Clans of Fire and Iron
Telia: Part One
Vibrancy- during Light and Flame
In the 105th year AF (After the Fall)
The Gav’ath Woods of Clan Val’more, Summer Lands
Telia bent over the dying man, slim, pale fingers searching quickly for his wound. She located it almost at once in the form of a deep slice across his large chest. The injury was jagged and cruel, as though his skin had been shredded rather than cut, the work of claws and teeth rather than steel and iron. Leaning forward, midnight hair veiling her face against the peering moonlight, she lapped up his thickening blood. Its coppery warmth filled her mouth and the Visions assaulted her immediately.
Reeling back a pace, nearly overwhelmed, she shifted quickly through the scenes and images like a scholar flipping through the pages of a book in search of a particular passage. Though she’d anticipated it, what she saw nearly superseded all her years of training. So much pain. So much terror. There is nothing to fear from darkness but ourselves, she thought, calming her erratic heartbeat with a few deepening breaths.
“Please… help me,” the man – his blood had named him Roul- begged from beneath her trembling hands. His voice drew her back to the present.
His companions lay unmoving around him, hearts quiet and chests still. Six armed and armored men torn nearly to shreds, tossed aside like so many scraps of unwanted food. The smell of death, pain, and fear was heavy in the lush forest air, thickening like the blood on her tongue. Telia was lucky to have found one of them alive, a break in their long, largely fruitless journey. Vision could only be achieved through the blood of the living and unfortunately for the injured man, he would not be alive for much longer.
“Please… they came down… from the trees… their eyes,” he coughed and she felt hot blood and spittle spray across her face and chest, “their eyes burned.”
“Hush now, shhhhh,” she murmured gently, pressing a finger softly to his blood coated lips. He quieted, relaxing as the power of her voice swept through him.
She sang Roul into an easy and painless death. Partially in thanks for the information his blood had given her and partially to ease her own guilt. She could do nothing for him and he would not make it back to the village. When his last gurgling breath had receded into the balmy night, she wiped her mouth on the back of her sleeve and sighed. His blood had left an awful taste in her mouth.
“Well?” Wyn asked softly from behind her. Her voice wavered tellingly.
“Another attack, they are growing more bold,” she said, almost to herself, lost in thoughts and memories that were not her own.
Turning she clicked her tongue sharply twice, waited, and clicked it thrice more in the opposite direction. The sounds echoed off the moss-covered rocks and massive tree trunks while she tilted her head this way and that like a curious fledgling. The forest was silent, as though it held its breath for her.
“They are gone now,” she said, “though it seems their path leads north, toward the mountains.”
She heard Wyn step around the bodies, felt the tremor of fear in each footfall and rounded on her in a flurry of deep violet robes. Telia slapped her apprentice hard, the sound of flesh meeting flesh a violent cry in the night. Her hand stung and it was almost pleasant, the sudden pain, it reminded her that she was alive. Watching the dead of the fallen guard had left a residual numbness. Though she hated being so harsh, there was a lesson here that needed learning. For the both of them.
“Fear is the greatest of sins,” she said, “you must master it, overcome and embrace it, let it become part of you.”
She felt the girl’s anger, shame, and respect like a low hum on the air. Telia hoped she would not have to revisit the lesson again. Wyn was a good girl, talented, but young and sometimes headstrong. They had only been together for a few short months before they’d been sent out on this increasingly disturbing mission of rumors, shadows and death. Telia had always shied away from taking on a charge, though she knew it was an inevitable requirement of her. She had become accustomed to doing things and being on her own, relying on her senses, abilities and wits to serve her Goddess, but over the past few weeks she’d grown increasingly grateful for the girl’s presence.
“Recite our creed,” Telia commanded.
Wyn took a deep breath, “It is only in the deepest waters and the darkest shadows absolution is found.”
Telia nodded curtly and held out her still burning hand. Wyn returned her time-worn cane, smoothed by years of use, and she closed her fingers around the familiar wood. “Remember those words and when fear begins to take you… say them. Whisper them, sing them, scream them if you must, but heed them.”
“Yes Lu’selena, I am sorry.” The girl did sound contrite. Telia was satisfied.
Telia stepped away from the dead man, lifting her skirts and frowning. “We cannot pursue them tonight, but we need to warn the villagers and we are low on supplies.” They had been traveling for weeks across the southern most clans of the Summer Lands in pursuit of their quarry through forests and fields. They were both road wearied and disheartened.
“Yes Lu’selena. What…” the girl hesitated, “what are these things exactly? You’ve never truly said.”
“They…” Telia paused to considered her words carefully, “they are beings that should not be here. What brought them or how they came here is still unclear.”
“Does it have anything to do with-“
Telia raised a hand to silence her, “We should not speak of it here where anyone or anything might listen. I don’t trust the open spaces, or these woods, something sinister lingers. We must hurry now. I don’t want to be caught in daylight.”
They left the dead men where they lay the taste of life, death and blood a bitter sweetness in her mouth. She was tired, bone tired. Deciphering the blood of a dying man during the Months of Light and Burning had drained her and, not for the first time, she felt frustrated by the seasons and the ever-increasing limitations they placed on her abilities. Had they been in the months of Water and Darkness she’d have hunted down the foul creatures with ease. There was little use in complaining, she chastised herself, she had her duty and it could not wait for the changing of the seasons.
The village was not far, and their horses were where they had left them, tied to a massive thulla tree and lightly grazing. Sweet tepid air swept across her face mockingly. Telia missed the chill of winter with a desperation she was unfamiliar with, thinking with longing of the frozen Island that had been her home since her earliest memories. It is only in the deepest waters and the darkest shadows that absolution is found, she recited silently. The words gave her strength, just as they always had but even in her mind the words seemed diluted, as though they were a well she was slowly draining. Telia ignored the anxious itch between her shoulder blades and the unease in her heart.
The two women mounted wordlessly and took off toward the warm light of Southern Belle to the west, leaving the shadows of the forest behind.