Chapter 1: One

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

Reads: 51
Comments: 3




 

One 


 

Among the flames and the first rains of ash, among screams and their subsequent silence, all Reinagaurd could think of was the growing hunger in her stomach.

The fire and the cries of devastating bedlam were far from her now, but in the silence and darkness of the night, they echoed and shook within the land--they pierced the cloth of black sleep. The bark of the tree made Reinagaurd’s pale fingers bleed, dripping beautifully down her skin like raindrops down a glass. She shook in fear, yet could not actualize it. 

Behind her, leaves crunched. She turned her head, whispering, “Hello? Hello?” The night was good for concealing figures of dubious intention. In the forest void of light, illuminated only by the growing flames swallowing the city, there was a lighter patch of darkness that she could scantily make out: a cloaked figure, a body, a large, gleaming weapon.

Reinagaurd’s eyes widened. She dug her fingers deeper into the wood. “Oh, p-please--”

Suddenly, she had to slam her eyelids closed as a bright blue beam of light flashed behind the cloaked figure. A harsh scream overtook the forest, and her stomach howled back. When she opened her eyes once more, the stranger behind her had turned their back to face the glowing eyes of a being--of a beast of blinding white eyes and ragged, blue fur and fangs that could tear through a human in a matter of seconds. The thing was too close for the stranger to pull out their weapon; when they tried, fumbling, they were knocked to the ground with a single lethal blow of a clawed paw. Without hesitation, Reinagaurd released herself from the safety of the tree, rummaged her hands through the ground for the first thing she could find, and threw it at the beast. The boulder hit its eye, not enough force to stop it, but enough for it to growl and give Reinagaurd enough time to pull the stranger by their shoulders to their feet.

“Come now,” she ushered, breathlessly, already too weak to speak. “Run!”

The stranger obliged for a second, the pairs’ arms enjoined, before pushing her away. In several smooth motions--the removal from their belt and the quick, successive cocking--the stranger shot the beast three times in the head--first the smoke of yellow left in the air, then orange, finished by a bloody and brilliant red. The bullets paralyzed the beast, and the smokes entrapped it in an ascending, spiraling black sphere that Reinagaurd could not fathom, draining it of its brilliance, its ferocity, its existence. In a matter of moments, the beast was gone, and the only things remaining in the forest were herself, the stranger, and the now fading colors of the smoke.

The stranger sighed in ecstatic relief. They spun around to face Reinagaurd, whose heart was thumping madly, completely in awe. “Oh, oh…” was all she could manage.

The stranger cackled, rifle in right hand, left hand ripping their hood from their head. “That was damn near the coolest thing I’ve ever done!”

Dark skin, hair cropped and silver, eyes large and light brown, full, muscular body accentuated by a cotton white and sapphire neck bodice and skirt--the stranger was a gorgeous individual some inches shorter than her, but with all the passionate intensity in their face and stance to make Reinagaurd feel as though she was being towered over by some fantastical presence. She was rendered uselessly speechless. 

“Thank God I found you, Reinagaurd,” the stranger said in a quieter, more sincere voice.

She gasped. “I… I’m sorry! We must have met before, but I don’t remember you.” Reinagaurd knew she was lying, as she knew she would have remembered someone like this upon meeting them. Still, she had to be sure, as there was no reason they would be seeking her out…

“Ah, we have,” they laughed before turning their attention to the spreading flames. “If you want to talk, we should probably stay alive.” She turned away from her and began walking deeper into the forest. 

It took Reinagaurd a few seconds to realize she should probably follow them. “Oh!”

The stranger-who-was-not led them down a mostly straight path, with every step guiding them deeper into darkness. Reinagaurd stuck out her hands to try to feel around for any obstacles, even though she still ended slamming her face into a tall tree stump. She groaned from the pain and staggered up. The not-stranger heard her pain and cursed loudly. 

“Sorry, Reina! I completely forgot--” she said as she fired five long shots into the distance. Clouds of long smoke, all differing shades of green, lit up and wound themselves like pretty ghosts about the trees. “--some can’t see in the dark.”

Reina… Reinagaurd thought as she trudged along.

No one has called me that since I was a child…

She peered at the back of their head. There was some semblance of familiarity to this person but… only fragments of the face remained in her memory.

It was as if this person could read her thoughts. “You haven’t heard that in a while have you? I keep forgetting that it’s been so many years, that the world has undergone so many changes.” Sticks and leaves crunched beneath the pairs’ feet. The cool wind blew through their skin, but left the iridescent, winding smoke trails alone in their place. “That I’ve undergone so many changes.”

They turned to Reinagaurd which made her come to a stop. “If you believe in what I say, and understand that I act with only my best intentions, that I want nothing but your safety, please stand beside me. If you don’t, we must part now.”

A hand was outstretched to Reinagaurd, one in which seemed to stretch for infinity and ended at her. There was a look of true human kindness in the person’s eyes, and that genuine feeling could not be regarded by Reinagaurd as some small thing--not to her. With her face warming, she rested her fingertips on their palm before pulling the two of them together, nodding with all the confidence she could muster. “I am with you, stranger.”

“I am Laileah, woman of the woodlands,” she said with a smile. “And… I hope you still like mud.” The green smoke was starting to dim, so she fired her rifle only once, and a powerful beam of pink light rocketed out. Before them was several hundred feet of thick, dirty waters, and beyond that, a tree of golden bark with a doorway and windows. 

Still hand in hand, Reinagaurd plunged her left boot into it, the mud swallowing up her thighs as she sank. “Ahh!” she whined, which elicited a laugh from Laileah. 

The mud came up to the hips of the taller woman and nearly to the waist of the shorter. If Reinagaurd was one to curse, she would have done it now. With both of their hands now free, they slowly waded their way through it, the soft squelches and slurps of the moist dirt louder than their grunts and exhales. By the time they reached the grass again, Reinagaurd’s arms were throbbing in so much pain that Laileah had to pull her up.

“Thank you,” she chuckled breathlessly, putting all her weight onto Laileah’s shoulders. “Is that--is that place…” She was too weak (too out of her right mind) to ask if it was Laileah’s. 

“Yes, it’s my home. Almost there.” A turn of a doorknob, the flicker of a switch, the joyous laugh of Laileah. 

Reinagaurd collapsed to the hard ground, not a single ounce of strength remaining to carry her through the night.

 

________

 

Morning never came for Reinagaurd as she slept through it. In the few moments she realized she was alive, she could hear the shuffle of footsteps trying their hardest to be quiet, and she could feel the softness of a blanket beneath her fingers and on top of her, and she could smell the burning wood just some feet before her, and she could see the delicate flame that danced atop it. Flames of violence, flames of peace, crackles of homes falling to the ground, the comfortable crackle of a fireplace …

She would shut her eyes before any other sensation arose.

It was early evening of the next day when she finally woke, and even then she stayed still beneath the blanket, head atop a cushion and sore body on a soft mat, too tired to move, too tired to wonder if Laileah was about. She stayed that way for hours, staring at the flames, scarcely blinking her half-lidded eyes, until they slowly twirled themselves to death--vanished.

I wonder what I would have done if she had not come. 

She glanced at the room. 

Messy bookshelves touched the low ceiling. Half-drawn paintings of the forest were hung with hast along the tree’s walls. Small animals and bugs crawled and pranced about the earthen floor, snatching acorns and smaller living things than themselves as they went about. Reinagaurd laughed when a red avian perched atop her blanketed leg, looking at her inquisitively with its omnipotent and commanding stare.

“What is it, little one?” she said to it. “Do I offend you?”

It turned its head so its other eye faced her. It pecked her knee, then it flew out the window into the now darkening evening. In the same moment, the door opened slowly, and in came Laileah with those same almost quiet footsteps. She held a wicker basket and had a cloth full of items wrapped around her strong shoulders.

“Reina? Reinagaurd?” she whispered as she shut the door. “Sleeping still? Are you hungry?”

Reinagaurd finally had enough strength to sit up. She turned to face Laileah and replied with a soft, “If it’s no trouble to you.”

“Don’t be silly--it’s vital for women to eat!” she said with a wink and funny wag of her finger. “When did you get so silly? ‘If it’s no trouble.’ Haha!”

Reinagaurd moved to her feet, stumbling a bit. “I’ve… That’s the way I’ve always been.” She followed Laileah to a room with a long table covered in pellets and chipped, black kettles and rotting squashes and red-topped mushrooms. There was only one chair, so she grabbed hold of the back of it. “How… Do we know each other?”

Laileah tossed her rifle to the floor and began to untie the cloth from herself. “When we played as children, I was the youngest in my family and your closest neighbor. Do you remember the Meilin boys?”

Her eyes lit up. “Yes, yes! Oh, I haven’t thought of them in years! And you do look so similar to them! But… boys… are you--well surely you can’t be their youngest son, Rhaugha?”

Reinagaurd could only see her back, but the other woman grinned at the floor. “Surely I am.”

“Oh,” she gasped, “Why did you conceal your identity as a child?”

This time Reinagaurd could see that grin of hers for she spun slowly around. Her hands were gripping the counter behind her softly. “I never hid anything. When we were children, I was the youngest of the Meilin boys. And after the destruction of Zeben, and an answered prayer granted by a Warrior, I am now woman of the woodlands.” She shrugged with eyes closed and her smile wide. “No big fuss.”

“A Warrior?” she gasped. “But they hardly exist! This is too fantastical!” Reinagaurd was overwhelmed with so much confusion and excitement that she forgot all about the blades of hunger in her stomach. “Oh, Laileah! What a beautiful name, and a beautiful face, and beautiful body--did you seek out a person of such rare rank and ability just to be the envy of the universe?”

“Hardly that. Really it’s much less superficial. The morning Zeben was destroyed, when it was only I remaining in that town, I knew I had to maximize the potential of this existence. If I truly were to die, then I had to live as close to true as I could. I was fixated on maximizing this--the series of this’s that make up a lifetime, which meant holding my happiness above all else. I only asked for the Warrior to give me the form that suited me most properly, the one most fit for my soul, heart, and mind--it’s a bit ridiculous to say out loud, but you have to be specific when dealing with Warriors. He saw into my soul, fished out my deepest desire, and, ah, here I am.

“If I am to live in a world of destruction and unwavering darkness, then I will die exactly as I am meant to be.”

Reinagaurd stayed silent, lips parted and attention completely captivated by Laileah’s words. Her eyes pleaded the other to say more. 

“Hmm… I guess… It was the quiet strength in the women and girls that I loved so fondly. Even… even when they would scream with pride as they climbed to the tallest branch… or killed an avian dead with the single throw of a rock, there was a silent courage and pride in their every move. You… they didn’t have to brag and talk so highly of themselves before failing to achieve it… like my brothers and their friends had. It was one of those unspoken things, you understand that. An unspoken affinity, and that was how I had lived even then, when we were children. All the girls were so different from one another, but all of them were so ruthless, painfully so, that it was honest and right to me. I wanted to be just like them… just like you, Reina.”

Still no reply. Laileah felt a bit anxious by the silence. 

“I-I didn’t ask the Warrior to turn me into this. Not this exactly. What I was given wasn’t wrong, however. This was how I was meant to perceive and be perceived by the world. So please… don’t hate me for it.”

“Oh, Laileah, you have far more now of whatever you saw in me then.”

The other woman frowned. “How do you mean?”

“Pride, courage… I haven’t had any of that since those days. I’ve made friends with cowardice, and that is something I feel I will never shake.”

Laileah’s jaw was agape. “Ah! You really have gone silly! Do you not remember yesterday night?

“You did all the fine shooting.”

She walked up to Reinagaurd and rested her hands lightly on the chair so their hands touched. “Reinagaurd, you saved what you believed was a stranger from a beast hardly any human survives to remember. You were far enough away from the thing, you could have ran, left me for it to feast upon. But instead you fought without hesitation, and you saved me--lifted me to my stupid feet and really saved me. Don’t you see how beautiful that is?”

“Well… I think many would have done the same.”

Laileah shook her head, the soft moonlight from the window dancing across her silver hair. “I’ve lived through countless tragedies and massacres--as you did last night. Many people I trusted left me in times of bedlam. I don’t blame them for their selfishness, but I don’t forgive them for making empty promises. But you… you came to me without the ability to even make a promise--another one of those unspoken things, I guess. You know we’re exceptional members of our species, and you can’t let the… shadows of time...shadows of--um--”

Laileah made a confused face, as if the words she had just said were complete nonsense, and it made Reinagaurd, and soon both of them, snicker like immature children.

“Blah!” Laileah screeched. “I’m losing my eloquence, I haven’t talked this much in years! But you know what I’m saying! You know you’re wonderful.” She began to step away, waving her hand at the taller woman. “Let’s eat something before I pass away on this table.” She began to unpack the foodstuffs from the cloth.

“Laileah…”

“What’s wrong?”

Reinagaurd sat before her wobbly legs gave out. “I really do love how you are. And I’m glad I can be a part of your life again.” She beamed at her earnestly, her face warm and reddening, as it had been for the past several minutes. Her tongue felt numb and light as she spoke. “I promise you everything I can. I give you all the courage I can muster, even if it's not enough. I hope I’m worth protecting.”

“You don’t have to promise me anything other than being by my side. In these times, we need people to resist this destruction in any way they can. If you can muster enough courage to do that, then you’ve already done more than a person could ever ask of another. Oh, I’ve missed you too much. Can I please hug you now?”

It was dark outside again, and the home was lit only by the moon. A cool wind came in through the window. “Of course, but I might fall asleep again.”


Submitted: June 11, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Rae S. Vaughn. All rights reserved.

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Comments

Raven Akuma

Hiya! I saw you were new on Booksie, so firstly, welcome to the community! If you want some tips, promotions, or suggestions for reads, I'd be happy to throw some your way. Anywho, I stumbled across this and gave it a quick read, and wow, this was really intriguing! Instant fan, lol. That's all for now, so happy writing! :)

Fri, June 11th, 2021 3:36am

Author
Reply

Hi, Raven! Thank you for much for the greeting. I would love to have any promotion or suggestions you can offer me, and I'm so glad you found my story engaging!

Fri, June 11th, 2021 10:56am

Criss Sole

This was such an enchanting read. It was touching to see that Laileah and Reinagaurd have such a strong connection.
I can imagine they will have some incredible adventures together.
And I agree with the comment above. This was very intriguing. And welcome to Booksie.

Sat, June 12th, 2021 5:48pm

Author
Reply

Thank you so much, Criss! I really enjoyed writing their interactions. We should see more of their adventure next week! Thank you again for the warm welcome

Sun, June 13th, 2021 8:31am

Ann Sepino

Your narrative style is so pleasant to read! I like that we're thrown right into the action and that we get to discover this fantasy world on our own, i.e. with very little exposition aside from what's in the dialogues. Laileah and Reina's introductions, both to readers and each other, is very satisfying. :)

Sun, June 13th, 2021 4:06am

Author
Reply

Personally, this is one of the best compliments I've received on my writing! I really dislike exposition dumping in any work, especially my own, and I try to make the dialogue feel natural. Thank you so much for the kind words, and I hope you continue reading!

Sun, June 13th, 2021 8:34am

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