Welcome, Traveler

An introduction to a new story I'm writing- first 5,000 words for nanowrimo competition.

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1. Welcome

Welcome, young traveler. Come, sit down. Do not be afraid- I won’t hurt you. You may call me Nissa- I don’t insist on formalities here.

    Please, make yourself comfortable. There is always room for more at my fire. I’m sure you will not be the only one seeking answers tonight. Oh, do not look so surprised! Everyone comes here for one reason or another. See, here come more now. Welcome, travelers. Sit with me a while. There is plenty of food for all.

    You are all here for information, are you not? Yes, I can see the questions in your eyes. Information about the old ones? Or will it be stories tonight?

    You wish for a story? About the old ones? I see. I am here to please. I will gladly tell you.

    You ask me what I know of the old ones? Much. I have compared many stories, and been sought out by many. When the wisdom of the wise fails, the people always revert to the sages. As I said, I am here to please.

    Ah, we have a late arrival. Welcome, child. Are you not rather young to be traveling in this world alone? But who am I to question your motives. Sit. Join us.

    Forgive me for inquiring, but the mark on your face looks familiar, child. Perhaps I have seen it before- but on another face, not yours. Where have you come by such an interesting scar?

    I see you do not wish to tell me. Your face speaks for you. Very well, child. I will inquire no further. Please, take no offense. It was simply a matter of curiosity. 

    Ah, forgive me, my mind wanders. You are here to hear of the old ones, not listen to the ramblings of a sage. Come, sit closer, for the fire is warm and the night is cold. Lend me your ears, and you will hear of the old ones. The fire burns brightly- look into it, and you will see. The light hurts your eyes? Do not worry. The glare will fade in just a moment. Look closely. Yes, even you, traveler. Come, blink the water from your eyes, and see.

    It begins with a cry. Can you hear it? Yes, I can see it in your faces. A wail in the night, like that of a newborn child. The purest and most innocent of sounds- the sound of one born blameless. It shatters the silence of the night. A winter’s night, much like this one. New snow has fallen, coating the world in white. It shines like silver. Can you see it?

    The cry is of the first of the old ones. They call her Silena. So strange, isn’t it? Yes, the first old one was born blameless, just as any other newborn babe. 

    The snow shakes. Trembles. From a hidden hill, Silena bursts forth into the winter night. Can you imagine her? She looks like no other old one. You have seen them in shades of red, blue, black, and green. But Silena, ah, she is like no other. She shines silver, from snout to tail tip. Silver like the new moon. She is alone, and her cry breaks the night apart.

    Ah, but she is not alone. Does that surprise you? Yes, I can see it does. There is a second old one, pulling herself from the snow. While Silena glows the purest silver, her sister is of a gold hue. Her name is Esperia, and Silena huddles close to her for warmth. The two cry together, their wails piercing the night. They are cold and lost. Alone in a foreign place.

    Where did they come from? Ah, that is something we do not know. No no, do not be angry. As a sage, it is my honor to provide knowledge, and explain that which I know. I cannot explain that which I do not understand, and I cannot tell of that which I do not know. To do so would make me the greatest of fools. And you all would be the same, to take the word of an ignorant simpleton, who preaches of that which he does not know. Ah, but we are wandering away from the old ones again. 

    Ah, I see you have a question, child. It burns in your eyes like a fire. Come, out with it. Questions unspoken are pointless, and they simply haunt the wonderer. Come now, speak.

    Ah now, what is this? You doubt my story? My credibility? Then tell me, child, if you do not believe, then why are you still here? You accepted my invitation. Therefore, a part of you continues to believe. A part of you sits here openly, without doubts. Let that part come forth, or leave. Your choices are not mine. 

    Ah, I see you are choosing to listen. Tell me, what makes you doubt?

    The birth of the old ones? Tell me child, why does that surprise you? Even creatures of rage are born into innocence. Nothing is born inherently evil. 

    I see curiosity in your eyes, traveler. Tell me, what do you wish to know?

    Ah, of course. You wish to know why the old ones are as they are. Patience. That part will come shortly. The patient are rewarded. The impatient will always hunger. If you are patient, your questions will be satisfied. 

    Now, let me return to my story. Return your eyes to the fire. 

    Silena and Esperia search for a home. You can see them, can you not? Two of them, so small, so desperate. Almost pathetic. Their wings are curled closely to their sides- they have not yet learned how to fly.

    I see sympathy in your eyes, traveler. Interesting. Surely you have heard of the disasters caused by the old ones. Surely it would have been simpler if they had died that night. 

    Ah, child, you speak again? What is it this time? No, you need not speak. I know what troubles your mind this time. You hate the old ones. The pain and anger in your eyes speaks for you. They have touched your life in some way. Do I speak correctly? Perhaps you wish that Silena and Esperia had died that night, am I correct?

    Yes, you believe this too. Yet they were nothing more than babies, abandoned in a hostile world with only each other for comfort. Yes,they were the first of the old ones, but they were pure. Innocent. They did not deserve death. 

    You doubt me? Let me continue the story.

    They find no shelter, no matter where they run. Finally, they lie defeated in the snow. 

    No, traveler, they do not die. Wait. Be patient. 

    You see, they are made of stronger stuff than the elements. Inside of them, a warm fire burns. As they sleep and the moon shines on them, the fire burns so brightly that they glow like stars.

    i see the fire grows hard to look at. But squint your eyes, and look closer. See the two huddled together, with only each other for comfort.

    Now see the sun, rising over them and shining over their scales. See them rise, and sniff the air. See, Silena is hungry. See, Esperia has found a den of rabbits for them to eat. See them now as they taste their first meat.

    They have never seen blood before. They are confused, but hunger overwhelmes their thoughts. They feast. 

    Now watch closely. Soon the beauty begins.

    Listen: Selena begins to sing, her voice rising in a warbling pitch, a clear note like the ring of a bell. No longer do childish wails ring out. Now her song is clear as a winter’s stream. She is no longer simple, but she is no less pure. 

    Listen. Esperia's voice rises in harmony with her sister’s. Her notes swing high and low, embellishing her sister’s melody. Listen as the two sing to the day. 

    Traveler, you seem especially open to my story. I see that you hear them. As do the rest of you.

    Ah, but there is one who has closed herself to the melody. Tell me, child, why do you push this tale away? You wished for information of the old ones, did you not? Nothing can truly be understood without knowing its origins. Come, you will never learn what you wish to know without first opening yourself to my story. Look now into the fire. What do you see?

    Yes, you see nothing. You have closed yourself away. You will learn nothing more from me, unless you open yourself. Relax. Let your mind bloom like a flower in spring. Do not be so guarded.

    Calm. Sit down, child. Your youth clouds your mind. If you have not learned what you wish to learn, then simply wait. All will come in time.

    What is this? You wish to learn how to kill the old ones? You are ambitious, child. Any swords master could teach you how to wield the weapon. But I am here to teach you more than just meaningless slaughter. You cannot slay a foe without first knowing why they are what they are. But if you are only here to learn how to kill, then leave. I have no place around my fire for those who will not open themselves.

    I see you have chosen to seat yourself again. Now, open yourself. Hear the song. Hear the melody of Silena. The harmonies of Esperia. 

    Ah, you are open now. I see longing in your eyes. The song resonates with you- more than it may with others. No, no, do not fight it. Accept it. My stories are not placed here as a threat. They are to cause understanding and resonation within the listener. Now let yourself be at peace, and listen closely to the words I speak.

    Come, let us return our gaze to the fire. Let us discover the future and the past together. Here, by my fire, they intertwine so easily. 

    See now- their song has been heard. Birds come close, and they fly over the two. Birds of many colors, shapes, and sizes. Hear them chirp and chatter, struggling with inferior voices to mimic the resonant melodies of the two sisters. See the sisters curiosity. Silena, ah, she is fascinated. She only sees the wonder- the light. But Esperia, ah, watchful, cautious Esperia…. she only sees a threat. She witnesses the birds sharp beaks and claws, and sees creatures coming to harm her and her sister. Her song changes, becoming low and dissonant, before switching to her first growl. 

    Ah, yes, this growl resonates deeply with you, child. I see you feel it- you challenge it, like a little wildcat! You truly desire to fight the old ones, then. Even now you hear this sound not as a challenge to the birds, but as a challenge to you. 

    Now, see the righteous light that shines in your eyes, traveler! You stand with the old ones then? No no, do not take offense. I did not suggest that you lack loyalty, or that you would agree with the destruction of the old ones. I simply suggest that you feel Esperia’s challenge, and believe in the honesty of it- the pure, gentle intentions. Yes, child. Her intentions are noble still. She feels no hatred towards the birds. She does not intend to methodically slaughter their kind. Her first kill was one of hunger, and now she would gladly kill to protect. 

    See Esperia’s anger. It is tainted by fear- she has no knowledge of what the birds are. She cannot understand that they present no threat to her. She has no knowledge of the fact that she will grow to be a goddess of the skies, afraid of no living thing. Now she is weak and vulnerable. She must fight to survive. 

    Ah, but Silena, she is a peacemaker. She does not wish for her sister to be angry. In an attempt to soothe her sister, she begins to sing again. See how her singing rings of peace. Yes, child, peace. Does that surprise you so much? Silent did not long for death. No, do not attempt to correct me- I know of what I speak.

    See now as the birds take wing, flying ever upwards towards the sky. See their fascination. Now see, as Silena slowly stretches her wings. Esperia sees the similarities, and leaps to the sky, her wings already taking her upwards. She calls her to her sister, and Silena rises as well.

    Yes, the first flight of the sisters is miraculous. See how the sun reflects off their scales. See how they shine like young stars. They are free. Free, and full of joy. Their lives are careless, and happy. They have no quarrel with this world. Not yet. 

    So you wonder, eh? Yes, the questions are in all your faces. What happened? How could such innocent, gentle creatures become such monsters? 

    This, I must confess, is our fault. Yes. Us. The humans. 

    Yes, that is the full and ugly truth. We humans were the cause of the destruction of the old ones.

    I see you wish to move straight to this part. Very well. Look closely. Time has passed, and Esperia and Silena are larger now. They are beautiful still, but there is an edge to their beauty now. They are sharp like knives, and intelligent. So, so intelligent. Beyond the scope of human understanding. As of yet, though, they have met no humans, and had no quarrel with them. They are queens of the sky, and content to remain this way. 

    But one day, the humans discover them. They see the sisters flying overhead, and panic. They do not see the beauty of their scales. The glory of their flight. They see their teeth, like knife blades. Their claws, like daggers. They see a threat. They see adversaries that must be destroyed- and a possible source of wealth as well. They see the first of the old ones.

    One day, they strike. See them gather their weapons- light their torches. They are afraid, but they are stronger together. They strike ahead, marching as one towards the cave.

    Silena sees them coming first. As always, she is the curious one. The peacemaker. She sees the humans coming, and wonders what they are. She does not see them as enemies. She only wonders what they are, and what such strange creatures are doing so close to her home. But then she sees their weapons- sees the anger in their eyes, and is afraid. She cries to Esperia- pleads for her to come and see these strange creatures that march on them.

    See as Esperia witnesses the rage of humans for the first time. See her emerge into the light. She is curious, not angry. But now, watch as the humans perceive her as a threat. Watch as they take aim with their bows. See Esperia’s shocks as she realizes they are trying to kill her. See the arrows burst against her skin. Feel them- like hundreds of little bee stings. 

    Now she grows angry. But it is not she that will make the first attack.

    See now- a blur of silver as Silena shoots past her sister and a furious rage. She is no longer such an innocent peacemaker. She sees that these humans intend to kill, and she will not let them harm her sister. She leaps at the humans, opening her jaw wide, and shooting forth tongues of silver flame. See her rage, and see the humans fall back, cowering away from her horrible attack.

    Ah, but what is this? Child, your response is incredibly strong. You do not feel the rage of the old one, the protective fury. You feel nothing but the pain of the fire. What old one has burned you so strongly? What has scarred you so deeply that you hear my story and feel nothing but the pain of the fire?

    You continue to remain silent. Very well. Hold your silence then. I will not press you for further information. After all, I am here to answer questions, not ask them. If you wish to remain silent, who am I to argue?

    Now, let us return to the story. Silena’s rage forces the humans into a frantic retreat. Watch her scream to the sky as they retreat. It is a warning and promise. If they return, she will kill them. See now as she returns to Esperia’s side, checking her sister for wounds. Silena is no longer innocent- in the face of the humans’ wrath, she has become the first of the deadly old ones- the first to rage out against humans. 

    Yes, Traveler? 

    Ah, an interesting question, one that could lead to long hours of debate. Could it truly be said that Silena’s transformation was the humans’ fault, or would it be a choice of her own- an action of her own vicious nature. Child, you seem very set in your ways. Tell us. What does your heart say on this matter.

    Ah yes. Here we see again the hatred for the old ones. But child, you felt the fire- not the anger. No the defensive urge of a sister. You still feel the story, yes, you feel it strongly, but you feel it from the other side. You feel the wrath directed at you. Truly, the old ones have scarred you deeply. What have you lost to them?

    I see. Again, you close yourself away. Very well. Will it harm you if I continue to tell my story? I mean no pain to anyone. I am simply a sage that others seek out for advice. If you do not wish to hear any more, then by all means, please leave. If you wish to hear the end of this story, then remain.

    Your temper has dimmed, I see. Your mind is on the old ones. Now, look back to the fire.

    I see that all of you have been rattled. And so you should be! To see what humans, your own kind, have done. How they have taken two innocent hatchlings, and changed them to the first of the old ones- the beings that will continue to wage war with us for hundreds of years.

    See, Esperia has been wounded. One of the arrows has pierced the tender flesh of her wing. It pains her, and Silena breathes on it, a light mist that soothes the pain, and begins to heal the wound. Esperia is angry, but Silena is furious. These humans have hurt her sister. They must pay.

    See the fire in her eyes. See her desire to avenge the wrongs done to her. See her unfurl her wings with vicious intentions. Esperia makes no attempts to pacify her. She would fly with SIlena to the slaughterer if her wing were not in pain from the arrow. She does not fear for her sister- she encourages her, urging her to avenge them- to teach these weak beings that you do not cross the old ones. 

    Now Silena flies. No longer is she content to rule the skies in peace. Now she is angry- intent on vengeance. 

    Ah, a question from another of our guests? 

    I see. Your question is well asked. Yes, Silena’s reaction at Esperia’s injury may seem extreme, but the love of a sibling is an inexplicable thing- a bond stronger than any on this earth. Her sibling was damaged, therefore she reacted with anger.

    For the first time, child, you seem to sympathize with the old ones. You have a sibling then? Or one that you love as the sibling? 

    Your eyes confirm it for you. You do have one that you love dearly, and you understand Silena’s response. Indeed, you feel it. You feel the protective rage, and understand it. Perhaps you have felt it before, and that is why it resonates so purely with you. It even supersedes your hatred of the old ones. This must be a powerful bond indeed. None have responded so strongly to my story before- you are a unique kind of traveler, child. But you must be- else you would not have come here searching for answers. Only those that truly wish to know will come and join me. I have no place here for those that do not wish to seek, as I have said many times over. 

    Now the story becomes a familiar pattern. Silena flies forth to the town. You all have seen the destruction caused by the rage of the old ones, and in this case it is no different. Buildings are scattered in wrecked piles. Fires burn with unquenchable fury. And the old ones stand over all, screaming a challenge that no one will answer. They are like gods to us- unbeatable. Unstoppable.

    But with new dangers come new ways to defeat the dangers. Slayers rose- men at first, but they were gradually joined by many women. Their goal was the same: destroy the gleaming sisters once and for all. Eliminate them and any others that may be of their kind from the face of the earth forevermore. So, as Esperia and Silena lay in their caves, nurturing their first brood of eggs, humans began to train to fight- to kill. At first, they were not very good- for they had no monsters to test themselves against. But then Silena and Esperia’s first batch of eggs hatched, and released the new old ones into the world.

    One of the greatest unknowns about Silena and Esperia is who sired their children. The stories vary- but one thing is clear. no one knows, for there were no male old ones of their kind. Some stories suggest that they mated with some ancient primordial force, but what could be more powerful than the old ones? Therefore, perhaps the children were sired by simple magic- a story that I find much more likely, considering the nature of the old ones. See, I must try my best to answer even the unfamiliar and confusing questions. My place as a sage is to provide information- what more could I do? If I did not do my best to satisfy all your curiosities, then of what use would I be?

    Now, though, the slayers had a foe to test themselves agains. As the old ones grew in power, breeding and forming nests, slayers began to look to them as a foe to fight- something to challenge and defeat. 

    At first, their weapons were weak- no match for the steel-like scales of the old ones. But gradually, their methods improved. The forging of iron was learned in a small village- and soon it was clear that iron weapons were the best chance they had agains the power of the old ones. Soon there was an iron forge in every city.

    Now, this is where our story changes. First, you must see the forge. Hear the clanging of metal against metal as weapons are created. See the blaze of the bellows as the fire is stoked. Feel the heat against your face. 

    Now, look to the edge of the forge. There is a young boy there. He is poor- noting more than a street orphan, working at the blacksmith’s for food. But see, he is late to his job. The blacksmith is angry, but the boy is used to his master’s fits of rage, and dodged any blows with relative ease.

    See, he shows something to the blacksmith. A small purple leaf.

    Ah, child, I see you catching your breath. You know exactly what that boy holds in his hands- even if others have not realized it yet. Well done. It is something that any would- be slayer would want to recognize.

    But see, his master believes that he is acting in jest. See him cast the leaves aside, grounding them into the floor. He has no idea what he has destroyed- and neither does the boy. But the boy is close to making a discovery that will change the history of slaying forever.

    His name is lost to time. But they call him one of the greatest slayers of his time. And yet, he never lifted a weapon, or worse a suit of armor. His story is as unlikely as it is fantastical.

    I see your confusion. Many of you do not understand. Only the child has heard of this boy. Patience. Soon all will be explained. I do not taunt you- I do not flaunt the information I bear in front of your faces. Fear now. All will be explained in good time. This I promise to you. Now wait, for I shall explain the nature of what this boy found. 

    See the sun rise over the town. See the boy sitting alone in a field, holding a strange type of plant. It is the same he showed to his master- an odd leaf, purple and spined. It bears similarities to the crests of the old ones, and the boy’s interest has been stoked. See as he rolls it between his fingers, pondering.

    But now, hear the roar of an old one- challenging the skies! You feel his fear, do you not? He knows that sound- and it is commonly followed by massive death and destruction. He does well to fear it- there are few that hear it and remain unchanged, for better or for worse. 

    See now, he lays low, hoping the old one will not spot him. But their senses are keen- it senses him lying in the field, and sees him a snack- a small morsel to consume before the real slaughter begins. See it dip towards him, the sun shining off of its wings. He knows there is nowhere to run. He stands firm, and crushes the purple leaf between his fingers, rubbing the oils onto his hand. Hear it squish, then hiss softly. A purple mist rings the boy as the old ones descends, swooping towards him with awful majesty. See as it lands, and lunges for him.

    No, do not look away from the fire! I have promised you a fine story, and if you wish to learn the nature of the plan, then you must return your gaze to the fire.

    Ah, child, you do not look away. I see that you already know how this story ends. Come, my fine, honored guests. Follow this child’s example, and return your gaze to the fire. The boy will not perish under your gaze. Look closely, for this marks a historic moment in the nature of slaying.

    See- the old one cannot touch him.  It cannot even come close without feeling pain. See now as it tries to bite him. No, do not look away! Look closely and see.

    As the old one tries to bite the boy, it inhales some of the smoke. The boy is awaiting his end- he believes that there is no way to run- no way for him to survive. But slowly he looks up, and sees something that none have seen up close before.

    See as the old one reels- choking on the substance that this boy has discovered. It roars- hear the pain in its voice as it experiences its first taste of a substance that will kill many of its kind in the future. 

    Now it writhes, shaking as it is burned from the inside. It only inhaled a small amount- but a small amount is enough. It lets out a final roar, and falls to the ground.

    See, the boy’s curiosity gets the better of him. He inches closer, curious to study the beast. Few have gotten a good look at the old one, and he does not intend to miss his chance- especially if the old one is truly dead.

    He makes this realization as he approaches it, lightly checking to see if it is still breathing. There is nothing. The old one is dead. He has killed it- without lifting a single weapon.

    If he were more intelligent, perhaps he would realize that the plant was what saved him. Instead, he believes that the old one was killed by some primal and powerful force- perhaps the work of the gods. But what god would have seen fit to save him? Either way, he does not realize the full potential of what he has just done.

    Weeks pass, and the boy continues to serve under the blacksmith. Finally, he is tired of being beaten. In his mind, he is beginning to make the connection between his survival and the strange powers of the plant that might have been what saved his life. He wishes to try it again. 

    Staying with the tradition of masculine recklessness, he decides to hunt out a nearby nesting ground of the old ones. He fills his pockets with the purple plant, and creeps up into the hills, heart racing.

    You seem to respect his choice, child. And yet, most of his time would have called him an idiot for venturing into a nesting ground with no weapon or armor to defend himself with. And yet, later these same people will call him a genius for his innovations. 

    See as he reaches the entrance. He has his chance now- he could turn back if he wished. But he is gripped by either great insanity, or great courage, and so he proceeds, inching forwards. He has a plan, and will follow through with it.

    He enters the nesting ground. See as the old ones catch his scent. They are awakening, and they are very hungry. Then inch forwards, pleased for another snack. But the boy is ready. He crushes the leaves between his fingers, and yet again, the purple smoke surrounds him.

    The effect on the old ones is almost instantaneous. They cannot touch him. They die in large numbers- those that were not fast enough to flee the smoke. The boy- elated at his success- steals one of the old ones’ eggs, and carries it back to the village in glory.

    So his fame begins. The plant is distributed far and wide, and used to slaughter hundreds of the old ones. 

    As their children die, Silena and Esperia begin to awake. Rage fills them, and they fly from their caverns together, searching far and wide for this boy that dares to kill their children.

    In the end, it is Silena that finds him. At that moment, he has nothing to protect himself with, as Silena swoops down in glorious fury. 

    You see, she does not kill him. She does not wish his death to be simple and quick- not after all of her children that he has killed. She instead marks with with a silver patch upon his brow.

    Confused at his survival, the boy- now a young man- attempts to return to his town, only to be driven out because of the mark. No longer will he rest- his own kind scorn him, until finally he is killed by one of Silena’s children- a queen of war in her own right, who will have many stories told of her. 

    Ah, child, now I know where I have seen the mark on your cheek. You bear the mark of one touched by Silena herself! How have you come across such a mark?

    I see you move to leave. Very well. Before you depart into the night, allow me to present you with a single warning. Those who bear the mark of Silena rarely live long and fruitful lives. I wish you the best in your quest, child.

    And now she is gone, into the night. No, traveler, I do not know where fate will take her. But the mark of the slayer is a hard mark to bear. May fate be with her. I cannot force the future, but I have a feeling that many stories and songs will be sung of her someday. 

    Now, look back to the fire. Our stories are far from done.

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