The Vanrai's Last Stand

This is an old story I found in an almost lost documents folder. I think i wrote it during my last year at school. Re-reading it, I cringed a little at some of the cliches I had used, but there is a little bit of a story and maybe a few good lines. Let me know what you think and maybe I'll pick it back up again.

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1. The Embers

 

A fire burned on an empty hill. Orange and red flames danced in patterns the eye could not follow. A blackened branch fell slowly to pieces, its once healthy skin crumbling away in the heat of the fire. Sparks flew from the blaze, only to be stopped by a small wall of earth and stones that encircled it.

 

The fire began to crackle and the flames danced to this new song, spreading higher in the air, engulfing the previously untouched wood. The shadow of a man began to appear hazily on the hillside, the moving flames making the image indistinct. The fire grew larger, reaching the height of a large man, and the shadow moved towards it.

 

In the yellowy light the shade disappeared and was replaced by the tall striking figure of a man. His features could not be seen and his dark fur lined cloak hid his body, but a sword, wrapped in black rags and attached to his back, showed him for a fighter. The figure knelt to the ground, removed his hands from inside his cloak, and attempted to dig a clump of dirt from the hills frozen and lifeless earth.

 

He struggled and eventually reached for a dagger at his waist, still covered with soil from building the wall around the fire, and used its sharp edge to loosen the earth. Taking the desired handful of soil he stood again and turned to face the growing blaze. He threw the contents of his hand into the flames, which seemed to react as if it had been fed, growing and burning with renewed vigour. The dancers in the fire began to move together, connecting, their dance interweaving until all were moving in unison.

 

‘I have given you fire! I have given you air! Now I have given you earth.’ Roared the man. ‘Only water remains, and that will spell the end of my need for you.’

 

The flames began to flicker, changing from red and orange to a pure white and the night seemed to retreat from the ferocious light.

 

‘Will you not come forth? Have I not given you the power of the elements? Am I not of the Vanrai people?’ His eyes moved now from the starless night sky to the fire.

 

The dancers were moving faster now, dancing in rings, mocking the mortal who defied the Spirits with his ritual. The man, although only paces away form the blaze, began to turn cold, his insides freezing in an instant. 

 

‘Do you not owe your life to my people? Come forth! Let us no longer play these games.’

 

Silence. The roar of the fire began to die, the unison in the dance was breaking and the flames began to fall. Shadows began to encircle the man and a child laughing could be heard in the distance.

 

‘Show yourself to me. I am the champion of the Vanrai and to the Vanrai you owe a life debt. You will come when I command.’ The man’s voice had changed, the authoritative tone was gone and had been replaced by a note of panic, terror even.

 

‘Show yourself’ he whispered, his courage failing. The grip on his dagger became stronger, reassurance being sought from the weapons dead weight in his hand, even though he knew no weapon he possessed could harm the Spirits that he tried to summon this night.

 

‘You owe me…’ Again his voice was but a whisper, not even reaching his own ears. The child’s laughter began to grow louder. It was joined by a new sound, the chilling laughter of many men; the child’s laughter could soon not be heard above this new sound. The man began to picture hundreds of Spirits all standing around him, laughing at his efforts, ready to slay him for disturbing their peace. He tried to speak but the words would not come, where as before he had been so sure of himself he now began to realise the harsh taste of failure.

 

‘You owe…’ No more words would come. Looking around he saw nothing but shadows. The fire had returned to its original size, the dancers were no longer, replaced by vicious flames that struck outwards, as if possessed, trying to pass the earthen ring. And then the fire failed; only embers and a blackened mess of wood and ashes remained. The embers desperately tried to cling to life but a light breeze put out their orange glow. The warrior saw himself as the embers, the Spirits that he feared the wind. He would be unable to defend himself and his life would be ended with such little ease.  

 

The wind picked up, howling in the empty night. A terrible foreboding passed over the man who had fallen to his knees, this time involuntarily. It was not just the impending death he expected at any time that had washed the colour from his face; but that now he knew he had been wrong. He had sought to save the Vanrai and had placed such hope in this encounter, yet now his dreams were falling like the leaves from the trees.

 

The Vanrai would die, their traditions and heritage gone in the passing of the wind. The small army that still protected the city of Kamichi would receive no aid. They could hold out for no more than a month and then they would be overrun, the men would be slain and the women and children sold into slavery. He pictured his wife; he could see her in their house, smiling as she put their daughter in to bed. He saw the City, magnificent in all its glory, the center of the world.  

 

 The wind grew stronger, forcing the man further into his cloak. Nothing could be heard over the ferocious howl of the storm now, it screamed as it struck the hillside, scattering the ashes of the fire and pushing the man onto his face. The noise meant that the fighter did not hear himself voicing his fear in screams and sobs.

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