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Chapter Ten: Fear
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Kalanna Rai

Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Wed Dec 07, 2011 6:59 pm    Post subject:  

And as promised a new chapter. Enjoy.

Chapter Ten: Fear

To this point in her life Tessa had never experienced a period of tension as great and terrible that contained in the past five days. Since the night the dragon had taken flight there had been nothing but conflict. The boom, louder than any thunderclap she'd ever heard, had woken her from her bed and sent her to the windows to stare out the lead-lined glass into the night. All she'd seen was torchlight winking like feeble stars against a dark hide and then the true nightscape had returned to it's rightful place, the darker blackness vanishing north. But like a departed storm, the wreckage was left behind and the next dawn revealed only the first of the damages.

Suspecting it had something to do with the northerners, and unable to sleep thereafter, Tessa had risen and dressed before seeking them out in their rooms. Her head was pounding and the sight that she'd never again take for granted was wavering, like sunlight reflected on a riverbed. Or like it would after she'd sent one of those stiff-necked foreign clients under the table after several samplings of various ciders from her personal stores. Black Label was not to be trifled with lightly. Still, she was neither recovering from a negotiation or from recreation and her sudden affliction with this condition was most displeasing.

She barely had made it down the hallways that connected her chambers to theirs when she was shoved aside by a contingent of the palace guard. At their head, clad only in a pair of sleeping trousers, was her Grandfather as she'd never seen him before. And it was a sight that gave her new appreciation of him...and perhaps a healthy dose of fear laced sense.

Astor Vengivedion had come into power at the end of the long rule of his mother, fondly remembered in Leyond's histories as the Iron Queen. A woman who'd chosen a common man over all noble suitors because it 'caused no outside conflicts and because he has a great deal more good sense than most crowned heads display'. Privately it was whispered she'd chosen him because he was the strongest Evoker seen in three hundred years but that had never been proven. Either way her rule had been a tense one, but a prosperous one, and the Iron Queen had left her only son a nation strong in power and poised to deal with it's more 'restless' neighbors. A threat that swiftly developed in the the first great conflict with the south within a year of her death.

He'd held the borders of Leyond firm since that time. Against external threats, and internal strife. He'd survived two wives and six dead infants, and two sons that were...less than acceptable heirs. Now, he fought even his own Grandchildren as the blacksmith's hammer would fight a red hot length of steel, beating down on them with tremendous force to shape them. As if by molding them he could make up for a litany of past errors.

She could see that in him when he shoved past her, his long hair and grandfather beard tangled and twisted from disturbed sleep. See the muscle still thick on him, the power that he'd passed on to at least one son and perhaps further. The callouses on strangely steady hands as he gripped the hilt of a heavy sword and raised the other to pound on the blocked door leading into the chambers of the northerners. And when he'd been denied entry, his shout alone had nearly shaken the heavy doors loose from their hinges. Astor Vengivedion was not a man to be denied.

And that had only been the first night, when the palace guard had torn at those doorways, seeking a way into that wing, only to find that all passages known and secret were blocked or locked closed. And yet...Tessa found a way. Her head pounding, her dizzy spell growing ever more pronounced, she got lost in the familiar hallways of the palace. Nearly tripping over her own feet, staying standing only with the support of a hand always on the wall, she wandered until her headache began to lessen. It wasn't until she stepped out of a dusty passage and into the well lit bedchamber where Alasdair's...wife...lay did Tessa realize she'd found something. And abruptly all maladies ceased.

For a long time she'd talked with the northern beauty, watching as the woman called Kyrie had sat on the edge of her bed and toyed with her braids, always watching out the window. Her words had always been so distant as she spoke, as if her eyes never left the figure of Alasdair. She'd confirmed for Tessa that Alasdair was indeed the black and gold dragon that had left from the castle and she told Tessa of the errand she'd left on. "He was so troubled...whatever vision the Elders sent him...I could see only a part. But it weighs on him. He takes his responsibilities seriously and yet he is not yet to his third scales. He cannot stop this alone, not if he'd seen a hundred scales."

Tessa did not quite understand what that had meant, not the part about scales anyway, although she figured it to be a way of dragon's reckoning of time. And by this she made the assumption that if Kyrie was not also a dragon then sharing your life intimately with one conveyed a sharing of power. Either way, the northern beauty was certainly more approachable than the others that guarded her. Tessa was quite put out the first time a bear wandered into the bedchamber...even more put out to discover that the bear was really a man. The strange magics of the north were both potent and powerful.

But, isolated and under siege as the northerners were, Tessa became their link to the outside world, together with Khafi, bringing them news from beyond their stronghold. Khafi, from whom nothing could be hidden apparently, except for the fact that their eldest half brother was a dragon under his guise of humanity. That had certainly surprised and intrigued him although to her he would only say it 'explained many things'. Khafi could glean information from places Tessa didn't know existed. Tessa could draw conclusions using insight that Khafi sorely lacked. Together they pieced together the battle of public opinion, how it was fought, and how battles were won and lost.

In the high places, among the dignified and dandified, Alasdair was despised near universally. A beast and a monster of legend, their terror of him drove them to a venom that Tessa wouldn't have believed humans capable of. Vipers yes, but not human beings. Only the northern-most lords of Leyond wore the dragon badge, indeed it was said they started it. A stylized version of the harsher northern symbol, it was an almost hypnotic curl of gold and black. They were gruff and stout people and their many long dealings with the northern kingdom had given them some preparation. They considered themselves better judges of character than their compatriots and, dragon or not, Alasdair passed their tests.

In the market district, there was a more even split, a universal fear, but few chose to openly support or decry the dragon. For fear of loss of business. Many merchants would praise the dragon to one customer's face, and demand his head and hide alongside the next. In the barracks there was no open support. The dragon had made a fool of them, showed them as weak, if any would give him succor they would swiftly find themselves damned amid their peers. And in the poorest of places many crude dragon emblems seemed to sprout overnight. Too many people remembered the big barbarian who wore the face of a familiar devil but came with only kindness and hands that healed, not hurt. Speaking ill of the dragon in such places saw you met with angry words and pelted with whatever came to hand.

But the news spread far beyond Eresinne and fear went with it. Depending on who told the tale the dragon was at best a frightening fireside tale and at worst a flying horror that had scourged the walls with flame before consuming a meal of man-flesh and departing. Only here and there, where the old legends were known and old traditions were kept, did fear not entirely grip the hearts of the folk. Here and there small hamlets grimly crushed the pretty pink flowers known as dragonsbane and stored the salve for a rainy day...just should it prove to be one of the more monsterous and less kindly of the breed.

All this Tessa and Khafi relayed to the beleaguered northerners, along with food and other supplies. Khafi was more than mildly amazed by the transformations of the guards, nodding to himself as if he'd suspected it all the long and the very fact he was impressed he couldn't have. Still, there was no word from Alasdair or Lukan although Kyrie swore both of them lived and every day watched tirelessly for their return. And on the evening of the fifth day they did...

Tessa glanced up from her book as shouts were raised along the wall, going to the window with all speed and peering out, hoping for a glimpse of the dragon. However, only the familiar outline of Lukan's hippogriff could be seen in the sky. The beast flew with slow and steady wing beats and, as it turned a lazy loop, the second passenger could be seen. Unlatching the windows, she poked her head out into the twilight air, much to the dismay of her maid who squalled at the sudden chill and quickly moved to tend the dancing fire.

Every arrow that could be found and every man with a spit of magic in him seemed to have turned themselves toward the slowly descending pair and Tessa decided she'd get no good information up here. Shutting the windows, she picked up the edge of her skirts, blasted hated skirts they were of no use in moments like these, and made her way as swiftly as she could to the courtyard via one of the ornamental side gardens. Pausing just behind a line of prepared soldiers, she could see them plainly and hear them just as well. A hand on her shoulder signaled Khafi's arrival and she raised an eyebrow at her southern brother who merely put his finger to his lips and pointed as Astor entered the courtyard...the show was about to begin.

She grinned at him shaking her head...and abruptly she had to clutch at him to keep from falling over as the sensation overwhelmed her. Stronger than ever before came the pounding headache, the swimming vision, the distortion of sounds. Only her vision never cleared, it only grew more and more bizarre, everything looking as though it were underwater. Truly underwater, the sunset suddenly the gloomy teal fading to green of deep river water, clogged with churned weeds. And the forms of the men were the forms of the angry dead, slowly rising from the water in droves. She could smell them, hear them, as if their marching feet were just outside the door.

Distantly she could hear Khafi's voice, she knew she was speaking to him and he was trying to tell her something. But she couldn't make out what...she was both here and...there...

And then everything snapped back into crystalline focus as a horn went up from the King's forest. First one, blowing a second time far more urgently...then many. Then voices crying out, a call to arms that captured the attention of every man on the wall and wavered those in the courtyard.

"The dead Khafi," she whispered hoarsely "they're here..."

So the dead have marched all along the riverbed till now they rise in Leyond. Is this but a small band, the first of many? Or is this the army that has been glimpsed in vision and message? Or perhaps is it just a ruse for something greater. Only you know.

This one is on the longer side I believe, but hopefully worth it. I hope you liked.
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Joined: 10 Feb 2007
Posts: 1597
Location: Happily curled up in a Daemon's lap

Posted: Thu Dec 08, 2011 5:30 am    Post subject:  

These anti-dragon fools are about to have a bigger problem than what they're dealing with - the dead are on their way to complete their mission but it is a small band... so far. And someone needs to help Tess with these vision, it sounds like they're taking their toll on her, and hard.

Great chapter, but at the beginning it seemed you were really distancing yourself from it until the hippogriff arrived. It lost its personal feel for the first several paragraphs.
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Lost Omega

Joined: 18 Dec 2010
Posts: 88
Location: West Haven, CT

Posted: Thu Dec 08, 2011 11:32 am    Post subject:  

I love the latest chapter. I'll admit that the flow got a little confusing in the first few paragraphs, but that's probably an issue on my side, not yours. I think the dead coming out of the river should be a large group. It's not the army that Tessa first saw but a group large enough to cause some damage. Hopefully, that should be enough to get the kingdom to focus on the real issue but for the sake of interest, let the people blame the dragon. That should be fun.
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Kalanna Rai

Joined: 21 Jan 2006
Posts: 3075
Location: The Frozen North

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 1:44 am    Post subject:  

The poll is up, vote quick so that I may give you all a present on Christmas...or other holidays should you celebrate them.
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Joined: 13 Sep 2009
Posts: 2139
Location: Rising from the ashes

Posted: Wed Dec 21, 2011 10:32 am    Post subject:  

My biggest delay in writing a response to this chapter was trying to figure out what to say. Sometimes, I guess, its ok to just say: "I loved it!" and that's pretty much enough. As for the DP, I didn't have any brilliant suggestions but your polling options seem fair and comprehensive and I really like the middle concept there.
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