Chapter Two, Scene Four is here.
Here's a pre-wording question. Should I sitck a table of contents somewhere, possibly off-site, for ease of access?
â€œThis is where the Shasti lives.â€ Siya stopped and pointed to the cliff ahead; the path fell away on one side, a great canyon that the four travellers were walking along, and across the clearing rose towards a large cave mouth. â€œThis entire mountain is honeycombed with caves. The Shasti lives inside them.â€ She walked to the edge of the cliff and pointed down, to where a waterfall cascaded from another cave, falling down the side of the canyon into the river below. â€œHis voice can come from above or below, when people come to request his guidance.â€
â€œRight. Youâ€™d better head back, now.â€ Kieran looked to Elena and Khory, who both nodded. The two walked over to the upwards sloping cliff, and Khory began to boost Elena up towards the top; she grabbed a handhold and continued to climb as Kieran nodded to Siya. â€œThank you for leading us this far. We would have been hopelessly lost.â€ He thought back to the mysterious sounds that they had heard a couple of hours back, and added, â€œOr possibly badly hurt.â€
Siya nodded, and looked down the trail. â€œMaybe I should stay. To lead you back.â€ She smiled falteringly.
â€œI think itâ€™ll be dangerous here.â€ Kieran patted her on the shoulder, as Khory climbed up the cliff behind Elena. â€œWeâ€™re well-trained, we can handle this. If you really want to wait, I wonâ€™t stop you, but I think you should walk a few minutes away first.â€
Before Siya could respond, there came a call from the edge of the woods. â€œNot so fast! Your journey ends here!â€ Kieran turned in shock, as a young woman emerged from the foliage. â€œYou will not bring the spirits of this land into your control, Anathema!â€ Her armor, blue jade lamellar with glorious white trim, gleamed in the sunlight despite the mud that spattered it, and she drew a slim, viciously sharp daiklave from her back as she spoke, stepping forwards.
Kieran gaped. Beside him, Siya backed up in fear, looking from him to the Dynast. After a moment, Kieran found his voice. â€œSorry, who are you talking to, exactly?â€
The womanâ€™s smile was grim. â€œI know your story, boy. You may seem harmless, but your skin is as iron and that sword at your side is nothing mortal. Your murders have caught up with you. I donâ€™t know what magics you used on the mountain to stop us, but they failed.â€
â€œI havenâ€™t used any magics on the mountain, or murdered anyone!â€ Kieran looked up to the cliff, where Khory and Elena were watching in shock. Elena started forwards, to climb down, and the woman took a step towards her. Kieran shook his head. â€œYou guys stay up there! Youâ€™ll be sitting ducks trying to climb down!â€ He turned his attention back to the woman. â€œLook, Iâ€™m no Anathema, alright? Iâ€™m just a travelling thaumaturge. Young, sure. But not demonic!â€
â€œYou deny murdering the adventurers Jarik Threespurs and Havek Landsight? There are a dozen witnesses, foolish monster.â€ She began to walk towards him, and Kieran backed away. Beside him, Siya backed up from both contenders, looking shocked.
Kieran bit back a curse. â€œJarik and Havek were murderers themselves! They fed innocents to monsters for profit. Youâ€™ve been played, Dynast.â€
â€œYour lies are as transparant as they are pathetic. I know the truth. Now die!â€ She lunged forwards, her sword swinging in a whistling arc, waves coiling around it. Kieran drew his sword as he dove to one side, its blade flashing to full size in the afternoon light, and caught her sword on his. She smiled, across the blades.
â€œSo, you use no magics, hm?â€
â€œDidnâ€™t say that.â€ Kieran flipped backwards away from the next blow, his sword raised defensively in front of him. â€œI said I hadnâ€™t used any here. I donâ€™t even know what youâ€™re talking about, and I donâ€™t want to fight you!â€
â€œYou wouldnâ€™t.â€ Her sword curved in a vicious arc, and Kieran fell to one knee. On the cliff, Elena started climbing down, but she was slowed by the rough rocks. The Dynast slammed two more attacks home, and Kieran stumbled backwards, shaking his head. â€œYou are clearly no warrior of the Anathema, but you are dangerous enough. You will not leave here alive!â€ Her sword slipped past his defenses, and slammed into his chest, its Essence pouring into him. With a flare of golden light, he rolled backwards, away from her next stab, and rose. Through the torn shirt, she could see golden chain glitter, and he frowned, coughing water out of his lungs.
â€œFine. You want a fight? Youâ€™re wrong, but Iâ€™m not going to die for your mistake.â€ Sunlight wreathed Kieran as he brought his sword around. â€œYouâ€™re so hellbent on only one of us walking out of here, I can arrange it.â€ He spun his sword in an arc, catching the dirt and sending it flying into the air, and then leapt through the cloud, spraying it ahead of him as he struck twice in quick succession. The Dragon-Blood turned the first blow aside with a flick of her wrist, but the second snuck around and sliced into her, sending her staggering backwards. Her armour absorbed the worst of the blow, but she could still feel it ache. Cursing, she slashed twice at the Solar, the first blow catching him across the shoulders in another flare of golden light that left him unharmed, and the second barely blocked by the hilt of his blade, as he set his sword against her thrust. He shook his head, ready to slash at her again, when a scream drew both of their attention.
Standing on the edge of the cliff, Siya had been absorbed in the battle, watching in shock and awe. So absorbed, in fact, that she hadnâ€™t noticed the arm creeping over the cliffâ€™s edge until it grabbed her leg. Now, she was clutching to a tree branch, dangling entirely from the cliff as she tried not to fall.
For a fraction of a second, Juani looked from the hapless mortal to her enemy, and saw her future coming unspun. Then, she acted. Slamming her sword forwards, she knocked Kieran backwards, spinning and diving towards Siya. She wrapped her arms around Siyaâ€™s, grabbing to pull her up before the Anathema could recover, her sword dropped to the ground next to her. It was only then that she realized that there was a long, greenish, dripping arm reaching out from the cave to drag Siya down, and that Juani was not only fighting gravity, but it. She cursed under her breath as she tried to hold on, feeling herself slowly slipping.
A shadow above her was her only warning, and she looked back just as Kieran raised his daiklave to strike. Resigned, she closed her eyes and prepared for the inevitableâ€¦ only to feel a sudden loosening of pressure on the woman she was holding, and to hear an unearthly scream. Her eyes snapping open again, she pulled, dragging Siya back onto the ground, the green hand still twitching uselessly as it dripped black blood onto the grass. The Anathema had severed it completely, rather than striking her.
Acting quickly, Juani attempted to dive for her sword. Her foe was faster. As she moved, he brought his sword around, and pain exploded in her world as he struck, golden light blossoming around him. She curled, still reaching for her sword, when the second blow brought the world to a spiralling close.
Kieran sighed, sheathing his sword, and looked down at the Dynast, and then over at Siya. â€œAre you alright?â€
â€œPleaseâ€¦ donâ€™t hurt meâ€¦â€ She scrambled backwards away from him, and he sighed.
â€œSiya, I wouldnâ€™t. Itâ€™s not safe here. Take the Dynast and get back to town. Iâ€™ll deal with the Shasti.â€ She looked at him, uncomprehendingly, and he raised his hands in frustration. â€œLook, sheâ€™ll be fine. See?â€ He showed the sword, still gleaming, with only the black blood of the Shasti on it. â€œI could have used the sharp end, but she didnâ€™t seem like a bad person. Just wrong.â€ He stepped backwards, away from Juani, and Siya approached her tentatively, watching him. She knelt down by the Dynast, and checked her pulse, only then raising her eyes back to Kieran. Without a word, she hefted Juani, half-dragging her as she retreated down the path towards town. Kieran shook his head as he watched her flee, and then turned to Elena, who had only just reached the bottom. â€œDid I do that wrong?â€
â€œStories run deep, Kieran. Youâ€™re Anathema. Thatâ€™s all they see.â€ She sighed, patting him on the shoulder. â€œCome on. Letâ€™s deal with this Shasti thing and get out of here.â€ He nodded, sadly, and turned with her to join Khory at the upper caves.[/url]