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Thorn of the Rose Ch. 1

by Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed 7 months ago in Series · updated 7 months ago
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Anin Foothills

"Well, what are they saying?"

"Shhh I can't hear them with you talking.”

Trish'ka focused her attention on the small grove of trees fifty yards from where she and Brianni lay. Despite the driven rain and wind Trish’ka was able to hear the words from within, where the officers were gathered. Her hearing was thought to be similar to the gifted craft that many of the mystical Kujatai possessed, but nobody ever knew of a non-gifted saantai having such well-defined senses. She also had unusual eyes. They were purple, and when her mood was right, actually seemed to glow. Sometimes when Trish’ka became angry, her pupils almost looked cat-like, elongating into slits. Brianni was certain it was an illusion, but it did make her look exotic.

Trish’ka’s dark hair clung in muddy, soaked tangles as she closed her eyes to concentrate. She forced the wind from her mind and its persistent howling faded from her ears. Trish’ka did the same with the rain that pounded the grassy field into a flattened wet mass of puddles. The rain went silent. Trish’ka did this with every sound until all that remained were the soft voices beyond the trees.

Brianni was unaware of any difference. She still heard only the rain and the wind. Brianni opened her mouth more than a few times to say something but was able to stifle herself. It took all of her self-will to do so. A brief flash of lightning lit night into the brightness of noon in three short pulses that were immediately answered by a massive crack. Brianni jumped. In that split moment, the battle camp was visible as it spread in all directions. Forms that could have been mounds of earth or boulders lay scattered about. Some were as they appeared, but most; hundreds were in fact Kujatai and Saantai riders waiting out the night. Trish’ka seemed to not notice.

Brigade Commander Rowina Taren huddled in the small wood grove with her officers to make plans for the attack tomorrow. The fourth light lancers brigade under her command tracked the movements of the Ager Mohr forces as they invaded from the North. When the war started her brigade had more than two-thousand riders. Now there are a less than seven hundred including new replacements who arrived two weeks earlier. Commander Taren wasn't the most senior of the brigade officers when the fighting started, but these days, she was considered among the most experienced of what was left.

She drew a map in the wet earth with a stick. Twigs and small stones were placed showing the Anin foothills, where the Kujatai riders waited; and that of the enemy soldiers that were expected to pass in the valley below.

“We’ll split our forces in half. Adrine will take four companies and stage them here and here”.

Commander Taren stabbed at the map to mark the areas she spoke of. “We are here.” Her stick pointed to the north side of the valley.

“The Ager Mohr camp is here.” She pointed to the west.

“I’ll remain with the main body of the brigade.”

She glanced at Y’Sanna; the youngest officer to her left. Lieutenant Y’Sanna had just joined up with Commander Taren’s forces two weeks earlier. She brought with her an additional 123 horsewomen including Trish’ka and Brianni. She didn’t know what fates guided Y’Sanna to her, replacements weren't expected but she and her saantai were most welcome.

“Y’Sanna, you’re with me.”

Y’Sanna was kneeling on her heels with hands on knees. She nodded silently as the commander went on. Y'Sanna was quiet. It wasn't always like that. Earlier that spring Y'Sanna who was known by the name Maree Sest’han was attached to the first light lancers brigade under then Commander Helen Elsig. They stumbled upon an Ager Mohr war camp near a river crossing of the river Saan. The brigade was slaughtered but Maree Sest’han survived. She was found by scavengers searching the bodies for anything valuable. Normally the Ager Mohr enjoy torturing the living and mutilating the dead, but her body was so horrifically mauled that nobody could possibly imagine she was still alive. It saved her life. Her recovery and eventual return to duty was nothing less than miraculous. The Kujatai believe that the souls of fallen will not rest until the last soldier of that brigade has passed on. It is also believed that on those rare occasions when every soldier save one dies in a single battle that sole survivor will possess the spirits of her sisters at arms. From then on her birth name will no longer have any meaning, and she will forever be known for the hallowed ground for which she is now bonded. The name Y'Sanna means spirit of the Saan. Y'Sanna bears the scars from that battle which disfigured much of her appearance. Before that, she was a very beautiful woman. Revenge is what drives her now.

“In the morning the forward guard will pass through this narrow area.” Commander Taren pointed to the valley entrance.

“They’ll be moving quickly to scout the area and make sure there are no traps waiting for the main force.” Taren smiled. It was a mischievously twisted smile.

“We’ll do nothing. They can move freely. When the main army passes through, we’ll still do nothing.” Commander Taren’s smile widened. Her officers stared at her with curious expressions.

“I want their supply train. The bulk of the army will be too far ahead to offer any assistance and we should be gone before a measurable counter can be made.” Y’Sanna smiled and almost laughed. The others stared at her unexpected display of emotion.

“I like it. They won’t even know what is happening until its too late.” Taren returned her smile, and then went dark in expression.

“Mind you, make one pass each, torch what you can; then we leave.” Her officers nodded in agreement. Looking at each woman in turn Taren asked for any input or concerns. She locked eyes with Colonel Adrine; her most veteran officer. The other woman’s single eye took in the map. She then stared up into Taren’s eyes and nodded.

“The plan is good; I’m good.” She replied.

Brianni stared across the clearing to the trees that held Trish’ka’s attention. Instead of seeing white spots from the latest lightning flash, she saw black spots.

“What did you see?” She whispered. Trish’ka was still staring off toward the small cluster of trees in the distance and didn’t seem to notice. She felt a tug on her sleeve, breaking the focus. Trish’ka tilted her head a little.

“What did you see?”

“It’s not what I saw; they’re too far past those trees. But I heard them. Commander Taren is over there with the other officers making battle plans. I can just barely make out the words.”

Brianni blinked. The clearing was at least fifty yards across and the officers were perhaps another 30 feet past that. Even on a clear day nobody could hear soft voices from that distance.

“Are you sure it’s them?”

“Oh yes, It’s them.” Trish’ka answered. “I can distinctly make out Captain Y’Sanna’s voice.”

Brianni said nothing while Trish’ka recited what was being said. Keeping quiet was a rare moment for Brianni. When Trish’ka was finished Brianni seemed unimpressed.

“Are you hungry?” Brianni asked. Her voice was suddenly drowned out from a thunder crack. The lightning was distant but still bright.

“Are you hungry?” Brianni repeated. Trish’ka parted her saturated hair from her face and nodded.

“Yes, very.” Brianni handed her some bread. Trish’ka stared at it. The rain soaked food sitting in her hand was not at all appetizing to look at. Trish’ka brought it to her lips and took a small taste. She suddenly gagged and spit it out.

“This is awful. I’m getting my own rations from my saddle bags.” Trish’ka turned toward her horse.

“Where do you think I got this?” Brianni laughed. Trish’ka’s face grimanced. She spun around facing Brianni.

“You took food from my saddlebags?!” Trish’ka kicked at her and raised herself to a crouch, balancing on the balls of her feet. She looked like a wet and angry cat .

“Get up!” Brianni just laughed harder.

“I was just kidding, silly, I took it from my own bags.” Brianni reached up, grabbed Trish’ka’s hand and pulled at her until she sat down, making a squish as she landed on her butt.

“Your rations are just as wet, trust me on this.” Brianni gave her another piece of bread. “Go it.” Trish’ka forced herself to take another bite. She managed to keep it

down but it was still horrible.

“How can you eat this?” She asked the other girl. Brianni lifted her fingers so Trish’ka could see them.

“Like this.” She said, as she squeezed the water out, making a small ball, then popped it into her mouth and swallowed.

“Now you try.”

Trish’ka shrugged a little and did as Brianni had showed her. She pressed the soggy bread into a ball, squeezing out most of the water, then shoved it into her mouth and swallowed fast so she wouldn’t taste it.

“See, it’s not so bad.” Trish’ka smiled a little.

“Want another?” Brianni asked. Trish’ka nodded. Brianni gave her a large piece this time. As Trish’ka ate, Brianni rubbed her thigh where she had been kicked.

“Sorry about that”. Trish’ka said sheepishly.

“Did I get you bad?” Brianni stopped rubbing her skin and flexed her leg as if to see if it still worked.

“I think I’ll still be able to walk, although there will probably be a...bruise.” You better sleep with one eye open because I owe you one.”

Brianni tried to look serious but broke out laughing again. She put a hand to her face to stifle the sound, but it made her laugh even more. Trish’ka was not sure what to do. Brianni was going to get them both in trouble if she didn’t keep quiet. The storm was covering over the sounds. So far they were lucky. Then, without warning Trish’ka burst into laughter as well. She couldn’t help it. Brianni had a way about her that just made you feel good. She hadn’t been able to get close to anyone before. Everyone else seemed to dislike Trish’ka, but Brianni was different. The two became fast friends from the moment they met several months ago.

Suddenly, a sharp hiss of a voice came from behind them.

“You two, shut the feck up!” It was Sergeant Delam. The both went quickly silent. The mood was broken. They finished eating without saying a word, but the smiles were still there. When done, Trish’ka rolled to her stomach and began concentrating on the same group of trees she had been looking at earlier.

After a few moments Brianni leaned close and whispered to her. “Welcome to the cavalry Trish’ka”.

Trish’ka looked briefly at the other and smiled again. She gazed back at the trees and replied softly

“I wish I’d stayed home.”

“Not me, I like the army.”

Brianni started to laugh again but Trish’ka put a hand on her mouth muffling the sound.

“Shhh, you’ll get us both in trouble.” She took her hand away slowly when it looked like Brianni was in control again.

Despite her mischief and humor, Brianni was definitely meant to be a soldier. Trish’ka had seen her in combat just one time and was horrified to see that Brianni was very efficient at killing. Yet when it’s just the two of them, she was funny and easy to get along with. Trish’ka on the other hand had no business being here. It was something that her friend commented on many times. How she ended up here was beyond anyone’s imagining. Trish’ka hated the dirt, lack of sleep, the food, and she especially hated being out in bad weather. In a short time, the others had come to call her “Trish the Priss.” Brianni somehow liked her and was hoping to toughen her up. Brianni was the only friend Trish’ka had right now.

Corporal Sondra Arway found a tree with low branches that offered a little dry shelter from the storm. From here she could still see if any of the enemy Ager Mohr approached. She had been passed over for sergeant three times. Once again, she watched a junior corporal with less time soldiering earn rank, while she was left behind.

Sergeants didn’t have to stand picket duty, corporals did. She hated picket duty, but at least she wasn’t sleeping in the mud. Corporal Arway pulled her cloak tight and closed her eyes. In this weather, there would be no attack. She’d catch a short nap before the picket officer made rounds. Her eyes closed again, and she dozed off.

A sudden gust of wind caused the leaves in the tree she was hiding under to dump water where she huddled.

“Son of a whoring bitch!”

Corporal Arway jumped to her feet and stepped back from what was obviously her poor choice of shelter. The sudden wash of cold water caught her by surprise, shocking her awake. Her cursing was loud, but in the storm it wouldn’t have carried far. As she stood there trying to wring out the excess water from her clothes, she heard a twig snap. Corporal Arway looked around frantically for her spear-like mataar. It was still under the tree that doused her with water. She quickly dove for it and rose to a crouched stance low enough to make her shape as small as possible. It was too early for the picket officer to be making rounds. She remained still and listened. From the far side of a tree she saw movement. It was definitely a person, not an animal. It approached her from the direction of the Kujatai camp. As the form got closer, Corporal Arway saw that it was a woman. The woman made her way carefully through the wet grass, slippery rocks, and trees. When the woman was close, Corporal Arway rushed from the shelter of the tree, stood up and challenged her.

“Password!” Corporal Arway called out.

“Maple Shade.” Came a reply in a calm and relaxed tone.

Corporal Arway recognized the voice. As the other woman came closer, she recognized the face as well. It was Lieutenant Y’Sanna, a newer arrival to the brigade. The corporal immediately stood at attention, saluted with her sword blade before re-sheathing her weapon.

“Corporal, report.” The lieutenant commanded.

“M’am, the valley has no sign of the enemy. Until your arrival, I have been alone.”

“Corporal, do you have all of your gear?”

The corporal made a quick check of her uniform and equipment. Everything was there including a vicious looking boot dagger that was more than a forearm long. The buckhorn handle came past her knee.

“I have everything M’am.”

“Excellent corporal. I have a mission for you.”

With an unnatural quickness, the young officer closed the space between the two.

Lieutenant Y’Sanna suddenly cried out. “Run! If you want to live, run!”

Corporal Arway, startled and confused, lowered the blade of her mataar to keep the officer away, but it was too late. Pain raced through her body. It was an intense searing pain that began where the officer was touching her. The corporal was unable to move.

The lieutenant began to cry out as well. She was also in pain. It was as if Lieutenant Y’Sanna was being forced against her will to attack Corporal Arway. To her horror, she saw the young officer enter onto her body as if stepping into a water fall.

“I’m so sorry.” The lieutenant finally said. Her voice now sounding defeated and exhausted.

Where the lieutenant’s body pressed more deeply into the corporal’s body, she shed her skin. Lieutenant Y’Sanna let out a wail of agony in a final piercing shriek as her torn body was cast aside like a pile of old clothes. It only took a few moments. Lieutenant Y’Sanna, the famed war hero of the Saan, was at last silent.

Corporal Arway was fully aware of the entity that forced its way into her, but despite her thoughts being intact, her movements were no longer of her will. The thing that pretended to be Lieutenant Y’Sanna was now inside her, and the real one was now a pile of discarded, bone, organs, and bloodied skin, wrapped in an otherwise empty bloodied and torn uniform. The surrounding grass and puddles were bathed in red.

Corporal Arway fought against the thing inside her. The more she struggled, the worse her agony. The thing seemed pleased with her resistance.

“Fight me.” A voice in her head told her. It wasn’t the voice of Lieutenant Y’Sanna. It had the childlike quality of a small girl. It could have sounded sweet if not for the overwhelming cruelness it carried.

“I like it when my victims fight.”

In a fit of rage the corporal tried to grab one of her own daggers and kill herself, and the creature inside her. Violent pain exploded in her head until her vision was all white. Her soul screamed. The girl-thing inside her shook as it came in a powerful orgasm.

The form of Corporal Arway made her way down the western slope. Every step took her further from the Kujatai camp, further from rescue. The corporal had fought furiously against the intruder inside her for more than an hour. Eventually, she gave up. The struggle left her completely spent. The thing inside her held fast to the control that it had.

It worked its way carefully, avoiding the more treacherous slippery areas. The corporal had tried several times to force a misstep that would have caused a fatal drop down the steep hill, but as if the thing knew what she was thinking, it forced her into being no more than a subdued puppet.

Corporal Arway didn’t fear death, but she couldn’t shake off the image of how Lieutenant Y’Sanna had died. Would she cry out like a baby, or hold her tongue and die like a warrior? The lieutenant was a veteran of several hard fought battles and was revered as a hero. She wore her scars like badges of honor. Many Kujatai opted to have the healers leave no marks when they closed wounds, but Y’Sanna specifically asked to have them left as a visual reminder of every battle she had been in.

A wash of water tore away at the deer trail that Corporal Arway’s body used to descend into the distant valley. The ground was gone; reduced to a useless spongy mass, yet her footing was as secure as it would be on dry land. The thing that possessed her defied the elements.

Small fires began to cut through the night. At first there were only a few, but as they reached the base of the western Anin, hundreds of flames came into view. They were torches. Each was held by an Ager Mohr soldier, who led the way of others who kept close behind. The Ager Mohr were physically massive. They stood at least a head taller than most men and possessed amazing strength as well as speed. Man for man, very few armies could stand against them.

They were marching toward the Anin; toward where Corporal Arway and the thing inside her had come from; toward the Kujatai who were camped above. By the look of this army, it would be unsuspecting Kujatai who would fall under a surprise attack, not the Ager Mohr.

It took another hour or so to reach the main Ager Mohr battle formation, the source of those distant fires. The first soldiers they encountered at the base of the foothills were just scouts. The form of Corporal Arway passed quietly among tens of thousands of enemy soldiers who were preparing for battle. They seemed to be unaware of the corporal and the thing inside her. It was as if the thing simply chose not to be seen. It walked on in silence.

A large wagon began to come into view. Horses labored to drag the massive, wheeled hulk through the mud. Ager Mohr strained in effort trying to push from behind while others fought with levers and backs to move the wheels. The crack of whips cut into the night air as both man and beast were struck. Inhuman cries echoed as the barbed thongs struck and tore at bare flesh. Corporal Arway was beginning to feel sick. The thing within her seemed to be amused by the suffering.

By the time Corporal Arway and the thing inside her reached the wagon, the rain resumed. As they approached the rear door of the wagon, a full downpour made the efforts to move it futile. The heavy wagon would not budge anymore while it stormed. The corporal could sense that the thing inside her planned to enter the wagon. Just as she got to the rear door, she stopped.

“Thank you for the assistance corporal, I enjoyed your company. You are dismissed”

The tiny childlike voice preceded a wave sharp pain in the corporal’s chest. Then her bones felt like they were being snapped. Her chest split apart as the thing began to step out of her. Corporal Arway let out a scream of pain. Every nerve ending was on fire, as her arms, legs and belly also split. She was being torn open and could feel every muscle rip, every nerve snap, and every bone fracture. The thing emerged from her with no more regard that stepping from a soiled dress. Corporal Arways bodily remains made a sickening wet sound as it collapsed to the blood stained; rain soaked ground. Her screams finally ended.

Ager Mohr came rushing in from every direction with weapons drawn. The sound came from nowhere. One moment there was nothing but air, the next moment there was a small girl standing in a pile of what had once been a living person.

The wagon’s door flew open. General Azahim Uly came flying out with a sword in his hand. When he saw the source, he stopped and put his hand up to motion for the soldiers to go about their business.

“There is nothing more to see here, keep moving.”

He put his sword away and nodded toward the girl. She looked to be a child, yet the general knew better. The eyes that stared back from a tiny face were centuries old. Her cloak was pulled over a whips body that was designed to tantalize men and make them mad with lust. Only those who were foolishly-stupid ever dared touch her unless she chose to let them. There were far fewer foolishly-stupid men in the world because of this.

“Aristette d’Chennaye, it is an honor to see you again.”

“Of course it is general. Where is your liege?”

“The king is inside, please come in from the storm.”

The general stepped back, bowing as the small frame of Aristette stepped inside. Despite standing in the remains of Corporal Arway, and being out in a downpour, she was neither covered in blood, nor wet.

Aristette slid the hood of her cloak back to reveal a soft face and long silverish-blonde hair. Her skin was smooth and perfect, like that of a delicate porcelain doll. Her look of innocence hid the truth of her being. Aristette was a demoness.

With one graceful movement she undid the knotted clasp of her stark white fur cloak and stepped forward. General Uly was there to collect it before it fell to the ground as she knew he would.

Her white silk dress was pristine. It, like the cloak was free of stains and thoroughly dry despite the elements. Equally pristine satin slippers adorned her tiny feet. They were unsuited for this foul weather, and the mountains, but Aristette never worried about trivial things that didn’t concern her.

She cocked her head to the side a little as she appraised the other man in the wagon. He was a little older than the general, and despite the hint of grey in his hair and the lines of long years that crossed his face, he was not unpleasant to look at. He was also much taller than the general who was in fact very short for an Ager Mohr. Many men, both Mohr and human thought the general’s size meant weakness. General Uly, like Aristette were reminders that size had nothing to do with ability. In her own way she respected the shorter man; she’d never let him know it. He was wary of her. She preferred wary. Well, she preferred fear, but if he was actually afraid of her, she’d regard him as little more than a bug to be squashed but being wary around her without showing fear were traits of intelligence and courage. Yes, she respected him. But she’d never let him know that.

King Sinjari Cazadar gazed at the small girl before him in silence. His face was grim and business-like. Maps lay across the table before him. Some were laid flat with weights to hold them open, while others remained rolled. The maps showed the surrounding area, with small metal markers to depict his army and that of the Kujatai somewhere in the Anin Mountains. The markers for the Kujatai were in the wrong spot.

“Well, what did you find out?”

Aristette stared from Sinjari Cazadar to the general and back to the king. She said nothing, but he understood.

“General, you may leave us. I’ll send for you.” The king said.

“Yes my liege.”

The general saluted, donned his oiled leather cloak and stepped through the door into the storm.

“Ok, he’s gone, what did you find out?”

Sinjari didn’t fear Aristette as others did. She had spied for him since the conquest of the northern lands had begun three years ago. Her information was always accurate. His army moved on her word.

“Aren’t you happy to see me my Love?”

Her tiny face was irresistible. She smiled at him in the innocent way a little girl would who was up to something. Sinjari met her smile with his own.

“Of course I am, but I need to know where that damned enemy camp is.”

“I know where they are, where they will attack and when. I’ll tell you everything, but first you will make love with me.”

Sinjari never fully trusted her. The demon was as likely to kill him as anyone, but at least for now they needed each other. She was a stunningly lovely creature of unearthly beauty, and she wanted him. Sinjari was no fool. Someday he’d likely have to kill her; but not today. He dropped the map in his hand with no care where it fell and went to her. She smelled of sweetness. She smelled of passion. Sinjari wrapped his massive arms around her and hugged her close. He knew well that despite her tiny size, she wouldn’t break. He gazed deeply into her eyes and kissed her. To the world she was Aristette d’Chennaye; The Dark, a demoness, murderer of men, of women and torturer of children…a woman to be feared. To Sinjari Cazadar she was simply his Arie.


About the author

Kimberlain O'Driscoll, MBA, M.Ed

My stories come to me in the form of vivid dreams. The challenge is in putting them to words. I'm medically retired, ride a Harley, and have five ferrets who keep me very entertained.

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