I remember my first as if it were yesterday. That sense of satisfaction, that feeling of pure ecstasy, that sensation of power as you watch your victims life slip away, eyes wide with fear as they see Death staring down at them with his black, featureless face, an unanswered question on their lips.
Thank you Carewren, for all that you have done. Without you, my murderous little Blight would never have existed and the above opening paragraph would have gone to that place where all discarded ideas go to die.
Without you, Ninjapig and the Foodie Five would never have existed. Ninjapig of course, would’ve been around, stealing food and causing all kinds of mischief, but her pals would’ve just been toys, inanimate objects used as decor and clutter in other people’s games.
Without you, our mini-simselves wouldn’t have had such professional help in trick or treating, nor would they have met my Granny!
Without you, I never would’ve gotten around to provided a back-story to one of my favourite characters, Sage. I pushed the boundaries with this story, going outside of my comfort zone in terms of narrative choice, and I thank you for giving me the opportunity to challenge myself.
Without you, and the countdown challenge, I would’ve never thought to actually use a countdown in an actual chapter, and I was able to get myself out of a sticky scene in my novel. I would like to share this chapter you so that you can see that this thread has impacted me with not just my SimLit but also my general writing also.
– The Helsian Princess –
Yveness, daughter of Khemir, former chieftain of Helsia Deep stood at the entrance of the mine. There was an odd feeling in the wind that she could not account for. It had been building since this morning when Jeryl Haanduk, her trainer, her saviour, and her friend had left and it made her uneasy. Her mother had told her it was probably due to the arranged marriage between her and Broon, the son of the new chieftain.
Broon had been her childhood friend, but that was decades ago. They had grownup apart, taught different lessons and influenced by different events. Now he was someone she knew next to nothing about and had even less in common with.
It was only by tradition that this marriage would take place. The daughter of the former chief would marry the son of the new. Or if the old chief only had sons, the new chief’s daughter would marry the formers son, binding the two families and keeping a link to the old. This practise had been done for centuries since Apex, the first Helsian chief that led the rebellion that freed his people from Kalleri tyranny. That she could trace her line all the way back to him was inspiring.
She wore a dress made of fine cotton, similar to the one she wore in the pits for all those years. The bodice covered her front entirely and was finished with a necklace of sky-shard and emeralds but her shoulders, back and arms were left exposed to reveal the numerous scars she had earned from her previous life as a pit-fighter. The skirt stopped just above the knees and had split-seams on either side to allow her freedom of movement, loathe as she was to say it, but it looked good on her and was functional too.
Her hair was the colour of anthracite and against custom – which demanded that she wear it in a single thick braid of traditional Helsian royalty, to rest over her left shoulder to signify that she was betrothed, she opted to keep her numerous braids, including the shrunken skulls of her many deceased foes that had decorated her hair. The half-mask of crude human-made iron that was still grafted directly to her skull, the scars that painted her entire body and her hair, a constant reminder of the nightmare she had lived for thirty years.
Yveness was of average height for a Helsian woman, around seven foot and at the age of forty-two she was not going to grow anymore. Unlike the males of her race, which continued growing as they aged and eventually had to leave the Deep before they could no longer fit inside their halls, the woman stopped growing before their twentieth year.
Her father had left, months before her return. The Quickening is what they called it when a man must leave his home and never return. It galled her that she had missed out on so much over the years, her mother had given birth to twin sons six years after her capture and her elder brother Khemir, named after their father was dead. His entire unit was killed by a Jandhu vanguard during that war between Kalleria and the Jandhu over twenty years ago. Another insult that had been thrown at her by the hands of her old master’s people.
She desperately wanted to see her father but it was still deemed unsafe. To leave the safety of the mines was to open yourself up to the skies, lightning would seek you out and the raw power it contained would drive some of the men insane. They had to go out into the mountains to be alone, and hope to master the power that quickened their growth.
He would understand. Her need for revenge, her need for blood, for Jandhu blood. Broon did not understand, his father Jo’Kul did not understand, would not understand. They both said that the machinations of humans were none of their concerns. When she’d exploded in a fury, saying that it became their concern when one child of the chieftains was kidnapped and forced into slavery and the other was murdered, they dismissed her.
That was this morning, just after Jeryl Haanduk had left for Kaller City. She kept staring south, towards the city of Kaller. Where her old trainer, and last master was heading. He would understand her need because he had lived the same life. The wind changed, blowing cold air in her direction. Oh how wonderful it would be to feel the caress of the wind on her face, but her face was still encased in iron. Man-made iron, ugly and crude. The wind blew again but this time she caught a smell on the air through the ventilation of her mask.
She separated herself from the wall of the mine and tried to catch the scent again. She scanned the horizon in every direction, her senses on edge now. As her eyes settled on the south again she thought she saw something in the distance, rising up into the sky. The wind gusted again, and she recognised the smell for what it was and what she was seeing to the south, smoke. It was coming from the road leading to Kaller and was probably about half a day of riding away for a human, a couple of hours on foot for her if she felt inclined to investigate.
Human problems, she thought but instantly scolded herself for thinking that way. How could she convince her chief and betrothed to act, when she harboured the same feelings? She ran back to the mine entrance and searched the walls; she found what she was after in no time, a small depression which to an untrained eye would’ve looked like normal stone but was actually a catch to Yveness’ weapons cache. One she had, had as a child – although back then it stored small rocks and sticks, meant to imitate weapons. Now it held many instruments of death.
She strapped on a knife to each of her garter belts, two more were carefully sheathed into her belt and she also grabbed her father’s bow and a dozen arrows, something to remember him by. Her mother had said that he always believed that she would come home and before he left for his Quickening, he left her his bow. It was just a touch too big for her, she wouldn’t be able to draw it to its complete length but it would be enough to kill if need be. With everything she felt she needed, she set off at a quick jog in the direction of the smoke.
Hours passed and the plume of smoke drew closer, larger. Bandits she thought as she slowed down to a walk. She was perhaps a mile away from her destination when she left the main road and entered into the woods nearby. If it was bandits it was best to avoid the roads, even hours after their attack they may have left lookouts in the woods to watch the road for more travellers.
She moved silently through the woods, choosing her path carefully so as to avoid twigs and leaves that would give away her position, opting instead to step on to rocks or open ground. Her long stride allowed this to happen rather effortlessly as she stalked the woods looking for any signs of life. Running parallel to the road the only life she found in the woods were squirrels and birds but when she reached the end of the woods she looked back out at the road.
It was a caravan burning, which was what she saw. There were a handful of dead guards surrounding the blaze on this side and probably the same amount on the far side, half of them didn’t have their weapons drawn. It seemed that they were ambushed, but these guards looked to have been well-armed, easily enough to ward off a bunch of brigands.
Deeming it safe enough to investigate closer, Yveness left the tree line and drew closer to the wreck. There were obvious signs of a struggle in some of the men but others did not appear to have any wounds at all. She carried on, closer to the caravan when she noticed something she’d missed earlier. The uniforms the guards were wearing, she recognised them. She had spent months travelling with men that wore this exact armour. The next man she came upon she raised the visor and found that she recognised the face of this man. Barely out of his teens, he’d offered to share a skin of wine with her on the road – which she refused, too embarrassed to show her face underneath her mask. The man had a ready smile and a pleasant laugh. It looked like he had been burnt from the inside-out.
She turned away from the corpse of the young man and came face-to-face with Jeryl Haanduk. At least what was left of him anyway. He had been beheaded and a spear had been thrust into his mouth and into the side of the caravan, a gold medallion was wrapped around the base of the spearhead. His body was lurched over the driver’s seat, riddled with crossbow bolts. Surprisingly the head and his body were untouched by the flames – almost as if it refused to touch the skin of a good man but she knew she was just being childish – Fire did not care who, or what it consumed.
Jeryl had stayed at Helsia Deep for only two days, as per Jo’Kul’s request, which was long enough to resupply and give his men a quick break. They had stayed outside the entrance to the mines, Jo’Kull refusing to allow them entrance into the city proper, and they were gone at the rising suns on the second day’s morning before Yveness could even say goodbye. She remembered that he said he had an important job to get to in Kaller City. She reached into the pockets of his tunic and found what she was looking for, his letter from the Kallerian king. She will deliver the letter and let him know what has happened.
As she was pocketing the letter she heard a snap of a twig from the woods she’d come from, all in one smooth motion she grabbed her bow, nocked an arrow and let loose. The arrow screamed through the open air and connected with the trunk of a tree, mere inches away from a startled young Helsian lad.
“Ness!” shouted the boy as he thundered out from his hiding spot. Another boy, identical to the first followed, her brothers.
She’d only found out about them two days ago, when she had finally been reunited with her mother. They were almost half her age but it would seem that they shared a passion for sticking their noses where they don’t belong. Keth and Knut, the Twin Terrors they were called, ever since they were toddlers causing mayhem and mischief not too dissimilar to her as a child.
They were large for their age, standing at just over eight feet tall. They inherited most of their looks from their mother, including her stunning white hair which was uncommon amongst Helsian’s. Whereas Yveness looked so much like her father it pained her every time she saw her reflection.
“What are you doing here?” she asked, her bow lowered but an arrow nocked.
“We followed you.” offer Keth, or Knut, she didn’t know who was who just yet.
“Well you’re lucky I could tell it was you, or you would’ve had an arrow through your eye.” she growled, eyes scanning the woods, always moving.
“Oh come on sis, how did you know it was…”
Yveness’ hand went up to her lips silencing her brothers. Something about this scene didn’t feel right. Bandits wouldn’t leave the guards like this, they would take the gear to replace their own and sell what didn’t fit. Every dead guard was still fully armed and the caravan would’ve been ransacked prior to burning it but Yveness could see silks and wines still on the flatbed.
She could recognise another smell now, one she’d missed before through the smoke but one that was as familiar to her as her own hand. The area was thick in it; she almost gagged as it very nearly overwhelmed her, magic. She took a closer look at the medallion attached to the spear and it was as she had feared a symbol of a hand, wreathed in flames. Her old masters family had decided to exact revenge after all, and she’d just walked right into their trap, bringing her brothers with her.
She caught the eyes of her brother, Knut she thought. The first one, the one she had scared with the arrow. When she had his attention she signed to him. “Get out of here now, back to the woods where you came from. Do not argue or you will die.”
He must’ve seen something in her eyes because he grabbed his brother roughly by the shoulders and ran back to the tree line. She only hoped that they would leave and not stick around to watch or get involved.
She had little time to consider this when a large group of men fanned out from the woods opposite where the boys had fled to. She made a quick count and brought the number to a dozen. Most were armed with swords, a poor choice of weapon against a Helsian but three of them had rapiers, she would have to deal with these men first.
Without even considering she raised her bow, arrow still nocked from before, she drew the arrow back and let fly. The arrow sped through the air and lodged itself into the right eye of one of the men; he dropped to the ground, rapier falling from his dead hand. The rest of the men hesitated which gave her enough time to fire another arrow, piercing the throat of another rapier wielding foe.
Ten men left, she said to herself.
The men were advancing on her quickly now. She dropped her bow and drew the knives from her leg belts, backing up so her back was to the burning cart. She saw movement out of the corner of her eyes, half a dozen more men were coming, these ones with crossbows. Things had just gone from bad to worse.
Knowing that if she stayed where she was she was a dead woman she launched an attack on the closest men. She charged two men wielding swords and before they could react her knives were lodged into their chests.
She left them where they were, for now, she had other weapons and the ground was littered with them anyway, her main concern was to keep moving.
Yveness was forced into a roll as one of the crossbowmen fired a bolt at her. A man was waiting for her with a sword already on its downward arc to her head, a planned manoeuvre. But a tactic they obviously hadn’t used against a Helsian before, as she just raised her arm to take the blow. As her attacker was reeling back from the shock and agony of shattering his sword, Yveness snatched his own dagger, which was still sheathed at his waist and slit his own throat. Using the same man’s dagger again she threw it with such velocity at the crossbowman that his head snapped back violently from the impact when it wedged itself in between his eyes.
She had separation from her foes so she dived back to her bow, rolled onto her knees and fired an arrow sinking it deep into the soft flesh of another crossbowman’s armpit, piercing his heart. He fell to the earth dead. She dropped the bow once more and drew one of her belt knives throwing it to her left, hearing a satisfying grunt she looked up long enough to see her knife sticking out of the man’s chest, disbelief appearing on his face before he collapsed to the ground.
The men with swords now appeared to have formed groups, one with two and the other with three. They were going to attempt to surround her and attack from all sides she thought but that still left four crossbowmen and the man with the last rapier, she still needed to be wary. The group of two advanced while the trio circled around behind her.
Not wanting to be boxed in she launched a feint at the two men in front of her and was rewarded when they stepped back hastily to avoid the rush. One of the three behind her rushed forward in a futile attempt to prevent the attack that never took place and was now too close to use his sword. He tried to use the pommel and made contact with her temple but not before she sunk her last knife into his neck.
Her vision blurred for only an instant but it was enough to give the remaining four swordsmen an advantage. They’d managed to surround her now and she had but only a single knife to ward them off. Not to mention the four crossbowmen and the man with the rapier that had somehow eluded her throughout the duration of the fight.
They all came at her at once. She was able to raise her injured arm just in time to catch two of the swords along the forearm. The weapons splintered under the impact but she felt the bones in her arm crack, she couldn’t take another hit to that arm or risk losing it altogether. Luckily the two men with the broken swords were out of the picture at least for now and she was able to concentrate on the other two.
A bolt brushed past her ear, close enough to feel the wind as it went by. A barrage of missiles followed, which Yveness was able to dodge most, a single bolt caught a glancing shot to her side, leaving a gash that bled freely. Yveness cursed to herself for forgetting about the crossbowmen but it would seem that she need not worry about them anymore; her brothers had stayed as she’d feared but surprisingly they’d made themselves useful. They’d waited until everyone was focusing on her and then split up and taken out two of the remaining crossbowmen before they could do any damage.
They silently melded back into the trees and stalked their way to the final two bowmen. Yveness just needed to keep the attention of the bowmen long enough for her brothers to make it there unnoticed. She engaged the two swordsmen in front of her, circling around as if trying to find an opening. Making it look as if she’d forgotten again about the crossbowmen by offering up a clear shot, dangling that carrot in front of the snipers faces.
Once reloaded, both men fired a bolt at her and she was able to evade them easily and duck out of the way of the attack her two men launched. She risked a look out to the perimeter of the battlefield and saw another bowman go down.
It was brave and foolish of her brothers to become involved because now they were in the open and the two men with broken swords had recovered, picked up new weapons off the battlefield and were making their way to the young Helsian boys. Determined to help her brothers she gathered up some dirt from the road, flung it into the advancing men’s faces and dove to her right where she remembered that her bow had been discarded.
Her fingers enclosed around the bows familiar grip and she nocked an arrow. She could not draw it, though; her injured arm had gone numb and was all but useless. She tossed the bow back to the ground in disgust and advanced onto the remaining swordsmen in front of her, easily dispatching them as they flailed about blindly.
Now just to help my brothers, she thought. One of them had already disabled their opponent, using the same tactic Yveness had and broken the sword on his forearm and was going in for the kill.
Her other brother was having a harder time of things, he’d failed to sneak up on the final bowman who had dropped his crossbow and was warding her brother off with a sword, while the other man was closing in on him and was approaching from the rear having learnt his lesson and picked up a rapier from the battlefield. Yveness needed to hurry. She burst out into a sprint hoping to reach them when a cloud of ash and smoke burst out in front of her.
A man materialised from within the centre of the smoke and Yveness felt a sharp pain lancing through her side. It was the final man with the rapier, a Magister. The markings were obvious now, the topknot and the shaved face. Her first thoughts were that she was seeing a ghost, this man was a spitting image of her old master Perlo Tassitus yet this mans hair was a different shade, brown as opposed to black and showed more signs of ageing, an older brother perhaps.
With her wounded arm, she grabbed the hilt of the rapier and with just enough force prevented the man from removing it from her body. She then reached out with her good arm and seized the man by the throat, clenching hard enough to force the man to lose his grip on his weapon. Lifting him high above her head she let out a bestial roar and smashed his face down onto her forehead. The impact caused the entire head to explode but he still managed to get off a spell which wreathed her in fire and dropped her to the floor screaming.
Steam rose off her body as she lay on the ground in agony. She opened her eyes and could not see her brothers anywhere. Panicking she jumped to her feet and nearly collapsed as a wave of nausea rolled over her.
“We’re here sis,” a weak voice announced from behind her. She turned around and found both her brothers. One was in pretty bad shape, a nasty gash from a sword across his nose and cheek, multiple slash wounds and a deep puncture from a rapier that would need to be seen to quickly. The only wound on her other brother was just the deep cut to his forearm. Behind them were the bodies of the last two attackers.
Zero, she thought as she sighed in relief.
“You never told me that blocking a sword with your arm would hurt so much!” cried her brother.
“Of course it hurts you fool. You should’ve gone home!” she grunted as she pulled out the rapier stuck in her side. The pain sent ripples through her entire body, and her nausea returned, threatening to overwhelm her. As she started to fall her brother leant in to give his support.
“And miss out on the show?”
“You could’ve gotten yourself killed!”
“But we didn’t. And besides, we needed to find a way for you to tell us apart. Keth got that on purpose.” laughed Knut, a sentiment that Keth did not appear to agree with.
“Where did you learn to fight like that Ness?” asked Keth, “You were like a Gronyx with a bad tusk ache out there!”
Yveness just gestured to the carnage in the field. “These people taught me. And now they are paying for it.” She could not hide the anger from her voice, did not try to. Let them see how cruel this world can be, how heartless humans can be.
“Go home now. I must continue on to Kaller City.” she walked over to the smouldering caravan, and pulled out the spear with Jeryl’s head still attached. “Take this to our new chief.” she spat, as she handed the spear to Knut. “Perhaps once he sees what these Magisters do to friends of ours, he will act.” Yveness finished rage sharpening every word she spoke.
“I must inform the king that his new Arms-Master will not be arriving.”
With that she collected her knives from the dead, grabbed her fathers bow, turned away from her brothers and carried on south, unsure if she would make it or not. She was exhausted from the fight and bleeding heavily from a number of minor cuts as well as her wounded arm and side, yet going to Kaller City made the most sense, it was closer than Helsia Deep. Her best chance at survival was to reach the gates of their former enemy and hope they did not kill her on the spot.
Saan Tassitus waited until the Helsian girl had crested the horizon before he left his hiding spot in the forest that ran parallel to the road. He had witnessed that beast of a woman shatter his brother’s skull with a fierce head butt, all the while waiting for his moment to strike.
He could easily go after the girl and finish her, she was badly wounded and it would please his father to have her eliminated, as was the original plan. But Saan had a better idea. He turned his gaze in the direction that the woman had gone, towards Kaller City, before cutting across to the forest on the other side of the road and began to follow the twins, whistling a merry tune.
I had no idea how to bring this battle about, and had been sitting on this chapter for months. Without you, I probably would’ve still been stuck. Thank you Carewren, for everything. You’ve been a real superstar, and an awesome friend to us all!