "What about him?" The Shifter with the bicoloured stare shrugged. "He makes me nervous. I mean . . . look at how easily he blasted you away from that scout. That was raw magic, or I'm one of the Chwaerch."
Halcyon nodded. "He's right."
The small group exchanged glances. The use of raw magic meant an adept, which was a bad sign.
At the sound of pounding hooves, each tensed and reached for their preferred weapon. Then the source cantered into view, and they relaxed. "Evening, Astara," Irad said, rising and bowing to the midnight blue centaurette. Her mane, tail, socks, and the cloth covering her breasts were white; her eyes a pale grey.
"On the prowl again, Iradælic?"
Aodhán grinned. "You know us: Always out for fun." Astara flicked her tail at him. "Use caution, Iradælic. Hunter's sister resides at that school and rides out daily. Use invisibility within a half-day's gallop; there is no predicting when or how far she'll go out."
Irad bowed again, and a black-fletched arrow lodged into the ground at his feet. There was a message tied around the shaft. Irad calmly undid it and read it aloud. "'Touch Danika Hunter and die.' Signed with a badly drawn arrow. You timed that, didn't you, blondie?" A tenor laugh resounded around them all. "Maybe. Not as if I'd tell you. Still haven't forgiven me for killing Hunter, have you?"
"I'll see you hanged yet."
"I'd not put money on that, elf. You would join the Chwaerch first. Have we a deal?"
"No touch Hunter's sister, understood."
"Your word, elf."
"My word as a loyal warrior of Princess Rhiannon."
"That'll do. Happy hunting!"
"Bastard," Irad muttered once he was sure the other was gone. Astara laughed. "I take it you don't like him."
"Was it that obvious?"
Aodhán grinned. "They've never gotten along." Irad leveled a death glare at him, and the Selkie shut up.
As Adar Sekt recuperated, he spent his time with Danika Hunter and Ari Idwal, who seemed to him to be the only intelligent females on the premises. Ari's interest in politics and Danika's fascination with non-humans were unusual for teenage girls, but they led to many an interesting discussion between the three. Ari also had a great many questions for Adar about the Chwaerch. He was open with her as far as his opinions on things were. The girl seemed to mentally catalogue everything he said and store it away for future use.
Danika was not tall. Compared to Adar, neither was Ari, and her uniform dress was longer than poor Dani was tall! He, Adar, was of a height with your average elf, and built along the same lines. Elves were tall, and rather broad-shouldered, contrary to the typical stereotype of short and slender. Only his red hair, non-pointed ears and round pupils proved his humanity. Adar knew it was largely by virtue of his size that he had been directed to this particular Chwaerch group.
He got along well with the twins Doyle and Cassidy O'Brennan. Of course, the twins were a year his junior, but as good as an elf when it came to moving silently. Both had swift, ready minds and were deadly with knives – though Doyle preferred to throw them and Cassidy liked to fight with his blades.
Adar had seen Cassidy part a man from his sword armed with only a dagger. In fact, it had been their captain the boy had defeated. Adar frowned. Their captain, a by-the-books man who could tolerate neither Shifters nor elves, and wasn't tolerating Nathaniel Starflare all that well either.
The tall redhead shook himself out of his reverie and looked down at Danika. "Where's Ari?" he asked her. Danika shrugged as she knelt to pick up her cat. "She said something about herbs. Madoc isn't feeling well." Adar couldn't see what she meant. As usual, the tom was glaring at him. "I'll take him to her," he found himself offering. He wasn't sure why . . . maybe it was that too-human glare . . . . .
Danika passed him the feline, who hissed and swiped at Adar. "Madoc, behave," the girl ordered. "Adar is a friend." The expression on the tom's face showed that he clearly disagreed. It was the expression that tipped him off. He walked away from Danika, but not to Ari.
Once he was alone, he held the feline up so that they were at eye level. "Okay, cat, I don't know what your problem with me is, but you'd better own up." Madoc hissed again. "I will trigger the change, Catsken."
*Fine. Put me down.*
Adar did so, and a man approximately Starflare's age grew from the cat's body. His eyes were yellow, his hair varied streaks of grey. He was six hands shorter than Adar, and much more slender. He also looked ill. "All right. I'm a Shifter. Happy now?" Adar sighed. "I have a question for you . . . . Madoc, right?"
"Yes. Go ahead."
"Why don't you like me?"
The yellow-eyed man stared at him. "You threatened to blow my cover to ask me that?" "Just answer me," Adar said. Those yellow eyes glared. "You're a Shifter-hunter," Madoc growled at last. Adar blinked, uncomprehending.
"The uniform, you red-haired imbecile! You're one of them, one of the Chwaerch!"
The big redhead smirked. "I don't recall hunting any Shifters, but maybe you know better than me." If glared contained heat, Adar would have burst into flames then and there. "This is no joke, you redheaded idiot!
Madoc hurriedly reShifted to his cat form, just in time – Ari rounded the corner seconds later. Adar picked him up and said to Ari, "Dani said that you were getting some herbs to help this critter out."
*Critter yourself, Red!*
Adar ignored the voice in his head as he handed the Shifter to Ari, who smiled at him. "Tell Dani that he'll be fine in no time at all."
"Will do, milady." Adar missed the sharp glance she shot him at the final word.
He returned to the dining hall . . . and paused halfway to Danika. Something was very wrong . . . .
No sooner had the thought entered his mind than something heavy crashed into the middle of his back. Adar was a very sturdy man, but the assault had caught him off-balance and threw him down. As he fell, he shouted the changing spell and felt the weight on his back double. Shifters!
He ignored the multitude of screams as he threw off his assailant and rolled to his feet, coming to face a stunned Wolfkind his age before being grabbed from behind. Adar struggled valiantly, but his new opponent was even stronger than he, and he was quickly subdued.
A calico bounded past him and deShifted into a beautiful woman as a tall, slender man entered through the opposite door. Adar recognized these two: they were part of the group his patrol had tangled with. Sure enough, the elf strode in.
Damn! How did they figure out I was here?
Irad smirked as he entered the room, inwardly wincing as his eyes were assaulted by a sea of pink. Of all the colors for a uniform, why, why, why did they have to choose that one? His green eyes picked up another color that was in the same wavelength as pink, and he turned his head to see the kid he had fought three days ago being restrained firmly by Aodhán. Irad smiled coldly.
"Bore da, Red."
The kid glared daggers at him. "Bore da, elf." The final word had been delivered in the same tone the Archer used for that word – not insulting, but not exactly complementary, either. Irad ignored him and turned to the assembled females. "One of you is named Ari Idwal. Who is it?"
Murmurs and whispers sounded as heads turned to a table at the back before a light soprano voice spoke up timidly. "I am." Irad, despite his height, could not see the speaker; but Aodhán's redheaded prisoner apparently knew her, because he cried, "NO!" and began fighting his captor again.
Why would they assign a kid to protect her? I would have thought for sure they'd assign Asher to her.
"Meical," he said calmly. The boy Shifted and plunged toward the sound, ignoring the cries from girls who had been told all their lives that wolves were evil, vicious animals. He soon returned, human again, leading a petite brunette. Irad was slightly shocked. He had expected her to be taller, not as . . . well, shy-looking. For Dragons' sake, he had a full meter or more on her in height! She looked up at him, scared but defiant; Irad shrugged, commenting, "That was easy," before hitting her with a battle spell designed to knock the victim unconscious. She sank to the floor, but the elf caught her easily and scooped her into his arms, carrying her as if she were an infant.
Irad turned to her guard, who glared daggers at him even as he tried to free himself from Aodhán. The elf smirked again. "Relax, Red. We're not going to hurt her." "Let her go!" the other replied.
"We will. Just not yet." His eyes narrowed as he cast a stronger version of the spell he had used on the girl. The single Chwaerch fell, out cold. He would remain so for a long time, Irad was sure. "Move out!" he ordered, and his team obeyed.
Hi, everyone! You may have noticed that I'm including a foreign language in here. No, I didn't make it up; I'm using Welsh, mainly because its fun and I want to learn it. But, for those of you who want translations, I'm providing them at the bottom of every chapter. But you'd better remember them – once I've translated them, I won't do it again, even in following chapters! So, if your retention isn't that great, you might want to write these down.
Translations: Bore da: Hello Diolch i: Thank you Mae'n chwith gen i: I'm very sorry
If I missed anything, let me know in a review. I would like your honest opinion on my writing, as well as who your favorite character is so far. Thanks!