(NaNoWriMo 2016: Long ago, a king made a promise to a powerful wizard. In exchange for the wizard's protection from the darkness for his expanding kingdom, the king would give the wizard his first born daughter when she reaches adulthood. The wizard agreed and became the guardian of the people. However, no daughter was born to the king.
300 years later, the king's decedent is given a baby girl at long last. The current wizard of the kingdom is bound by magical contract to claim her or the kingdom loses his protection against his will. The king and queen, unwilling to surrender their child, begin a war campaign to reclaim her. In so doing, they unwittingly being stirring the dark powers that they have been protected from for 300 years.
The Great Wizard Rune had originally been reticent to claim Princes Lucia, even by magical contract. He soon finds, however, that her brightness is exactly what his lackluster life was missing, and she discovers a freedom she has never experienced yet always craved. What are they to do when trapped between the king's army and the evil forces that threaten all of their lives?)
The sounds of men's screams filled the air to the inconsistent beat of bludgeons on flesh and the dissonant, bell-like ringing of clashing iron. The sun was nearly completely gone behind the far horizon, the ocean set ablaze by the long reaching light. That only meant that the fighting would be getting more intense. More desperate.
Those things always liked the cold darkness better.
With the river at their back, at least they could keep those things only on the one side. They couldn't swim. They couldn't even float. If their desiccated bodies tried to enter the water, they would be swept away by the large current and broken against the rocks at the bottom as the river fish feasted on their leathery flesh.
Lucius was accustomed to the sounds. To the fear of darkness. His people, those who weren't well enough to fight, huddled close together, surrounded by a half ring of weary warriors. The old told stories to the young to keep them from being too frightened by horrors that haunted their nightmares. The pregnant woman rolled bandages for the injured that would inevitably begin being carried in as the night wore on. The sick were all put to sleep by overworked alchemists and their singular hedge wizard so that they could focus on the injured instead of the fevered and chilled.
It was a hard choice to have to make. The ill ranged all of his people. Old to young, pregnant to warrior, and they needed all aid. However, the fighters would also need attention, and without the fighters there wouldn't be any other people. So the sick were put to sleep so they couldn't be a burden and the alchemists began preparing their tonics and tinctures for the injured that would be coming. Such was the normal nightly ritual.
These were Lucius's people. They were desperate and tired. They had all been ran out of their home valley, forced to follow the river through the dry, arid lands. They couldn't leave the water because it provided them with food and protection. That made it very easy for the things chasing them to keep on their trail.
They were out of room now. They had reached the mouth of the river and the estuaries were currently filled with water from the nightly high tide. They were not a river people, they had no idea how to cross the muddy flats. The things chasing them didn't either, luckily, but that still left them trapped at the beginning of the river mouth. They couldn't move forward, they had no supplies to build boats and cross the river, and they were quickly being killed off by those things.
Lucius, leader of these people, had been driven into a corner. He had made another hard choice. One he knew would cost him the love of his wife. One that would cost him more than that. He was left with no other alternatives.
Lucius was the leader, and he had done what leaders had to do.
He looked up at the two men that came walking down the main path of the temporary camp. The people sitting outside of their tents gazed up at the men with burning, desperate hope in their eyes. Those already walking quickly stepped out of their way. Both men kept their eyes forward, as though the people surround them meant nothing at all.
Lucius's jaw tightened. And he too stepped out of the way.
The two men lived here in the estuaries. They lived off of the shrimp and clams that could be found here. They even had a permanent residence. There was a tower, a tall tower, that they had claimed for themselves out in the arid desert. A ways away from the scent of the estuaries by a fair distance, but it meant nothing to them.
Wizards could simply appear wherever they pleased. The distance was negligible.
Wizard Easton and Wizard Regin paid no mind to the lost, helpless people all around them. They were both busy going over mental exercises. They needed to keep their minds sharp. Though they were strong, especially together, the things chasing these people were still a difficult fight, especially at these numbers. The wizards needed to have their spells prepared.
When they passed the leader they had made their agreement with, neither of them looked over or even acknowledged his presence.
The two men looked like they could have been brothers, though they weren't related. They had been raised and trained by the same wizard though, and their life left marks on their bodies. Tangible, obvious marks that they wore with pride.
Both men had silver hair. Regin's was the longer, especially in the back. It was straight and had a decorative braid at his left ear. Easton's hair was shorter, choppy, with a couple braids over his right ear. Both braids were beaded with shimmering stones. Each one wasn't decorative. They held pockets of power that both men could use safely since neither possessed a familiar to help guide their magick.
They also had bright green eyes. Twin eyes. They were not related, but working with a wizard's power stained the body. Every hair they possessed was silver, their eyes were bright green, though they knew of a few wizards who's hair turned red instead, though those were typically hedge wizards. Great Wizards almost always had green eyes. The colors were totally bleached from them. Their skin remained its original color, but if they received a scar it healed a bright, pearly white.
The men were considerably better dressed, better fed than anyone in this temporary camp. They wore leather and silk with various wells of power stored in their many pockets. Neither man had a familiar, because it was difficult to find a creature capable of such abilities that was willing to stay with them, so they stored spells on their persons.
Easton did possess one thing that Regin did not. A white book with a golden decorative cover in the stylized form of a face with closed eyes and a grim set to its mouth. It was hooked onto a chain from both ends of its spine. Said chain was slung over his shoulder while the book bounced gently against his hip.
The book was neither familiar nor a spell pocket. It was something considerably more valuable.
The two wizards came closer to the outer defensive ring of the encampment. The soldiers there had put up thick wooden spires shoved deep into the mud to act as a fence, though it was sparsely placed and offered little in the way of protection anymore. They had to bring the spires with them as they moved and they had lost plenty on their way down the river.
The things beating against the lines of fighting men weren't human. Though once they had been. It was probably a long time ago now.
Regin made a face. "Pretas. Ugly things. Ever seen so many in one place before?"
Easton laughed at him. "Are you scared now?"
"Scared?" Regin chuckled from deep in his chest. "They're hardly worthy of fear. Thoughtless, aimless, mindless. They're worse than animals. They only know how to attack. That makes them predictable. I'm more afraid of an enemy that knows how to think and plan. A preta feels only its own hunger. That doesn't scare me. It just sort of...disgusts me."
Easton looked from him out to the army of pretas beating on the lines. Regin was right. They were unreasonably ugly.
Pretas had once been human. Before their deaths. A death that was filled with misery, desperation, hopelessness. The dead buried without funeral rights. The dead buried with an obsessive need for life or possessions.
That obsession, that feeling of being unfinished, rose them up again. It powered their dead limbs, it gave desiccated muscles strength. The fat of their bodies dried up, their muscles atrophied. Their skin tanned like leather and became sunken against their skeletons. Yellowed eyes remained fixed in their eyes or hollowed to became nothing at all in their sockets.
Pretas were ugly, desperate things. They possessed no true thoughts. They only sought to obtain what they had wanted while still alive They wanted gold. They wanted food. They wanted life. They moved to claim it with a mindless desperation. So they would kill these living people searching for something that would bring them no peace.
At this point in their non-existence, a proper burial would give them nothing. Only destroying their bodies, such as they were, would free their obsessed souls.
Easton was happy to give them that. They were ugly, unorganized things. He and Regin were accustomed to killing the odd one that roamed the landscape. However, a large force like this only came together when they were seeking to devour a large group of people. A large group like the one that belonged to Lucius, the Great Ram they called him.
"Shall we?" Regin grinned, motioning forward politely.
"Why, thank you," Easton bowed before walking forward first. He twisted his hand and brought a green flame into his palm. Hot and energetic, he liked the feeling of the fire.
A step behind him, Regin grinned as he conjured two twin spears of hot, blue light that he held like blades. He liked the solid, physical sensation more. Each wizard was different. So long as the preta was destroyed, it hardly mattered.
The wizards walked past the defensive line, grinning at the challenge that awaited. And the rewards they would receive for this. Their master had trained them to be independent wizards, but with that came a sort of lonely boredom. They were going to earn the love of these people and the loyalty of their leader. They were going to become the Great Wizards for these people. And in return, they would be given gold, wives, and honors.
Easton pulled back his hand and threw away his fire. It hit a preta and burned along skin that would normally hold no flame. The dried out husk burned quickly leaving only a pile of sticky ash that his brothers walked over.
Regin ran forward, drawing back his blue magick staves. He stabbed instead of tossed. He had to get closer to the pretas, but he could kill them without constantly trying to conjure fire. It saved magick with the cost of getting in close to the rotted smell of the pretas and risking a bite or scratch that could cause deadly infection.
Both men had different fighting tactics, but both were equally effective. Easton's distance meant he didn't put his body in danger, but he was strong enough magickally that he could stay back. Regin wasn't as strong magickally speaking, but he was stronger physically. He moved fast, hit hard, and danced out of the way before the unthinking pretas could land a blow.
The two of them had never before needed to take on this many pretas at once though. It was a fight that quickly began to wear down on their bodies. Though they were far stronger than the normal men behind them, they were still human with perfectly human failings.
"It didn't look like there were this many from the outside!" Regin yelled back at his wizard brother, sweat making his silver hair stick to his face.
The two of them had walked right into the middle of the preta army. It had closed around them, trapping them in a bubble of corpses. They could still see, a slight distance away, the camp that was the group of living men. Still fighting. Though Regin and Easton were already carving out a large chunk of the pretas.
They planned on being rid of them tonight. Before the sun rose. There was no time limit, they only needed to defeat the army for the Great Ram at some point. However, if they could do it tonight, they could begin taking it easy sooner.
"Think of the women, Regin," Easton grinned. "How long has it been since you or I was able to enjoy one?"
"Ah..." Regin beamed, slamming his magick encircled fist into the skull of a preta. The force and spell caused it to explode, sending bone and burning skin fragments everywhere. "That would be...years ago now. That time the nomads were coming through this way to avoid the sandstorm. It was a good night..."
"Indeed. Those were ugly women though." Easton threw another ball of flame that destroyed two pretas at the same time. The resulting fires caught another two in its grasp and razed all four to sticky ash.
Regin laughed. "Yes, but at least they were real women. There are just some things that magick can't do. Unfortunately. Lucius's women aren't really that much better."
"Yes, but they are better," Easton smirked.
Regin chuckled with him. "Imagine not having to make our own food or clean our own tower. We'll have a couple of wives to do that for us. Then we get a warm bed each night. Some children of our own to pass our craft onto."
Easton made a small sound of delight. The fantasy was beautiful. A nice, quiet woman who tended the fire and the children. Someone he could drag to his bed whenever the need struck. Then he could order her to clean his tower instead of being forced to do it himself.
What pleasures a woman wouldn't bring into his life. He could already picture it. And with the gold and adoration of the Lucius's people, Easton need never be the bored wizard of the tower again. He would finally have something like a real home.
All he needed to do would be to finish this fight and claim what belonged to him.
It was going to be a long fight. He was already losing track of time as the two of them cut their way through this hoard. He had no doubts as to their victory, the only question was how long it would take to achieve it. They two men were still humans, they couldn't fight their way through the entire night without rest.
They wouldn't need to. Easton turned, looking over as Regin grabbed two pretas by the skull and bashed them together, destroying both and creating an explosion that cleared a ring of space in their little bubble of shattered bodies and sticky ash.
Regin threw his head back and began laughing. Pretas were ugly, but so long as you knew how to destroy them and didn't let their numbers overwhelm you, they could be easily defeated. It was only a matter of not letting them surround you.
And of understanding your strengths.
Easton couldn't do this without Regin, and Regin couldn't do it without Easton. However, to get what he really wanted, Easton couldn't share with his partner.
Regin had his back turned. Beating down pretas as though they were flies. Destroying their numbers and weakening their force. Easton could handle the rest by himself.
He lifted his hand, the green flame dying. With a force of will, he called into his hand one of the glittering silver knives from the tower. It floated in the air before him, ruby gems encrusting the handle, as it aimed towards Regin.
Laughing, Regin turned to check on Easton.
The knife cut swiftly through the air, embedding itself into Regin's chest. His eyes widened as the twin staves in his hands died.
"E...Easton?" He gasped, confused as he hit his knees.
"Forgive me, Regin," Easton said, his voice dull and detached. "You were the older of us. You were going to get the prize before I did. There was a chance I would never get it."
"What...?" Regin grabbed for the knife. He could feel the hole in his heart. There was nothing his magick could do to fix that.
Easton turned, throwing out a massive fireball, it exploded among the pretas, taking out at least ten and flooring over a dozen more.
He looked back to Regin. He could see in his partner's face the shock, the betrayal.
"W-Why?" He coughed, blood flecking his lip.
"You will not take my bride," Easton informed him, straightening his leathers. "I have offered to take Lucius's daughter for my wife. I will become the leader of these people. I will make them powerful. Wholly dependent upon me. I can't do that so long as you live."
Regin's mouth was open, disbelief in his face.
"For this..." He coughed, blood coating his chin.
Easton turned, throwing another fireball. A third. Pretas were shattered in large swathes. Easton didn't turn back as Regin collapsed to the ground. He was focused on destroying what remained of these lifeless beings.
When he finally did glance around, he was a bit surprised to see Regin's corpse missing. A large group of pretas were running now. They possessed no sense of self preservation, so the movement confused him more than slightly.
Where were they going? There was nothing for them upstream. Not for days, weeks. Where could they possibly be running to?
With the large group breaking away though, it took Easton even less time to breakdown what remained of the preta army. Slowly, the sounds of battle faded as the number of soldiers fighting whittled away. The broken, rotting bodies of pretas littered the ground.
And in the middle of them all, Easton stood tall and untouched. He reached up and smoothed back his sweat dampened hair, straightened his ash stained jacket jacket, then turned to face the camp with blazing green eyes.
The people were all staring at him now with wide eyes. Wide, awed eyes. The hoard that had been chasing them for weeks was in pieces at his feet in the span of a single night.
Good, Easton thought with a grin as he started walking back. Bow to me. Adore me. I won't be alone any longer. I will have an entire kingdom soon.
The people were quick to scurry from his path, almost bowing now as he made his way back through the ramshackle tents. He was aiming for the Great Ram's hovel. Enough time should have passed by now. He was a little dirty and sweat covered from the exertion and there was a couple shimmering bone fragments in the silk of his clothing, but he felt so powerful.
Regin was gone. Easton would miss him. But what he was gaining in return for his death was going to make everything worth it.
Lucius was waiting for him back in his tent. It was hardly in any better condition than those of his people, but his was bigger. It came with a rudimentary map of the river area, though the estuaries were noticeably lacking because they hadn't traveled through them.
Lucius was waiting for Easton within. Easton couldn't tell if he looked relieved or annoyed that Easton was alone and unharmed.
"You've done it?" The Great Ram asked, sneering in disgust.
"Don't look so disappointed," Easton laughed. "How about you? Have you fulfilled your end of the bargain?"
Lucius looked like he had swallowed something very bitter. But he turned to his page and nodded. The young boy bowed his head and turned to run out of the tent. The sound of his footsteps faded amongst the cries of the injured and dying outside.
"You feel nothing at all?" Lucius asked, crossing his arms.
"For what? My future? I'm quite excited."
"I can't believe this. I'm making a deal with a murderer. He was your brother!"
"We weren't actually related," Easton said quite calmly. "We just trained and lived together."
Lucius shook his head at him, sneering his lip as the page ran back inside. In his hands was the long, rolled up copy of the agreement Easton had come to with the Great Ram, leader of these people. Regin had sent him, alone, to negotiate with their chief. He had foolishly trusted Easton to see to both of their benefit. Just another reason that Easton was the only one deserving of the rewards.
The page set the parchment down and began unrolling it, placing stones at the corners so it wouldn't roll back up. They had reached the agreement last night, before the morning sun. A calligrapher had been writing the accord through the day. The result was a beautiful masterpiece of penmanship and style.
Easton took his time reading it. He was putting a magickal seal on it to make sure that neither party reneged on their end. So he wanted to make absolutely certain that Lucius hadn't tried to trick him by including something they hadn't agreed on.
On this day, 25th of the third season, the great leader Lucius of House Falconeri, Protector of the People, River Runner, the Great Ram, enters into this agreement willingly with full knowledge of all requirements, consequences, and rights granted within alongside Easton, Wizard of the Tower. The Wizard of the Tower shall give his protection, from this day into eternity, unto the people of the Great Ram and the home they create against any dark forces that seek to destroy them. In return for this protection, the Great Ram promises to give unto the Wizard of the Tower his first surviving daughter upon the day she reaches womanhood.
This agreement is in effect at the moment of both applied seals and shall not be broken onto forever. The Wizard of the Tower will grant protection to the People for all eternity for this exchange. Should the Wizard of the Tower fail in his obligation to the People or their lands, he shall be stripped of his powers and laid bare as a normal man. Should the Great Ram fail to surrender his first surviving daughter upon reaching womanhood, the Wizard of the Tower shall no longer have the power to defend the People or their lands.
This treaty is a binding contract, bespelled by the Wizard of Tower in full acknowledgement of both parties. Punishments for reneging on the agreement herein reached will result in an immediate, magickal distribution of punishment onto either guilty party. If both groups are in accord, let them sign this document and swear to keep their word from this day into eternity.
Below that, in legible calligraphy, were both Easton and Lucius's names. Beside that was another name, that of the calligrapher that had already been signed with his seal in now dried wax. The only thing left was for Easton and Lucius to add their seals under their names to make it legal, and for Easton to apply the spell unto it that would put it into action.
However, he frowned at the wording as the page brought Lucius his seal and the wax.
"I thought our agreement was that I would receive your daughter on her birth," Easton said, giving Lucius a suspicious look.
"It was," Lucius agreed. "However, my wife became quite distressed when I told her of your conditions. She would not budge until I had agreed that the girl could be given to you when she becomes a woman and of marriageable age."
"That was not our agreement!"
"Does it matter?" Lucius gave him a look. "You cannot bind a female to you until she reaches womanhood anyway. Let her mother have her for a short time."
"She is your wife, Lucius. Simply order her to give me the child. She cannot disobey you."
"Unlike you, Easton, I strive to keep my wife happy. I do not wish to force her to my bed every night from here on. I have already condemned my unborn daughter for your sick pleasures. Allow her mother to enjoy her for however short a time they have together."
Easton growled at him, but he let it go. Lucius was right. The girl was useless to him until he could marry her and plant his babe in her belly. Honestly, letting her stay with her mother would save him the trouble of having to take care of her. In fact, the longer he considered it, the more he realized that caring for a babe, then a girl child, was quite a distasteful thought.
"Very well, your wife can keep her. However, if she is not given to me on time-"
"I already know. Your protection ends," Lucius gave him a look. "It is already written. Do you possess your seal to sign it?"
Easton reached into one of his pockets and pulled out his own seal. Lucius nodded and looked over to where his page was heating wax to apply to the parchment. It wasn't yet ready, they still had a minute or two before they could sign.
It was a tense silence. Lucius didn't even want to look at the wizard. If it had been for anything less than the safety of his people, he would never have entered into this agreement. Even now, knowing that Easton had killed what was effectively his brother, Lucius felt bile rising in the back of his throat. He had no choice but to agree to this though. His people were small enough now that, if he tried to renege even after the pretas were dead, Easton could destroy them.
"Your wife isn't here?" Easton asked when the silence continued uncomfortably.
"She's become uncomfortable," Lucius said, his voice decidedly unfriendly. "I'm afraid the pregnancy is taxing on her. Especially with all the moving and running we must do."
Easton nodded as though he had any idea. Honestly, he had no idea what a pregnant woman even looked like until he had seen Lucius's wife. He was kind of surprised just how obvious the bump of her belly was, even as Lucius said it wasn't altogether that large since it was early in the pregnancy. He knew that pregnant women carried in their stomachs, but he didn't think that such a tiny thing as a newborn human would take up so much room.
Babies were tiny anyway. How could carrying one put so much extra strain on the woman? It was probably because women were so much more delicate than men. That was it, he was sure. She was of the weaker sex, so carrying such extra weight was hard for her. It was really rather sad when he thought of it that way.
He had already seen the woman though. He had seen the baby. He had felt it with his magick. He knew that the baby was a female. Lucius's heir that Easton longed to marry was already growing in his wife's belly. Easton need only wait until she had grown to claim her.
The assurance that his prize was already growing was what made him confident in signing this agreement that was predicated on Lucius having a baby girl. If he did not have one, then Easton would be trapped in a contract he could not escape for the rest of his life.
However, the woman was carrying a girl child. Easton had destroyed most of the pretas and getting rid any stragglers that came later would be easy.
"My lord, are you ready?" The page boy asked, holding the liquefied sealing wax up.
Lucius seemed to gather himself, hardening his will. He nodded to the page. "Pour it, boy."
Easton grinned as the young page came forward. The red sealing wax was dripped down onto the parchment expertly into two twin puddles.
Lucius came forward, his ring with his seal on it in hand. He pressed the piece of metal against the wax and pushed down. The excess spilled over around it, forming a ring.
Beside him, Easton's seal came in the form of a stamp. He pressed the square shaped seal down into the wax and a similar, quadrangular ring formed around his seal.
They paused for a moment, letting the wax set just enough. Then they pulled back at the same moment. The stamps were freed with a soft peeling sound and two seals were left behind. Lucius's was in the form of a ram with two tall, whirling horns. Easton's depicted the tower that he lived in and created his name.
As Easton pulled away though, a trail of white light followed his stamp. Coming from his hand and fusing with the parchment. Lucius watched as the light seeped into the thick paper and seemed to join with the ink. The words darkened, absorbing the magick. The spell made them cast iron. There was no escaping this agreement now.
For either party.
"Well then," Easton grinned, slipping his stamp back into his pocket. "If you'll excuse me, I'm going to return to my tower and see to the destruction of the remaining pretas. I can't have them coming back and harming my people. Be sure to send a message when my wife is born."
Lucius growled at him as Easton turned with a smirk. He didn't even get a step before the tent flap was thrown open by a panicked woman that Lucius recognized as one of his wife's ladies. She was breathing fast, her eyes wide.
"My lord!" She gasped, throwing herself down at his feet.
"What is it?" He asked, heart in his throat. "What's wrong? What happened?"
"It's my lady! She's...She's gone into labor, sir!"
Lucius paled. Easton frowned, an eyebrow raising. He wasn't all that knowledgeable about pregnant women, but he was pretty sure going into labor was a good thing. That meant that his future bride was being born right now. That just saved Lucius a message.
But Lucius looked horrified. As though the servant had just told him that his wife had thrown herself down on his sword.
"What happened?" He asked, breathless. "Did she fall? Did she get hurt? Did she work too hard?"
"No, sir. She was eating dinner a-and just collapsed! The midwife is with her already but she sent me to fetch you. S-She said...S-She said that it might be too late to prevent the birth."
"What's wrong about that?" Easton asked, crossing his arms. "Shouldn't a prospective father be happy?"
"Are you stupid?!" Lucius asked him, giving Easton a dark look. "My wife is barely halfway through her pregnancy! She's not ready to give birth yet. If the baby comes into the world now, it won't be fully formed. It will die!"
Easton frowned. His bride would die? The only reason he had entered into this agreement was because he knew that Lucius was going to have a girl.
"Allow me to see the woman," Easton ordered the servant sharply. "I shall use my magick."
Lucius growled. "It won't do any good. Wizard's cannot even heal a knife to the chest. There's nothing that can be done now if the midwife can't help."
Easton refused to accept that as truth and demanded he see Lucius's wife anyway.
That night, Lucius's young daughter was born. Far too early. She never even drew her first breath. Her tiny body fit into her father's palm, still and far too pink. She died with the sunrise and Easton was robbed of his guaranteed bride.
He demanded that Lucius immediately impregnate his wife again. He wanted his bride!
However, even as Lucius set up a society there at the mouth of the river, he received no daughter from his wife. She gave him three sons as they grew their kingdom, but no other daughters. The son that took over for his father, becoming king, the new Great Ram, similarly became bound by the contract in turn. His wife gave him two children, both boys.
One day, many years later, Easton died. Without a bride. Alone in his tower. The only one to tend to him was the apprentice he had taken on in his older years. The next Wizard of the Tower inherited the binding contract, but neither Lucius's son, nor the ruler after him, gave birth to a single, living daughter.
The Preta Accord was hidden away deep under the castle in the archive with other important documents, under a city raised at the mouth of the river. Forgotten as the years moved on and the city expanded. The Wizards of the Tower, unaware of their lack of choice, served the people loyally. With their protection, fed by the river that kept the land fertile, the people began to rapidly grow.
Three hundred years later, King Boreas, direct descendant of First King Lucius and his wife, and Queen Jenifry, gave birth to the first surviving girl of the royal family.
The entire country celebrated. In honor of her being the first girl, on her name day, she was given the title Lucia after her forefather, First King Lucius.
Lucia of House Falconeri. First Princess of Luceria Ostia on the mouth of the Iifa River.