Stand behind yer sheriff Circulation: 95,556,587 Issue: 188 | 28th day of Eating, Y7
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Prophecy of the Equinox: Part Four


by laurelinden

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Aloren stared at the blue Draik dumbly. “How do you know my name?” she demanded after a long moment of confused silence. She had made a conscience effort not to tell anyone anything about her. It was impossible! How could he have found out? “Who told you?” she hissed.

    Astrovia seemed unaware of the pain in his foot. He was gazing at Aloren with wonder, not wearing the fearful expression that he well should have been. “No one told me,” he replied evenly, and Aloren wanted to slap the dreamy amazement off his face.

    Though she knew she should ignore his irrationality and bind him into silence, the Faerie Draik could not do so just yet. Curiosity stirred within her, and if she let him die now without ever revealing his secret and explaining the strange look on his face, she knew she would regret it forever. “Speak,” she commanded in a low but fierce voice. “Tell me how you know what I have told no one, and I will spare you.” He doesn’t know he is poisoned, she reasoned with herself, pleased with her craftiness. He would die either way, but perhaps she could use his ignorance of the fact to her advantage.

    The Draik didn’t seem at all concerned for his life, however. He merely nodded, as if she had requested for him to pass vegetables at dinner, and said, “I have always known the name of my sister.”

    Of all the things he could have said, this was what Aloren had expected least. Her mouth opened, and she managed to sputter, “What?”

    Instead of replying, this Draik who claimed to be her brother began to sing. A momentary warning flashed across Aloren’s mind: that he would wake the rest and they would be alerted to her treachery, but the soft, pure, notes of the song ebbed away at the feeling until she had forgotten ever experiencing it.

    The song cut through years of hardness and training, gently floating through the wall of stone around her heart, seeping into the tiny spongelike holes of her humanity, reaching a glimmering pure essence that the song of her parents had implanted so long ago. Aloren felt tears rise to her eyes; she, who had never cried for as long as her memory spanned, was weeping, and was too stunned and moved to even feel shame.

    Astrovia’s song faded, and the Draik fell to his knees weakly. The poison was affecting him more quickly than she’d thought; it would not be long until he passed into unconsciousness. Aloren felt a tightening in her stomach, and her throat seemed to clench. For the first time in her life, she felt compassion. She didn’t want him to die.

    He looked mildly surprised that the injury was weakening him so rapidly. When he looked up at Aloren with question in his eyes, she whispered, “You’re poisoned.” Her voice cracked when she said it, and new tears rushed to her eyes.

    Astrovia nodded. “It’ll be okay. Wake the others for me.”

    With obedience that would have impressed even General Velor, she did.

    ***

    Velor wasn’t sure what to expect when a frightened looking messenger bid him go to Lord Dusken. “He… he wants to see you immediately,” stammered the lad, quite unnecessarily. Velor wouldn’t have kept the Lord Commander waiting even if they hadn’t been on the brink of war.

    Nodding with impatience, Velor shooed the boy off, and slipped on a black tunic fitting for an appearance before Lord Dusken.

    The Darigan Draik strode briskly through the dark corridors, not knowing if he should feel nervous or excited. He expected that the news would be good, that the jewel had finally flared to life, giving off their signal, but that was not consistent with the attitude of the messenger.

    As he opened the heavy door leading to Lord Dusken’s chambers, Velor saw that his commander was certainly displeased. The huge Mutant Draik’s form was rigid with irritation, and a frightening malice stirred in those red, red eyes. “My lord,” said Velor, bowing as he announced himself.

    A deep grumble escaped Lord Dusken’s throat. “There has been no sign,” he said in a dangerously low voice. “Your beloved protégé has given me no sign!” In his clawed hand he clutched the twin to the jewel, and it looked surprisingly tiny, hanging from a slender thread of gold.

    Velor knew that Aloren would not fail him. He had instilled in her unconditional obedience and plied her every day with careful training. “The sign will come,” he said, and he did not have to pretend his confidence.

    Dusken could sense his sincerity, which seemed to calm him slightly. “I hope you’re right, for your sake,” he growled. “It is well past midnight. The day of the Equinox is starting, and if she delays much longer we will not reach the battle scene in time.”

    As if responding to his concern, the jewel in Lord Dusken’s hand shivered, emitting a sudden blood-red light that flooded the tiny room before fading into a subtle glow.

     “It appears you may keep your head after all,” announced Lord Dusken, handing the glowing gem to his general. “Velor, rally the men. We go to war.”

    ***

    Aloren sat in silence, staring reflectively at the red jewel in her hand. Her family was astounding; once awake and alerted to the poisoning of Sapphire and Astrovia, they had circled around the two injured Draiks, and begun to sing.

    She still felt overwhelmed when she thought of it; the unbelievable power that had reverberated through the hills, undulating from the joined throats. The notes had spun a song of purest love and healing, and finally she had joined her own voice to theirs in a low hum of apology. When it had ended, her brother and his friend were strong again: completely healed.

    Astrovia had forgiven her before the group, which was enough to satisfy them. Then she and her brother had consulted with the other leaders, and after listening to her tell them of the enemy’s plans, they had decided for a strong initial attack, hoping to catch the unwary Forces off guard.

    The morning light was strong now; it had been hours since the young Draik had betrayed her captors with a touch of her hand. They were coming now, thinking that her family was leaderless and frantic---they were coming to their doom.

    A thin call, made to imitate a bird, disturbed her reverie. It was the signal of the sentry; the enemy was approaching.

    Astrovia was beside her before she even stood. His face was flushed with the prospect of battle; he was eager to face the elusive enemy at last, to avenge the sister which had been stolen from him, and have her fight beside him, united at last.

    Sapphire joined them, looking nervous. “They are within sight,” he said.

    Following his gaze across the plain, Aloren could see that he was right. The dark mass of the Draik Forces resembled a fallen stormcloud brooding on the horizon. With sudden resolution, Aloren slipped the jeweled chain over her head.

     “They’ll know who you are,” warned Astrovia, glancing at her with concern.

    Aloren smiled. “Exactly.”

    ***

    Velor had led his men within a mile of the enemy. The sun was rising into the sky, starting its daily arc. But this day will mean more than the others, he told himself, and his eyes shone with grim pleasure. It was the day foretold in the prophecy, and it would belong to him.

    The speckled dots of blue and faerie Draiks moved quickly along the hill, and Velor was sure that they were taken by surprise, judging by the speed with which they darted and churned among themselves. All the better, he thought.

    He paused a minute, allowing them all to come to a complete stop. Turning to face them, he drew his sword, letting its clang echo through the hills. He looked into the eyes of his army, and saw glinting evil gazing back. Raising his sword to shine in the light of the Equinox sun, he screamed, “NOW!”

    The wind tore into countless eddies of air as the army of Draiks lifted into it. The pulsing of their leathery wings vibrated into his core, sparking to life a terrible ferocity that curled his lip in a sneer of hatred and brought a strangled war-cry from his throat to join the calls of the rest. In a rush of jubilation, he led his warriors to battle.

    ***

    Astrovia’s group was already in the air, zigzagging, working up momentum, when the enemy attacked. Now they resembled a stormcloud even more closely, for the sound of their wings and the roar of their voices was like thunder, and the flashing of their swords lightning.

    With a glance to Sapphire, Astrovia and the leaders swooped upward, preparing to execute one of their well-practiced maneuvers. The enemy ballooned outward as the approached, making themselves harder to surround. From where she sat in the grass, Aloren watched, scarcely breathing.

    She longed to be among them, to claw at Velor’s deceitful eyes. Astrovia had told her, in the stillness of the dawn, how the captain had stolen her egg and killed her parents. Only their song had saved her from total corruption, by giving her the memory of goodness that her brother had so recently allowed her to recall. All his life Velor had raised her, poisoning her mind with lies against her family, turning her against her own relatives for his own profit. She wanted nothing more than to get revenge.

    But Astrovia had told her to wait until the right moment, and she knew he was right. She should not go out in the first wave. She should reserve herself until she was really needed.

    Grinning, she watched the sharp attacks of the six leaders cut through the ranks of the enemy mob, separating them into smaller, manageable groups. Velor had not been expecting such excellent training from them; he had thought that Aloren would have made his job little more than a simple raid on confused, unsuspecting peace-lovers, and had been set to steal their fertile lands and extend the arm of his master, rising in power. Such hopes would surely be dashed.

    A sudden shrill cry of alarm pierced the air. Aloren watched, horrified, as the enemy dodged out of the ring which her family had been creating, swelling with their greater numbers to trap the would-be captors. The faerie Draik knew that capture under Velor was a worse fate than death on the battlefield. She could not let her friends be doomed to sickness and torture in the cold wet darkness of his dungeons! She would not stand for it---not after what he had done to her.

    With a determined claw, she squeezed the white jewel until it burst with light of red fire. Her black sword hissed as she drew it from its sheath. She stretched out her wings and flew like a shooting star toward the battle, gritting her teeth in fury.

    ***

    Velor was pleased as he surveyed his army. The enemy had put up a better fight than he’d expected; it seemed that Aloren had not done her job as well as he had hoped. But no matter, they would win all the same. He would, of course, have to beat his protégé for her less-than-successful mission, unless she did something redeeming, which seemed unlikely. He hadn’t even seen her yet among the ranks. If she is hiding, he thought with a spark of anger, it will be worse than a beating for her.

    But no, there she was. At least she had her sword out; she wasn’t a total failure. But wait… Velor narrowed his eyes in disbelief. She was cutting at his troops, each stab creating a fatal would with the poisoned blade. The traitor! Using the skills which he had labored ten years to teach her, she was betraying her own people. And she was coming straight for him.

    That’s it, he thought, willing her closer. His clawed hand curled tightly around his blade. Come to me, Aloren. You will bleed for this.

    ***

    Hacking mindlessly at the dark forms around her, Aloren made a beeline for Velor. The necklace glowed a deadly red, and his reflected the color. She fought with such frenzied ferocity that soon the Force members turned their skills on other targets, and she closed the gap between her and her master unchallenged.

    The hatred in his eyes reflected her own. “You spawn of evil!” she cried hoarsely. “You wicked, self-serving pig! You kidnapped me, raised me in misery, and ruined every waking instant of my childhood so that I could defeat my own family? Well I remember the prophecy as well as you, Velor, and I know that my decision will sway the battle. And I decide against you!”

    Velor sneered at her. “Not if you die first, hatchling.” Aloren charged, half-blind with rage.

    Their blades met in a clash of steel, and the force of it almost shook the sword from Aloren’s paw. Velor wheeled about, lunging at her with frightening speed. In her rage, she’d forgotten how fast he was---and he was much stronger that she was as well. She was only his student; he was the true sword master.

    But it didn’t matter. Aloren’s anger spurred her onward, and she twisted away from the lunge, knocking his blade away with a surely aimed parry. All I need to do is nick him, she remembered. The poison will do the rest. She didn’t care if she died in the attempt; it would be worth it.

    Velor attacked with a speedy redouble, swooping down at her from above. He pushed her down, down, down, so fast that she outstretched her wings in an attempt so slow the descent. He is going to crush me into the ground, she realized. Squirming, she fought to get free, but it was useless. She hit the earth with bone-jarring force, and his knee held her firmly to the ground. “It is a pity to waste such a promising student,” he said mockingly, and she felt the cold, pointed edge of his sword at her throat. It’s over, she thought, and knew that her last thought would be that she only wished to have taken him down with her.

    He snarled with sudden pain, and leapt up, spinning to face someone who Aloren could not see. She struggled to her knees, and saw that Astrovia was facing the general of the Draik Forces, holding aloft her black blade.

    Velor’s face grew still. His wing was bleeding where Aloren’s brother had cut it. “Poisoned,” he whispered, and then a mad surge of fury contorted his features. “Poisoned! By a brat-son of trash!” He raised his sword high above his head. “By Lord Dusken of the Forces, both of you will die with me!”

    On impulse Aloren opened her mouth, and a single sweet note poured from it. Soft at first, it grew as she put more air into it and closed her eyes, letting it swell over the fields and be absorbed into every ear. She did not know why she had started to sing; perhaps it was instinct, or perhaps it was in response to the bright, bright sun.

    Astrovia was the first to join, adding his voice to hers in a tenor pitch. From where they flew, her family sung as well, causing it crescendo and swell over the entirety of the fields.

    Frozen, Velor seemed unsure of what to do. The war-cries had died from the lips of his followers, and they hovered in silence, struggling to ignore the power of the song. Some put clawed paws over their ears and squeezed their eyes shut in a futile effort to block it out.

    Then one fell, dropping through the sky to land in a still heap. Aloren opened her eyes, watching as still more began to drop, and soon it was as if the stormcloud had finally surrendered to the inevitable rain. The hills were strewn with motionless black forms; the song had worn away their cruelty, leaving them nothing but voids. The body cannot live without a soul, reflected Aloren, letting her song fade.

General Velor was staring around him in mute shock. His face was pale and drawn; it seemed that the song had accelerated the deadliness of the poison. “This is not the end, Aloren,” he managed to hiss before falling and becoming just another motionless heap.

    Aloren smiled. “I think it is.”

    ***

    The days and nights were peaceful for many long years after the battle. Aloren’s family expanded, claiming the lands of the Draik Forces as its own. The family members added windows to let light into the horrible dungeons, and planted seeds so that the training yard bloomed with bursts of color as an immortal reminder of what they had overcome.

    Aloren sat among the flowers one afternoon, smelling their sweet fragrance and humming a soft song to encourage them to grow in beauty. Presently her brother sat beside her, and bent to inhale the scent of a soft-pedaled rose. “You know what, Astrovia?”

    He glanced up at her, and her heart swelled with the warmth of his eyes. “What, my little sister?”

     “I don’t think the prophecy was ambiguous at all,” she answered. “I can’t imagine it ending any other way.”

    He grinned. “You know what?”

     “What?”

     “Me neither.”

The End

 
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Other Episodes


» Prophecy of the Equinox: Part One
» Prophecy of the Equinox: Part Two
» Prophecy of the Equinox: Part Three



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