For the next three weeks, I will be posting my three-part short story, Song of the Dryad. Enjoy. Note: This story is an expansion of 9 Shining Jewels
Summary: The Northern Hunt has been out for the blood of all magical creatures for as long as Shanya can remember, but as beings whose sole purpose is to ensure the balance of nature, magical borders have always protected her people.
Until one day, they didn’t. Now she and her brother are the last of their kind and struggling to maintain the natural balance of the world. In the wake of a brutal siege on her kingdom, how far will Shanya go to protect those she loves?
Part One: The Dryad
A sour smell, bitter and thick, tinged with the spicy sting of torched wood, assaulted Shayna’s nostrils and high-pitched, girlish shrieks rang in her ears.
Her hearing pricked as her father’s anguished shout floated over the canopy, his booming voice causing the leaves to rustle, some blowing off their branches and fluttering in the glass less window. Shanya frowned and her brows furrowed. She slid out of bed and followed the sound of his voice. “Father? What’s wrong?”
“Shanya? Where are you?”
She stopped at the windowsill and craned her neck. “Here! What’s going—”
She expected the crisp, clear sting of the cool spring breeze to tickle her cheeks. Instead, a dark grey smoke choked the air supply from her lungs. The city below blurred into lights at the bottom of a murky river. She blinked back the burning itch searing at her eyes, but the water welling in them only intensified.
What in the world? She swept the smoke away and squinted to make out her village beneath its cloudy residue. The pounding of horse’s’ hooves was louder than any stampede she’d ever heard. Soldiers rode atop the army of charging steeds in grim grey uniforms. The smoke would have camouflaged them completely had their diamond swords not given them away as the bloody reds, oranges, and purples of the firelight dancing on the torches they held in their opposite hands reflected off of the smooth surfaces.
The blades clashed against each other in an almost sickeningly beautiful, stomach churning symphony of chaos. With each thrust, parry, and swipe, another puddle of golden blood stained the once pristine green grass. Bodies lay lifeless everywhere Shanya turned, and bile crawled up her throat. The suffocating scent of smoke clogged her nostrils once more, it’s odor so tantalizing and potent that she found it impossible to breathe.
Her eyes snapped downward just in time to see her father sagged against the trunk and two more of the grey-clad invaders smiling evilly up at her tree. She gasped and ducked out of sight, crouching down and placing her ear on the wood of the wall beneath her window.
“You were right. The Chief’s daughter was the perfect bait. Looks like he used the last of his magic to blow out our first flame.”
Her father’s gruff voice cut through the anarchy, but she winced at the sound of his labored, raspy breathing. “You’ll never get—Ooh.”
Shanya sucked in her breath as his words were cut off by the distinctive slice of a sword plunged through his flesh. Her eyes welled with tears. Father! No!
The intruder laughed a dark laugh. “What if that one,” Shanya winced at his shift in tone. Had he seen her at the window? “is still alive?”
“No matter,” said a new voice. He let out a harsh cackle that sent tremors through Shanya’s spine. “She won’t last much longer after this.”
Shanya peaked over the sill and watched in abject horror as he struck a match against a nearby rock and hovered it above the splintering torch the other soldier held until it had engulfed the entire surface of the base of the torch. The other man thrust it at the roots, which immediately set ablaze.
She sprinted to the door and placed her hand on the brass only to wrench it away as the flesh sizzled.
Father must’ve not gotten to all of the fire.
It crackled from the other side of her door frame, licking and gnawing at the thin surface which served as Shanya’s only flimsy barrier between a chance at life, or certain death.
She stared at the door before taking a deep breath and extending her left hand. It glowed with a light tinge of green before she placed it against the scorching wood. Her heart hummed in her chest. The tips of her fingers began to tingle, as if she were pressing down on a handful of pine needles. They grew warm, but the spread of temperature was soothing and powerful as it extended up her arm and over her shoulder. She closed her eyes and focused exclusively on her breathing. She felt her hand grow notably warmer than the rest of her. A closed-lipped smile graced her features.
Cease, she shouted in her mind.
When she opened her eyes, the door gleamed with a blinding green light. She smiled for real, pressing her hand more firmly into it as she willed the fire just beyond to sputter and die, leaving only misty wisps of smoke behind. The light pulsed before fading away as Shanya finally relented the pressure being forced into the door. She stepped back and reached for the handle again, but ripped her hand away the moment the pads of her fingers brushed the searing metal.
How can it still be warm? Her mind flashed back to the ghoulish sparks sputtering from the soldier’s torches. Red, orange, yellow… Like any fire. Except, occasionally, a purple tinge would coat the flame.
Damnit! Her eyes grew wide. She clenched her teeth and ran her hands through her hair. How could I have been so stupid? The flames must have been cursed by dark magic.
The hissing crackle of the fire seemed to radiate in her ears; almost as if it were taunting her. Her knees buckled beneath her. Horrible, shrill screams pierced the thick canopy that kept the kingdom of the Dryads hidden from the mortal world. Shanya clenched her fists and ground her teeth against the slivers of sense trying to worm their way into her subconscious, but no matter what she tried she couldn’t force back the memory of her father’s last words–shouts of defiance before the cruel glint of the jeweled sword pierced him straight through– the sunlight reflecting off of its smooth surface; winking up at her; as if the Fates themselves had condoned his death.
Her stomach twisted and her legs shook. Spots distorted her vision.
No! She forced herself back to her feet, using the door as a support for as long as she could bare as the heat ate away at her flesh. Now was not the time to submit herself to panic. She focused on counting down the facts one by one.
Weapons made of nearly unbreakable gems.
It could only mean one thing.
The Northern Hunt had found them.
Rasheen’s labored panting as his massive paws pounded against the snow-covered ground in tandem with her worn deerskin moccasins was Shayna’s only sign of progress as they sprinted across the vast forest floor. Her makeshift shoes had worn down to the soles, and the top piece of animal hide flapped in the frigid wind, exposing her frost-bitten toes. Thick flakes tumbled around them, blanketing the bronze plates covering her shoulders. Her breaths crystallized in the air; it licked and gnawed at her cheeks, coloring the flesh until it burned. Her skin gleamed with a luminescent pink tinge from spending so many months braving the harsh winters of the Meragiae forests, but they had no choice as long as the Northern Hunt knew they were alive.
She’d done her best to make suitable clothing from the leaves and foliage littering the ground after her own had been shredded in their first encounter with the Hunt after escaping the destruction of their village. Just weeks after, her brother had stolen those nine accursed jewels from the Hobgoblin in the Seian Mountains. The hides from her kills provided a sliver of extra warmth, but it wasn’t much against the constant blizzards howling across the land.
For once, she envied Rasheen and the greedy tendencies that had overtaken his moral since their parents’ murder at the hands of the Huriant tribe and their hunt in the last war for the fruitful lands that were once a safe haven for Druids. His stupidity had caused their predicament in the first place, but at least the curse would prevent him from freezing to death until they found a way to cure the therianthropy.
If they ever found a cure. After a year on the run, and two months alone dedicated to evading the Great Northern Hunt and their merciless slaughter of all magical creatures, Shanya began to doubt the possibility that they would ever make it out of the forest alive, not to mention with her brother in his rightful skin. She almost let out a sigh of relief as the trees finally began to thin around them, but the thundering of horses’ hooves echoed through the woods.
Rasheen growled and turned to face the onslaught of hunters, his cumbersome wolf body acting, not for the first time since they began their quest, as a shield of protection for his sister.
Nonetheless, Shanya whipped around and in one fluid motion pulled the last arrow from her pack, notching it in her battered bronze bow. She took aim as best she could through the icy sheets of snow and wind. Her eyes watered and every breath burned as the arrow glided through the air, but a triumphant grin burst forth from between her chapped lips when she heard the whoosh, clink, and agonized groan that meant it was a direct hit.
“Maybe we’ll live through this after all, Ra,” She looked down at the wolf.
Rasheen nuzzled her hand and offered a big, toothy grin before bending down on his front pause and scooping her up on his back.
Shanya barely had time to fist two clumps of fur in her hands before he plunged into the undergrowth to their right. The jolting movement knocked the midnight black hood from her head and exposed her ashen blonde hair.
They raced through the brush. Branches stung as they ripped and scraped at Shanya’s already pulsing skin. Air chomped at the open wounds. She gritted her teeth and clenched her jaw, swallowing the scream bubbling from her throat.
Finally, they emerged in a small, round clearing. Shanya let out a long breath as she slid off of Rasheen’s back. The wolf spun and faced the path, his ears perked in high alert. Shanya froze and clutched his side, watching the shaking leaves without blinking. They quivered and quaked as the Hunt galloped past.
“Where did they go?”
“They’ve vanished, General.”
“Impossible. Dryads are many things, but not invisible. They’re merely hiding, waiting out their journey until this blizzard passes.”
“But, If that’s true, how will we—”
“They have to reveal themselves sooner or later, if that ridiculous girl really does plan to bargain with the Hobgoblin.”
His harsh laugh ricocheted through the clearing and seeped through Shanya’s bones. She hugged Rasheen that much tighter.
“Shall we make camp here, then?”
“Yes, but only until dawn; if those two are smart enough to have evaded us for this long, they will vanish again long before the sun peeks through the clouds. Keep your men on high-alert, and be prepared to move out an any sign of a disturbance.”
Shanya’s slumped and stroked her brother’s back. “What are we going to do?”
Rasheen shook his fur and nuzzeled his nose beneath her arm.
She stumbled, pushing back a laugh as she turned to face the center of the clearing. A large grey tower blocked out the rays of the setting sun, it’s dilapidated and crumbling state offering a beacon of hope.
Rasheen nudged her forward, and Shanya offered a soft smile as they started toward it. At least for tonight, they would be safe.
Thoughts and reviews welcome. As always, keep making magic, word weavers!