Short stories, Flash fiction, and Novel Excerpts

The seven Seals–Excerpt


The Seven Seals

By:  Ben Pollard

Jo’hon ran through the forest, lithely passing between trees and branches in the thick woods.  Rays of pale sunlight slashed down through the thick canopy high above.  Even moving quickly, Jo’hon left no trace of his passage through the underbrush. 

“I knew this was going to be a bad day,” he said through his tears.  Word came that foresters were poaching his woods.  If that was not to be enough, someone or something was poaching the foresters.  Deciding he had to do something about it, the both of them, Jo’hon set out at dawn that morning. 

Traveling throughout the morning Jo’hon and Golden briskly made their way to were the foresters were reported to be.  Golden floated just above him and to the right.  Sailing through the air from tree to tree, branch to branch, gliding on soft golden feathers that were her namesake.  She would occasionally hoot to hurry him up.  They had been together for twenty-five years, protecting the forests from the ever encroaching farmers and foresters. 

Running till the sun was high over head, Jo’hon made it to the clearing where the poachers were reputed to be.  Stopping just before he entered, Jo’hon scanned the area.  Sure enough there were axe wounds on the trees, stately oaks and maples mainly but no foresters about.  Slowly turning around to have a better look, he saw that the only trees marked thus were a few oaks and two maples.  Just getting the hard woods, Jo’hon nodded to himself.  They were all on the north side of the clearing.  Kneeling down to study the tracks in the leaf litter, he made their numbers to be about a dozen.  Four too cut, the rest to cord and drag them away. Hoping to get them to some merchant and rid them of it quickly.  Something wasn’t right; they should have them down and half way home by now. 

Standing abruptly, Jo’hon scratched his head and turned, which saved his life.  Jo’hon heard the buzz of the arrow like a memory, before feeling the line of fire it drew across his hip.  Immediately, he lurched to the right.  A large elm now blocked the archers’ line of sight.  Jo’hon, his back against the elm, drew two long knives from sheathes at his hip.  Looking ahead, he spied two shapes moving in the shadowy gloom of the trees.  “So, they thought to ambush me did they,” he mumbled.  Crouching, he looked around; he still had some time before they reached him. 

Mentally calling to Golden and achieving contact, Jo’hon saw through her eyes.  It was disconcerting to look down on himself and was overcome with a moment of vertigo.  Shaking his head he cleared his mind, ordering Golden into the air.  From the air Jo’hon could see eight creatures.  Being humanoid was all might have had in common with the foresters.  Covered from head to toe in scales, in hues of the woods around, it was hard to discern them even through the eyes of an owl.

What Jo’hon could see was strange enough.  Arms that reached down to their knees, ending in long wickedly sharp claws.  Their short stubby legs moved with surprising silence through the brush.  With his areole view Jo’hon could see them moving around his position.  The two from behind split to come upon his flanks, what Jo’hon was most interested in, was the archer.  Scanning around, through Golden’s eyes, he spotted it.

Putting the bow across its back and drawing a short serpentine blade from the ground beside it the humanoid moved forward. “That does it”, Jo’hon thought to himself.  Taking one last look around at his surroundings, he breaks contact with Golden.  Standing slowly, silently, Jo’hon grips the weapons with the ease of long practice.  Reversing the blade in his right hand, he calculates the creature’s movements and position. 

Stepping around the tree, stabs the closest, on the left, in the neck, whirls around as the other closes on the right, planting the reversed blade into it’s forehead in one smooth movement.  Releasing the hilts, Jo’hon slips his daggers from their places in his sleeves. 

Stepping to the left of the thrashing lizard at his feet, Jo’hon lazily throws one then the other, to his left and right.  Without pausing to see if they hit, hearing both the monstrosities death cries, he gracefully draws his sword.  Gleaming in the fading twilight, long and slightly curving, the light plays across the etching of an owl poised in flight. 

Meeting the rush of the closest two, the others split to flank him.  Jo’hon knew that unless he finished these two off quickly the others would take him from behind.  Having a good look at the lizards for the first time, he wondered at the difference between the two he faced.  While the one on the left was a uniform green it had an overbite showing rows of serrated teeth.  The other while green, also had hints of yellow and orange on its flanks and belly, though neither showed any outward sign of gender.

“Funny what you notice at times like these”, Jo’hon chuckled to himself.  To his surprise the thing in front of his emulated the sound.  Drawing another knife from the small of his back with his left hand, Jo’hon parried a thrust from “overbite”.  Rolling along the blade, moving it out and down, Jo’hon stopped, suddenly slashing along “overbites” belly, spilling it’s entrails at its feet.  Blocking a thrust from “rainbow”, sweeping his blade down and around its sword, Jo’hon riposted opening up its sword arm elbow to shoulder.  Dropping its sword, “rainbow” raised its remaining claw in a feeble defense as Jo’hon impaled it.  Releasing the hilt, if he didn’t survive it wouldn’t matter; Jo’hon threw side arm into the lizard advancing on his right. 

Feeling a burning line Jo’hon knew well across his back, he blocked out the pain, ducked and rolled away to give him room. As he rose and turned in a crouch, pulled a dagger from below his neck, Jo’hon saw her.  Flashing gold in the fading rays of the sun, she landed on the back of the remaining creature’s head.  Scratching and clawing Golden managed to leave its right eye where Jo’hon supposed its cheek would be. 

Dropping its sword, it reached up with scaly claws that ripped a scream that sounded almost human from Golden, and threw her to the ground.  Bellowing her name, Jo’hon released his hold on the dagger; which blossomed in the lizard’s remaining eye.

Hurriedly he ran to were Golden lay flapping on the ground.  Jo’hon could hear her screaming in his mind. He pulled heavy leather gauntlets from his behind his belt, lest she claw him with her thrashing.  Jo’hon held her with his left hand and drew out a vial from his belt pouch with the other.  It was a difficult task, fumbling with pouch and vial, though finally he managed to pull the cork out with his teeth.  Jo’hon carefully poured the contents into Golden’s hooked beak. 

Jo’hon tried to calm her with his mind though he knew Golden was panicking.  As the amber liquid coursed its way through her tiny body, he lost contact with her mind and Golden’s thrashing stopped.  He could only hope that she was strong enough for the potion to do its work. 

Leaving Golden to rest hidden beneath an elm, covering her with leaves, Jo’hon went and retrieved his weapons.  Cleaning the knife blades with moss and leaves he was pleased to note that the blood was the bright red of the living.  Not that he thought them undead but worried that they might be magical constructs.  Though he had spent the better part of twenty years in these woods, he had never seen their like before.  Alive they would stand about five feet though with their tails it was closer to eight lying down.  Short legs and long arms would allow them to run on all fours. 

Putting his foot on the final creature he came to, Jo’hon bent and yanked his sword out, with his free hand grabbed leaf litter, cleaning the blade all in one motion.  His dexterity and grace were due to equal parts training and talent.  He was chosen at a very early age to be a Ranger.  Protector of the forest, servant of the people; truth to tell he protected them from each other. 

Trained in woodcraft, the arts of war, politics, and magic, though Jo’hon used the last sparingly and not all that well.  These skills and others are what separated Jo’hon and his other fellow Rangers from the run of the mill human.  That magic is what links him to Golden in bonds stronger than any mortal chain.  It also lets them communicate at some distance and mind spy; among other things. 

No two Rangers have the type animal companion.  Jolien’s companion is a ferrite and both are just as wily as any ferrite would be.  Jo’hon discovered Golden only a year into his training and they have been together ever since. 

Sword in hand Jo’hon walked to where he had hidden Golden.  Stopping suddenly, sensing something was amiss, he turned slowly around.  There, a slight movement at the corner of his eye, then it was gone.  Standing motionless Jo’hon waited.  No sound or even a whisper of movement.  That’s it, no sound, there is always sound in a forest.  Birds, bugs, something is always there. 

A flicker of shadow on the left; suddenly, violently, Jo’hon crashed through the underbrush toward it.  Behind the trees, weaving, Jo’hon changed direction and ran back to were he had laid Golden.  Buzzing like angry wasps, arrows whirled around him.  Finally they forcing him to abandon the path back to his companion.  Jo’hon could not risk her, not like this.  Hoping against hope that he had her well hidden, Jo’hon left her, for the first time, alone.  Tears streaming down his face, he also left his shadowy pursuers behind.

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

Leaning with her elbows on the desk of polished marble, she had her head cradled in her hands.  Jet black hair tied back severely at the nape of her neck, Emily stared intently at the book laid out in front of her.  The room around her was painfully bare.  One small cot, a bookshelf filled with musty tomes, and the stone desk at which she sat.  There were very few luxuries at the academy.  With it being the only one of its kind for the study and practice of magic.  Only one hundred students and faculty together, it was smaller than any other center of learning in the Kingdom and so less funded. 

Unnoticed in the doorway, an old man stood in his billowing white robes.  Smiling wryly, Jonah knew he would be left standing all day if he said nothing. 

“It’s time child.” the old man said softly, then chuckled at the sight of that beautiful face startled into bemusement.  Her eyes, sparkling like emeralds, flashed anger then to laughter at the sight of him. 

“M-master Jonah”, Emily stuttered as she stood quickly to flourish, with as much of a swish as her robes allowed, a courtly curtsy. 

Master Jonah stopped her saying, “If you display courtly graces princess, then I will be forced to as well and I’m much too old for such things.”

With a sultry laugh Emily said, “But that’s all too true, old Master.”

Master Jonah harrumphed loudly, “Child in my day we never spoke to our betters so,” he grumped.  Rolling her eyes, Emily glided across the stone floor to the stern Master.  She knew his indignant pose was all bluff and bluster and embraced him.  This earned her another loud harrumph. 

“Child, child when will you ever learn not to fraternize with the heads?” rebuffed Master Jonah.

Blushing, Emily stepped away exclaiming,”I’ve never done…what you say!”

“My dear, an old man has to give back what he can these days, “replied Master Jonah.

Blushing even more furiously, “You said it was time, “she evaded.

“You never let me have any fun, “muttered the old man, “but yes, its time for the Tests child.”

            Emily walked down the hall, trepidation in her heart.  She was going to take the Tests, by laws as old as the Kingdom; she should not be able to.  No heir to the throne could hold the position of Master and still be an heir.  So Emily had abdicated, had given up the rights, duties and privileges of the royal family, not just for herself but for all her offspring down thru the ages.  After this she would have no family whatsoever.  By midafternoon tomorrow her father would know, then the Kingdom, after that, the world. 

            The magical arts were Emily’s passion, what made her feel alive.  Her progress thru her novitiate and apprenticeship had given her a love of magic and what it could do too better other lives as well as her own.  As a Master she would not be able to own property of any kind; no land, horses, slaves, nothing, not even the clothes on her back.  Nor would she be able to make decisions for herself afterward, she would be under their purview.  Emily hoped that her father would understand but she had made her decision.  She knew it would be the last she could make on her own.

            Torches, hanging from wrought iron scones, cast fluttering shadows around the pair as they made their way to the inner sanctum.  Magic was not only put upon a pedestal by scholars but was venerated around the world.  The Yu’llish priesthood, to the southwest, was comprised of only magi, trained and indoctrinated by their clerics.  Granted their magic was not profound but the power those clerics wielded over their people was indisputable.  Other countries also followed the belief that magic was of the Gods.  Only the Kingdom used magic to serve the people not subjugate them with it.

            Trying to calm her fluttering stomach, Emily focused on Jonah’s strait back; belying the old man’s age.  The cowl of his rough spun white robe was drawn over his arched head, hiding the silver hair underneath.  Emily similarly attired in blue walked to match the Masters measured gait.  As they neared the Sanctum with its large double oak doors bound in iron, Master Jonah mumbled and with a wave of his thin hand, opened the portal.  Twice his height and trice his weight the doors of their own accord, smoothly, ponderously, reveled the heart of her ambition, the heart of Povoir.

            Circular, the stone walls were not fitted but unnaturally smooth, seemingly carved not built.  Pillars of intricately worked marble were spaced evenly along the wall encircling the inner ring in the center of the chamber. From the obsidian floor to the vaulted ceiling the supports presented mosaics of the supernatural.  Mythical beasts and creations encircled the pillars at head height, fantastic figures in outstretched poses, held torches that gave the amazing room light. 

Flickering illumination gave the illusion of movement to Dragons, Chimeras, Unicorns, and other monsters out of a dozen legends.  Each figure seemed to have a life of its own, Fairies danced while Minotaurs raged.  Emily gave an involuntary laugh of delight, startling herself out of the enchanted reverie the room had spun. 

In front of the inner pillars sat the Decca of Povoir.  Old men all, though not decrepit; they sat, backs strait in robes of gleaming silver.  Ten chairs made a half circle in which Emily and Master Jonah now stood in its center.  Emily stood, head bowed in supplication, as the old Master beside her intoned with authority steeling his voice, that she had meet all requirements to stand before the Decca.   Custom required that a Master vouchsafe a Supplicant to ensure only the worthy become Masters of the Arcane. 

The Trials would kill those not having the strength or skill necessary to pass.  Master Jonah would be held accountable if she failed; misery and death were the punishment for failing her.  The faces of the Decca were grim with the knowledge that two lives could be lost today.

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