This is a sequel to “Ancient, My Love“. I did try making this somewhat stand-alone, so you don’t have to do a re-read of the original, but doing so might make this more enjoyable, and round the characters out a bit more.
I aim to build on these two, and expand the world a bit. Maybe not today, or even tomorrow, but sometime while I still live (unless, you know, that changes). I also went ball’s out on the ‘fantasy’ aspect, or at least what I thought was ball’s out, making up all sorts of fantasy-sounding stuff. Might not be everyone’s thing.
Ancient, My New Love
By E. J. D’Alise (Disperser)
Copyright July 2014
Chapter One – Child of mine
Bill stepped over the badger; you don’t mess with badgers, no matter how familiar they are with you, or you with them. Bill had never named the animals that came and went at will, not even the ones that stayed a while, not even when it was a long while. Feisty, his mule, was the only animal on the premises with a name, and Bill was not the one that had named him.
The hummingbird followed as Bill exited the kitchen through the door leading out to the porch. It seemed to want to be near Bill more often than not. Once outside, the hummer flew to a bare nail on one of the posts. It pooped. Or expelled what passed for poop in hummingbirds. Some sort of clear liquid that apparently left no trace, or at least none that Bill had ever found. Not that the hummer, or any of the other animals, ever pooped inside the house. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to guess upwards of thirty animals occasionally occupied the interior.
“And no wonder; who’d want to mess with the Lady of the House?” Bill’s thought came unbidden, without malice or derision. He just found it humorous to call Seda the Lady of the House, even as he did so without a hint of disrespect.
Bill looked around, hardly noticing the puma and her litter in the swinging bench. Lots of animals came here to have their litters; there was no safer place. They might eat, hunt, and fight each other when away from here, but here none of them, that he ever saw, ever paid much mind to each other.
Seda had tried to explain; something about Terat, what she called the farm, being the center of The Origin. “What’s the Origin?” Bill had asked. The ‘Resting of the Forces’ answer led to the “What Forces?” question, and that led into a convoluted explanation of the Science of Magic, of the Great Strife, of the separation of Cohesiveness into Forces repelling each other while seeking to maintain a balanced chaos; except at the Origin, where the Forces rested.
Bill had understood none of it. It meant animals were always about, and that was enough to please him.
Scanning the surrounding hills, Bill’s awareness ignored a number of other animals near the farm. Seda had left two days prior with no notice or explanation given. He had tried to head off on a search, but the two Hellhounds kept him from leaving. They looked like dogs, but Bill had seen what they could become. He also knew they were much smarter than dogs. Possibly smarter than humans.
One of them came around the corner, walked behind him, and came to sit at his left side.
“Lefty,” Bill thought. It was the first time he had named anything. Surprising himself at the thought, he was immediately aware of the fact he’d have to name the other. He wasn’t ready for that responsibility!
He had no time to compose himself; the other Hellhound appeared at his right side, sat, and then looked up at him with its dark eyes. It sat unmoving, unblinking, looking up at him. Bill could not break the gaze. There was an urgency there, and he struggled for an appropriate name. He always wore his gun on his right side. Not that he had worn it for a long while, but when he did, it was on his right hip. “Colt.” It was involuntary, but having thought it, it seemed to fit.
To his credit, Bill did not jump or yell out when a voice sounded in his head.
“You have named us. The bond is formed.”
The Hellhound broke eye contact and stared straight ahead. Bill looked at the top of its head, and then turned to the one to his left. It was looking up at him, and again a voice sounded in his head, this one female.
“The bond is formed. Thank you.”
It too broke eye contact, and stared straight ahead. Involuntarily, Bill looked out ahead of him, straining to see what they were looking at.
He did not see her at first. When he did, he moved to go to her, but the hounds blocked his way.
“She must cross the Boundary on her own, or she will not survive.”
You don’t mess with badgers, and you don’t argue with Hellhounds; Bill stepped back, watching what looked to be a little girl wrapped in what he recognized as the remnants of one of Seda’s dresses. She looked no more than two or three years of age.
“She will be tested; do not interfere.”
The girl was now at about three hundred yards away, still just a small figure with undistinguished features. Bill wondered how he knew it was a little girl, and how he knew what she wore.
“She is your daughter. You will name her.”
“WHAT?” Bill practically screamed the question, looking from one hound to the other.
“The Lady is in love. Changes occurred. She left to give birth.”
“But she looked normal; she did not look pregnant! And where is she now? Why isn’t she with the gir . . . our daughter?” Other question swirled in Bill’s mind, and his urge to run out to the girl was now overpowering.
“Fight it. You are drawn to her presence, but she must pass the test on her own, or you will both die.”
“This is nuts!”
Bill struggled to regain control of his mind, his impulses. As he watched the girl, his daughter approach, he thought back at the last five years with Seda . . . The Lady; the last dragon. She never mentioned anything about a daughter. The years had passed as a blissful dream. Long walks, shared moments watching the world unfold, and quietly forming a strong bond.
In those five years there had been three intrusions from the outside world, a world that was still struggling to recover from The Collapse. He had persuaded one group to leave and not come back. Two other groups were used to taking things by force, and they had not survived the encounter. Things were not improving in the world, and thoughts of a family had been far from his consciousness.
His focus returned to the girl even as he peripherally took notice the animals were leaving. The girl had stopped, looking around her. Bill noticed the dark shapes flitting through the shrubs. Once he noticed one, he saw more. A pattern was forming around the girl, and tightening. The urge to go out to her became unbearable.
“She is well equipped. Better than most we have seen. Maybe better then The Lady herself.” Lefty’s voice had a calming effect on his urge, lessening the desire to move.
“It begins.” Colts voice was followed by both hounds transforming into their true shapes.
Chapter Two – The Test
Flanked by two monstrous shapes that would give nightmare to any sane person, Bill watched the shapes circling his daughter coalesce into various animals. At least they looked like animals, but not like any Bill had ever seen. Some had huge claws, others horns, and some sported abnormally large mouths with vicious-looking fangs. Lefty and Colt looked like cuddly pets in comparison.
“The Keepers prepare.”
“What are they?” Bill wanted more than a vague-sounding name.
“They are the manifestation of The Forces. The Lady was the first, and only, to cross into the Origin. All other dragons perished when Cohesiveness was lost and Magic was destroyed.”
“What about you two?”
“We are, and always have been.”
Bill wanted to make a sarcastic reply about the non-answer, but his attention was drawn by what was unfolding in front of him.
The Keepers were now solid shapes. Tails whipped about, snarls could be heard, and the circle surrounding his daughter drew tighter. As he watched, the light began to dim, and as he looked up he saw the beginning of an eclipse. Or something like an eclipse; it happened too fast, casting darkness into the scene before him. The Keepers were obviously waiting for the darkness to be complete, but that was not what happened. At the point of full occlusion, an eerie silver light bathed the grounds where the confrontation was taking place. It looked like moonlight, but it could not be.
Whatever it was, it gave The Keepers a metallic look, and made them look more formidable. They moved.
The transformation of the little girl was instantaneous. Swept wings sprang from her back, and her hair grew and was as if alive. Seda sported talons and grew angular and ridged when she changed, but the girl retained her humanoid shape.
Bill could hardly follow the action; The Keepers attacked in pairs, and the first pair consisted of two animals, one resembling a cross between a great ape and a lion, and the other like a giant lizard crossed with a rhinoceros. The girl did not move until they were nearly upon her, and then she leapt straight up and turned on her vertical axis. The swept wings lashed out, catching the ape/lion in mid-leap, slicing it in two. At the same time she lowered her head to meet the charge of the lizard/rhino. The mass differential was ridiculous, with the little girl being dwarfed by just the horn, let alone the rest of the animal. Bill thought she would be impaled and flung about like a rag doll, but the moment of contact, the girl’s hair extended and wrapped around the horn. The girl immediately dropped, her hand planting into the solid rock up to her wrists. The lizard/rhino’s own momentum carried it over the top of the girl. She snapped her head back, and her hair pivoted the beast on a tight arc to land on its back right behind the girl. The beast was still for a moment, and then split in two lengthwise, the wings evidently having sliced it as it had arced overhead. The girl stood to face her next two attackers.
Pirouetting, thrusting, slicing, strangling, she dispatched attacker after attacker as she advanced toward Bill’s position. She ripped the jaws right off of one and shoved it down the beast’s throat right before turning to rip the throat of something resembling a dinosaur on steroids, and in so doing using her grip on the beast to propel her under the next beast, cutting its belly open before it had a chance to react. And still they came.
It seemed unending, the bodies of The Keepers dissolving once killed, and more shapes coming into being to replace them.
The girl was formidable, but the energy toll must have been immense. And then Bill noticed it. She was drawing the silver light. Whatever it was, it was helping power her efforts. But even so, she was slowing, the resolution of each new attack more in doubt.
There came a lull, golden sunlight slowly replacing the silver light. The girl had advanced at least a few hundred yards, maybe more, and Bill could now see her clearly. Her eyes shone with a silver light, and her figure was slender, still covered by the remnants of her mother’s dress. Aside her hair and wings, the only other non-human feature were her hands and forearms, looking like liquid silver, ripples traveling from her hands to her elbows as she flexed her hands. She did not move with the uncertainty of a two year old still learning about her body’s balance. She had Seda’s uncanny fluidity of motion, and it gave the impression she was a miniature adult. But there was no mistaking it, she was a little girl. A little girl fighting off huge monsters.
“How close does she have to get?” Bill’s voice carried the urgency of a worried parent.
“You are at the Center. She must reach you. She must touch you.”
Bill thought back at all the times he had stood outside. He realized after the fact that he most often came to stand on this very spot.
Just then, the girl locked her eyes on Bill, her breaths deep and fast. Part of her hair was no longer lively, but hung to the side of her face, only occasionally twitching. The wings hung a little tighter about her. She looked tired.
“What can I do?”
The Hounds turned to him, but no voice answered his plea.
“Can you help her?”
Again they stood silent, their eyes fixed on him. They were expecting something of him, but he did not know what.
The Keepers attacked, but this time they did not attack in pairs. They ran in from all sides, strike, and run off, each attacking from different angles, mere split seconds apart.
The girl pared most shots, sometimes with her wings, and sometimes with her arms, but each blow seemed to take more out of her. A fury of near-simultaneous attacks found many blows hit their mark, her body responding to the shocks by recoiling as if to minimize the impacts. The Keepers retreated, and she sank to one knee, one arm held up as a shield, the other on the ground for support.
The Keepers howled, roared, and grunted in satisfied celebration, and trotted in a tightening circle as they prepared for another attack. She looked past them at Bill, and smiled a tired smile. As she did, she lowered her other arm, resting it on her knee. And then she lowered her head, forehead resting on her forearm that now looked of flesh and blood.
The Keeper moved in for the kill.
“Lunetta! NO!” Bill cried out her name with so much anguish that The Keepers hesitated for a fraction of second. That was enough.
“Yes.” Lefty and Colt voiced in unison, and they bolted for the girl.
It happened fast. At the calling of her name, a name that had come to him without thinking, the girl straightened, her hair flared out reinvigorated, her wings grew longer than they had been, and she met the combined attack of The Keepers full on, moving as if a blur. By then Lefty and Colt were in the fray, looking larger than he had ever seen them. Fighting back-to-back, they advanced toward Bill.
“DO NOT MOVE. Wait for us.” Colt’s warning was both urgent and strained.
Darkness once more gathered, but not from an eclipse, but from shape after shape of Keepers swirling into being and joining the attack. Bill could no longer make out the action other than he knew a silver blur was coming ever closer to him, the deafening sound of the conflict close to painful. Inch by inch, the fight came to him, and he stood his ground. He thought for sure The Keepers would shred him to pieces, but he was determined at least a piece of him would be here for her to touch.
Amazingly, as the fight drew near, The Keepers kept clear of him, as if there were a barrier a couple of feet wide surrounding him. This helped the girl and hounds as it weakened the resistance of their path toward him. It was all he could do to hold his ground, and twice he wanted to reach out, Lunetta seemingly within his reach.
“NO! We’ll all perish!” Lefty’s urging helped him hold his impulse.
And then the girl flung herself to him, hugging his leg.
The silence that followed overwhelmed his senses. Bill staggered. The Keepers were gone, the surroundings were back to normal, the hounds were back to looking like dogs, and Lunetta was grasping his leg. No wings, no flailing hair, just a little girl who, even as his mind sought to comprehend what had happened, was falling backwards, her eyes closed, her head rolling back as her grip loosened from his leg. His little girl.
As if in slow motion, Bill watched her little body fall, powerless to move, his reflexes stunned by the events. Despite her small stature, she was going to hit her head hard on the ground. He willed his body to move, but too late; he was not going to catch her in time.
And then, a movement of air and Seda was there, catching her a few inches from the ground. She rose, clutching Lunetta to her chest, and looked into Bill’s eyes.
“Thank you.” Her voice was choked-up, and tears were making their way down her cheeks.
Bill did not say anything. He just reached out and hugged them both.
The end (for now)
I wrote my second dragons story a little over a year ago (Ancient, My Love).
The interesting thing about the evolution of my writing (not that most people care) is that I find myself leaning more and more toward writing fantasy. Strange that. If someone were to travel back in time to even five years ago and tell me that I would be writing fantasy, I would say “Who the hell are you? How did you get here? Get out of my bathroom!”, and then I would have said “You’re crazy! Science Fiction is my thing; I don’t even read fantasy!”
I still don’t read fantasy. That’s probably because of stuff I read (or tried to read) in the 70’s and 80’s. I know some might call many of those works “classics” but to me they were crap. I suspect the field has matured, but these days I cross few books that appeal to me, and I don’t have it in me to go ‘sploring the genre and sort through the muck to find the true gems. This is hampered by the fact that even when I look at award winners, what I read is just not my thing.
That’s a tad (or very) hypocritical of me . . . I would like for people to read my stuff, but I don’t make the effort to read other people’s stuff. Perhaps I just haven’t found the right stuff to read.
Anyway, that is a longabout postscript to the above piece. I wrote it last night, and I do mean night. Sat down and wrote the opening sentence at 9:30 pm, and finished writing around 12:30 am. For the next hour I edited the roughly 2,800 words to nearly what you see above. I did a few more correction once Melisa read the piece and caught some of the stupid mistakes (I say some because you can never seem to catch all . . . they stay hidden until the second you click on the ‘publish’ button – bastards!)
As usual, I had no idea of what I was going to write. I started with the vague notion Seda was in danger, and it that it would be up to Bill to rescue her, but as soon as I wrote “Bill stepped over the badger” my fingers took over, translating signals from deep in my increasingly addled brain into the above words. Kind of neat . . . almost magical.
I would appreciate feedback, but I know few will bother. That’s OK. While feedback is nice, I wrote what I would have eagerly read back in the 70’s and 80’s, and that’s good enough for me.
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. . . my FP ward . . . chieken shit.