Quiet

*cannot believe how behind I am… sorry!*

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, part 17. Character: Jaé

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Quiet

The ocean was quiet this time, as we flew northwards again, and our wings made no sound to disrupt the silence. It was the calm before yet another storm; towering clouds darkened the western horizon, but they were still far. ShaRo flew in front on a straight and unwavering path, impervious to occasional buffeting gusts of wind. I could not resist plunging in and out of the ocean. The gently rippling surface invited me to shatter it. There was no more boundary between sea and sky, I could fly, even breathe equally in both, and though the water pushed my wingbeats more than the air did, it was nothing my strength could not overcome.

“Are you enjoying yourself?” ShaRo asked with an amused grin the next time I flew beside him. I replied with an enthusiastic nod and twirled away again. For some minutes he still held his course and ignored my frolicking, but it must have been infectious because the next time I shot out from under the water’s surface, I caught him in the middle of a wild yet perfect barrel roll. I tried to imitate him but the result was nowhere near as skilled and elegant.

The carefree mood of this flight was soon besmirched as we spotted the enemy shores on the horizon. We were on a new mission, that would take us all the way to Larōbe and the ‘Nōrian royal palace. There was an elaborate operation in place to infiltrate the palace and take the king and his associates hostage. There were already two of our people inside. We were to be the reinforcements, along with another pair who were lying low in the city, and were to follow once we were inside.

The first two had gotten in by letting themselves be captured. It had been a gamble, but a successful one; It was common knowledge that the ‘Nōrian king liked to see prisoners captured directly from ‘Naira, and so they had been brought to the palace. There, one of them escaped and hid himself, while the other, a young girl chosen for her deceptive talents, let herself be brought to the king. According to the latest intelligence, she had succeeded in touching the heart of a certain High Ambassador Perandes, who had insisted on keeping her, and raising her within the palace. She was to signal us further information when we arrived.

As the land loomed below us an we passed Escaton castle without incident, I followed ShaRo, descending towards a rocky area. There we would wait for the cover of darkness, before completing the last part of the way to Larōbe.

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Obstinate

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, part 15. Character: ShaRo

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Obstinate

Truth be told, I was worried about Jaé. I still remembered my first days as a vampire. Like most others, I had hurt, or in one case killed, The One Standing Too Close quite a few times. It had taken me a month before my mentor and I had dared to venture into the capital for my inspection.

Perhaps the massacre at Escaton had helped, or perhaps she just had a tamer temperament than I did, but Jaé seemed more stable than I had been as a new one. She was the first one I had changed, so I did not have much to compare with, but she seemed to be doing exceptionally well. We flew over the city of thousands of heartbeats and she never strayed off course.

The only stone fort in Súthenaira was the Command Castle, perched on top of the volcanic rocks of the inner islands. We landed on the battlements, drawing a gaggle of stares from young trainees. Their heartbeats gallopped with excitement as they watched us furl our wings and enter a heavy, important looking door.

The inspecting committee already awaited us, standing at the opposite side of the hall, leaning against the wall. It consisted of my commander, Jaé’s handler, and two others I did not know. Jaé’s handler was the only one with a heartbeat in the room, a wild-eyed nymph, though he did show any sign of fear or discomfort. Our people were a motley mix of immortal monsters, distantly related, and united under a glorious flag. His heartbeat made him no less dangerous than we were. We greeted them with a formal salute, which they all returned. It was time to begin.

“Comerades-in-arms, I, whom they call ShaRoOuNaiGo, present to you the one whom they call JaéAnJoou, deemed ready for inspection after change.” I recited, having hurriedly read the formal procedures before arrival.

“Thank you, ŌuekKaShi.” My commander replied, addressing me as the turquoise flag I wore on my shoulder.

Jaé’s handler watched a little more nervously as my commander produced a sheet of paper. “JaéAnJoou, assigned the white flag, primary weapon: bow…” He read, glancing up at her with strict eyes after every entry, “Aged fifteen now, a Shadow, seven targets confirmed dead…”

“Eight.”

The room instantly filled with incredulous glares as Jaé interrupted her superiors, which was something one definitely did not do at an inspection. “Eight. Escaton’s commander is dead, his throat snapped by my fist. He can confirm.” She gestured at me, while defying the glares, stubborn, obstinate. I felt like my stomach was sinking; I would probably never hear the end of this.

“Well, well.” My commander muttered, turning to me, though it seemed like he was subtly trying to suppress a grin, “Is it true?”

“Yes, sir.” I snapped to attention.

“Eight it is, then, NiikKaShi.” He corrected his paper. “Spread your wings.”

Jaé did as asked, and was fortunately cautious enough to leave the walls and ceiling undamaged.

“Claws.”

Jaé’s claws emerged with the characteristic metallic clang.

“ŌuekKaShi, what’s your opinion?”

“She’s doing well, amd everything seems to be in order. She’s strong, and there’s a lot of fight in her, but she’s also surprisingly adequately controlled.” I ended my assessment with a salute.”

“Thank you.” My commander returned the salute, then gestured to the two unknown vampires in the room. “In that case, we have a new assignment for the two of you.”

Mastery

I swear I’m catching up!

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, part 13. Character: Jaé

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Mastery

Nothing was like the experience of the exhilirating flight home. We flew through billowing clouds, and low between the ocean waves, the wind whipping up from the mighty wings I could now spread, the waves we plunged through washing away the bloodstains from my hair and ragged clothes. I was free; free not only from my captors and chains, but also from weakness and fragility. I could even defy the pull of gravity.

We landed on a small, uninhabited ‘Nairan island, which was covered by a dense forest, rife with signs of destruction. Sharo told me this island was especially reserved as a training ground for new vampires; I soon found out why that was necessary. I could bring down multiple sturdy trees with a careless wingbeat, or shatter a great boulder into pathetic shards with a single, effortless punch. Sharo eventually had to restrain me. I found it too entertaining to flaunt my newfound strength. I even tried to fight him, but unlike the rest of the world around me, he was not breakable. He was even stronger than me, had milennia of practice, and thus he ruthlessly and efficiently beat me into the ground the moment I took a swing at him. His perfectly aimed and executed strikes brought the familiar throb of pain, and that seemed to clear my mind.

Pinned to the ground, in the midst of a dust cloud, I apologised for my uncontrolled behaviour, but he just grinned and said “We’re all like that, we just get better at hiding it.”

After several incidents, which all ended with me sprawled on the ground but still very much elated, I noticed that he indeed seemed to be enjoying himself just as much as I was. I decided not to resist the urge to fight him again and again too much. Our duels got better and better with time. With every hit I took and every defeat I learned something new; to use my claws, my wings, my fangs, my senses. I still could not beat Sharo, but I felt like I was getting a little closer, and he confirmed it with his increasing frequency of compliments.

We kept going for days and nights. It sounded daunting at first, but s a vampire, I no longer slept. In the end I felt I had more or less gained mastery of my body. The feelings and instincts were another thing, as they were more capricious and compelling than I had ever thought was possible, but I could now resist attacking Sharo if I wanted to. I could even let animals with mouth-watering heartbeats safely pass me by.

Sharo therefore announced I was ready for inspection. We left the island, diving underwater this time, for the sake of variety and practice, towards the capital.

Killer

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, part 11. Character: ShaRo

Please do read the previous parts! This is a continuous story. :3

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Killer

Guards ran at us from all directions. Their heavy boots thudded on the stone courtyard floor with each footstep, their breaths heaved the air this way and that, their pulses gallopped, the blades of their pikes cut through the air with subtle whistles. I waited patiently for them to close the distance, their slow, mortal’s strides stretching far into time. I saw Jaé grow impatient beside me, she could not yet stand her ground. Her drive to fight, the ever-present beast, was new to her, and was trying its wings. She launched into attack, growling like an animal.

“Alarm! Vampires!” Someone screamed, as Jaé reached the first guard. She was on him before he could even swing his weapon, catching his neck and breaking it in one smooth movement. What followed was a glorious massacre. Jaé was a relentless killer, spurred on by the monster’s instincts that were still new to her. She would of course have to learn to control herself later, when we returned home, but now I made no effort to stop her. There was no better weapon than a wild, young vampire.

I watched Jaé leap from one man to the next, and they were slammed into the ground by the throat, one by one. It was always the same brute, simple move; it showed that Jaé was new, and had no experience. She relied only on the physical advantages my bite had given her. The agility to dodge the flurry of pikes, and the strength to end the pathetic mortal lives with a single throw.

She barely left anything for me to do. The few guards that did reach me, died cleaner deaths than Jaé’s victims. I used my claw, a sword-like, natural weapon that could be extended from behind my fingernails. I would show Jaé how to use them later. Against the weak ‘Nōrian humans she was already more than well equipped, and no matter their numbers, we were no match for them. I slashed out at the two last remaining guards that had not yet fled, or been killed, while sidestepping a pike stab. Both of them collapsed to the ground, separated from their heads.

An odd silence descended on the castle. We stood in the middle of a bloodstained mess. Jaé seemed to come to her senses and she looked at me, her eyes golden nowke mine, expectant and curious, though also somewhat confused.

“Come, NiikKaShi.” I addressed her by her designate Flag. “Let’s go home.”

I spread my wings wide, and with three powerful beats I already cleared the battlements and soared above the ocean. I did not need to look behind me to know she followed; her wings whipped up a magnificent windstorm.

Instinct

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, Part 9. Character: Jaé

Dear Readers, this is the 9th installment of a continuous story! Please read the previous parts over here!

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Instinct

Reality was gone, and there was only pain.

This pain was different that the kind inflicted by my torturers during the past weeks. That had been bad too, but predictable, indifferent. The kind of pain I had been trained to expect, to endure.

This was a wildfire, spreading from my neck through my bloodstream, burning, disintegrating everything that I was. It was also strangely liberating. Any moment now, I would be released from my broken and shredded body, spread mighty wings and fly from this dungeon, away from the suffering carried by the wind into the next life. This had to be death, I thought, as I listened to my accelerating heartbeat, and my own screams, which sounded disembodied and distant.

I was wrong. Perhaps not entirely, as I would find out, but I was completely misinterpreting what the last fragment of my sane mind had just imagined.

My heart eventually gave up, and for a moment, darkness and silence enveloped me completely as I closed my eyes, breathed out one last time, and felt like falling into a deep sleep. Contrary to my expectations, this was not the end.

After an undefineable stretch of time, I heard something.

No.

I heard everything.

I was still unmistakably in Escaton castle, in the dungeon, but the dungeon had changed. It seemed to contain so much more of everything than before. There were so many signs of life; heartbeats and breaths, movements and slight twitches of muscles, all individual, distinguishable. I counted seven other prisoners in my immediate vicinity, ten more scattered around some paces away, and the interrogator. Water droplets rolled down the columns, and dripped off the ceiling. One landed on the gory stone floor. The next on a prisoner’s skin, the third on something metal.

A swooshing of the air, a sickening crunch, a bloodcurdling scream of agony, shattering the dank, thick air, an unpleasant contrast to the signs of life and the water drops. The interrogator had hit the man with a solid steel rod, breaking the bones in his leg. After the screaming stopped, the man panted and babbled incoherently while his heart raced. The water continued to drip, the prisoners lived and breathed. Above the ceiling, footsteps moved about, bored guards shifted their weights from one leg to the other and poked the floor with the shafts of their pikes. The ocean’s waves rhythmically crashed against the walls outside. The wind howled through some openings.

A cool touch on my shoulder. That, I was not expecting. It came with no sound, nothing to betray a presence, yet it was very clearly the grasp of a hand. A hand from a cold, silent body. I opened my eyes, and took a sharp breath. The air rushed in, though I did not need it; it brought no nourishment nor relief, only more information. So many smells and movements, yet I did not have the time to sift throught them. All my attention was on the hand on my shoulder, and on whom it belonged to.

His skin was flawless and pale, his eyes a serene well of melting gold, and his somewhat angular, yet graceful face was framed by long, straight, black hair. His expression was curious, expectant, yet friendly, and he looked not much older than me. Very quietly, a faint memory called out from my mind, telling me he had come to rescue me. All this took only a moment to register, before his touch tore into my attention again and compelled me to move. I did not think, or consciously decide. My body almost moved by itself, propelled by an instinct.

I swung to the side, away from his hand, pulling my arms free, breaking the chains, twirling through the air, and lithely landed on my feet, on the ground. It was an effortless movement, where time seemed to wait for me with every detail. As the chain crashed to the ground with a clanging racket, the interrogator startled and wheeled around, reaching for a weapon. I sensed hostility in him, and felt it mirrored in me, a wild urge. I could not have run away, even if I wanted to. The prospect of a fight called out to an overwhelming new strength in me. By the time the interrogator finished his turn and faced me, I was already at his throat, and slammed him into the stone floor with all my force. His panicked heartbeats ceased at once.

I turned towards the silent one again but he was already running off, out the doorway and up the stairs. I lunged into a sprint to follow him, though he did not seem to slow down, as the rest of the world did around me. In a moment we were out in the courtyard of the castle. He had swung a door open, making a deafening noise, and so all the guards were alerted.

Ordinarily, this would have been the part where I made a run for it. Now I felt my muscles tense as I glanced around surveying the approach of each frantic guard. Everything in me longed to fight, to use this strength that was ready to explode from within me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the ‘Nairan boy curl into a loose crouch, his glance locked on the nearest foe as he waited for the distance to close. I was too impatient. Without another conscious thought, I hurled myself forward, and as I did, a fierce, beastly growl erupted from the depth of my lungs.

“Alarm! Vampires!” The lookout cried, as chaos descended on the castle.

Glorious

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, Part 7. Character: ShaRo

Dear Readers, this is the 7th installment of a continuous story! Please read the previous parts over here!

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Glorious

The war raged on our northernmost islands, where the ‘Nōrian invasion had landed. Knowing we could not fight the vastly superior, modern ships of their fleet, we had let them disembark, taking our chances on land instead. They had the numbers by far, and it was a monstrous piece of brute force. We were outnumbered, but had the advantage of the familiar ground, that had been specifically prepared to repel invaders. The front did not push far inwards before it came to stagnation. What followed was the deadly game of endurance and consistency, a war of attrition. They attempted to hammer at our defences, but we eluded them wherever they went, and struck back from where they least expected it.

Six weeks after the start of the invasion, I was to fly off my course again, to Escaton castle behind the enemy lines. A Joou, a Shadow, had gone missing on a mission there some weeks ago, and there was good reason to believe she was being held captive. Of course they’d normally send another Shadow on such a rescue mission, but most of them were busy around the front, or behind the enemy border, my KanCHo apologised, and this rescue was going to be a little different from the usual. They needed knowledge of the area and the defences, they needed a vampire, and they needed one who was old and strong enough to change someone. According to the records, she just turned fifteen today, the commander assured me, so everything was being done by the book.

Getting into the castle was harder than I had anticipated. The ‘Nōrians compensated for their dull, human senses by the sheer number of guards spying in all directions. I circled overhead, flying high out of sight, waiting, looking for an opening, until I found the one the captured assassin had most likely used; a window at the bottom of the tower, accessible by climbing the cliffs from the water. The window promised a convenient entrance; it was likely close to the dungeon. I veered away with the next gust of wind, plummeting into the depths and plunging into the ocean.

The guards, though vigilant, did not spot me approaching under the murky surface of the water. The crags of the cliff obscured my climb to the window. I listened for guards on the inside but there was not one nearby; the wretched stench and screams of the dungeon kept them away.

I swung inside, and landed silently on my feet. The dungeon was just ahead, behind a locked but unguarded solid wooden door. A noble effort, but no match for my kind’s strength. I pried it open, and the lock was bent beyond repair as I slipped inside. No doubt someone would notice eventually, but soon that would not matter.

I found her at once. Hanging from the ceiling by a chain, between the grey stone columns, racks of grisly instruments, and spiked cages, she was no more than a limp rag. Gaping wounds, an array of stabs and slashes told of the torture she had been through. Her light blonde hair almost glowed in the dim darkness, but was streaked with crimson smears of her own blood. Her heart still faintly beat, though there was not much strength left in her. The dungeon echoed with screams; it seemed another unfortunate soul was in session at the moment. A perfect backdrop. Nobody would suspect anything until it was too late. Keeping to the shadows of the columns, I inched closer and closer, careful not to attract the attention of the other prisoners, who were scattered here and there, tied up on the floor, or locked in a cage, all bearing the same gory wounds.

The girl was still more alert than I expected, a great feat considering the condition she was in. She gasped as she saw me climb a column beside her.

“Who are you?” The whisper was barely a breath.

As was customary, I gave her my formal designation. ŌuekKaShiAn NaiRaShan CheeRionTe ShaRoOuNaiGo Borderguard of the Turqoise Flag, named ShaRoOuNaiGo.

She replied with her own designation. NiikKaShiAn Joou CheeRionTe JaéAnJoou. Shadow of the White Flag, named JaéAnJoou. She was indeed whom I was seeking.

“SeonTéGaai, SaeKi”.  Hold on, archer. “This may hurt, but freedom sometimes does.” I whispred as I leaned closer to her neck. Her feeble heartbeat beckoned from below her skin. I drowned out the tempting sound from my mind, steadied myself, and before either of us could hesitate, bit her.

The raw strength with which she screamed as I withdrew into the shadows startled the surrounding prisoners. They stared at her with wide, terrorised eyes. The interrogator walked by to see what was going on, but, seeing her, just sighed, bored, and went back to his victim. Only I knew that Jaé was not dying, but being reborn, and nobody knew I was here. Only I knew that this painful, new-found strength was turning her into a glorious monster.

Clouds

A-Z April Fantasy Flash Fiction, Part 3. Character: ShaRo

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Clouds

The world always looked so different, as seen from heights of the sky. Despite the long years of my life, I have never grown bored of it. I suppose I’ve always, quite literally, had my head in the clouds.

ShaRoOuNaiGo they called me, Soul in the Sky. As a border patrol, I spent the overwhelming majority of my time soaring up here on glorious, dragon-like wings, that sprouted from my back. I landed only every few days to report, or if there arose an urgent sighting. As a vampire, this was no unusual feat, and I had been doing this since I turned sixteen. That was thousands of years ago.

Today, the storm clouds, towering high into the atmosphere, and obscuring the landscape below entirely, masked the unfolding of history that had been forced into motion.

The ‘Nōrians had been mounting an army. We had responded with preemptive assassinations. War was declared. The barely 50 years of peace, shaky as it was, collapsed and crumbled into nothingness in a matter of days. Still, 50 years was significant; since many milennia, it was the longest we’ve lasted. I knew, I remembered. There had never even been a mortal lifetime’s worth of peace between us.

A flurry of lightning scurried from one tower of cloud, across to another, and folding my wings, I quickly ducked out of its way. It was not the best idea to fly so low in such weather, but the mission demanded it, and I had enough experience to cope. Today I was to deviate from my usual patrol, using the cover of the clouds, and fly into their airspace to scout the preparations of their forces.

I was nearing the enemy shore. Changes in the air betrayed the land mass. I abruptly retracted my wings, so they disappeared in my back, and launched into a freefall descent, through the thick carpet of cloud. Clouds only looked like soft wool, I had learned on my first flight. They felt like a wet veil when flown through, and left one thoroughly drenched. Nearing the belly of the clouds, I unfurled my wings wide to catch my fall.

The sight that awaited me below was astounding, almost surreal. I saw not the deep blue ocean, but a white sea of sails. The entire ‘Nōrian fleet, it seemed, was on their way southwards. I had never seen such a fast and extensive mobilisation. I wagered nobody ever had. 300 ships, I estimated, and wasted no time to turn back and make haste with the distressing news. To hell with stealth, and designated patrol paths. I stretched my wings as far as they would go, accelerated wtih forceful wingbeats, and whipping up a windstorm behind me, shot into the beginning downpour of rain, riding the roaring wind of the storm, back towards my homeland.