Final Story Analysis

Hey all, I just thought I would upload this seeing as how The Novel Project is now complete, and I can do a better job.  This is my updated story analysis, and should be more detailed and accurate.  One of the major things I have added is a title; “Shadow’s Chance”.  Thank you all for exploring this adventure with me!

 

Title: Shadow’s Chance

Author: Jacob Carrick

Genre: High Fantasy

Audience: Young adults, adults

 

 

Characters

List the characters in the story and give a thorough description of each one. Consider physical, emotional, relational, social status, and occupational characteristics.

 

Kaliev:  The protagonist of the story, Kaliev is discharged from The Guard due to discoveries about his birth.  We find him on the streets at the beginning of the story, forced to tangle with the criminal underworld.  He makes a life changing choice early on, and the greater part of the story deals with the fallout from that one, singular point.

 

Talla:  Kaliev’s sister, Talla’s fortunes fall as a result of Kaliev’s discharge.  She incurs a debt to a minor crime lord through being deceived and blackmailed.

 

Captain Nurin:  A field captain of The Guard who comes to be his traveling companion/guard through the beginning events of the story.

 

Rulin Daya:  Magus employed by The Crown.  Has a slightly quirky, eccentric personality, and though he plays a small part, is rather crucial to the story.

 

 

Point of View

Who tells the story?

3rd person.  This story is told through limited omniscience by a narrator.

 

Setting

Write a sentence stating the time and place of the story. If nothing is mentioned, give your best estimate.

 

Set in a fantasy world known as The Spire, there is no date given, but it is very much a medieval fantasy.  Furthermore, as a fantasy completely unrelated to our world, any dates would be useless in determining a time period, as there would be no grasp on what such numbers would actually mean as far as cultures and technology.

 

 

Plot Outline

Write a paragraph summarizing the story (6-8 sentences).

 

This story opens with Kaliev, the main character, committing a crime an undisclosed crime, from which he cannot turn back.   Reasons aside, Kaliev carries out the deed, and attempts to escape, but is apprehended.  Captain Nurin, a field officer of the highly elite unit known as The Guard (of which Kaliev used to be a part), offers Kaliev one chance at escaping a fate of torturous exile and death in an underground prison colony due to Kaliev’s unique skills, and expendability.  The rest of the story must yet remain a mystery, as Kaliev is forced to make another decision, and then must again, face the consequences.

 

 

Conflict

What type of conflict do you see in the story? Give specific examples. Distinguish between major and minor conflicts.

 

man vs. man  Kaliev on the streets, Kaliev vs. The Vegadi, Kaliev vs. The prisoners

man vs. environment  Kaliev and Captain Valesar vs. The Wilds

man vs. himself  Kaliev wrestling with his past,

man vs. animal  None, unless you count the Vegadi, though as sentient beings, they are more accurately classified under “man vs. man”

 

 

Theme

State the main theme or message of the story in universal terms that apply to everyone, regardless of age, race, or gender.

Choice and consequence.  This is the main theme of the story.  Do the choices we make now, regardless of circumstance, have permanent effects?   And can the consequences be fulfilled, or is there such a thing as an indelible consequence.  Does redemption rid one of the pain and trials due to consequence, or does it simply remove guilt?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feedback

What is your overall opinion of this story and why?

I enjoyed writing this story, though in fairness, I feel as though it was rushed at certain points.  I would have enjoyed having some more time to explore the characters a little more deeply, but overall I am pleased with the way it turned out.

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Chapter 10 – Choices (NP12)

Kaliev knelt over the body of his companion.  Breath barely wheezed in and out of the damaged lungs held within Captain Valesar’s battered torso.  There was very little the assassin could do.  The soldier was dying.  The effort of drawing the bow to stop the rampaging alien had spent what little his body had left.  The wounds from the previous night had grown far worse in a very short time.  Kaliev had seen many people die.  If and when the man he had traveled so far with ceased to breath, Kaliev too would be injected with a deadly toxin and breath, or more accurately twitch his last.  The thought did not bother him.  Death was impartial, and the former Shade had long ago made peace with the concept.  It was peculiar though, that he should feel so perturbed over his companion’s imminent demise.  Kaliev was an assassin.  He did not dally with the sentimental or interpersonal side of life.  However, he felt a definite sense of grief that the journey should end like this, and with the death of so great a man.  The last of the Valesars was coughing up the last of his blood on the parched earth of a dusty tundra.

But death does not discriminate.” He grimly mused, wiping bloody spit from the wounded captain’s face with a  torn bit of canvas.  “I’ll be damned if he wasn’t right.  I AM human.  I can see why I tried to give it up.”

            The dead Vegadi burned in a heap at the bottom of the short bluff, the scent of their acrid smelling blood mixing with the charred scent of their burning carcasses.  It was not a particularly pleasant smell, and certainly not one which Kaliev would have picked to fill his last moments.  But then, one cannot have everything.

“This hurts.” the understated complaint bubbled from Captain Valesar’s bloody lips, bring Kaliev from his musing back to the fact that a man was dying painfully a foot away from him.

“I can imagine.” said Kaliev dryly.  There wasn’t too much else to say.  Both the men knew just about how this situation was going to end.

“Can you spare me some water?” asked the weathered soldier imploringly.

Kaliev wordlessly brought a water skin over from his horse and tipped it up, trickling water into his companion’s parted mouth.  The liquid washed some of the dirt away from the battered face as it overflowed the dying man’s mouth, causing him to cough painfully.

“Sorry.” Muttered Kaliev.

“Nevermind.  It won’t matter anymore in a a short while.”  Captain Valesar wiped his mouth weakly with the back of his hand.  He didn’t look good at all.  The man glanced at Kaliev, a pensive expression resting upon his face.  “Did you enjoy it?”

“What?” asked Kaliev, much at a loss as to what the man meant.

“The killing.  The life of the Shade.  Did you enjoy it?”

Kaliev thought over the question for a short moment.

“No.  I never had a particular love of killing.  I just happen to be good at it.  What really made me what I am, what made me love the title of ‘Shade’ was the rush.  Being able to leap from a castle tower through a window impossibly far away.  Running the rooftops of Karsidel in the middle of the night.  It made me feel alive.  And I loved it.  Fighting and killing, they were just ways for me to be able to do that.”

“You are a peculiar man.” The captain said vaguely.  Several moments passed, only the sound of the soldier’s tortured breath breaking the still evening air.  Kaliev took a swig from the water skin, enjoying the feel of the wet trickle on his dusty throat.  “Do you believe in redemption?” asked Captain Valesar, breaking the silence.

“I believe in choice,” said Kaliev, slightly colder than he intended or desired, “I believe that the actions of today sow the seeds of tomorrow.  Are redemption and mercy possible?  I would say so.  But that’s just another choice, the fruits of which bloom in the future.”

“True,” said Captain Valesar, a cough wracking his body, “I would have to say I agree.  But what I meant is simply this:  not everyone gets what they deserve.”

“No?  I killed, so now I die.  You fought, and now you are broken.  The urchin steals, and so he is beaten.  We all must answer for our crimes in one way or another, at one time or another.”

“You may be right.” Wheezed the captain, “But such pessimism is useless.  When you die you die.  Nothing can change that.  But I do believe in second chances.”

The captain slowly pulled something from his belt.  It appeared to be a small strip of metal.  “And this is yours.”

Captain Valesar slapped the thin strip of metal onto Kaliev wrist.  It fit into the groove that scored the edge of his bracelet, and the device popped off just like that.  The metal band fell to the sandy ground, glinting in the dying light.  “This,” said Captain Valesar, “Is MY choice.  That you receive another life to live.”

Kaliev stared at his wrist where the circlet used to be.  His prospects looked unexpectedly up.

“I am free?” he asked vaguely.

“Well shortly.  And only in a way.  You’re still a criminal, Kaliev.  This is your second chance.  But you can’t go back.  Only forward, always forward.  I won’t kill you, but there are plenty of others who would gladly oblige.”

“Thank you,” said Kaliev, something like gratitude entering his voice.

“Don’t waste it.” Said the captain, blood painting his lips again.

“I will not,” promised Kaliev, “Of that you can be sure.”

“Then I’ll be going presently.  This is actually quite painful.”  The captain had meant for it to be funny, but there was little humor in the moment.  Kaliev found that he would actually miss the soldier.  The man had earned his respect somewhere in The Wilds, and Kaliev was terribly short on friends.

“Just like going to sleep?” asked Kaliev, not quite knowing what to say.  The assassin was unaccustomed to dying people that could still talk, and weren’t trying to kill him.

“Just like going to sleep.” affirmed Captain Valesar.

“Rest well then.” Murmured the assassin, surprisingly saddened as the eyes of the captain closed for the last time.  A few more breaths rattled in and out of his shattered chest, and then the wounded man was still.  So passed Captain Nurin Valesar, Officer of the Guard, last of the Family Valesar.

 

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

 

Kaliev stood in front of the gateway, pack slung over one shoulder, weapons belted around his body in their various sheaths.  An extra layer of dust coated him, acquired by digging the grave of his late and only friend.  Even from here, he could just see the tip of the small pile of rocks he had erected as a makeshift headstone.  It was the best he could do under the circumstances, a tiny monument to a great life, used up in the wilderness.  Now, before him stood another world.  He could run to a far place in The Spire, one of the lower circles where no one would look for him, but a man’s sins had a way of finding him.

So I take my cross now, the life of an outcast, or live the rest of this borrowed life in restless fear, ever running.  I think the correct choice is clear.”

The assassin looked back at the work he knew, then back to the faint shimmer that rippled in the center of the stone arch before him.  He knew there would most likely be no coming back, and that he had no bearing on where he would land or who or what would greet his arrival.  But that was half the adventure right there.  And as he was fond of telling himself:

No direction bears fruit but forward.”

Kaliev took one last look back toward the mound of stones that lay upon the cliffside.  Then, shifting his back to ensure that it was fastened, he stepped through the gateway, and vanished from The Spire.

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Chapter 9 – Fallout (NP11)

 

Bruises are deceptively painful.”

This thought was foremost in Captain Valesar’s mind as he tried to saddle his dusty, trail weary horse.  No one paid mind to bruises as an injury, but nonetheless, the fact remained that the veteran’s side felt as though molten sand lay just beneath the skin.  Needless to say, it had been a long night.

Kaliev, the murderer, the assassin stood several paces away, standing over the charred corpse of their would-be attacker, mindlessly prodding the grisly corpse with a stick as one would a fire.  After only an hour or two, the dead creature had begun to reek, stinking worse than a decaying body left in the sun for days on end.  At that point, the vote had been unanimous to burn off the stench, seeing as how the two men were not in a fit state to move for a while longer.

Captain Valesar could not make up his mind about his ward.  The man did not fit with the Captain’s experience.  Criminals where typically either bad men who did bad things for selfish reasons or, more rarely, good men who did bad things because they were driven to it.  Kaliev was not a good man.  But neither was he bad.  The captain couldn’t put his finger on exactly what the former assassin was for a very long time.  Then, it had come to him.  Kaliev was simply dark.  He killed out of profession in The Guard, and on the streets, lurked in the night, doing what he had to.  He even had a good reason for the murder of the District Lord, a selfless reason.  But he was guilty.  And there, Captain Valesar drew his line.  Guilty was guilty, consequences were inevitable, and a criminal Kaliev was.  Still, the man had saved his life last night.  With the bracelet that the magus, Rulin Daya had placed on him, the captain doubted it was a selfless effort, but the action still remained.

The captain tightened one last strap on his saddle, wincing at a vicious stab of pain.

“Kaliev!  Let’s move!”

 

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

 

The former assassin bounced in his saddle.  His muscles were weary and more than a bit sore from the more-strenuous-than-usual battle with the alien creature only hours ago.  He couldn’t complain though.  His companion, the prestigious Captain Nurin Valesar’s side was beginning to turn dark, almost black with the bruises from the previous night.  Kaliev himself, toughened and hardened far beyond the average man by years of brutal trading, and even more brutal missions did not at all envy the look of the wound.  Internal injuries were the worst, he knew.  They looked the least vicious, but felt as bad or worse as a gaping cut.  And even worse, there was no easing a pain you could not touch.  Kaliev had gained much respect for the captain from observing how he handled the pain.  Not a single complaint did the soldier give other than the occasional wince.  He was tougher than Kaliev had originally judged him to be.

Their journey should be closing soon.  Just judging by time and distance, and the fact that the mysterious vandal had literally run into them, the enigmatic, troublesome gateway to the creature’s origin should be all but upon them.  There would wait a small detachment of magi and members of The Guard waiting for them there at the small, makeshift outpost.  There, the two men the authority had deemed expendable, the murderer and the veteran soldier, would take a brief rest before throwing themselves into the dark, terribly unknown.  The thought strangely chilled Kaliev.  He had thrown himself from rooftops and cliffs many times before.  He had stepped into the gateways to the lower Circles.  But now, he stepped over empty air, the ground that would catch him unknown, and the results far from begging optimism.

But forward is the only direction that bears fruit.” he thought ruefully to himself.

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

The ground dropped harshly and unforgivingly away from Kaliev, his hopes for rest plummeting away with the terrain.  He and Captain Valesar stood overlooking the outpost where the portal, and their destination lay.  Or at least, they looked upon the remains of the outpost.  The scene closely mimicked that of the hut they had happened upon several days earlier.  The crude, makeshift palisade lay torn apart, leaning every which way as though it had forgotten how to stand up.  The central courtyard, as far as the two sets of stony eyes could see from the distance they stood, was littered with debris and what appeared to be bodies.

“Well,” said Captain Valesar under his breath, “Damn.”

The curse captured Kaliev’s sentiments on the issue to a tee.

“Just one of those creatures didn’t do that.” rasped the assassin with a dry throat.

“No kidding.”

It was as this brief exchange occurred that small movement became visible below.  Kaliev felt a surge of hope as he thought that some survivor still lived, the bodies possibly not all human.  But the figure was a black speck in the bright sun, crushing the vague hope as soon as it formed.  One of the creatures.  Two of them, Kaliev realized as the large speck split in half.

“Well,” the former Shade said, “Damn.”

“We can’t let them go free.” Said the captain vaguely.

“You’re in no condition to fight them”

“Not with blade,” said the captain pulling a shortbow from his back, and stringing it.  The effort of drawing the string was almost too much for the grisly soldier, and he staggered back from the effort of it.  He did not have many arrows, maybe ten.  The bow was a backup weapon, but it would suffice.

“Can you even draw that?”

“We’ll see I guess,” wheezed the captain, face contorted in pain, “You draw them close and I’ll do what I can.”

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

Kaliev ducked under the darting swing of the creature’s barbed claws, the wind from the attack ruffling his hair as it passed.  One of the predators lay dead already, one of Kaliev’s throwing knives in its eye socket, another in the joint in its exoskeleton right under the chin.  That was good work.  Kaliev riposted off of one of the attacks, his sword sparking as it glanced off the hard exoskeleton on the creature’s arm.

This is quite the adversary indeed.”

As an assassin, most of his killing had been from behind, catching the target off guard.  However, he was well trained to fight one on one with an opponent, very well prepared indeed.  Shades were, after all, the very pinnacle of skill in that area.

The creature swung just a hair wide, and Kaliev stepped in, his dark blades a blinking, flitting shadow in the sun.  The tip of his short sword clipped the creature right under its chin, a perfect blow, scoring a deep gash in its throat tissues.  Kaliev wondered for a moment, if the anatomy of the creature would prevent it from being a killing blow, but black blood bubbled from the slit, and the alien toppled sideways.

Good work if I say so myself.”

Kaliev turned from his work, and found himself staring into black.  A split second of confusion hit him before he realized what it was.  He was staring into the chest of an advancing alien, its presence catching him completely off guard.  It was the first time Kaliev had been surprised in a fight in a very long time.  It was his own fault of course, for devoting too much attention to the attacker in front of him, and disregarding the one that could, and did come from the back.  He only just managed to avoid a crushing, rapid thrust from one of the razor sharp claws, the blow grazing his cheek and sending him staggering backwards.  Blood trickled instantly from the wound in his face, and the creature made as though to advance and finish him off, but it was deterred from this effort by the fact that an arrow grew suddenly from its side, punching cleanly through its natural armor.  The predatory attacker staggered, let out a hiss and a low moan, and fell to the ground.

By this time, Kaliev was well recovered, darting forward to finish the creature off from the crippling wound.  His sword impaled the struggling creature through the gut, pinning it to the hard earth.  It stopped squirming, perhaps realizing that it would do no good, and raised its eyes coolly up from its wounded abdomen, looking directly at Kaliev.

“We are but the forerunners,” rasped the alien creature much to Kaliev’s shock.  The thing spoke in perfect Common Tongue, though its voice remained a low, clicking hiss.  “The tide falls toward you now, and soon the Vegadi will reclaim this world as it was in the Old Time.”         Melodramatic perhaps, but last words could be like that.

Kaliev eyed the dying alien, the Vegadi as it had called itself, with stony impassivity. Then he cut its throat.

That is not my problem.”

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River Flows In You

Hey all,
I had uploaded a video of myself playing piano around Christmas time, but never followed through on my second upload. Anyways, here it is!
This is just a simple cover I did of Yiruma’s “River Flows In You”. Its not overly complex but is one of my personal favorites. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have!

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Getting Personal

This was a pretty cool assignment.  I was asked three questions regarding what books, movies, etc. the main character of my novella would enjoy the most.  Here are the questions and answers.

  1. What song would be the movie score for your story?

I would have to say that the ideal song for a movie score for my story would be “Bleeding Out” by Imagine Dragons.  I say that because this song is an expression of everything my story is meant to be about.  It speaks of sins and consequences, of sacrifice and struggle.

“So I bare my skin/ And I count my sins /And I close my eyes/ And I take it in/ And I’m bleeding out/ I’m bleeding out for you.”  These lyrics point to exactly what I would look for in a score for this story.  They do not speak of happy endings, but of what must be done, and what must happen, and the nature of our “sins”.

 

2. What would be your main characters favorite book?

In all honesty, I’m not sure that Kaliev, my main character, would be all that into reading.  Generally speaking, his time is very much taken up with staying alive and the baser, more primal side of life.  However, if he did read, I think that Macbeth by Shakespeare would be a huge favorite of his.  I say this, not because I think he would particularly care for Shakespeare’s writing, but simply because I think he would value the message regarding the self-destruction of man, and inevitability of consequence, as well as the paradox offered between fate and free will.

 

3. What would be your main character’s favorite TV show?

I think that Kaliev, when it comes to TV, would be a fan of shows such as The Walking Dead, or Flashpoint.  Even top-notch assassins need to sit back, relax, and unwind while watching zombies get decapitated, or good guys beating bad guys.  It can just be plain therapeutic.

 

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Chapter 8 – The Wilds (NP10)

In which Kaliev and Captain Valesar finally encounter one of the strange creatures they have been sent to investigate.  The conflict that ensues, and what happens thereafter.

 

 

Dusk was settling over the rebellious brambles and thorns of The Wilds.  It had been three days since Kaliev and Captain Valesar left the ruins of Tor Velidel behind them.  Since then, Kaliev had almost gotten used to the wasteland.  He understood why nobody bothered to come here.  It was boring.  Dust that rose from the cracked, thirsty ground during the day coated Kaliev’s mouth and throat leaving him perpetually thirsty.  Thorns and burrs clung to his breeches, boots, saddle, and sometimes his horse.  The only thing to break the stoic impassivity of the baked earth, were the rocky, cold cliffs, bluffs, and the occasional canyon that gashed the land.  Truly, this region deserved to be as barren and lifeless as it was.

Almost a fortnight had passed since their departure from Karsidel, and in the first ten or so days, they had seen no sign of the mysterious beings responsible for their quest.  That had changed yesterday.  Wending their way through a narrow, imposing canyon, the two travelers had emerged to find a rather sizable hut.  Or at least, they stumbled onto what was left of one.  Charred wood and crumbling stone had been all that remained of the meager dwelling.  Perhaps it was the home of some reclusive hermit, seeking the solace of a land no one else wished to share, forgotten by the world.  Or perhaps a small gang of thieves made their home in that former place, reaching out with prying fingers to raid the outlying settlements and villages.  There was no telling seeing as how there were no bodies.

But something had most definitely been out of place there.  Strange grooves scored to stone, almost like a wolf with claws of iron had struck out upon them.  No body meant that the person or people upon which the attack had been made could have escaped, or not been there at the time, but what paltry provisions there were littered the ground, and nothing appeared to have been taken.  It all rang of something strange.  And strange exactly fit the bill of what Kaliev and the captain searched for.

Since the raided hut, there had been nothing much else, just cliffs and dirt and brush.  Not even animals seemed to want to cross the wilderness.   Or perhaps, it was just that they had no reason to.

“How much longer must we endure this cursed land?” asked Kaliev, watching Captain Valesar examine a small canvas map.  The captain looked at the stars and moon, just beginning to show in the late dusk, and then turned his eye once more upon the map.

“Perhaps two days more if we do not slack,” he said “That will take us to one of the farthest reaches of this circle.  There we should find our mysterious portal.”

Kaliev could endure two days.  He was accustomed to travel, but the heat and the emptiness, and the openness were beginning to get to him.  He far preferred the dazzling heights of the city at night, or the deep caverns of Harasin Tower.  At least in those places, one never knew what would happen, or what one would find next.

I suppose I really am just bored.”

The thought had barely crossed his mind when he saw the eyes.  Cold, glinting eyes reflecting the copious moonlight in altogether predatory manner.  Kaliev had stared death in the face and won, and taken life after life without hesitation or pity.  There was no doubt that even among the hardest of men he was a tough nut to crack.  But those eyes unsettled him.  They were like a cat’s, slanted and cool, blinking slowly, staring right at them.  After the initial shock and fear wore off, things began to happen very quickly.

The first thing to occur, was Kaliev drawing his small sword.  The blade had been with him on mission after mission, its rare black steel almost invisible in the night.  The thin, magnificently strong and tempered blade had not a nick on it, and ran in a gently curve.  Not quite like the vicious curved scimitars that the nomads of the lower circles used, but not your average broadsword or rapier.  It was the weapon of an assassin, drawn with such silence and lightning speed that Kaliev did not even realize he held it at all.

The second thing to happen was Captain Valesar seeing the threat as well.  The veteran soldier turned at just the right moment and saw the eyes in their full glory.  The third thing was that the eyes no longer stayed still.

There was a rasp, harsh, loud to Kaliev in the night as his companion drew his sword.  In almost the same instant the eyes launched into the air, and quickly traveled towards Kaliev.  Vaguely, the assassin registered that the strange creature was pouncing on him like a tiger on its prey, but he was already moving.  The creature slammed into Kaliev’s horse, bowling it over right as Kaliev’s left leg cleared the stirrup. The unfortunate creature was tackled to the ground with a screeching cry, though it was impossible to tell whether the horse or the attacker had made the sound.  Kaliev thought the animal would finish his mount off out of predatory instinct, but it did not.  The eyes rose from the ground and the thrashing horse was left out of the fight.  The long silver knife flashed from Kaliev’s sleeve and into his left hand.  Captain Valesar came out of nowhere from the beast’s left side, his sword swinging.  Kaliev raised his eyebrows.  The captain was stealthier than he appeared.  However the captain’s blow was warded off with a dull clang and, his attack turned, Nurin Valesar was left open to attack.

Their attacker struck the man a mighty blow to his side sending him reeling, a pathetic sounding wheeze escaping his lips.  The captain staggered and toppled to the ground.

I don’t think he’ll be getting up soon.”

Apparently this strange creature could at least partially see in the dark.  The devolement was unfortunate, but not unexpected.  After all, this nightmare attacker did have glowing eyes.

The creature made toward the captain as if to finish him.

I think not!”

Kaliev sprang forward, footsteps so light and soundless that he seemed to float with blinding speed toward his quarry.  His blades struck three times, speed so blinding that the creature didn’t even have time to turn or blink between the first blow and the last.  Two of the strikes glanced off whatever armor the humanoid shape was wearing.  The third sank into something soft, and a vicious hiss rent the air.  A mildly acrid smell filled Kaliev’s nostrils.

Is that its blood?”

The alien form whirled around, clawed hands darting with speed to match Kaliev’s own.  The former Shade was taken aback by the ferocity and rapidity with which the creature turned on him.  No man had ever been able to match his quickness and agility.  This would be interesting.

The beast advanced smoothly, his attack not relenting.  Kaliev parried the gauntleted claws with his blades, heart pounding and mind racing.  If he did not do something to turn the tide, he would be stuck defending against the onslaught until he made a mistake and was killed.  The creature did not back down.  It kept up its withering assault, driving Kaliev back gradually.  Kaliev allowed one of the attacks to slip past his arm, striking him across the upper arm.  The blow was not so much painful as strong and forceful, giving the impression of having more effect.  It was just what Kaliev needed.  Dropping his sword with a grunt, Kaliev fell to one knee, faltering in his defense.

Just as any attacker would do, the creature stepped in to best be able to finish Kaliev.

Mistake.” thought Kaliev with satisfaction.

At almost the same moment, Kaliev’s blade took the beast in its eye.  His second long knife had found its way into his not-so-injured palm, and now protruded from the strange being’s skull.  The movement had taken every ounce of speed, precision and luck that Kaliev possessed.  Dark, acrid blood ran down the blade and across Kaliev’s fingers, a throaty mewl escaping from the attacker’s throat.  Then it toppled sideways, dragging the knife from Kaliev’s grasp.  The alien creature twitched once, twice, and then lay still.  Kaliev picked up his short sword from the ground, testing the weight to make sure everything was in working order.

The moonlight now shone full on the body of Kaliev’s attacker.  It was a fascinating sight.  What Kaliev had taken for armor appeared to actually be a hard, calcified carapace.  It was an exoskeleton, like a crustacean might have, but much, much stronger.  Other than this first realization, the second thing Kaliev noticed was the face.  Even in the moonlight it was clearly not the face of a man.  A twisted, jagged mouth ran the rough cheeks and bones, all that stood for a nose appearing to be two small holes in the leathery skin.   The shell covered body seemed to have a mottled black color, much like Kaliev’s own cloak and garb.

A nocturnal hunter then.”

The thing’s size was roughly equivalent to that of a man, though it would have been a big man.  The large frame was enhanced by the extra bulk of the carapace, though it had not seemed to effect the creature’s movement.  Kaliev strode over and buried his sword in the creatures chest, the tempered edge of his blade punching through the outer shell and into soft flesh beyond.  He didn’t take chances.

Kaliev glanced over at the captain, rolling on the ground trying to get up.

Not bored anymore.”

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Chapter 7 – Convictions (NP9)

In which Kaliev and Captain Valesar survive a close encounter with harm or death, and how Captain Valesar comes to learn of Kaliev’s motives for his crime. 

 

 

Stone tumbled to the ground, huge plumes of dust rising from the settling fragments.  Kaliev’s horse bucked and shied away from the small but furious avalanche, the nimble man barely managed to keep his seat in the dusty saddle, small stones flying like water droplets around his face, several scoring his cheeks, hands, and arms with fine scratches.  One sizable chunk rolled by with a rumble, narrowly missing the legs of his mount.

Damn!”

The curse rang through his mind, though he had meant to say it out loud.  It was a useful habit as a former Shade, not to yell out an expletive at an unexpected shock or dangerous situation.  Kaliev supposed that some habits just stuck like that.

Captain Nurin Valesar was not faring much better.  As the great, tumbling stones fell he, much like Kaliev, was merely doing his best to keep out of the way of the potentially lethal projectiles, and avoid crippling his horse at the same time.  Kaliev saw a fist size chunk of stone rap the officer on the head smartly, but was twisted away by the panicked beast under him before he could see the fate of the captain.

Gradually the spill slowed, and the unforgiving, pummeling stone boomed to a stop.  Dust rose high into the air, looking as though someone had set fire to a small village.  Kaliev did a rapid inventory of his limbs, checking to make sure that no broken appendages failed to respond to his commands.  Everything seemed to be in working order, albeit sore, scraped, and battered.  That was a minor miracle.  He looked over towards were the captain had been, searching for sign of his companion.  The captain’s horse stood several yards away from where it had been when last Kaliev checked, its muscles quivering with subsiding terror, its nostrils flaring in unmistakable panic.

But where is our mutual friend Captain Valesar?”

“Captain!?” shouted Kaliev, craning his ear for any sound that might lead to knowledge of the man’s location.  There was a skitter of rocks and gravel, and a humanoid form rose from the dust, so completely covered in dirt, dust, and rock, that it looked more like a primordial golem rising from the bowels of the earth than a man.  The dust tumbled off of the figure in sheets, small pebbles and larger stones alike falling from the creases in the battered clothing draped around the indistinct frame.

“That,” wheezed Captain Nurin Valesar, stone powder spraying from his lips and nose as he spoke, “hurt.”

“I would imagine.  I had thought you were dead, but pleasantly surprised when I did not keel over in pain and then die.”  As Kaliev said this he lifted his right arm demonstratively, displaying the small bracelet encircling his wrist, placed there by the Magus Rulin Deya.

“My enthusiasm and gratitude for your safety is boundless,” said Captain Valesar dryly, dusting himself off as best he could, “now let’s get out of this cursed city before it kills us for sure.”

“I,” said Kaliev, glancing sideways at the newly formed pile of scattered stones, “concur.”

The two companions stood in a ruined city.  They had been in the city for two days now.  The scraggly ruins of Tor Velidel sprawled across the fringes of The Wilds like a poorly trimmed beard.  The ancient city had fallen so far before the time of even the oldest living memory, that no one truly remembered how the catastrophe had come to pass.  Some legends told of ancient war, great and terrible, and still others of fire from the sky judging work of men.  Either way, all that was left of the ancient greatness was a crumbling corpse at the edge of a barren, spurned wasteland.  Kaliev could not help but wonder if it was a harbinger of how their journey would end.

The rockslide had started when the two men had stopped for a brief rest in the ancient rubble and ruined walls.  All had been normal, almost peaceful until Kaliev’s horse had shied as he tried to mount it, bumbling into an ancient wall.  That particular stone edifice had not been the problem.  The ruins of an ancient tower that it had fallen into had provided the near demise of the two seasoned travelers.

It never ceases to amaze me how after so much danger and daring, a skittish horse can come so close to killing me.”

            Blood trickled from one of the deeper gashes over his left eye, and Kaliev mindlessly wiped it away with the edge of his index finger.  The looming ruins were opening up now as they began to near the edge of the city.  One more night camped on the outskirts in what shelter they could still find would see them through and into The Wilds beyond.  They had been on the road for over a week now.  They made extremely good time, as neither of them was opposed or unused to long hours in the saddle, and strenuous days strung together.  In that time, conversation had been limited, most conversations being either purely logistical, or straying into a few personal experiences in The Guard.

“Why did you do it?”  The voice came from Captain Valesar, and it took Kaliev a minute to realize that the captain had been speaking to him.

“I assume you speak of my heinous crime against The Crown?”

“Naturally.  You never seemed like the type to sell yourself like that.  You’re a cold bastard and no mistake, but you have limits and reasons.  I’ve seen them.  So why did you sink to that place?”

There was a pause as Kaliev considered how to answer this inquisition.  Perhaps honesty was the best policy here.  Why not?  After all, it was not as if they would be returning alive in the greatest likelihood.

“I suppose I truly learned where the limits of my beliefs were.  Or at least, at what price I would sell them.”  Kaliev stopped, but Captain Valesar merely rose and fell in his saddle, in time with the hooves of his horse, a pensive look resting on his face.  Kaliev sighed, there was nothing for it but to spill his guts.  There was no reason not to, and some relief from his thoughts and choices would be welcome.  “My sister,” he said, “she was my reason.  After my expulsion from The Guard, I was not the only one who lost everything.  My sister, Tala is her name,  was thrown out along with me.   I could not pay for lodgings, so we were cast onto the streets.  And as all men in Karsidel do on the streets, we flowed into the masses of Backwater.”

Kaliev paused, his signature sneer slightly twisting his lip.  Those had been dark days.  Very dark, and very long.

“And?” said Captain Valesar, his curiosity evidently piqued.

“And I did what I could for her.  But she had not my training, nor my strength.  She became sick, very sick,”  Kaliev half-sneered, half-winced at the memory, “she was dying.  And there was nothing I could do.  But somehow word of my… talents came around to one of the invisible crime lords.  One of his underlings made me a deal.  Tala would be taken in and given care in one of the inns, and then allowed to work for board there afterwards, if I were to carry out one more assassination.  There was no choice.”  Bitterness twisted Kaliev’s voice at this last utterance.  He spoke no more, waiting for Captain Valesar to speak, either in condemnation or otherwise.  The silence seemed to stretch out for an age.

“I think,” began the captain in an almost hesitant manner, “that I misjudged you.  I believed you to have truly sold your soul, so to speak, for less than its full measure.”

“You created this,” began Kaliev, the bitter edge strangely absent from his voice, “The Guard.  You taught me that I was a tool to perform an operation, and we both forgot that I had a soul to sell.  Now I’m a condemned man, and my sister is an innkeepers wench at best, at worst a pipe addicted whore.  The gangs never were much for keeping their promises.”

“Well,” began the captain, “you have my deepest sympathies.  I’m not going to take the bracelet off, but you have shown me one thing I was not entirely sure of.”

“And that would be…?” asked Kaliev, slight apprehension niggling at his mind.

“That you’re human.”

 

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