A Story of Faelon
For the most part, Jamaad loved his work. Serving as a soldier of the Empire conveyed honor enough, but doing so in a Velozar Cohort gave him all the freedom and power a man of his station could reasonably expect. Sleek, golden-scaled reptiles, velozars possessed the stature and speed of horses, but ran on two legs. Units of Velozar Knights ranked among the elite of the Empire and enjoyed much independence. By day, Jamaad hunted bandits and rebels, who usually moved on foot and employed improvised weapons. He scarcely had to fight them himself. Often, his velozar simply terrified them into submission or ripped them to shreds. Occasionally a more worthy foe would run afoul of the Empire’s edicts, and he and his fellow riders would have a real fight on their hands. By night, he sampled the fruits of the exotic towns and villages of the southern provinces with their strong drinks, unusual foods and mysterious women.
Today, though, he found his work decidedly unenjoyable. They had not had an encounter for several days and he had to take his velozar to hunt to provide it enough food. The beasts might be mighty in battle, but also possessed mighty appetites for meat. A dearth of foolish rebels to feast upon forced him to let the creature seek its own meals for the day, a process of loping about the arid countryside and grisly chewing that drove Jamaad mad with boredom. His only envy for the pale-skinned barbarians of the north continent derived from days like this. Their horses, being docile herbivores, could graze unattended. But a hungry velozar had to hunt, and its rider had to go along.
It could be worse, he supposed. Puffy clouds paraded past the sun. A pleasant breeze waved through the long stretches of tall grass. He stood adjusting his gear while his mount chewed noisily on an antelope, victim of the morning’s hunt. Jamaad planned to cut some of the meat free soon to have something better than hardtack for lunch. Not something he would do until the creature consumed more if its fill, or he could lose a hand. It is not that he wanted a battle every day, just enough action to break up the monotony in between. He bent to tighten a strap on his mount’s armor.
A high-pitched whistle whooshed past his ear. For an instant, it seemed to him a grassfly had buzzed him, but the sound that followed signaled no insect. An arrowhead plowed a tiny furrow in the dirt. Jamaad reacted as he had been trained to, dropping to a crouch next to his beast, using the armored body for protection while he assessed the situation and unslung his shield. His velozar continued its munching. These creatures notoriously lost all awareness while eating. As the knight slowly raised his head over the velozar’s back to locate his assailant, another arrow struck his mount in the side. The creature rose up on its legs and bellowed. The arrow had bounced harmlessly from its scaled flank, but anger filled its slitted yellow eyes. It turned toward the threat and tensed, ready to bound forward on thickly muscled rear legs. Jamaad knew it waited for its rider to command it to charge, but if he did not soon, the saurian would do so on its own. He flowed along the creature’s side, sliding low into the saddle. He grabbed up his lance and spurred the velozar to launch forward in a mighty bound. Only after the velozar’s first few strides did he finally spot his attacker, a figure veiled and wrapped in garments the color of the grass. The rebel fired again. The arrow thunked into his shield, piercing it. Jamaad spurred the velozar into a zig zag across the plain and the next shot went wide. He bore down on the figure at top speed and in the back of his mind wondered why the archer had not fled.
“Lakan!” Jamaad commanded, not yet knowing if his prey would understand the order to submit. It appeared so, the veiled figure dropping the bow to the ground. Jamaad reined in his velozar, which howled in disappointment – or so Jamaad always thought of that sound. Velozars would kill a man on command, but only on command. The training it took to get them to that level took years, but paid off in moments like this. The beast fixated on the enemy and a word from Jamaad or a sudden movement from the veiled figure and death would follow in a flash of serrated teeth and hooked claws.
The rebel apparently knew this, as he had yet to move in any way or make a sound since dropping his bow. Jamaad left his lance and shield with the creature but drew his sakhazet as he dismounted, the blade gleaming wickedly in the bright morning sun. His velozar sniffed the air and looked around, only to lower its head and return to staring down the rebel. No one else presented themselves. Using that knowledge, Jamaad strode directly toward the outlaw, dominating the scene with his presence. The man had a slight build and Jamaad had a hand of height on him. Or is this a boy? Being taken by surprise angered Jamaad, but that did not stop him from admiring the other’s work. The rebel must have crawled five hundred paces or more in the tall steppe to escape detection and reach a point where he could take his shot.
He reached the boy and kicked the bow away. The weapon seemed strange to him, reinforced at the nocks and grip. Where did a peasant boy get a bow like that? Jamaad strode forward and ripped the veil away, only to reveal a woman.
Hatred boiled in her dark eyes, but she did not move or say anything. Jamaad spat in disgust. He had thought a Traazorite citizen taking up arms against the emperor to be the blackest evil he knew, but this outrage bespoke something even viler. A woman rebel, a woman using a weapon! The Great Lord of Darkness himself springing from the ground to steal his soul would not have not have compared to a girl stalking him through the grass. He considered killing her on the spot, but only for a moment. This one seemed too young, too raw to act alone. He could not put his finger on why, but he could not believe she had acted by herself. He kept his sakhazet trained on her and looked around again. Nothing moved in the grass except the breeze, no sound but the soft whoosh of the wind and the occasional buzz of an insect.
“Why did you not run?”
“Are you alone?”
A smoldering rage in her eyes, but no other response.
The girl could not have been more than sixteen or seventeen years. Her rustic clothing consisted of patches and poor cloth but nearly perfectly matched to her surroundings and serviceable in its simplicity.
A dreadful shriek yanked their focus skywards. A Ravager dove at an impossible angle toward something in the distance. Where had that come from? Jamaad stepped back to keep the girl in front of him and still see what transpired behind her and she turned as well, her first movement since he had dismounted.
Of all the saurians of Ryshael, the daklos inspired the most fear and awe, even with creatures far larger roaming the jungles of the south. Large enough to bear a man, the winged reptile served as a harbinger of death and justice. Ravagers riding daklos scoured the countryside for the Empire’s enemies with methodical inevitability. In peacetime, the Ravagers possessed one task – hunt. This one must have been searching for these rebels. Nice to tell us, Jamaad thought.
Jamaad now saw this one’s prey. She stood a hundred paces or more off behind his own rebel. Her garb reflected the other woman’s, as did her weapon, the strangely reinforced bow. He watched in disbelief as the woman stood and continued to loose arrows as the Daklos Ravager plunged toward her. Jamaad thought one of the arrows might have hit the mount’s wing, but no matter. The Ravager crashed down upon its quarry and pinned her to the ground, whereupon its rider promptly drove his wickedly barbed spear into her chest.
I should have listened to my instincts more carefully, Jamaad reflected as he turned his attention back to his own rebel. She returned her gaze to him at the same time, and with the same seething hatred, but also something new. A tear rolled slowly down her left cheek. These women feel for each other, some sort of disgusting sisterhood. Jamaad considered the utility of that fact in her coming interrogation. All thoughts of killing her had left him. He wanted to turn her over to the Ravager. He wanted credit for capturing one of these women and maybe helping gain some insight into these two and whatever friends they had. As they stared each other down he noticed a hemp necklace that had remained hidden before she turned. He took the point of his sakhazet to it, drawing out the medallion it held from beneath her smock. A black disc blotting out a golden-orange sun. An insignia. How deep does this conspiracy go? How widespread? How well organized? They had better…
She moved. Almost too fast. A dagger flashed from her long sleeve towards Jamaad’s side, aiming for a juncture in his armor. Her quickness challenged his training…and lost. Instead of striking home, her dagger thumped to the ground, still held by the hand Jamaad had severed from her arm with a deft slice of his sword. She crumpled to her knees with a moan, grasping the stump in a vain attempt to staunch the flow of blood. Jamaad stepped back away from her, nearly nauseous with loathing.
“Skotor!” he commanded the velozar, the beast practically in the air at the first syllable. Now you can finish your breakfast.