tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 10

Demon Child Ch. 10


Chapter 10: Seeking Destiny.

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Aylanna woke in a strangely introspective mood. She paused frequently, a quiet private smile lighting her features as she went about her morning tasks, her stride slow and measured, keeping much of the deliberate pace that she had learned from wearing the hobbles.

Many times she could feel his eyes following her, sensing in his spirit echoes of their sharing of the night before, awakening a matching warm resonance in her own heart. Oddly, she avoided meeting his gaze, only sneaking surreptitious glances in his direction and then her eyes sliding away. Somehow the feelings were too fresh, too intense, and in many ways too fragile to bear open acknowledgement. Aylanna wondered if this was what love was.

She knew she felt a bond, a loyalty to all the warriors of the Twisted Dagger. She knew she loved them, but this new feeling was blinding and terrifying. She told herself that Jhardron was not for her; that he was the Khan and she was merely a ha'akh, and that her fate lay with the regiment and that was her only duty, that this was the destiny she had sensed her whole life. And yet she could still feel his eyes on her.

She reached up and touched the golden medallion hanging in the center of her beaded necklace, her fingertip tracing the symbol of the Twisted Dagger. She thought how this reminder of their night together was so fitting, a reminder of her fealty, her allegiance.

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When the wagons rolled out of the campsite, Aylanna chose to walk alongside. Her long legs striding out, she giggled as Tollarra taught her some of the walking songs of the grasslands tribes. The tribes rarely rode their small ponies, primarily using them as pack animals. Traveling across the seemingly endless northern plains meant many long days walking. Songs made the trek less arduous. It was tradition for the women to make up impromptu words to the tune, and Tollarra was making up some pretty bawdy lyrics, celebrating her newfound joy in serving the warriors. Aylanna found that her feet picked up the rhythms of the music and tentatively hummed along as she walked.

It was almost midday when the sound of thundering hooves made them turn to see the form of Aylanna's red mare bearing down on the wagons at breakneck speed with a warrior close behind trying to catch her and turn her back. Xin'sha ran with her head high and her ears up. Aylanna stepped away from the wagon, moving out into clear view of the rapidly approaching mare, holding up her hands and thinking hard, "Stop!"

Xin'sha stiffened all four legs and skidded to a halt so close to Aylanna that her nose almost touched her outstretched hands. The mare was breathing hard; her breath blew across Aylanna's face. Aylanna could not help but laugh in delight at the happiness that the little mare exuded at finding the girl that she had grown so attached to.

Aylanna recognized the herdsman as Jaylon, a warrior she had only a few interactions with; he crowded his stallion close to Xin'sha and struck her sharply on the haunch with his whip. Aylanna gasped with surprise as the sharp pain and sudden terror from the mare shot through her consciousness. Just as quickly a hot tide of rage rose up in her heart. The little red mare's ears flattened down to her skull and she squealed and kicked out at the man and horse behind her. As the arm holding the whip rose to strike again, Aylanna was already there between them, launching herself at the mare's attacker, grabbing at the whip and the arm wielding it, screaming, "Stop!"

Kwal'kek's voice was a bellowing roar, "What in the four faces of the goddess is going on here?" And it seemed like everything stood still, even the horses froze.

Both the warrior and Aylanna began to speak at once.

"He was hitting her!"

"...mare won't stay with the herd..."

"...hurting her..."




Again Kwal'kek's voice roared, "Silence!" He pointed his finger at Aylanna, "Let go of his arm this instant." Instantly she let go and moved away, eying the warrior suspiciously. Kwal'kek growled at the herdsman, "Since when do you need a whip to herd horses?"

Jaylon glared at Xin'sha, "This one runs away all the time. She is playing with me. It is like she knows when I look away. I have run my mount almost into the ground trying to keep her with the main herd. She needs to learn there is a price to pay for her little games."

Aylanna protested, "She is not running away. She is trying to come to me."

A deep chuckle rose up in the old warrior, "And she seems to have found you. I have to agree that this mare is not running away and she is clearly too much trouble to keep with the main herd. Leave her here with the demon. Go back to the horse herd. I will deal with this."

Once the herdsman was gone, he turned to Aylanna, his voice gruff but cautious, "What magic is this?"

Aylanna made a pained face, "I don't know. I did not call her, she just came. She misses me." Then Aylanna stopped and blinked in surprise, "She loves me."

This time Kwal'kek's laugh was loud, "As do we all, demon child. You have woven a spell of magic around this regiment and we are all caught in your web. Hopefully, it will continue to bring us luck." The old warrior looked at the wagons getting further and further away and pointed, "You must hurry to catch up, ha'akh. Soon they will be out of sight and the tracks will disappear in the wind. You would not want to be lost in the grass again."

Aylanna shook her head, turned, and ran to catch up. Kwal'kek watched in bemusement as the girl's mare trotted along behind her like a colt following its mother. He thought about his words, spoken on impulse, and sensed the truth in them. This demon had indeed captured all their hearts.

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Again the travel fell into its daily rhythms, and again Aylanna found herself falling into an almost mindless trance as one day blended into another. Xin'sha followed along with the wagons, staying as close and calm as if she was tethered. Aylanna did not even need to tether the little red mare in the night, just silently communicating to her when it was time to eat or time to wait by the little tent that was the ha'akh's shelter at night.

The only time Aylanna found she needed to tie the mare was when she was sharing pleasures, the little mare would grow restive and tended to kick out or suddenly begin to canter about the camp. When Aylanna had to stop and catch the red mare as she charged around in frantic bursts, she was surprised to sense that the mare was frightened and confused. That the little horse did not understand the sensations that she was feeling. After that she was careful to tie her on the far side of the camp, and apart from any other horses.

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Aylanna was walking beside the wagon, humming a walking song, listening to Tollarra prattle when the sound of riders interrupted their slow steady progress across the plains. Aylanna looked up to see Jhardron and a small group of warriors approaching rapidly. The Khan stopped and looked down at Aylanna and then at Xin'sha not far off, "Saddle your mare, I have need of you."

The prospect of riding again was both exhilarating and alarming; Aylanna's hands trembled nervously as she put the tack on Xin'sha. When the mare began to quiver under her hands, picking up and reflecting some of her anxiety, Aylanna had to sternly remind herself that a warrior and a ha'akh of the Twisted Dagger kept their emotions in check. Jhardron's voice cut through her thoughts. "Put a lead rope on her." The knowledge that another would have control of the mare helped to calm Aylanna's mind.

As soon as Aylanna was in her saddle, Jhardron took the lead rope, and sharply kicked his grey stallion into a canter. Aylanna focused on keeping her balance as they flew across the grass. The wind swept across her arms and face, making the ends of her blue scarf flutter. On impulse Aylanna spread her arms out and closed her eyes, savoring the sensation of flight. Jhardron's voice, curious and sharp, made her jump and open her eyes. "Ha'akh, what are you doing?"

Aylanna grinned and laughed with joy, "I am flying."

"One misstep of that mare and you will be flying through the air until you land upon the ground. You will break your neck."

Aylanna frowned at his thought that she could fall, she felt so closely linked to Xin'sha that she almost saw the world through the mare's eyes. It was her hooves pounding on the grass. She would know if the mare stumbled almost before it happened. But she obediently lowered her arms and rode with her eyes open.

They rode for over an hour, alternately cantering and then trotting to spell the horses. To Aylanna it seemed like the voices on the wind began to grow louder and more intrusive. There was more than the usual sense of being called to, now there was a note of distress, like someone or something was in pain and calling for help. Aylanna tried not to listen, but it seemed like there was a distant screaming, nearly animal-like howling, that refused to be ignored. Even Xin'sha's ears flickered nervously. And every step brought them closer.

When Jhardron finally brought the group of riders to a halt at the brink a small valley, filled with a copse of stunted trees, the howling on the wind was the only thing in Aylanna's mind. She shook her head in a feeble attempt to push it away. Blinking in misery she looked at Jhardron, "Can't you hear that?"

Jhardron looked at the obviously suffering girl, and briefly questioned his wisdom in bringing her here to see this thing. He looked around, listening carefully. There was something here, a tension in the air; it made his skin prickle with apprehension. "What do you hear, ha'akh?"

"Someone in pain, someone screaming, they need help."

"I hear nothing." Jhardron spoke to the others, "Wait here," and dismounted. Aylanna sat on Xin'sha's back swaying, barely able to hear his words. He reached up and pulled her down, "Ha'akh, come with me, there is something here you must see." Aylanna let his hands guide her, stumbling blindly beside him.

She could hear Jhardron speak but it was as if his words held no meaning, like he was speaking in a confusing language she had never heard before. It was only when his hands shook her and physically turned her to face it, did she see the tall figure bound by chains.

Aylanna's eyes bulged out in terror and her mouth gaped wide in an endless silent scream. In a small clearing, in the center of bare patch of earth, the mummy stood facing north. Only a few scraps of flesh and cloth still adhered here and there on the bones. A long rusty chain was wrapped dozens of times around the decaying corpse, winding around the bones from shoulder to ankles, binding it to a tall stake that tilted drunkenly to one side. The hilt of a giant sword protruded from the top of the naked skull.

She stood, gasping deep shuddering breaths through her open mouth. The shrieks in her head deafened all thought. She could not even feel Jhardron's hands on her trying to pull her back.

Then all was a blur of motion. She twisted away from the tall warriors grasp and threw herself at the body of the bound demon. The whole stake and figure swayed and shook, an ominous rattling sound coming up as she feverishly tore at the chains, pulling at them in a blind frenzy.

Jhardron grabbed her arms, trying to pull her away. Aylanna spun around suddenly focused on the tall warrior, gazing up at him, her eyes filled with madness. Her voice was deep and hoarse, filled with compulsion, "No! Don't! Help me! I have to set him free!" Her last words dropped to a grating plea, "Help me, please."

The Khan looked down at the girl, sensing her urgency, and something else inside himself, a growing compulsion to release this thing from its bonds. He let go of her arms and began to look at the tangle of chains with clearer, saner eyes. Aylanna once more mindlessly yanked and jerked at the bindings holding the bones of the demon.

Jhardron had found one end of the chain and was working at freeing the knot when the stake tipped further and then snapped, the mummy and girl crashing to the ground with a sickening, crunching thud. The whole skeleton seemed to sag and collapse as the rib cage shattered. Aylanna grabbed the handle of the sword and gave it a mighty heave, wrenching it free from the bones it was lodged in.

Instantly the screaming stopped, it all stopped. Aylanna felt a sickening lurch as the world spun and darkness swirled around her, pulling her down and down. A voice rang through her head, the words at first incomprehensible, but somehow familiar. Aylanna strained to listen, to force herself to understand. A vision slowly formed in her mind. She was standing alone in the darkness, spinning around, trying to find the source of the words, and then he was there. A giant of a man stood standing, staring at her, his lips moving, speaking, and speaking to her. Aylanna could see herself in his face, the fiery hair, and the pale eyes that stared so intently at her. Again he spoke and to Aylanna's surprise the words were no longer foreign. "...free, finally free." His huge hands reached out toward her, grabbing her arms, "Who are you?"

For some reason the sensation of touch was ultimately terrifying, and Aylanna twisted and fought to be free. She gasped and cried out, "You are my father."

"My daughter? I thank you, daughter. You have set me free. I can go home now. I can finally go to join my gods." The demon's face loomed close, "Come with me."

Aylanna shook her head, straining to be free, "No! I can't! I have to stay here!"

Again the voice thundered through her mind, battering at her spirit, "Come with me." And somehow Aylanna could feel him pull at her, tearing at the bonds binding her spirit to her heart, "You do not belong here in this distant land. You are not of this world. Come home with me."

Aylanna struggled in mindless panic, shrieking, "No! This is my world! I am Aylanna! I am ha'akh Bak Tai Twisted Dagger." And then the thought of Jhardron filled her mind, "No! I cannot leave him, I love him!" Then she stopped fighting and looked at the demon, this ghost from her past, her voice suddenly calm and determined, "Go now, go to your gods. I have found new gods and a new destiny and it is here. I will not go with you." She spoke again, "Go, go now." And the demon slowly dissolved into fragments of smoke and blew away on the wind. As the darkness in her mind faded, she heard one last murmur on the wind, "Luck be with you, daughter."

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After the stake fell to the ground, Jhardron stood and watched in confusion as Aylanna ripped the giant sword free and then appeared to fall into a trance. She lay in the dirt, her body convulsing, strange voices speaking in an incomprehensible babble coming from her lips, alternating between a strange deep voice and then her own. She seemed to be fighting with something or someone, arguing.

He reached down and tore the sword from her fingers, tossing the massive length of steel to one side and then gripping her arms trying to hold her still. It seemed like his touch made the thrashing of her body even more violent. Her eyes were wide open, staring up at him, but there was no awareness in them. She seemed to be staring at something behind him, terror in her eyes, shaking her head violently. Jhardron could not help but glance nervously over his shoulder, but nothing was there for his eyes to see. She shrieked something, and Jhardron heard the words, "Aylanna," and then, "...ha'akh Bak Tai Twisted Dagger," mixed in with the strange demon language. Finally the girl's body stopped its struggles, and her voice calmed, but the words continue to poor forth, the tone soft and sure.

Then she went limp, her eyes sagging closed. Jhardron felt a wave of panic and he shook her, calling to her using her name, "Aylanna! Aylanna!"

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She could hear him calling her, his voice filled with panic. She was so tired, but the fear in his spirit forced her to open her eyes. Again he said her name, his voice softer, relieved, "Aylanna?"

She tried to speak, but her throat was raw, torn by screams. She coughed and tried to work up a mouthful of saliva to moisten her vocal chords. She reached up with a trembling hand and touched his face, trying to smile. Finally she whispered, "Jhardron."

He scooped her up into his arms and crushed her to his chest, all reserve was gone. She sensed his overwhelming relief, and underneath it his need for her, his love. His voice shook with emotion, "My demon, I had thought I had lost you."

It felt like every part of her body was drained of all strength, it was everything she could do to slip her arms around his neck. Her voice was a weak rasp, "I would never leave you."

When he stood and began to carry her from the little valley, she stiffened in his arms, "No, wait, there is one last thing I must do."

Jhardron stopped, wanting nothing more than to leave this haunted place far behind. "I should never have brought you to this place."

Aylanna shook her head, "No, this was my destiny. It is why my fate brought me here. I had to set him free." She twisted in his arms, "Please, put me down. Help me build a fire." When she sensed his uncertainty, she gently patted his chest, "It will be all right. He is gone. All the magic is gone from this place. I just want to burn the bones. It is the respectful thing to do. After all, he was my father."

Jhardron looked suspiciously around the little clearing and holding her close, loathe to let her out of his arms. Again Aylanna asked softly, "Please, my Khan, it is what I need to do to put this place behind me."

When he gently put her down on her feet, Aylanna staggered, fighting a wave of weakness. Jhardron reached out and caught her; worry once more clouding his mind. "You are sick."

"No, not sick; I am just fatigued and very thirsty."

"Let us go to the other riders, if we are going to do this, it will mean we will be delayed returning. I will need to send a rider to inform Jhu'kresh. There is a spring not far down the valley; I will have the water skins filled." As he slowly helped her walk toward where the riders waited, Jhardron mused, "You say all the magic is gone from this place?"

"Yes, he is gone."

"Would it be safe for the wagons to come here to fill the water barrels?"

Aylanna blinked and thought about how he seemed to speak to her much as an equal when they were alone, but in camp his words were always stiff and formal. But in camp, he spoke in that manner to everyone. "Yes, it would be safe. It would have been safe before. The magic was only for me." Then she paused, "Could you keep this place sacred? Somehow, I do not want it to become a thing of curiosity and what happened here, I think it would be best if it was not widely spoken of."

Jhardron looked down at the wild colored girl, "I am not sure if I even know what happened here."

Aylanna tried to laugh but began to cough, her throat too dry and hoarse from screaming. "Let me get a drink and perhaps I can explain. But first, I think I should think about it a little to find the words."

Two riders had been dispatched back to the main regiment and Jhardron told the remaining riders to set up a makeshift camp down by the spring. Aylanna got a water skin and had to carefully limit herself to careful sips, fighting the urge to drain it in convulsive gulps.

Jhardron gathered wood and started a fire; Aylanna worked at loosening the remaining loops of chain from the massive skeleton of the demon. As she worked, many of the bones fell free, the thick long bones of the arms and legs coming loose, the skull rolling to one side with a hollow rattle. Jhardron shuddered and focused on adding more fuel to the fire as Aylanna casually dropped the dry bones into the flames. Under the loops of chain was a huge armored shirt made from rusted steel rings, Aylanna pulled at it, marveling at the construction and size. "He truly was a giant." And as Aylanna pulled it free, shaking the few remaining bones inside, a small leather bag with a long string fell free, landing at her feet with a soft thump. Carefully she set the ring shirt aside with the few other salvageable items and leaned down picking up the little purse.

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