after the Godslayer universe has started to suck me in, I thought I would give my rusty story writing another shot in this universe. If my creativity does not abandon me and if you like the results, I would love to create one protagonist from each faction, because that sounds like a lot of fun. This one is the first part about a Tuathan (Wyldfolk) Wycca Warrior out on patrol. Not much action, but it serves as an introduction. I have decided to write in English, because that's the language all of us understand at least to a certain extent. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the read, and constructive criticism is always welcome. Here goes:
A single sound.
It was enough to make her tense up immediately. The thought of animals in the undergrowth failed to reassure her. She knew of the badger in its sett fifteen yards ahead, had felt its presence when it returned from foraging a half hour ago. Before her mind’s eye, she felt more than she saw the flurry of colorful auras emanating from a flock of ravens perched on branches overhead. Behind her, six spots of warmth would illuminate her perception with a soft glow if she turned her head – one for each of her companions, the brightest shining from the center of the circle in which they had arranged their sleeping rolls. Lords of Decay like Adair always gave off more potent signals to those who were able to sense them – those like Bronagh.
She had discovered her gift shortly after her 12th Samhain. Many of her people were capable of the Melding, some more, some less. This connection with nature came natural to the Wyldfolk, its origins tracing back to ages long gone. For the vast majority, it required calm surroundings and long preparation to attune to the forces of nature and commune with its energies and beings. For a few others, however, it was an overlay on their perception, one which they could add to or remove from their superficial perception at will. When her father had once asked her what it was like, she had gotten up and brought him the brightly colored glass painting of Grom Graoch, the centerpiece of their home altar to the Highland God. Looking through it at the sun, its light throwing the painting’s many colors on his face, he had smiled and nodded. “There is a place you have to go, my little vixen,” he had told her when she came of age five years later.
She made the next noise herself. A low-pitched grumble from the depths of her throat passed her lips, indistinguishable from the rootling boar it was meant to mimic. She knew it would carry to the far end of the clearing, where Uaine, the second sentry, would hear it and respond in kind. When the unmistakable sound of his eerie imitation of a Little Owl reached her not two heartbeats later, she sighed inaudibly with relief. He would make a soundless and unseen sweep around the sleeping place of their comrades and be at her side of the little wood within a few minutes. Until then, she was on her own.
Peering into the darkness ahead, she readied her sickles, loosening them in the ornately decorated, magic-muffling leather scabbards on her belt. The soot-blackened bronze blades would cast no reflection of moon light, but she took no chances with the magic auras of the weapons, which no artifice could conceal from those knowing what to look for. No other sound came, and her intent listening was beginning to make Bronagh hear her own heartbeat, growing stronger and slower with every passing breath, partly from tension, partly from her willful tapping of nature’s energy. It was invigorating to feel the life-force of the Goddess permeate her skin like a thousand dozen painless needles, dissolve in her blood and flow through her. If there was going to be a fight that night, she knew this strength would be helpful.
She vividly remembered the moment she had stumbled out of Ringway Hollow four years earlier, her auburn hair thick with knots, tangles, and fungus spores. She had skidded down a short, steep slope, scraping the freckled skin on her legs and arms. Not the most impressive first step into a new life, she had thought in hindsight. Three looming, regal figures had welcomed her, but only one of them had extended a hand to help her up after eyeing her quickly. When she had accepted the help with a moment’s hesitation, the touch of the woman’s hand had sent weirdly conflicting feeling shivering through her: a sense of belonging mixed with dread, the gentleness of a mother interspersed with the sharp bite of a frozen bit of metal tearing skin from your finger, and, most bizarrely, the urge to laugh and whine at once. The attire of the strange woman had told Bronagh of the times ahead. Her skirt adorned with bones, and the helmet made from the skull of a lycanthrope had identified her as a Lady of Decay, and she was to be the girl’s trainer, surrogate mother, and mentor in Death Cult of the Tuathan de Dhannan. Bronagh’s old life had been left behind when she had entered Ringway Hollow – but her special talent had carried over into her new one, as had her skill at arms. At seventeen years old, Bronagh had seen her share of Banebrood raids on her village, and had helped repulse them all. She had earned her bronze torc by driving her mother’s boning knive through the eye and into the brain of a Kobold trying to snatch her little sister from its cradle. “A small enough target, a Kobold brain, and you pierced it like you thread a needle,” her father had praised her, visibly proud. A silver torc, the proud sign of the professional warrior, she would never wear – it was not the way of the Wycca Warriors, to whom she had dedicated this lifetime’s turn of the wheel. She had traded the straight blade of the sword for the curved edge of the Wyccan scythe, but its long snath and heavy head slowed down the warrior wielding it. Choosing another weapon was out of the question, unless she could convince Steise, her teacher, otherwise, using the wisdom of the Goddess learned at the feet of the Nechtan, the wise man of the Cult instructing the young iniates. After months of study, and countless fruitless quarrels typical of an over-confident young warrior and her patient mentor, Steise had been satisfied by Bronagh’s argument and had allowed her to return her scythe to the armory. She replaced it with a pair of sickles fashioned in the image of the moon, each with a double edge honed to a deadly glimmer. She had earned the money for the smith’s work and raw materials by preparing the bodies of departed Thuatan villagers for burial. The relatives, always torn between mourning and jubilation, paid the initiates a small sum for taking the bodies of their dead beloved to the Tangle, the jungle that was the slow-beating heart of the Death Cult, were they would be stripped of their flesh, and the bones stored in charnel houses. After the smith had forged her blades, Steise had shorn Bronagh’s curls and taken her to the devotees of the bronzesmith god Credne, where her weapons had been granted their magic.
Another sound, no louder than before, but coming from farther to her right. A pine cone, maybe? Bronagh silently scolded herself for her childish desire to persuade herself of the harmlessness of the situation. No, they had halted in a copse of yew trees, and the soft, berry-like cones had probably all been devoured by the now-sleeping ravens above and other birds resting beyond the range of both her normal and her other senses. Uaine’s owl call heralded the old warrior’s arrival nearby. Bronagh shifted her eyes to the direction the sound had come from and saw the faint golden glow that flowed from the man. He was a mere five yards to her right, and yet she had not heard a sound of his approach. How could she have? Uaine was their warband’s scout, forty years of patrols and rangings had made him as silent as the breezes blowing over the Fiannor caravans in the barren steppes. And yet, his age had failed to make him any less flexible than a willow rod. Compared to him, Bronagh moved through the woods as loudly as a drunken Nordgaard brewer, despite her slender figure and the nimble movements required of any warrior wielding two weapons. She acknowledged his appearance with a quieter repetition of her boar sound, and then returned her attention to the woods in front of her.
Her hair had grown back, and she had swiftly gotten used to the life of the Wycca Warriors. Her first assignments on guard duty around the perimeter of the Tangle had been far from eventful, although several stray packs of smaller Banebrood had provided her with plenty of opportunities to temper the bronze of her sickles with their revolting blood. The bones of violators of any of Dhannya’s peaceful groves were considered ‘salach’, until cleansed by an Aghna’s magic. Only then could the triumphant Warrior start to fashion them into armor. Bronagh had soon racked up enough kills to make a helmet from the skull of a smaller Fomorian she had gutted after it had rattled one of the bone-and-wood traps hanging haphazardly among the trees. She had also supplemented her basic leather armor with the bones of two Mongrels. Her leather hauberk was now supported by the ribs from half the chest of some unlucky Reaver tribesman. The other half had been effectively pulverized by the blows of Cathal’s flail.
Cathal was in many ways extraordinary. He was one of the few Ogres in the Wycca Warriors. At roughly the same age as Bronagh, he had chosen to abandon his family’s Fiannor caravan, much to his father’s dismay. After his induction into the Warriors, he had successfully reasoned with his own teacher to wield a flail, arguing that it was an instrument of harvest, just as the sickle and the scythe. Ever since, his place in any skirmish had been obvious from the sound of his enemies’ splintering bones and the heavy tread of his burly, ruddy legs. After a fight, when they all cleaned the enemies blood off their faces, armor and blades in a stream or pool, Cathal would stand beside joking, not a speck on himself or his blunt weapon, and a twinkle in his eye. In such moments, Bronagh thought him particularly handsome.
When her armor had been completed, she had been assigned to her warband by lot. All the warband’s veterans had been welcoming of her and of Cathal, whose beechwood token at the Dáileadh, the assignment feast, had borne the same tusk symbol as hers. The two of them had been joined to Na Collaigh, the Boars. They had lost two warriors on their last outing, and the two newcomers had been rigorously trained during the day, formally instructed in the ways of the Wyccan Warriors by Adair in the evening, and regaled with tales of the warband’s exploits at night. Few of the tales had sounded boastful, and some nights Bronagh’s sleep was flooded by dreams of herself and her companions walking over a sea of gore towards a verdant island on the horizon. She had soon noticed that those nights found her feeling the most refreshed when she woke up.
Even during her early days in the Tangle, Bronagh had noticed that the sorties of the Wyccan Warrior patrols had been becoming more frequent, and as soon as she had joined the Boars, she learned the reason for the warriors’ activity. Banebrood sightings had grown in number, and some unknown force or perverse reasoning drew the vile creatures to the nodes of the Goddess’s groves, where Dhannya’s essence was supposed to be gathering strength. Warbands had stepped up their presence around these places, wandering between them, and resting at villages or in the wilderness. A tour of duty would keep them away from what was now their home for four to five months on end. Bronagh did not mind the life outdoors. None of the Wyldfolk did, not even the Lowlanders. Only on nights like this, when they made cold camp despite the temperatures and winds of the slowly approaching winter, and when dinner consisted of venison jerky, hard cheese and tack, washed down with swigs of water that smelled of the leather drinking skins and tasted even worse, she missed the relative comfort of the Tangle.
The rumble of Bronagh’s stomach sounded like rolling thunder to her, even though she doubted that even Uaine could have heard it, let alone any attacker in the dense growth beyond her sight and senses. Knowing that the older scout would be listening into the forest composed Bronagh. His ears would pick up on anything not matching the sounds of a wood at night. It was the perfect addition to her special gift of sight. No living thing could come close than twenty yards to her, without leaving an imprint of light in her supernatural vision. No living thing. Bronagh was seized by a sudden doubt. She kept her eyes on Uaine, and when the delicate blue shine of his unsheated scythe blade flared up, she knew that her senses had not tricked her. A whistle, disguised as the song of a thrush, long extinct in this part of Calydorn, was enough to wake up the rest of the warband. Without turning her head, Bronagh knew that they would be slowly, noiselessly getting up and readying their weapons. Uaine had moved forward beyond Bronagh’s vision. She drew her sickles, their soft magic light radiating, and followed until she caught sight of the Uaine’s blade swiping downward. She heard it hit home, but saw no glow of life slowly seeping from whatever it was that the scout’s swift attack had struck. In a few bounds, she was by his side, abandoning the sight her gift had granted her, in order to better see what Uaine’s prey had been. Before she could get a look, the scout laid a finger to his lips, took her by the arm and turned her towards the small clearing, where the others had doubtlessly formed a defensive circle centered on Adair. Training took over, and, emulating the single bark of a grey fox, she signaled “sentries coming in”. When they reached the clearing, she took up her position in the circle next to Cathal, while Uaine reported in sign language to Adair. She was still studying the intricacies of this form of silent communication, but Bronagh caught two of the signs when she turned her head to look at the center of their resting place. The first sign was common, one of the first signs you learned: “Undead”, which explained why there had been not even the faintest shimmer of life to be seen. The second sign, however common, made her heart skip a beat. It was “Wyldfolk”.