Glass no Kamen: The Legend of Shadow Prologue
By Nihon Soba
She was running.
However, they were gaining on her with every step. She had not the physical endurance to bear escaping like this, but her will kept her going when it felt like her legs would fail her. Even though it seemed beyond hope, she would not give up.
She was of noble blood, from Doma. Her name was Leyla Teresa Delano, from a family line of the Protectors of the Kingdom, along with select few noble families, such as BloodBane and Garamonde. The only woman of her family, Leyla knew that she was destined to marry a person of equally noble blood, the only thing that a woman of her kind was capable of. The rigid system of Doma, that had survived for centuries in the past, would not allow any other option. Still, that did not keep Leyla from her dreams of being a Knight... and by no means was this woman a blushing, modest maiden, no matter how she had been brought up. There was a fire in her eyes every time she was angry, and her heart raced not at the sight of noblemen, but at her daydreams of being a Knight, the first female Knight of Doma. Warriors Spirit, it was said that she had within her. A spirit that would thrive no matter what the gender of the carrier.
It was this spirit, and nothing else, that kept Leyla Delano running from her captors.
Leyla could hear the running footsteps of the gang of brigands behind her advance nearer, ever so slowly. Though she had the proper training of weaponry that was required of all citizens of Doma, regardless of gender or status, she had only one dagger. And it was only a last resort option. If she happened to be unable to run anymore, she wouldnt give up without a fight.
The brigands had attacked the escorted carriage that she was in, one that was leading her from the port city of Nikeah back to her home in Doma. The caravan was guarded by two Knights, both new recruits yet efficient. But no one had been expecting a raid of this magnitude. There were at least ten bandits when the carriage was attacked, minus two or four when the Knights stepped in. But the Knights had been killed by the overwhelming numbers, despite their training. And that left only Leyla.
There she is! Cmon, lads! Weve gots us some fine pickings tonight! yelled a rough voice, coming from behind. A chorus of hoots and jeers followed, and the sound of cold steel could be heard being drawn from a scabbard. Leyla tried her best to ignore what was happening and only concentrated on getting ahead. Her escape had led her to a forest, where she thought that she would find sufficient cover. The trees cast dark shadows that contrasted the bright daylight, and it would been easier to obscure her tracks than it would be on the tall grass of the plain that she was treading upon. Taking a deep breath, Leyla plunged into the dark forest.
She could still hear the voices of the bandits behind her, faintly, as she ran. Her elegant dress was catching on to the nearby bushes and tree branches, leaving shreds of brightly colored cloth in her wake. Leyla looked back at the trail of clothing, stopping to take a breather. She did not hear the bandits; they must have either given up or have decided to wait on the outskirts of the forest until she came out. Either way, she was safe. She knew how to take care of herself.
Agh! Damn... Leyla muttered as her dress yet again caught onto a tree branch. There was a rip, and another piece of cloth stuck to the branch. She was leaving a trail, one that the bandits could easily follow if they ventured into the forest. This will not do, thought Leyla. She removed her dirk from one of her leather boots, footwear that her parents had not wanted her to use. Mans clothing, they had called it. But Leyla did not care. She despised and detested the rigid society of Doma, with their ancient ways. She had ventured outside of the kingdom, unbeknownst to her parents, and found a whole new world. A world of machinery and technology, of free towns and bustling ports. Of night skies without the walls of Doma castle always in view, of places where a woman was considered a mans equal, or of an even higher status. The world had captured Leylas heart, and from that moment on she had vowed to escape the prison of Doma and go wherever she pleased, a free spirit at last.
I wonder what my parents would think of me now, thought Leyla, as she looked down at her dirty and tattered dress, the scratches on her face from branches that grazed her face as she ran from the bandits. She gave a slight grin, the answer to her question all too clear. Leyla grasped the hilt of the dagger firmly, bringing it to her arms, the blade ripping through the thin cloth, tearing the sleeves of her dress off. Sequined cloth fell to the ground, mingling with the other strips of clothing torn off by nature. Next, she took the blade and ripped her flowing dress off, revealing a pair of short leather breeches she had concealed beneath. They fit snugly, and offered her legs more freedom than the restricting dress did. Yet another garment that her family would have frowned upon.
With that done, Leyla put the dirk back into her boot, and then undid the ribbon keeping her hair in a ponytail. Her auburn hair fell to her shoulders in a wave, shimmering as did her jade-green eyes. Her exhaustion passed, she decided that it would be best for her to move on. Doma was out of the question: she would not go back there even if it was her only way to be safe. No, it would be best to try out one of the nearby towns. Mobliz was a good choice, it being the nearest one. She would have to pass through the Veldt, with its fierce creatures and wastelands, but she was not worried. She had survived a brigand attack and escaped them when pursued, and was still in one piece. Before she left, Leyla had hidden all of her torn clothing in a bush, in order to keep the bandits off her tail.
The forest seemed endless, just a mass of trees and vegetation. The only light was from the canopy, which was so dense that it allowed only a few rays of sunlight to penetrate through it. The light was sufficient enough to see, however. Leyla crept through the woods, barely making a noise as she stealthily crept. She had a nagging sense of dread that would simply not abandon her. She wanted to make it out of the forest before nightfall, for it would be harder to see then. Plus, she had heard stories from different people. Ones that are laughed at and viewed with humor on the spot, but once in the situation, come back to haunt you. Stories of the dead that walk, of ghosts and flesh-eating ghouls that roam the forests at night, spirits of ones who had passed away ages ago. Leyla tried to keep such thoughts out of her mind as she crept on, removing her dirk from her boot and gripping it tightly in her right hand.
Time had passed, and still Leyla Delano was in the dark forest, growing darker as the day passed on. She was lost, and she knew it. Still, she did not whimper like a simpering girl; she kept a straight face, however much her fears plagued her, and moved on.
There was a noise. Almost like... a moan of some sort. Following it were the clanking of chains, echoing through the twilight of the forest. Leyla paused, not making a sound, every muscle in her firm body tensed like a spring. She waited for the noise to be heard again, for her fears to at least be tangible, able to be related with. But there was nothing. The forest was silent as it had been when Leyla had entered it.
She gasped. The forest had been silent... No forest is silent. There are at least a few birds chirping, deer and small mammals about. And always there was the sound of insects tending to their daily chores. But there were no sounds in this forest. No bird sang, nor insect buzzed. It was almost completely silent, except for the wind rustling through the trees, and for Leylas own heartbeat, which she could hear as clearly as it were a gong. The silence was unearthly, almost like a tomb...
There was the noise again. The moan was more feverish, high pitched. The clanking of chains grew louder, and Leyla could hear more. Whispering voices floated by her ear, too quiet to be heard, but sounding deadly. Leyla, for the first time since she was a child, felt cold fear. Suddenly the stories told to her were real, as real as the ground she was walking on, or as the blood which pumped fast through her veins. There was a silhouette of an object in the distance, a large object but not visible enough in the darkness.
Leylas breathing quickened, and against her will, she whimpered softly in the cold darkness. A whispering voice slid past her, adding to her fears, and the clanking of chains could be heard, getting louder every moment. She could not move, paralyzed by fear, shivering and curled up in a ball in the woods. Through a haze of tears, the object in the distance seemed to become clearer, almost as if the fear was enhancing her vision somewhat. It was a train. And suddenly, Leyla Teresa Delano knew where she was.
The whisper was heard with complete clarity as it slid by her once again. The moaning sound was not heard, but the sound of chains was definitely audible, getting closer every minute. Dark shapes, pitch black even against the shadows in which they dwelled, stirred. Cold wind blew through the trees, and suddenly the forest was silent no more.
The Phantom Forest, where the dead walked at night. The Phantom Forest, where the souls of the departed were brought to the other side. Where no one who entered at night lived to see the light of day. The Phantom Forest...
...warmth... we remember...
A hideous sight appeared in Leylas vision. Out of the shadows appeared a spectre. The apparition was dressed in rotting linen, its hair pure white, its flesh drawn tightly across its prominent cheekbones. On the Spectres wrists were rusted and corroded iron shackles, long rusted chains attached to them, dragging across the ground as the spectre floated nearer, creating the sound which had haunted her for the past hour...
Without a scream, Leyla bolted away from the floating spirit, using every ounce of courage within her to get her moving, temporarily banishing the fear within her in order for her to escape. If there was only one thing in the world that frightened Leyla, it was the living dead. Leyla knew what happened to those who encountered such apparitions or living corpses, and she would rather die a thousand deaths by the sword than have that happen to her. Dimly, she remembered a quote from a mercenary she had heard in the bar of Nikeah: Ill fight the living any day, but not the dead!
The angry moan of the spectre followed Leyla as she ran, growing fainter and fainter as she ran further. The disembodies voices whispered curses and damnations into her ears, and it was only through her Warriors Spirit and her will to live that she was able to run. The darkness was pierced, and the pale light of the moon could be seen in the distance, the trees bending over the exit as if to block it, to keep her in this world of living death forever. With a sob, Leyla hurled herself out of the Phantom Forest, landing hard on the grassy ground, safe from the undead which were confined to the forest. She lay there for a few minutes, gasping, trying to force back memories that would haunt her for the rest of her life. The moon was full in the dark blue night sky, illuminating the countryside with pale white light. Leyla pushed herself to her feet, determined to get to Mobliz before her disappearance from Doma would attract unwanted attention. She was south of the forest, Barren Falls being a short distance away. Leyla had heard of people using the waterfalls to get them to the Veldt, where Mobliz was. It was an isolated town, untouched by the rest of the world. From what she heard, they still used carrier pidgeons as a means of communication. Perfect.
Leyla started walking, nearing the waterfalls in the distance. There was no forest, but there were a few trees that dotted the countryside. It was on one of these trees that Leyla slumped against, exhausted. She would rest briefly, for even on the plains there were creatures to be reckoned with, ones that would see a lone traveler as easy food. She ran a hand through her hair, working out knots and tangles in it.
There was a thump upon the grass. Leyla got up quickly, ready for anything. A bandit, one of the same who had dispatched her escorts, stood in front of her, leering. He snapped his fingers, and from various trees five other brigands lept down. The lead one chuckled, brandishing a sword slick with blood.
Well, girlie, seems we got ya at last. he said in a deep voice, grinning. The other bandits slowly closed in on her, blades drawn. The leader, sword extended blade-first toward Leyla, started advancing up to her. The tip of his blade touched her throat, and she flinched briefly but made no other gesture of weakness. She adopted a proud and defiant gaze, staring the leader in the eye, challenging Death.
Kill me if you wish, Leyla whispered harshly, speaking in what seemed to be the first time during the bandit attack. but I will not yield.
The leader laughed, a sound echoed by his cohorts. Kill? he said, bemused. Yeah, I suppose well eventually do that... he grabbed her by the collar of her dress (what was left of it) on her neck, and tugged fiercely. ...but not before we ave a bit o fun, eh lads? The dress ripped, revealing enough milky skin to whip the thieves in a frenzy. The leader leaned closer to her, whispering.
Been a long while since Ive been with a woman, he said, motioning to his comrades to grab her arms behind her. I know you know what I want, girlie... he said hoarsely, placing leather-gloved hands on her head, forcing her down to a kneeling position. He grinned down at her, fumbling with the straps to his leather breeches. In one hand, he still held the sword. I feel teeth, and yer brains get impaled on this. he said.
Leyla already had an escape plan in mind. Luckily, due to her kneeling position, she could still reach back into her boot for her dirk. She had no intention in carrying out this mans filthy intentions. However, she knew just how to act in order to distract them.
Certainly. she said in a husky voice, feigning lust. The other bandits hooted and jeered, all anxious for their own turn. While they were preoccupied, Leyla slowly reached back into her boot, holding the handle of her dagger in two fingers. She playfully (feeling extreme disgust, however) nibbled on the mans fingers, still in their leather gloves, as she secretly gripped the blade with one hand. The bandit was already in a frenzy of lust, waiting for what he thought to be the inevitable. Leyla looked him in the eye... then plunged her dirk upward. The bandits scream echoed throughout the night, and with that distraction Leyla was able to break free from her captors, bloody dagger in her hand, running away from the scene. Behind her, the bandit leader clutched his bleeding abdomen, moaning and slumping to the ground. Leyla ran as fast as she could, trying to make it to Barren Falls before they caught up with her...
Twang! Pain shot up through Leylas leg, and she fell to the ground, biting her tongue to keep her from crying in pain. There was a crossbow bolt buried deep in her calf, blood running freely down her ankle. She could not run like this. Leyla cursed, chastising herself, wincing in pain. Stupid of me to think they didnt have any expert marksmen...
Several of the remaining bandits were already at her side, the rest tending to their dying leader. One of them, hate in his gaze, kicked her hard in the chest. Leyla yelped involuntarily. Two of the other bandits took their revenge as well, one kicking her in the gut, while the other grabbed her and punched her in the face. Through a haze of blood, she could barely see what was happening. Her head was spinning, and pain exploded throughout her body. Dimly, she could hear their fragmented curses.
get you for our boss...
..deserve to die!...
...gonna kill you!...
The bandits had now stopped their assault on Leyla. She coughed, spitting out blood, stinging pain coming from a cut on her lip. Her gut and chest hurt too much when she moved, and it felt like one of her ribs were broken. One of the bandits that had held her back now walked right in front of her, anger in his gaze. He then chuckled.
Howzit feel, girl?
Leyla, despite her pain, spit on the mans face in hatred. He seemed as if he would kill her right then, but merely chuckled again, wiping bloody spittle from his face.
Well, youre pretty messed up, girlie, he said, squatting down to look her in the eye. but that still doesnt mean we cant have any fun! with that, the other bandits cheered. One of them kicked the dagger from Leylas hand, sending it flying through the air where it landed blade-first into the soft earth. Leyla couldnt move: she couldnt fight back even if she had the dagger. Defiant to the end, she squirmed and kicked, hissing and spitting like a rabid animal. The bandit chuckled, pushing his sweaty body against hers, grabbing her jaw with a gloved hand, forcing it open and gagging her with a dirty rag. He took hold of her leather breeches and forcibly began to remove them.
Gonna have some fun tonight, boys! he said triumphantly when he was done. The other bandits cheered as he straddled her battered body. Leyla tried to fight back, but she was too weary. She closed her mind to what was happening to her, and blacked out.
Renner was a ranger.
Not related to the forest folk, but he had taken a liking to them, nonetheless. He was a tall man, with flaming red hair and brown eyes, bird feathers and beads woven into his hair. He had acquaintances with the druids and dryads, and knew exactly how to get by in the forests of the world. He had ventured into the Phantom Forest, and came out intact, although some of the sights he witnessed stuck with him for the rest of his life. Still, that did not stop Renner.
On this particular morning he had been out gathering plant roots and stalking wild game. He had bagged himself a nice, healthy deer. The arrow he used was razor sharp, and the beast didnt even feel it as it punctured its heart. The deer was at his cabin in the woods, waiting to be cleaned and skinned. None of the magnificent beast would go to waste. Renner had been thinking of the food that awaited him as he picked out some fibery roots of certain plants, until he heard the moan.
It was a womans voice, however dry and hoarse. His ears pricked up, and he sniffed the air. The coppery tang of blood, very faint, could be smelt coming from the north. Renner ran as fast as he could to where the scent was coming from. After a distance shorter than a mile, he came across the person he had heard.
It was a woman. Her clothes were in tatters, and she lay on the ground curled up in a ball, whimpering softly. Blood caked her thigh, where it looked as if an arrow or bolt had been hastily removed. There were bruises all over her arms and exposed chest, and her leather breeches bore telltale marks of sword slashes, looking as if they had been harshly removed then placed back on. Renner was instantly at the womans side, gently stroking her face, to get a response out of her that she was indeed alive. The woman turned her head ever so slowly, looking at him with a face that bore marks of slaps and beatings. A tear slid down her cheek as she cringed at his touch. Renner cursed. Must have been some brigands that did this to her. Damn them!
Its okay, Im not going to hurt you the ranger said softly as he gently picked up the woman. Ill take you to a friend of mine. Shes a druid, and she can help you. So just bear with me, okay? I promise I wont hurt you. the girl made only the smallest sound of complaint as Renner lifted her up. He began walking in the direction of his cabin, in a nearby forest.
Jasla hummed to herself as she collected holly berries from a nearby plant. She was a dryad, a female druid. Or at least she used to be one, until she met Renner, her fiancee. Still, she retained her old skills. Herb lore, knowledge of runes and of druidic ceremonies. Her hair was shimmering green, like grass wet with dew. Her eyes were hazel-brown, like the wood of the ancient trees. She wore a robe of gray cloth that she had spun herself, and she had also helped Renner build this cabin. By no means was she a weakling.
Jasla, or Jaz as she was called by her lover, was near the cabin, and Renner would be home soon. He had brought by a deer which he had felled recently, and placed it in his basement, saying that he would be back soon. She sighed. Jasla made a small prayer to the gods of the forest to guide the deers departed soul to the Other Side, then gathered up the holly berries and entered the cabin. Her lover would be home shortly. Jasla understood the desire for her fiancee to be in the outdoors for long periods of the day, however much she missed him when he was gone. But he would be back. He always came back.
The door of the cabin was kicked open, and Renner entered, bearing a bruised and battered female in his arms. He gently placed her on a soft couch, making sure that she was comfortable. He motioned for his fiancee to come nearer, worry etched in his face. Jasla immediately rushed to his side, looking at the girl whom Renner had brought in.
Bandits? she said worriedly, her hand brushing aside a lock of green hair. Renner nodded, frowning.
Those bastards... he muttered darkly.
Jasla needed no further explanation. Bandit raids were not uncommon in these parts, and the two had helped others who had crossed the brigands before. Hurriedly, she began to prepare a potion from foul-smelling leaves, one that would ease the girls pain. The wounds looked serious, and there might not be much time left to save her. She brought the concoction in a bowl near the girl, who looked very weak.
Please, drink this. said Jasla, in a soothing voice. It will help ease your pain... she looked sadly at the young woman, bruised and battered. She turned toward her fiancee. Please, give me a few moments alone with her.
Renner nodded. He understood why, and did not question his lover. He got up and exited the cabin, waiting outside. Once outside, he shook his head. He had doubts that this girl would live long, she was beaten badly. He would have to contact her family, and break the news to them... who ever she was, it did not matter. He and Jasla always helped people besieged by cutthroats.
The cabins door opened slightly, a signal that Renner could come back in now. He entered the cabin and closed the door behind him. On the couch the girl still lay, though most of her wounds have been cleaned and her clothes removed and replaced with linen sheets. Jasla steadfastly stood by her side, spoon feeding her the potion, preparing a poultice in order to help mend the wounds. The girl seemed a little better now, in fact she was struggling, trying to sit herself up.
Jasla gently placed her hands on the girls shoulders, easing her down. You mustnt move, she said softly. The girl either didnt hear that or she ignored it. She tried to get up again, but to no avail. Pain in her ribs forced her to lie back down, coughing.
Renner stepped in. What is your... your family name? he asked kindly. So we may contact them, so that they know what had happened...
The girl looked at him, opened her mouth to speak, and hissed in pain from the stinging cut in her lip. She licked her dry lips and spoke.
Leyla... Te...Teresa Delano. From Doma... but that was all that the girl could say, for she fell back upon the makeshift bed, exhausted.
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