Once, there were more of them. A pack so large their bodies blended like the night sky. The stars glittered from their pelts, a sea of beasts the colour of the midnight sky. Their eyes were moons, silver crescents circled by black, their fangs asteroids so sharp they could cut through the very fabric of the universe.
The Star people lived in fear of them, what they called the Star Beasts. They fled indoors, sealing their homes with spells when the Star Beasts came to roam.
The Star Beasts killed and ravaged. They overturned gardens, devastated the harvest and killed the livestock, the precious sunbeam sheep gifted to the Star People by the sun god and the red cattle by the blacksmith god.
Until one day, the Star People had enough. They called upon their fiercest warriors, armed them with weapons blessed by the silver moon, sprinkled with water from the underworld and set them upon the Beasts.
The Warriors were four.
Castor, born in a windstorm that rattled even their steadiest tower, he who could wield the wind as a result. Orion, who had played with the venomous Ursa scorpions since he was a child and Vela, who sang the sweetest songs to tame the violent Cygnets and commanded the Arion, a herd of four fire-breathing horses. The last was Lyra, the daughter of a blacksmith with the cleverest hands in the village.
They set off on a stormy night when the moon was waxing, where the clouds covered the sun such that the stars in the Star Beasts’ pelt would shine the brightest, each thinking they were superior to the others.
Castor strayed first, splitting from the group to climb the Lupine mountains, where he would have the clearest view. He scorned the mere thought of staying in a group, trusting in only himself and his winds to save them all.
I have no need of them, he thought to himself, his heart as wild as the winds he wielded.
Vela concealed herself within the Borealis, the forest of which the Star Beasts made their home. She was wary of her party, more trusting of her creatures than people.
My creatures will protect me far better, she justified, riding away with her Arion at her heels.
Lyra did the same, but at the other corner of the forest, with her runed sword and mirror shield. Her pride kept her from staying, though the girl with the golden hair intrigued her.
I can beat them all. I am skilled in the arts of both combat and creation. I can make Father proud.
Orion stayed on the outskirts of the village, where his scorpions made their dens. He was quiet, and people unnerved him.
I have my scorpions. What would I do with everyone else?
Being high above everyone else, Castor spotted the beasts first, their star-speckled pelts shining beneath the stormy sky.
He withheld the information, choosing to swoop down silently on the winds he wielded, like an eagle on the hunt.
The winds changed, turning into knife-like blades, invisible to the eye and the Star Beasts howled as he slashed through them, blood as dark as night spurting into the air.
But soon his strength waned and his winds failed him.
He landed in the Borealis and the Star Beasts lunged at him, great maws bared, angered by the fall of their comrades.
Vela and Lyra found the Star Beasts soon after, following the trail of dark blood and glittering star pelts.
Atop Corona, the first horse of the Arion herd, Vela shot arrows of blessed silver, each one felling a beast where they struck.
But when one fell, another took its place, even as the Arion spread their flames. Vela called upon her Cygnets, pure white swans with beaks of crystal and razor talons. They attacked from above, plucking up Star Beasts from their pack, their ugly screeches grating on the ears.
The Star Beasts screamed back, defiant and flexed their claws, adamant claws that ripped the Cygnets’ throats and shredded their feathers.
Vela wept for the loss, and sang her Cygnets back, retreating to the hollow tree from where she had been hidden.
Lyra was the bravest, her mirror shield bouncing the light from the Star Beasts’ pelts, blinding as she slashed through them with her sword of silver.
But the Star Beasts were relentless and soon she was forced to flee, clutching her hand to her wounded side, sky blue blood dripping down the gashes in her leg.
Orion sent out his Ursa scorpions, the tiny arachnids scuttling out to hide beneath the leaf litter, only appearing to pierce a passing Star Beast with their venomous stingers.
The Star Beasts fell, floundering as they howled and screamed, in search of the creatures that were killing their comrades.
But there were too many and the scorpions were only so few, many crushed beneath the paws of retreating Beasts.
Orion called them back, cursing and swearing as they burrowed deep beneath the earth for refuge.
All four had worked their strengths but the Star Beasts prevailed.
By the next full moon, they were nearly whole again, tearing through the village of the Star People even as they fled into their homes.
As if hellbent on vengeance, the Star Beasts wrecked the village, killing almost every sunbeam sheep they could get their claws on and scattering the red cattle so far apart that they could not return home.
In this time, the defeated heroes were quietly licking their wounds, nursing their wounded pride.
Vela found Lyra first, hidden beneath the branches of a Juniper tree, half-conscious and bleeding.
She took the semi-conscious girl, swathed her in the feathers of her living Cygnets and retreated to the Serpens lake, where willow trees grew.
While her horses grazed, Vela called to the serpent that lived within the lake, her melody so sweet that the monstrous snake came at her call.
“Tell me how I should save her,” she asked, for she was not learned in the arts of healing. The serpent lashed its tail, gnashing its teeth as it gazed at the girl lying at the roots of the willow tree.
“Take the caelia flowers that grow on this bank and the bark of the willow tree,” said it, lake water splashing upon the girl’s face, “the petals crushed with the willow tree’s bark and applied will heal her wounds.”
Satisfied, Vela let the serpent go, and it went, deep deep down to the bottom of the lake, humming her melody to itself.
She plucked the purple flowers that grew on the banks and with a sharp knife, stripped the bark from the willow tree.
With two flat rocks, she crushed the flowers with the bark, as the serpent had directed and applied the paste, lumpy and sticky, onto the wounds still dripping blue blood.
The blade she had taken with the girl was dark with Star Beast blood and the mirrored shield was cracked, having lost its shine.
She dipped the weapons into the lake, washing off the putrid blood just as the girl stirred.
“Where am I?” Her voice was rough and hoarse and Vela turned, her Cygnets’ fluttering having alerted her.
“By Serpens Lake,” she replied, not turning from her task. She heard the blacksmith’s daughter curse and winced, for her ears were unused to hearing such rough words.
“What of the Star Beasts? Have I bested them?” The pride in the girl’s voice made her stomach turn and Vela could not help the laugh that escaped her lips.
“Bested them? We have killed but a small number of their pack. They will return, fear not. Perhaps you could try to best them again, at the expense of your life.”
The scorn in her tone made Lyra shake. How dare she? The one who spoke only to creatures and never to humans.
She tried to rise but her strength failed her. The Star Beasts had torn her leg apart and her right side burned as if it were aflame. But the blue blood had stopped dripping and she was alive.
“Where are the others?”
Orion was the one to find Castor, torn up and in agony, barely breathing. His scorpions had found him by the river and led him to the injured boy. His blood had stained the riverbank blue.
He murmured a quick prayer under his breath, before dropping to his knees.
The wind child barely stirred when he turned him over, his breath catching at the sight of long claw marks across one side of his face.
One of his eyes was gone.
Orion called for his scorpions quickly. With haste, he milked the venom from the closest one, mixing it with river water.
The river was called Voitheia and he was lucky that he had found him there, for when mixed with Ursa venom, it was a very potent healing elixir.
Potent as it was, it would never erase the scars that Castor had sustained, nor would it bring back the eye that he lost.
Cradling the injured boy, he made a bed by the river bank.
It would be long before he would wake again.
The crashing through the undergrowth startled him and he whipped out his long knife, ready to fight for he could not flee. Not with an injured boy lying defenceless by the river.
Orion might scorn humans for his scorpions but he was not quite so heartless enough to leave someone to die.
His blade was not needed, fortunately, as two girls came stumbling through the trees, the darker haired one leaning heavily on the other.
“The Star Beasts will rise again. They have already risen once,” Vela panted as Lyra collapsed onto the riverbank, her breaths coming out in stuttered gasps.
Orion’s eyes clouded immediately with concern. The Star Beasts rose every three phases of the moon and the full moon had only just passed them by.
“We cannot defeat them alone,” he replied somberly.
Those were words none of them wished to hear, for they were all so convinced in their own power that they had grown complacent.
There was proof of it in Castor’s missing eye, Lyra’s permanent limp and the reduced flock and nest of Cygnets and scorpions.
“What shall we do then? We cannot return to the town in failure,” Vela asked.
“Together,” the word was spat as if it was poison in his mouth and they turned to see Castor awake, in his wretched state.
He dragged himself upright, wincing as Orion knelt to hold him.
“The Star Beasts are strong because they are a pack. They move as one. When one falls another takes its place. No one person can penetrate such a pack.”
His lips were twisted in disgust even as he said his next words carefully.
“We must work as one if we are to defeat the beasts.”
There was silence as the others mulled over his words, strange ones coming from one with a heart as wild as his.
“I can make a web,” Lyra began hesitantly, her fingers twitching. “A web when sprung, large enough to contain the pack.”
“If they were contained, bound into one place against each other,” Vela mused.
“My scorpions could sting them quickly, with less risk of being crushed,” Orion continued, his eyes brightening.
“My winds could cut through more of them, far more efficiently,” Castor put in.
“But the town is in ruins,” Vela said quickly. She shuddered at the memory.
They had passed the village in their haste to reach their party and the Star Beasts had laid waste to it, with their asteroid fangs and adamant claws.
“Better to leave it in ruins now than to rebuild it twice,” Orion muttered.
“But the sheep-,” Vela protested and Lyra’s face hardened.
“And the cattle.”
“The gods will be angry with us,” Castor murmured as he turned his face to the heavens. The dim light of the moon filtering through the trees struck his one remaining grey eye and he murmured a prayer to the wind god who had given him his powers.
“Salvage the cattle, a ruined town will give the Star Beasts no temptation,” Vela said, for she hated to see any creature in distress.
“I can guide them with my winds.”
“Let the elixir run its course,” Orion reasoned when Castor made to rise, as if anxious to get moving. His fingers were warm upon his shoulder when he pushed him back down.
“We will make for the blacksmith’s forge, for my tools and Vela’s creatures can herd the cattle back,” Lyra shot Orion a sly look, “you will watch over the wind boy and ensure that he lives to aid us.”
They were gone before Orion could protest, Lyra leaning heavily against Vela’s shoulders.
Orion sat back down, gathering the first scorpion that scuttled up to him. He watched as Castor traced a symbol into the dirt, his lips moving silently as if he were chanting.
He leaned back against a tree, content to watch the wind child speak his prayers.
The blacksmith lived, as they discovered when they returned to the village. His roaring fires had kept the Star Beasts at bay and the forge was relatively untouched by adamant claws.
He could have wept for relief when he saw his daughter limping towards him, her leg crusted with blue blood, leaning heavily on the shoulders of the girl who spoke to creatures.
They wasted no time on pleasantries however, Lyra determined to begin her web immediately.
While they hammered away in the forge, Vela took her Arion to the scattered cattle.
Riding atop Corona, she sang a song that carried on a soft breeze that Castor called, his prayer to the wind god answered.
The cattle returned in hordes, their brilliant red hides glimmering beneath the waning moon.
Vela led them back, where the townsfolk welcomed them with relief and they were shut up immediately, in reinforced pens that the blacksmith had built.
Back in the blacksmith’s forge, Lyra hammered and wove, her clever fingers working as quickly as she could to build a metal trap so fine that its mesh could barely be seen, but so strong it could have held a thousand Star Beasts and more.
With Orion’s help, Castor concealed them both within the Borealis, folding the wind about them like an invisibility cloak. Orion’s scorpions gathered in their largest numbers, massive nests of Ursa scorpions burrowing deep into the earth beneath the Borealis to await the Star Beasts.
At last, when the web was finished, Lyra laid it at the mouth of the village, where the tree-line met hard stone. She carried her sword of silver, newly runed at her hip and her mirror shield.
Vela’s Cygnets took to the sky to be her eyes, the girl herself riding into the forest at the head of her Arion.
The sky itself shook the night of the waning crescent, Star Beasts pouring forth from the Borealis in waves, their star flecked pelts shining.
Their adamant claws left marks in the dirt as they stalked towards the newly rebuilt village, intent on taking more.
Wind whistled through the trees and the Arion loosed their flames, a wall of fire snapping up between the Star Beasts and the village.
The trap was sprung and the Star Beasts railed in panic, their bodies undulating when they found no way out. Stars flashed from their pelts as they howled and snarled, thrashing within the constraints of their very pack.
Orion released his scorpions, hundreds upon hundreds of venomous Ursa scorpions boiling to the surface of the Borealis forest.
Their stingers felled hundreds and where they could not reach, blades of wind sliced down the rest.
The Cygnets plunged from their perches, snatching up Star Beasts in their talons and tossing them like rag dolls to be claimed by the wind.
Lyra leapt into the fray, atop the second horse Corvus. His hooves left flames in the Star Beasts’ pelts as she slashed through them with her runed sword, her mirrored shield blinding them as it reflected the stars from their pelts. Her sword brushed up against the tiniest sliver of mesh once, when a Star Beast fell dead at her feet, black blood staining the blade, but she thought nothing of it.
It was made of silver strands dipped in moonlight, it could hold anything.
Silver arrows sprouted from the backs of the writhing Star Beasts, felling the beasts with the touch of blessed silver.
Even Orion joined the fight, slashing through the beasts with his long knife, dark hair wild in the wind.
Black blood pooled on the earth of the Borealis as more and more Star Beasts fell, the wind whipping through air like knives.
The Star Beasts roiled as their numbers grew smaller, shrinking to the centre to protect themselves but the warriors were relentless.
They cut them down until there were only two left, a mated pair.
Castor would have cut them down, had Orion not caught his wrist, forcing his blade of wind away.
“Enough,” said he, for he had sympathy in his heart for such things. Castor bristled but laid down his weapon.
Vela emerged, clutching her silver bow and empty quiver. She surveyed the two remaining Star Beasts, cowering in their trap.
The male was trembling beneath the much larger female, crescent eyes filled with fear.
“We should kill them all,” Lyra growled, her right leg aching at the mere memory of those adamant claws in her flesh.
Castor nodded his agreement, though Orion’s hand on his wrist kept his blade down. His single grey eye flashed with vengeance.
“No,” Vela said, gazing at the remaining Star Beasts.
“Let them live, and remember this night where we prevailed.”
“They took my eye,” Castor snarled and Lyra nodded, gesturing wildly to her leg.
“They made me crippled.”
Vela bit down on her lip.
They had killed so many, it seemed almost a shame to eradicate them.
“They are the only living pair,” she said and Castor sneered at her softness.
“They will make more. Perhaps you should like to best them again?”
Vela bristled at his scorn, her fingers tightening around her silver bow.
“If you had sounded the alarm when you first soared the air, perhaps we would not have needed to best them again,” she snarled.
In the heat of their argument, no one noticed the tiny slip of the net, just a single filament torn by Lyra’s silver sword.
The male twisted and the net gave, the creature quickly slipping through.
By the time the fight was abolished and the warriors had an agreement, the Star Beasts were long gone, never to be seen again.
The Warriors blamed each other of course, no one willing to admit fault, but they were hailed as heroes when they returned, covered in black blood and scars.
Vela returned to her creatures, tending to the Arion, her fire-breathing herd but now she had a companion.
Even with her crippled leg, Lyra worked the forge, occasionally slipping out to visit the girl who spoke to creatures.
Castor remained as wild as he used to be, flying with reckless abandon, but he came down now, out of the sky, to keep the company of the scorpion speaker.
Once, there were more of them. A pack so large their bodies blended together like the night sky, stars glittering from their pelts.
But now, thanks to the Warriors Four, there were only two, left to wander the ends of the earth on their own, for all of eternity.
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