Chapter 39 – The Rakshasa
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Chapter 39 - The Rakshasa

 

The deep roar of an angered large cat of the wilds echoed throughout the ancient Sanctum of Escorath as the shadow launched itself over the expanse. Dropping at speed and landing heavily in the frozen sand; the victim of Kitaraiya’s blizzard cracked, splitting in place. As the shards of frozen sand and ice showered down, blue-white slits gleamed through the cloak of shadows.

“You dare mock me, dwarf.” it snarled

“Dwarf lord, just how many times will I have to tell you, beastie?” Rhuthain smirked, leaning on his axe casually and shaking his head at Kitaraiya again as she readied herself, “No Kit, this is between him an me now. It will be over soon, I promise you.”

Kitaraiya glared at him, “Thain, but?!”

“No girl, don’t want you losing yourself when you get to tearing his head off. We are all weakened in here.” he said, turning his gaze back to the shade.

“Why you standing back there, kitty? I was giving you a free shot at me, distracted an all.”

“She will get her turn after I part your head from your neck.” the shade growled.

“Now that is an entertaining prospect, can you believe I have never been beheaded? I mean, I’ve been stabbed, de-limbed, gutted, impaled, I think you get the idea. Aye, I be thinking it would be worth experiencing at least once.” Rhuthain said with a wry chuckle.

“Let me humour you, dwarf.” the shadow snarled.

“Aye, you do that, kitty.” Rhuthain said dismissively, still resting his hands on the butt of his axe’s shaft, its head resting on the sands, “If you can.”

The shade moved forward, its velvety blackness parting and being shed like a cloak as the beast stepped out. Standing at almost seven feet tall, it’s heavily muscled and powerful frame was dressed in flowing silken fabrics and a royal blue cloak that had been pinned back to one boulder-like shoulder. Black-striped white fur spilled out from the half open shirt and rolled up arms. His heavy arms stretching the limits of the large shirt’s fabric as he reached back and drew his monstrous hilt-less broadsword. Brandishing the broad fullered blade, he brought it to bear, his sharply glowing blue-white eyes reflecting in its polished expanse. With fangs bared, the regal broad head and features of a mountain tiger with sharply glowing white-blue eyes, stared Rhuthain down. Taking one step forward, the frozen statue cracked and shattered, falling to the sand, nothing more than transparent and clear shards of ice with no sign of the beast that Kitaraiya had trapped.

Rhuthain smiled, unsurprised, still waiting and resting his hands on the upright butt of his axe, “See how pretty he is, kids? I wonder how that pelt of his feels like.” he said before chuckling darkly, “So, what should I be calling you, kitty? You got a name?”

“What would it matter, dwarf, you would be dead before you could utter it.”

Rhuthain nodded with an understanding frown, “Aye, I just be thinking its impolite to have a fight like this without exchanging pleasantries.” he said before bowing, “Me name is Rhuthain of the Hithren, representative and conduit of me goddess’s divine influence on the Eld.”

The beast stood on the top of the mound of sand, statuesque and powerful, “No goddess would deign to have a dwarf represent her, you are just as she is, worthless before my might.”

Rhuthain raised an eyebrow, “So be it, kitty.” he said, crouching down and kneeling on one knee, “You hear that lady?” he said, his warm brown eyes coming to life as sudden power surged through him, “So, not talking to me much, but ready for a fight after the tickle of an insult? We so need to talk Ma.”

While he looked at the regal monster, dark brown tendrils came to life under the skin around his eyes as his complexion darkened to an earthy tone, “So, kitty, hard or soft landing?”

“Nothing you could bring to bear against me could…‘Landing’?” stated the beast in the start of a quick retort.

“Hard it is then.” Rhuthain said and almost immediately chasing his words a shout echoed from far above.

“Hard, Thain, hard!” came the voice immediately before a sharp whistle built in the large chamber, growing almost instantly to an ear-piercing shriek.

In that split second, Rhuthain’s hand melded to the sand and the mound immediately solidified, forming a thick crust. The moisture that Kitaraiya had drawn into it helping to bind the granules as Rhuthain manipulated it at an elemental level. Hunkering down, he turned his back to the beast as it started to lift its head to search for the source of the deafening whistle.

The shriek reached its peak in the confines of the Sanctum the instant the centre of the mound exploded violently, peppering the pillars and lower tiers with crystallised projectiles. The hardened crust of sand rained down in a mixture of large and small chunks as Rhuthain withdrew his power. He grabbed at his axe and ran for the nearest pillar to hide behind, his short legs pumping as the debris continued to fall.

With his back to the pillar he looked to Kit as she stood in front of Rhyker against the wall, shielding him, “Did she hit?” he yelled.

She grimaced and shook her head, “Glanced him, he still stands.”

He quickly turned, poking his head out to see, “By the gods…” he said under his breath as he watched Winter and the beast tear at each other.

 


 

Winter walked along the passage, smiling gently to herself. The wash of light from the sconces creating pools that she passed through. She could feel the tendrils of both Antrandis and Sian’s thoughts, the sway and dance as the paths converged and parted, as memories coalesced through their discourse. She put out a hand and let her fingertips graze the wall, closing her eyes as she walked and inhaling deeply. She had caught the scent after the main group had already entered the sanctum, the large human leading them in silently. That distantly familiar musky scent that was both enticing and repugnant to her senses had followed in the human’s wake. After she had subdued the guide and secured him, she had followed the scent, not bothering to distract Antrandis or Sian as they shared the memory of what was. She had remembered that time, when she had followed her master’s command and will, his thoughts that assured her that even as a child he was safe in the presence of the copper dragon. That moment in time when she first understood his strength, that moment in time when the first thoughts that led to her shame started to germinate.

Still with her eyes closed, she walked, the slightly undulating surface of the passage wall under her fingertips cool and textually smooth. That scent of fur and perfume was stronger than the humans’ unwashed odour, that memory from a past lifetime swimming just below the surface and tantalisingly close. It was not with the humans, but tailing them and it was concealed from her vision, her eyes blind to its passing. She stopped, frowning deeply as she cast her mind and memory further back; back to the vague nonchalance before her first time with Sian in the old world, back to the shackled servitude of the Host. She stood still, breathing in deeply, letting the scent invade her senses and guide those distant and broken dreams as the immediate path of time dragged on.

Allowing her hand fall to her side she trawled her memories, following that scent until it led her to a time and place. Her face screwing up in a strong reaction of disbelief. Her eyes snapped open.

“Rakshasa?” she said at barely a whisper, a twist toying with the edge of her lips.

“No…Of course, this was once a jungle. They were the conservators of Escorath.” she said before breaking into a walk, quickly picking up her pace as the memories dropped into place.

“More of Azzar Kah'Sharn’s creations, the demons he made for the mortal planes. No, the gifts he made for… Oh gods.” she picked up her pace even further, settling into a slow run.

She slowed, rounding the corner, the humans close and just beyond the entry to the top tiers of the Sanctum. Despite their hushed voices, she could hear them and the scent of the demon tailing them was strong. Leaning against the wall, she waited as they spoke in rough tones that grew quickly silent as a dull explosive thunder rolled through the stone.

Winter’s copper flecked, steel eyes narrowed while she reached out to feel a lack of concern from Antrandis and Sian. Drawing a measure of comfort from their nonchalance she allowed the darkness and shadow to build around her, the light from the sconces growing brighter as the boundaries of the shadow-realm grew defined. The path to her beloved’s sides only a single thought and step away. Stepping away from the wall and following the path of darkness, the areas that were lit now had the stark contrast as shade would under a tree in the height of day, the edges of the realm sharp and blindingly bright. Here she could move unseen and unnoticed by all as she traversed the Sanctum.

Passing through the entrance she looked upon the group of three score or more as they conversed, their voices muted and no more than an unintelligible murmur as they decided on their next course of action. Their bodies partially transparent as they moved within the shadows, solid and defined where they stood in the light. She walked the realm, unconcerned and passing through them as if they were the air itself. Making her way to the railing she observed them starting to descend the stairs, checking rooms and filtering though the different floors.

She shivered, the hairs on the nape of her neck rising while she stared down into the pit. The temporary core shining as it hovered, suspended near the entrance to a passage on the floor of the shaft. Leaving her position, she skirted the top level until she could see the intruders moving a few floors down before settling again at the new vantage. A faint movement caught her eye down below. The bright glare of light among the shadows as a projectile flew true and another less than a blink behind. Winter concentrated and the shadow realm retreated, the tones of shadows and light once again blending and losing their sharply defined borders, the sound flooding back to her of harsh voices and echoes of boots on stone stairs.

“Rhy...Did you get both?” she said, quickly shifting and picking out the dead body in the shadows several floors down before her eyes were drawn to humans charging across the sand far below.

Tapping her fingertips on the railing, she calmly waited, watching the movements intently. Feeling the passage of both Antrandis and Sian’s thoughts, she resisted the urge to allow them to wash through her. Within moments the faint sound of hammer on stone drew her attention, Antrandis’s thoughts alerting her. She lazily glanced back down to the bottom of the pit, watching the disorganised humans shifting about, feeling him moving closer.

Suddenly a ruckus started below, the bandits running to the passage before being scattered. Kitaraiya and the creature flying out at a tumble, trading blows and blood. Watching the violence below intently she almost jumped as his voice entered her thoughts.

“Winter?”

“Hmmm?” she responded, her eyes following the beast before looking away and starting to search the levels, “Kit is fighting a phantasm. Every bit of energy she puts into attacking it gets thrown back at her.” she said, picking out Antrandis as he stood watching near the passageway, “She noticed, just then.”

She looked down at him far below, seeing through the darkness he had cloaked himself with and taking note of his pointed arm, “It is on the fourth floor, a shadow.” came his voice to her mind.

“I can not see it, my love. Until it shows itself I am blind to it. I can’t even see the shadow you speak of.”

She felt the question in his thoughts, “Yes, I know what it is. A Rakshasa. Let me borrow your eyes.”

Immediately she saw the room from his perspective, the shadow hulking on the rail of the fourth floor as ice started to form in the air and the phantasm froze in place.

“Mmmm… Is Thain there?”

His sight shifted to see the dwarf standing, gesturing from the entrance of the other passage, pointing up and then gesturing crudely at the shade on the railing.

She laughed gently, “Really? He’s going to lure it out so I can attack. My love, it would be best if…”

Suddenly her attention was drawn back to the scene from above as a slow clap resounded and echoed up to her. Listening carefully to the words that filtered up, the deep rich tone and inflection.

“Ja’Sessh? How?” she said aloud, her eyes on the empty air of the fourth floor railing, “My love…” her thoughts halting as she watched Rhyker drop to the sand.

“No, go to Sian. He will listen to her. Signal Thain, I will confront Ja’Sessh as soon as he exposes himself. I will bring him to you. That fool just made it personal.” she said as she stood up on the railing, watching as Rhuthain stepped into view, his barbed words taunting the demon.

“Who is this Ja’Sessh?” Antrandis asked.

“One of the original Conservators of Escorath. His mate would be the Empress of DeKaalenstaad, she is the brains, he is the muscle.”

She felt his amusement and Sian’s sudden curiosity in the pattern of their thoughts.

“Go, I will bring him to the both of you. He has it coming. I am sure Sian will be happy to see him again.” she said, glaring down at the trading of words between the demon and the dwarf.

Standing atop the rail, she slowly stretched out, allowing her body to shift to that of the valkyrie, her steel and black dappled feathers forming on powerful wings while her soft and alluring curves became more angular and aggressive as she became more statuesque. Winter closed her eyes, reopening them as bright steel orbs that kept alert and waiting, watching the fourth floor railing. As Rhuthain stepped up his taunts she called upon the power that summoned that relic of servitude to the Host, her shield and spear. Standing at the ready, she watched, her ears pricked, waiting Rhuthain’s signal.

She tensed as she saw the shift in the sand below and as she watched, the shadows were cast off.

“Gods, Sessh, it is you.” Winter whispered, looking down and listening to Rhuthain’s continued barbs echoing up to her.

Suddenly the power in the room shifted, her sight tracking its currents as it pooled around Rhuthain’s crouched form. She tightened up, hearing his words echo off the sealed ceiling.

“So, kitty, hard or soft landing?” she heard the dwarf say.

With those words she launched herself off, her wings beating, lifting herself to that massive closed door.

“Hard, Thain, Hard!” she yelled, giving one final flap of her wings, grazing the ceiling and twisting her body around in one fluid movement drew her wings in tight and kicked off with tempered legs.

 


 

 

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