First Chaos – First Chapter – Kella

Posted: July 7, 2013 by Kella in Chaos #1

Well, folks, here it is! To start the Chaos, I took the poll results and combined the top two results (Sci-Fi/Fantasy, High Fantasy) to form the genre for this story.

Enjoy, and stay tuned for Grant’s chapter next week!

~Kella~

Next: Chapter 2 by Sarah

 

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Angry smoke trails twisted and puckered like a jagged scar in the fading dusk, as if left by a giant wild animal attempting to claw apart the horizon. The roar that chased the hurtling object through the twilight was quite enough to put Kyri off her dinner, her gut clenching in such a way that swallowing anything now would be impossible.

“What d’you think it was?” Kyri dropped her hunk of roast boar back into her bowl, wiping her greasy fingers on her buckskin leggings. Her brothers slowly relaxed as her question dispelled the hush that had fallen over their small campsite.

“Dragon,” Anod muttered around a gob of half-chewed meat, slowly beginning to chew again. “Has to be. See the size of it?” His wary gaze pierced the canopy, hand drifting to the hunting knife at his belt. The roiling, burning clouds cast long shadows across his face, darkening his grey skin to an even deeper charcoal hue. Amber eyes narrowed as they flicked to and fro, attempting to trace the trail from the comfort of his bedroll.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Geneth had already had three helpings of warek root mash, and looked to be debating a fourth. His lanky frame hovered over the cooking pot, waving a spoon at the elder Anod in half-hearted admonition. Any uncertainty Geneth had felt, bearing witness to a blazing fireball tearing through the air mere kliks overhead, seemed to have already been dismissed in favor of the more pressing business of mealtime. “Everyone knows they’re not real. Even if they were, why would one just go tumbling to the ground like that?”

Kyri couldn’t help the shiver that crept up her spine, even though she wholly agreed with Geneth: of course dragons weren’t real. Anod was just being paranoid again. He’d talk them all into an anxious storm, after which no sleep would be had while they each listened for potential predators. Then they’d wake up far too late in the morning to get any decent trapping done and spend the rest of the day with one ear pricked, in case of imaginary fire-breathing stalkers.

“Was just as likely a falling star,” Geneth was saying around a mouthful of mush. He scratched the point of one ear and sniffed. “Should have made a wish.”

Anod clucked his tongue. “Superstition.”

“Says the one who thinks it’s a dragon.”

“We’ll see who’s so smart when we’re roasted in our sleep.”

Kyri sighed, making a show of rolling her eyes as she set aside her bowl. “For Rell’s sake, I’ll go and check it out if it will shut you both up. Big, fearsome menfolk, the pair of you.”

“Brave sis, defender of us all. Should still make Anod go, since he’s the one so bothered…” Geneth said, ducking as Kyri accidentally-on-purpose swung her bow a little too close to his head.

“Making sure our traps didn’t get hit by that whatever-it-was when it fell.” Kyri winked at her twin, passing behind him. “You’ll just have to put up with his mad speculations while I’m gone.”

“Could be a weapon from Terne,” Anod said without a hint of irony, his expression somber. He ripped off a hunk of rib meat and fed it to Sabra, who fell on it like she’d been starved for days; her wrinkled tail twitched in the air in time with the sound of her long jaws snapping around the morsel. Anod ignored the mangy beast, his gaze narrowed as he trained it on Kyri, almost as if he were daring her to go and get herself killed by villains who may or may not actually be lurking in the woods.

“So go with her.” Geneth kicked dirt at Anod from around the edge of the fire. “Or shut up. Your whining is putting me off my food, after all the work I put into it already…”

“It’s fine. It’s probably just a falling star, like you said. Maybe I’ll get myself a pretty piece of rock to show off at market.” Kyri raised an eyebrow as she tied her hair into a loose knot. “Just know that I’ll cut the nose off the one touches my food. And that goes double for your mutt.” She cinched her dagger tight around her forearm for emphasis, glaring at Sabra. Sabra, for her part, was unaffected by Kyri’s dislike, gnawing contendedly on the bone Geneth fished out of the pot for her.

“Pity it if it is a dragon. Creature doesn’t stand a chance.” Geneth’s laugh had followed Kyri up the mossy hill to the high forest road.

She followed the beaten track for the first hundred paces or so, until an acrid tang drifted to her on the breeze. Burning wood and something else, a foreign, unnatural smell that Kyri couldn’t identify, but which brought tears pricking to the corners of her eyes.

Easing into a lope, she had veered off the road and into a thicker cluster of trees, keeping one eye on the triple moons overhead to mark her way. Her stomach burbled a loud complaint and Kyri winced, rubbing at a stitch forming in her side as she stopped to notch a tree. No sense in getting lost; now that Geneth had filled his belly he’d be of no real use to anyone, and Anod could only handle so much responsibility by himself with a level head…

What had possessed her to come out to solve this mystery by herself? Geneth was right; she should have pressed Anod to come along. When she showed him the crater filled with rock from the heavens, not the crash site of a mythical creature, maybe it would force him to stop spinning wild theories in the dark.

A sound like a thousand matchsticks splintering and cracking, crumbled in the fist of a mighty god, reverberated through the woods. Kyri stumbled to one knee, hissing as the bark she leaned against ripped into her palm. Thick tendrils of smoke snaked around her through the trees, tickling her nose and bringing tears to the corners of her eyes. Terrified howls echoed up around her, the staccato of hooves pelting the ground, thrumming through her blood. Blinking furiously, she cupped a hand over her nose and mouth, preparing to race the stampeding wildlife back to camp and her brothers.

If it was a dragon, it had clearly decided to self-immolate. Best to get away before it took her down with it.

The first time Kyri heard the noise, like a thin niggling teasing her from the edge of the rising cacophony, she had been inclined to dismiss it. She would get Anod and make him get off his shiftless arse. They needed to be several kliks’ distance away before this fire spread. Tell him his dragon was coming back this way, that’d get him moving…

The second time, she stopped and actually listened, past the crackling and the birds’ screeches as they took flight. She was almost sure… yes, that was definitely a person.

Dresh. Whoever was still alive in that mess wouldn’t be by the time Kyri managed to bring her brothers back with her. She couldn’t just leave whoever it was to die. That sound would fuel her nightmares unless she sated her curiosity.

“Rell is always watching,” she could almost hear her mother scold above the chaos.

Kyri choked out a resigned sigh.

Ducking beneath the fumes, she muttered another curse and darted between the trees. That unnatural smell was stronger here, like burning hair and acid. Kyri gasped in a lungful of air between clouds of smoke and waved an arm ahead of her as she ran, clearing a path to the wreckage.

A few seconds later, she skidded to a halt, the pain in her hand and smoke in her eyes momentarily forgotten as she beheld the disaster’s source.

It was a giant metal egg.

Kyri coughed, wiped the soot from her eyes, and squinted. A giant metal egg with fins.

Grey and gleaming amidst the flames that engulfed its wide backside, the polished metal egg – because, really, what the dresh else was she supposed to call it? – lay with one triangular fin reaching skyward, as if attempting to return to whatever nest it had tumbled from. Kyri froze and shot a look at the darkening orange-red sky, her vision unobscured by the trees that were now lying in smoldering heaps on either side of the impossible artifact.  No winged behemoths loomed overhead, and she drew a relieved breath. On a rebellious whim, Kyri reached out a hand to trace the black and yellow patterns etched into the shiny dark shell.

A ragged, gutteral cry from within the egg made Kyri jump back, seconds before a flaming branch crashed to the ground where she’d been standing.  Had she been mistaken? Had she accidentally stumbled into a dragon’s nest, after all? It seemed a bit too open. The stories always had them in caves or lofty mountain peaks or something…

A large chunk of metal popped out near her hip and she shrieked in alarm, whipping an arrow from her quiver. It was a dragon’s egg, and the dreshed thing was hatching!

Kyri took several steps back to face the hole, knowing she should be one hundred paces away by now but unable to tear herself away. If this was a dragon hatchling, she wanted to be the first living Eltari to see one born. If no mother was hovering nearby, then perhaps the creature was abandoned? In which case, Kyri might be able to imprint on the baby like one could imprint on a gosling. She relaxed her aim a little as she thought about it. She could be the first dragon tamer seen outside of legend…

And wouldn’t that be something to shove in Anod’s face?

Insistent shuffling from within the egg stirred her to attention once more, drawing on the unknown entity as it emerged. However, instead of the leathery hide or mucous-covered wings that she expected, a body in tight black nightclothes, clutching a red pack, tumbled headfirst onto the ground with a loud groan.

What in the Sixth Under-Ring?

Kyri kept her bow drawn as she advanced on the writhing form, indistinct in the shifting firelight that threatened to become a forest blaze. Two arms, two legs… Glove covered hands flexed and tugged at a fastening on one side of what had to be the head. The shape seemed male, but in the solid, muscular sort of way, not like most Eltari. Ternian then? Kyri’s fingers twitched on her bowstring.

The figure pawed at its head for a moment, face pressed against the dirt as it forced its legs underneath itself, resembling a giant limworm more than a man. Relaxing the tension in her arm once more, Kyri watched in confusion, unsure if she should help or leave it to its own devices. After a moment of increased struggle over the head covering, one of the figure’s hands finally began to wring the other in increasingly jerky movements. With a triumphant shout, the man pulled free of his glove, lifting bare fingers to fumble at a catch at his neck –

With a startled yelp, Kyri’s own fingers slipped from her bowstring before she could catch herself. A strangled cry escaped through the new opening in the man’s mask as Kyri’s arrow embedded itself deeply into his hindquarters. He collapsed on his forearms, his skin thrust further into the brightening light.

His very pale, pink skin.

Demon!” she hissed, making the sign of Rell’s eternal smile before nocking another arrow.

“Wait, hold on a minute!”

The wounded creature wrestled with his cloth hood before finally succeeding in ripping it partially off his head to hang about his neck like an empty feed bag. His face was still more of that impossible shade of pink-white. His ears were unfinished, blunt at the tips, and obviously too small to be able to hear well. Dark, spiky hair stuck out at odd angles all over his head. He gave her a wild, blue stare and she almost shot him again.

“Stop! I mean you no harm!” he said, very loudly and slowly, as if she were the foreigner still learning the language. Or, given the way he was eyeing her bow, a disturbed person.

She tightened her grip and took a step forward, feeling a little better when he flinched. “What are you?”

“About to die, if we don’t get out of here.” The man’s face contorted in a brief rictus of pain. “Not a goddamned hello, but you fucking shot me.” He stopped pushing himself up from the ground when she drew back a little, her eyes narrowing as the taut string creaked against the wood.

What the dresh was he? Ternians at least had normal ears. And their skin wasn’t freakishly bright like this one’s. Kyri shuddered, tightening her fingers even more around the bowstring, just in case.

The stranger on the ground gave another low moan and pounded his fist into the ground. “Just… help me up, would ya? Need t’put as much distance ‘tween us and this thing as we can before it explodes.”

Kyri blinked. “Why would the egg explode?”

He responded with a disbelieving sort of sound as his bare hand hovered in the air near the protruding arrow. “’S not an egg, it’s my shuttle. And right now it’s leaking fuel. If those flames hit that fuel line we all go up like a firecracker, so we need to be as far away as possible before that happens. Nod if you’re getting any of this…”

The urgency in his unnaturally-colored eyes almost made up for the fact that she didn’t actually understand a word he said. She heard the words, knew what most of them were supposed to mean, but the way he strung them together was too strange to follow completely.

But he certainly seemed more afraid of his ‘shuttle’ than getting shot again.

Kyri lowered her bow.

The man groaned as he swiped an arm out to snatch his bundle. “Good, now give a guy a hand up?” When she hesitated, he flicked his other hand into the air in her direction and gave a loud sigh. “Or we could think about it some more. Got any marshmallows?”

She frowned at him. “Any what?”

“Let’s go, sweetheart!”

“Yes, fine, all right!” Kyri slung her bow over one shoulder to free up both hands. Pulling him to his feet, she struggled to keep him there as he grunted and threatened to topple to one side.

Move,” he urged through gritted teeth, moisture beading his pale forehead.

“You are heavy for a demon,” Kyri said, clutching at her bow before it slid down her arm, then at the man’s ribcage as he tried to do the same.

“Demon? Look who’s talking, sister.” He coughed around a groan as he put too much weight on his bum leg. “And I’d be moving a lot faster if someone hadn’t just shot me in the ass…”

Kyri huffed an errant silver lock out of her eyes and staggered beneath his weight. She waited until he had stopped wobbling like a water stick before attempting to propel them into the dark underbrush. “I thought I was aiming at your head.”

“Oh, ha ha.”

“We must stop and remove the arrow.”

“No time,” he replied, using his free hand to pull himself along on a low-hanging branch. “Thing’s gonna blow any minute.”

“It will do more damage the longer it stays,” Kyri answered, grateful for the lessened pressure across her shoulders. She shrugged off his arm and gestured to where shuttle lay burning, several bounds behind them. “We have covered plenty of ground, and I can’t carry you by myself. If it is as dangerous as you say, and you fall, I will leave you! I will leave you, and I will run that way!” She pointed into the darkness, not even sure where she was pointing to, but glad that she had gotten his attention.

He stared at her, and she couldn’t tell whether he was trying to figure out if she was having a joke at his expense, or if he was considering the many ways he could kill her with his mysterious, hidden powers. “Shoot the guests, abandon the wounded… I sure picked one hell of a planet to crash onto.”

“It’s your choice. I will help you to walk, but you must let me remove the arrow first.” Kyri tightened her ponytail and tucked that annoying strand behind one of her own normal, pointed ears; her gaze kept straying to his stunted ones, bleached ivory by the combined glow of the moons. He had to be a demon. No living, Rell-loving person looked like that… And he spoke absolutely no sense.

A solid wave of heat crashed against Kyri’s back and sent her flying, her bow flying off into the bushes as her arms flailed. Her left shoulder crashed roughly against a thick tree trunk, the arm going blessedly dead a second before her entire body’s weight collapsed on top of it. The forest lost all sound, the crackling of the fire in the distance reduced to a tiny, insistent ringing in the space between her ears. Slumping to the ground, stunned, she was distantly aware of a ragged scream tearing its way past the ringing in her head.

Getting to her knees was an effort; she placed the flat of one hand against her forehead, hoping to steady the wobbly, sloshing feeling on the inside of her skull.  A scorched, twisted piece of metal lay smoldering on the ground in front of her. Bright orange flames licked along its blacked surface. Kyri raised her head to take in the littered remnants of the metal shuttle, dotting the bushes and forest floor. Strained splintering crackled overhead and she looked up to see an unidentifiable burning object, the size of Sabra, less than an arm’s reach away.

Gasping, she skittered back until the sole of her boot collided with a body. The screaming flared again and she spun to face the demon, who lay on his side with one elbow pinned. The arrow that she’d been bent on removing was now even more deeply fixed in his hindquarters, in the fleshy curve before his leg properly began. The shaft had snapped so that only two or three lims of wood were now visible in the sparse flickering light around them.

But with the noise he was making, one would have thought the arrowhead was made of acidshale. That blast would scare off the usual predatory animals for a time, but who knew when they would feel brave enough to investigate?

“Shh,” she tried, slapping his hand away from its rigid hovering over the wound. “You’ll bring every lema cat for a hundred kliks this way with all that bleating.”

The dim light from the scattered destruction wasn’t enough to see clearly by, the canopy of the forest blocking most of the moons’ light. Kyri climbed over his legs to the other side to try to get a better look. No sign of the arrowhead itself, meaning he’d managed to get it dug in there good and deep. She wasn’t going in after it with her bare fingers. She’d heard stories about Pale Ones, and how they could melt the skin off your bones with their eyes.

But if he was a Pale One, wouldn’t those eyes be red?

Maybe he was just a man. But if so, he was a man in dire need of better medicine than she could provide. So what, then? If she did nothing, she risked his health – assuming he wasn’t a demon and had reason to worry about something so trivial – but if she stuck her fingers into the wound and made it worse…

“My kit…” he said in a voice cracked with restraint. Fingers closed around Kyri’s wrist like one of Geneth’s snares. “Find a red bag.” He released her as his head jerked around, trying to scan their surroundings.

It hadn’t sailed farther than a few paces away, thankfully, and she slid it over to his fumbling grasp. He wrenched it open with a quick buzzing sound startled Kyri back a step, thrusting one hand in to withdraw a small rod that glinted in the spare light. He jabbed at the end of the thing with his thumb before shoving it at her. She flinched from the sharp chill of it against her palms.

“Point it where you shot me and push the button. Should be like déjà vu for you.”

“Button? Déjà what?” She shook her head and tried to return his strange offering. “It is too dark to see what… ”

“Oh, for– Here!” More shadowed movement as he fumbled with something on his arm.

Kyri sat there in patient confusion, the night chill amplified by shock tremors that strengthened with every other breath. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew she should probably be more worried about the mounting pain in her shoulder. Didn’t a tree attack it just a moment ago?

She threw her arms across her face as a blinding white light shot out from the man’s wrist. Clutching the rod, she backed away. Her eyes stung and watered from the brightness. Surely demons didn’t have access to light as pure as this? Maybe she had it wrong again, and he was an agent of Rell? Oh, what a fine thing to have shot a prophet! The tremors grew stronger still, and for a new reason altogether.

“Come back, it’s just a flashlight! Look, dammit!”

The beam of light narrowed as he held his wrist up, focusing a glow on his backside, and oh look, there was the stone edge of the arrowhead. She reached one tentative hand toward his wrist, passing her thumb beneath the luminescent ball embedded in the wide metal band he wore. An answering shadow danced over the blood pooling around his wound.

Magic,” escaped her in an awed whisper.

“No,” he laughed, and then the laugh became a low moan, followed by a punch to the dirt. “Cyrex 3000, with the universal translation feature built in. Now take that shiny stick I gave you and get this damned arrowhead out of my butt!”

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Rock the comments section, people!

Next: Chapter 2 by Sarah

 

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