III - The Great HeronA Chapter by Niki Badger
Finally they learn a way to solve their problems. If only they could figure out what they mean...
Fiona began to stir. Her eyes flickered open. As her vision began to focus, a hand came down on her mouth, and a sudden enormous weight was on her entire body. Her healing gash, from the fight two nights ago, stung dully.
Sloan was lying on her, blue eyes searching the area around them hectically. The sounds of crashing footsteps and men grunting to each other surrounded them. Fiona’s eye widened at the wild woman. Sloan glanced down and leaned her full lips to Fiona’s ear.
“Can you get your slingshot?” she whispered.
She nodded furiously and reached her hand in her bag, which she’d slept next to. Fiona’s fingers wrapped around the wooden slingshot and slowly removed it from the bag. Her hand returned to the bag to retrieve a smoothed stone. It was still somewhat dark out; the sun had barely started to rise. Sloan’s dark coat helped them blend into the leaf covered ground for now, but when the footsteps and voices got closer they’d be easily spotted. Aidan was nowhere in sight, but Fiona knew he was near, if not right next to them.
Sloan slowly reached into the pockets of her jacket. When her hands were visible again, Fiona’s eyes widened. Her hands were wrapped around metal artificial looking knuckles. There was a crescent shaped blade sticking out the front of the knuckles and two wing blades off the sides. The name that came to Fiona’s mind was ‘claw.’
Three men clad in grimy armor approached them. Their feet crunched through the bed of fallen leaves. Sloan slowly brought her feet under her and waited half a second for them to get closer. Her knuckles turned white as she gripped her claws tighter. The biggest of the soldiers was nearly upon them. From the look of their grimy armor they were Kiran’s soldiers. Fiona heard him grunt and then shout “over here” to the others.
Sloan launched herself at the large soldier. Her claw slashed powerfully through his thick face leaving deep gashes in its wake. Her feet landed on his chest, and rebounded backwards, she slid back on the soft ground. The force knocked the large soldier onto his back, he yelped in surprise and pain.
Fiona watched, frozen in horror, as the other two soldiers sped toward Sloan. Their swords were raised and they were both roaring in fury. In a flash of flames Aidan appeared and knocked the brunette soldier to the ground. Fiona ripped back her slingshot and fired a stone at the blonde soldier. To her shock, it missed. She never missed; Lebute practiced their aim for hours a day. There wasn’t much else to do on the lake. The blonde soldier flinched as the rock whirled past his head and looked at Fiona. Her eyes widened and she ran to her bag and fumbled for a chili egg.
Sloan ran at the blonde. He swung his sword but she caught it with the wing blades of her claws and snapped it in half. She drove her claws into the weak spot in his armor, under his right arm, and he screamed. The large soldier had gotten up and was heading her way. Fiona fired the chili egg into the large soldier’s face. He shrieked as it exploded into a cloud of red dust. The powder embedded into his open wounds. The blonde soldier continued to scream as Sloan swung him around " using the claws embedded into his body as handles " and hurled him into the large soldier. They tumbled to the ground, both cried in agony. She approached them slowly; her silver claws were painted crimson, and dripping. Her fist came down in a split second. A loud crunch and a cut off scream rang in Fiona’s ears. The large soldier was now limp and silent. The blonde soldier began to beg for mercy.
Her face was expressionless as she knelt over the crying soldier. Fiona was crouched by the larger soldier’s body, watching curiously. Aidan was dragging the body of the brunette over to them. Its face was also mangled and its throat was nearly ripped completely through. Fiona cringed.
“I’d leave you alive but if you were never found I think that would be better. You wouldn’t be able to aid them in finding us. By the fact that there were only three of you, I assume Kiran doesn’t know where we actually are and is sending search parties; or he is a great fool in thinking it only takes three pawns to take me. Since I know Kiran isn’t a complete fool, I can only think that leaving you alive would be a mistake.” Sloan said quietly.
The soldier looked at her in horror and began to beg franticly. Sloan watched him for a second longer before ripping back her fist and plunging the crescent blade into his head, as she’d done with the big soldier. The begging stopped. Aidan pulled the brunette over the other two to create a pile. Fiona looked at the damage they had done within seconds. Her stomach began to turn. She was becoming a monster. This Lebute had helped take three lives without even a second thought. She was pretty sure the two guards at the pub two days ago survived the fight. They may have been badly hurt but they’d lived.
Aidan’s eyes glowed a brilliant red and the three bodies caught fire. Then he vanished in flames. Fiona watched the fire silently. Sorrow filled her chest as the fires warmth spread over her. The flames charred their skin black and made their armor glow a dull orange. Her mind went blank, like the eyes of the men they’d just murdered. A hand fell on her shoulder. Looking up, Sloan handed Fiona the reins to her cavallo.
“Don’t let it get to you or it will destroy you.” Sloan patted her shoulder and then mounted her cavallo. “We still have a long trip and more of them will come. We must hurry now.” Her expression was nonexistent as she turned the cavallo and began to walk away.
Fiona watched the flames for a moment longer. Barely two days outside of her home and she was already a brutal killer. She’d be lucky if her flock let her return after discovering this. Fiona pulled herself onto her cavallo and rode away. The ashes of the soldiers were now floating into the dawn air.
“We shouldn’t run into anymore soldiers on the way to the Heron.” Sloan said.
They had spent the entire day in silence. It seemed Sloan was more content with it than awkward conversation, and at the moment, Fiona was too.
Sure the Lebute were shallow and secretive but they weren’t violent people. When violence was needed, which was rare, it was done with reluctance. Though the Lebute did dispose of their mated male Hinds; they did not consider this murder, rather mercy. They figured whatever Cahal would do to the men, once he found them, would be far worse than what the Lebute did.
Fiona glanced at Sloan. Her caramel colored face was expressionless as usual. She wondered how someone got so cold inside. She wondered what it took, how far you had to push someone, and ruin them to turn them so cold. “Sloan, why are we going to see this Heron?”
Sloan closed her eyes and took in a deep breath. When she released it, she opened her eyes, and gave Fiona an icy stare. “I’d much rather know why you’re outside of the Lebute lake.” Her left eyebrow rose, wrinkling the tattoo there.
“Why shouldn’t I be?” Fiona tried to keep her shaking voice steady.
“In all my time I don’t think I’ve ever heard of a Lebute being seen outside of the lake. So something brought you out here. Something ran you into Kiran and that something maybe why he wants you so badly.” Both her eyebrows rose into her forehead and greatly distorted the tattoo.
Fiona frowned. Could she trust this woman? She had helped keep her safe from those soldiers. Maybe it was smarter for her to at least trust her a little bit. After all, she was in bad need of a friend. “I was swimming early in the evening on the night we met. I’d left my dress and my gem on a rock.” She paused waiting for the scolding to come, but Sloan was silently watching her without judgment. Fiona continued. “When I got back to the rock my dress and my gem were gone. I hadn’t heard anyone walk up to the lake side. My mother said I need to find them or I’ll be cast out and won’t be allowed to return.” Fiona felt a fresh wave of sadness wash over her, but she blinked back the tears. Sloan looked ahead of them pretending to not notice her glossy eyes.
“How are you able to be in Hind form without the gem? I thought the legend said you can only be Hind with the gem in your possession.” Sloan was frowning in thought.
“The legend is confusing in that way. We need the gem to change into either form. Once we turn into a Hind we need the gem to change back. Basically the gem acts like a storage unit. When we are swans it holds the Hind spirit and when we change into a Hind the gem holds the spirit of the swan.”
Sloan nodded, her face was blank again. “Makes sense,” she said. “Where do you think your gem is?”
Fiona frowned. “Honestly, it could be anywhere. I have no idea where it is. When I’m near it, I’ll be able to sense it. After all, half my soul is trapped inside.”
The rain began to fall. They’d been riding all day through the water fields. Fiona didn’t think she could ever get tired of the sound of water splashing as they rode through it. Sloan, however, clearly did not feel the same. She’d been muttering under her breath about if she’d been meant to be in water so long she’d been born a duck. This made Fiona chuckle. Ducks were actually quite gullible creatures. Back home at the lake, her best friend was a cute duck named Fez. He’d believe fish could fly if she told him so.
The sun started to disappear from the gloomy cloud filled sky and darkened their world. Fiona’s hair was already wet from the rain. Her skin soaked up the water like it was life itself. The many barren trees that were scattered through the area had moss hanging between them like party streamers. There were large nests in the trees. The sounds of birds calling to each other, happy chirping, and splashing water filled the air. They continued forward until they came upon a flock of tall white birds. They were grouped in the center of the tree surrounded field, their heads sunk into the water to catch their dinner.
The cavallo came to a stop. Their tongues started to flick wildly toward the flock of heron. Sloan held the reins tighter in her hand. Fiona’s cavallo was proving difficult to control. It pulled against the reins and steam started to flow from its large nostrils. Fiona pulled back the reins but the cavallo was stronger. It started at a slow walk but quickly evolved into a rapid gallop. She squealed in fright, pulling the reins and digging her feet into the stirrups.
Sloan’s cavallo was suddenly beside them. She grabbed the reins from Fiona and turned her cavallo away from the nearing flock of, now startled, heron. Her cavallo began to race in the opposite direction away from the birds, and once the reins lost their slack, Fiona’s cavallo was ripped backward. The force of the stop sent Fiona flying off the cavallo and into the herons. She hit the water hard with a large splash and was suddenly soaking wet. A large bird, larger than the rest of the herons, lifted its head. It looked directly at her and let out a huge “CROOOAAAH!”
Fiona squeaked and began to scramble away from it.
“STOP!” The voice was loud and deep. It rang through her whole body, and rattled her large ribcage. She felt as if she was vibrating from her core.
She turned again to face the large Heron Eaglon. Fiona could only guess it was the source of the voice. Dropping to her knees with another small splash, she bowed before it with her arms stuck out in front of her. She kept her head down and stared into the shallow water, watching all the small rainbow fish swim around her knees.
The Eaglon moved through its flock, which was now watching her, slowly. As it stood over her she looked up at it. She estimated that it was near the same height as Sloan, maybe taller.
Sloan was now walking their way. Her footsteps splashed and her frosty blue eyes were wide in amazement. Fiona was relieved she wasn’t the only one shocked for once. She dropped to her knees as Fiona had.
The Eaglon surveyed them both quietly. Its eyes were a startling yellow and its feathers a pure white. The long legs were black and featherless. “I know why you are here.” It never moved its beak to talk.
Fiona gasped; Sloan however was stone faced once again.
The Eaglon looked behind it; the rest of the herons took flight, and relocated to their nests. It returned its yellow gaze to them. “You both seek what was taken from you; the things dearest to you. While the fighter’s is near, the fair one’s is far.” It stared at Sloan quietly for a moment. “I cannot see the future, so I will not know what will happen until it does, or until it is decided upon to happen. I knew you wanted to come see me, but whether you actually came, I did not know. You fighter, so cold and broken, you can restore your missing piece and find freedom. I advise that you save going to the darkness last. The heat will melt your coldness and you’ll return to being whole if you wait to find the dark piece last. To restore what you’ve lost you must collect the colored pieces and put together the bigger puzzle. Always remember this: One puzzle finishes another.”
Sloan frowned. “Pieces to what puzzle, Great Eaglon?”
“The greatest puzzle to ever exist; the puzzle that will reunite this world.” It turned away from her and looked upon Fiona. “One so fair as you will end up tainted in order to get what you think will make you whole once more. The dark one has your missing half. The key is in a name but a name is a name, fair swan. It only has power if you believe in it. Trust in the fighter and you shall find your missing half.”
Fiona stared blankly at the great bird. “Where can I find the dark one?”
“Only where desire burns within can they be found.” The Eaglon bowed its head to both of them before flying away toward its flock.
Sloan stood and lifted Fiona with her. “Let’s go, Bevin.” She started to walk to the tied up cavallo.
Fiona stopped a moment to watch the herons. The faint feeling of home sickness filled her. She longed more than anything to be home with her mothers and sisters. The dark one has your missing half. Who was the dark one?
© 2010 Niki Badger
AboutMy name is Niki and I'm 21 years old. I'm from a small town in northern California and I'm not really sure if writing is my thing but I've done a lot of writing in the past. I first posted on this s.. more..