Mana Borne "The Shadow and the Fox"

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic

This story takes place only one week before the first Mana Borne novel and introduces us to two main characters Domina a wayward explorer and "collector" and Ariel a dark assassin . This encounter would be less of chance and would change the fate of everyone in the world.

High above the world in the mountains to the north, the first light of the spring morning shone over the treetops. The cool dew still damp on the leaves slowly dripped off onto the floor below. Laying close to a smouldering campfire a woman slept soundly under the comfort of her blanket. At first glance you’d mistake her for a lady of a court, her auburn-coloured hair plaited into a single long strand that rested on her chest. Her slightly tanned skin with barely a blemish on her didn’t match a person that would sleep rough in the vast wilderness however, her business often led her to distant lands. The clothes she wore were functional and plain. A brown leather corset was fitted to her slim figure and her black riding trousers made it easy for her to move about. 

Domina had been on the road for days making her way to Artheria in the south. She had been to the capital a few times in her life, it’s busy streets and bustling markets were perfect opportunities to make a living, even more for her particular profession. Life for her was tough, living hand to mouth always moving around, but she enjoyed the spontaneous lifestyle and had grown efficient in taking what she needed. The chirping birds above her acted as a lullaby but after a few restful moments of sleeping, the singing faded into nothing leaving only the wind in the trees. The silence made her mind kick into consciousness and her eyes fluttered open. She sat up without a sign of fatigue and scanned her surroundings. The trees stood tall on the slope but Domina felt an uneasy feeling on the wind. In her line of work, gut feelings were often the difference between life and death and to her this was no different. She knew someone was watching her and they were able to avoid even her keen eyes. 

Lent against a boulder next to her was a long sword of magnificent detail. Along the breadth of its blade was engraved with an ornate design of symbols and patterns. It was one of her most prized possessions, a trophy from a heist she did a few years ago whilst in Lord Haradon’s keep. She used the winter’s high eclipse to sneak into the Lord’s personal armoury. He had the best swordsmith in Betoria’s royal armoury fashion it using ancient techniques passed down from the long forgotten Cyrillian civilisation. Their weapons were the envy of the world but now they had become more prized than half the castles in the northern realms. 

The feeling of apprehension grew more as Domina got to her feet. She looked around once more, this time taking more time to scan the trees. In the corner of her eye she caught a glimpse of movement. Darting back, the area was devoid of life. Again, in the corner of her eye to her right, what looked like a person was standing beside a great Pine tree. Domina slowly moved towards her sword, careful not to make any sudden movements whilst she kept the person in her peripherals. Her fingers curled slowly and firmly around the leather-bound hilt. The shadowy figure disappeared from her sight as Domina shot a look in the direction. “Show yourself!” Domina barked as she raised her sword, “Show yourself or I won’t hesitate to strike.”

The shadow jumped from tree to tree, always just out of direct line of sight. A smoke trailed behind the person as it circled her camp. Domina had made a habit of being fearless when it came to confrontation however, only a few people in her life made her feel cautious, fewer still made her nervous. Only one person had she ever come across that made her truly feel scared and that same feeling started to creep into her mind. The shadow finally came to a stop behind her. Domina’s senses fired as she spun around to come face to face with the shadow. Draped in black hooded rags, the woman wore a black corset similar to Domina’s. The woman’s face was covered by a scarf that left only the woman’s cold, piercing bright blue eyes staring at her. ‘I should have kept moving.’ Domina thought as the black figure continued to stare. “You were hard to track.” She whispered, a cold chill on her breath. “But Keela is not a patient man.”

Domina shuddered at the mention of Keela. He was known by only a few in the darkest circles of the world’s underground as a merciless and emotionless man. Only a couple people in decades had ever dealt with him and lived, although the state in which they were left, death might have been preferable. By her deduction the woman that stood staring at her was Ariel, a member of Keela’s Night Blades. Stories were told of the Night Blades and the death they bring. “I have no dealings with Keela.” Domina replied, “you must be mistaken.”

“We don’t make mistakes.”

Domina took a slow step back in the hopes of opening the distance between such a deadly woman. Ariel grew inpatient as Domina took another step back. “Give me the map and I shall let you live.” Ariel commanded. Her voice had a royal quality to her words, proper and well pronounced. Domina stood in awe, how did Ariel know about the job she had been working on weeks ago for a collector. As far as her employer had told her, only himself and Domina knew of the map. 

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Domina’s voice betrayed her. The nervous stutter in her voice caused Ariel to unsheathe her sword.It was a short-curved blade, perfect for close-quarters. Domina had a feeling that Ariel wouldn’t keep her word, someone as feared as her. Plans rushed through her head as she struggled to think of a way to get out of her predicament. Over the years Domina had managed to get into similar situations with many thieves, murderers and other scrupulous people but none of Ariel’s calibre. If her abilities to move like a shadow, running wouldn’t be enough. “I concede.” Domina sighed, “I’ll give you the map.”

Domina turned slowly and lent over towards her bag. Ariel stood as silent as the trees as she watched vigilantly. Domina crouched and unbuckled her bag. She slid her hand inside. Deception and subversion were Domina’s strength and ‘if there was any time to use it, it would be now.’ She thought. Carefully retracting her hand from the bag, Domina’s hand grazed the dirt covered ground. Her fingers clasped together clawing the dirt into her palm. She glanced at the landscape ahead of her as she stood up and turned. ‘Now!’

Domina whipped around and launched the dirt into Ariel’s face. Even at that speed Ariel could not counter in time and the dust clouded her vision. Like a feline, Domina sprinted across the rough terrain with such grace it would be enough to impress even the Siren Sisters of Akardisha. The distraction was long enough for her to create some distance between herself and Ariel, for the time being. ‘Now I just have to outrun her’ she desperately thought. This was easier said than done, she soon realised. Ariel, now with her sight cleared launched herself with such speed the dirt beneath her kicked up like a storm. The wind sighed as she pursued Domina with swift focus. Branches whipped and cracked against Domina’s skin as she rushed through bushes. The sting was painful, but she pushed it from her mind if only to survive the darkness behind her. 

Domina darted down a small gully and pressed herself up against the underside of an overhanging rock. The rock above her was covered in foliage and thick tree roots that draped over the edge. She pressed herself firmly against the damp stone and hushed her breath. Domina’s heart raced in her chest, each pounding against her bones. Over the sound of her heart the first rain drops started to pat against the leaves. All the birds in the trees fell silent as the slow thud of footsteps approached. Each footfall sounded like the footsteps of doom to Domina as her breath grew harder to hide. 

Ariel came to a stop on the edge of the ledge above her. She scanned the gully below for any sign of footsteps, but the last couple days of rain made it hard to see any tracks. Fear started to overcome Domina, the thought of confronting her would inevitably spell her death. Her mind raced through all the scenarios of how the next few minutes would pan out. In nearly all of them she would lose the fight, but her determination and ability to survive fought back. She refused to let this hillside be her grave. As the tide turned in her mind, Domina heard footsteps methodically march away east. Branches snapped under each footstep until the rain masked them. Relief washed over her as her heart began to slow. ‘Need to double back now’ she thought, ‘make my way down the mountain and quick.’

After only a few steps out she began to feel uncomfortable again. The birds and beasts still remained silent around her. Instincts had a funny way of controlling you when you’re threatened. Domina scanned the surrounding area. At first it seemed like just any other wood, trees, foliage and bushes, but something felt out of place. She continued to circle until the sight of a black clade phantom appeared near an old Oak above her. ‘Damn the gods’ Domina cursed as she spun on her heels and sprinted with all her might. Ariel smirked as she jumped from the rock and sprinted after her. 

For what seemed like hours Domina rushed erratically through the forest, each time she would change direction in the hopes it would lose her ‘shadow’. Her eyes raced from side to side each time she witnessed a black phantom skip about her. As she changed directions the shadow was already ahead of her waiting. Domina’s chances of surviving her scenarios reduced with every change. She came to a halt behind a tree to rest. Not a moment had gone by and the sound of approaching footsteps stalked towards her. “She just doesn’t quit.” Domina muttered. 

She drew her sword and peeled away from the tree pivoting on her heels. Ariel’s eyes were fixed on her prey. She continued to smirk under her scarf ‘she thinks she has a chance.’

Domina gripped tighter against the hilt, its fabric wrapped handle soaked some of the sweat from her hands. Her heart began to raise rapidly again. Her mind was conflicted. 

Many times, in her life running was the easiest and safest course of action however, deep down, her instincts overpowered and stripped away the doubt. Ariel slowly turned to reveal her back, as if to taunt Domina. Even though it was undoubtedly a trap, she knew she had to take the chance. Domina thrust forwards towards Ariel’s exposed back. Her sword was met with a swift twang as Ariel deflected and set on her attack. Each swing of her sword cut through the air without a sound. Domina ducked and rolled each swing as she retreated against a tree. Ariel made one final swing but missed. As Domina ducked, Ariel’s sword sliced through the tree as if it wasn’t there and tore bark from the trunk. Their swords met as Domina found her feet and their dance began. They fought for a minute, each advancing and retreating against each other. Domina was known as one of the best sword wielders in the underground circles but at this moment, she felt like a child against Ariel. Whether it was overconfidence on her part or luck was on Domina’s side, Ariel overreached giving her an opening. 

‘Fighting conventually wasn’t going to work’ she thought as she deflected Ariel’s thrust, ‘time to fight dirty’. Domina thrust her hilt into Ariel’s face which knocked her back. Ariel let out a grunt as she held her face. Domina took the time to retreat to a safe distance as she could see the steady rage build in the last person she should anger. 

The break was welcomed as Domina regrouped, but it was short lived. A screech as sharp as a Banshee wailed behind her. Domina spun to see Ariel baring down on her. Using a tree, Ariel jumped unnaturally high bringing her sword down on Domina who barely any time to avoid. Their swords met once again and rang out in the forest. “Give me the map child!” Ariel growled, “I’ve had enough of these games.”

“Who’s to say you won’t kill me as soon as I hand it over?” Domina replied, fear lined her words. “I could kill you now and take it.”

“In that case.” Domina grinned. She slid Ariel’s sword to one side and forced the hilt once again into her jaw. The crack was enough to knock Ariel’s scarf off revealing her face. Her pale skin was already bruised by the impacts. Blood trickled from her lip. Rage continued to fill her piercing blue eyes as Ariel swung round and continued her assault with renewed vigour. Domina struggled to keep pace as she continued to parry and dodge each blow. Ariel, however, had adapted to her opponent and countered. Her kick caught Domina in the stomach and launched off her feet and onto the ground. The Banshee returned as Ariel screamed, forcing her blade down on Domina. She could tell Ariel’s attitude had changed, her focus blurred by rage, just enough for Domina to roll to one side. The blade pierced the ground deep. Domina rolled back followed closely with a back fist. 

The fight had only been a few minutes but already both were struggling against their injuries. The kick she received had knocked more than just the wind from her lungs, she felt as if a couple ribs had broken. Ariel was struggling however her anger held her in a trance. Domina staggered to her feet and began to run away. Every step shook her bones allowing pain to course through her. The map she fought so hard to defend seemed less worth the payoff if she ever got out of this situation. ‘Why would Ariel and her friends be interested in a stuffy old monastery?’ she pondered, ‘Trinkets aren’t exactly her style.’ 

Domina ran until her body could no longer go any further. She came to a rocky outcropping on the hill and she huddled down in a crevasse. She thought hiding would help but it only allowed her mind to catch up. Fear began to grip her as a cold shiver shot up her spine. Her fear was rightly so, just above her, a shadow crossed between the gap above. Ariel was already on her. No amount of running could help her escape, Domina knew she’d have to fight. A thud sounded as Ariel dropped from the rock above. Surprise was the only thing left on Domina’s side still. Looking out over the hillside Ariel scanned the rocks. Domina pushed herself from her spot and threw herself at Ariel. The two rolled head over heels as they countered each other. Each punch and kick were met with similar replies. Domina gained the upper hand but Ariel managed to wedge her knee between them and pushed away. Domina rolled back and landed hard. Ariel rose to her knee and felt a metallic taste in her mouth. Blood tickled from her nose into her mouth. For the first time in many years she saw her own blood. Domina could see the surprise in Ariel’s eyes who seemed entranced at the sight, giving her the opportunity to reach for her weapon. Her sword laid precariously on the edge of a cliff. The fight had thrown them down the hill onto a cliff edge, it’s limestone surface scraping against Domina’s skin as she crawled towards the edge. Below them, the cliff dropped hundreds of metres down into a ravine. 

Ariel’s blood rage boiled over as she glared at Domina who was now reaching for her sword. She swiftly walked and grabbed Domina’s outstretched arm. Her strength was unnatural and impressive. Her grip began to crush around Domina’s wrist. She let out a yelp as Ariel pinned her leg to the stony floor. Ariel leaned in causing more pain. Domina was now eye level with a predator, Ariel’s gaze fixed. Ariel fired her palm at Domina connecting her between the eyes. The shock ricocheted her head back onto the rock, her vision waned. 

“I warned you, Keela has not finished with you yet.” Ariel scowled as she turned to pick up her knife. It laid a distance away from where they had landed, half concealed in heather. The blade was a remarkable weapon, its blade was completely perfect, curved and pristine. A strange aura covered the polished blade. Its hilt was shaped in the appearance of a Dragon, Marazuk, an ancient Dragon from the earliest times of the world who was said to be able to drain life from his enemies. Ariel picked up the blade, her eyes looking on it with reverence. 

“Keela may not be finished with you, but he needs only the map.” Ariel sneered as she turned back to Domina, confidence returned to her gait. Domina still laid dazed on the ground, but her vision had begun to return. Glimmering in the light Domina could see the blade in Ariel’s hand, this was looking bleaker by the moment. “You however are expendable.”

Her head still pounded from the punch, but every step Ariel took thudded in her mind. Doom was now upon her. The blade now dangled over Domina as Ariel gazed down on her. Her eyes were penetrating but even Domina could see the tiredness, the fight had been long and brutal. Ariel forced the knife down at Domina’s throat but then she summoned all her strength to block. The knife was mere inches away from its target, it’s singular purpose just out of reach. Ariel struggle to force her body down on Domina ‘How can someone be able to resist me?’ she thought, stunned at the impressive display of fortitude. Domina saw her opening, her one chance to finally get out of this death grip. Ariel had overcommitted her attack giving Domina a chance to push away. In instinct Domina wedged her knee against Ariel and pushed her over-head. Domina could see the shock on Ariel’s face by the sudden move as she tumbled over the cliff. She screamed as she clawed at the cliff edge she now so desperately scrambled for something to grip on. Domina watched as her foe disappeared until not a sound could be heard. Ariel, the most dangerous woman in the world, was defeated. 

Domina laid gasping and panting as the adrenaline continued to surge through her. Usually she had been quick to remark and brag about such victories, however she had never been this close to death before now. She groaned as she sat upright and then to her feet, clutching at her ribs. She looked closely at the edge expecting Ariel to mysteriously reappear like a demon, but after a silent moment, there was nothing. 

***

The sun had long since fallen behind the trees on the slopes giving way to the stars and moons. The first signs of winter slowly started to appear in the sky in the form of the aurora. Many people believed the aurora to be the gods travelling in the world. Domina hadn’t put much stock in gods and their powers, just men and their affinities. ‘It’s much easier to steal from a man than a god.’ Her mentor had told her growing up in Shanktown. A dirty backwater town built on the ruins of an old kingdom. She had spent the remainder of her day travelling back to her camp and resting, her injuries had taken their toll. 

Domina laid peacefully on her blanket covered by her coat. The nearby fire kept her warm from the crisp breeze. Much like in the morning a sudden chill ran up her spine causing her to awaken abruptly. Something, or more precisely, someone was sat watching her. A shadowy figure was sat up against a rock opposite her, the fire illuminating the figure, it was Ariel. Her blades were out and place in the ground beside her, Ariel’s eyes fixed on Domina. 

“So close.” Domina sighed as she slowly sat up holding her side. She knew she was in no condition to fight and from where she was sat, neither was Ariel. Her scarf was wrapped around her neck leaving her exposed face to the fire. Cuts and bruises had swollen her jaw and lip as she tended to them. 

“You came closer than most.” She calmly replied, “It’s been many years since anyone caused me to bleed, fewer still to ever beat me.”

A slight smirk crossed her face only for a moment until her eyes met Ariel’s stern look. The two blades warped the reflection of the fire casting it about the camp. 

“So, you going to make this quick?” Domina asked, “I’m not really into the whole torture thing.”

Ariel stopped wiping her lip and just stared at Domina. Even with the fire, coat and blanket, Ariel managed to create a chill in the air. 

“That is what you do isn’t it?” Domina continued to question. Without a word Ariel stood up and slowly drew her knife from the ground, the blade now coated in the orange hue of the fire. She circled the fire and came to a stop behind Domina. 

“Maybe I want to take my time with you.” Ariel said softly, “After all we have some unfinished business.”

‘This is it.’ Domina thought ‘ironic I go out with a knife in my back.’. Domina took a deep breath as the knife glided down her back.

“Blood for blood.” Ariel whispered. A quick slice and nothing. She felt no pain as Ariel stood up behind her. Confused, she turned to see Ariel holding her diary. The knife had cut the strap on her bag behind her. 

“As I said, Keela hasn’t finished with you and after your little display today, I could still use you as well.” Ariel sneered looking down at Domina. She thumbed through the diary and found the map folded amongst the pages. She peeled it out and threw the book on the ground. 

“You have the map now, what more do you want?” Domina asked. Ariel unfolded the map to look at the markings on it. The glow of the fire illuminated the map, even the faded lines that look to have been rubbed off. In the lower right corner was a symbol that caused her eyes to widen. It was the Cyrillian Order seal. Ariel held out the map,

“If you see this symbol anyway, you are to contact me immediately.” Ariel commanded. She folded the map quickly and placed it into her corset and in turn removed a crystal. Domina stared blankly at the small green crystal in her hand. 

“Whenever you see that symbol, throw this into the fire, I will find you.” 

“So, you’re not going to kill me?” Domina asked, perplexed by the sudden change in reputation. Ariel marched over to her sword and sheathed both the blades. 

“As for your life.” Ariel said, “Blood for blood.” 

Within moments Ariel had disappeared into the darkness beyond the firelight leaving Domina alone on the mountain. The fox had survived another day.


Submitted: June 04, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Mark Tillotson. All rights reserved.

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Criss Sole

This is not really a genre i usually like to read, but i really enjoyed your writing style. It had a good flow and was easy to follow.
Domina and Ariel are very strong characters.
Good story.

Mon, June 7th, 2021 1:51pm

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