Monday, July 11, 2005

Antaria: Prayers

Usha flew across the sands, watching as the ground beneath her melted into the scrubby underbrush that marked the start of the borderlands. Crystals of dust, quartz and bone whispered in waves alongside her body; Her spell was as graceful as it was effective.

Some distance from her, a small column of Tajikar warriors was engaged in that pinnacle of human existence, that bloody spectacle of might: Battle, and lots of it.

The border skirmishes had been going on for generations. Vast tracts of fertile ground dotted the area where Allandria and the Tajik Wastes met, and they were the primary source of what meager foods the Tajikar could coax from the barren earth. The Allandrians, for all their extensive forests, had little in the way of actual farmland to till, and were more than willing to spill blood over the same ground.

Usha spotted her fellow tribesmen easily. A small number of them stood apart from the main battle, kneeling over the wounded and the dead, and tearing the air with their cries to the Ancestors. She curved gracefully across the earth, landing near a large boulder and sprinting towards them to lend a hand.

"What news?" she asked the nearest one, an older woman in harsh tanned cloth.

"Scouts," Arach'ta answered, sweat beading on her forehead as she concentrated on her casting. "A small group. They gaze on us as vultures yet fight as devils."

"Surely Da'ar Moa'ggor would not occupy himself with a small band of scouts."

"Da'ar Moa'ggor is not here, little Usha," one of the other shamans interjected. "The Searing Claw tribe fights this battle, and they leave no enemies alive."

"The Searing Claw are fools, Maj'hrek," Arach'ta hissed, "To corner a man is to give him death's cold eyes."

As if to prove her point, a young man in the light armor of an Allandrian suddenly broke through the line of warriors nearest them. His face was bloodied in the red of both Allandrian and Tajikar, and he howled as he charged at the gathering of shamans.

Maj'hrek cursed, breaking the spell he was casting. He took one fearful step back, and stumbled upon a small mound of corpses. Before he could recover, the Allandrian was upon him.

The Allandrian scout aimed for the older shaman's chest, his blood-streaked blade whistling through the air. Usha, faster than the others, whispered a single prayer to the Ancestors, and the Allandrian's sword suddenly shattered against Maj'hrek's skin.

The Allandrian staggered back, shocked at what had just happened -- and that was all that Arach'ta needed. She lunged, bone dagger in hand.

"Arach'ta!" Usha cried, but by then it had already been done. The young Allandrian raised one wounded arm to attempt to ward off the blow, but Arach'ta easily tore the man's chest open with a single slash, and watched him die in agony.

"Maj'hrek," Arach'ta calmly said, as though her comrade were but an afterthought.

"I... am still whole," Maj'hrek said, getting to his feet. "Thank you, Usha."

Usha said nothing, listening as the sounds of nearby battle faded. The Searing Claw were true to their word about leaving no survivors. Here and there, however, more than a few of the shamans' fellow warriors lay in the dirt, their glazed eyes telling tales of their stunted lives.

"You would pity them, Usha?" Arach'ta asked. "They died well. They were worthy of the Ancestors' calling."

Usha nodded, although Arach'ta's words did not come clearly to heart. She tried to avoid looking at the dead Allandrian scout as she did so.

"Da'ar Moa'ggor marches this way," she finally said. "He brings reinforcements -- the runners, the siege-riders, and the children of the Savage Tooth."

"We know that Da'ar Sagarak shall be here in two days," Maj'hrek said, rubbing his chest, "and with his arrival, the four tribes shall be together once again."

Usha knew what that meant. The inward borderlands were dotted with makeshift fortresses constructed by the Allandrians. While a single Tajikar tribe was a force to behold, a gathering of the four tribes could sunder mountains... and just as easily storm one fortress after another.

The image of the dead Allandrian remained in Usha's mind, however. Would any of their crops yet grow on bloodied...

"You would rejoin them soon?" Arach'ta asked, almost startling her.

"Yes," Usha said, composing herself quickly. "Da'ar Moa'ggor only seeks words from the front."

"Tell Da'ar Moa'ggor that we have set a place for him," Arach'ta decided. "A place among the blood of his enemies."

Usha nodded. "Praise to the Ancestors, then."

"Praise to the Ancestors, Usha."

Usha walked away from them, away from the tribesmen picking through the dead and wounded, and broke into a run. She felt the arcane energies surge around her as she leapt into the air, and soon she was flying across the sands once again, leaving the blood, the corpses, and the loathsome specters of bone behind her.

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