For those who are wondering about the original draft of this story looked like. I may revisit it as a template for something else. Dunno.
Iron Horn burned on the north-eastern horizon. Its flame illuminated the Sentinel Mountains that wrapped around the mining village. The mass of smoke was topped with a line of silver moonlight as it billowed over the low southern peaks. Alone, Layla ran down the Iron Road with the village to her back. Her wispy breaths swirled behind her as she kept a steady pace, sword at the ready for another attack. Her bloodied and torn dress tight against her body.
Pushed by her newfound strength, she jogged through the night forest. The killed her neighbors. Along with it, Autumn died, drowned by Winter’s first snowfall. All around her, white specks began to gather upon the canopy of the towering forest. The land grew brighter with the snow. Lightly dressed and damp with perspiration, Layla cursed the gods, new and old, for her luck.
Slowly, she fell into a staggered walk. Then, she stopped a moment later. Her lungs burned as the new winter air entered. Like a thief, it exited with her life’s warmth in a puff of steam. She came to a dead halt center of the wagon path and looked back up the road. The people she had escaped with had disappeared. The woodland was silent. Forget the survivors, not even the animals stirred.
Almost as if the forest held its breath as the young mother fought for hers.
Nothing. Even after a few minutes, Layla heard nothing. And with the slowing of her body came the awareness of just how cold she was. She shivered as she felt her fingers protest her attempts to flex them. The bandage on her left arm had turned into an ice cast as the blood froze. The energy that had filled her before, the strength of summer, was but embers in her now. She turned and pressed on before even that left her.
“I can’t go back,” Layla said to herself. “I can’t go back. I did what I could, and I got them out.”
Despite the reasoning she tried to instill, guilt still lingered in her heart. It began to fester and challenge her logic.
“Savannah needs me!” She hissed. “I already have my own problems!”
Still, the guilt fought back. It made Layla feel dehumanized, callused, and heartless. She wanted to cry. She wanted to scream, but more so, she wanted to turn back for them. It was the feeling of home, the feeling of family. On this lonely road, she found she truly cared about that stupid little cottage. Her stupid neighbors and their idiots who didn’t help her fight.
“No, no!” She cried out. “Just keep going. There’s nothing back there anymore.”
Layla berated herself. Never had she been so conflicted. It made her wish to be young, wild, and arrogant. Where a single choice could have been chosen without care. When she wouldn’t have thought twice about jumping into the fray, even if it was just for the hell of it. Now, they had a home, but they destroyed it. She had a child, but she was half an Empire away right now.
She didn’t know how long she had run. She continued onward, through the fresh snow, and the conflict in her heart. As the last of the embers died, she finally reached the fringes of Quinn’s Wood.
Before her, the outstretch and hilly farmland of Quinn’s Wood appeared. Layered with fresh snow, the village seemed angelic. A stark contrast to the inferno that was Iron Horn now. As if to remind her, a northerly breeze whispered past her. A whiff of smoke and death on its coattails. The snow began to fall harder, and the moon was slowly becoming obscured behind storm clouds…
Still, she pressed on. Quinn’s wood, safety, was within reach. The distance between two villages a mere day and a half’s walk. She had run the whole way on the last ember of summer. So she prayed for more.
“Please,” She whispered in her heart. “Lend me strength once more, whomever you are…”
She could feel the chill in her blood now. Her muscles, heated by the strange divine magic, quaked as the last of it left her. She could feel the pads of her feet protested as she continued. Her lungs began to sear against the cold. Her skin tingled with the wind’s kiss. She didn’t want to die. Not while she was still so far from getting to her precious sunshine.
No one answered her, though. She began to slow, her steps unsteady and stubborn rage slipped into her.
“Fuck you, then!” A scream parted her pale lips. “I–“
“You could give me a few moments to answer,” The mysterious girl’s voice sang again.
“No!” Layla protested. “I’m freezing to death here!”
“You should have worn more clothes.” The voice giggled.
Layla was about to blow her top. Here she was, running from death, and the deity that helped her earlier was mocking her. If her current situation hadn’t been so pressing, she would have gone on a cursing spree.
“Could You please just give me more power?” Layla restrained herself. She couldn’t burn this bridge, not when she had so far to go.
“Mmm.” The voice agreed in a manner that almost made Layla imagine she was a teenager girl. “Done. I should probably warn you, I’m still not sure on to moderate–“
Her voice felt away as Layla felt the surge of warmth. The summer sun shined down on her, metaphorically, and the winter’s chill chased out of her. Her icy fingers began to tingle as blood began to flow again. She could feel the soles of her feet nit themselves together. Her lungs no longer burned, and she could taste a mid-summer breeze on her tongue as she exhaled. She felt invincible.
The emotional turmoil burned away, replaced with the euphoria of power. Layla’s feet carried her faithful and fast now. The crunching of snow became a quick thud-thud-thud-thud as her feet struck the snowy dirt road.
“Tell me your name!” She beamed in her heart.
“It’s only polite to introduce yourself first.” The voice replied.
“Layla,” The woman said. Still high off the sudden rush of divinity in her.
“Cyril.” The voice whispered.
∞ ♥ ∞
She had fought her limits to reach here, for safety and to warn them. Yet, it fell on the ears of an old, stubborn fool.
“I say, child,” The alderman cooed, almost amused by her warning. “That’s quite the tale.”
His voice was high as his eyes looked her over as the guards kept her restrained. She yelled her warning out as she passed through the village. But she hadn’t planned on stopping in the village. The guards had tackled her as she crossed through the village green. She had kicked and howled, warned them that the dead were coming. They had destroyed Iron Horn, and they’d go for them too. The guards cursed, punching and kicking her into submission.
Despite what they thought, the power that “Cyril” had lent her dulled their hits. She could have easily killed them, but they said they would take her to the alderman for judgment. She stopped fighting after that because it’d save her breath, and he could warn the others.
However, he laughed off her claims.
“So,” The alderman smiled. “Anyone in the village had a defective kid?”
He turned to the man next to him. The village Balieff.
“None,” He said. “None of the folk has any crazies.”
“Thought so,” The Alderman said. “Well, we’ll keep you here, and I’ll send a few boys up the road to check on this. However, if you’re lying…” The old man gave a lewd grin.
Layla snarled. They had delayed her by nearly an hour, at least she believed it had been an hour. The wasted time spent on waking the Alderman and the Balieff to deal with her. The Balieff sighed, gave a warning glance to the Alderman. In response, the Alderman coughed lightly and gave a nod in submission.
“You’ll go with Balieff Jonas here,” The Alderman let out a sigh. “He’ll get you back to where you come from.”
With those words, the guards let her out the Alderman’s house and into the moonlight street. A few other guards were there, lanterns in hand. They discussed how they would send her back to Iron Horn and who would go. They spent another half hour talking outside the home as the snow became thicker around them. None of them paid any heed to her, though, she was the odd one out. They all wore thick clothes while she stood in nothing but a ruined dress.
She managed to keep herself composed. After a quick thought, Layla decided she would escape once she wasn’t being restrained by two men. She had just finished the final touches on her escape when a scream out in the distance caught their attention. Then another. Both came from the North-Eastern side of the village, up the road towards Iron Horn. Nothing else rose for a few moments. Then the warning bell on that end of the village rang out along with more screams. The howl of wolves soon followed.
∞ ♥ ∞
Crunching beneath Savannah’s finely crafted leather boots, the fresh snow around her glimmered in the sunrise. Wrapped in an excellent light brown wool cloak, her small rosy cheeks held up two wide eyes. She had slept through the storm and hadn’t expected the coastal wonderland that spanned around her. Behind her, a large campfire licked at black cast iron pot, encircled by a ring of merchant wagons. The camp began to stir, and the slave who was cooking called out to her.
“Young Mistress,” He said. “Please come, have some breakfast before you play.”
The slave was an elderly man, older than Tenni. Wrapped thick in deer skins, only his hands and his bald head was visible. Over these two days, he had learned how Uncle Tenni treated his slaves. Much to her surprise, he did so very well. This elder was treated with honor and respect. Uncle Tenni had told her he had been with his family from his father’s time, and that she too should treat him well.
“Yes, Uncle Vanor,” She called back.
Still, she stayed put. Unwilling to walk back as she took in the scenery. Snow crunched behind her. She turned around to see who it was, and to her delight, it was Uncle Tenni. She smiled at the middle-aged merchant and dipped her head in greeting, followed by a “Goodmorning.” He returned it with a yawn.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Tenni Vilcan asked as he took in a deep crisp breath.
“Very much,” The little girl said. “Mom never let me out of the village during winter. I never knew this existed.”
“Hoo,” He chuckled. “She was right not too. While it’s quite the sight, it’s also perilous out here. It makes traveling much harder. Though, the beauty almost makes up for it.”
“I think I want to be a merchant,” Savannah said. “I want to travel the world and show Mom all the pretty scenes like this.”
Tenni was almost tempted to tell her the truth. Her mother was not some village wench, gossiping and wasting about. No, her mother was a wild woman who sailed the three seas. Visited the edge of the world. Ventured into the Forbidden Forest, and even survived an encountered with the dreaded Tarraquse. Her party had been lead by an Ancient Dark Elf… If not for the death of her father… She may have kept adventuring, and she too would have been an adventurer as well.
He yearned to tell her his secret, how he knew her mother. That would only open up a deep wound in his heart as well. It would mean he’d have to recount how her father died. It was something he wanted to lock away unless she found out. Maybe she would, or perhaps she wouldn’t. Perhaps he’d speak first. His age ticked ever higher, and it made him weaker. As he saw, the peace made Layla weaker.
He sighed as his mind began to wonder. The gleam in Savannah’s eye, that sparkle of wonder, was exactly like her father…
“Come now, Little One,” He broke the winter ambiance. “Let us eat to warm up. We still have half a day till we reach the Capital. You can see more on the way.”
“And Mom is going to be there…?” She turned to him, reminded of why she was out here.
“Yes,” He smiled down at her as he brushed her hair with a gloved hand. “She just had to sort away the cottage and everything else. Your mother is going to get you into the academy there.”
“But she said that was Daddy’s home,” She looked confused. “She said we’d never get rid–“
“Yes, yes,” He nodded as he turned her around and nudged her back towards the camp. “But you’ll be living in the city! Think about it, you’ll get to make new friends, and you’ll get to see your favorite uncle more!”
“Who?” She looked even more confused.
“Why, me!” He let out a gentle laugh. “I live in the capital. Both of you will stay with me while Layla looks for a nice home.”
“But we have daddy’s home.” She frowned.
That irked him. Even he knew how much that cottage meant to Layla. One of the few gifts Bronnath had ever given her. The man wasn’t fickle, but as an adventurer, they carried a few things with them. Layla was a sentimental woman, and gods be damned, she’d carry every trinket he ever bought her. He chuckled to himself, remembering the arguments over that damn second backpack. Those were the days…
∞ ♥ ∞
Ryan DrakeFang’s stepped echoed through the ruins of the Dragon Palace. Not his empire’s palace, but the real one. The steps were illuminated by the pockets of starlight mushrooms that grew around the ruins. Bones of ancient monsters littered the grounds around the large, mostly, intact marble columns. High above him, darkness. The faint luminescent lights could never hope to reach that high. But Ryan knew, the cavern’s roof was a perfect dome. As if someone… Or something… had protected it from being crushed by the moving lands.
Dragons were beings of the sky, not the underground like Dwarves. There was no possibility they would have made a lair within the dirt. The only logical reason was the land had swallowed this palace, until eventually, his father had breached its walls. Yet, he was the first to walk among these tattered pillars. The first to touch the ancient skeleton speared on the throne. The first, and only follower of BrokenWing.
He passed the pillars and up the dusty marble steps into a half-collapsed cathedral. Large faded murals still decorated half its walls. The ones that hadn’t given way to time. Once inside, the shadows felt darker than usual. The glowing shrooms seem almost… Dead. Wilted. The cathedral had typically been illuminated well since plenty of magical bones were near to grow them. Yet, half the room was dark.
“Your Grace…?” The Emperor called out, slightly nervous.
“Come, my apprentice…” A voice whispered into his mind.
“I’ve come to speak with you on a matter.” Hearing the telepathy, Ryan Drakefang, first of his name, and Emperor of the largest nation on the continent, spoke respectfully. “My second son has told me you have contacted him.”
There was a pause. Emperor Drakefang felt his courage slowly begin to drain. Even as a pile of bones, Brokenwing held power beyond his belief. He was not suicidal, only paranoid.
Two silver eyes appeared in the darkness, and the ruler nearly yelped as he took a step back.
“I have,” He admitted as the silver reptile eyes blinked. “As my powers grow, I require more bodies to assist me.”
No, you want to replace met! Emperor Drakefang growled in his heart. He kept a respectful expression on the surface, though. “I see… I believe I am the only–“
“I did not ask your opinion,” The voice cut in with a commanding tone. “I know what I need. I only need you to follow.”
“I am an Emperor!” He raised his voice and held his ground. “What more do you need?”
“More hands,” The dragon replied, “Need I remind you who made you an Emperor? I can easily undo what I have done.”
Emperor Drakefang struggled to keep his composure. He knew it was too good to last. The power of an ancient deity all to himself. Now that the dragon was beginning to come back to life, what was he? A mere human to be toss aside like a peasant?
Brokenwing could see the paranoia in his eyes. Brokenwing sighed in his soul. He had told that child to keep it to himself because of this. Ryan was too prideful, slightly twisted with his power, and paranoid that someone would come for him. That was why he picked one of his children. Brokenwing wanted him to feel better, but the dragon had underestimated the man. He could see the madness turning in there. The gears of plots and schemes turning, like when he was a kid.
“Young Aiden will not replace you,” Brokenwing tried another tactic. One he hardly used. “He is to be my hands beyond the throne. You are to make him your diplomat to the Theocracy of the Endless Sun. He is already befriending their envoys as we speak.”
He’s grabbing power already! The Emperor felt betrayed and threatened.
“I see.” Was the only thing Emperor Drakefang could say without spitting in the dragon’s face. After all, he had done for this stupid dragon, he had the gull to try and pull a coup!
The dragon felt he may have picked the wrong human as his apprentice. He could feel the thoughts swirling within his small head. Brokenwing had thought the man a mighty will who had dared to venture into his ruins. Now, after he had gain power, he only seemed to have grown so distrustful. When had this happened? The dragon didn’t know what caused the change in the man. Well… Not that he didn’t, but he had put too much into this single human to simply drop him. It agitated the old soul that he thought his time was that cheap.
Silence fell between the two parties, then the Dragon dismissed him with a flick of his mana. He was tired now. The strain on his soul as his body began to piece itself together was taxing. He could have talked on and on, schemed, and even thought up poetry. Dragon things. That was when he was a soul tethered to this carcass. Stuck inside this crumbling lair. A new feeling began to bubble inside him.
The feeling of… resignation…
∞ ♥ ∞
Cold darkness surrounded Layla as she floated through an abyss. The nightmares of the night played in her mind. Haunting her. Taunting her. One skeleton, then another. Stab. A failed parry. Death. Screams echoed far off in the distance. Women, children, and men, all they screamed were insults. They blamed her for theirs. She was powerless to yell back as she died yet again; then again.
Then the zombies appeared, and their rotten familiar vestiges as they tore into the guards. Into the people. Into… Children. She watched them rip a child in two. Then her mother’s head was split as a skeleton followed after. She had seen worst, fought worst, but what made this so torturous was that she could not move. Then she died again. Then again…
Bloodied faces and the snapping bones. The sounds began to mix, and for what seemed like an eternity, Layla died again and again. Never to live, and never to save anyone. That was until she felt her body grow warmer. Her nose was tickled, and she heard the crunching of snow. Then the endless deaths stopped, and the darkness returned again. The crunching of snow was accompanied by a whisper of wind.
She jolted awake, freed from the abyss. She scrambled for her weapon as she remembered the undead. There was no weapon though, long silvery fur beneath her as she was on her hands and knees trying not to fall. All around her was the snow. Except beneath her, where a giant wolf was. She was on the back of a lion sized wolf. Then she wolf’s head looked over its shoulder to hear. Silver eyes reflected the daylight.
She pulled back instinctively, then felt weightless, and the world shifted around her. The vast snowy fields around her were replaced with vast unbound skies, dotted with wispy listless clouds that floated on their way. A moment later, she felt the air rush out of her as she landed in a pile of snow with a loud “oof!”. The sun shined down upon her, and she felt the cold snow stinging her warm skin.
Then the memories of the abyss came back, and she stiffened. She remembered the carnage. The fires. She remembered how she should have been dead. She rose her left arm. She was clean and unwounded… Her minded raced as it tried to keep up with the developments. However, her company seemed to care less about her mental well being as it loomed over her. Layla’s eyes readjusted as it looked back up at the silvery eyes. Oddly enough, she no longer felt scared.
“You’re awake,” The dire wolf’s maw moved slightly as a deep and soothing voice reached out.
Words had come out of its mouth…
The words… Had…
“You speak…” Layla stated as she blinked in awe.
“Yes, I do,” The wolf grinned as if pleased. “I speak in many languages. As the Great Wolf of the World, Fenrir, the follower of the Creator; it is expected of me.”
As he gave his name, Layla stiffened up more. She knew of that name; she knew who he was. What he was. The White Wolf, Fenrir, the hand of the ancient god, Cyril. Cyril… The name floated in her head for a moment before she realized who had said they were Cyril.
“Wait, didn’t–” Layla was cut off my Fenrir.
“Yes, mortal,” Fenrir answered. “My Goddess has spoken to you, and you were blessed by her. I am looking for her now, and I require your presence to do so.”
“Aren’t you suppose to be dead…?” Layla asked, then the words kicked in. “What do you need me for?”
“And who said I was dead?” Fenrir’s smile blossomed further.
“Glynii.” She stated.
“Ah,” The smile faded. “How do you know Little Three?”
“She was my old party leader,” Layla answered truthfully, not inclined to upset the wolf.
“Ah,” His face twitched before the smile returned. “How is the little one doing?”
“Your sister–” Layla was cut off my Fenrir.
“She is not my sibling,” Fenrir warned. “Glynii does not possess the power we do. She is not our family. She is simply someone created by Her.”
“Wait, didn’t you say you needed me to… find her?” The conversation was offbeat to her, but they finally wrapped a full circle, and she took her shot.
“Because she has just awoken,” Fenrir said, his tone became.
Memories came to him, memories that were his alone. Since the first moment of his life, Cyril had always been there, always. From his first step to his first word. She was always there with a smile and a kind word. Fond memories they both shared. Creating the world they existed in. Adventurers with her and… That man.
Then the bad ones. Like when the world crashed around her, forced to die in this world. Separated by lines of codes from her loved ones. He was there for it all. Even her first heartbreak, given by that bastard of a man named Jax. She could never cry her heart out. No, she could fake it for looks. Fake it for friends and family as a show of sympathy, or a way to make them less comfortable. However, she lived in the darkness with the scythe of the reaper hung above her neck.
She was always so sad…
Fenrir had vowed to rejoin her side. Because Fenrir loved her, not as her creation, but as a man should love a woman. She was the reason for his existence. His purpose. He knew her more than his actual creator, Lord Hades did.
He felt his thoughts begin to slip back into the past. With a shake of his head, he cleared it all away only to find a confused human below him. She looked confused and slightly concerned for him. He dismissed it.
“Regardless,” He recomposed himself. “Lady Cyril has rejoined the world. She must be lost and confused. I need to be there for her, but she has already left her home. And I happened to find you, someone who is connected to her. I can use you to follow the link back to her.”
“Link?” Layla asked
“Yes, link,” Fenrir repeated. “A powerful one at that. As if she sent you some form of blessing or power.”
“Ah… She did… Give me some sort of boost earlier.” Layla confessed. “I’m not sure if that counts.”
“Then that settles it.” Fenrir’s smile turned into a wicked grin. “You’re coming with me.
“W-Wait! You just can’t–” Layla was yet again cut off.
Fenrir’s maw dipped low and picked her up by her tattered, but clean dress, and tossed her onto his back again.
“I didn’t ask,” Fenrir said. “You have been blessed by her. For why or what, I do not care. However, you are my only link to her as of now. Either you come willingly and enjoy the ride. Or I can simply put you to sleep.”
“I’ll enjoy the ride!” Layla said immediately.