Monday, February 28, 2011

The Scorpion Queen


“You look weary, my Queen.”
“Yes. That I am.” Scorpathia shrugged her war gear up her arms, wincing when heavy metal scraped across already bruised flesh. The wound from the battle two nights before was slow to heal, something unusual for her.
Horatio, her first in command and advisor, grasped her shoulders as only a familiar could do. “Why must you do this tonight? No one is expecting you to do this.”
She slowly rolled her eyes at Horatio’s comment. “Then all the more reason to do it, wouldn’t you say?” She asked, her expression condescending. She’d never cared for people telling her what to do, but he was her father’s advisor and the father before him so she had no choice.
“You can not fight every battle.”
Her voice raised an octave but held very little punch. “If my people shall battle then so shall I.” Yes, her body screamed for rest, food, drink and lustful urgings but until she secured peace upon her land, she’d not find any.
The weariness was so strong it shrouded her body and mind. She wanted to lay down her sword and let the enemy behead her, perhaps the only way to find peace, rest. But what would become of her people, her land? She was their only hope. All the others before her had perished. To back down meant the Enemy would win.
Walking toward the open balcony, she stepped to the ledge. People, her people, scurried below, readying. Heaviness like nothing before weighed her chest, pushing air from her lungs, constricting her throat. Death was upon them and it was hers. The reality of the battle was forged into her bones. If her death meant peace, so be it. This she knew and understood. She would not grieve over it. Let it be done.
“We leave at half past high moon.” She stormed out of her chamber in search of nourishment and rest, of which, she suspected she’d find neither.
Three hours passed before Scorpathia followed members of her court to the outside of the castle. The moons brightened the night, illuminating the forest. Beyond the safety of their shields lay danger. Danger many never faced. The ones who did, never lived to speak of it. Scorpathia inhaled a deep breath, filling her lungs with the scent of the forest and dirt and air. The freshness of the earlier rain filled her mind and released the tension twisting her gut.
“We will make this swift.” Atop her great stallion, she pressed her way through the line of warriors crowding the road leading from the castle. “And deadly.” She turned and stared at the walls of the castle, lifted her hand and waved it above her head.
“Hoo-rah!” Their battle cry rang above her head and the treetops as their swords pierced the air above them.
The trees thickened and cloaked the castle. Her magic was as deadly as the witches haunting the forest, as powerful as the best sorcerer, and as strong. No one could enter without her permission. The castle evaporated into the darkness, disappearing from their sight. Nodding acceptance of the masquerade she dug heels into the hind legs of her horse and galloped into the forest, swallowed by the night.
With stealth, they moved through the brush, overturning any obstacle in their way. She didn’t as much as see her enemy as smell them. Their forces were massive compared to hers, a pithy group of weary warriors. But she didn’t care. She’d fought with less, and if she survived this night, she’d fight again. She stilled, tilted her head and captured their presence. The stench fluttered through the air like putrid waste and wafted to her brain. Lupii?
Arrows whistled pass her ear, barely missing her head by an inch. Unscathed, she pulled her weapon, circled it above her head and charged. Her nemesis didn’t know what hit it. One swift swing and the head of her attacker rolled to the ground then disintegrated. The remains floated through the air and coated her arms.
Battle broke out on all sides. There were hundreds of them. An enemy she’d never seen before. Their skin resembled rawhide, with appendages that should have been arms and legs but weren’t. Not in her people’s sense of the word. They had no faces, making it easier to kill them. No face, no sentiment. They rode atop massive beasts she recognized from the Protector’s mumblings behind her. Lupii men and Lycaon beast reminded her of wolfine.
Something screamed but she didn’t recognize the language. Why would these creatures dare to threaten her and what was hers? Did they not know what she was? Who she was? This was the land of Scorpii, atop the Scorpathian Mountains. Renewed strength tightened her fist around her sword when the battle cry of her people rose above the moans of the faceless.
Her body was bathed in blood, glistening in the moonlight like paint on her skin-pearleen white paint, iridescent in the glow of the moon. Scorpathia, moving quickly through the trees on bare feet took down three more. Her body covered now with the dust of their flesh as it fragmented into thin air.
“Take that you Osarian hog,” her first in command bellowed as she withdrew his sword from an enemy’s chest.
Swinging again but missing, she dived for cover when the rowdy beast the nemesis was riding leaped into the air in an attempt to trample her. Hitting the dirt with a thud, she rolled and came to her feet in one quick jerk. She didn’t dare take her gaze off the beast, but she’d lost hold of her weapon. She could conjure enough power to get rid of him, but that would take concentration. Concentration she didn’t have. Any diversion would mean sudden death on her part, and the energy drain she’d have to endure would jeopardize the shields she placed around her land. There was too much at stake.
She turned, moved toward the protection of the trees, her eyes scanning the ground for her sword.
“Behind you!”
Scorpathia grunted, pivoted and the glint of the moons vibrated off the jeweled handle. She ran, leaped over a fallen tree, rolled and grabbed her sword in one snatch. Coming to her feet, she planted the sword into the beast’s underbelly as it reared. Its cry permeating the air rattled her bones, almost stopping her charge. Lifting her sword above her head once again, she paused.
“Kill it! Don’t hesitate or it will be too late.”
Circling the sword, she beheaded another and another and another, yet they continued to come as if rising from the ground. Her body was laden with fatigue. The blood saturating her skin was not hers. Scorpathia wiped a hand across her face, removing sweat and grit and other things from her eyes. She didn’t see the Lupii’s beast until it was too late. His sword blocked the moon’s rays as he brought it down to her head. There was only one thing to do… run.
But Scorpathia didn’t run well. She considered it a sign of weakness but she never had. She straightened and waited for death, knowing it would be swift and painless. This was promised to her. She would not close her eyes either.
Her father’s words whispered in her ears. “Face death like you face each day. Head on. Praise the gods of Nodeirf and beg for swiftness.” This is what her father and her father’s fathers had done. She would do the same.
“Hoo-rah!” Tightening her fist around the hilt of her sword and standing in a fighting stance, she waited. “Hoo-rah!”
The four-legged beast reared meters above her head. One stomp and it would be over. A shrill screech tore from its throat before it fell backward and into the dirt. The rider, another faceless man pulled back on the animal. Now she could see his face. His eyes, his mouth, all contorted in the light, changing as an arrow pierced the place between his eyes. Pain wrenched every pore as his head exploded into a million pieces.
Scorpathia, startled for a second, then spun in a tight circle in search of the warrior who saved her life. She’d award him later, but no one was near. She primed her vision and ears to see anything, hear anything. Only silence greeted her.
“There. Beyond the trees.”
Scorpathia’s gaze tracked the direction the Protector indicated. In the thickest of the trees, atop the most massive stallion she’d ever seen, was him. Yet, when she blinked to refocus, he was gone. Had he been an aberration, there one minute, gone the next, a mist in the night?
Who are you?
No answer. She didn’t expect one.
The night’s battle raged on.
Scorpathia’s sword grew heavy. Her muscles tensed and spasmed when she raised it to fight, yet she pressed on. The sound of hooves, a multitude of hooves, ascended upon her. Spinning around, she faced off yet again.
Will it ever stop?
“Beware of what you ask, Lillian,” the protector said.
Scorpathia grimaced at the name she hated. She had no given name but for the Scorpion Queen. Many called her Scorpathia. Others called her Lillian after her mother, but she was no Lillian. Her mother was frail and weak, loved by all and feared by few. Such a demeaning existence. Now, Scorpathia was feared by all and loved by few. The way it was meant to be.
“Your reinforcement is approaching. Wait for it.”
Screams permeated the night just as two more headless bodies fell at her feet. A black stallion leaped over her head without a rider. Heat pressed at her back accompanied by the feel of hot metal in her shoulder. Going down to one knee, she’d ignore the pain ripping through her.
“Stay down!” He bellowed, grabbing her and pressing her behind him, her back to his front.
“The hell I will.” She fought his grip, pivoted and stood back to back with the stranger.
She hadn’t had time to assess him the way she needed, but two things were certain, he wasn’t one of her warriors and he had a face.
“Who are you?” She gritted between swings of her sword.
“The man who just saved your life.”
“I don’t need a savior.”
“Then my eyes have failed me.” They pivoted and changed positions. “From my vantage point, you were in need of assistance.”
“I would have handled it in my own way.”
“Your way would have gotten you killed.” He swung and struck down another beast.
“I’ve died a hundred times.” She went onto one knee and struck the underbelly of another animal. “It doesn’t seem to last.”
Unshaken, he continued to strike, to kill. “Why are the Lupii here?
Scorpathia didn’t answer, only swung her sword and beheaded another. Death’s dust thickened on her body, scorched her lungs and contaminated her mind.
“What do you possess that would warrant this attack?” He grunted as he pivoted, changing position with her in one swift move.
She was emotionless, yet her energy vibrated and faltered all the same. As tired as she was, a renewed strength prickled her skin, charged her nerve endings. Could it be from this stranger, a familiar she’d seen in her dreams? Was he someone whose name she’d called upon in her dreams? They’d never found her before. But, he did. What did he posses that demanded this journey? What power?
Seconds stretched into minutes and minutes into hours before they stood alone in the thickened brush of the forest. Her warriors scurried about, searching for survivors and the dead.
Gasping heavily, Scorpathia lowered next to a tree and glared into the face of the man she’d just fought with side by side. She tried and failed to ignore the exasperated huff from the Protector when she pressed her back against the cool wood of a Roanokian tree.
Silence, you evil Cyberian slug. I need only a minute, Scorpathia mind-linked with the Protector one last time. Her strength weakened with each breath and telepathy took too much from her.
She dragged the back of her hand across her eyes, removing sweat, dirt and blood then stared into the stranger’s face, capturing his gaze. Recognition simmered below the surface. She blinked and stared harder. She sent another swipe across her eyes, removing fatigue. He assessed his surroundings.
It is he.
She nodded slowly.
“What do you possess that would necessitate this attack?” he asked as he faced her. His eyes were dark, curious.
He towered over her, his broad shoulders glistening with sweat, his eyes as black as onx, the finest of set opaletts, watching her every move. His legs stood toned and muscled as she remembered from her dreams. Scorpathia closed her eyes, sucked in a ragged breath and let it out slowly in an attempt to reduce the heartbeat, pounding in her chest. She wasn’t sure if it raced from battle or him.
She opened her eyes and settled her gaze on his face. “Everything we are warrants an attack.”

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