– Excerpt from Demon Killer –
– Bretuck’s Gift –
Azra worked quickly on the clay; her strong, deft hands shaping the form without hesitation, making her creation appear effortless. It was not that she was a great artist. No. She had some small talent, true. But it was the fairy blood running through her veins, much diluted from her great-grandmother, yet still potent that made the frail shape seem to take on a life of its own.
Such was the magic that could be imbued into a figurine molded from the special properties of the akla clay when shaped by one trained in the fairy arts. She smiled gently. Her son, Bretuck would be very pleased with it. She could picture his happiness as his large, yet delicately made hands clasped the statue to his chest. In those hands, she already saw the markings of a healer. Not that any of the villagers, except a few close friends, would ever let him touch them with the gift of health.
To them, he was born under a curse, conceived as he had been by a demon; a soldier, dreaded enemy, one of the violent Hessitor race. Men who captured the villagers for working the crystal mines of their homeland and slew indiscriminately those who opposed them.
Unfortunately, her people, the Coihlar were immune to the deadly fumes of the crystal caves, making them invaluable as mining slaves. Her child, born from the pain and anguish of his beginnings, would inherit power from her, the human Coihlar blood, as well as the cursed blood of his father. From the villagers Bretuck had received only superstition, hatred, and by some tolerance; but to her, he was the truest joy in her life.
– Demon’s Curse –
Her mind skimmed over pleasanter, recent memories, back to her darker days. Back to the time of “un-Bretuck”. That day, the most profound one of her young life, had started out wondrous on one hand and the worse ever, on the other. She had marveled at the sparkling crispness of the air as she left the cottage that morning, going to fetch water for her mother’s sponge bath.
There was an earthy smell and that of growing things, a very pleasing mixture to her fairy blood. The forests around the village sang and moved with wildlife, as if the creatures had come out on this first fine spring day to celebrate the ending of the long harsh winter.
As Azra retraced her steps to the cottage where her mother lay ill, three days now, she hoped spring’s arrival would revive momma as well. Being the only healer within a weeks journey, momma had to do her own healing, which she did when her illness began. But there were times when Azra watched with anxious eyes as her mother burned with fever and mumbled frightful curses to the four winds.
Azra knew some healing practices. She knew to cool momma’s body with dampened cloths and how to brew a strong broth for her to sip. But momma’s fever burned as bright as the hearth on a winter’s morn, and she was as weak as a newborn kitten. The smell of sickness underlay the herbs she crushed and scattered to counterbalance the ill humors.
Wishing she were a little older, more knowledgeable, Azra sponged momma’s fever sweat from her. There was no recognition in her mother’s lovely golden eyes this morning; they shone like twin suns in the grip of her hot flesh and the darkened cottage. If she were a young woman instead of the youngling thing she was, with breasts that barely thrust against her dress, she would know so much already.
The student learned, but rudimentary things — some common healing practices, a few magic tricks — until they reached the true beginnings of their power. A girl had to reach the fullness of womanhood before her powers flowed through her veins, ready for the arts of healing and magic to be passed on to her. Boys had similar time frames. Azra had looked down at her thin frame in disgust. She had barely begun her monthly blood flow; she was many, many moons away from her time of true learning. She had sighed and brushed momma’s curly hair gently away from her cheek. She stared at her mother a moment, remembering that momma had made her memorize the most important magic a healer could give to her chosen village. There were tricks of fairy power to confound an enemy and keep them from discovering the village. Of course Azra would be unable to use any of them for a long time, but momma insisted she learn them anyway.
She bit her lip as she remembered it had been the first morning of momma’s sickness. Had her mother had a premonition? Azra paled at this thought. Did momma think she would no longer be around to protect the villagers? The alarm horn sounded, blasting through the cottages side window, cleaving the quiet as sharply as the thunder of a winter storm; her head snapped up in reaction, as quick as a deer who hears the careless hunter struggling through the underbrush.
Azra’s heart rose into her throat and the bosom of her dress fluttered slightly as she peeked fearfully from the window. All clear. Maybe it was but a nervous guardsman? Maybe he had heard a deer or wolf passing through the bushes and panicked? Taking a deep breath of the fresh air wafting through the opening, Azra was glad the villagers had set a guard anyway.
Momma was in no condition to foresee the Hessitors coming, and she was too young. So the villagers did it the
old way, the way before the fairy folk had come into their lives, making their harsh existence better and safer. It was the time when the people needed a healer/magician the most, to sense the enemies approach and prepare a spell for their arrival. One of the spells momma had made her memorize but days ago.
Just when Azra’s erratic heartbeat slowed, she heard the clash of sword against staff. Beastly yells erupted from men’s throats and screams of women and children rose shrilly, fouling the cleanness of the sparkling spring air. She glanced at momma. Her features seemed more shrunken than but a moment before, as if she wished to withdraw from the cruel sounds that pierced the quiet safety of the cottage. Azra knew she couldn’t move momma in her condition and certainly she did not have the strength either. Her momma would be limp, dead weight made heavier by its inertia.
Maybe they would be safe? The cottage was at the farthest reaches of the village, surrounded by the forests from which fairies drew much of their power. The next instant this thought was shattered as a fierce Hessitor warrior burst through the door, his huge body filled the door frame. The sour smell of beer, the tangy odor of fresh blood, and that of an unwashed body invaded the small cottage, driving all other odors before it.
For a second the warrior’s face was hidden in the shadow from the great oak outside and Azra saw the gleam of fire where his eyes were located. He took one step and became immersed in the sunlight from the window, and there was the barest impression of knee length boots, suede pants, a chain mail shirt, and long hair.
His eyes flicked in her momma’s direction, but seemed to dismiss her as undesirable prey. His face was a blur to Azra as the large Hessitor approached; she trembled and knew not what to do. But it seemed the warrior did –- he launched himself at her. Azra’s bones were jarred out of place as he forced her onto the floor in one great predatory leap, uncaring his weight almost crushed her.
She tried to fight, but the warrior brushed aside her efforts as easily as she batted away annoying flies from her face on a hot summer’s day. Azra waited for the death blow, then looked up in confusion as she felt the warrior fumbling with his clothing. Hessitor’s usually plunged a sword immediately through anyone who showed the markings of fairy blood. They were fearful of the magic as well as angered by the fairy’s ability to hide a village from them. Azra couldn’t help the faint moan that escaped her lips as she felt his true intent. Her momma groaned like a beast in agony, as if she shared her daughter’s pain.
Looking into the Hessitor’s demon bright eyes for a heartbeat, Azra saw he was frightened of her, but kept stabbing at her with his man’s weapon, as if he could purge his fright through completely overcoming her with his own kind of power. He would kill her with his iron sword afterwards; she did not need her power to read this in his eyes.
A shadow fell between their bodies. Azra barely glimpsed her father’s dear face and his raised staff with the carved spear point before a stream of hot blood spewed over her. He disdainfully pushed the dead soldier off her, noticeably looking aside as he helped her to her feet. Azra ran the few steps to her mother’s bedside, her knees trembling as she knelt with a sudden plunge. Her momma’s lovely eyes stared upward unseeingly. She was dead.
She would never know if it were simply momma’s time, or if the battle had edged her closer to the precipice. Maybe Azra thought glumly, momma had still been able to feel the close connection between them, and the pain had been too great to bear.
With head drooping like a wilted flower, Azra wept silently. Her father knelt slowly beside her, placing a hand on her shoulder, silent comfort in their shared grief. He shook her gently after a brief moment, telling her
they must be off, must hide in the forests until the enemy left. Azra arose in numbed acceptance, too used to obeying her father to disagree now. She barely noticed the drying sticky blood on her dress, or the mixture of blood and warrior’s leavings that had run down her thigh.
The village had been lucky this time. A few were slain, a few taken as slaves, but most came out unscathed. The guards’ vigilance had paid off; most of the people had heard the alarm in time to run off and hide in the woods. She was not so lucky. Azra knew when next her cycle time came and went, even though the warrior had not killed her, he cursed her even from his grave. She carried a bastard Hessitor offspring, spawn of a demon race.
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