Cast the First Stone

So, I’ve been doing some editing, some rewriting, going back through a ton of old notes when I stumbled on this little piece.  I wrote this before Chris and I had really developed what the old Rukaran society was like, so parts of this may change.  This was an personal exercise for me, a way to get down on paper how some of our ideas may (or may not) work.  I wanted to share it, to show a little bit about how I develop an idea, about how I try to work out details for the larger stories.  Enjoy!

jungle-at-night

 

Cast The First Stone

~ Legacy of Ash ~

 

Jungles of Fain Deroth
Eiltaryn Province
200 years before the Sundering

The fire burned low, barely more than embers. In the dull red light none of the three men could see more a few feet.   Their muscles ached, faces battered and scarred from years of battle. The canopy overhead was not thick, though clouds covered the endless stars of nighttime sky. The jungle around them was dense, the constant sounds of life pushing through the darkness. A small boa wound its way through the vines above, mosquitoes constantly hovering nearby. No smoke rose from the tiny flames, though from their campaigns in similar jungles, each man knew that one predator or another always watched them.

Rul had heard all the sayings about this land.

As quiet as things may get, death was always less than a heartbeat away.

The three had not spoken in hours, as the day behind them had been long and treacherous. Scars graced the men’s faces, a lifetime of war and hardships written like words on parchment. Knuckles and noses broken more times then they could remember, lives lost, hope scattered.

With a quiet motion, one of the other two turned, watching carefully.

A moment later, Rul heard it, the sounds of people moving through the jungles around them. A moment passed before a small light could be seen as steel blades reflected the dull glow of the campfire.

Legionaries, Rul could tell at once, stepped out from the thick foliage.  With one looked at their armour he knew them a Rukarans.   Scouts for the Rukaran front lines, patrolling the deep depths of the jungle.

The first soldier looked at them with reservation, weighing their size and supplies, deciding if they were threat. Two others soldiers stepped out from the shadows, each with bows drawn and arrows knocked.

Without rising, the three men nodded and returned their gazes to the small flames.

“You there,” the first legionary said as he walked towards them. He was a short man with a thin beard, longbow over his back and a gladius in hand. “Might we share your fire for a time?”

Rul looked at his two companions before nodding.

“A pleasure,” he said to the soldier. “It’s a sad night to wander these jungles alone.”

“You’re a long way out from any settlement,” the lead soldier said, sitting down beside them. The two others sat with him, each glad for the small flicker of light. As if by reflex they held their callused hands out to feel the warmth. “What brings you out here?”

“We were farmers,” Rul said with a shrug. “Our land was taken during the first occupation.”

“You’re looking for new land?” another soldier asked.   “Out here?”

“That’s right. Name’s Rul. This here is Welken, and this is Jimas.”

“A pleasure then, Rul. I’m Decanus Aicis. This here is Merin, and that’s Sprat.”

“Sprat?” Rul asked, a smile on his face.

“Can’t help your name, can you?”

“Nah,” Rul said. “Sometimes, I guess you can’t.”

“You lost your land during the first occupation?” the third soldier, Sprat, asked. “That must’ve been rough. We lost so much that first time. Were you on the coast?”

Rul nodded.

“But that was years ago,” Aicis said. “You’ve been looking since then?”

They nodded. “We haven’t stopped moving. Land is scarce, good land that is. You ever tried to farm in this mud?”

“Why not try the cities?” Merin said. “You won’t be able to farm, but…safety in numbers right?   Now that those bastards are here.”

“Bastards?”

“The Ter’anor,” Aicis said. “With their creeping Selthin Dul.”

“You ever seen a Ter’anor warrior?” Sprat asked. “In the first occupation? You come face to face with one?”

Rul shook his head, the other two remaining silent.

“Never. The military stepped in first, pulled all civilians out before the enemy arrived.”

“They say that the Ter’anor are taller than a mirenir, with eyes like constant flame,” Merin whispered. “Their weapons are thunder, and can shred through armour like it was paper.”

“I hear tell,” Jimas said with a scowl, “that they can look like anyone they want. That they change their shape, their faces, to look like any one of us.”

“Shapeshifters?”

Decanus Aicis gave a small chuckle.

“No, they are men plain and simple, just like us.   They don’t wield thunder. Just another empire, another nation. They want our science, our wealth. And we want theirs. Simple as that. I’ve seen war. Faced the Ter’anor directly, seen the fear and desperation in their eyes, seen in echoed in our own.   You want to put a face to the name?   Look in the mirror.”

The six men sat in silence for a moment. Each man, farmer or soldier, reflected on the sudden words of the decanus.

“You are scouts for the empire?” Rul said at last.   “Rukarans?”

“We are,” Aicis said with a nod. “We’ve been out here for weeks now, patrolling. Ain’t seen anything though, and we’re starting to think –“

He stopped and caught the look in Welkin’s eyes.

Until now, the ex-farmer had kept his gaze fixed on the flames.

“Well, to be honest, the war is at a standstill.   That’s what it comes down to.   Mirenir on the western coast are keeping the enemy fleets at bay. To the south, well, let’s just say there’s a deep darkness doing its best to keep the Ter’anor from making much progress.”

The three farmers nodded softly. The fire was dying.

“You want another log on the fire?” Sprat asked motioning to the small stack of wood.

Welkin had not moved, the ex-farmer merely sat staring at the legionaries. It took Aicis more than a moment to register what he saw, as the farmer’s flesh seemed to be melting around the bone. A second later and he knew what these farmers were.

His own face stared back at him, Welkin was a farmer no longer.

“Mirrors indeed,” the shapeshifter said, lunging across the fire, burying a dagger in Aicis’ chest.

The two other farmers, Rul and Jimas, were little more a shadowed blur.

The two scouts fumbled for a second, though a second was too late. Sprat and Merin died screaming under the knives of the Ter’anor shape shifters.

Slowly, the farmers’ skin blended and shifted as their bones reformed beneath the flesh. Muscle, tissue, bones, and flesh. It all altered and shifted. When they stood they left the guise of common farmers behind.

Rul had become Sprat, while Welkin took the face of Decanus Aicis.

Jimas, now the soldier called Merin, smiled and pulled the uniform off the dead man at his feet.

“This war gets better every day.”

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