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Valnorran
January 5th, 2006, 03:37 PM
A little fantasy short story.


Aurora entered the stuffy tavern and paused to scan the

crowd. They also stopped what they were doing to stare at her.

She was used to it. She could not conceal all the physical traits

of her half-demonic nature. Aurora essentially appeared to be a

very attractive woman, with hair the color of blood, skin tanned

from living outdoors, and large eyes that appeared in this light to

be brown. This was the manifestation of the human half of her

nature. The inhuman half asserted itself in her seven foot stature

and sharply pointed ears. As long as she didn’t smile, though, she

needn’t worry about anyone spotting the fangs, and her eyes

were actually a dark reddish-orange that brightened with an

agitated emotional state. She wore a corselet of dark scale armor

over a red tunic. A broad single edged sword hung on her left hip

and an obviously custom made crossbow was slung upon her

back. From behind her right hip jutted the hafts of three throwing

axes from where they rested in a scabbard large enough to hold

all three.

After scanning the crowd to her satisfaction, Aurora went to

the bar and ordered a tankard of ale. The rest of the tavern’s

patrons went back to their talking, drinking, gambling and

wenching. Aurora drank her ale and continued to casually study

the crowd. The man she was searching for wasn’t there, though

she wasn’t surprised by that. He wouldn’t be so easily found. Still,

she could hope. She could also hope he hadn’t discovered her

plan. Concluding that she could learn nothing by watching the

crowd,. Aurora ordered a meal, then paid for a room. She took

her meal to her room and settled in for the night. Aurora had

traveled far and wide. She had slept in more inns than she cared

to remember, but she was slightly uncomfortable here. Times

were changing. In some places, like this particular city, people

were growing less and less tolerant of Others. Most places Aurora

frequented were also frequented by Others, folk who were not

human, or folk who were crossbreeds, such as Aurora (though

only the terminally foolish called her that to her face). But the

world was changing. The change was slow, to be sure, but it was

very definite. It had started with a certain coolness some

populations began to display towards the Others. While not

openly hostile, their manner conveyed a definite aloofness, a

certain implied desire that the Others would not come around so

often. At first the regions that held this attitude was very few in

number, but slowly, ever so gradually, like snow accumulating on

a mountainside, the number of those regions grew. Indeed,

wherever the priests of the new religion went, so spread the

dislike of the Others.

Aurora had no interest in intrigues or politics, and her interest

in religion was largely academic. She had her beliefs, of course,

but she kept them to herself unless she was directly asked about

them. Religious debate had once sparked her interest and fired

her intellect, but now they only bored her with their tedious

repetitiveness. Those who actually tried to win others over to

their beliefs reminded her of cattle – mindless animals whose only

interest was to lock themselves in a pasture and endlessly chew

the same thing over and over again. She didn’t understand it, but

she left them in peace. Why could they not return the courtesy

to her? Their creed was nothing to her. If they wished to tramp

about the world preaching their faith, Aurora was more than

happy to let them. Their preaching seemed to be turning formerly

friendly people into cold, aloof creatures who did not want to be

burdened with her presence, but as Aurora was largely a solitary

sort of person this did not upset her as much as one might

expect it to. However, things had changed two days ago. That

was when Aurora was informed that one of the priests of this

new religion did not merely want her to be ignored or forgotten.

He wanted her dead.

“Arahm has decreed your death,” her informant whispered to

her from a narrow alley. He was three feet tall, thin as an axe

handle, and had a large head. His complexion was that of a

walnut. He lived in the forests and Aurora had known him for

years. His name was Hodge. She trusted him.

“Why should Arahm spare any thought about me?”

“I haven’t the faintest idea, but I clearly heard him talking to

a man about it, and coins were exchanged.”

“I’ve no particular love for these people, but neither do I bear

them any malice. What could I possibly have done to earn their

wrath? Are you certain this man was an assassin?”

“Quite certain. I saw it in his aura. I could practically smell it

on him.”

Aurora stared into the distance, trying to comprehend this bit

of news.

“But there are plenty of Others hereabouts,” Aurora

said. “Why should Arahm take any interest in me? Why does he

desire my death above all others?”

“Who can say? Because you’re the tallest? The prettiest? I

know not. But I know what I saw and heard, Aurora, and he

means to have your head.”

“Do you know who this assassin is?”

“No, but I can show you.”

Aurora sat down so her head was at Hodge’s level. He placed

his fingertips on her head and filled her mind with the memory of

what he saw. Aurora would know who to keep an eye out for.

“Farewell, Aurora,” Hodge said as he departed. “It would truly

be the blackest of crimes for this mad once-born to be the cause

of your extinction.”

So now Aurora sat in her room, quietly eating her supper and

considering her options. Aurora had elevated the concept of live

and let live to an art form. However, her solitary and placid

nature notwithstanding, she was half demon. She was an

inherent expert at conflict. She knew what she must do. It was

as obvious as the froth on her ale. She must hunt the one

hunting her.

Aurora waited for three hours as things quieted down

somewhat. Then she rose and silently walked over to the window.

She slowly opened the shutters, careful to avoid any squeaks.

Being on the second floor, the distance to the street below was

not much greater than her height. She carefully gathered herself

up into the window, making sure the weapons slung on her back

and hips didn’t thump against the casement. Then she dropped to

the street below, landing in a crouch to absorb the impact.

Remaining crouched down, she unslung her crossbow and brought

it before her. It was an enlarged version of a dwarvish crossbow.

Though axes and hammers were the favored weapons of the

dwarves, when distance was called for they favored the

crossbow. The shoulder stock was made of polished black steel

with the center cut out, and it was shaped to fit her shoulder.

The unusual thing about a dwarvish crossbow was that it was a

repeater. A long triangular magazine sat atop the weapon, its

apex lying against the body of the weapon. It was a gravity feed,

with a row of three bolts on top, a pair of bolts under that row,

and a single bolt under the pair. The string was drawn and the

weapon cocked by using the hinged shoulder stock as a lever.

Swinging it down and forward drew the string back. When the

string was all the way back, a bolt slid from the magazine and lay

in its slot, nocked and ready to be loosed. Aurora cocked the bow

and placed a bolt in the slot. Then she fitted a full magazine on

top. She now had seven shots at her disposal. She slowly rose

and silently stalked off into the dark streets.

Aurora had wound a twisted path through small streets and

back alleys and was about halfway to her destination when a

figure stepped out of a shadow a few yards before her. Her

crossbow snapped to her shoulder and her eye snapped to the

sights. Her finger was tightening on the trigger when she

recognized Hodge. She lowered her weapon with an exasperated

sigh.

“You weren’t long from a bolt through the heart,” she growled.

“My apologies for startling you, Aurora, but I think you’d best

come with me.”

“Why?”

“Some of the Others are meeting tonight to discuss the

goings-on with this priest of yours. I think it would behoove you

to listen.”

Wordlessly Aurora followed him. They did not go far. Three

streets over was the abandoned building where the meeting was

taking place. Hodge closed and barred the door behind her.

Aurora was surprised at the number of Others in attendance.

They generally did not congregate in such large numbers,

particularly in large cities populated by men. Some could easily

pass as humans. Some had no chance whatsoever. Some were

like Aurora and stood somewhere in between the two extremes.

“Forgive me,” Hodge told the assembled Others. “I wanted to

be certain Aurora would join us.”

“As well you should have, Hodge,” a male Other said. He had

golden eyes with vertical slits for pupils. He was completely

hairless, and patches of iridescent scales betrayed his reptilian

heritage. “I trust we may begin?”

When no one answered, he went on.

“As you all know, we are gathered here to discuss this new

religion as well as some of its practitioners. We are particularly

concerned about a priest named Arahm.”

“Some of us more concerned than others,” Aurora said.

“Indeed. Arahm has seen fit to send an assassin after Aurora,

for reasons we cannot fathom. She has done nothing to these

people, yet they want her head. These people are difficult, if not

impossible, to understand, but understand them we must if we

are to prevail.”

“I think they are not so difficult to understand,” said a female

Other. She walked upright and had a general human symmetry,

but her tail, pointed ears and orange and black striped fur was

most definitely feline. “They hate us. We are different from them

and from what their creed preaches. So very different. People

naturally fear what they do not understand, and they hate what

they fear, and they wish to destroy what they hate and fear. I

think no reasoning imaginable would be enough to allay their

natural inclinations.”

“To the seven hells with their natural inclinations,” growled a

lupine male. He appeared to be a bipedal red wolf. “By what right

do they persecute us? We have been part of this world far longer

than they!”

“No right whatsoever,” the feline female replied. “I don’t try

to justify their actions. I merely try to explain them.”

The crowd began to get noisy. Growling, mewling, hissing,

barking, and talking all broke out amongst them. A speaker finally

quieted them.

“Please, let us not grow quarrelsome,” he pleaded. He was

one of the Others who could easily pass for a human. He was of

medium height and build. His hair was blond almost to the point of

being white and hung long in heavy curls. Placid blue eyes gazed

out of a perpetually long face. His skin was pale. “I think it wrong

for us to allow ourselves to be governed by our fear. If we do, we

are no different from Arahm and his people. We cannot allow

ourselves to sink to their level.”

The crowd got quiet and looked to him.

“Then what should we do, Neville?” asked the wolfish male.

“I think we should find exactly why they hate us. Perhaps

there is something we can do. Perhaps, in their eyes, we have

wronged them. If so, we can make amends. Perhaps they fear us

simply because they do not know us. That, too, we can change.”

“If they’ll allow us,” Aurora said.

“And why shouldn’t they allow us?” the Neville

asked. “They’ve never had the chance to know us. Perhaps we

could attend their temple worship.”

“And while you’re getting to know them their assassin is

hunting me down,” Aurora reminded him. “I have never crossed

these people. I have made a point of leaving them in peace,

despite their obvious disdain for me. And the result is a murder

contract.”

“Are you so certain you’ve never offended them?”

“I’ve never even spoken to them, nor have I set foot in their

temples.”

“And perhaps that is what offends them.”

Aurora looked at Neville for a few moments. He continued to

gaze back with blank placidity.

“Let me see,” Aurora finally said, “if I understand you. Are you

saying that leaving them in peace and giving them no malice has

provoked them into murdering me?”

“I am saying their ways are different from ours. What we find

offensive and what they find offensive may be very different

things. We cannot simply lash out like frightened children. If we

are the senior folk, we must act like it.”

“At this point the evidence suggests that your plan involves

me allowing them to carve me up like a goose at a winter’s feast.”

“And what evidence would that be? Has Arahm told you of

this? Have any of his followers? No. Your ‘evidence’ consists

solely of the word of a single observer.”

“Hodge’s word has been spotless.”

“And can that not change?”

Aurora hefted her crossbow. “Are you calling Hodge a liar?”

“This is precisely why you should not even be at this

gathering. You’re temper is even worse than Arahm’s.”

“It will be interesting to see if you feel that way after Arahm

sends an assassin after you.”

“Dear child, why should he do that? I’ve done nothing to him.”

“Neither have I.”

“Haven’t you? You stroll about with all those weapons, staring

down at everyone else with those eyes and smiling with those

fangs, pointing that crossbow at all who displease you. No

wonder he fears you.”

“We are Others,” the man-wolf reminded Neville. “Most of us

have features that mark us. If our appearance alone is enough to

provoke them, I see scant hope for reconciliation. Of course,” he

went on, staring pointedly at the speaker while folding his, “that

would not be a worry for Others who look like them.”

“It would not be a worry for any who do not threaten them,”

“I have threatened none of them, Neville,” Aurora again

reminded him.

“Just as you have never threatened me, I suppose,” Neville

scoffed.

“I’ve done nothing to these people, yet they send an assassin

after me, and you intimate that it is my fault, so I’m none too

fond of you, but I’ll certainly not stand idle while you call my

friend a liar. The fact that you expect to behave in such a

manner and not be called into account for it tells me your grasp

on reality is a bit tenuous.”

“Let Arahm’s assassin have her,” Neville proclaimed. “Once

she is gone they’ll have no reason to fear us.”

“You’re assuming you’re dealing with reasonable people,

Neville,” Aurora told him. “What if you aren’t? Threats and

provocation are not the only reasons for aggression.”

“They are the only reasons that make sense.”

“That make sense to you, perhaps. Do the predators attack

the prey because the prey threaten the predators?” Aurora asked

while giving an inquiring look at the predators. The tiger lass

shook her head.

“We attack them because they are prey,” she said with a

smile that made many Others distinctly uncomfortable.

“And perhaps Arahm and his cult see us in the same light,”

Aurora pointed out.

“Precisely what I was thinking,” the man-wolf said with a nod.

“As were we all,” confirmed the tiger lass.

Neville gave them a pitying look, the way a nurse looks at

recalcitrant children, and slowly, slightly shook his head.

“So foolish,” he whispered. “So blind, and so foolish.”

“So it remains,” spoke the reptilian Other. “We know not why

Arahm is doing this, but the fact remains that he is doing this. We

know not why he singled out Aurora, but it appears that his

motives are somewhat arbitrary. If that is so, he can send

assassins after any of us, or all of us.”

“Then the forest floor shall enjoy much assassin-flavored

fertilizer!” the man-wolf cried. The other predators joined him

with cries of defiance and laughter. Neville looked ill.

“Why are you all doing this?” he cried, almost weeping, as he

wrung his hands. The cacophony of carnivores quieted. “Why are

you all so eager for violence and bloodshed? Why can you not

simply live in peace?”

“Because Arahm won’t let us,” Aurora told him in a quiet, level

voice.

“Arahm won’t let you,” Neville shot back. “You bear so much

steel you’d drown if you fell in a stream. No wonder he fears you!”

Aurora looked at Neville in silence. She seemed unable to

comprehend his thoughts or get him to comprehend hers, so she

turned and left the meeting. Crossbow in hand, she set off for

the seedier sections of the city, those areas populated by various

species of cutthroat. She would find the man hunting her. She

would loose a bolt through his heart. Then she would loose

another one into him. Then she would remove his head and bear

it back to Arahm and have a little chat with the priest.



The eastern sky was fading to gray when Aurora returned to

her tavern. Her night had been spent in a fruitless hunt. She’d

stalked the seedy allies and back streets in pursuit of her prey,

becoming more well acquainted with thieves’ dens than she’d ever

wanted to. Now she stood under the window to her room. Having

slipped out in the night, she obviously could not return through

the front door without giving herself away to the tavern keeper.

Aurora jumped up and caught the sill with her fingertips. Then she

slowly pulled herself up, careful not to let any of her weapons hit

the wall and make noise. She took some rest when she was

sitting on the window sill, then swung her long legs over the sill

and into her room.

She was standing up when the smell hit her. Her demonic

senses detected a scent no human nose ever could. She dropped

to a knee and raised her crossbow to her shoulder as a knife

streaked through the air where her face had been a half-second

ago. She pressed the trigger and loosed a bolt in the direction

the thrown knife had come from. Expecting to hear the grunt of a

stricken enemy, Aurora heard only the whack of her bolt blasting

through the wall. She rolled to her left and came to her knee, but

now the bed was between her and where she expected her

enemy to be. She levered the shoulder stock to cock the bow

and charge a new bolt.

Silence descended after the sudden ambush. Then something

hurled at her from the darkness. Aurora did not hesitate to shoot

it. Her bolt hit with a crack, and a splintered chair fell to the

floor. Even as Aurora recognized it her antagonist slammed into

her, bearing her to the floor. A hand clamped onto her throat.

Another one balled into a fist and pounded her in the face. It did

this two more times before Aurora caught it. When she did she

noticed the dagger it now held. She tightened her grip on her

assailant’s wrist, but his other hand had a firm hold on her throat.

Aurora shifted her weight and managed to slide out from

underneath her nemesis. As he struggled to right himself, she

brought his knifehand to her mouth and promptly sank her fangs

into his forearm. He released both the knife and her throat and

pulled away. Both of them stood. Aurora could now see him.

He was indeed the man Hodge had shown her. He was dressed in

black to conceal himself in the shadows of her room. Even her

demonic night vision hadn’t detected him before he revealed

himself in his attack. They watched each other, hunter and prey,

though which one was which was anyone’s guess. Each believed

the other to be the latter. Aurora watched him through eyes that

blazed with a hellish firelight. His blood smeared her lips, and she

still bore a chunk of his inner forearm in her mouth. She continued

to watch him as she chewed and swallowed. They said nothing as

they regarded each other. Then their hands flashed as they

simultaneously went for weapons. His hand bore a throwing knife

while hers emerged with a throwing axe. Each ducked as they

hurled their weapons. In trying to avoid each other’s throw, they

placed themselves squarely in the missiles’ paths. His dagger

clinked off her scale corselet while her axe banged off the steel

plate that covered his heart. Neither then hesitated to spring at

each other. They rolled around on the floor, feet kicking, as they

grappled with one another, each seeking the advantage of

leverage. Aurora ended up on her belly, and the assassin wasted

no time in getting on her back and locking an arm around her

neck. Aurora got her feet underneath her and stood. The

assassin found himself dangling down her back, suspended by his

arm around her neck. With his free hand he snatched one of her

throwing axes out of its sheath. Aurora responded by jumping up

and coming down on the floor with the assassin acting as a

landing pad. The impact drove the breath from his lungs and the

axe from his hands. Aurora snatched up the axe as she rose to

her knees and spun, bringing the axe down in a mighty blow that

showed the floor boards no mercy, for the assassin has already

rolled away. Aurora hurled the axe at him and drew her sword in a

single fluid motion. The assassin had come armed with various

knives and other small, devious weapons. He’d come for an

ambush, not a prolonged battle. He had dodged her axe, but

since his prey was mounting an excellent defense, he did what

any smart predator would do in that situation – he broke off the

attack. Before Aurora could do anything he streaked for the

window, dived through it, executed a perfect flip and landed on

his feet. Aurora dropped her sword and picked up her crossbow.

She went to the window, crossbow to shoulder. Her eye located

the sights but not the target. The assassin had fled.

Aurora put her crossbow on the bed. She picked up her sword

and sheathed it. She did the same with the axes she’d thrown.

She replaced the crossbow’s magazine with a full one and

gathered the spent bolts and returned them to the magazine. She

looked thoughtfully at the two daggers the assassin had thrown

at her, then picked them up.

I shall have to return these to him in the proper manner,

she thought. Gazing about the room to see if she’d forgotten

anything, Aurora noticed the damage; a hole through one wall

from her first shot, floorboards gouged from her axe, a similar

gouge in the wall from the last axe she threw at him, a ruined

chair and a knick in the window casement from the first knife he’d

thrown. Aurora left some coins on her bed as extra payment for

the damages. She doubted it would actually compensate the

tavern owner, but she felt she should at least make some sort of

gesture and she had little money. She then exited through the

window once more.



Stupid, stupid, stupid! Aurora raged at herself. You

blind, bloody fool! Awaiting you in your room was the surest

method he had of catching you, you gods damned idiot!

Aurora sighed and attempted to calm her anger at herself so

she could think.

Obviously the assassin had picked up her trail and followed

her before she went to the tavern. That was what she expected.

That was who she was looking for when she’d first stepped into

the tavern. He’d probably waited for her to get settled in before

striking, but she’d set off before he could get to her. However, it

had been a simple matter for him to wait for her to return and

catch her as she entered her room at the precise moment when

one relaxes and feels safe. Clever. Very clever, indeed.

Too clever by half.

Aurora knew the best thing to do was to go on the offensive,

to take the fight to her enemy, yet how was she to do that when

she did not even know the assassin’s name? She had no idea

where to look for him. His employer, on the other hand, was very

easy to locate. He would be at his temple in this very city. She

knew Arahm by sight and by name. It was reasonably certain the

assassin would not receive his full pay until Aurora was dead. If

she were to slay Arahm before the assassin slew her…

The assassin will slay me out of spite. That man, whoever

he is, is a consummate professional. He did not let pride get in

the way when withdrawal was the wise move. He will not leave a

job unfinished. He will see it through, regardless of what happens

to Arahm.

And if she went after Arahm before dealing with the assassin,

she’d be fighting a two front war. She’d have one enemy before

her and another one behind. Aurora did not fancy the idea of

facing one enemy while worrying about another creeping up

behind her and stabbing her in the back. No, she knew she must

overcome the obstacle the assassin presented before paying her

respects to Arahm. So: how was she to deal with this assassin?

Well, how is he to deal with me? He knows my name, but

I’m a stranger to this city. I have no home or family here. I must

take shelter where I find it. He cannot possibly anticipate where

I’ll go next. He will probably follow me as he did before, or

perhaps he has informants to tell him of my whereabouts. Either

way, he’ll probably do what he did before – follow his prey to its

den.

Aurora had only to decide where that den would be. She was

running low on funds, and she had no desire to place

noncombatants in harm’s way. She wanted a location where the

assassin would be relatively easy to see coming. She did not

want to accidentally loose a bolt through a chamber maid. She

decided on a stable, but then rejected it. There would be at least

one or two stable hands about. Then she remembered last night’s

meeting. The abandoned building would be perfect. Aurora spent

a couple of hours aimlessly wandering about the city before

casually, seemingly randomly, making her way back to the

building. She went in.

There was very little in the way of hiding places. The building

was simply a large single room about one hundred feet wide.

Perhaps it had been some sort of storehouse. There were a few

things lying about, but no barricade to hide behind. Aurora first

located all the entrances. There were three: the one she’d just

come through, one on the wall to her left, and one on the

opposite wall. Aurora then examined the detritus littering the

floor. There were a few buckets, some burlap sacks, and bits of

scrap wood of varying sizes. The first thing Aurora did was stack

some bits of wood and some of the buckets in front of every

entrance save the one she’d just used. The barriers would not

prevent the doors from opening, but when the doors opened the

stacked material would fall over and give her some warning. As

there was not enough material to create a barrier for the third

door, that would be the door she kept her crossbow pointed at.

The remaining material (burlap sacks, a bucket, and two

splintered lengths of wood) she placed in a corner. She arranged

it in a human shape and placed it so that while it was in

darkness, it would be partly visible to a careful observer. Then

Aurora sat down against the wall that had no doors. This position

afforded her a shot at all the entrances. She sat down and

relaxed, placing herself in a slight meditative trance, and waited

with the terrible patience of a top predator.



Her eyes snapped open. Something had roused Aurora from

her light trance. She knew not what it was, but she felt it as

surely as she felt her clothing. Upon opening her eyes she

remained still. Her demonic nature afforded her wonderful night

vision, and she used it now. Her eyes scanned the dim room,

searching for something out of place. Her ears strained to catch

the slightest whisper of sound. Her nostrils silently flared as they

sought to gather any alien scent. Aurora had cradled her cocked

and loaded crossbow when she’d begun her vigil. She had only to

put it to her shoulder and aim. All she was lacking was a target.

Was that a sound her ears detected, or only a phantom

spawned from her anticipation? Aurora thought she detected the

slight sound of a breath being taken. The air in the vast room

was perfectly still. There was no breeze to carry a scent to her.

Her eyes still saw nothing out of place. Yet for all of that, Aurora

had no doubt that her nemesis had come. She began to slowly tilt

her crossbow’s stock towards her right shoulder. She moved with

glacial patience, fighting the urge to hurry. Aurora was a predator

and she had learned the wisdom of taking one’s time.

There! A ghost of movement! Aurora froze as she watched.

The man’s form materialized out of the gloom. He was stalking the

garbage Aurora had arranged to look like her. He appeared to

have entered through the door on her left, the one she hadn’t

piled trash before, and was now more than halfway across the

room, off to her right.

Oh, you clever bastard, she thought. Aren’t you the

stealthy one? Yes, you’re very good at this game. Very good

indeed.

Aurora resumed slowly raising the stock of her crossbow to

her shoulder. The curved steel met her shoulder and molded with

it, just as it was designed to do. Then, just as slowly as before,

Aurora began to raise the rest of the weapon and take aim at her

target. The crossbow came level, and she drifted it slowly to her

right, her left eye closing as she lined up the sights with her

target and her right finger found the trigger. The sights were

aligned with the target. Aurora’s vision had sharpened so that the

room may as well have been lit. She took aim on the man’s back,

right where his heart would be, then focused her gaze on the

front sight. Her finger began to apply pressure to the trigger,

taking up what little slack it had, then pressing the trigger

further. Her gaze focused on the front sight, the blurred image of

Aurora’s target straightened up from its crouch.

The trigger broke and the crossbow loosed its bolt. As it did

so the target spun. Instead of skewering his heart, Aurora’s bolt

grazed his back. Even as he spun he raised his right arm and

threw a large knife. Aurora rolled to her right. Even as she rolled

Aurora cocked her bow and took aim again. The assassin was

rushing towards her. Aurora’s front sight rested on his chest

when she calmly pressed the trigger. The bolt flew true and took

him squarely in the heart, at which point he completely vanished

from sight. Aurora lowered her crossbow.

What in the seven hells…

She took a step forward right as something bright streaked

from behind and flew past her head closely enough to stir her

crimson tresses. She instinctively ducked and spun, racking the

lever on her crossbow. The assassin was behind her, whole and

untouched and raising his arm to throw another knife at her – and

his other arm flashed out, low and quick, and threw a knife at her

underhand. Aurora jerked herself aside to dodge that knife only to

have him throw the one from his upraised hand. This one grazed

her bare left shoulder, opening a shallow cut. Aurora shot her bolt

at him. She did not have time to put the stock to her shoulder

and aim. She held the crossbow out in front of her, pointed it at

him, and loosed. He twisted aside, but the bolt grazed his ribs,

just under his armpit, and gave him a cut similar to the one he

gave Aurora.

Aurora knew she would not have time to cock her crossbow

and shoot again before he closed with her. He was too close. She

dropped her crossbow and drew her sword, a single edged,

straight spined blade that started out fairly narrow, then flared

out in width at the outer portion of the blade before it narrowed

to a wicked point. A two handed weapon, it was designed for

strong, shearing cuts without sacrificing stabbing ability. The

assassin drew twin short swords from sheaths on his back.

Aurora executed an overhand cut, meaning to cleave his skull.

The man used both of his smaller blades to shove her descending

blade off to one side while he stepped off to the other. He then

swept his forward blade at her neck. Aurora ducked and slashed

at his belly. He used his rear most blade to block her and kicked

her in the stomach. Aurora moved with the momentum of the kick

to reduce its impact and rise to her full height. The assassin

executed an overhand cut with his right hand sword. Aurora,

holding her blade point down, parried his cut and placed herself in

the perfect position to perform an extremely powerful downward

cut. She did so, dropping to one knee, and her blade struck him

on the calf of his trailing leg precisely where her blade flared out

its width and had its greatest cutting power. Her sword sheared

through his leg without even slowing and clanged against the

floor.

The assassin straightened abruptly, but he was unbalanced

by the loss of an extremity and hobbled about on his remaining

foot. Blood rushed from the stump of his amputated lower leg and

pattered on the floor like rainwater from a gutter. He looked down

at his life spreading across the floor in a pool of claret, then

looked up at Aurora. For the first time Aurora saw him exhibit

human emotions. His face was pale. Then he grit his teeth in a

silent snarl and threw his right hand sword at her. Aurora dodged

it. He then threw his left hand sword at her. Aurora smacked it

away with her sword with a loud clang. The assassin reached for

one of his many knives and drew it partially out of its sheath

before collapsing. A crystal about six inches long rolled from him.

Aurora recognized it as a device that enabled him to project an

illusion of himself. While she had been occupied with the illusion,

the real assassin had crept up behind her.

“Victory is not yet yours, Aurora,” he whispered to her.

“I beg to differ,” she replied.

“Arahm did not ascend to a high rank in the priesthood by

being foolish,” the assassin smiled. “He had a plan in place should

I fail.”

“And what might that be?”

“Your friend. Hodge. He is currently a guest of Arahm’s.”

Aurora grabbed two fistfuls of the assassin’s tunic and

demanded, “How? How did Arahm even know of Hodge, much less

where to find him?”

“I know not. Arahm doesn’t tell me everything. But if you wish

for Hodge to see another sunrise, surrender yourself to Arahm.”

Aurora released him, the gaze he turned towards the ceiling

rapidly glazing. He did not so much as bat an eyelid when Aurora

swung her sword down and lopped off his head.



Arahm sat on his chair in his temple. The priest’s head was

shaved, his green eyes cold as a serpent’s, his nose hooked as a

falcon’s beak, his face as devoid of mercy as the face of a cliff.

He wore simple white vestments and clutched a staff carved in a

spiral pattern. He faced the main entrance. Off to his left a

bonfire roared in a huge fire pit.

Arahm said not a word when he saw the figure appear in the

dark entrance. He was, however, mildly surprised, though he did

not show it. The figure’s height was enough to identify it. It was

much too tall to belong to anyone but Aurora. She stopped on

the threshold, her features still shrouded in darkness. Arahm saw

her move, and something sailed into the temple. It arced through

the air to thud on the stone floor and roll to a stop at the foot of

Arahm’s chair. It was the head of his assassin. Arahm looked from

the head back to the entrance. Aurora had strode in and was

slowly making her way down the stairs. Her crimson hair and

blazing eyes were accented by the firelight. She said nothing,

but the expression on her face was more than sufficient to

convey her sentiments. She reached the bottom of the stairs and

raised her crossbow to her shoulder, taking aim at Arahm.

“Before you shoot,” Arahm said, “perhaps you’d better inspect

things more closely.”

He gestured, and Aurora’s gaze followed. Something rumbled

from behind the bonfire. As Aurora watched, a tall scaffold slowly

came into view, its top about twenty feet above the flames.

Standing at the top, held in place by acolytes, was Hodge.

“Heave your weapons,” Arahm commanded Aurora, “and

surrender yourself to me and he shall live. Refuse, and your friend

shall fuel our temple’s eternal flame. What shall it be, demoness?”

Aurora knew if she shot Arahm, Hodge would be tossed into

the fire. If she shot one of his captors, the other would toss him

into the fire before she could recharge her crossbow and shoot

again. Perhaps she could shoot Hodge. No matter what she did,

even if she surrendered, Hodge would die. Perhaps the best thing

she could do is make his death as swift as possible. She also

knew she could not make herself shoot her friend. She lowered

her crossbow to the floor. Then she unbuckled her belt and lay it

and the sheathed weapons it held upon the floor.

“Excellent,” Arahm gloated.

“Now that I’ve complied with your demands, could you tell me

what this is all about? What did I ever do to earn your wrath?

And how did you know about Hodge?”

“Aurora, you are a truly remarkable specimen, even for an

Other. I’ve done all of this for a very simple reason. Your death

would be an awesome symbol of our order’s triumph over the

unclean folk of this miserable world. Your capture and humbling

would be an even greater victory. I would have one or the other.

Possessing you as my slave will be the ultimate victory. As for

how I knew of Hodge…”

Neville strolled out from behind the bonfire.

“You!” Aurora roared. “Why am I not surprised, you miserable

piece of filth!”

“It had to be done, Aurora,” Neville replied, his tone clinical

and unemotive. “I told you that once Arahm had you hostilities

would end.”

“You gods damned traitor.”

Neville shook his head, slowly and with great pity, as he

gazed at her with his placid blue eyes.

“Enough of this,” Arahm snapped. “Now, come to me, Aurora.

Kneel before your master.”

Aurora knew that Hodge’s fate rested with her every action,

yet she had difficulty making herself walk over to Arahm.

Grudgingly, her feet moved and she crossed the temple floor to

stand before Arahm. Even seated on his dais, her face was level

with his.

“Kneel, demoness,” he told her in a voice as cold as a viper’s

hiss. “Kneel before me.”

Aurora continued to glare at him.

“Kneel!” Arahm’s cold voice shook and his eyes blazed.

Slowly, like a proud war galley sinking into the sea, Aurora’s

long legs bent and she knelt before Arahm.

“Yes!” he exulted. “She has been tamed! And you shall learn

further humility. You shall learn how a demoness properly serves a

priest!” He turned to Neville. “As for you, you can hold this.”

Arahm tossed his staff to Neville, who reflexively caught it.

The staff instantly became a serpent. Neville threw it away, but

it had already sunk its fangs into him and clung to him. Neville

screamed. His blue eyes filled with tears and his face writhed with

incomprehension.

“Why?” he wailed.

“I’ve captured one of the most prominent of the Others. What

use have I for you? You are merely one of them. As such, you

must be exterminated.”

Neville fell to his knees. Arahm watched him with a cold gaze.

“Useful idiot,” he muttered. Then he returned his attention to

Aurora as Neville flopped lifeless to the floor.

Aurora looked up onto his eyes. Her expression did not change

as she erupted from the floor and locked her powerful hands on

the priest. She spun so that she faced the acolytes holding

Hodge atop the scaffold with Arahm’s back pressed to her front,

his arms pinned to his sides.

“Release him!” she commanded the acolytes. They merely

stared at her.

“Release Arahm,” one of them replied, “or your friend burns.”

“Release my friend or your priest dies in my fangs.”

Aurora opened her mouth wide, displaying her inhuman

dentition. Then, keeping Arahm in a bear hug, she lifted him off

his feet and pressed the side of his neck to her upper fangs.

“Release Hodge, or I plunge my fangs into your priest’s neck

and rip out his veins. I can bite hard enough to break his neck.

One of your top priests will be slain by his mortal foe, a

demoness, and you can explain to your order how you allowed

that to happen.”

The acolytes looked at each other. Aurora felt Arahm take a

breath.

“Not one word, priest,” she hissed in his ear.

The acolytes released Hodge, who wasted no time in getting

down off the scaffold. Aurora backed away towards her weapons.

Hodge scampered out from behind the bonfire and came to her.

“Go,” she told him. “I’ll be along momentarily.”

The acolytes came out from behind the bonfire. They spread

away from each other as they came. Aurora wasted no time on

pleasantries. She sank her fangs into Arahm’s carotid. She pulled

her head back as she pushed him away, the tendons on her neck

standing out, and ripped a great mouthful of flesh from Arahm’s

neck. He fell to the floor, his blood rushing out.

“You unholy bitch!” an acolyte screamed. “You had no

intention of releasing him!”

“No,” Aurora told them “I didn’t.”

She picked up her crossbow and shot the one on her right. He

staggered as the bolt took him through the heart. The other

rushed at her. Aurora did not trouble herself about recharging her

crossbow. She merely set it down and let the maddened acolyte

come. As he reached her she grabbed the front of his vestments

with one hand and picked him up. With the other hand she

effortlessly bent his head back and ripped out his throat with her

fangs. Letting him flop to the floor, she buckled her weapons belt

on, reclaimed her crossbow, and left the temple. Hodge had

watched her from the entrance.

“What will you do now?” he asked.

“I believe I’ll return to the forests and mountains and streams.

I grow tired of the city. It has left a foul taste in my mouth.”

TheAquaGoddess
January 6th, 2006, 01:35 AM
Bravo!

I read with avid attention. And to be honest with you, I seldom read orignal poetry or other fiction written by folks on the web unless it is meant to be humorous, but this was very enjoyable.

Just like reading a movie script. Aurora is a character that's easy to relate to, easy to like, and to sympathize with.

Good job!
TAG