|Born from the Ashes
Author: M. T. Christen PM
Syrusses has succeeded. The world has crumbled. Darkness is the new light and light is the new evil in the kingdom of Curzonin. What was left of Wvern turned rotten and charred with lava, as well as the souls of the hopeless people who were brought into this life. This sequel of Stars Don't Fall is gripping, sinister, intense. The heroes have nowhere to go, nowhere to run.Rated: Fiction T - English - Fantasy/Adventure - Chapters: 3 - Words: 8,356 - Updated: 11-22-12 - Published: 11-15-12 - id: 3074691
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Born from the Ashes
M. T. Christen
People gathered like ghosts around the decaying body, watching, waiting for someone to ring the death bells. Many wiped away small tears, others dragged in gruff breaths. A silent mourning passed between them all. Among them, Ilessa contemplated the meaning of Felix's death.
He died as any man long exposed to ash would. Felix's previous lung deflation just sped up the process. Felix had no chance of living in the smoky conditions. Ilessa knew this, everyone knew it. Yet no one was prepared to see an actual death.
An honorary soldier stepped up to the pyre, a large wooden club engulfed with flame cradled in his hands. Felix's yellow skin started to gleam a sickening orange.
"In the name of our lord, Syrusses the Almighty, we mourn with sad eyes and lost souls for Felix Dragoff…"
Ilessa listened to the old priest croak the sad words in distaste. She saw how his eyes glazed over at the mention of Syrusses's name. He didn't believe as much as everyone else didn't. Why wasn't their lord here to condone the safety of Felix's passage to the next life? Where was their king when his own people were dying from disease?
Felix worked for Syrusses long before the Change, and longer yet, before the Great Battle of Freedom. He devoted his money, time, and energy to Syrusses's cause. Now as they watched, no one admitted their discomfort at the outcome. Syrusses never seemed to keep his promises.
Finally sick to her stomach, Ilessa turned away as her friend's body lit up like tinder. It's only a matter of time until innocent people drop dead like flies.
Ilessa nudged her way through the small crowd, anticipating open space to breathe a little easier in. Instead, she was bombarded by three soldiers with confusion clouding their eyes.
"Hothger, a quick question?"
It was exactly what she wanted to avoid. "Proceed," She monotonously allowed.
"The Hunting party should be gathering soon. Where is our next destination? When are we to depart?" The soldier had blue eyes and a gnarled blond beard. He held in his hand the hilt of a blackened and dirty sword, always prepared for the worst.
She felt like a cheater to deny her duty and avoid all relevance concerning the Hunts. The mere thought of initiating their fifteenth Hunt had Ilessa feeling weary and cruel. Her response, despite, was a rotten lie, "I wasn't put in charge of it this time. General Airforn received the honor. I suggest you bother her about the specification and leave me to my thoughts."
The three soldiers looked between each other in skepticism. She didn't care if they believed her or not. She just wanted to get the hell out of there before Felix's ghost began to haunt her.
Tempest will hear about her new assignment, Ilessa knew. She need only wait for her friend to come storming down the village center, pound on the barrack door, and damn Ilessa to hell for the sixth time.
But as she knew, Tempest would still take the responsibility upon herself, she would still share her morning tea with Ilessa, and she would always be back to receive more assignments Ilessa shed from her shoulders. They were good friends, despite the ranks.
Ilessa used to be good at her job. Near the beginning, she was entrusted with Syrusses's army single-handedly, but then the pressures and the faults started to weigh in.
She finally just gave up. She saw disturbing tortures, crying children, rape on all, and even sinister evils she never thought a man was capable of. She lost careful faith as time progressed.
Ilessa walked home, waiting for the comfort of her straw bed and the familiar sounds of the sluggish lava river by her window.
She was with soldiers for most of her free time, but at home, it was a lonely world. Ilessa knew no family even before the Change. She never knew love or friendship until Tempest came into her life. It was a pathetic tale, but she learned to live with it. She didn't mind anymore.
Instead, she carried with her the slow-growing plan to exposing Syrusses for what he is.
She dropped her coin pouch on a small desk, lit a candle to see inside her house. As Ilessa stumbled round for her lanterns, she noticed a gleam from the window and the dark figure silently approaching.
Her muscles tensed and she whipped out her sword. "Stop where you are! Show yourself. Any attempt to escape will be the last thing you do."
The stranger was silent. Ilessa detected hesitation, fear? She didn't have all night. Ilessa lifted her sword very slowly.
"Wait!" The voice was feminine, but it wasn't Tempest, Ilessa was sure. Alarm began to settle in. Not many other women really appreciated Ilessa's tough-luck attitude, so they distanced themselves from her. This woman; Ilessa couldn't recognize the voice. She grabbed a lantern from the table next to her and ignited it just as the stranger took a lightning quick step forward and threw back her hood.
"My queen!" Ilessa exclaimed, taking several steps backwards until she hit the wall.
"No! Shh, keep your voice low. We must make this quick." The queen seated herself on Ilessa's bed, her beautiful face pale with stress. She wore such astounding silk fabrics in black and silver, her dirty blond hair cascaded down her back in simple, wave-like strands. Ilessa could barely believe Mykensi Harron, wielder of the great sword and queen of the realm was here to speak with her.
"I have an atrocious ability to hear the thoughts that run through your mind," She began softly.
Mykensi was covered in a light sheen of sweat, but even a fool couldn't mistake the tears that spilled from her eyes. Ilessa felt compelled to speak, but she only had questions Mykensi surely already knew about.
"I often sit at my window ledge at night. I try to hear the voices of a person's thoughts, or maybe envision the fantastical dreams children have while they sleep. I cannot see past the thick clouds of smoke that cover the sky, and I cannot hear oral conversations from such a great distance above, but I can still hear the faint cries of suffering minds.
"But Ilessa, your voice appeals to me. I hear it most overall, and some days you seem to shriek at me to listen. I hear you wish when you're alone. And I listen. You're conflicted and weary of your normal routine. You long to show Syrusses the real world, yet live long enough to one day touch Wvern's soft soil again.
"I understand," Mykensie delicately brushed away at some soot on her dress. She watched Ilessa, yet seemed to be seeing someone else entirely. She smiled a small smile and said, "You're shocked."
Ilessa rested a hand on her hip and nodded gingerly, anxious and nervous and overwhelmed with the task of speaking to the queen. "I am shocked, but you and Syrusses both claim great power. It is not much of a surprise. The fact that you can know all that uncertainty about myself just through my thoughts is amazing!"
"Oh no, Ilessa, there are others like Syrusses who are far more powerful than I." Mykensi patted the bed next to her. "Will you refrain from thinking of me as your queen and look at me like I am a friend? I didn't ask to be this dark queen of suffering."
Consumed by surprise, Ilessa slowly lowered herself on the bed. She noticed more tears that streaked down her pale and fragile cheeks, and Ilessa couldn't help but ask, "You're not here to confess your hatred of being queen, are you?"
Mykensi confirmed her assumption with a mere look of helplessness. "I've come to the conclusion that you're a trustworthy ally I could come to count on. We share a need to change how Syrusses sees the world he has created, and now I've finally come up with a plan to do so." She paused, composing herself. She was thinking of someone in specific, Ilessa guessed, maybe a lost lover or a fond enemy.
"There is a prison you help to guard. It's called Halmount, and in this prison there are a few prisoners who—"
"I'm sorry, your Majesty, but do you mean to have me break out the most dangerous prisoners known to civilization?" Ilessa was on her feet in a hurry, fearing the idea of letting such evil people roam the villages only to rape and kill as they pleased. She was about to voice her concerns further when she noticed Mykensi's genuinely curious yet wounded look of reproach.
"Is that how Syrusses leads you to think of them?"
Her question was plain amazement, and Ilessa had to doubt herself for a moment. "Well they are, aren't they?"
Clearly annoyed by this accusation, Mykensi stood and paced the small room. She didn't speak for a long time, and the silence stretched between the two women.
Not being able to tolerate it any longer, Ilessa finally sank into her bed and asked, "What will you have me do with those criminals if I were to take this offer?"
Mykensi turned to look at Ilessa, then forced a small smile. "Lead them south, away from Syrusses's watching eyes. They need to have time to figure out a plan."
"I'm sorry, but go south with them?" Ilessa couldn't believe what she was hearing, let alone imagine it. How could she even trust Syrusses's wife? Couldn't she be some evil queen out to get her?
At the thought, Mykensi blanched and nearly fell over from shock. Ilessa had to jump up and stable her before she was sure Mykensi was alright.
"First of all," She replied sourly, "we are not even close to being married, and secondly, these prisoners are my friends. I trust them with all my heart, and if you decide to do this, you'll earn their trust, my trust, and in return, you'll trust them."
Mykensi watched anxiously for Ilessa's answer, but she was sure this 'mission' wasn't going to happen.
"I'm sorry, your highness, I have a Hunt to attend." Ilessa bowed, half of it mockingly.
"I would love to stay and convince you otherwise, but I really must go now." Mykensi swept gracefully to the only door leading outside. With a bitter smile for farewell, Ilessa got the feeling Mykensi didn't believe her.
"Get a move on! We're wasting daylight!" Men and women squabbled about the large camp with Hunting supplies, horses, wagons, and weapons of the like. The drone of busy work drowned any repercussions made by the fed up soldiers who hung around to get a pleasure out of taunting others.
Among the scrambling of preparation, Tempest Airforn stood with a group of soldiers with careful instructions on when to launch the Hunt.
Nearly out of breath and coughing, Ilessa managed to steer clear of any necessary conversations with officers and trace her path to Tempest. Almost as though Tempest could read minds too, she spun around to face Ilessa with several offensive words nearly dripping off her tongue.
"I can explain!" Ilessa threw her hands up in surrender, expecting a look of disappointment or even a slap on the hand. Instead, Tempest walked away from her, angrily clutching two maps in one hand.
"I don't want to hear your excuses."
Ilessa followed after Tempest, realizing why she was so angry. "I honestly will say I totally forgot about this. But I must tell you what happened!"
Tempest shifted her hair to the other shoulder impatiently, "Does it concern the obvious situation at hand?"
Taking a look around, Ilessa ducked her head sheepishly and muttered, "No…"
"Then leave me alone. I have a Hunting party and a military meeting to manage." Tempest continued her shunful stride away from Ilessa, but her friend didn't give up.
"Look, I'm sorry about ignoring my duty, but you have to listen to me! Something big happened and we need to talk in private for just five seconds at least!" Of course, the conversation would be much longer than that, and Tempest surely wasn't going to accept a mere apology. What surprised Ilessa, however, is how quickly Tempest jumped on this chance.
"I'll go with you as long as you take back your job. Make it quick."
"Done. Quick. Follow me!" They claimed a tent from two sleeping soldiers and sent them on their way. There, Ilessa recounted everything the queen had told her.
Tempest listening carefully, took in everything skeptically. By the time the story was over, Ilessa lost confidence that Tempest would believe anything she said. Tempest, however, had a wholly different reaction.
"You aren't possibly thinking of doing it, are you? I'm sure releasing the queen's friends from prison will cost you not only your job, but possibly even your life too, and that is something I cannot save you from. Syrusses locked those people up for a reason."
"Do you believe they're as dangerous as everyone says they are?" Ilessa asked. "I mean, the queen was crying! Tempest, she knew exactly what I've been feeling for the past three months. She knows I want to expose Syrusses to these deserving people." Ilessa was about to go on, but Tempest raised a hand and cut her off.
"You have a point, but maybe she's playing off your emotions. Ever stop to think about that? Maybe she's trying to use you. You said something about taking them south?"
"Well yeah, but—"
"What is down there that they could possible want? She expects you to go with them too. Doesn't it all just sound a bit suspicious to you? I'd say drop it. If the queen is that desperate, then she'd find another sucker to seduce." Tempest rested her hands on Ilessa's shoulders comfortingly. "Just let it go."
Ilessa's spirits sank. Why was it she was looking so forward to Tempest's approval? Her friend was right. There wasn't much benefit guaranteed to her. "Thank you, Tempest. You're always here for me when I need you."
Tempest frowned at that and crossed her arms across her chest. "Speaking of which, we had a deal."
Frustration gripped her, but Ilessa made the deal, despite how little she wanted to lead the Hunt. "Yes, I know. I'm on it."
"A messenger from Trinity described the whereabouts of a village without loyalty to the throne just before the Forest of the Dead. That's our target. We should get there in two days' time. Good luck and have fun!" With that, Tempest left the tent and Ilessa was alone to her thoughts for the third time that day.