The Blade and the Bearer

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Review Chain


Tyrkala encounters an old friend before she flees her home.

Chapter 8 (v.1) - Flight of the Dancer (cont.)

Submitted: June 10, 2019

Reads: 45

Comments: 3

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Submitted: June 10, 2019

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The streets slept soundly as the fires of dusk extinguished their warm glow. What was once a turbulent current of frantic souls, the streets of Jyrlat were now little more than an echo of numberless footprints. Despite the reduced visibility, Tyrkala could see the outlines of the structures around her with perfect clarity. Even without the Cerberus’ enhancements, there was little that could escape her senses in the dark, but now, it was as if she were the essence of shadow itself. Her own footsteps were so faint that she almost pitied Pyrfal’s killer; the murderous coward would scarcely have the chance to blink when she finally tracked him to his den.

Hide wherever you can, she seethed. For every moment you evade me, your suffering will multiply ten-fold.

As she turned past Kurn Square, she cast a furtive glance up to the great tree. Her sharp eyes picked out the hollow limb that contained Pyrfal’s chambers. A part of her clung to a hope that she might see a burst of light from within it, a friendly sign that Pyrfal was settling in for the night. Then, she would know that it had all been a horrible dream. But it was not so.

Pulling her head down to the streets before her, Tyrkala looked ahead to the Eastern Entryway. Sconces of dancing flame littered the polished walls around the opening. Posed in rigid formation just beyond the gate were two familiar figures. Breaking into a weak jog, Tyrkala approached the entryway as the two men turned to face her with their spears primed. Byrkan’s face had been sculpted into a masque of steadfast focus, but his expression dissolved into that of subdued solace as he recognized her. The other guard, an indifferent warrior named Jyrlok, gave a casual grin as he absorbed the glory of the Cerberus; even at night, the armor shimmered like tears of onyx in the torchlight.

“Tyrkala!” Byrkan cried out in a hushed voice. Without hesitation, Tyrkala threw herself into his outstretched arms and gripped him with all the strength she could muster. He barely suppressed a gasp of pain.

“Wha…? It feels like a bear has ensnared me! Tyrkala, when did you gain such strength?

With a sheepish grin, Tyrkala released her hold and then stepped back. She studied Byrkan’s stupefied expression as he noticed the armor that adorned her body. Without having to utter a word, she could see that his question had been answered. His curiosity finally satiated, Byrkan looked back into her eyes. His smile vanished as a deep sorrow replaced the pithy joy that he had clearly mustered for her sake alone.

“Word spreads quickly, Tyrkala. The Bearer will never be forgotten, and the miserable insect that slew him will never know another moment of peace.”

“I know, Byrkan,” she replied. Her chest constricted as she was forced to relive the vivid moment of finding Pyrfal dead once again. Lacking any convincing distractions, she hoped that Byrkan would change the subject, but to her surprise, Jyrlok spoke.

“Are you excited to put on the mask?”

Tyrkala felt the knot in her chest constrict even further.

“You already know?”

“Word spreads quickly,” Jyrlok echoed as a wry smirk touched his lips.

“I can think of no one else more deserving,” Byrkan said loudly as he glared at Jyrlok. Jyrlok dropped his gaze in deference and then turned back towards the vastness beyond the gate. Tyrkala forced herself to look back at Byrkan, but all she could see now was a barrier. She could feel her heart knocking against the plate of her armor.

If he were to discover what I aim to do, would he try to stop me?

Her thoughts surged like a thundering river. She knew that Jyrlok would waste no time intercepting her escape. He was known as a brute; to ponder subjects beyond the scope of his duties were inconceivable to him. But as for Byrkan…

She had long considered Byrkan her closest friend. Aside from Nyrlak, he was the one soul whom she could confide in always. Nothing was considered too weak, too far removed from concern, and for that reason alone, she loved him.

“Are you well, Tyrkala?”

His voice pierced the viscid cloud that enveloped her and invigorated her senses. The dormant vibrations of time slowed to a standstill as Tyrkala faced the first test that fate had deigned to consign her.

“Byrkan, may we speak privately for a moment?”

Byrkan blinked with confusion, but then nodded as he cast a brisk glance at Jyrlok and motioned for him to depart. Jyrlok sighed, and then slipped his spear into the crook of his arm. He studied Tyrkala one, final time.

“Hunting before your big day, Tyrkala?” he muttered, before he vanished around the perimeter of gate. Tyrkala turned back to Byrkan, who was staring with trepidation at the yew bow and buck-hide quiver that was strapped across her back.

“Jyrlok may be as thick as a dead oak,” he said. “but he has an eye for details. Why are you dressed for the hunt, Tyrkala? You will be Bearer in less than half a day.”

Tyrkala could feel the storm of blood within her veins. She clenched her fists and willed her body to submit to serenity.

  “Byrkan, you have been a friend to me since before we received the Mark. Then, after we became bound by blood, you turned into something even more. I consider you a brother, and I know that you hold me in a similar light. Please, allow me to finish before you speak. Pyrfal was murdered, but I believe that there is more to his death than what is immediately apparent. Something is about to happen, Byrkan. Pyrfal confessed this to me just hours before he was killed. Jyrlat is in grave danger, and for reasons even I can’t fully comprehend, I know that if I were to become the Bearer now, our people would suffer greatly. The bodies in the Vein, Pyrfal’s murder, the convenience of the Gwui dagger…there is some darker force at play here. It is because of this that I must leave Jyrlat. To submit to the mask now would mean my death. A mind must be free of doubt and conflict, it must be willing to submit, lest the body will wither and die before the mask is fully integrated. It is too late to go back now. I am the best hunter, the best tracker. The Ruling Caste will find another to don the mask, but who will discover the true threat to our people?”

As she finished speaking, Tyrkala could hear the unmistakable wavering of a staggered heart. She had expected no less from her confession, but when Byrkan took a clumsy step backwards, she detected the rigorous pounding of a new heartbeat in their vicinity. Snapping her head around, Tyrkala found Jyrlok’s burning gaze fixed onto her.

  “She plans to abandon her oath, her people, all that she has sworn to protect,” he croaked. “She will be executed for this, Byrkan, and we will be too, if we don’t seize her now.”

The world collapsed into ashes before her as if consumed by hellfire. She rounded on Byrkan, but instead of finding his expression of shock, she now found only austerity.

  “Your motivations are honorable,” he began as he straightened his body into a stance of preparedness. “But we are Marked. We are defined by duty. On the day of our Marking, we willingly abandoned personal motivations for the sake of our people. We pledged to serve the Grinning Wolf. We are nothing without the blessings of the mask, the powers that it grants us. The wilds would consume us if not for the strength of the Marked!”

Tyrkala could feel her body growing rigid, but by the grace of her armor, her instincts remained clear. She knew that her options had now been reduced to a single choice, but she did not yet know if she could act upon it. The crunch of a heavy footstep rose up behind her. Instantly, an image of Jyrlok’s distance and posture formed in her mind with perfect clarity. Byrkan’s face softened, betraying a deep regret that he had successfully disguised until that moment.

  “If you return home now, Tyrkala, I swear to you, this conversation will be forgotten. You are dear to me, and if not for our bond as Marked, I would have sought you as my mate, a companion with whom I could have indulged in all of life’s offerings. I told you before that I would miss your face once it was behind the mask. But at least you would still be here. Do not damn yourself to oblivion, Tyrkala.”

In the fraction of an instant, Tyrkala saw a spectacle of the inevitable play out to its violent end. From Jyrlok’s posture to Byrkan’s massive frame, the myriad potentialities of the melee were charted out in methodical detail. She could feel her body growing unnaturally thick with adrenaline. It was as if the Cerberus itself was anticipating combat and was now countering her physical disadvantages with hormonal stimulants. She bared her teeth and relaxed her limbs as she sank into a low, defensive stance.

“You now stand between a wolf and her prey,” she hissed.

Byrkan’s stony expression cracked for only an instant, but it was all that was needed. His confidence was faltering. Neither he nor Jyrlok knew the true potential of the Cerberus armor, but Tyrkala was certain that they had heard the legends just as she had.

One act, she thought. One devastating display of skill, and they will relent. They will not throw away their lives to apprehend me.  

  “My heart is broken for you, Tyrkala,” Byrkan muttered as he rolled his shoulders and lifted his hands into an aquiline combat position. From behind her, Jyrlok’s feet scraped the craggy soil as he slid out into the open, blocking any possibility of escape back into Jyrlat.

  “My journey is long, brothers,” she said calmly. “Let us be done with this.”

With a feral grunt, Byrkan moved first, just as Tyrkala had anticipated. He spread his hands wide, abandoning his former stance as he lunged forward in an attempt to grapple her. It was apparent that he did not desire a skirmish on equal terms, and instead sought to wrestle her into submission so that Jyrlok could render assistance, thus quelling the struggle before it escalated.

  He is wise for one so large, Tyrkala acknowledged with a toothy grin.

Her body cascading like water, Tyrkala slipped beneath Byrkan’s engorged hands and focused upon his left knee. She flattened her palm and then drove it against the tender joint with calculated strength; there would be no permanent damage, but he would not remain standing for long. Before Byrkan could elicit a cry, the shuffle of Jyrlok’s pattering feet met her ears. Time slowed yet again as fresh adrenaline surged through her veins to the tips of her fingers. She pushed between Byrkan’s legs with a brutal dash, forcing him to yelp with agony as his fingers brushed against her scalp in a weak attempt to ensnare her. Jyrlok slowed his momentum and then angled his spear, ready to pierce any part of her body that dared to expose itself from behind Byrkan’s massive frame. Tyrkala rose to her feet and rammed into Byrkan’s back with full force.

The impact was devastating. Like a child, Byrkan flew forward, his startled cry filling the night air with an earthy vibrato. Jyrlok lunged aside, missing Byrkan’s flailing arms by the width of a knife. His eyes wide with shock, Jyrlok turned and regarded Tyrkala with renewed awe.

“Go and tell the Caste of what I have done,” she commanded. “There is no need for further violence.”

A moan, dripping with shame, gurgled up from the filth that encompassed Byrkan. With a shaky movement, he clambered to his knees and then attempted to stand. A muffled pop brought the mighty warrior low once more, and so instead, he turned himself towards Tyrkala with orbs of manifest rage fixed within his skull.

  “That was a dirty maneuver, Tyrkala. If not for that armor, armor that has been a relic and symbol of Jyrlati strength, your efforts would have not been so successful.”

“The mightiest tree is felled at its base, Byrkan. Even with the armor, your size would have eventually overwhelmed me. There is no such thing as dirty fighting. There is winning, and there is losing.”

She heard the rush of blood before his voice.

  “Die, traitor!” Jyrlok roared.  

With impressive speed, Jyrlok snapped his spear above his shoulder and took aim. The echo of Byrkan’s shout of protest faded into fevered memory as the whole of existence ceased to exist beyond the single point in time that lay before her. Jyrlok’s crazed expression blurred from view as the shaft of the spear departed from his hand. With perfect focus, the spear sprinted towards her, its razor-tipped maw yearning for her blood. As it was with the knife in the armory, Tyrkala felt the involuntary desires of the armor direct her instincts, and in a single motion, she spun away and withdrew Incisor from its sheath. Before Jyrlok could blink, the obsidian blade that had feasted on the flesh of a hundred wolves took flight from Tyrkala’s hand and became tethered to the swift wings of death. But the weapon never found its mark.

With a last, great heave, Byrkan threw himself up into the path of the knife, and with an indiscriminate bite, Incisor tore into his neck beneath the jawline. Her arm locked in place, Tyrkala could find no strength to move or breathe. All at once, the colors of the world drained into nothingness, and as Byrkan vainly clawed at the blade that jutted from his throat, a gray-white liquid began to coat his chest and arms. With a final jerk of his head, his eyes rolled up into sheets of empty glass and he collapsed at Jyrlok’s feet.

“Letter of Blood,” Jyrlok breathed in disbelief. “You have cursed yourself…you have forsaken…everything.”

Tyrkala could hear his words but could not comprehend them. The slightest disturbance, the simplest syllable, crashed like a terrible river. A quick movement towards her contrasted with Byrkan’s stillness, and again, her instincts compelled her to respond. As if awakening from a deep sleep, she discovered Jyrlok on his knees beside her, his throat clenched firmly in her pulsing hand.

“Flee as far as you can once you kill me, nameless one,” he croaked through what little windpipe she allowed him. “Your memory will soon be struck from all who ever cared to know you.”

Tyrkala clenched her teeth as she pulled Jyrlok nearly to his feet.

“You will remember me for the rest of your life, pup.”

With a brutal strike, Tyrkala seized the man’s consciousness and placed him on the ground. Her attention then turned to Byrkan, and as she moved to his side, she could see that although he was not yet rigid in death, the moment was swiftly nearing. She whispered his name, but his eyes did not open. She placed a finger to his cheek, but his face did not twitch. Her eyes wet with nascent tears, she at last bent forward and pressed her lips to his, but he did not kiss. The gentle pulse of his heart cried out a final time, and then, all fell into silence. Sitting up once more, Tyrkala ran her hand across Byrkan’s face, brushing the dirt and sand from his skin. She bit her lip in agony, and then removed the knife from his neck in a single stroke.

Without looking back at him again, Tyrkala turned and plunged into the impassive night. A million shadows clung to her as she swam into the void, feeding off the maelstrom that festered within her soul. She pierced the wall of distant trees as her feral eyes peeled back the verdant layers until they bled tears of indescribable suffering. She had barely survived a hundred paces before she collapsed to her knees in anguish. Her thoughts coalesced into a single involuntary action, and with a power that scattered the sleeping forest into an arena of chaos, she screamed at the sky for what felt surely the duration of eternity.



© Copyright 2019 A. G. Smith. All rights reserved.

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