Short Story – Amelia

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Brisk autumn winds pulled in around the Trafjan Cliffs along with the impending night. These impenetrable mountains were home to the Soarin, the Sky Wolves, a race of beings that resembled upright wolves with thick manes of varied colour, sleek lion like tails and enormous feathered wings. From their city could be seen the smoke of hundreds of cooking fires, now lifted into the air in white wisps. The seasonal Eternal Hunt had come back as a success and the young Soarin were pronounced victorious by their leader, Entellion. When the cheering subsided, the feast began and the celebration proceeded.

The main longhouse belonging to the Alpha of the Trafjan Cliff Soarin was prepared with haste. In little time, it welcomed its guests with a roaring fire in its hearth and lengthy wooden tables filled with food and drink. Among the guests gathered during this time were Annetta, Jason and Link. They had been invited on the behest of Entellion as the ambassadors of the Four Forces and as those who had participated in the hunt themselves mere months before in order to gain the support of the Sky Wolves against Mislantus the Threat. Beside them to one side were Sarina and Puc, while to the other was Doriden, whom was in the midst of congratulating and frightening the new hunters all at the same time.

“Everything goes downhill from here,” he chortled with a wolfish grin. “You guys better get ready for it. Hunting patrols at half past the zenith of the moon, cub guarding duty, fletching arrows, wood gathering. Yup, best get used to it fast. You won’t be hunting again for a while.”

Hearing these things, Jason turned to the side where Puc was seated. “I’m guessing that’s like grunt work or something, right?”

“As there is in any society,” the elf stated. “Much in the way you are expected to go to school or to do chores for your mother.”

“I guess that doesn’t seem all bad.” The boy shrugged, not seeing why the younger hunters looked so tense when Doriden spoke to them.

“Yes, except your mother will not rip out your feathers or nail your tail to a cliff face and leave you hanging there for a day with nowhere to go if you disobey,” Puc added.

Jason’s pupils went wide as his face paled upon hearing the punishment and glanced over at the hunters with a wave of sympathy.

“Seems quite standard to me,” Sarina answered, taking a sip from her wooden bowl.

“Yeah, but you ain’t on Valdhar no more,” Jason scoffed.

Off to the side, Annetta listened to the conversation. She did not feel a need to join in, however, as her mind wandered in all directions, through nostalgia, daydream and the many unanswered questions she still carried inside herself. The heat from the roaring fire in the middle of the longhouse creeping further and further beneath her skin, the girl rose form her seat.

“I’m gonna go outside to cool off,” she said to them, and without further contemplation, she rose from her seat and left.

The instant chill of the outdoors was a pleasant sensation to the girl as she walked past the threshold of the longhouse. Dressed in a long dark fur cloak over top of her casual attire of jeans, sneakers, a t-shirt and her jean jacket, she was almost invisible in the dark, were it not for the glowing orange and reds of the lit fires. Allowing herself to soak up just enough of the cool breeze to feel refreshed, Annetta began to walk amongst the lit outdoor fire pits, stopping from time to time to listen in on what the Soarin were talking about. Most of the conversations revolved around the Hunt, others about news and gossip from the other tribes. Whenever the Soarin noticed the girl, however, they stopped and turned their full attention to her. Soon after this happened, Annetta would find a way to excuse herself and moved on to the next fire. She preferred to blend in when she walked this way, finding the talks more interesting than when all eyes were on her. Eventually, she came to a stop when she had reached the tall wooden fortified gates. There she was able to make out a familiar set of Soarin eyes.

“Hey, Amelia,” the girl greeted her.

“Evening, Annetta,” the Soarin huntress replied, her own gaze drifting back to over the walls.

It was not often the girl found herself in the company of any of the peoples of the Four Forces without one of her friends close by, and so she was often gripped with a sense of unease. It was not that they made her feel uncomfortable when she was on her own, but it felt as though she had nothing to offer those before her in terms of conversation. While she was the heir of Orbeyus, a fact she had come to terms with, she was still a young girl. She did not hold the memories of her grandfather nor possess the eloquence of conversation Puc seemed to have, and so she was left to her wits alone. Alone was perhaps the best term for what she felt.

“Sentry duty? I thought everyone was to be at the feast,” she spoke finally, realizing what Amelia was doing.

“Someone must always keep watch,” Amelia stated plainly.

Annetta felt if she continued the conversation it would not go very far. There was a feeling of tension in the air, this much was clear, and the need for small talk to fill the gap would not lessen it. At first, she had thought that Amelia’s words had some validity to them and that an attack was impending, but the more she stood there, it became clearer that the source of anxiety was Amelia herself.

“I should go,” Annetta finally said. Pivoting on her heel she turned back to leave, making her descent down the steps of the wall.

“Wait,” Amelia’s voice called through the dark.

Curious, Annetta turned back to face her. Stepping down from her post, Amelia stretched her enormous wings as she floated down to the ground.

“Forgive me for my behaviour,” the Soarin began. “Ever since you crossed our gates I have not been able to shake how uncanny your face is to the one I am named after.”

Hearing this, Annetta raised an eyebrow. “What do you mean?”

“I believe she refers to the tale of your grandmother.” Puc’s voice came from behind the both of them.

Startled, Annetta looked over her shoulder to see the mage but a few feet away.

“My grandmother?” Annetta questioned him.

The girl felt a need to take a step back mentally as she withdrew into her shell. In all her time alive, she had never really questioned what had happened to any of her other grandparents. Her parents simply told her that they were not alive and she had accepted it. It hurt when others spoke of their grandparents, when all she had was the odd photo of Orbeyus and not even that of the others. Over time it had gotten easier, but the feeling of emptiness had still persisted to some degree. In the last few months, it had not occurred to her to ask her parents or Puc about them simply for lack of time.

“Amelia Severio,” Puc answered, “Orbeyus’s wife, one of the wisest and gentle women I’ve ever known. As fierce a warrior as the husband she loved and a mother who would risk all to protect her children, whether they be blood or not.”

The mage’s eyes lingered upon the Soarin who stood before them. Amelia’s ears twitched in response to the words of the mage as she gazed back upon those gathered. “I was not present for the happening of it all,” she said, “but the tale of my name’s origin has been made known to me many times by my father and by my brother who was there. Now come, let us find a fire and I shall recall the words spoken to me.”

*


Many years in the past…

Eyes the same shade as the blue sky above them looked down into the woodlands as a set of hands gripped a wooden longbow, nimble fingers set to pull back the drawstring at a moment’s notice. A mane of wild flame-red hair was tied back as best as the piece of leather used could hold it in place, wisps escaping here and there, matting the brow of their owner.

Locking gazes with their prey, a stag-like creature with curved horns resembling a ram, they knocked the arrow loose from the bowstring. When it hit its intended mark, the creature collapsed instantly.

“M’lady, ya keep that pace up and I’m gonna have to employ the elf to help me carry yer spoils,” Brakkus chuckled from not too far behind.

The owner of red hair turned around to face him. She was a woman in her late thirties, sharp featured, dressed in a green hunter’s garb to match her surroundings, with a sabre strapped to her belt.

“I’m sure Puc will be pleased to learn that.” She smiled, flashing a set of white teeth at her companion.

“My lady, he will not be,” Puc retorted, poking his head out from among the bushes some distance away, “for he was charged with the assembling of needed herbs and not the procuring of wild game for tonight’s feast.”

“Ya see how defensive he gets,” Brakkus chuckled.

“I think he may be in want of getting back to someone is all.” Amelia winked at Brakkus, sitting down on one of the fallen logs close to where she had taken her shot, causing the Hurtz to laugh more.

“That was uncalled for, Lady Amelia,” Puc huffed.

“I think you’re more a lady at times than I am, Thanestorm,” she teased further, “For I at least am not scared to get my hands dirty with a little dead game.”

Sliding off from where she sat, Amelia made her way over with Brakkus towards their prize, and having loaded it up into the wagon once she had removed the arrow, she took a good look at their hunting efforts.

“You think that will be enough?” she asked the Hurtz.

“Are ye asking about my plate alone, M’lady?” Brakkus grinned, only to receive a back handed smack across his armoured belly from Amelia.

“The young hunters still have Orion to hunt,” she spoke on a more serious note. “I only want to take down what will be eaten and nothing more.”

“A wise choice, my lady,” Puc commented as he made his way over to them. “We should also get going, for the hunt will soon begin if it has not already.”

“Aye, and ye’ll soon be out of clean arrows,” Brakkus pointed out, tossing the dead animal into the wagon that was pulled by two draft horses.

As if on cue, the sound of a hunting horn signalling the start of the event could be heard booming through the trees and causing the earth beneath the companions’ feet to tremble just slightly.

“We’d best get a move on then, I suppose,” Amelia said. “Don’t want to get in their way.”

“Aye, and young Arieus shall be with them,” Brakkus commented. “I don’t think he’ll appreciate his ma taking down the beast before he has a shot at it.”

Amelia Severio chuckled, hearing the accusation of the Hurtz. “He won’t be alone. Arcanthur shall be with him, as will Aurora and Talia.”

“Regardless, my lady, we should leave soon,” Puc urged them. “Angry boars are not something we wish to encounter.”

Taking in one last look at the greenery around them, listening to the wind ruffle through the multitudes of leaves, Amelia sighed. Looking over her shoulder at the mage and the Hurtz, she gave a curt nod of agreement. The wagon then having been secured, the trio mounted up and Puc prepared the spell which would bring them up to the Trafjan Cliffs.

The mage had already begun the incantation when Amelia’s ears picked up the distinct sound of a scream. It was not the squealing scream of a pig, either. Her protective instincts kicking in, the woman leaped down from the already levitating wagon, and went in the direction of the sound.

“My lady! Where are you going?” Puc shouted after her.

“Where help is needed!” she called back cryptically and disappeared into the thicket of the wood.

“Unknown’s bane.” Puc gritted his teeth. “Must she always do that?”

“I ain’t stopping ya to go after her mage,” Brakkus stated, “But someone has gotta take these back and yer window to leap down after her is becoming shorter and shorter by tha second.”

Glancing down, Puc muttered something in a foreign tongue under his breath before retrieving his staff from its resting spot. Jumping off the wagon, he made a quick rolling recovery and was off after her.

Some distance ahead, Amelia had already come upon the source of agonizing calls. Beneath one of the larger trees, a young Soarin, much younger than was expected to participate in the Hunt, was cornered by three large boars that were about the size of a small horse. Short tusks protruded from their snouts, covered and glistening with saliva as they closed in on their prey. At first Amelia found herself baffled as to why the Soarin pup had not simply flown away, but then she saw his twisted and swollen wing as the answer to that question. Knowing she did not have much time, she stepped out from the shadows.

“Hey! You three!” she yelled, “Why don’t you pick on someone higher up the hierarchy chain?”

Hearing the voice of the woman, the animals seemed almost sentient for a few moments as they tried to discern what she was saying to them. Their would-be intelligence soon faded into rage, however, when the first of them squealed and ran at her head-on.

Letting loose a single arrow before it came too close, Amelia drew the sabre from her belt and proceeded to slash and hack at it, making sure to steer clear of the tusks. Keeping mindful of the other two boars, who also attempted to also run at her, the woman alternated her footwork and used her sword not only to attack, but also to defend. Working her way around her assailants, she soon found herself between them and the Soarin cub. Glancing sideways quickly, she recognized who it was that she was protecting.

“I thought your father made it very clear you were not to wander off alone into the wilds, Doriden,” she spoke in a stern tone, never turning from the foe.

”I just wanted to see the Hunt,” the youngster protested. “I didn’t count on twisting my wing.”

Amelia did not bother replying as she focused all her energy on the fight. She held her own for a little while longer, but soon the strain of facing three opponents began to wear on her. Losing concentration, her foot took a wrong turn and one of the boar’s tusks tore through the side of her leather jerkin. Pulling back swiftly in order to prevent further damage, Amelia glanced down at the wound for only a second before she found herself needing to pay attention to her foes.

Suddenly, one of the hogs caught fire. Screaming, it ran for its life, causing the other two frightened animals to scatter. Looking up, Amelia saw Puc running in her direction.

“My lady, are you well?” were his first words as he approached.

“I have been in better spirits,” she admitted, holding the wound at her side.

Puc quickly examined the wound before he spoke. “I have potions that we can treat this with back at the cliffs. The graze was not deep. If we bind it now, you should be fine.”

Before Amelia could reply to Puc’s council, a low rumbling sound could be heard from the thicket of the woods. It was not the sound of a boar; this much the three of them could discern. Looking over in the direction of the sound, a pair of emerald gleaming eyes could be made out from the darkened woods. Despite their shade, Amelia knew them to be a threat.

Holding her sabre in a defensive position, Amelia instructed the mage. “Take my quiver and when you get a clean shot, run the beast through.”

“My lady, perhaps it is best we switch places with you being such a phenomenal shot,” Puc began, only to be caught off guard by having the quiver and arrows tossed to him.

“And miss by change to battle a Leurs?” She shot him a mischievous glance. “I think not, Thanestorm.”

“But your injury!” He gritted his teeth.

“Can wait.”

Seeing that she was filled with battle lust and could not be reasoned with, he set to quickly drawing back the bowstring. As the thing came from the shadows, Puc was able to make out a feline body covered in thick brown fur from head to toe, the fur being thickest around the neck. Black nails the sizes of small knives could be seen as each foot was lifted as the creature advanced forward. From its distinctly bear-like head, a gaping maw of razor sharp-teeth matched its claws and swishing in an alert fashion behind it was a long slender tail. Every sense in Puc’s body told him to think of a spell to use against the being, perhaps the fire spell he had cast earlier, but with Amelia blocking his view, he risked hitting her instead. He would need a different spell and hands to cast it. Looking back, he held the bow and arrows out for the Soarin.

“I presume you know how to use these,” he said. Turning back, he began searching his mind for an incantation.

The creature, having come within range of Amelia, made the first attack, leaping at her with its full weight. Rolling on the ground to dodge, Amelia struck the thing on its arm, causing the beast to curl back for a split second before it resumed its offensive again, swiping at the woman. What Amelia did have time to see, however, was its other arm come up from the side and collide with her injured side, setting the woman flying some distance away though the tree.

Coming to a stop once she had finished rolling, Amelia quickly oriented herself to her surroundings, taking note of the steep cliff a few feet to the right from where she lay. Getting up quickly and picking up her sword, the woman scarcely had time to do much more than that before the sound of crashing trees could be heard and the Leurs appeared.

Gripping the sword tighter than before, Amelia stood her ground as she glared at the beast.

“I fear you not.”

She spoke more to herself than to the creature before her, knowing it was not sentient.

While the beast realigned itself, Amelia saw a hefty stone lying nearby. Picking it up, she flung it at the Leurs, hitting it square in between the eyes. Enraged, the creature redoubled its efforts and went straight for Amelia.

Making a quick decision and seeing where it was charging to directly, Amelia waited until the last second and jumped out of the way, watching as the Leurs dived to its death over the cliff. Adrenaline subsiding and being replaced with relief, Amelia forgot about the tail of the beast. Like a serpent it shot out and wrapped itself around her ankle, proceeding to drag her down. Digging her sabre into the ground, Amelia gripped tight onto the instrument of death as she struggled to hold on.

Rushing to her aid, Puc gripped the arm of the woman, straining to lift both her and the Leurs.

“Hang in there my lady, aid will be upon us soon,” he managed to say through gritted teeth.

A warm smile filled Amelia’s face, grateful for the presence of her friend. As she reached out from within, finding the right words to say however, the grip on the handle of the sword slipped from her fingers as the thrashing creature below tipped the scales of the fight.

*


“The body of Lady Amelia was never recovered,” Puc concluded the tale, “while the Leurs was exactly where it fell. We had a sliver of hope that Mordred had somehow managed to capture her, but after the Great War, when she was not found, that hope was abandoned.”

“To honour your grandmother’s sacrifice for my brother, I was given her name,” Amelia explained, “and for years I was reminded from whom I was named with that story.”

Staring into the fire, Annetta listened intently to every word that had been said. It felt as if someone had just told her about the Lab all over again. It was the feeling of realizing part of herself that had been missing all those years, even if she had never stopped to think about it.

“You’re more like her than you know,” the mage finally said, breaking the silence. “I said nothing of it on our initial encounter, but anyone who had known her could see, if not by your fiery disposition then by your features. Were it not for your hair being darker, you would be her carbon copy in youth.”

“I guess that’s just another reputation I’ll need to live up to.” Annetta sighed and then smiled lightly. “I think I have the reckless thing down pretty good.”

“Too good, in my opinion, least I remind you of Morwick,” Puc hissed.

The girl laughed as the embers from the fire they sat around danced upon the wind into the sky, and reaching their point of oblivion, merged with the star-streaked night.