Why is it Red?

Why is it Red?

A Story by AliciaB
"

Welcome to Malinaria!

"

Note:  If you've read my story "Torture," you might recognize a couple characters in this one.  That's because I've developed a [more or less] complete story around the events and characters of "Torture" (in other words, that story is now a  single chapter or two in a much bigger one.)  This chapter, "Why is it Red?," is at the beginning of this larger work.  A lot of things happen between the events of this installment and "Torture," which is why there are some major disparities in the personality of a certain character from one to the other.  If you haven't read "Torture," please enjoy this introduction to the denizens of Malinaria.  And without further ado... the interesting stuff! 


             In… out.  In… out.  Khazuman kept his cerulean eyes closed, focusing on inhaling deeply through his nostrils and letting the air pass softly out, warm and controlled, through his slender lips.  His fingers tightened around the hilt of his long sword, whose blade lay balanced upon his knee as he sat cross-legged with the weapon in his lap.  He leaned back against the mossy side of the enormous boulder behind him, his sleek black hair cascading down just past his shoulders.  He tried to ignore the tumult of the battle raging on the other side of the rock and the rapid thudding of his own anxious heart.  In… out.  In… out. 

            Another male figure knelt to Khazuman’s right, this one with short brown hair and eyes a slightly lighter shade of blue.  His name was Keidian, and he was Khazuman’s elder brother by forty years.  To human eyes, however, the pair would have appeared youthful - Keidian in his early twenties, Khazuman a few years younger and just entering manhood.  But the brothers, and the score of other warriors concealed amidst the trees around them, were far from human.  They were the denizens of Malinaria, a fantastical realm existing in a universe parallel to but separate from that of the mortal world.  Though humanoid in appearance, they stood nearly seven feet tall, possessed incredible agility and strength, and could live for thousands of years.  Each was a skilled and deadly warrior, and they waited now on the edge of a battle to defend their home.  A small force of invaders from the dying realm of Dilaar had overrun a remote Malinarian village, but a fierce army of defenders had fallen upon them on their march to further conquest.  The Dilaari were all but destroyed now, trapped in a clearing within the forest.  Khazuman, Keidian, and their group of soldiers were to deal the killing blow.

            Keidian watched the battle from his vantage point behind the rock, crouching low so as not to betray their position.  He glanced down at Khazuman, still concentrating on his breathing.  “Nervous, brother?” Keidian asked.

            Khazuman opened his eyes and cast a sidelong glance at the older creature.  “Not at all,” he replied dryly, sarcasm dripping from his voice.  “I am about to charge headlong into the first battle of my life, facing an enemy I have never seen before, wielding a weapon I have never used save with a protective covering during training.  Of course I am nervous.  I’d be a fool not to be.”

            Keidian smiled.  “Indeed you would,” he replied.  “But fear not.  You are well prepared for this.”

            Khazuman closed his eyes again.  “Thank you.”  It was not empty praise - even for a Malinarian warrior, Khazuman possessed remarkable skill.  He had beaten his older brother, one of the most talented swordsmen in the history of the realm, many times in training, making the two of them the most respected fighters in the entire Malinarian army.  But no less would be expected from the sons of the king.

            Keidian returned his gaze to the battle, where their father, Gaelin, stood amidst the carnage, shouting orders to either side and striking down with his bladed staff any Dilaari attacker who dared to challenge him.  “Father will give the signal any moment now,” Keidian murmured.  Suddenly, he saw the king turn and shout something to a nearby Malinarian warrior, who nodded in reply and raised an ornate golden horn to his lips.  A long, clear note cleaved through the roar of the battle and rang out across the early morning sky.

            “There it is!”  Keidian exclaimed.  He leaped over the rock before him in one bound, drawing his sword and charging forth with a spirited battle cry.

            “Wonderful,” Khazuman muttered.  He opened his eyes as the other soldiers streamed past on either side, letting the more experienced warriors go before him.  One presumptuous fighter, however, mistook the young creature’s hesitation.

            “What?  Turning coward?” the soldier mocked as he passed by.

            “Or trying to stay out of your way, you fool,” Khazuman muttered once his insolent detractor was out of earshot.  With all of their forces set loose, the blue-eyed creature rose and followed his companions out of the trees.  He paused at the edge of the field, drew a deep breath, and charged into the fray.

            If there was anything Khazuman was not prepared for, it was the utter chaos of the battle.  The noise and the action he had expected - it was quite like being on the training floor, in fact - but the disorganization, the complete havoc as soldiers spun in every direction and hacked each other to pieces, nearly overwhelmed him.  He stood alone for a moment, disoriented and unchallenged.  He saw Keidian dueling fiercely with a vicious opponent off to his right and wondered if he should go to his brother’s aid.  But soon a nearby Dilaari fighter spotted the young warrior and charged toward him, snarling and brandishing a bloodied, wickedly curved sword.  Instantly, Khazuman’s focus locked onto his attacker.  The creature was wiry and slender, with pale green skin and pointed ears that stuck out from his long, dark emerald hair.  His amber eyes burned with ferocity and desperation as he swung wildly at Khazuman’s head.  Khazuman parried the blow and returned it with his own, easily matching and soon overwhelming his opponent’s attack.  The Dilaari warrior was quick - but not quick enough.  A foolishly hasty strike left his sword out wide, and before the green-skinned creature could react, Khazuman lunged forward and slashed him across the chest.

            The Dilaari soldier flinched and then stood motionless.  His sword slid from his grasp, his eyes and mouth wide with astonishment as he struggled to comprehend what had just occurred.  Slowly, he lowered his gaze to his torso, where crimson blood drenched his pale brown tunic from a gash extending from his left breast to his right hip.  The green-skinned creature clutched at his chest and stomach as if in a futile attempt to stem the gushing red flow.  He leaned slowly forward, confusion and desperation filling his amber eyes, and a low, soft moan escaped his lips.  At the sound, Khazuman froze.  The noise, so full of shock and grief, was unlike anything he had ever heard.  Yet it was also hauntingly familiar, like a cry one of his own kin might make.  The Dilaari warrior collapsed upon the ground, curling into a ball and whimpering slightly as his breaths turned to shallow, hiccupping gasps.   Khazman could only stand there, stunned.

            “Adzonudel!” Khazuman barely registered the shriek of another Dilaari soldier standing not twenty feet away, staring in horror at the dying figure who lay at Khazuman’s feet.  The Malinarian warrior made no move to react as his second challenger charged him, screaming words in a language Khazuman did not understand, tears streaming down his emerald-hued face from eyes overflowing with denial and pain.  Behind Khazuman, Keidian turned away from his vanquished opponent to see his younger brother standing motionless, apparently unaware of the enemy hurtling towards him.

            “Khazuman!” Keidian shouted.  Khazuman started and thrust his sword forward reflexively just as the Dilaari soldier reached his position.  The sword’s tip pierced the flesh above the green-skinned creature’s heart, and the action, combined with the Dilaari warrior’s momentum, drove Khazuman’s blade deep into his enemy’s chest.  Hot blood spurted over Khazuman’s hands as the impaled creature gasped and cried out in anguish.  The sight of the sticky red fluid nearly made Khazuman retch.  He turned his gaze quickly away from the wound, and his eyes locked with those of the Dilaari warrior.  They were amber like those of the creature who had fallen before him, but brighter and more orange in color.  The sorrow and disbelief that flooded their depths tore at Khazuman’s heart.  There was something else there, too.  It was fear.  Horrified, paralyzing fear.

            Shaken and appalled, Khazuman yanked his sword from the creature’s chest, and the Dilaari warrior dropped to his knees.  He paused there for a moment, trembling and heaving, before collapsing over the body of his fallen comrade.  Khazuman stood there and stared at the two of them.  Around him, the battle was drawing to a close, the remaining Dilaari fighters being swiftly dispatched by Malinarian forces.  But Khazuman had eyes for nothing but the figures before him as a final tremulous gasp escaped the orange-eyed soldier’s lips.

            Slowly, Khazuman knelt, laying his sword carefully upon the trampled grass beside him.  From this close, he could see a remarkable resemblance between the fallen warriors.  Although their hair and eyes differed, their skin was the same pale shade of green, and their facial structures were nearly identical.  The young fighter recalled the way the second soldier had screamed when Khazuman struck down his comrade, and how Keidian shouted at him in warning of the creature’s attack.  Their voices held the same note of desperation.  “Was he your brother?” Khazuman whispered to the second Dilaari warrior.  But his words fell unheeded upon the creature’s pointed ears.

            Khazuman noticed that the soldier’s eyes were still open, frozen in a look of terror and pain.  Almost on impulse, he reached over and closed them, if only to hide their unsettling gaze.  As he did so, Khazuman’s fingertips brushed the creature’s own blood across his eyelids.  The Malinarian warrior shuddered.  He brought his hands before his face, his blue eyes wide with horror.  The blood was everywhere - pooled around his nails, splashed across his knuckles, tracing the lines on his palms in bright scarlet that contrasted vividly with his pale skin.  Bile rose in his throat at the sight of the fluid and the feel of its warm stickiness between his fingers.  Countless times had he imagined his first battle, reveling in daydreams of the thrill of combat and the glory of victory.  But none of his fantasies were anything like this.

            Off behind Khazuman, Keidian had been organizing groups to collect the Malinarian dead and wounded.  Now he advanced to where his brother knelt and gently placed his hand upon the younger warrior’s shoulder.

            “Why is it red?” Khazuman whispered, his eyes still fixed on his bloodied palms.  “Their flesh is green.  Why… why is it red?”

            “All people bleed the same color,” Keidian replied softly.

            Khazuman lowered his hands to his lap.  “I do not want…” he began.  But his words were cut short by another voice.

            “There you are!”  The tall, imposing figure of their father strode swiftly towards them, his fine armor glinting in the light of the newly-risen sun.  Although several thousand years old, the king appeared to be in the prime of his adult life, his short hair and beard a vibrant gold and his gray eyes as keen and piercing as those of a hawk.  Blood shimmered on the steel blade of his golden staff as he approached his sons.  “How fared the princes of Malinaria in this battle?”

            “Father - ”  Gaelin ignored the faint pleading in Keidian’s voice as he halted beside him and glanced over Khazuman’s shoulder at the young warrior’s handiwork.

            “Not bad, for your first battle and the limited role I allowed you,” the king remarked.  He turned abruptly and began making his way towards another part of the battlefield.  “The Dilaari beasts have been destroyed.  Come now.  We march back to Avenadon.  Let the crows dispose of them.”

            Khazuman flinched at the words.  He turned to stare at his father’s back, unable to believe what he had just heard.  Slowly, his gaze returned to the pair who lay dead before him.  “Why?” he whispered.  “Why did they come here, if only to be slaughtered?”

            Gaelin’s keen ears picked up every word.  He paused and turned to face his son.  “They are driven by desperation and greed,” he said.  “They flee a dying world, hoping to plunder what they can from this one.”

            Khazuman met his father’s gaze.  “Then are they not refugees?” he asked.  “Should they not be treated with mercy?”

            “They are thieves and murderers,” Gaelin answered coldly.  “They have destroyed innocent lives and so have forsaken whatever mercy we might have offered them.”

            Khazuman looked again upon the faces of the Dilaari soldiers he had slain, so similar that they could have been brothers.  He wondered if they shared a father, and if he would have been proud of his sons’ valor in this battle.  “But - but surely it’s not all their fault!” the Malinarian warrior cried.  “Were they not trying to save their own families?”

            “When faced with trial, they chose to sow discord and death.  These are the consequences of their actions,” the king replied sharply.  His steely voice held a dangerous edge of anger.

            “But - ”

            “That is all I will hear from you on this!” Gaelin roared.  “Prepare to march back to the city.  That is a command from your king.”  With that, the Malinarian ruler spun around and strode away, his bloodied staff flashing in the sun.

            Keidian placed his hand again on Khazuman’s shoulder.  The younger warrior, stunned to the point of silence, did not react.  “Come on, Khazuman,” Keidian said softly.  He turned and began walking slowly away.

            Khazuman stared one last time at the faces of the fallen Dilaari soldiers.  “I’m sorry,” he whispered, his voice on the verge of breaking.  Slowly he rose, retrieving his sword as he did so, and followed his brother to the place where the troops were gathering.  The Malinarian army marched away soon after, leaving a field of green-skinned corpses behind.  Khazuman locked his eyes on the back of the soldier in front of him and tried to ignore the cawing of the crows.

 

 

            Keidian’s footsteps echoed softly off the towering stone columns around him, disturbing the quiet stillness of the night as he made his way down the cavernous main hall of the royal palace.  Behind him, warm light and the cheerful sound of rowdy voices spilled through the open door of the banquet hall, where the soldiers of the Malinarian army noisily celebrated their victory over the Dilaari invaders.  No one had noticed the blue-eyed warrior slip quietly away from the festivities into the peace and darkness of the corridor outside.  No one, that is, save one.

            As Keidian continued down the hallway, the shouting and laughter fading away behind him, a shadow detached itself from a nearby pillar and advanced toward him.  Keidian paused, and the figure stopped at his side.  Silver moonlight cascading through a nearby window fell upon a female form robed in the uniform of a castle guard, with dark, waist-length brown hair and eyes a deep and penetrating shade of violet.

            “What?  Abandoning the revelry already?” the guard, Selenni by name, asked with a grin.

            Keidian smirked.  “There was hardly anything to revel about,” he replied.  “The battle was practically finished by the time I was allowed onto the field.”

            “Oh, how terrible,” Selenni pouted in mock sympathy.  “The great Prince Keidian, one of the finest warriors in all the realm of Malinaria, is deemed worthy to escape the confines of the city for the glory and excitement of battle, only to find that his considerable skills are not instrumental to the success of the campaign.”

            Keidian grinned.  “Are you offended that you were not chosen to come along?” he asked.

            “No,” Selenni admitted.  “Only restless.  It grows dull serving on the castle guard.  I’d much rather be out slaying monsters with the rest of you.”

            The female warrior must have noticed the look of pain that flashed across Keidian’s face, for she paused and stared into his blue eyes with concern.  “What’s the matter?” she asked.

            “It’s nothing.”  Keidian dropped his gaze quickly, searching for a way to change the subject.  “You’re wearing the necklace I gave you,” he remarked.

            “Of course,” Selenni replied, fingering the ornately-cut amethyst gem that hung from a silver chain at her throat.  Keidian reached up and gently brushed the stone’s surface with his fingertips.

            “I chose this because I thought it matched your eyes,” he said softly.  “But now, seeing them together, I realize how dull the jewel is by comparison.”

            Selenni smirked.  “Nearly ten years of courting me,” she said, “and you are no better at flirting than on the day we met.”  Her face became suddenly serious, her violet eyes holding Keidian’s gaze.  “But that is not what troubles you now.”

            Keidian sighed deeply.  “It’s Khazuman,” he said.  “This was his first battle, and it… unsettled him.  Our father was less than sympathetic toward his feelings.”

            “Well,” Selenni offered gently, “nothing new about that, unfortunately.”

            Keidian gave a small, sad smile of agreement.  “Khazuman was not at the feast,” he continued.  “I fear he still dwells upon the horror of the battle and our father’s harsh words to him.”

            Selenni gazed into the azure depths of Keidian’s eyes and read the unspoken request within them.  “Go to him,” she said softly.  “It’s all right.”

            Keidian’s face flooded with gratitude.  “Thank you,” he replied.  He took Selenni’s hand in his own, raising it to his lips and gently kissing her fingers.  “Good night, Lady Selenni.”

            With a bow, the tall warrior departed, leaving his companion alone amidst the shadows of the hall.  Selenni watched his retreating back pass through alternating bands of moonlight and darkness, her heart filled with both admiration and sadness at the depth of the blue-eyed warrior’s compassion.  “Good night, Keidian,” she whispered.

 

            Up the huge stone staircase Keidian climbed, ascending to the floor of the palace that housed the royal family’s private chambers.  Up and to the left, down another long corridor to a door almost at the end of the hall.  Keidian stopped and knocked softly on the thick, ornately-carved wood.  “Khazuman,” he whispered.  There was no response.  Gingerly, Keidian tried the handle.  It was unlocked, so the blue-eyed creature eased the door open and stepped silently into the room.

            The chamber was filled with the peaceful sounds and mild coolness of the summer night, which drifted in through the open doors leading to the balcony at the opposite end of the room.  A gentle breeze fluttered the curtains on either side of the doorway and the gossamer draperies surrounding the empty bed.  A sheet of parchment flapped quietly upon the desk, held down at one corner by a half-empty bottle of ink.  The wind ruffled the pages of a book that lay open atop a stack of others on a table in the center of the room.  Keidian advanced carefully toward the balcony doors.  Amidst the chirping of insects and the noises brought on by the breeze, he could hear the repeated, gentle smack of something small and hard being thrown up and striking flesh as it came back down.

            The cool scents of the nighttime forest washed over the tall warrior as he stepped onto the moonlit balcony.  Beyond the low wall at the edge of the terrace stretched the shadowed tops of endless miles of trees, their leaves rustling gently in the wind.  Keidian made out a silhouette sitting on the other side of the wall with its back to him.  As he approached, a small stone flew into the air next to the shadow’s head and fell back down into its waiting hand.

            Keidian reached the end of the balcony.  Khazuman was sitting on a narrow ledge just outside the wall, his back against the stone behind him and his feet hanging over the edge.  The black-haired creature stared out across the treetops as he tossed the stone into the air and caught it again and again.  He made no acknowledgement of his brother’s presence as Keidian stepped over the wall and sat beside him.

            There was a long silence, broken only by the sound of the stone hitting Khazuman’s hand.  The younger warrior’s eyes remained fixed on some faraway point.  “Am I supposed to say something?” he finally asked.

            “Only if you wish to,” Keidian answered.  “You seem deep in thought.”

            Khazuman smirked.  “Treasonous thought, if anything,” he replied.  “Sympathy for our enemies.”  He lowered his gaze to his knees, still throwing and catching the stone.  “All my life, I’ve trained as a warrior,” Khazuman said softly.  “Trained to be loyal, and courageous, and strong.  And then, tested in my first battle, what do I learn?  That I am soft.  And weak.”  At the final word, Khazuman’s voice became bitter.  His face contorted in anger, and he threw the stone violently into the trees.  The brothers listened to it clatter through the branches, knocking down leaves and startling small creatures as it went, until it landed with a softened thud upon the forest floor.

            “You are not weak,” Keidian said.  “All warriors harbor thoughts like yours at first.  It will grow easier with time.”

            Khazuman smirked again.  “Is that supposed to be reassuring?” he asked.

            Keidian had no answer to that.  He sighed and stared out over the sea of moon-washed leaves before them.  “Just remember why we do it,” he finally said.  “We do it to protect the ones we love.”

            Khazuman made no response for a long time.  Finally, he nodded wordlessly.  Keidian rose and stepped back over the wall, pausing to look at Khazuman once again.  “Good night, brother,” he whispered.

            “Good night.”  As Keidian turned and walked quietly back into the palace, Khazuman’s gaze remained on trees before him.  His cerulean eyes closed, and he gritted his teeth as he fought the visions threatening to overwhelm his mind.  He would not give in.  He would not be weak.  But on the images came.  The green-skinned soldiers he had killed that day, their bodies huddled in a heap at his feet.  Their amber eyes, staring into his with horrifying looks of denial and fear.  Their warm, scarlet blood dripping from his hands.  Khazuman stifled a sob, his face contorted with pain.  He would have courage.  He would be strong.  He would remember why he did it.

            The amber eyes screamed soundlessly at him.

            A single, bitter tear etched a course down Khazuman’s face.  His deep blue eyes opened, and he gazed again across the silvered treetops, staring into the distance where the forest disappeared into the impenetrable darkness of the night.  He swallowed hard and drew in a shuddering breath.  “I will always remember,” the young warrior whispered, his eyes glistening with sorrow.  “But I fear that I will never be able to forget.”

© 2016 AliciaB


Author's Note

AliciaB
Many thanks for making it all the way through this story/chapter/thing. If you wouldn't mind hanging around a little longer... any comments? Pacing, descriptions, etc.? What did you think of Selenni? How about Gaelin? I'm still working on developing his character in my head... we'll see how that goes. I'll try to stick with this story as long as I can. Somehow, I have to get Khazuman from where he is here to where he is in "Torture," which is quite a jump. This should be interesting. Thanks again for enduring my rambling!

My Review

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Featured Review

My. God. I haven't read "Torture," I'm honestly a bit scared to, but this is amazing! The way you handle a warrior's guilt and a father's expectations is amazing and something that I've never been able to do. You also get my respect for the warrior's guilt part, that's always my favorite part of a war story (wow that sounds bad.). I'm dying for more!

P.S. I don't mean to nit-pick, but:

"Keidian sighed deeply. 'It’s Khazuman,' he said. 'This was his first battle, and it… unsettled him. Our father was less than sympathetic toward his feelings.'

'Well,' Selenni offered gently, 'nothing new about that, unfortunately.'

Khazuman gave a small, sad smile of agreement. 'Khazuman was not at the feast,' he continued. 'I fear he still dwells upon the horror of the battle and our father’s harsh words to him.' "

Khazuman made a random appearance O-O

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

AliciaB

7 Years Ago

OOOPS... I knew I shouldn't have given them such similar names. XD Thank you so much!
Alice Poppy

7 Years Ago

No problem!



Reviews

My. God. I haven't read "Torture," I'm honestly a bit scared to, but this is amazing! The way you handle a warrior's guilt and a father's expectations is amazing and something that I've never been able to do. You also get my respect for the warrior's guilt part, that's always my favorite part of a war story (wow that sounds bad.). I'm dying for more!

P.S. I don't mean to nit-pick, but:

"Keidian sighed deeply. 'It’s Khazuman,' he said. 'This was his first battle, and it… unsettled him. Our father was less than sympathetic toward his feelings.'

'Well,' Selenni offered gently, 'nothing new about that, unfortunately.'

Khazuman gave a small, sad smile of agreement. 'Khazuman was not at the feast,' he continued. 'I fear he still dwells upon the horror of the battle and our father’s harsh words to him.' "

Khazuman made a random appearance O-O

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

AliciaB

7 Years Ago

OOOPS... I knew I shouldn't have given them such similar names. XD Thank you so much!
Alice Poppy

7 Years Ago

No problem!
Whoa, you really delved into the fight in this story. It was pretty amazing to read. Being that I only read this story once, I paid more attention to the story than the characters in it, besides that, the scenes were pretty intense. I'm not big with war stories, but I enjoyed the feeling of history this story conveyed. The end became more of a reverie that I really enjoyed when everything calmed down and took more of a, I want to say, romantic turn. Again, sorry, not familiar with the characters.

"Selenni smirked. “Nearly ten years of courting me,” she said, “and you are no better at flirting than on the day we met.” Her face became suddenly serious, her violet eyes holding Keidian’s gaze. “But that is not what troubles you now.” " ~ Love the descriptions and dialogue!

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

AliciaB

7 Years Ago

Thank you very much!
Cyprian Van Dyke

7 Years Ago

You're most welcome!
Your writing is near-perfect, as far as structure, organization, mechanics, & using dialogue well to further your storyline. I have to say, I'm not a fan of war genre . . . I always turn off or click away from any reading, TV show or movie with violence becuz there's already too much in real life news. That being said, it's pretty rare for any writing of this type to hold my attention long enuf for me to finish a longer chapter such as this. I know this probably sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it really is rare for me to stick with something in this genre. It's a testament to your excellent storytelling & word crafting. I'm sorry I can't engage with this more completely or more enthusiastically.

Posted 7 Years Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

AliciaB

7 Years Ago

Thank you very much! I greatly appreciate your taking the time to read all the way through this and.. read more
barleygirl

7 Years Ago

Thank you for sharing more about your goals in writing this . . . I love the direction you seek.

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Added on July 26, 2016
Last Updated on September 9, 2016

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AliciaB
AliciaB

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I love running, drawing, reading, and writing (obviously). I am an absolute nerd and a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit. I am Roman Catholic, I have three younger sisters, and I am reall.. more..

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