An Unfolding Tale

an experimental fantasy fiction by M.D. Ward

The Name of the Remnant Carvesh

“Tatalanaria is dead,” insisted Aurin Carwell. “The Fey Queen died at the end of the war. When the forces of King Tallamore drove back her armies, her own people destroyed her.”

Carvesh knew the stories well. He had heard them told by storytellers at festivals and celebrations, and occasionally by his father in more private settings. Later, he had heard variations of the story in Messinia, where it was said that The Fey Queen’s dying shriek was still echoing in some of the darkest and most distant reaches of the world. It was said that the weeks and months following her death had been some of the most violent and chaotic that the Realm had ever known. The Iria armies had splintered, turing on each other and destroying thousands of human lives in the process.

Only the leadership of King Terramore and the cleric Lindrech had saved them. Somehow, those legendary heroes had negotiated a truce. The Fey King had taken his people retreated far to the south, and the Shimmering had divided them ever since.

That was what the stories told.

“Not dead,” said Taaru quietly. “The spirit of Tatalanaria is too strong for that. Her body was destroyed during the war, but her spirit lives on, exiled to the lands beyond the Stonewall and imprisoned by powerful wards. But she is not alone. Many of her followers went with and the lands of her exile were not uninhabited. She found others living there as well, dark hearted men and beasts that lurked in the shadows. Over time, she has twisted them to her purposes. Some became the jychra. Some became like the sjataki you encountered last night. And still others became foul creatures you should hope you never see.”

“That can’t be,” Lord Carwell insisted. “It goes against everything we know about the Fey Wars. History clearly tells us that Tatalanaria was destroyed.”

“Then your history is wrong, Lord of the Humans.”

Carwell scowled. He appeared ready argue when Quelana interrupted. “Or at least incomplete,” she said, turning to question the minotaur. “You said that her body was destroyed, even though her spirit survived. If that’s true, it would only stand to reason that our historians assumed she was dead.”

“Surely you can’t believe this!” said Carwell. “It’s ludicrous!”

“Maybe not,” said the healer. “You’re familiar with the premise of corporal limits?”

“Of course.” Even Carvesh was familiar with the concept. Men or women with a particularly strong connection to the Flame had been known to burn themselves out from time to time. The sages said that the human body could only handle a certain degree of stress.

“About a century ago,” continued Quelana, “there was a sage named Fesilan. He was not Flameborn, but he dedicated his life to studying those who were—mostly in the areas of healing and medicine. We’re still using many of his ideas today. One of his theories was that our spirits become unanchored when we die and drift into the Beyond, but he also suggested that, with enough raw power, it might be possible to create a new, bodiless anchor point. Corporal limitation makes this impossible for any human, but the Fey Queen—well I doubt that she was hindered by the same limitations as us.“

“You speak wisely,” said Taaru. “Tatalanaria was among the strongest of the Quilani. Second only to her husband, the Vanarch.”

“Fine,” grumbled Carwell, though his expression made it clear that he remained unconvinced. “I’m not saying that I believe this, but I’ve seen enough to believe that there is something unfriendly out there. Let’s assume for a moment that this Remnant is, in fact, the Fey Queen—or at least someone claiming that identity. What can you tell us about her? What kind of threat does she pose?”

The minotaur grunted. “The very worst. Before her defeat, she sought to expunge humanity from this world—or else twist them to her purposes. I do not expect that has changed. Fortunately, the wards of her imprisonment still hold. The greater danger are her minions, such as the jychra and the sjataki. These are the ones you must concern yourself with, Lord of the Humans.”

“And what can you tell us about them?”

“They are darkness—very literally. Their strength grows in the shadow and wanes in the light, so much so that the jychra will not appear while the sun is in the sky unless forced by those that rule over them. The sjataki do not shun the light in the same way, but even they draw strength from the darkness.”

“How about it, my Lord?” quipped Madik. “Can the Flameborn keep the sun from setting?”

“No,” responded Carwell.

“Was worth a shot.”

“The shadows make the jychra stronger,” said Taaru, “not invincible. They still have weaknesses that can be exploited. For instance, they have a distinct pack mentality. Couple that with a severely limited intelligence, and you find yourself facing an enemy that is quite predictable.”

“Predictability is irrelevant if our weapons can’t turn them back,” argued Carwell. “My men and I fought a pack of the beasts two nights ago and they nearly overwhelmed us.”

“But you did manage to defeat them. How?”

“Brute force. I had to call upon the Flame and borrow strength from the earth itself to smash them apart.”

The minotaur nodded. “Their hides are thick and hard enough to turn back a common blade, but they are also brittle enough to crack under sufficient force. Hammers, cudgels and other blunt weapons might prove more effective than swords and spears.”

“Their eyes are vulnerable too,” added Carvesh, thinking back over his previous encounters with the beasts. “And Madik killed one by catching it in the throat.”

“Yes,” agreed Taaru, “Though none of my people have ever shown the marksmanship of your hunter friend, we have discovered several key weaknesses in their defences. In addition to their eyes and throats, they also have soft spots on the inside of each leg. If you can catch them in these places, swords and other blades can be effective.”

Carwell shook his head. “Most of my soldiers are swordsmen or cavalry. They’re used to fighting Titans or putting down rebellions—enemies who bleed when you cut them.”

“I can teach you several techniques that you can use to train your men,” said Taaru. “You might also consider enlisting the aid of blacksmiths and woodsmen. Those who know how to swing an axe or a hammer might prove invaluable.”

“Jadoc can help with that,” suggested Quelana. “Trent too. They’re both well connected and know most of the local craftsmen and apprentices.” Carvesh nodded his agreement.

“I might be able to scrounge up a man or two myself,” added Madik.

“It doesn’t seem like much of a plan,” said Carwell. “But I suppose it’s better than nothing.”

“There is one more thing,” said Taaru. “Something I would like to show you.” Abruptly, the minotaur turned and vanished back into the woods.

As Carvesh glanced at his companions he found his own emotions reflected in their faces. Quelana’s brow furrowed in confusion, while Madik stroked his long moustache thoughtfully. Meanwhile, Lord Carwell’s expression was a storm of uncertainty and frustration. Carvesh had always known his uncle to be a proud man, confident in his ability to look out for those under his care. The sudden appearance of the shadowbeasts had clearly disrupted that confidence. Carvesh found himself lifting a silent prayer to both the Nine and the Sun God of Messinia, that whatever Taaru intended to show them would help restore some of that confidence.

It was several minutes before the minotaur returned. When he did, Carvesh and his companions leapt to their feet. Madik nocked and arrow and Carwell reached for his sword.

“Ashes and flaming embers!” he shouted as Taaru descended into the ravine, dragging a demon behind him.

It was like a smaller version of the creature they had faced the previous night, with the same featureless face and spine-ridged arms. But, while the other demon’s natural armour had been weathered and bone-like, this one glistened with the same obsidian as the shadowbeasts. It thrashed and hissed and pulled furiously against the thin, metallic cord that bound its neck and wrists—to no avail. Taaru was bigger and stronger, and the demon could not match such strength.

“Sjataki,” growled the minotaur. “There are too many of the jychra in this for the one you destroyed to be the only of its kind. I hunted this one down as you slept.”

“Kill it!” shrieked Quelana. There was terror in her voice, a deep, visceral fear. Her ravaged flesh had been miraculously healed, but it was clear that the wound in her mind was still fresh and raw. She took a single step toward Carwell, as though for protection. Instinctively, the Flameborn lord placed one reassuring arm around her shoulders.

“Why does this monstrosity still live?” he demanded.

“To serve as a demonstration,” responded Taaru. “Carvesh of the Great Oak, would you do me the honour of lending me your sword?” The request caught Carvesh off-guard. After all the aid and overtures of friendship, it was difficult to believe that Taaru would use the weapon to harm them—his own sword was far larger and far more dangerous. Still, Carvesh paused for a moment before nodding and offering the weapon hilt-first to the minotaur.

“My thanks.” All at once, Taaru whirled and the bright, polished blade followed him. It cut through the air with a metallic hum, arcing toward the demon with thunderous force. Carvesh winced as the sword caught the hissing demon in the side of the face, cleaving its head cleanly in half. A small wisp of green smoke billowed briefly from the cloven skull before the body dissolved into black ash.

“Done,” said Taaru, raising the sword before him, as though to admire the blade. “Such is the power of Brightsteel. Creatures like the sjitaki and the jychra cannot stand against it.”

“Brightsteel?” asked Madik.

“You do not know if it?” The hunter shook his head. “It is an alloy made from common iron and the ore extracted from Moonstone. It can be difficult to work. Too much moonstone and the steel becomes brittle. Not enough and a blade won’t hold it’s edge.”

“But I’d always thought that sword was made from solid Relenian Steel,” said Carvesh. “At least that’s what Jayslen told me when he gave it to me.”

Carwell’s head snapped toward Carvesh, then back to Taaru. “Jayslen…” His brows furrowed and his emerald eyes narrowed for a moment before snapping wide open, as though in sudden shock. “Ashes and Embers! I knew it looked familiar. Fool of a boy! What was he thinking?”

“Uncle?”

“That’s not just a sword, Carvesh. That’s Nightmane. The ancestral sword of House Rayderon, forged centuries ago and passed down for generations. Your father wore it the day he was ascended to the Winged Throne, and it hung for years on the wall of his private chambers. It’s part of your brother’s birthright.”

“I had no idea

“Of course not. You would have no reason to remember it. There’s nothing to be done about it now, but I’ll have stern words for your brother the next we meet. For the moment, let’s just be grateful for his folly. It may very well have saved all our lives last night. Would that we had more weapons such as it.”

“And so you shall, Lord of the Humans,” said Taaru. “I have been working with Brightsteel since I was old enough to carry my first named weapon. I can craft the weapons you require.”

“I’m afraid these lands are not exactly rich with moonstone.”

“You needn’t worry about that. I have a small store—enough to forge a dozen swords.”

“A dozen?” asked Carwell. Taaru nodded. “And they will cut through the shadowbeasts as easily as Nightmane?”

“They will.”

“What do you need?”

“Iron—even scraps will do—a forge and time.”

“I’ll see that you will have all of it. How much time?”

“I can produce a sword every half day. They will not be properly forged, however, and will be useful only against the hides of the sjitaki and the jychra. They will surely shatter against anything else.” Taaru hefted Nightmane. “A blade with such workmanship as this would take a month to forge. Perhaps longer.”

“We don’t have that kind of time” said Carwell. “What you offer will have to suffice. If such swords are as effective as promised, they will be deadly in the hands of my Sentinels. But now I think it’s time we returned to the village. We have work to do.”

“What kind of work?” asked Carvesh. In his heart, he already knew the answer.

“We prepare for war. May the Guardian watch over us us.”

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