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Astariel's Journey

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#1 {IRS}Athos


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Posted 07 September 2009 - 02:24 AM

Chapter One: Trouble on the Road

At noon on most days, the makeshift camp that served the bandit Byron as a home was quiet. Byron, a nineteen-year-old with ashy blonde hair and a ragtag assortment of clothing, disliked the heat of the day, and spent most of his time sleeping under a tent made from a plundered cloak propped up on two sticks. The shade protected him from the ferociously hot sun, and, lying on his stomach at the lip of the small canyon, he could see down the road in both directions for miles. This vigilance had netted him many an unwary traveler.

It was on one of the hottest days of the summer when Byron sighted a lone rider heading down the road from the east. Byron saw two remounts trailing behind the rider: the sign of a merchant or a knight who required more than one horse. He hoped it was a merchant: he had been living off lean pickings, even resorting to eating desert lizards, and he was anxious for a change in his diet. He folded his tent, slung it into a haversack that held his meager possessions, and prepared to “welcome” the traveler.

Byron stood boldly in the center of the road, a three-ball bolas dangling from one hand and a pair of daggers thrust through his belt. In the high noon sunlight, he could make out the rider: a slight-statured warrior with a longsword at his side. The rider was heavily cloaked and hooded despite the hot weather. The horse he rode was a magnificent black stallion; the two remounts were mares with various sacks slung over their backs. The sacks drooped, apparently empty, but you could never tell with travelers these days. All three were fine animals, worthy of a pretty penny at any marketplace.

“Paladin,” muttered Byron. He had never understood the religious warriors, but he knew that one would most likely have enough money to feed him for months. The sun shone down ruthlessly from above: even the walls of the canyon provided no shade. The rider entered the canyon, seeming not to see the bandit at the far end, and continued on his way, with the remounts trailing after him. As he drew nearer to Byron, the bandit whooped.

“Heya, rider! Stop your horse if you don’t want this embedded in your skull!” He brandished his bolas in the air, whirling it so that the stones clacked together.

The sunlight lancing down into the canyon revealed not a man, but a woman. Although she could not be considered beautiful, she was pretty enough, with high cheekbones and grave eyes the color of the sky. Her lustrous, midnight-black hair, freed from the hood, cascaded down just past her shoulders, and she looked at Byron. Byron estimated that she was one or two years older than him; no more.

“Who are you, and what do you want?” she asked. Her voice was soft and gentle, and Byron felt its calming influence beginning to affect him. He shook it off with a laugh.

“My name’s Byron, and I think you know what I want. I need to eat, and the only way to get money to eat is by taking it from travelers. Empty your purse, and I’ll let you go. Who are you, anyway?” he asked.

The young woman’s blue eyes took him in, noting the ragged, faded red tunic he wore and the fraying patches on the knees of his breeches. He had obviously seen hard times, but somehow survived.

“I am Astariel Nomana, formerly of the holy order. I have no purse to give; I travel with no things of this world save the clothes on my back.” But he is a mere boy, she thought, her eyes grave and kind as she looked him over with her magical sight. He has never killed. He may look hard, but his heart is not. I must find a way to help him.

“What about your pack horses?” asked Byron, twirling the bolas idly. “What are all the sacks for?”

“They are empty,” replied Astariel. “I keep them to carry whatever I may find that may benefit others. My horses answer to me alone, but I have no need of my weapon. My mission is one of peace, not of war.” She unbuckled her sword belt and tossed it into the dusty road in front of Byron. “It is yours.”

Byron scoffed with an unusual show of bravado, not feeling as confident as he appeared. “Hmph. Nothing but the clothes on your back, eh? Well, those will do just fine for me. Giving up your weapon so easily was foolish.”

A reasonable request, seeing as the clothes he is wearing are little more than rags, Astariel thought. I can easily find something makeshift to wear on the road. The sale of my horses would feed him for weeks, if not months. Even if it does result in more danger for me along the road, I can deal with it. The alternative is a fight, and I do not want it to come to that, even if I can protect myself with my magic. The eyes of the female paladin were still kind as she spoke to him.

“Your need is far greater than mine.” Astariel slid from her horse and unfastened her cloak, spreading it out on the ground. Slowly, as if her body was reluctant to carry out the course that her mind had set for her, the paladin reached for the hem of her tunic and slid it over her head. Under it, she wore only a plain leather vest that left her arms and midriff bare. As Byron watched mutely, she unlaced the vest and shrugged it off. Naked to the waist, she folded it neatly and laid it on the ever-growing pile of her clothing. She began untying the laces of her boots, calm as ever.

The young man seems to be enjoying this, she thought, slightly wickedly, peering up at him through her eyelashes. Most of the women he’s seen have most likely been far more squeamish about this sort of thing than I am. They do not realize that protecting your soul from the ravishes of the world is far more important than protecting your body.

Byron could not take his eyes off her as she slowly disrobed. He felt his heart pounding with something he had never felt before: a wild, powerful feeling that felt like hot liquid gushing through his veins. The sight of the young woman’s pale skin, and the fact that she felt no shame even in front of his staring eyes, awakened the feeling within him. He remained transfixed as she stepped out of her boots and put them aside. As she began to undo her breeches, he interrupted her, shaking off the feeling as best he could.

“You… ummm… you can…” Byron stuttered, poleaxed by the sight of her. Astariel lowered her head and turned to him. The young bandit, breathless, managed to squeak out the end of his sentence. “I’m sorry… I don’t mean… well, I don’t want… you know,” he said lamely. “You can leave if you want… I’m sorry.”

Astariel looked at the bandit keenly, her eyes seeming to pierce his very soul. She smiled. “I will stay with you. Follow me, and I will take you with me.” It is the least I can do for him, she thought. He is a lost soul unless kindness can be showed to him. My calling is to gather up all the lost that I can… why should I not stay with him, then?

Byron believed her with all his heart, and he bowed to her as deeply and formally as he could. “Thank you.”

Astariel looked at Byron. “Can you ride?”

“Yes,” said Byron, still breathless.

“Good,” replied Astariel. She turned away from him and reached for her clothes, slipping them on again. Once she had pulled on her vest, tunic, and boots, she turned to Byron. “My sword, please,” she said. He obeyed with alacrity, wanting nothing but to please her.

I could see his feelings from the first, Astariel thought, seeing the hopeless desire in his eyes and magical aura. Whether it will blossom into real love or not, it does not matter. Nothing will come of it unless he gathers the courage to tell me. She accepted the sword, buckling the belt around her waist, and mounted her horse. Byron followed suit and they set off down the road. The sun was punishingly hot, and it was not long before Byron was sweating heavily. Astariel, however, looked perfectly comfortable and poised astride her horse. Not a bead of sweat was visible on her brow.

“How do you do that?” asked Byron. He was bare-chested, having removed his shirt: partially to cool off, but mostly in an attempt to impress Astariel with his well-developed muscles. The young woman kept her feelings to herself, regarding everything with her grave, detached air.

“It’s my cloak,” said Astariel, holding up a corner of the garment. “I’ve bespelled it so that it repels water and retains either heat or coolness depending on the season. Besides, when I’m wearing armor, I need it so that the sun doesn’t shine directly on the metal. Otherwise, it becomes very uncomfortable.”

“You’re a mage?” Byron asked, uncomfortable with the thought that Astariel could have disarmed and defeated him at any time while on the road. The paladin nodded.

“I don’t claim to be a great mage, but my magic is enough for me to get by. Primarily, it is a magic of the will; secondarily that of the heart; thirdly, the mind; and last and least, that of the body. If I wished, I could throw you from your horse with my magic, but it would drain me to the point of exhaustion. However, the magic of the will works differently. Rather than using your own power, you take control of the power of your opponent. It is much easier to throw your opponent if your opponent wants to be thrown… or even if they throw themselves.”

“You’re not going to demonstrate, are you?” asked Byron warily.

Astariel gave him a rare smile: thin and faint, true, but a smile nonetheless. “Not yet,” she said, nudging her horse farther ahead.

They stopped for the night by the side of the road, near a stream that was trickling across the dusty plain, flowing merrily despite the dryness around it. The green grass that grew on its banks was like a soft pillow, and within a short time both were fast asleep. Byron lay there, dreaming of Astariel as he had seen her in the canyon and thinking about how fortunate he was that she had decided to join him. Astariel did not dream, but rather sank into a meditation of sorts, pondering what to make of the young bandit who had joined her on her journey. Night closed in on the mismatched pair beside the banks of the stream.

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#2 {IRS}Athos


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Posted 08 December 2009 - 12:50 AM

Chapter Two: A Well-Deserved Dousing

Byron was awoken the next morning by the sound of a splash. Looking over at the stream, he saw ripples spreading. A fish leapt into the air and splashed back in with a flash of silver scales. Byron stood up quickly and ran into the brook, enjoying the feel of the cool mud on his callused feet. He tried to catch the fish barehanded, but was unsuccessful, being unused to water of any kind. As it eluded his grasp for the fifth time, he noticed that Astariel was watching him in amusement.

“You’re not going to catch the fish that way,” she said with a smile. “For that, you need a rod and line, at least.” She fished a length of string tied to a hook out of her pack, tied it to the end of a stick she found nearby, and handed it to him. “Find a worm to bait the hook. I’m going to scout around.” She headed off down the bank in the direction they had been headed, while Byron dug in the mud to find a worm. He found one easily, and threaded it onto the hook, dangling the line in the water.

He had just landed the fish when he saw two men walking down the stream bank in his direction. Staying as calm as he could, he quietly checked that his knives were all in place. The men had the look of desert fighters, and he was sure they’d see a lone traveler as easy pickings. Byron pushed his doubts back and gave the men as friendly of a greeting nod as he could muster. They ignored him, casting their eyes over the contents of the small camp. One of them approached Astariel’s stallion, who snorted menacingly.

“Quite a fine horse for such a small kid,” said one of them to his companion.

“Aye, that it is. Y’think he can even mount it?” Both guffawed, and Byron stood up.

“Who are you?” he demanded. The man took a step back in mock terror.

“Oho, spare us, yer lordship,” he said in a nasty whine. He drew a rusty dagger. “Get back if ye know what’s good for yer.”

Byron drew two knives of his own, facing the men. “You’re the ones who should be backing up,” he said. The pitted edges of his blade reflected the light towards the men’s eyes, and they squinted to block it out.

“We’ve got a tough one here,” said the man with the rusty dagger. His companion, carrying a spear, grinned nastily as they moved in opposite directions. Byron tried to keep an eye on both of them, but his attempt was doomed to failure. As the knife-wielding man feinted at him, Byron turned away from the other bandit, who caught him a hefty blow with the spear-butt. Byron was knocked unconscious by the thick wood.

When he came to he found his hands bound by his own belt. He groaned as the pounding pain of the blow returned to him in full force. He tried to get up, but was unable to. He heard one of the men laughing. “Must have a thick skull,” said the robber with an ugly grin. “He’s coming to already.”

Byron saw that the two were rummaging through the saddlebags and was drawing in breath to curse at them when he heard a calm voice.

“Those are my saddlebags.”

The man’s grin, if possible, turned even uglier, and his companion sneered. “Well, ain’t that nice. Must be our lucky day: three horses, and a girl to boot.”

“It would not be wise to attempt that,” said Astariel in a still-pleasant tone.

“What are you goin’ to do?” sneered the man.

“Put the saddlebags down.”

“Hah! Thinks she can order us around, does she—what in blazes?” Although the man’s voice spat defiance, his body had obediently placed the saddlebags on the ground, and his legs were walking him back away from his horse.

“Do something!” yelled the robber in panic, but his companion was already under the same compulsion. They cursed colorfully, unable to halt themselves, their eyes wide with fear.

“Fresh should remove all of that foulness from your mouths,” said Astariel with a cold smile. “Why don’t you try it?”

The robbers, though they tried to resist, knelt by the side of the stream and began drinking. One inhaled water and coughed hard; Astariel ignored him and went to free Byron.

“Next time, call me back,” she said firmly.

“How did you do that?” asked Byron wonderingly as they mounted up.

“I’ve had a great deal of practice in manipulating the minds of others,” said Astariel. “Sometimes it was the only alternative to… messy violence.”

Behind them, there was a loud splash as both would-be bandits threw themselves into the stream.

Careful. This link is DANGEROUS. Do NOT click it. This one, however, is fine.

I had the meaning of life in my signature, but it exceeded the character limit.

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