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Steel Soul – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

I couldn’t get over the smell of it. The world seemed slightly stale to me, almost like a gym locker.

I definitely was not in a gym locker. In fact it looked like an old village you might find in Holland, pre cars,, complete with tulips in every yard. The stones clicked away beneath my feet as I walked around the little clearing, and the grass at the side of the path squished a bit when I strayed from the path, just like back in the real world.

With everything looking and feeling so beautiful it seemed odd that the flowery area smelled like a gross gym locker. Shouldn’t it smell like a spring day? Maybe the head set I had couldn’t produce the correct olfactory signal. I’d have to get it checked.

On my third pass around the area another figure materialize, their back to me. The faint glow of immunity shimmered over them as it did with anyone just entering the game in a safe zone.

I squinted just over their head and saw the blue letters hovering there.

Cassidaya Briefoot
Level 1 rogue 20/20 HP

She was not what I expected.

“Cas!” I called.

Startled, she turned around, and jumped back another foot. Definitely a rogue with that move.
“Who goes there?” she asked, blades ready.

“Really? I’m right here in front of you,” I snarled, shifting from one side to another. The armor was lighter than I thought it would be, and the spiked shoulders only impinged on my vision a little. “Cas, it’s me.”

“Freddy?” Carla asked.

“No, my names Jupiter here, remember? And you’re Cas. Who else would it be? We spawned in together.”

“How would I know? This place is huge! Someone else could have spawned in at the same time.”

“With the same name?”

She shifted from foot to foot, the dusky skin of her avatar shimmering in the sunlight. Her face actually blushed. Bloody hell, but the graphics were good.

“I didn’t think to look at your avatar name,” she said, sheepishly.

“Ah,well just focus just above my head a bit. You’ll see it there.”

Her eyes moved to the spot above my head and unfocused for a moment. She would see my own stats and health, also level one, but as a fighter I had almost twice as many hit points.

“Now stop fooling around,” I said, giving her another smile. “We’re in spawn, we can’t hurt each other here anyway.”

She relaxed, and I took a moment to look over her avatar. Willowy, with long black hair streaked with blue dye. Her chocolate colored skin fairly gleamed in the sunlight, and she wore a triangular mask that covered her mouth and nose, but left her cheeks visible for blushing. There were stylized shark teeth emblazoned across the mask.

“I thought for sure you’d be an elf or something,” I said.

“Humans get more perks available at higher levels.”

“Already min maxing? I should have known.”

“Well I’m not surprised you took dwarf. You and your obsession with beards.”

“It is pretty glorious, isn’t it?” I said, stroking the beard in question. Through my haptic gloves I could feel the rough bristly beard, and the thick braids on either side of my mouth. I couldn’t grow a beard offline, just a tiny little scraggly stubble that looked more like a rabid bear rug than a beard, thanks to my mixed genetics. But here I could be anything, so of course I went with the beard.
“What are those?” she asked, pointing at my spiked shoulder pieces.

I turned from side to side, showing off the evil looking shoulder spikes.

“Like them? They’re Dadron’s Blessed Shoulders, a pre-order perk. It doesn’t look like much, and it has crap for armor, but it levels with you so you never have to get another pair of shoulders again. Might save me in the long run.”

“You pre-ordered?” Her avatars eyes grew wide, her mask clad chin dropping a bit in a good illusion of shock.
“The first mmorpg on an Octo-Nerve VR system? You bet your sweet blades I did.”

She rolled her eyes, turning her back on me.
“Alright, alright, I guess I can’t fault you that much,” she said. “Come on, genius, let’s go find a quest.”

Steel Soul, like any other mmorpg of the age, made it simple to find the first quest. There was an npc right next to the spawn point clad in the shiniest armor, rendered in exquisite detail, just walking back and forth on the cobblestone.

“Should we group before we go in?” Cas asked.

“Maybe,” I said, “ I’m not quite sure how this all works, I just jumped in.”

“You call up the menu with a cupped hand moving from the left, like you’re pulling something,” she said, miming the action.

I tried it and a floating menu appeared. My name, Jupiter08, was written in neat blue script at the top. Right underneath it read “Level 1 fighter, 32/32 HP”. Beneath that were several menus. Inventory, skills, friends, options, and a few others. There was a soft ring in my ear, and an orange marker appeared next to friends. I tapped it and saw a request from Cas at the top.

“You’ve got this all figured out already?” I asked, as I tapped the accept button.

“Only the basic controls. I read a few things, watched a let’s play last night, and got the gist of it all.”
“You read all that, but couldn’t look up how to read avatar names?”

“It didn’t come up.”

“Well, you’re elected group leader then, oh wise one. I’ll follow your lead.”

She rolled her eyes at me again. Oddly it felt just like we were back on the college campus. She held the same simmering disdain for my witty humor.

“Who goes there?” asked the npc as we walked up to him. Cas gave me a look as if to say ‘see, he gets it’ before answering.

“Cassidaya Briefoot,” she said with a half bow.

“Jupiter Rocklore,” I said.

“And why are you here?” he asked.

I blinked at this. It was an NPC, a computer algorithm searching for keywords. We just had to say the right keywords to get it to give us the quest. But it wasn’t giving us much to go on. Most algorithms mentioned a word, or phrase, to further the conversation. What would this NPC react to? Greed? Altruism? An NPC of little words made finding the quest a little tougher.

“We’re adventurers seeking fame and fortune,” I said with a smile.

“Adventurers? Pah!” he said, spitting on the ground.

Well, greed was out.

“You lot are the reason the town is in ruins!” the NPC said.

I squinted above his head, looking for more information and saw his name light up in soft blue text.

Captain Thanas Lightbringer
Level 30 1000/1000 hp
Captain of the once glorious elven village, Trelisa, now one of the sole survivors tasked with restoration.

Rebuilding a ravaged city didn’t seem like much of a quest. Probably fetching supplies, but at level one I couldn’t be that picky.

“Adventurers like us?” Cas asked. “What happened?”

Captain Thanas looked back over his shoulder at a tall building at the end of the plaza. It was the only three story building in the village, and there was foul green smoke coming out of all the windows.

“I’m sure you can smell it,” he said, and spat in our direction again before walking away from the plaza.

“Well, I think we know where to go,” I said.

Immediately a card popped up in front of me.

Quest Granted: Noxious Smells. Find out what caused the green fog in the Trelisa mayor’s office.

“The mayor’s office, huh?” Cas said. “I was wondering why it smelled like gym socks around here.”

“I thought I had a broken olfactory device.”

“Doesn’t look like it. Shall we go?”

I tightened my grip on my hand ax, the only weapon I had at the moment, and nodded.

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Posted by on June 2, 2018 in On Writing

 

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Dragon’s Flame – Chapter 1

The first chapter of Dragon’s Flame, book 1 in the half blood sorceress series.

****************

Winter descended from the mountains, a cloak of ice wrapped about his shoulders. A living force of nature, his very presences consumed all before him.

A blanket of snow and ice spread out at his feet, the earth crunching beneath his foot falls. A shroud of mist hung with baited breath behind him, waiting for his invitation to slip down into the valley and consume all before it.

Even the sun, once bright and warm in its track, cast a cold glow upon the frozen landscape. Brittle ice caked outstretched tree limbs, weighing them down and snapping off the fragile ends. Dark rich earth and pale green grass gave way to a blanket of cold crystals as he passed.

Silence enshrouded the unnatural winter as birds fell from the sky, and rodents scrambled into dens, never to emerge, their blood frozen. No being could come near to the vision of ice. For miles nothing ventured beyond the grip of winter. No sound. No animal. And no man. Nothing save the wind, and footfalls of the one carrying ice in his very soul.

Word spread of winter’s passage, and villages fled south in terror. But few men lived in the north near the mountains, and fewer in the path of winter’s fury. The great leaders of the cities to the south did not see the danger creeping steadily closer to them. They could not feel the cold of winter, or hear the fury of the winds descending from the mountain.

To the south where men slept peacefully in their beds, ignorant of the danger approaching.

~

C-1 Mother

 

Soft light fell in a dappled pattern across my mother’s bed, like lace made from sunbeams. I hung the lace curtains for her just two summers ago when the sunlight had become too much for her weakening body.
I sat on the edge of her bed, taking her hand in mine. So thin. It was like clutching a skeleton with thin paper wrapped over her birdlike bones.

This was my mother, or what was left of her. Only thirty-eight and she was succumbing to a wasting disease that no cleric could seem to heal. Not that there had been many clerics visiting our small village.
“It won’t be much longer,” she said.

I had to lean forward to hear her words, like crushed leaves on the breeze, cracking and popping as she spoke.

“Don’t say that, mom,” I protested, clutching her hand just a bit tighter. “You can’t go yet. You haven’t even given me away at my wedding. And what will dad do without you? He needs you. We both do.”
She reached up with her other hand and patted me. “You’ll do just fine, Sybel. You’re stronger than you think. You’ll be ruling the world in no time.”

I smiled, I couldn’t help it, even at this stage. Mother always had an odd sense of humor. Ruling the world? From the back of a plow horse? A farmer’s wife didn’t rule much more than her kitchen. I might not have been a wife yet, but I knew it would come soon, and all the stories of mages and dragons mother shared with me would be replaced with babies and laundry.

“And dad?” I asked.

“Don’t be too harsh on him, Sybel. Your dad’s been through a lot more than he’s willing to admit. He’s been there for us, more than I had any right for. He loved me when I couldn’t love myself. Things might get difficult for you after I’m gone, but remember that somewhere inside him there is love.”

I didn’t understand it then, but my mother already knew what would happen when she passed onto the other side. She had been married to my father for twenty years, and knew all too well his temper. I knew it too, and had been on the wrong side of it more often than not. I tried to brush it off, to remind myself that he loved me, but it had gotten harder to do so since mother took ill. He’d been rougher than usual.

I’d done my best to hide the bruise on my arm where he’d gripped it a bit too hard. It wouldn’t do to upset mother on her deathbed.

I didn’t want to admit that it was her deathbed, but there was no denying it anymore. She was dying and there was nothing I could do. No wizard to call. No demon to summon. My mother was going to slip into the next world, and it would be soon.

What would I do afterward?

“I’ll remember, mother,” I said, and leaned down to kiss her on the forehead. Her skin was warm beneath my lips, and smelled of sour elderberries. It was the smell of wine, and sleep, something she’d been imbibing in far more lately. I couldn’t even try to be upset with her, I could see how much pain each movement was causing.

The wasting disease had come on two summers before, slowly creeping inside her. First she couldn’t stand for very long, and took to working the farm from a chair that I carted around for her. Then she couldn’t stay awake for long periods of time and started taking naps throughout the day. At the beginning of the spring when others were out sowing the seeds for the next harvest my mother couldn’t rise from her bed. Her muscles had atrophied, leaving behind a husk of the woman I’d known. The strong jaw, and quick smile had been replaced by a skull covered in thin parchment.

The sicker mother became the angry father seemed.

“The garden just hasn’t been the same without you,” I said. It sounded hollow, even to me, but I had to say something. Didn’t I? Tired platitudes about getting well seemed out of place. There was no getting well, not anymore, and we both knew it.

“I’m tired, Sybel. I think it’s time I rest.”

The finality in her words sent a shiver down my spine. But there was a smaller part of me that was glad. Mother had been in pain for so long, I just wanted her pain to end. If that meant letting her go then I would do it. No matter how much it hurt.

I kissed her forehead again, and let go of her hand.

“Did you want father to come in and kiss you goodnight as well?”

The way I said goodnight, it sounded like the end of a long journey to me. Perhaps mother heard it because she sighed and gave me a wan smile before shaking her head. I couldn’t blame her. The way father had been acting it wouldn’t be a good way for her to go into the long sleep. I think she held on as long as she did because of him, but now the wasting disease was too much. She was ready.

I smiled back, and patted her hand.

Then I slowly stood, and turned my back on her, walking away.

It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. It felt like I was giving her permission to die. After all the years she had held on for me and my father, it felt like the right thing to do. She was hurting, and staying would do nothing for her but cause her more pain.

I could handle myself, and father if need be. But at that moment we didn’t matter any longer, I could only think of her failing strength, and the relief that seemed to emanate from her at that moment.

I left, knowing it would be the last time I would see my mother alive. And I didn’t look back.

 
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Posted by on June 24, 2017 in On Writing

 

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Witch’s Curse: Chapter 1

Witch's Curse smIn celebration of the release of my new book, Witch’s Curse, here is the first chapter.

You can get the novel here. It is the sequel to “Witch’s Sacrifice“.

*********

Blood. Sweat. Pain. Hunger.

Each new hurt layered on top of another until Brother Hawk had nothing left in his mind but anger to feed him. How long had he been trapped in the cage? Days? Weeks? Months? After centuries, his perception of time was clouded, and with no window to the outside world he had nothing to go on. He only knew that he hadn’t been fed since being locked in. His feathers were dull and grimy, dragging his skin down with layers of dirt. His tongue rasped along the dry roof of his mouth, trying to find saliva and failing.

“You! Fetch water,” a voice demanded outside the gray bars.

More torture, Brother Hawk thought. Not a new torture, either. Dangle the water, or the choice bit of flesh just outside the bars. Get the bird to scramble, clawing for it. Then take it away. An old torture. The only time he reacted to it now was when he could not claw down the savage hunger burning in his throat.

Today he could. Today he lay listless on the floor, his tongue rolling in dust. His wings spread out as far as they could in the cramped cell. Today they would find no reaction. Not until they brought the pokers, and knives.

The grating of metal on metal roused him enough to look, still moving nothing but his eyes. The door creaked open, the sound tearing into his ears. The door hadn’t been open in so long, but he was too tired to try to do anything about it. Not that a mad dash to freedom would have ended well. The curse saw to that.

A white-robed figure stepped through the door, a blurry shape against the dark background, a blob of brown swinging at his side. The smell of good, clean water, not the festering miasma of rotting slime the acolytes usually brought, made his nostrils flare, but still Brother Hawk would not succumb to the torture. He fought down the urge to drink. The urge to lunge for the pail.

The white shape knelt beside Brother Hawk and slowly lifted the brown blob closer. Water sloshed inside, the sound assaulting his ears with hope.

“Drink, Brother Hawk,” the man said. “You will not be denied this time.”

Brother Hawk blinked, the figuring getting a little less blurry. A mat of thick red hair. A bushy beard. Piercing black eyes. Were they black? They seemed black in his addled state.

Brother Hawk sucked in a deeper breath, his beak clacking together as the chains rattled around him.

“Get these chains off him,” the voice said, harsh and forceful.

“But, sir,” a plaintive voice called. Halbend. The jailer. Putrid slime that he was, Halbend didn’t ever want to let Brother Hawk free. Not as long as he lived.

“What did I say?” the white robe asked, his voice hard as steel.

“Y-yes, sir.”

Another figure entered the room. Keys rattled. Chains moved. The heavy weight lifted from him, then another chain slammed down on his back, a small squawk of surprise exiting his beak.

A sudden rush of movement, and a large weight slammed against the far side of the cell. Brother Hawk blinked again, clearing the fog enough to see the white robe towering over the prone form of Halbend.

“I have been sent to be keeper and master of Brother Hawk, and if any of you filthy swine so much as lay a hand on him or damage a single feather I will make sure that your last days are spent in the same cell he once occupied, carrying the same chains. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes, sir,” Halbend cried, scrambling back against the bars.

“Now get a stretcher in here, and food. Fresh meat, not that filth you swine eat.”

Halbend scrambled up, bowing and scraping as he exited the chamber, leaving the white robe all alone.

Brother Hawk could have attacked then. Tortured and broken he might be, but there was still some kick left in him. The curse saw to that. Never dying, yet always wishing for death.

Something about this young white robe told Brother Hawk to use caution. He wasn’t like the jailers, or even the high priest. Not prone to beat first and ask questions later. How long would that last?

Curiosity more than anything kept Brother Hawk from attacking. He wanted to know what this white robe would do.

“I was chosen to care for you,” the man said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk’s beak. “I mean to do it.”

The man began ladling water from the bucket over Brother Hawk’s beak. Pure water. No taint, or piss, or foul dead thing to be found. Just water. His tongue lapped at the rivulets. He wanted to dive into the bucket. Suck it down.

“Not too quickly,” the man said. “I’m sure it’s been some time since you’ve had decent food and water, but take it slow. You’ll make yourself sick. The curse can only protect you so much.”

Brother Hawk squawked, his beak clacking together as the water was taken away, but it returned, slowly dribbling down his parched throat. He stilled, sucking down the life-giving water.

Something touched Brother Hawk’s head, and he flinched before steeling his nerves. It was never good to flinch in front of the enemy. His moment of weakness could be his undoing. But the gentle pressure returned, stroking his head, accompanied by soothing words and trills.

“You’ve been poorly treated, Brother Hawk,” the voice said. “I’m sorry. They have no excuse for the cruelties leveled on you. Now that I’ve been tasked with your care, that will change.”

Boots tromped down the stairs. The water was taken away only to be replaced with rough hands lifting Brother Hawk onto thick canvas. A stretcher. He was hoisted up then carried out of the jail cell under the watchful eye of the white-robed acolyte. The disdain of the men carrying the stretcher radiated out from them. It ran deeper than blood, but their fear of the white-robed man ran deeper.

The stretcher bounced and jostled, carrying Brother Hawk up the long flight of stairs. The same stairs that once brought him to his prison, a journey he scarcely remembered after years of being locked in the dark. The ride through the darkness gave the curse time to work on his body, using the water he’d been given to hydrate dry muscles, and lubricate joints. His eyesight started to improve, giving him a clearer view of his captors. Figures swam into focus, their angry faces studiously focused ahead while the white robe led the way.

Did the journey down the stairwell seem like such a long walk? He couldn’t remember. Time played tricks with his mind, faded some memories while making other things sharp. He could still recall the dull echoes of boot heels on stone steps, their faint shuffling pinging from every surface around them, as they did now. Still smell the blood of his jailers, ripped apart by beak and talon as they tried to subdue him.

At the top of the stairwell the large wooden door lay open. The faint scent of fresh sea air made his nostrils flair. Dim sunlight cut like a knife through the doorway, dust falling through the still air in little white streams.

As they carried Brother Hawk out of the stairwell and into the upper chambers, the air seemed to lighten around him. A weight being lifted. The air lost the staleness that he had come to find normal. The fetid, rotten odors that assaulted his senses however long he’d been down there were gone.

The white robe did not stop in the antechambers as Brother Hawk thought he might. He kept going, into the courtyard where sunlight brightened the earth and summer winds danced through tree limbs. Brother Hawk could see it through the windows. Smell the leaves, grass, and flowers. Taste the salt in the air. And while he wanted that, wanted the sun on his body and the warmth of the earth around him, wanted freedom, part of him balked. It was so open beyond the door. So vibrant.

The acolytes carried Brother Hawk across the threshold and into the courtyard. Sunlight assaulted his great orbs, the pain lancing through his skull. He screeched, and flailed on the tiny canvas stretcher, causing the men to drop him to the ground.

“You idiot!” the white robe called. “Be more careful with him. It’s a bird, not a demon.”

“They’re one in the same, ain’t they?” one of the acolytes asked.

There was a thump, and Brother Hawk blinked, adjusting to the light, only to see one of the acolytes sprawled on the floor, his hand pressed to a growing bruise on his face.

“Go get him some ice,” he said to one of the men nearby then turned to another acolyte, jabbing at him with a large meaty finger. “You start feeding him. Slowly.”

“But sir,” the plump acolyte cried, “the bird’s dangerous.”

“No more so than I am. Now see to your brother. Go, bring hot water.”

They scrambled off in different directions, leaving the hurt acolyte to crawl to his feet and wander off on his own.

The white-robed acolyte came closer, kneeling beside Brother Hawk to look him in the eye.

“I’ve been told something of you, Brother Hawk. They say you’ve been bound by the blood of the kraken. That you’re a man trapped in a bird’s form. I think we can be of service to one another. As you see, I have some standing among the brothers.”

The acolyte withdrew a leather thong with a single green stone on it.

“As you can see, I hold your bond. The high priest left you to my charge. He’s lost all interest in your plight, but I still think you can be useful. However, I am not a cruel man. No creature deserves to be caged and tortured for years on end. Especially a creature with a gift of the kraken. Like you, Brother Hawk.”

The acolytes returned, burdened with heavy buckets of hot water, towels, soap, and smaller pails of fresh meats cut into small cubes.

Brother Hawk had lost sense of time long ago in the deep dark of the dungeon. Now the sun slowly crossed the sky while the white-robed priest washed each of his feathers in between handfuls of raw meat. Minutes stretched into hours during his careful ministrations.

Brother Hawk stretched, his wings snapping and straining against long disuse. Each joint cracked as he moved, his muscles burning as the curse brought them back to health. Lighter without the years of grime and muck. Deep black feathers, glistening in the last of the sunlight. All the while he could feel the curse working to restore his withered body.

The curse. Any other creature would have died, lost and forgotten in the pitch black of a dungeon. While Brother Hawk felt the gnawing hunger, and his body slowly shut itself down over time, the curse would not allow him the mercy of death. He kept lingering, the hunger gnawing at his bones, unable to move. Unable to seek freedom.

Once clean and fed, the white robe sent the acolytes away again then sat beside Brother Hawk. They contemplated each other, black orbs of the hawk reflecting back from the dark-brown eyes of the acolyte.

“We are not so different, you and I,” the acolyte said.

Brother Hawk snorted but did not move.

“It’s true,” he protested. “We are both bound to the acolytes, bound to serve the kraken. We are both forced to do the will of the high priest, whatever he may ask. It’s true that your curse leaves you no option, but my only option is death if I fail to serve.”

Brother Hawk tilted his head to the side, blinking at the acolyte, unable to disagree but unable to comment with more than a squawk.

“You wonder why I bother with you?”

Brother Hawk nodded.

“I think we can help one another. I think that there is much we could learn from each other. High Priest Nagiz is old; his time grows short, and no one knows who will take his place. But any change in the head leaves an opening for the body to shift, yes? There are things about the acolytes that even the most diehard adherents cannot stomach, like torturing defenseless birds for pleasure. Perhaps, together, we could change at least some of that.”

Brother Hawk blinked.

The white-robed man chuckled. “It is difficult to have a conversation with a bird. Perhaps it is time for us to change that. Brother Hawk, it’s time that you were set free from your prison. Be a man.”

The change grabbed ahold of him before he had time to prepare, rippling through his body like fire ants on the hunt. Muscles spasmed, pulling tight as feathers faded away. Wings shrank into fingers and arms. Legs grew, thickening and lengthening. The beak shriveled back into his skull, replaced by soft skin, pale white and threaded with bright lines where he’d been inflicted with cuts and welts by his captors.

Lying on the ground, panting and shivering, the naked man that was once a hawk gasped for breath.

“Be careful now,” the white robe said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk. “You’ve been locked in the hawk’s form for almost thirty years now. Take some time to find your legs again before straining yourself.”

“Thirty?” Brother Hawk’s voice sounded rusted and dry even to his own ears.

“Yes, thirty years. I only found out about you five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get enough seniority to take you into my care. As far as High Priest Nagiz is concerned, you are my charge from now till the end of time.”

Brother Hawk looked up at him, blinking with two brown eyes larger than any man had a right to have. Being cursed to be a hawk had marred his body over the centuries in more ways than he knew.

“Who…who are you?” the man, once hawk, gasped out.

The white robe smiled as he helped Brother Hawk to his feet, steadying him as he wobbled.

“My name is Alistir.”

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2015 in On Writing

 

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The first chapter

As I’m getting close to finishing “Witch’s Curse” (the sequel to Witch’s Sacrifice) I thought I should put up the first chapter in one convenient spot so anyone could read it. This is a bit of a prolog showing how Brother Hawk and Alistir met. You might also want to follow me on Google Plus where I will be adding short snippets from the rest of the book most Saturdays till release.

*** Chapter One ***

Blood. Sweat. Pain. Hunger.

Each new hurt layered on top of another until Brother Hawk had nothing left in his mind but anger to feed him. How long had he been trapped in the cage? Days? Weeks? Months? After centuries his perception of time was clouded, and with no window to the outside world he had nothing to go on. He only knew that he hadn’t been fed since being locked in. His feathers were dull and grimy, dragging his skin down with layers of dirt. His tongue rasped along the dry roof of his mouth, trying to find saliva and failing.

“You, fetch water,” a voice demanded outside the gray bars.

More torture, Brother Hawk thought. Not a new torture, either. Dangle the water, or the choice bit of flesh just outside the bars. Get the bird to scramble, clawing for it. Then take it away. Old. The only time he reacted to it now was when he could not claw down the savage hunger burning in his throat.

Today he could. Today he lay listless on the floor, his tongue rolling in dust. His wings spread out as far as they could in the cramped cell. Today they would find no reaction. Not until they brought the pokers, and knives.

The grating of metal on metal roused him enough to look, still moving nothing but his eyes. The door creaked open, the sound tearing into his ears. The door hadn’t been open in so long, but he was too tired to try to do anything about it. Not that a mad dash to freedom would have ended well. The curse saw to that.

A white robed figure stepped through the door, a blurry shape against the dark background, a blob of brown swinging at his side. The smell of good, clean water, not the festering miasma of rotting slime the acolytes usually brought, made his nostrils flare, but still Brother Hawk would not succumb to the torture. He fought down the urge to drink. The urge to lunge for the pail.

The white shape knelt beside Brother Hawk and slowly lifted the brown blob closer. Water sloshed inside, the sound assaulting his ears with hope.

“Drink, Brother Hawk,” the man said. “You will not be denied this time.”

Brother Hawk blinked, the figuring getting a little less blurry. A mat of thick red hair. A bushy beard. Piercing black eyes. Were they black? They seemed black in his addled state.

Brother Hawk sucked in a deeper breath, his beak clacking together as the chains rattled around him.

“Get these chains off him,” the voice said, harsh and forceful.

“But, sir,” a plaintive voice called. Halbend. The jailer. Putrid slime that he was, Halbend didn’t ever want to let Brother Hawk free. Not as long as he lived.

“What did I say?” the white robe asked, his voice hard as steel.

“Y-yes sir.”

Another figure entered the room. Keys rattled. Chains moved. The heavy weight lifted from him, then another chain slammed down on his back, a small squawk of surprise exiting his beak.

A sudden rush of movement, and a large weight slammed against the far side of the cell. Brother Hawk blinked again, clearing the fog enough to see the white robe towering over the prone form of Halbend.

“I have been sent to be keeper and master of Brother Hawk, and if any of you filthy swine so much as lay a hand on him or damage a single feather I will make sure that your last days are spent in the same cell he once occupied, carrying the same chains. Do I make myself clear?”

“Y-yes, sir,” Halbend cried, scrambling back against the bars.

“Now get a stretcher in here, and food. Fresh meat, not that filth you swine eat.”

Halbend scrambled up, bowing and scraping as he exited the chamber leaving the white robe all alone.

Brother Hawk could have attacked then. Tortured and broken he might be, but there was still some kick left in him. The curse saw to that. Never dying, yet always wishing for death.

Something about this young white robe told Brother Hawk to use caution. He wasn’t like the jailers, or even the high priest. Not prone to beat first and ask questions later. How long would that last?

Curiosity more than anything kept Brother Hawk from attacking. He wanted to know what this white robe would do.

“I was chosen to care for you,” the man said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk’s beak. “I mean to do it.”

The man began ladling water from the bucket over Brother Hawks beak. Pure water. No taint, or piss, or foul dead thing to be found. Just water. His tongue lapped at the rivulets. He wanted to dive into the bucket. Suck it down.

“Not too quickly,” the man said. “I’m sure it’s been some times since you’ve had decent food and water, but take it slow. You’ll make yourself sick. The curse can only protect you so much.”

Brother Hawk squawked, his beak clacking together as the water was taken away, but it returned, slowly dribbling down his parched throat. He stilled, sucking down the life giving water.

Something touched Brother Hawk’s head and he flinched before stealing his nerves. It was never good to flinch in front of the enemy. His moment of weakness could be his undoing. But the pressure returned, stroking his head, accompanied by soothing words and trills.

“You’ve been poorly treated, Brother Hawk,” the voice said. “I’m sorry. They have no excuse for the cruelties leveled on you. Now that I’ve been tasked with your care that will change.”

Boots tromped down the stairs. The water was taken away only to be replaced with rough hands lifting Brother Hawk onto thick canvas. A stretcher. He was hoisted up, then carried out of the jail cell under the watchful eye of the white robed acolyte. The disdain of the men carrying the stretcher radiated out from them. It ran deeper then blood, but their fear of the white robed man ran deeper.

The stretcher bounced and jostled, carrying Brother Hawk up the long flight of stairs. The same stairs that once brought him to his prison, a journey he scarcely remembered after years of being locked in the dark. The ride through the darkness gave the curse time to work on his body, using the water he’d been given to hydrate dry muscles, and lubricate joints. His eyesight started to improve giving him a clearer view of his captors. Figures swam into focus, their angry faces studiously focused ahead while the white robe led the way.

Did the journey down the stairwell seem like such a long walk? He couldn’t remember. Time played tricks with his mind, faded some memories while making other things sharp. He could still recall the dull echoes of boot heels on stone steps, their faint shuffling pinging from every surface around them, just as they did now. Still smell the blood of his jailers, ripped apart by beak and talon as they tried to subdue him.

At the top of the stairwell the large wooden door lay open. The faint scent of fresh sea air made his nostrils flair. Dim sunlight cut like a knife through the doorway, dust falling through the still air in little white streams.

As they carried Brother Hawk out of the stairwell and into the upper chambers the air seemed to lighten around him. A weight being lifted. The air lost the staleness that he had come to find normal. The feted rotten odors that assaulted his senses however long he’d been down there were gone.

The white robe did not stop in the antechambers as Brother Hawk thought he might. He kept going, into the courtyard where sunlight brightened the earth, and summer winds danced through tree limbs. Brother Hawk could see it through the windows. Smell the leaves, grass, and flowers. Taste the salt in the air. And while he wanted that, wanted the sun on his body and the warmth of the earth around him, wanted freedom, part of him balked. It was so open beyond the door. So vibrant.

The acolytes carried Brother Hawk across the threshold into the courtyard. Sunlight assaulted his great orbs, the pain lancing through his skull. He screeched, and flailed on the tiny canvas stretcher, causing the men to drop him to the ground.

“You idiot!” the white robe called. “Be more careful with him. It’s a bird not a demon.”

“They’re one in the same, ain’t they?” one of the acolytes asked.

There was a thump and Brother Hawk blinked, adjusting to the light, only to see one of the acolytes sprawled on the floor, his hand pressed to a growing bruise on his face.

“Go get him some ice,” he said to one of the men nearby, then turned to another acolyte, jabbing at him with a large meaty finger. “You start feeding him. Slowly.”

“But sir,” a plump acolyte cried, “the bird’s dangerous.”

“No more so then I am. Now see to your brother. Go, bring hot water.”

They scrambled off in different directions, leaving the hurt acolyte to crawl to his feet and wander off on his own.

The white robed acolyte came closer, kneeling beside Brother Hawk to look him in the eye.

“I’ve been told something of you, Brother Hawk. They say you’ve been bound by the blood of the kraken. That you’re a man trapped in a birds form. I think we can be of service to one another. As you see, I have some standing among the brothers.”

The acolyte withdrew a leather thong with a single green stone on it.

“As you can see, I hold your bond. The high priest left you to my charge. He’s lost all interest in your plight, but I still think you can be useful. However, I am not a cruel man. No creature deserves to be caged and tortured for years on end. Especially a creature with a gift of the kraken. Like you, Brother Hawk.”

The acolytes returned burdened with heavy buckets of hot water, towels, soap and smaller pails of fresh meats cut into small cubes.

Brother Hawk lost sense of time long ago in the deep dark of the dungeon. Now the sun slowly crossed the sky while the white robed priest washed each of his feathers in between handfuls of raw meat. Minutes stretched into hours during his careful ministrations.

Brother Hawk stretched, his wings snapping and straining against long in use. Each joint cracked as he moved, his muscles burning as the curse brought them back to health. Lighter without the years of grime and muck. Bright black feathers, glistening in the last of the sunlight. All the while he could feel the curse working to restore his withered body.

The curse. Any other creature would have died, lost and forgotten in the pitch black of a dungeon. While Brother Hawk felt the gnawing hunger, and his body slowly shut itself down over time, the curse would not allow him the mercy of death. He kept lingering, the hunger gnawing at his bones, unable to move. Unable to seek freedom.

Once clean and fed the white robe sent the acolytes away again, then sat beside Brother Hawk. They contemplated each other, black orbs of the hawk reflecting back from the dark brown eyes of the acolyte.

“We are not so different, you and I,” the acolyte said.

Brother Hawk snorted, but did not move.

“It’s true,” he protested. “We are both bound to the acolytes, bound to serve the kraken. We are both forced to do the will of the high priest, whatever he may ask. It’s true that your curse leaves you no option, but my only option is death if I fail to serve.”

Brother Hawk tilted his head to the side, blinking at the acolyte, unable to disagree, but unable to comment with more than a squawk.

“You wonder why I bother with you?”

Brother Hawk nodded.

“I think we can help one another. I think that there is much we could learn from each other. High Priest Nagiz is old, his time grows short, and no one knows who will take his place just yet. But any change in the head leaves an opening for the body to shift, yes? There are things about the brotherhood that even the most diehard adherents cannot stomach, like torturing defenseless birds pleasure. Perhaps, together, we could change at least some of that.”

Brother Hawk blinked.

The white robed man chuckled. “It is difficult to have a conversation with a bird. Perhaps it is time for us to change that. Brother Hawk, it’s time that you were set free from your prison. Be a man.”

The change grabbed a hold of him before he had time to prepare, rippling through his body like fire ants on the hunt. Muscles spasmed, pulling tight as feathers faded away. Wings shrank into fingers and arms. Legs grew, thickening and lengthening. The beak shriveled back into his skull replaced by soft skin, pale white and threaded with bright lines where he’d been inflicted with cuts and welts by his captors.

Laying on the ground, panting and shiver, the naked man that was once a hawk, gasped for breath.

“Be careful now,” the white robe said as he knelt beside Brother Hawk. “You’ve been locked in the hawks form for almost thirty years now. Take some time to find your legs again before straining yourself.”

“Thirty?” Brother Hawks voice sounded rusted and dry even to his own ears.

“Yes, thirty years. I only found out about you five years ago. It’s taken me this long to get enough seniority to take you into my care. As far as High Priest Nagiz is concerned you are my charge from now till the end of time.”

Brother Hawk looked up at him blinking with two brown eyes larger than any man had a right to have. Being cursed to be a hawk had marred his body in more ways than he knew over the centuries.

“Who…who are you?” the man, once hawk, gasped out.

The white robe smiled as he helped Brother Hawk to his feet, steadying him as he wobbled.

“My name is Alistir.”

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2015 in Stories

 

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