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The Lokkarran Chronicles: A Prelude

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The culmination of a seven thousand year old prophesy on a dying world has set into
motion events of titanic proportion. As nation struggles against nation to hamper
or quicken its fulfillment, will the struggle unite or tear apart a fragile world
hurtling each day deeper into the void of night?

Flight

 

            “Aaaaaahhh!” the ill clad figure cried out as she tumbled down the muddy, bramble-infested hillside, sheets of torrential rain beating upon her all the way down the ravine.  Mud-stained, tear soaked eyes could see almost nothing of her descent save for the frequent flash of bright lightning that dashed across the sky through the sparse tree-limbs overhead.  During such moments, the woman could see that she was rolling uncontrollably down a slope, woody thorns and branches tearing and snagging her like tiny demons taunting her through the gauntlet of Herphremedes.  Though she could see the world around her twisting round and round, over and over, it was as if she was viewing the fall through someone else’s eyes, even the intense pain unable to convince her it was her body suffering the fall. 

            How long she had ran that night and how long she had been caught in the unseasonable thunderstorm she could not say; signs of the storm had been brewing for hours just beyond the horizon far to the northwest of the capital city, where the lone figure, surrounded by nervous, near-paralyzed hand maids, watched for signs that the battle just miles south of the high tower was turning.  In fact, the battle did turn…against the high king’s forces of Isandria. 

            Thud!  She finally came to a stop, yet the impact of the large riverbed stone on her head was more painful than all of the scrapes, cuts and bruises she had suffered on the way down the ravine.  She knew, then, that it indeed was her own body that lay there in the mud, and in a fleeting moment of consciousness realized that she could not remain there for long.  Was it her imagination or…  no!  There it was again, the undulating sound of hounds – of something – that rose and fell in the shriek of the storm’s winds.  They were seeking her, would find her, she was certain.  She had to arise, had to move, if she was ever going to escape.  Yet Lyzaria couldn’t move, couldn’t think of anything but the unknown fate of her new wed husband, the Prince Aeron of Uarania.

            The reports had not been good.  Before the Lokkan’s forces had ever arrived on the plains of Isandria, High King Godyard had ordered the evacuation of Isandre, the capital city.  Those orders were to have included the entire royal family, but Lyzaria strongly resisted the urgings of her father’s seneschal, though he vowed that if the castle guard itself had to come to carry her off over their shoulders he would order it, ever-mindful of the high king’s wishes.  Although Lyzaria had pled with him to let her remain at the castle, he was vehemently opposed to her suggestion.

            Distraught at the thought of not knowing the fate of her beloved and torn by her commitment both to her father, the high king, and to her heart, Lyzaria appealed to the fatherly side of Venidor, the man she had known as a second father for all of her seventeen years growing up at the castle.  In the high king’s absence, Venidor had always seen to the needs of the princess and her older siblings.  He had been a father too, it had been rumored, though his own children were much older than the high king himself.  Of their whereabouts or their fate, Venidor never spoke, yet the tenderness and sincerity of his concern for the royal family’s welfare was evident in all that he did to serve High King Godyard.  But Lyzaria had always felt this love not only in words but in deeds, as in the times as a young child Lyzaria would witness the seneschal dropping into the nursery chamber on some pretext of overseeing and correcting the nursemaid on some minor duty the high king wished fulfilled, all the while casually placing a linen wrapped object into one of several harp boxes given to Lyzaria upon birth, a custom of Isandrians for centuries.  These objects, she had come to cherish over the years of her youth, were sweet meats taken from Cook’s pantry, a delicacy her family usually limited her to.

            ‘I need to know,” the princess emphasized, eyes beginning to brim with tears, “what will happen – what is happening – out there!”  Her hand lifted slowly as she said this to point south, out the high chamber window.  Though Venidor knew the high king’s orders must be obeyed, he also knew that there had been a series of caravans and escorts leaving the city all day, and he saw no harm acceding to the young princess’s wishes as long as she agreed to leave with the last caravan that was to take what was left of the castle staff away should the tidings form the battlefield be grim.

          “Alright,” the gray haired man began, holding up one hand to forestall any further tears of protestation from the princess.  “You may remain behind with me until the last of the escorts are ready to depart, your highness.  But you must promise me,” he added as an expression of relief washed over the girl’s countenance, “that you and your ladies-in-waiting are ready to depart immediately upon my command!” 

            After a quick nod of ascent, Venidor continued.  “I shall go, now, to oversee the last of your father’s commands.  When I return, I shall send a messenger up to your chambers to escort you to the caravan.”

            With a little look of surprise from Venidor, Lyzaria suddenly hugged the man, tightly, as if once again she was that little girl so genuinely grateful for one or another little kindness shown to her by the man.  However, that look faded fast and was replaced by a kind smile and nod of understanding.  Her father, the high king, had been away on the realm’s business often during her childhood, yet Venidor had always been there to oversee not only the official duties of the high king’s office in the latter’s absence, but to ensure that the remaining members of the Royal Family were not neglected.  It was something in which the high king’s seneschal, Lyzaria suspected, took the greatest pride.

            Shocked back into full consciousness by an agonizing pain in her side as she turned to rise, the princess suddenly realized the dire nature of her situation; she was untold miles from the King’s High Road, lost, disoriented, and without a friend or high kingsman to help her.  Though she had fled with many people in the last refugee caravan shortly after the initial tidings of the battle’s dark outcome began to pour in, their escort was taken wholly unaware by Southern forces that attacked the vanguard of their train.  And, although the enemy was almost entirely on foot and a legion of the High King’s Cavalry rode along as escort, none were aware that a portion of the Lokkan’s forces had secretly made their way through the Mandrean Pass, thought impassable during the wintren season.  Though the temperatures near the sea made for a mild winter, the mountains north and east of the coast was another situation altogether. 

            Suppressing her pain through clenched teeth, the princess managed to get first to her knees, then rise to her bare, cut and bruised feet, her palace shoe long since lost and stocking so torn and frayed that an onlooker would have never believed she wore any in the first place.  Her fine gown, once a silky saffron blue with lacy sleeves, collar and hem, had been decimated to shreds, soiled brown and red from the mud and blood that drenched her from head to toe.  Her waist-length hair – once the talk of palace sycophants everywhere - was soaked, flat and matted with burrs and any other assortment of muck, leaves, and thorns.  Her left arm was swollen and numb, and had it been any less filthy than the rest of her body, the princess would have seen it was colored deep purple and brown from the childre tree she hit shortly after her ill-timed trek into the wilderness began. 

            The hounds had been much, much closer then, as the guard struggled to fight off the mastiff-like herphremish dogs as the princess’s train fled to the cover of the forest.  Battle trained and seeming to possess a maniacal sentience of their own, the fell beasts did their best to ignore the mounted soldiery, seeking instead some other target that was fleeing now into the woods.  Several high-pitched screams could be heard not far behind the princess, and to her terror she suspected her hand maidens had been discovered in the dark, stormy night.  Two of High King Godyard’s trusted cavalrymen, forced on foot by the treacherous, dense terrain off the road, fled with her into the forest, telling her should they halt to engage the pursuers, to keep running; they would do their best to find her when they could disengage.  That was the last time she saw them.

            For a moment’s respite, Lyzaria leaned heavily against the twisted trunk of a mature childre, a tree native to southern Isandrians and often cultivated for its pithy, olive-like fruit.  Yet the pain of her left arm seared through her, nearly toppling the princess with its intensity and force.  Growing up around four brothers, Lyzaria had heard of battle wounds before and the various ways in which men – and, equally, women – could be harmed; in the back of her mind she suspected this is what it must feel like to have dislocated a shoulder or collarbone.  Half-bent and grimacing, winds and cold, driving rain buffeting her mercilessly, the young woman would have laid down right then and there, giving in to the voice in her head telling her to let go, to stop fighting the pain.  That urge called to her, gently, not from within but from…somewhere.  She could not say, though she felt as if an invisible hand reached out, beckoning her Slow down.  Rest.  You are safe.

            Unconsciously, Lyzaria dropped slowly to her knees.  When she rolled her head, exposing her aching neck to the icy tendrils of rain that washed over her, the princess was suddenly aware of a warm, pulsating heat against her bodice.  Feeling around her neck with her right hand, the princess noticed she still wore her pendant, the first gift her beloved had ever given her.  Had it not been encrusted with muck and mud, it would have been revealed as a half-oval stone split skillfully in half, glowing with a myriad of swirling, changing colors.  A mood gem some would call it, yet this particularly rare mineral was said to convey to the wearer the well being of another, rather than oneself.  Legend purported that if the gem was carefully split, friends or lovers could each wear half and know always the health of the other.  Still older legends claimed that the “right” pair of lovers could even communicate emotively through them, though Lyzaria had never known of anyone who did.  But in her weakest moment the low, wavering sound of unnatural howls rose above the wind, a shiver of terror racking her spine as Lyzaria knew they were getting closer.  I…I must…move on…she told herself. 

            Reeeeeeeeessssssssssst the voice urged, insisted! 

            “Aeron?”

            Lyzaria hesitated a moment, then concentrated as intently as her pain-wracked, weary body would allow her, clutching the warm mood gem in her hand.  The warmth of the stone did little to banish the cold numbness she felt running throughout her body, yet the connection to her betrothed soothed her spirit.

            Staaaaay, my child, the voice beckoned to her again.

            “Aeron?” she called, nearly giving into the unspoken words she heard within her mind.  She concentrated harder.  “Oh Aeron, my beloved-“

            A surge of great malevolence suddenly washed over the young woman.  Stunned, Lyzaria toppled, oblivious to the pain of wounds opened anew, sprains reawakened.  Her mind reeled from the shock of the tele-empathic strike, yet she possessed neither any idea of the attack’s origin nor any notion from where the attack was coming.  The princess was so disoriented, in fact, that she was powerless to control her body; physically exhausted and now mentally crippled beyond conscious thought, Lyzaria nearly succumbed to the blackout following fast upon the attack’s heels. 

            Yet before she fell to the ground, Lyzaria spasmodically tore the pendant from its golden chain and flung her hands away from her body, the mood gem dropping into a water-filled depression in the ground.  As quickly as the vile tide of malevolence had washed over her, it fled, receding from the shores of her mind.  The princess was startled to full consciousness and realized the intent, if not exactly the source, of the attack.  She knew now more than ever that she had to get away, that those forces seeking her were more than just Lokkarran foot soldiers and their hermephrodish hounds.  She was royalty, she rationalized, and the enemy would not want any potential heirs to the rightful throne running loose to insight rebellion, particularly those heirs of the High King of Altarus. 

            Rumors were rampant telling of the Lokkan’s ruthless exterminations of other political hierarchies in conquered nations and city-states, proportionate to the resistance with which sovereign nations had exhibited.  Those leaders who gave little or no resistance were offered “worship or die” ultimatums, swearing fealty to the Lokkan in exchange for their own lives and the lives of their populace; those unfortunate – or brave – rulers who resisted were met with swift and irrevocable punishment, resulting often in the annihilation of every man, woman, and child.  Even herds and livestock were not always exempt from Lokkan’s holy wrath, and more than one city had been symbolically salted to prevent the growth of anything in the land.

            The princess cried then, giving into the flood of emotions and uncertainty within.  She shed tears for so many things, her country, her family, her husband, and herself.  The intensity of the storm within nearly equaled that of the storm without, and Lyzaria would have simply curled up like a child, catatonic had it not been for a reminder of her present plight.

            “Hooooooooooowl…hooow hooowoooo,” she heard once again, much closer now.  She would not give into despair – not now!

            Thus, with a great inner strength and determination that seemingly exceeded the limits of her physical body, Lyzaria rose from the cold and muddy ground and began walking forth down the slope towards the small river, its banks heavily laden with runoff from the untimely storm.  Crossing it would require more than she had within her as with each passing minute the stream gathered both depth and force. 

            As she made her way, slowly stumbling upstream and away from the lands around the capital, Lyzaria recalled stories her brothers used to tell upon returning from their hunting expeditions.  In a passing thought, the young woman felt it odd to think of such things when her own family was likely dead, captured, or on the run like her.  She wished for a brief moment that she had been raised more like her brothers, stronger, wiser, more suited to endure hardship and pain; they would know what to do she told herself.  Still, the princess seemed to remember something of note from one of her brother’s tales some years ago involving hunting dogs and a creek.  Yet like peering through a veil, Lyzaria’s mind could not quite grasp the elusive thought as the pain in her body fought for attention.  The only advantage to the icy numbing feeling in her feet was that she could no longer feel the impact of occasional jagged rocks and sticks that cut and wore her extremities raw.  Unconsciously, the princess continued moving upstream, moving gradually away from its center as the water level rose.  She was almost running now, fear biting on the edges of her thought much as she would imagine the pursuers would be tearing at her heels could she not out run them.

            By now only shreds remained of her courtly dress, her richly crafted, heavy wool shawl having been torn from her shoulders by an errant tree branch shortly after her untimely trek into the woods began.  She searched the banks of the creek as its waters quickly filled the ravine, struggling to find an easier way up in the near pitch black of the stormy night.  Had it not been for the brief but numerous flashes of blue lightning that filled the sky overhead, Lyzaria was certain she would have never made it out.  She noticed a deep gouge bisecting the narrow riverbed to her right and made for it to begin her ascent.  Using rope-like exposed roots and smaller trees that rose a foot or two from the ground, Lyzaria managed to half-pull, half-crawl her way up and out of danger, her left arm hanging nearly useless.  Cresting the top of the ravine and breathing heavily with the effort, the princess nearly slid down its embankment again, her footing treacherous over the rain-soaked ground as rivulets of rainwater eroded the soil where she stood.  But the young woman reached out for one of the low-hanging tree limbs and caught herself at the last moment and pulled herself forward to more solid footing. 

            Turning to look back at the streambed behind her, Lyzaria was stunned and relieved to find that water levels had risen dangerously high in just the few minuets it had taken her to escape the ravine.  Had I not escaped its banks when I did…she shuddered, not wanting to think upon it anymore.  Unable to maintain her current pace, the princess slowed to a walk, yet thrice the young woman stumbled upon an upraised gnarled root or other unseen obstacle of the underbrush, the last time catching her foot.  As Lyzaria tumbled forward to the ground, she could not manage to get her cold right arm in front of herself quick enough and smashed face-first into the muddy ground.  The jarring impact of the fall was eclipsed by the searing pain which shot through the left side of her body, her left arm throbbing in agony.  Her foot was unable to free itself from under the knotted root that had been exposed above ground from years of erosion and growth, and as she fell, Lyzaria felt her ankle twist oddly; only the numbness of the cold relieved her from the throbbing ache she otherwise would have felt from the injury.  Lyzaria lay there a long while, unable to move.

            And still it rained…

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