Lady, Warrior, Healer, Thief
By Leslie Ann Miller
Disclaimer: There is some violence in this story. This chapter makes reference to a rape in the past. No details are provided, but it is an important plot point.
CHAPTER 5: DIVINE QUEST
Outside the cave the forest burned. The sky rained burning ash, and the stones cracked from heat. The cave was an eddy in a tempest of destruction and chaos.
Wraith retreated into the shadows and sat huddled, terrified to think what was happening outside. Keen sat next to Merlynn to bandage the healer's arms and face. She had been cut and bruised by falling stones and was barely conscious of the havok being wreaked outside their sheltered space. Jewels was sitting crosslegged in the sand, staring up at the opening where the tops of burning trees could be seen swaying in an unnatural wind. Gusts of hot wind swirled around them.
A voice boomed from the firestorm outside. A flaming ball streaked through the door and hovered in the center of the cave, spitting sparks and hissing smoke.
Wraith was blinded by its brilliant radiance and hid her face between her knees. More madness! What would be next?! The thought occured to her to fly back down the tunnels into the safety of the cool darkness.
"Lady, warrior, healer, thief," the ball of fire spoke, sputtered, and went out.
When Wraith looked up, a man stood in the center of the cave, glowing brilliantly. He wore a long shirt of mail belted around his waist and an ornate silver helm. In his hands was a double bladed battle ax.
"Hail! Lady," he said looking at Jewels, and bowed as if to a Princess.
Jewels pushed her spectacles back up her nose and opened her mouth to say something, then closed it again before she could.
The man smiled and turned to Keen. "Hail, warrior," he said, raising his hand in a soldier's salute.
Keen stood up, sword in hand. "Who are you? What do you want?"
The man ignored her and looked at Merlynn instead. "Hail, healer! Your Goddess sends Her greetings."
"She is most kind," Merlynn whispered dazedly.
The man nodded once and turned to Wraith.
She held her breath. She could feel the power and confidence emmanating from him. Surely, this could only be a god! What would a god want with her?
"Hail, thief," the man said, and she knew he was amused.
Wraith swallowed and tried to stop her hands from shaking. Thief? A god named her thief....?! But she supposed that it was true, now. Since being Outcast, she'd had to steal from the humans. Though she hadn't looked at the humans as "people" then, she realized the truth now. She had taken that which did not belong to her. And thieves had no honor... Their souls were damned... SHE was damned...
"No," he said, "doomed," and it took her a moment to realize he was talking to her. There was no trace of amusement in his voice this time. "There is more to be taken," he said, and turned back to the others.
But once revenged
Scepter goes to bastard hands
Mace, ax, pike, and bow,
To raise as one.
West and East
To fight the Evil
To carry out
He raised his ax and swung at Keen.
With reflexes trained from years of combat, the startled warrior blocked it with her sword. The blades met in a shower of sparks and a loud clang. Keen's sword shattered into a hundred slivers, and she was left holding nothing but a cracked pommel.
The man stepped back. "`By the strength of your sword' you said. It lies in pieces. And so shall your oath to the usurper," he said grimly. "By the will of the Gods, I have spoken." With a flash and a hiss his image compressed into the swirling ball of flame. It sped to the opening and disappeared into the inferno outside.
Keen dropped to her knees. In the sand where he had been standing was the battle ax. She looked towards the opening in awe. "He forgot his ax..."
Jewels made a face. "G-Gods don't forget things, Keen. He...he must have wanted you to have it. F-for breaking your sword, maybe."
"I don't believe it," she said. "I just don't believe it."
Merlynn shook her head in amazement. "An Avatar!" she said with reverence. "We've just seen an Avatar!"
"It happens all the t-time in the stories," Jewels said. "But...but I never thought I'd ever see one m-myself!"
Wraith could only agree. Only the Queen and the Priestesses ever communicated directly with the gods. And then they only heard their voices. They had been blessed with a visit by an Avatar! It was impossible! But what had he meant? "There is more to be taken?"
"Lady, warrior, healer, thief," Keen said, still kneeling in front of the ax. "What does it mean? Inner, Outer, East and West... Gods above... Dragonfire erupted! And a god shatters my sword! What in the name of the first wizard is happening?!"
"Dragonfire erupted," Merlynn said. "The Banished One has awakened from the Lady's spell of sleep. He will try to escape his prison!"
"What has that got to do with us?!" Keen asked, and Wraith could hear the panic behind her voice.
"C-carry out the p-prophesy," Jewels said. "We're supposed to carry out the prophesy!"
"What?!" Keen exclaimed, rubbing the back of her neck.
"That's what he...he said," Jewels said. "L-Lady, warrior, healer, thief/ to carry out the prophesy. And, and that's what he c-called us."
Keen muttered something under her breath that even Wraith could not understand.
"What prophesy?" Merlynn asked. "The prophesy about the scepter?"
Jewels shrugged. "Something we're s-supposed to make happen."
"No, no, no," Keen said, shaking her head. "I don't like this! I've got a terrible feeling about it."
"Why?" Merlynn asked.
"I just do," Keen said. "Gods, Merlynn. Gods don't come down to Earth and to talk to people. Especially not people like us. What can we do?! What?! How?! Why?! Maybe it's a trick. Maybe - maybe it was that King's Wizard trying to get us killed!"
Merlynn shook her head even as Wraith was gathering the courage to speak. "No," the healer said firmly. "I would know the difference between a wizard and a god. It was an Avatar."
"You're delirious," Keen said.
"N-no," Jewels said. "Merlynn is right. It, it didn't look like Slanger or any of the wizards."
"Wizards can change their shape and form. I've heard it said so many times."
"Why would a wizard l-leave you his ax?" Jewels asked.
Keen stared at the weapon in front of her. "Why would a GOD leave me his ax?!" she asked stubbornly.
Merlynn laughed. "Gods rarely do things which make sense to mortals."
Jewels' eyes glowed. "I think it's wonderful!"
"Wonderful?!" Keen asked in exasperation. "The world has just erupted into chaos and you think it's wonderful?!"
Jewels nodded. "We've been given a special d-destiny, Keen! Just, just think of it! We're visited by an Avatar who tells us to fulfill the p-prophesy! It's, it's the stuff that legends are m-made of, only, only this one is real!"
"He didn't tell us to do anything," Keen insisted. "How do you know he meant us?"
"Well," Jewels said slowly. "He did seem to make a special point of calling us by `w-warrior, healer, lady, thief'..."
"And why not?" Merlynn asked. "Why can't you believe it? Do you think that you're not good enough to serve the gods, Keen?"
"They didn't TELL us to do anything!" Keen said. "And my name is not ~`warrior'. This is madness!"
"And going into the tunnels to find a blackelf was not?" Merlynn asked. "We succeeded in that, against all odds."
Wraith wanted to hide as the three humans looked at her.
Keen sat back on her heels and sighed. "Madness," she repeated softly, still looking at Wraith. "I suddenly feel like a puppet on a string."
Wraith understood why. Keen had tried to kill her several times. But something, or someone, had prevented her from doing so. Keen was not one to whom mercy came easily, and there was no reason for her to have spared Wraith. Keen felt like the gods had toyed with her, causing her to have done so.
Wraith looked away. The human would probably hate her for it, too. If she hated being toyed with by the gods, Keen would hate it just as much. Keen would hate her for being the cause of it, just as she was the cause for the fact that they were in the tunnels in the first place. She supposed that Keen had plenty of reasons to hate her.
"By the strength of my sword, I said," Keen said slowly. "The gods must love you dearly, blackelf."
Wraith looked up. There was a scowl on the warrior's face. She flinched inwardly. How wrong the human was! How very, very wrong.
"I suppose you can leave now," Keen said, gesturing at the small hole leading into the tunnels. "I'll not follow you or try to hurt you."
Wraith hid her face in her knees, finally overwhelmed by the pain and the emotion. She had prepared to die, and now even that was denied. She had no place to go, this was her Home now, and Keen wanted her to leave. It wasn't fair that humans should make her leave her surface Home! Where would she go? Where COULD she go?! All of her extra supplies were here, her stone tools, the clothes and knives she'd stolen from the humans.
"Or...Or you could stay with us..." Jewels said suddenly. "You, you're our thief. You're supposed to come with us. You have to help us!"
"Jewels!" Keen exclaimed sternly.
"No, Keen," Jewels said. "She's m-my half sister and she saved our lives. And th-the Avatar called her thief so she has to b-be one of us!"
Wraith looked up, surprise overcoming her fear and grief.
Jewels smiled at her. "Will you join us?" she asked before Keen could protest.
The warrior made a gurgling noise deep in her throat, but said nothing.
Wraith swallowed. The whole thing seemed unreal, like a dream. Here was a human, her half sister (if she could believe it), offering her...what? Friendship? What did it mean `to join them'?
"Don't be afraid," Merlynn said quietly.
"Be afraid," Keen said.
"I am not afraid of you," Wraith whispered.
Keen grinned, and her eyes glittered, challenging. "You are a thief," she said. "Thieves are afraid of everything. They're afraid to face their enemies in honorable combat."
Wraith stood, angered by the warrior's mocking words. "I am not afraid of you," she repeated. "I prepared to die an honorable death at your hands. I have upheld my word of honor in everything I ever done. And I am not afraid to face you in honorable combat, whatever you may consider that, if it your wish."
Keen stood as well, leaving the ax where it lay. "It is my wish that you go home and leave us alone," she said.
Wraith did not answer, struggling to find the words to respond.
Keen cocked her head to one side, and her eyebrows furrowed. "Why don't you leave us? We are enemies. You said as much yourself. Ever since your people murdered the old king, there will be no peace..."
"Murdered?!" Wraith asked in outrage. "And what of the horror committed by his son?! Is the rape of our Queen to go unavenged?!"
"What are you talking about?" Keen asked.
Wraith bit back her disbelieving reply. Why would the humans know? She herself had not realized the full truth until Jewels had spoken of the prophesy. Her Mother and brother had never told her of it. Her tutor had never mentioned it. And of course the human Prince would never have admitted that the blackelves had killed his father in revenge for a crime that he had committed. "Had you never thought why you were sent to kill me? As Jewels said, my father is the human king, but my mother is the Queen of Blackelves," she said. "Think you a blackelf would give herself willingly to a human?!"
Keen shrugged. "If he was a Prince, why not? Maybe she would find it prestigious."
Wraith hissed, and Keen stepped back in surprise. "The gods called upon our peoples to negotiate peace!" she whispered. "But after my mother excused herself from negotiations to discuss matters with her advisors, she was attacked by humans! They killed her guards and left her for dead, but she was strong. She survived to tell her people, who were outraged. The humans betrayed us! Blackelves killed your king in revenge for the rape of their Queen."
After a moment of shocked silence, Jewels pushed up her spectacles and made a face. "I'm not too surprised," she said in disgust. "I've heard worse things about the King..."
Wraith nodded silently, and her anger vanished as suddenly as it had come.
"My mother was only a Duchess," Jewels grinned. Then her face fell. "She d-died in childbirth having me. I was her eighth. I think that father...I, I mean D-Duke Blackmace, always blamed himself for her death. He loved her very dearly. I c-could always see it in his eyes when, when he looked at me. And then, when he found out my name was one of the Six... You know, I think, I think he thinks that mother made a cuckold of him. But I don't. I think, I think now maybe that's why she died. She, she couldn't bare the shame."
"I was Out-cast," Wraith said quietly. She met Keen's bright eyes. "I do not return to Home, because they would kill me. Humans, even half humans, are considered evil. I am banished to the Outer world."
"Wizard's fire and dragon dung," the warrior swore, rubbing the scar on her forehead.
"Keen," Merlynn said quietly.
"Oh very well," the warrior snapped. "She can come with us."
"Where are we going?" the healer asked, smiling warmly at Wraith who was staring in astonishment at the warrior.
Keen shrugged. "We'll start by finding the rightful heir to the throne, who, we must suppose, is one of the Six. And then we go about putting him ON the throne." She smiled wryly. "I think that should keep us busy for a while."
Merlynn laughed. "I would certainly think so. How is that for a glorious quest, Jewels?"
Jewels smiled, and nodded. "How do we find him?"
"I haven't the faintest idea," Keen said. She leaned over and picked up the ax, holding it up to shine in the light from the fires outside. "But if the gods have truly given us this quest, they will help us."
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9
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