Authors Note: This story takes place in the Ebberon campaign setting for those of you who are interested. I was experimenting with writing a story from the first person perspective, so I would appreciate it if you take the time to let me know how it worked out. Many thanks to my friend who shall remain nameless for proof-reading this for me.
"Malion, slow down!" my twin cried with a laugh as we raced through the network of time-worn caves that had been designated for the use of the Soul-Healers so long ago that all evidence of the back breaking labor that had gone into expanding the original cave system when the clan stronghold was first established, had long since been worn smooth under countless cleanings.
I spun around and laughed at the mock scowl plastered on the face that is a mirror image to my own. It is easy to see why our clansmen cannot tell us apart now that we both wear the tunic of a Soul-Healer apprentice, neither one of us bothers to do anything with our waist-length black hair aside from brushing it and we share the same slender build, sun-bronzed skin, and odd violet eyes. When we really try, not even our elder brother, the only other living member of our family can tell us apart.
"We're going to be late to our lessons if you don't hurry up," I teased.
Coremar shrieked in fury and I could hear the tempo of her footsteps speeding up as her boots pounded against the worn stone floor. Both of us knew she would never catch me, but it certainly never stopped her from trying. Just like the fact that she's better at book learning than I am has never stopped me from trying to best her at our studies.
We both raced into the small, sparsely furnished room where our lessons would be held slightly breathless. Yakash, the senior Soul-Healer in charge of teaching us the proper way to channel our strength of soul into divine spell energies, scowled at us, but said nothing as we took our seats on an empty mat.
"Did you hear?" Ruwyn, the only other clansmen in our generation to have demonstrated the ability to become a Soul-Healer, whispered as we sat down next to him.
"Hear what?" I asked, casting a covert glance at Yakash to make sure he was not paying attention.
"The Elders just announced that your brother's patrol should be back sometime this afternoon," Ruwyn said gleefully, pleased that he was the one to tell us that Aeliate would be home in time for our thirteenth name day.
At only seventeen, Aeliate has already demonstrated that he has the courage and skills to become a leader among the warriors of the clan, given enough time and experience. Coremar and I are both happy for the opportunities he has been given to fight with the First Patrol at such a young age, but it means he is spending more time away from the stronghold patrolling the Labyrinth. Considering how close the three of us have been since the last of our family died five years ago, it is a painful separation for us. Needless to say, his return in time for our name day was an unexpected, but pleasant surprise.
Before we could ask anything more about the return of the patrol, Yakash called us to attention and proceeded to drone on about the theory behind some of the manifestations our soul strength can take. The monotonous lecture covered everything from creating shields to protect our people to healing wounds that might otherwise kill them to creating the barriers that protect the stronghold from attacks by the Lords of Dust. Despite my normal disinterest in the theoretical aspects of being a Soul-Healer, I found myself quite interested in what Yakash had to say about the construction of the barriers. After all, we had just participated in the yearly renewal of those particular spells less than a week ago.
As apprentices, we had no formal duties during the ceremonies. We simply needed to be present to watch and learn while the full Soul-Healers renewed the wards and cast the spells that would protect the stronghold for another year. Apparently things had not gone as planned this year. There was far more disorganization during the ceremony then I would have expected from a ceremony that has to be repeated every year and I overheard one of the senior Soul-Healers mention tainted silver. This of course, made me curious to know exactly what how the ward renewal was supposed to work, especially since most of the older Soul-Healers had been on edge as they frantically raced about the stronghold with unspecified but extremely important tasks.
The lesson was interrupted by the watchtower bells, signaling the return of a patrol under attack. Yakash swore furiously as he leaped to his feet, shocking the three of us into silence. The sight of the normally serene Soul-Healer so upset he was using language that could singe the very stones of the stronghold was almost more intimidating than the periodic attacks the Lords of Dust made against the stronghold.
"Younglings," Yakash said quickly. "We must hurry to the heart of the stronghold. It seems the Lords of Dust were intending an attack against our people after all."
"What do you mean?" Coremar asked as we stood up to follow Yakash.
"The silver dust necessary to create the Blessed Water used in the yearly ward renewals was tarnished, making it useless," Yakash explained as we hastened through the caverns toward the one cave that had been enlarged so that it could house the entire clan in times of trouble. "Until we can get the pure silver, the stronghold is vulnerable. The Lords of Dust know this and that is why they are attacking now. They think to weaken us."
A sudden chill raced down my spine as I remembered the last time the Lords of Dust had breached the stronghold walls. Coremar and I had been only three winters old the year our eldest brother had been cut down by a demon blade. He bought the time for the clans to rescue us from where we had been trapped with his life. Ruwyn is lucky to be young enough not to remember that attack. This would be the first time he would face the dangers the Demon Wastes has to offer and it was obvious the prospect was making him sick at heart. I cannot blame him for feeling that way, it sickens my sister and I as well, we have just had longer to get used to the idea and learn to work around it.
Coremar slipped her hand into mine and squeezed gently as we stepped out of the caves reserved for the Soul-Healers. Glancing toward the top of the wall that protected the mouth of the box canyon we had claimed for our stronghold, I could see archers firing over the wall, protecting the returning patrol with their arrows. There were inhuman screams and the scrape of metal on metal echoing from the other side of the wall, punctuated by the dieing screams of wounded soldiers.
I could see Kanreil standing atop the wall, her snow white hair flying in the breeze as she hurled balls of fire against the demon forces. The explosions rattled the rock of the canyon walls we had built our homes into as we hastened across the open ground toward the stairs that lead up to the main cavern. I paused at the top of the stairs, searching the swirl of melee for my brother, praying to find him still alive. I spotted him just as the last of the patrol slipped through the gates and the heavy iron bars sealed the entrance against the demons.
"Malion!" snapped Yakash yanking me roughly back into the protection of the cave. "You three will stay here." He barked shoving us toward a hidden alcove near the entrance to the cave. "If the worst should happen, you will have to make certain that none of the children fall into enemy hands alive."
Ruwyn gulped nervously as Yakash hastened back to where the rest of the Soul-Healers were gathered already using their arsenal of healing spells on the wounded soldiers dragged from the battle. I wanted to ask why we were not with the Soul-Healers, even without the ability to assist magically we could still serve as an extra pair of hands for the non-magical healing, but Yakash was gone before I could voice my question. The outer walls were already shuddering under the impact of the demon's assault.
With a tremendous groan, the huge stone blocks crumbled inward as the demons spilled into the stronghold. Rallying cries went up from our clansmen as the threat to their very homes gave tired limbs new strength. I could see warriors falling up and down the length of the breach and though they took three or four demons with them to their graves, it was not enough.
I watched in horror as my brother and his best friend, Sithar, were forced backward by a group of demons. For a moment it looked as though they would push back the mass of demons facing them, but then Sithar's foot slipped in the sticky morass of blood and dirt. The demons took advantage of Sithar's mistake and tore him down. Another lunge from the demons sent Aeliate stumbling over his best friend's body.
Despite the odds, Aeliate managed to bring his broadsword around in time to block the first attack from his opponent. His chances of survival were decreasing with every stroke he managed to parry though because I could see at least two lesser demons closing in on his position as he was separated from the rest of our clansmen. Instinctively, I knew that if Aeliate fell, the center of the line he was holding would break and we would be over run. I could not stand by and watch another family member fall to our enemies. I would not watch as my clan, the very thing that had kept my sister and my brother and I alive when our parents died five years ago, was destroyed. Not while I had breath still in my body to protect them. Without a second thought, I stood up and moved toward the battle.
"Malion, where are you going?" Coremar demanded, snatching at my sleeve. I could tell from the tears in her eyes that she had been watching Aeliate too and knew that he was in trouble.
"Do you want to see our brother die?" I demanded, pushing her back toward Ruwyn.
"No," Coremar whispered shaking her head, "but I don't want to loose both of you."
"You won't," I stated firmly.
Before my sister could protest any further, I was already in motion. I pelted down the steps, rolling away from the swipe of a demon's claws as I reached for the nearest weapon. I had thought it was a quarterstaff when I caught a glimpse of the long wooden shaft. That, at least, was something I had some training with, but as soon as my hands closed around the haft of the weapon, I knew it was far too long to be a simple quarterstaff. I snatched the weapon up anyway knowing I was as good as dead without it. As soon as the blade came free from the body of the demon that had taken the glaive's previous owner with it to the grave, I knew this weapon had chosen me.
The glaive felt like an extension of my body. I brought the blade up as if I had been using the glaive all my life, just in time to behead a small demon that was between me and my brother. Without a second thought I raced toward where my brother was fighting for his life. By the time I reached him, Aeliate had been forced to one knee and was bleeding heavily from a gash across his chest that had gone completely through his armor. I could see the demon he had been fighting standing over him, preparing to deliver the finishing blow as my brother collapsed under the assault.
With a battle cry that was more a scream of fury than anything else, I brought the glaive around just in time to parry the blow that would have killed my brother. Aeliate tried to struggle to his feet, but his wounds were too great. The demon seemed to sense my brother's weakness and pressed in on us. Ducking the demon's sword, I could feel my mind freeze up for a moment as I tried to find some way to save my brother without getting my head separated from my shoulders. The only thing that rattled through my head was the theory lesson I had just sat through. Somehow the words from Yakash's lesson melded into something else in my mind. Deep in my heart I knew these were the words I needed to manifest the strength of my soul into physical form.
"Let those who stand against me feel the flames of my wrath!" I cried, flinging my hands toward the attacking demons.
A thin sheet of flame shot from my fingertips, scorching the demon badly enough to force it backward a few steps. Taking advantage of the breathing room, I quickly spun the glaive around, and planted it in the ground in front of me. Dropping to one knee, I kept a wary eye on the demon as I placed my hand over the wound on my brother's chest.
"Sands of Time, call back these wound of war, make whole once more the flesh that has been broken," I whispered, running my hand gently along the edges of the wound.
A pale blue glow trailed in the wake of my fingers as the torn muscles knitted back together. The demon shrieked in fury as I rose back to my feet and held out my hand to Aeliate. Aeliate rose to his feet, broadsword at the ready just as the demon charged us. The demon did not stand a chance against our combined strength. With Aeliate standing slightly to the side in front of me, the demon could not get close enough to cause any damage before we cut it down.
"Ka'ezera!" Aeliate shouted as a war cry, raising his blood-stained sword over head.
The cry was taken up by every one of my clansmen still able to fight as they surged against the demon hoards with renewed strength. Aeliate looked out over the swirling melee, searching for a new target. It wasn't long before he spotted a demon that met his requirements and pointed his sword at it.
"That one Mal!" he shouted. "Bring it here!"
"Light against the darkness, hear my call and become a weapon in my hand!" I cried as I raised my hand toward the sun overhead.
A brilliant flash of sunlight wrapped me in a comforting embrace, flaring like the sun's own corona as I snapped my hand toward Aeliate's chosen demon. The ball of warm golden sunlight flashed across the intervening space to slam into the demon's exposed back. The creature howled in pain and turned to face its attacker. With a speed that belied it size, it charged toward us only to be torn apart under the combined strength of glaive and sword.
It only took a few minutes after that for the clan to push the demons back out of our stronghold and the temporary wards finally snapped into place. As the cries of the outraged demons echoed through the canyon, Aeliate turned toward me with an unreadable expression on his face. I was almost certain he would berate me for taking such a risk. He takes looking after Coremar and me very seriously despite the fact that he is only four years older than we are.
"Little sister," he whispered hoarsely as he wrapped me in a one armed hug, pulling me tightly against his chest.
I leaned into the embrace as the adrenaline drained from my system, leaving me weak kneed and exhausted. Within moments Coremar joined us, ignoring the blood and gore covering us as she wrapped her arms around both our waists. After a moment, Aeliate pushed back from the embrace and scowled at me.
"You scared the living daylights out of me Mal," Aeliate scolded. "I don't want you to ever do that again. You're supposed to stay with the rest of the Soul-Healers where the warriors can protect you."
"I couldn't let you die," I protested, tightening my grip on the haft of the glaive. "Not when I could stop it."
"Mal," Aeliate said softly dropping one hand on my shoulder. "You know you don't belong in battle."
"You are wrong there, young warrior," a voice interrupted our argument.
We turned to find most of the clan elders standing nearby, along with a man I had never expected to actually speak with. Korahel was the only living War-Touched in the clan and there could be no mistaking the scarred man standing before us. His dark brown hair was worn only slightly longer than a warrior's and did nothing to hide the tattoo of a tornado on his forehead, nor the three triangular scars decorating each of his cheeks. His armor showed new scoring from the recent battle though his war axe had been returned to the sling across his back.
"What do you mean, sir?" Aeliate asked, offering the elders and the War-Touched a brief bow of respect.
"Tell me child," Kanreil said gently as she looked at me, "what where you thinking just before you joined the battle?"
"That I needed to protect my brother and the clans," I answered as calmly as I could.
I already suspected where this was going. I had after all managed to call up the magics Yakash had been discussing during our lesson in an offensive capacity. It was the ability that set Korahel apart and allowed him to travel the Demon Wastes with our patrols, unlike the Soul-Healers who remained behind in the protection of the stronghold to maintain the wards and what few crops we grow.
She is War-Touched," Korahel stated, confirming what I had begun to suspect. "Her place is in battle."
Aeliate looked as though he wished to argue the point, but knew it would be a loosing battle. I could see in his eyes that all he wanted to do was keep Coremar and me from harm, but he knew that the good of the clans must come first and having a second War-Touched would certainly benefit the clans.
"Come here girl," Korahel demanded.
When I stood in front of him, he looked me over for a moment before ordering me to take a knee. Holding onto the glaive with one hand, I dropped to one knee. Korahel gathered my waist length hair in one hand before drawing a dagger with the other. In one swift motion, the sharp metal sheered off the long strands at the base of my neck.
"The rest of the ceremony will have to wait until after the walls are repaired, but you are my apprentice now," Korahel said as he handed the shorn locks to me for burning later. "We must begin your training as soon as possible."
I nodded as I returned to my siblings' side and the elders moved off to attend to other matters. Three days later, when the walls had been repaired and the stronghold properly warded, I was invested with the tattoo of the blood red flame that marked my calling as a War-Touched with an affinity for fire. In the same ceremony, Aeliate received his first scar for his courage in battle along with several other young warriors who proved their strength to the clans.