Short Stories - The Wild Lands
Here is a window into the gaming world I have created. This short story is my personal favorite of those I have written. I hope you like it.
THE MOTHER OF KOLE
Written By J.M. BARNES
“This isn’t anything like home. Is it true this is a godless domain?” Yveness asked, her hand tight around the pommel of her sword.
“That’s what they told us before we left. If you were paying attention you wouldn’t…”
“Quiet, what was that?” Yveness drew her blade slowly, hoping the noise it made didn’t reveal their locale to whatever may be stalking these woods.
Ikell crouched down in the ready position and drew his own weapon, a dwarven made morning star. Though he despised his companion’s lack of preparation he knew her senses were more acute than his own. He being human and she being elven there was little room for ego in these sorts of matters.
“Ikell, you swing out left and I’ll go right. Whatever it is isn’t that big, if we surprise it maybe…”
But it was too late for that. The creature bounded out of the surrounding foliage heading for what it must have perceived as the weaker target of the two.
Ikell rushed forward and slammed his heavy weapon into its flank. It yipped, but continued on toward Yveness.
With elven patience she waited until it was almost upon her then ducked and rolled right beneath as it leaped upward to where her throat should have been. It landed in a snarling fit but was instantly quieted by the thin blade that slammed through the back of its skull and out of its mouth.
“What in Kleana’s name is it?” Ikell asked.
“It hunts like a great cat but its face is like that of a dog. Almost like a hyena but more cunning and more agile.” Yveness replied after tugging her sword free.
Ikell marveled again at the fact that this remarkable woman found him the least bit attractive. Wearing tight black leather armor she was a lithe hunter in the dark while he in his chain hauberk was more of a sore thumb, although his tracking skills were nothing to scoff at. Not only was she more intelligent than he but she was so beautiful he felt a sharp pain in his conscious mind each time she looked at him. His friends had told him the feeling was guilt over knowing she could have done a lot better. He knew some of that remark was their ribbing him but he knew also that it was partly true. All that and she would possibly outlive him by centuries.
“Perhaps it is time we…”
“No, we aren’t finished here.” Yveness was ever one for details, and she was right. They hadn’t entered the Wild lands for the solitude. They had come seeking signs of a possible invading force. Their people of the United Domain of the Children of Gaea were held in disdain by some of the neighboring domains. Their ways were considered too open, accepting and free.
“Fine. Then let’s get going again before this thing’s mate finds out what we’ve done.” Ikell saluted the creature’s corpse as if it were a rival warrior. Yveness nodded and saluted as well and then they both were running north once again.
The day was getting old but here in the Wild lands there was no sunset or sunrise. One moment the sun was high in the air and the next any number of six moons had appeared in its place. It was chaos. Without the guiding hands of a pantheon there was not the opportunity for order. The elements were the only order, making it a perfect haven for the godless.
Quite some time later the two found themselves face to face with an impassible obstacle.
“This could take two days to climb down, Ikell.” Yveness crouched and leaned precariously over the edge of the sheer ravine. Ikell did the same but the amount of fauna covering the cliff’s face denied seeing to the bottom. Yveness, as always, was right, but they couldn’t waste time with this now.
“The others are expecting us back four days from now. This is as far as we go.” He said firmly. He actually had to raise his voice so that he could hear himself. A cacophony of cliff nested birds were calling out to their neighbors about the pair of two legged intruders.
Then came the expected look of rebellion from his life mate that he had come to fear and respect. She didn’t like leaving anything undone.
“We haven’t found anything yet.” She said, still peering over the edge.
“That’s supposed to be a good thing. You say it with regret, my love.”
“That’s because I’ve sensed something since we first arrived. As soon as we left the ship and felt this earth beneath our feet.”
Ikell knew better than to mock her feelings. She’d never been wrong before, and for an elf, never was a long time. Yveness was over two centuries old. That’s as much as she’d been willing to reveal about that matter. He loved her too much to care about minor things so he never pushed the issue.
“Then I suggest we use these draughts given to me by Lady Clarrissa.”
Yyveness’ head jerked up at that. “When did she give you those?”
Ikell struggled to keep his smile inward then. She was even more attractive when acting possessive.
“She gave them to me after you’d left the ship in the first group. For an elf you sure are impatient.”
“I see. What do they do?”
“They will grant us the power to fly for a quarter of daylight. We can go to the bottom and beyond and then return to this cliff before that time runs out. If there is something then it may just reveal itself when it sees us hovering overhead.” Ikell had kept the enchanted draughts secret for a reason. He wanted to impress his life mate whenever the opportunity arrived. Their age difference did come with some burden, for him at least. What could any man do for a woman who had lived for over two hundred years? She’s surely heard it and seen it all, what could a man in his early thirties do to impress a woman such as that?
“Time and again you impress me, Ikell of the Black Tiger clan.” She paused a moment to let those words sink in. “But today Clarrissa’s talents with the arcane steal your sunshine.” She smiled wide with a taunting cruel tinge. Ikell winced and he let his knees buckle like they were weakened by her words. They both laughed, for a moment forgetting the scouting mission they were on.
When they fell silent Ikell handed her a draught and they both drank it down without hesitation. Lady Clarrissa was a trueblood and thus her magic was to be trusted above all but the High Wizard himself.
When their feet lifted off the ground they laughed again and before Ikell realized what was happening she was gone. She was flying ahead of him, squealing with delight and obviously intent on beating him to the bottom of the colossal ravine. He followed awkwardly. He’d never experienced flight before and she knew it. It took a few moments of wheeling and diving but he took to the magic soon enough. This was another one of those embarrassing moments when Ikell felt small compared to his beautiful life mate. When her feet left the ground and she flew she did so like a true denizen of the wind. He tried to arrow after her but he never had a chance. He’d not have kept up with her had she given him the lead. By her smile he could see that she knew that.
Ikell stumbled and wove after her, looking like the alien to the wind that he truly was. They landed on the bottom of the crevasse before they could see it. The trees, the undergrowth and especially the wild life were extremely different than what it was on the plateau above. There it had been mildly warm with a constant breeze. Here it was stifling hot and muggy. The ground was so moist that they sank into it when they landed.
“Has it rained here since we’ve arrived?” Ikell asked.
“No. Not once. Life is completely different here. The birds and monkeys, I’ve never seen their like and these trees I could not have imagined.” The trees were peculiar. They rose up limbless like palm trees but rather than palms they looked more like thorny ferns. A yellow fruit grew from their lofty heights but none of the animals seemed to partake of its offering at all. As far as the eye could see the branches were full while birds and monkeys refused to eat them. Instead they climbed down to the ground and ate the many varied fruits, nuts and seeds given by the undergrowth and low lying fronds.
“This is amazing, Ikell.”
“Indeed. We’ve gone from temperate forests to tropical jungle in one long leap.”
“What if this entire domain was like this? The entire edge ringing the endless crevasse being one way and the bottom being another, it would be…”
“It would be unbelievably large. The diviner, Doblut, you know him don’t you?”
Yveness’ face took on a look of disgust. “Yes and I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I went to him for advice before we came here and he said that it was likely that any force trying to reach us would get lost in the Wild lands before ever getting near us. If there is something out here I doubt that it’s going to be this close.”
“Let us go on. Clearly nothing has been disturbed here.” Ikell said as he flew on and Yveness followed. A short time later they came across a wide cleared pathway.
Yveness landed on the far side of the path. “It looks like an army, both numerous and resourceful, has passed through here.” She said as he followed.
“Humans, most likely. What else can be so thoughtless of the native fauna?” Ikell responded.
“If they’re human, purely human, then you know what that means.”
“That New Babylon is coming and not just to visit.”
“We have to report this but we must find proof. Perhaps if we follow the path something will fall into our hands.” Yveness kept looking off into the distance. As if she could see the tail end of the army making their way through the primordial jungle.
“Then let us move faster. Time is growing short for those draughts.”
They leaped up and flew on and shortly they came upon a bare skeleton. The bones had been gnawed by tiny teeth until the marrow itself was taken away. The jungle was too efficient. There would be nothing left of the man’s possessions. They flew on, the constraints of time nagging at the back of their minds.
Then the tail end of a wagon train came into view. They were horseless and unmanned. There were scores of wagons all loaded full of supplies, enough to care for an army. They flew low over the wagons and slow enough to see what was coming. Finally they reached the end of the empty hulks and landed. Shock stole their breath away and the stench made them nearly vomit. They had their proof already in any one of the wagons they passed but now they had the entire story. Their feet lifted off the ground as they prepared to return to the land above.
The snaking line of warriors was strewn across the half beaten pathway ahead. Slaughtered by what looked like hundreds of thousands. There was a terrible battle and these men were clearly ambushed. Many died before they even lifted a finger. There was no sign of what killed them. Not even an attacker’s corpse. In fact not even a single scavenger had come to partake in the feast.
“Something is not right.” Yveness called over as she dodged another wagon’s cover.
“I agree. That’s why we must return with haste.” Ikell called back.
At the end of the wagon train they tore the New Babylon patch off a wagon cover and took off once again. They pushed Clarrissa’s magic as far as they could and moved so fast above the trees they could no longer speak. They spoke again when they reached the plateau above, in a loving embrace.
“All worked as you said it would.” Yveness whispered in her mate’s ear.
“Only because you were with me.” He whispered in return. Their feet lightly fell to the ground, the magic was expended. “It appears we nearly pushed things a little too close, my love.”
“No matter. We have evidence and a story to tell when we get back to the ship.” She replied.
The sun was gone and the moons had appeared. They walked swiftly by the light of four of six of the moons. Two were small in the sky but the other two, one white and the other a light yellow color were bigger than three gold coins, casting near daylight on the surface of the wild domain.
Soon the ship was in sight in the sky ahead but since it was dark those aboard wouldn’t see them on the ground. The tree canopies blocked them from sight even in the double moonlight. Still, they were glad to be so close to their friends and comrades. Others would be arriving soon and they would be glad to see a fire waiting so Ikell and Yveness worked to provide that small miracle.
The fire was lit and a writhing hell was revealed. All around them were thick glistening vines. Some were covered in spines, others in seeping thorns. They entwined the entire circle they’d chosen as a campsite. The perpetual clamor of their gathering caused a sickening sound.
Yveness and Ikell stood back to back, weapons in hand and prepared for the end.
“I love you, Yveness.”
“I love you, Ikell.”
Then the vines showed several ends of their lengths, seemed to stand at attention and then parted like a harmless curtain for a most curious being.
If she had legs she might have stood tall but instead it appeared that she’d grown from one of the long vines that carried her, naked and abnormally endowed from the waist up. Like a flower she beamed a smile toward them both. Her hair and eyes were deep green and her skin was olive pale. She held her hands out before her like they were wet, as if she’d rarely had a need to use them. When she spoke she did so haltingly, as if she’d never had the need to speak before.
“I am of the…land below. We have…followed you for we have need. Will you…sit with us and…talk?”
Yveness and Ikell let out long nervous breaths of air. It wanted to talk. Not “Prepare to die!” Or “We have come for your blood!” Instead they had come to talk. They both sat down at the fire, resting their weapons on their laps, praying they wouldn’t have to raise them again.
“What is it you wish to talk about?” Yveness, ever the brave soul, asked.
“We have been invaded by those from the north and at the same time we sensed those from the south questing along our borders. We would know what it is you and your kind is seeking.”
Ikell felt relieved. He felt the weight of the world lift from his broad shoulders. “We would be happy to tell you anything you wish to know. My life mate and I were sent to look for sign of an invading force. We feared New Babylon would attack while we are still relatively newly arrived on this world.”
“We are aware of your…kind and we have noted the difference between those of the south and those of the north. We have…no hatred for your ways. We are benevolent towards the so called Children of Gaea.”
Yveness stood and placed her sword on the ground. “And we have no desire to interfere with your kind but something that occurs because of who we are may cause others to invade your lands, if only to get through them and into our domain.”
“We know of this. Some we allow…to pass through our land but others we do not. If you respect the jungle it shall leave you…unmolested, those who are evil often cause their own destruction.”
Ikell stood beside his love. “The men from New Babylon, you killed them?”
“We killed them…and then we left them. Nothing shall feed on their corpses, not even the flies. We want that domain…to know what it means to send evil through our land.”
Ikell nodded. Her speech pattern was changing to match both his and Yveness’. This pod woman was learning each time either of them spoke. “Then know this, if ever you need the aide of the Children of Gaea you shall have it. To defend your land our people will fight for you as if you were of our blood!”
His wife nodded sharply. “Such is our nature as the Children of Gaea, and if I may be so bold, I wouldn’t doubt that you know Gaea and her blessed seven.” Yveness held her arms out as if ready to embrace.
The pod woman smiled, or tried to with a modicum of success. “We know your thoughts, child, so know you this. We are akin to your goddess…but we are not kin to her first pantheon at all. We are more sisters than mother or daughter. Just as Gaea was the living embodiment of your Earth, I am the living embodiment of Kole. I am much older than she, unimaginably so.”
Yveness and Ikell both fell to their knees, appalled that they hadn’t done so earlier. Ikell didn’t look up as he apologized. “Forgive us, blessed mother, we are ignorant savages.”
The mother of Kole stopped his groveling with a smile. “No, that is not true. Your kind are the finest of all Gaea’s creations. Flocking together no matter blood nor race and embracing the eldest pantheon of your world, which had been forgotten by all. Your kind were created at the beginning, sent to protect others so they could grow and evolve on their own. We respect that.”
Ikell and Yveness were speechless. The enormity of what was surrounding their little meaningless campsite was overwhelming. What now was worth saying at all?
“We know your thoughts, Ikell and Yveness. We thank you for your kindness and we shall call upon your people if we have the need. We shall now return your friends to you.”
Heavy limbs slowly leaned forth from the net of vines beyond the firelight. They bore bodies upon them. Gently the curled giant leaves set the men and women down and each appeared to be no more than sound asleep. There were dwarves, elves, humans, some native to Kole and others native to a world called Earth. There were half breeds of every sort, gnomes, a giant and even a foul smelling goblin. Each one of them was from a different background and had very little in common with the rest. But each one had risen at the same call, a common people with a common cause.
Earth had been saved and the Children had nearly died to the last. Now there was a new world but it was the same cause. Chaos must be combated at every turn and for the Children that chaos often took on the form of demons and their kind, the beasts that walked between the domains.
Ikell looked up with glee and didn’t even bother to check on his sleeping friends. He knew they were unharmed. He looked to the pod woman, smiled and said, “It is good we have spoken, thank you, blessed mother.”
“Yes, it is good.” The massive vine that bore her began to back out of the area, then stopped suddenly.
“One more thing. The last of the men from New Babylon have been slain or chased away from our land. Both our domains are safe again.” Then she once again backed out of the area.
Yveness and Ikell couldn’t look away from where she then disappeared from sight. They knew they’d encountered and even bargained with what was even more than a god. They had been judged worthy of living by a being older than any other, here at the center of the universe. Tears rolled down their faces long before their friends began to stir and stretch where they lay. When the ten other scouts awoke they saved the story for the morning when they were lifted back up to the ship. It was a smaller vessel that could sail safely in water or air. Its method of flight was through several strategically placed jets of flame, each burning at a constant temperature. Its fuel was a secret the truebloods brought with them from Earth. The high priest, Krosten had given them the secret just before he died. The old man was responsible for saving the Children but he never got to see their final destination. His wisdom still influenced them in everything they did though and his name would be remembered by all. Even by those who never met him, like themselves.
Not long later the tale had been relayed and the ship turned back for home, its jets hissing like hungry vampires. Ikell and Yveness held onto each other as if their lives depended on it and when they returned home they told and retold their tale countless times. The city leaders made them official envoys to the Wild lands that lay on the northern border. If at any time the Mother of Kole did call they would be first to heed her. They wept together when they were given that priceless gift, and not long later another priceless gift was on the way and the envoys acted as scouts no longer.
As Children of Gaea their truest duty to their kind was to procreate. They were a people devastated and nearly extinct. The only way they could survive was to accept others into the fold. If one passed the test they were joined with the Children by blood. If they didn’t pass…they died.
Their child though would not have to take that test. It was born a trueblood and was the most precious of all.
The child was born and another future Demonslayer was prepared for a life of struggle and adventure. The child was hardly grown by three years when the fated call one day came. The Mother of Kole sent a message and wished to speak with the Children of Gaea. The envoys must appear. Ikell and Yveness were summoned and sent immediately to the Wild land’s border.
It wasn’t long after they touched the ground that the first massive vines appeared and brought the jungle with it. When they were surrounded by a wall of vegetation, both menacing and comforting, the Mother of Kole arrived.
They fell to their knees as she spoke to them. “They have returned but with new ways, new weapons against our kind. Only some of us can even approach them now. We need your assistance.” She had perfected their language and now spoke it as if she were royalty.
“Of course, Kole Mother, our people shall be happy to aid you.” Ikell began.
“Not your people, Ikell. We need you and your life mate.”
“Forgive me, but how could such as we aid you on our own?” Yveness asked as gracefully as she could manage. A nervous feeling, a familiar feeling crept up her spine and infected her belly then.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” She said as Ikell stood and addressed the divine being.
“If you could just explain to us what it is we can do I am sure we can manage whatever you may need.” The older he grew the more of a diplomat he’d become.
The pod woman smiled and nodded, likely mannerisms stolen from their last encounter. “We need your seed and egg so that we may unravel Gaea’s creations. We will create our own protectors. One’s that will be immune to this new threat.”
Ikell waited for a moment then looked to his beloved. She walked up beside him and took his hand.
“If this is something that will save our kind from having to fight a war then it is something we must consider.” She said into his ear for him alone.
“How would you accomplish this, would we be slain?” Ikell asked, knowing in his heart that no matter the reply he would be tempted nonetheless.
The pod borne goddess seemed to search for the right words for a moment. “Neither of you will be hurt, nor will you be separated.” From behind her a massive vine unfurled a giant leaf. “I will place you both in a trance and here on this vine will you rest. After a time when you have shared the most intimate of moments I will bring you back here and send you home.” Her smile was so convincing, so full of hope and promise. She truly meant them no harm, that much they were both willing to believe. If they were going to live or even be released when Mother Kole got what she needed was the part where they recoiled. Yet this was no cunning devil trying to trick their souls from them, this was a world goddess. Her word was truth for there was no reason for her to lie.
Yveness stood up tall and looked her beloved in the eyes as she replied, “We would be happy to do this for you.”
Ikell felt the muscles in his back coil and bunch. He usually hated agreeing to Yveness’ split decisions without even a proper argument. For once he actually agreed with her. The opportunity was mutually beneficial after all and it was his and her job as envoys to make decisions like these.
Together, hand in hand, the two lovers stepped onto the outstretched leaf and lie down. The Mother of Kole looked on with satisfaction. She waved a hand and a cloud of spores billowed from her fingertips. Ikell and Yveness were too engrossed with one another to see the stuff coming. They inhaled it and immediately fell into a daze. The leaf carefully wrapped them up and began to retreat from the area. Mother Kole followed and then the rest until nothing remained but a confused crew aboard a nearby ship.
They’d been ordered to wait for the envoy, but there was no envoy or anything else once the mass of vegetation moved away. The crew never saw the tree tops bend and lean toward their vessel. They couldn’t hear them either due to the whine of the hover jets. They only knew they were falling, some of them having had entire branches thrust in and then pulled out of their midsections. Then they were dead.
Yveness and Ikell were never seen nor heard from again. Innumerable other scouting parties searched the Wild lands for them but to no avail. No matter the skill of the scout they always got turned around and never got close to New Babylon. Talented spell users were successful in gaining information though. New Babylon had indeed mounted a massive attack on the Wild lands and at first they’d been victorious on every front. But some time during the assault the Wild lands sprang to life with an endless army of a menagerie of creatures. Each one connected to a vine or flower by a life sustaining tether. These new combatants were immune to the plant destroying chemicals the humans had created and thus turned the tide of battle. New Babylon was defeated once again.
^ ^ ^
Icleanes, the trueblood daughter of Ikell and Yveness, wondered for years if one day her parents would return. Eventually she no longer wondered. She lost hope and moved on. She met a good man, not a trueblood like her, but a good man. She planned to marry him and all was well with the world.
One day Icleanes was alone at a fountain in the city of New Slayaria. When she heard her father’s voice she recognized it immediately. Her mother she knew when she turned around. They‘d returned! Thirty years to the date and they had come home at last. They both wore smiles on faces covered with tears. Icleanes embraced them and they wept as one, not for the first time, but it had been too long by far. It was when she began to pull her arms away that Icleanes noticed the vine-like tethers of pulsing life that were connected to her parent’s necks. They had a sickly green tint to their skin also. The sudden fear and doubt in her eyes must have been evident because their shoulders slumped and their chin’s dropped. Where they of their own mind? Could they be?
“Mother, Father, prove to me who you are. What did you name me?” She waited, lips parted, hope and fear her tugging every which way.
Yveness lifted her head up and smiled. “Icleanes, it was a combination of both our names and that of Kleana, goddess of love and death. It was our gift to our goddess in thanks for the gift she gave us both.”
“It is us, dear Icleanes.” Ikell pleaded. “Mother Kole granted us this boon. Before we died we wanted to see you.”
“And we wanted to tell you we love you and we are proud of you. We have been watching you all along, thanks to Mother Kole.” Yveness said.
Icleanes embraced her parents again, tears blurring her vision. Wrapped tight in her arms she heard her father say, “We wanted to be buried near where we fell in love. We wanted to be close to you if we return as petitioners.”
Then she felt them both go limp in her arms. Too heavy to hold on her own she tried to gently help them fall to the ground, knowing but denying the truth. They were dead.
The tethers were separated and pulling away like recoiling snakes. Her parents, heroes of the entire domain of Nessir’ Ve, had come home to die. For just one moment in time she was not alone. She would cherish that moment until the end of her long life. As much as they’d been through, Ikell and Yveness had found the strength to return home to their daughter at last. Kleana be praised, Icleanes thought with wonder, with true love had come not just a death, but a powerful ending.
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