The Night Whisperer and the Silver Trixter
Prologue: Sacrifice of Fate
The haunting screams of a painful childbirth waned as the cries of a new life reverberated through the cool night air. The woman lay alone, cradling the newborn infant to her chest while gently stroking his face.
“I love you, Valen,” she whispered tenderly to her son.
Sweat dripped from her forehead, her raven hair was matted and tangled. Her pale skin was the lightest thing in the room. The bed was a black stone structure with charcoal colored blankets and sheets. The walls around her were as dark as night and the few furnishings in the room were morbidly designed to match.
The woman glanced at the door as it creaked open a crack. “Come in, Goldwing.”
“Are you alright mother?” Goldwing asked, her brow knit with concern. The seventeen year old girl looked much like her mother. She was tall and sturdy built, a strong woman. Her hair was black as night and her ice blue eyes seemed cold enough to freeze a waterfall in mid summer. Her fair skin was an even tone, just a shade darker than her mother’s.
“I’ll be fine,” her mother answered softly with a weak smile.
Meanwhile, the child’s father was occupied elsewhere in the fortress. Zaire poured himself over his latest obsession. His daughter, Goldwing, had discovered a book on her latest archaeological dig. “The Book of the Trixter.” The book was awarded to a young apprentice when their master saw them fit to become a full fledged trixter. It was the mark of their profession and contained the advanced studies that they would pursue on their own. Zaire, however, was not a trixter. The ancient and secret language in the book was undecipherable to him, and it drove him mad. He knew that within the texts of the book lay potent and powerful secrets.
“AH!” he screamed, ripping at his hair. “I-” he was cut short as an ominous presence entered the room. He could feel the dark figure residing behind him. “My lord!” Zaire turned, falling on his face before the shadowy figure as it clawed its way up through the solid stone floor. “I am honored. To what do I owe this visit?”
“You waist your time on this book!” the black figure hissed in a sinister voice. A low, deadly tone, sounded throughout the room.
“I… I’m sorry, Azrael.” Zaire glanced back to the book.
“You devote much to me,” Azrael consoled. “I have seen your dedication and the darkness you have poured into your new son.” The evil entity waved a hand and another book appeared on the table beside The Book of the Trixter.
“The Dusk Holder’s Prophecies!” Zaire exclaimed. He looked back at Azrael with wanting eyes.
“Your son,” Azrael started. “He has been chosen as the next wraith.”
Joy flooded through Zaire as he gave a grunt of excitement and snatched the book off the table. He paused, “But this generation’s specter is still alive.”
Azrael looked him over for a moment. “And?”
“The laws forbid a wraith to appear before his time. What if Mickiel finds out what we have done?” Zaire responded cautiously.
Azrael snarled. “Do not bother me with that petty varsa!” Pointed black claws emerged from the shadowy figure as it moved closer. A skeleton-like face peered out from a hood of blackness. “In five short years Varsia’s sixth specter will be dead. I have been assured of it.” Azrael opened his clawed hand to reveal a small storm cloud in his palm. Green lightning shot back and forth inside the tiny puff of vapor. “This is darkness,” the shadowy figure told him. “It will keep you hidden for those five years.”
Zaire gingerly snatched the storm cloud from Azrael’s hand. As he did so, the lightning struck his palm and fingers. Pain coursed through his body. “Ah, I…” Zaire collapsed to the floor in pain as he convulsed at the electric shocks. “I feel...power…”
Azrael laughed sinisterly as he floated back into the corner of the room. “Read the book,” Azrael said. “Vidious will be no ordinary wraith. He is prophesied to unite the mortal and immortal followers of darkness. When this happens, with my leadership, we will finally have the power to overthrow the varsa and Talviaol himself!”
“I will train him well,” Zaire swore, lifting himself back to his feet. “I will not fail you!”
Azrael nodded, his bone-like face disappearing behind his black shadowy hood. “Good. Now go... the child awaits.”
Zaire looked to the door that was just to his right. “The child is born?” he looked back, but Azrael was gone. He hurried out the door and into the room where his wife lay. Goldwing sat up with a start when her father entered the room. She looked at her mother, fear entering her eyes.
“Leave me,” The woman told Zaire.
“Do not order me, Alora!” Zaire demanded. With a swish of his wrist he sent a black mist across the room that seemed to suck the strength from the woman. Zaire snatched the child from Alora’s arms, then turned to Goldwing. “Leave us.” His stern look and dangerous tone left no room for debate. Goldwing rose from the side of the bed where she sat and walked out of the room, hiding just outside the door to listen.
“You can’t have the boy, Zaire. I’m sending him to my brother.” Alora said.
Zaire looked at the woman and sneered. “You know full well that you are not to speak of that man!” He glanced back at the door. “Neither Goldwing nor this boy are ever to know you have a brother.” If Zaire had ever cared for his wife in any way, it was a love of lust and no more. She was a woman with a ravishing, yet rustic beauty. “This child is special.” Zaire continued. “He will be the next saviour of our generation, Alora.”
Alora’s eyes widened and Goldwing held back a gasp from outside the door, hands clasped over her mouth. Alora jumped out of the bed, her weak body barely able to make it to Zaire. “No! I will not let you take my son!”
“Silence!” Zaire yelled, slapping her across the face. “You will-”
Again, Zaire was interrupted as a dark figure materialized in the room. “You have no choice,” Azrael told the woman in an ominous voice. He moved closer, reaching out a clawed hand towards the babe to infuse his dark powers into the child’s mind.
“No!” Alora and Goldwing screamed in unison. Goldwing rushed in the door just in time to see Alora throwing herself between Azrael and her son at the last moment.
Azrael screeched with an ear-splitting, gravelly cry that was heard throughout the fortress. “No! Get out of the way!” It was too late. Azrael’s “gift” was spent. Alora had absorbed the darkness. She fell limp to the floor, lifeless.
“Mother!” Goldwing cried out, burying her face in her mother’s chest amidst her uncontrollable sobs. “Please, don’t leave me, mother!”
Azrael moved closer to Zaire, who paid no heed to his dead wife. “The woman has sacrificed herself for the child,” Azrael said, a loathing malice slithering off his tongue like a serpent. Goldwing looked up to see a black vapor float out of the dark varsa’s mouth that dissipated slowly into the air. Azrael continued, “The boy’s spirit will now have a propensity towards the light. You must train him harshly and destroy that inclination.”
“Yes, my lord,” Zaire complied.
The beastly image once again retreated to the darkest area in the room and dissipated into the cracks of the wall.
Excerpt #2 (Seven years after the prologue)
Nearly one hundred and fifty golden horses poured out of the fortress gate in well filed ranks, Goldwing at their head. Even in the darkness of the great fortress, the stream of horses seemed to shimmer like sparkling treasure.
During the day the fortress was dark and dreary. At night the darkness let the brilliant gleam of the stars and moon shine down. Underneath such a glimmer the group set out for the east pass through the Narasinion Mountains, a full moon overhead. The Narasinion Mountains were home to goblins, but the eastern pass would take the group a good distance away from the spindly creature’s main dwellings. Besides that, the goblins had come to fear those who dwelt in the Dark Fortress.
The first sight beyond the rocky hills and grassy slopes was the Alivaz tributary. The sun was just rising over the western horizon as they approached. Goldwing motioned for the men to circle up. “We camp here for the day!” she hollered out.
Goldwing preferred to do most of her traveling during the night. It was cooler and she could enjoy the stars and moon. It took some getting used to but her men adjusted.
Before long the river bank was dotted with small fires, simple one man tents, and a herd of grazing horses. The tents were thick, to block out the sun. Goldwing and her men slept well towards evening before activity started up in the camp. Just as the sun slipped below the eastern horizon the fires were rekindled and the men began preparations for the evening meal.
Goldwing sat inside her tent on a large pillow. Unlike the men who had just enough room to sleep in their tents, she carried a tent that was large enough to sit up in and have a few items. She flipped through the pages of Zaires book again, stopping at the missing pages. “What was it he was hiding?” she wondered.
Goldwing reached inside her satchel and pulled out a small scroll, unrolled it, and scanned over the writings. It was a poem titled, The River Shadray. Her mother had long cherished this poem before her death. She called it a family heirloom. Goldwing was sure it had not come from Zaire’s side of the family. It was written by some unknown poet known only as The Guardian.
Goldwing read the words softly to herself. “In the land of Sanhadree there is a river in the trees, Where the king's daughter died, Where the weeping willow cried. The king heard-” Goldwing flinched as a voice called from outside her tent. She cleared her throat and quickly rolled up the scroll.
“Milady,” Nariem called again. “There is need of you.”
Goldwing arose from her blue velvet pillow, ducking low through the tent doorway. She noticed the men were gathered by the river, but kept a good distance from the bank. “What’s going on?”
Nariem raised an eyebrow and sighed. “Naiads, milady.”
“Naiads?” Goldwing asked, furrowing her brow. “What interest of theirs is our company? We have passed by this way a hundred times in expeditions past!”
Nariem shook his head. “I’m not sure… but they have pets with them.”
Goldwing’s men parted as she approached, turning a shoulder and stepping aside one after another. The unified act looked so ordered one might think it had been rehearsed. Once she immerged to the front of the group Goldwing saw three forms standing on the river bank. Humanoid bodies made of water, liquid strands of hair drifting in the air as if they still floated in the river. Each naiad had a faint blue glow inside their chest that pulsated with their heart beat and a shining swirl of mist that circled their presence.
Flanking the three water people were four giant crocodiles, each easily eighteen feet in length. The fierce looking critters were hefty and had their eyes poised on the men, mouths open just a few inches.
“What brings the water spirits out on this fine night?” Goldwing asked, sauntering close to the lead naiad at a casual yet slow pace.
“I am Well-Wisher, leader of the naiads of the Alivaz lake and its waters,” the naiad introduced himself. He leaned closer to Goldwing and as much as a face made of water can, scowled upon her with narrow eyes. “You… It is you who brings great darkness. Not within but without. A storm of ancient mysteries.”
Goldwing stifled the look of concern that threatened to overcast her face. As humans were comprised of flesh and bone, naiads were comprised of water and light. Darkness was a sore subject and a despised commodity.
Goldwing breathed heavily. With a sigh she hung her head. “Please, Well-Wisher, it is not darkness I seek.” She glanced up at the starlit sky. “I find solace in the light of the stars and the gleam of the moon. The cool night air is a haven to me, away from the sweltering heat and dryness of daytime.”
“You wish to be free, yet hold tightly. Just as a vine at the base of a tree, you will be overrun.” Well-Wisher stated.
Goldwing’s eyes narrowed. “I would think a naiad, of all the races, would appreciate such things.” she looked back at Nariem and motioned with her hand.
Nariem nodded. “Back to your tents men! Leave the river bank.”
The men walked back to their fires, tents, and boiling pots of stew. They did not, however, take their eyes off the visitors nor their hands off their weapons.
“We just camped here for the day,” Goldwing continued. “We will be leaving in an hour or so.”
“And where, pray tell, do you desire to go?” Well-Wisher asked. He motioned to the slow flowing waters behind him. “The river is guarded by waters and water. The life of the river will let no darkness within.”
“We only seek to cross and continue on to the Sarengedeeze plains,” Goldwing explained.
A smirk crossed Well-Wisher’s lips, a flowing swirl of water turning his face upward like a whisk of a feather on the surface of a pond. “Defeat me and you may pass.”
Goldwing lifted her chin with a tilt of her head. “May I have your word on that?”
Well-Wisher glanced back and forth between his comrades. After a brief moment of silence he nodded. “You have my word. One on one combat between you and I. To defeat, not to death.”
Goldwing took a deep breath and smiled. “I would have it no other way.”
Well-Wisher motioned to the other naiads who moved off to the side with their pet crocodiles. “So, the battle has begun.” He paced back and forth, staying near to the water’s edge.
Goldwing pulled out her damascus steel blade. “And so it has.”
Well-Wisher smirked at the dagger. “That will-”
“Do me no good,” Goldwing interrupted, tossing the dagger aside. “I know.” She stepped forward, quickening her pace. The naiad drew a blade of water out of the stream and swung at her.
Goldwing raised her hand, a flat palm to the water sword’s edge. Upon impact the entire sword splashed to the ground.
Well-Wisher backed deeper into the water. His eyes grew wider and he glanced around frantically. “You are as a snow capped volcano.”
The typical naiad riddles, proverbs, and fancy speech didn’t phase Goldwing. She read and studied enough to be well acclimated to understanding such things. “Appearances can be deceiving,” she replied.
Goldwing dipped her hands in the river and the surface of the water began to ice over. Slowly she drew two frozen blades, ice against ice, grinding the weapons to a razor sharp edge. Well-Wisher drew his own blade, a watery weapon of shimmering blue.
Goldwing attacked, swinging from the right with one sword and stabbing for Well-Wisher’s shoulder with the other. Since the battle was not to the death, rules dictated they avoid vital organs.
Well-Wisher blocked the first blow and barely rotated out of the way of Goldwing’s swift stab. He spun away from his opponent, creating a whirlpool that threatened to sway Goldwing’s footing.
Goldwing twisted her feet sideways against the flow and ice covered her feet, spiraling up her legs to her knees. The whirlpool was unable to budge her sure footing. She then dipped her blades into the river and jerked them backwards as if cutting into the water in an attempt to thrust herself forwards.
A wave of water arose behind Well-Wisher and hammered him in the back. As the naiad stumbled forwards, aided in his fall by his own whirlpool, Goldwing brought her blades out of the water and lifted them over her head. With a swift downward strike she aimed at Well-Wisher.
The naiad leaped backwards, thrusting himself into a second of Goldwing’s waves. He was back far enough to avoid her blades but when he looked up he saw the starlit sky dotted with several dozen ice spikes flying straight for him.
Well-Wisher, try as he might, had no time to avoid the attack. The wave behind him kept him from retreating. If he moved forwards he would be right in Goldwing’s strike zone. He cringed and hunkered down, covering his face. The icicles stabbed into his watery skin, like darts into a half rotten tree stump.
Goldwing rushed in towards her wounded opponent before he even looked up from his huddled position. She struck hard with both blades from the left. Well-Wisher, showing off his battle prowess, relied on reflex and in a flash had his own blade up to block.
The ice blades sunk into the edge of the water blade and Goldwing pushed harder. Suddenly she dropped straight down and vanished under the shallow water of the river. Well-Wisher looked up just in time to see another round of icicles flying at him from behind where Goldwing used to stand. He turned his shoulder into the brunt of the attack and let out a moan of pain.
On the shore the remaining two naiads were having to forcibly retain their crocodile pets. It was all the loyal creatures could do to keep from intervening. The men on land watched with amazement. Most of them had seen Goldwing fight, but only some of them had seen an actual water duel before.
After being hit with the second volley of icicles, Well-Wisher stumbled back and stooped over in pain. Goldwing came up from the river bed, dry as the dusts from the Island of Averia. Again she swung hard, and again Well-Wisher’s reflexes saved him. Goldwing’s ice blades were blocked by Well-Wisher’s watery sword, but the ice began to cut into the lesser liquid sword and with an extra thrust from their wielder cut clean through the watery weapon.
As Well-Wisher’s weapon liquified and dripped back into the river, Goldwing held a blade tip to the naiad’s throat and the other she kept to her person in a defensive stance. “Over so soon?” she asked him.
Well-Wisher looked at her through slender eyes and pursed his lips. “Very well, water whisperer, you win. You and your men may have safe passage through our waters.”
“Ice is the purest form of water,” Goldwing stated. “Sharper, harder, and easier to control.” Goldwing’s blades melted, dripping into the water like the steady stream of rain funneled off a roof. She bowed slightly, then turned towards Nariem and motioned.
“Pack your things men! We cross the river immediately!” Nariem hollered out over the crowd.