Arcane Hourglass

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Historical Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Escaping through a sleeping city, a young woman runs for her life, desperate to escape the clutches of an evil king. When she stumbles upon a mysterious man, she must face her past, and her future, if she wishes to survive.

For SigridVonBonn's Contest: Total Mixed Bag of Sigrid's Mind...

Submitted: August 26, 2012

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Submitted: August 26, 2012

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Everything was a threat, searching for my life.  I could taste the darkness like a vile potion on the back on my tongue, bitter with a sour aftertaste.  Shadows taunted my vision, taking the sparse light and creating creatures that reached for me with sharp, lethal claws.  The stars and moon overhead stole every bit of what I knew to be true and twisted it until it was something from a nightmare.  Red roses were no longer sweet scented beauties, but bloody reminders of the price that hung above my head.  The wind was the howls of the dead, their breath the cold breeze that lifted my skirts and hair.  Everything was dangerous.  Everything wanted to kill me.

The grass beneath my feet whispered which way I headed, my cloak offering meager protection against the autumnal decent.  My skirts were soaked through with mud and rain water, weighing me down.  I clutched at the decoration around my throat, fingers wrapped strongly around the pendant.  Risking a glance, I saw the tiny hourglass in the moonlight, the silver sand inside reflective like stars in the sky.  Closing my fingers back around that tiny symbol of hope, I dashed away into the haunted night.

I did not get far before the king sent his guards out, and then I had to slow my pace once more.  I traversed the alleyways in secret, watching as those demonic black stallions trampled across the main roadways through the city.  Of course they wouldn’t think to seek me out in the slums of the homeless.  A princess would never be caught dead in such places, but then I suppose I was already two steps from my grave.

I stepped wildly passed sleeping bodies and lecherous gazes, trying to avoid the larger puddles and piles of unknown mush.  I was not altogether successful with my steps, and the rank odor that clung like lice to my stockings and clothes was proof of that.  Only by sheer will was I able to hold down my dinner and venture on into the ill darkness.  When the wall of the city towered into my view, a breath of thankfulness released from my chest, immediately brought short by a sight before me.

A figure stood in the only way out, a cloak billowing about them to conceal their form.  There was no light around, or an animal standing at their side.  A sole statue the figure was and as it begun to walk forward, more of his physical characteristics came into view; wide shoulders, too wide for a females’, and he was tall, towering over the king’s impossible height.  Even the shape of his hands, briefly visible in the folds of the fabric, was large and weighty.  He lumbered forward quickly, silently, as graceful as a snake before it strikes.  His footfalls were not lost in the music of hoof beats and shouts, his boots creating a lyrical bass that announced his approach.  I was utterly and completely afraid.

Before I ventured into the night, I was determined to escape the city of Isunova.  The road to my freedom had already been mapped out, my safe house planned.  Even my gathering of rations, stored safely in the forest outside the city’s great wall, was ready for the taking.  But standing before this man, I felt that very dream fade.  I was stupid to believe that I could run from King Nivaos.  No one could escape his clutches, not even me.  As determined as I was a fighter I was not.  When it came to brute, physical strength, I relaxed on the shallow end of the gene pool.  Mental capabilities and magic; that was a rather enticing prospect, and one I must use only at the right moment.  Should I act too soon, or too late, then my attempt would be useless.

“Fear not, princess,” the man’s words cut my thoughts short, “for I am a messenger of Sollente, sent here to guide you to the ruins of Caarano.”

The mention of my father’s name and our ancient city drew my attention, making me focus more acutely into the shadows of the hood.  With a sharp movement, the man wrapped his hand around my own and began to pull me in the direction of my desire.

“Bless the sun, and grace the moon.”  He led me expertly through the shadows, his footfalls like thunder that growled at the darkness, warning it to keep its distance.  “We must get you away from here, and quickly.  Our time to escape quickly draws to a close.”

I fell into a trance like state then, my eyes concentrating on the image emblazoned on the back of his cloak.  An hourglass adorned the fabric, made of some sort of strange, metallic thread that glowed silver like the moon.  It sat in the center of an arcane circle, surrounded by runes unknown to me.  Never before have I seen such symbolism, and I made a mental note to ask my father about it.  Of course, then it occurred to me that this stranger could be a spy for King Nivaos.

“Let me go.”  I tried to pull my hand back, but his grip was relentless.  He kept towing me along like some unruly child.  If he was really an ally of my father’s, then he would not dare treat me in such a disrespectful manner.  “I demand you release me at once.”

“I am afraid that I cannot do as you command, Princess.”  He proceeded to haul me through the alley, barely stopping for bodies and excrements.  My temper, despite my stressful situation, was slowly beginning to rise.

“Sir,” my voice was as hard as I could get it, and though I thought it to be lethal, I was sure he believed it to be pathetic.  “I said to release me.  For all I know, you could be an ally to King Nivaos.”

A blur of motion was all the warning I had.  In a blink, I was pressed against the grime of a slum home, the grit pressing into my back.  My hair, now free of its casement, spilled forward in protest to my rough treatment, a watery wall of white like a beacon in the darkness.  My harsh breathing that accompanied my thundering heart fought against the hand that pressed against my lips, streaming out my nose with a panicked whisper.  Once again, the blackness that surrounded me spoke of threats and bloody promises.  The warm light of a window became the glow of my murderer’s eyes; the soft sound of the crickets and owls became my mourning song.

“Princess Soliel.”  It was hard to concentrate with his lips so close to my ear.  As his body pressed solidly against the full length of mine, a blush crept like vines along my skin.  A fine tremor began to quake my body, fear coursing through my blood.  I was sure that I was about to die, or be violated in the worse way womanly possible.  “I assure you, I am no consort to that vile demon.”

With a flash, his hood fell back, and all I could do was stare at him in dumbfound silence.  I knew him.

It had been years, fifteen to be exact, since I last saw Ashielf, but that time could not wash away my memory of him.  He was the only boy I knew that had hair like melted sapphires, or eyes of violets.  This was no gangly, ten-year-old boy standing before me now, though.  “Ash…  You’re alive.”

Those bright eyes hardened, shutting me out completely.  It hurt, though I should have expected nothing less.  The last time I saw him, he was being torn away from my hands, blood coating his face, his lips screaming my name.

“Who goes there,” a voice echoed in the darkness only moments before the sound of hooves. 

Lamplight was embracing the mouth of the alley, nearly upon us.  My heart hammered in my throat at the sheer proximity of the guard while Ash’s muscles bunched in tightness, his head turning to the words.  His hair spilled against my cheek, the skin of his throat pressed against my jaw, hiding my face from view.  With one smooth effort, his body lowered mine to a pile of mildewed grain, his arms all that held his torso from crushing me.

“s’cuse me, copper,” the rough pitch of his voice held a sharp lilt that was common in the lower class men of Isunova.  “Can’t a man ‘et a lil’ privacy o’re ‘ere?”

He was careful how he lay, but a flash of light at the other end drew my attention.  So they were beginning to search the alleyways now, it seems, and we were trapped.  I heard his growl of annoyance as well as felt it when he lowered his chest to rest on mine.  As the black horse came into view, I tried not to squirm at the inappropriateness of our position.  I was supposed to be behaving like a tavern harlot, not some chaste scribe.

“Havin’ some fun there, are ye boy?”  The guard shown his light closer, making a spectacle.  “Yo, Evers, come an’ look at this.  Found us a couple of lovers, we did.”

As the second horseman rode in, I buried my face in the crook of Ashielf’s neck, lips pressed against the warmth of his throat.  I tried to accompany his body, to make it seem more realistic, but the fear rode heavy in my heart.  Our change into a more seductive posture drew us closer, and his body tensed enough to show just how much he did not like the new position.  “’ould you ‘eave us be?”

“Looks like he doesn’t want to share,” the second laughed.  “Tell me, either one of ye see a witch come this way?  Silver hair, blue eyes, ‘bout yay tall…  Should have a necklace with her, an hourglass.”

Ash’s breath left him in a rush, his eyes locking on mine.  I could barely see myself in their depths, but what I could see of my nearly white eyes were wide and scared.  “Ain’t ‘een no one lookin’ ‘ike that.  ‘Ike I said, I’ve been a lil’ busy.”

“We can see that,” number one joked, “well, keep yer eyes open and report to us if ye catch her.  She’s an evil one, that one.  Steal yer soul right out of yer body and leave ye for dead.”

That being said, the two horsemen rode off on their unruly stallions, their laughter still lingering behind.  We stayed like that for just a moment longer, lengthy enough for it to become uncomfortably awkward.  “Let us go, Princess.  We need to get you to safety.”

The rest of the escape went smoothly, or as smoothly as it could.  We ran into guards and had to detour several more times before we reached the gatehouse, and even then, slipping through a gap in the wall was easy enough.  It seemed too easy, until the cries of hounds rose up like a wave behind us.

Hounds…  How I hated those dreadful, blood thirsty beasts.  Unlike the horses, which could not eat meat, the dogs were starved nearly to death, and then set loose on prisoners purposely released.  The nobles and soldiers took delight in watching the dogs rip apart humans.  The beasts were highly trained, able to scent out whatever was their prey, even after four weeks of rain.  That they were on my trail made me want to run even faster, even if it was hopeless.  I outpaced Ashielf as we tore through the forest, my dress catching on limbs.  Thorns caught the tender skin of my cheeks and ripped out strands of my hair, no doubt making it easier for the dogs to track me.  I was doomed, and was bringing my long lost friend down with me.

“Just leave me,” I panted, stumbling over a nest of tree roots.  My foot fell into a hole, the sharp pain the striking up my leg and escaping as sound out my mouth.  My strength was quickly flagging, my breathing now labored and pained.  My side was shot through with agony, cramped and sore, while my exposed skin bled from multiple cuts.  As I knelt on my hands and knees, ankle carefully extracted from the damnable hole, my necklace fell out of my bodice.  The silver hourglass’s light was dimmer, but still casted a soft, ethereal glow.  The sand sparkled like diamonds, though all amount of hope it once shown me was gone.  All I saw now was an empty shell, a casing for what could be and never shall be.  My dreams were gone, escaped away on the wings of the owls and moths, as empty as the top half of the hourglass. 

“Let’s go Sol.”  Hands pulled me to my feet and before I could protest, Ash hauled me onto his back.  “We don’t have that much further.  The river is just up ahead.”

With a jolt, Ashielf started out at a new pace, faster than before.  His legs pumped with a renewed vigor, his arms underneath my legs to keep me in place.  The howls of the dogs still taunted us, their hungry laughs a sound that has always haunted my nightmares.  Ever since I was taken prisoner on that bloody day fifteen years ago, King Nivaos kept those dogs outside my chambers, feeding them all manners of humans, from strong men to innocent children.  I used to lie awake at night, listening to their snarls and gnashing teeth, thinking that I was next.  To this day, the scent of blood is enough to make me dizzy. 

“Almost there,” Ash’s words chased away the darkness of my memories.  As he broke through the last stretch of forest, the wide expanse that was the Luna Sans River adorned the landscape.  Painted silver in the light of the full moon, the ribbon of water was as wide as the city itself, a great length that reminded me of a lake rather than a river.  The cool stretch of water was no match for the other sight that greeted us once I laid eyes upon it.

A great white boat with golden sails stood anchored to a willow, bobbing gently in the tide.  Before her, a line of cloaked men stood at the ready, silver swords brandished for a fight.  Their hoods were in place, concealing their features, but unlike the armored men of the guard, these seven brought me a sense of peace.  Their cloaks were etched in the same mysterious silver as Ash’s, glittering and bright against the night.

“Princess Soliel,” they greeted in unison.  A lone figure stepped forward to help me from Ash’s back, his strong hands careful where they lay on my body.  “Tis an honor to finally see you again.”

“Who are you?”  Though I knew it was not the time for polite conversation, my curiosity got the better of me.  They reminded me of warriors and mages with their strange air and fearsome weapons.

“We are the Order of the Glass.”  He motioned towards the pendant that brightened around my neck.  As its glow strengthened, the sound of the dogs fell away until nothing but birdsong could be heard.  The night gave way to dawn, and warmth spilled across my body.

 

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My eyes opened, and colors filled my vision.  Flowers, beautiful yellow and red roses, lay in a vase of polished silver, exactly in the shape of an hourglass.  Looking around the tidy child’s room, I knew I needed to get up, but the quilt cocooned me in warmth.  The lingering images of the dream plagued my waking, sluggish mind.  It was just too…  Strange.

“Soliel?”  I jerked at the sound of my name.  A woman stood in the doorway, her white hair piled high atop her head.  Emerald eyes watched me with motherly warmth as she approached with a box wrapped in satin.  “You’re awake, young one.”

She sat on the edge of my bed, and stroked my hair back from my face.  I lifted my hands to hers, and stopped.  They were little, my fingers, a child’s hand.  So, was all that a dream?  “Mother,” I yawned, “who is the Order of the Glass?”

Her beautiful eyes widened though a smile played at her lips.  “Dream-walking again, I see.  You know you shouldn’t do such things.  The future can be very dangerous.  Now,” she took the crimson cloth, and handed me the black box.  “Open your present and smile.  Tis your day of birth, your Tenth Honoring Day.”

As I lifted the black lid and spied the hourglass necklace inside, an odd sense of fear and uncertainty crept over me.  As my mother clasped the pendant around my neck, a brilliant flash shone about the room…  Then the screaming began.


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