This is the second instalment of Deadman’s The Blade of the Princess series. You can find the rest of the story here.
K’anda sighed deeply as she walked away from the shore of the lake, hating that she couldn’t help more, but at the same time grateful for the sight she’d seen below the glassy surface of the lake. It was slow to begin, but her legs fell into the walking rhythm she was now used to. It felt like ages since she’d left her grand palace back in Zhu’ul, but the truth was she’d only been gone near three weeks.
She was glad, in a way, that she was traveling alone. She’d said less than a handful of words, not sentences, but words since she’d last seen her home land. It was a relief. From all the servants, cooks, tutors, trainers, her nine sisters, she thought she’d never know a moment of silence in her life. But the woods were silent, engaging, and all together deadly. K’anda didn’t mind. She saw the beauty in all of it, even the black, twisted, dead trees that had fallen over years ago. Their rotted trunks were now home to a thousand more things hidden from sight.
The morning sun blazed high in the sky, only a few skinny clouds hanging around after the heavy rains last night. The air smelled sweet, like flowers and fresh grass, as the heavy dampness of the lake and its humidity grew further away with each step. The Princess followed the path back to the main road, quietly admiring the trees, the bright leaves, purple and yellow flowers, and all sorts of creatures that had made this place their home. Her golden eyes focused on nothing, letting time pass as she took her time getting back to the road, making her walk more than scenic.
At the main road, her boots kicked up small puffs of soft dirt, the Agaden Mountains her only landmark as she began to push her now experienced body toward them. Mid-morning had come, and with it, hunger. On the road there were no other travelers, and the woods cut back a few hundred paces to protect those on the path. It was a situation that would be troublesome, even to the most experienced travelers, but not to her.
As she walked her steady pace, K’anda bent down and scooped up a handful of rocks the size of her fingertips. They were black and smooth, ringed with sediment. She thought them to be pretty. As she walked, she discarded the few that weren’t smooth enough, leaving only four from the bunch. Her long legs carried her at a measured pace, and just like her, things were alive and scampering about. She slowed her steps, studying the waist-high grass around her, looking for movement.
It only took a moment before she spotted her lunch: a Grassling. They were like rabbits, but a bit larger, and instead of white, fluffy fur, they were covered in thick, coarse, green, flat hair that gave them the appearance of grass when they laid flat. Apparently this one was unhappy at the proximity between it and her. It was a terrible mistake, on its part. The princess froze, her boot puffing up one last dust cloud as she made the decision to get her meal.
With practiced precision guided by her magic, K’anda pinpointed where the Grassling would be. She lifted her hand with the stones in it, keeping her golden eyes wide open, and flattened her palm and fingers. Her wrist was right before her face as she let her power awaken, focusing on one of the smooth stones and then drawing a slow, deep breath. Upon a cloud of air she had created, one of the stones floated, aimed and ready, then she blew a puff of air, which she magnified, accelerated, and pushed forward to a blinding speed with magic. The stone left so fast she could no longer see it past the line of the grass in front of her. An arrow could not have been quicker, had it been shot from the strongest bow pulled by the mightiest of archers. Nor could it have been more accurate. Without having to go see for herself, the Princess knew the stone had hit, and gone through, the head of the target. With a small, satisfied smile, Ka’nda lowered her hand and went to retrieve her lunch.
Noon had come and gone. The now full princess sat a few yards away from the road, licking the grease of her recently finished meal off her fingers. Using her powers and her sword, she’d divided the Grassling into what she would eat now and meat that she had dried and would store in the already tanned hide from the animal. She was grateful for the gift of her magic, and the things it allowed her to do. Now with a tight and tidy bundle at the back of her hip, K’anda pressed on.
Suddenly she was running. She hadn’t paid attention to the sun and it set on her before she could find shelter. The heavy paws pounding behind her, coupled with hungry growling and frantic panting, let her know how close the Moon Wolf was. K’anda chanced a glance back and in the darkness only saw two red, bobbing eyes as it chased her and threatened to close the gap between them. She’d heard tales of how fast the creatures were, but until she had tried to launch a liquid ball of fire at one, she never knew. Tall grass whipped at her exposed thighs, stinging with each oncoming hit. In panic she’d lost track of the road.
K’anda’s legs made for the nearest line of trees, hoping that the hungry thing behind her would be lost, but it kept up. She balked left, so did the wolf, she leaped over fallen trees, so did the wolf, she pumped her long, muscular legs as hard as she could, the wolf didn’t care. Its pace was steady, keeping with her. Inch by inch, it gained. She could feel the oncoming attack, the animal letting loose a triumphant cry. K’anda’s mind tried not to imagine what the final fight between them would feel like. Tried not to imagine the long teeth rending her flesh asunder. A low branch whipped her face, blurring her vision, another, another. She lost sight of the ill-lit woods ahead of her through the tears in her eyes. She saw the log, lying across the ground at the last second and leaped.
The ground gave way. She was only vaguely aware of the feeling of falling; the panic had driven her almost numb. As soon as she realized what was happening she hit the wall of the hole she’d just plunged into. With a flash of pain and a heavy grunt, the air was driven from her lungs and she was unconscious. She didn’t know for how long she fell, or the time that had passed since she’d landed. Her body seemed a vague memory of a lifetime ago. All her senses crept back into her in waves, like things being washed ashore by the great oceans near her home of Zhu’ul. Her eyes saw nothing but dark, she tasted blood and dirt. She tried to breathe, but her nose was stuffed up with dirt and blood, too. Now her body was a rack of ache and pain as she fully came to, all her senses in place.
Before she moved she checked her body, sending tendrils of magic down her length to see if she’d broken anything. She was okay. It seemed the Moon Wolf was not hungry, or foolish enough, to follow her down the hole she’d accidentally discovered was hiding beneath a bed of twigs. She was lying atop something metal, the thin material scraping and sending echoes out into the cave she was in. With a moan and wince, she held her hand up, released her restraint of her ability, and created a ball of bright, yellow fire.
She sat up, trying to survey what she was laying on. She’d never seen anything like it: a carriage but squatter and longer, made of metal with glass windows and what looked like iron discs as wheels. Her face bunched with confusion as she stood, using her other hand to wipe away the blood and dirt from her face. She fed more of her gift into the ball of flame, letting it grow and brighten to the point where she could no longer hold it, even at arm’s length. With a grunt of effort, she threw the ball up. It howled and turned and kept going, fed by her until it hit the roof. K’anda’s golden eyes were as wide as saucers when it finally hit the ceiling, an impossible distance, and ignited to four times its original size. A prayer to the good spirits fell from her lips.
The cave was more than massive; the ceiling had roots hanging low from the earthen material it was made of. As far as her gifted eyes could see, there were rows and rows of the same kind of grey structure that was under the lake. It stretched for what seemed an eternity. Everything lit by the fireball above was grey with dust or orange with age. More of the short carriages lined veins of what seemed to be roads, their smooth surfaces cracked and broken. The taller boxes were barely standing, pieces of them hanging by wires to a skeletal frame. Metal poles, twisted and bent with age, punctuated the many lines that made up the grid where the rest sat. Flashes of yellow and red reflected off dirty glass sitting in the gaping mouths in the faces of stone towers. Even her entire land of Zhu’ul could not have compared to what was in the cave. Not the size nor the expanse of the dead world she’d fallen upon.
She wanted to bound through it, see and study every crack and crag, but caution crept into her. Apprehension wrapped cold and tight around her, freezing her muscles and pushing them to flee. She looked up to the hole or the direction she though it was and spotted a tiny yellow blotch of light. The wall next to her had been fixed with metal rungs, leading up and out. With a final look she limped toward them, her mind reeling with what she had seen.
It was now, and only now, that she wished she wasn’t alone. She wanted to know about this dead world and what it was, why it was, and when the final flicker of life in it had extinguished. She vowed, after she obtained a mate, to return to this place and speak with the dead. Her hand gripped the first bar and aching muscles started pulling her up, toward the world she knew.
You can find Deadman on Twitter.
Send us shmeckles on our Patreon.