Fiction Friday: Dragon-Blooded part 2

Exalted

Today we’re continuing our look at the intro fiction for Dragon-Blooded: What Fire Has Wrought, whose deluxe edition is currently on Kickstarter. Written by Lauren Roy, it’s set about 50 years prior to the “present,” Realm Year 768.

Two figures approached, one on horseback, the other keeping up on foot with the steed’s steady trot. The mounted one wore steel armor and a horned kabuto helmet, and had the air of Lookshy about him. A splash of red at his shoulder broke up the armor’s grays. When they drew closer, River realized the red was a robin, perched and alert on its master’s plate.

His companion, a heavyset woman, was dressed plainly, her clothing neat but threadbare from travel. Two flamepieces were tucked into her belt, a daiklave strapped to her back. She kept her hands well away from the weapons, as if attempting to reassure the Dynasts she meant no harm.

“We’re looking for Righteous River Overflows Its Banks,” said the Lookshyan. “One of the cart-bearers said she was in charge.” He wore an easy smile, taking in all three of the survivors. Beside River, Eshuvar straightened up and smiled back wanly.

“I’m River,” she said.

“Ah, perfect,” he said, and slipped from his saddle to come take her hand. “I am Yushoto Mathar, and my friend is Left Hand Chalima. Word reached us of a Wyld Hunt and we came to offer our services.” He paused and looked back the way they’d come, then back to River, the smile faltering. “Are they still needed?”

River glanced at Eshuvar, who already seemed heartened by the newcomers’ presence. Swift gave her a short nod. “The Anathema are wounded, but not dead. What you passed just now were our own casualties. If you’re still willing, in the face of that—”

“We are.” Chalima stepped forward, grim but eager. “They need to be dealt with.”

“I’ve been tracking them,” said Mathar. “Until recently they’d roamed far enough from the River Province’s borders, and I had more immediate threats to worry about. But now….” He gestured toward the dwindling train of the dead. “If they’re allowed to recover, they’ll be looking for retaliation. Or liberation for our smaller territories, if what they preach can be believed. I have some ideas where they might have fled. If you have maps, I can show you.”

•••••

The command tent had been packed up and sent home with the wagons, but River had kept the table covered with Peleps Lazurin’s maps and markers to study. The place where they’d planned to draw out the Anathema and overwhelm them with a show of Terrestrial might still held its formation on the largest of the maps. It seemed wrong, somehow, like the markers ought to have at least all fallen over when the Dragons they represented died.

Mathar waited for her nod of permission before removing the markers from the map. One by one, he laid them down in their lacquered case. In the end, all that remained were the two representing the Anathema. “There are settlements here and here,” he said, pointing at spots deeper in the forest. “They might seek shelter there, but it would put the people at risk.”

On the journey there, River had read report after report from the Wyld Hunt’s informants, discussing the number of mortals under the Anathema’s thrall, how many believed their promises to protect them from the ambitions of Lookshy and the Realm, how the two had ambushed trade caravans and traveling dignitaries and laid claim to their goods and valuables. “Would they hurt the people they’ve been rallying to their cause all this time?”

“They’re not in danger from the Anathema,” said Chalima. “It’s from you. From us.”

River bristled, but it wasn’t a point she could argue too fiercely. If a village were destroyed in the pursuit and elimination of an Anathema, many would consider it an acceptable loss.

“They won’t hide there.” Swift came over to study the map. “When we fought, they were leading us away from the village we’d tracked them to. Could’ve run back to it, made the people stand between us and them. They didn’t. Where else?”

Mathar pointed at a third spot, half a day’s ride away: a low valley whose only good entrance was a narrow road between two steep rock ledges. “Here, then. If I were going to make a last stand, it’s where I’d go.”

Stay tuned for part 3 next week, or read the full piece yourself in the Dragon-Blooded: What Fire Has Wrought Deluxe Edition Kickstarter!