War Swords

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Strangers from the North

Shalene Shakel stood on the edge of camp, slightly past the tree line. Her eyes were fixed towards the north, the stars completely clear. The only thing she could think of was her sister.

The Rebellion had been camped out on the northern shore of Greenthorne Lake for several days. Too many days, for her liking. But it had taken awhile to get word from the spies regarding her sister.

Soon they would depart and head back to Therone. Shalene knew that they would need to drastically resupply and regroup. This feeling of a change in the war had been tugging mercilessly at her since that lone arrow flew through the air.

She had had the King beneath her sword; could still see the look of terror in his eyes. If that arrow had not pierced her leg then she would have killed him. If she had killed him then Adrina would not have, and she would still be with them. The hundreds of young Rebels would not be dead and everything would make sense.

But this; this eerie unrest in their land was all consuming. It did not make sense. It everywhere. In the conversations of their troops, even the animals and creatures that dwelled all around them seemed to be able to tell. The trees were whispering and the their world was now unstable.

Even if Shalene could go back and change it, yes, Adrina would still be here, but the war would be at a standstill again. Perhaps this was what needed to happen to be able to win once and for all.

The ancient rules of the War Swords had been established and kept in Calaria for hundreds of years. They were created by their ancestors to ensure that the least amount of blood be split in a battle. The two leaders would fight by War Sword on Friar Rock until one of them killed the other, or until the beams of the sun no longer touched the rock. If the light left the rock and there was still no victor, then both armies would take up their swords. This was often most common, and the Rebellion typically lost, retreating with only a few hundred survivors. Though this was only the third time Shalene had fought Norman Ramos.

Norman Ramos had claimed the life of the leader of the Rebellion before her, Thackery Bridger, almost five years ago. The battles between the Rebellion and the Dominion were vastly spread out. It took a lot of preparation to be able to meet on the battlefield.

Shalene looked down, remembering Thackery. She thought of him almost every day, constantly debating what he would have done if he was here.

No one knew of their secret either. How they would stay up late after everyone was asleep in their tents, talking about battle plans, laughing and keeping each other company. She remembered the night they both confessed their feelings for each other, almost as clearly as she remembered the day he died.

Shalene shook her head, focusing on the now.

As far as the war went, invasion was a possibility that was rather uncommon. Neither army liked to leave their terrain, and it was easy to determine that the Rebellion would not survive in the harsh conditions of the north.

Still.

This changing of their world left Shalene with the feeling that all previous rules and practices would be abandoned. Formal battles on Friar Rock already seemed like a useless practice.

At the moment, she knew that Adrina was being kept close to Prince Carlowe, though there were no signs of her being injured. Shalene was thankful for that, of course. But she chilled when she thought of what Prince Carlowe would do to her.

She tried to not think on it.

Suddenly, up above the trees a few Fartail flew by. They were bird-like creatures with short beaks and paws instead of talons. They resembled something of a small Griffin.

Two or three of them called out happily to one another. The warm air, clear skies and sounds of the Fartails soothed Shalene.

She loved the south and everything about it.

"Oh! I'm sorry to disturb you, Shalene," came a voice from behind her. It was Gretania and Dano, their hands slipping away from one another.

Shalene smiled back at them in the darkness. "No, don't worry. I was just admiring the night sky. It's so clear out."

Dano remained silent as Gretania agreed. "Yes it is. We were just walking and saying the same thing. There is nothing quite like southern skies."

"Yes," Shalene answered. "This will be the last one we can truly enjoy."

The two captains were silent, waiting for their leader to speak more.

Shalene shook her head, turning back to the sky. "The news about my sister is... better than I thought it would be," she confessed.

"Yes," Gretania agreed. "It is good. We can now discuss an action plan to rescue her."

Shalene grimaced. "I'm still not so sure if that is wise."

Dano and Gretania glanced at each other.

"You have some concerns?" Dano asked.

She took in a breath, folding her hands behind her back. "A rescue mission would be dangerous. We don't know the terrain, going into the north is dangerous as it is, the cold alone could kill us." She paused, collecting her thoughts. "I just... I wish that there was a better way. If we could somehow make them come to us..."

"But with the state of the war right now," Gretania offered, "I'm not sure that a formal gathering would fare so well."

"No, you're absolutely right. I was thinking the exact same thing."

"Then what are our options?" Dano inquired.

Shalene shook her head. "Truly, I do not know. Our spies have already endangered themselves once, I'd have a hard time asking any more of them."

"And risking losing them would mean we lose a way to gather intel in the north," Gretania spoke, observing the situation.

Shalene nodded, thinking these matters through. "I don't want to give up on my sister. But for now, I may have to look past her until something changes."

Dano and Gretania were silent.

The images of Adrina sitting in a dark cell somewhere, starving, chained to a wall, flashed across Shalene's mind. It made her sick to think about. She winced, looking back at two of her captains. "I want monthly reports from our spies, but nothing more."

"Of course," Dano replied. "I will send word immediately." He linked his arm with Gretania's and they left swiftly.

Shalene watched after them for a moment and then turned her attention back to the sky.

She hoped that Adrina would not feel as though she'd given up on her. She never would, or could. But her rescue would have to be put on pause for awhile until a clear plan of action presented itself.

Shalene kicked a stick in front of her, taking in a deep breath. There had to be another way.

Just then, there came shouting from the camp.

At first Shalene ignored it. But after a few more moments the shouting grew.

Something was wrong, she could feel it. The air was unsettling and chilled.

The leader of the Rebellion hastened back into camp. Several of the soldiers were coming out of their tents and away from their fires. Shalene could see up ahead at the other edge of camp a group forming.

When she got closer, the soldiers began to part a way for her. She could see the top of Dano's head at first, but then the green cloaked strangers were unmistakable.

"You have no business here," she heard Dano say, Gretania beside him.

The stranger in the middle, with a gray beard and bright blue eyes opened his mouth to speak before he caught Shalene's gaze.

She put a hand gently on Dano's shoulder and he turned. "Shalene, I--"

"Thank you, Dano," she interrupted, pulling him back. "I will take it from here."

Shalene scanned the eyes of the three strangers, her stare deliberate. "I am Shalene, leader of the Rebellion Army. What is it that brings you here?"

The older-looking stranger stepped forward and removed his green hood. "Please. I am Theos, and this is Jacko and Daria. We are Mystics from the north."

Several of the soldiers whispered behind her and Shalene gritted her teeth. "I know exactly what you are. Why have you come so far south and into a Rebellion camp? This is not a formal battle and you know that we could dispose of you if we wished."

The female Mystic, Daria, stepped forward, removing her cloak. "Please. We knew of the risk. But we had to come down here. We wish to join you."

Again, the whispers grew louder behind her and some even shouted their disapproval. Shalene held up her hand, silencing them.

The other Mystic, Jacko, stepped forward as well, removing his cloak all the same. "It is true. We no longer wish to be under the Dominion's hold. With Norman Ramos dead, we saw an opportunity to escape."

Shalene folded her arms, debating the circumstances.

Theos spoke again. "Please, Shalene. The Dominion has held a power over us for far too long. Our leader, Jordanna, will do anything for her lust for power. She no longer serves the Mystics, she only serves herself."

Jacko and Daria nodded in agreement, again, the whispers of the Rebels behind her grew.

"That is why," Theos said, getting down on one knee. "We pledge our allegiance to you and the Rebellion." He bowed his head as Jacko and Daria followed his example.

The Rebels were in an uproar behind her. When they finally quieted down, Shalene spoke. "Nobody in the Rebellion bows to anyone. Stand."

The three Mystics stood and looked at one another nervously.

"The captains and I will speak about this tonight. Until then, you may peacefully sit around a fire."

"Thank you, my Lady."

"Please," she urged them. "It is Shalene."

Shalene turned swiftly towards the direction of her tent, knowing that Gretania, Dano, and the other captains would follow her.

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