Short Story 5: The Page of Xiria
Here it is! The final short story starter of this little experiment. Before starting this I discovered the genre "Sword and Planet," a closely related genre to "Planetary Romance." It's filled with cheese and over the top goodness and never really tries to explain the science behind anything.
Keep that in mind when you read this. I probably reads like something out of He-Man or She-Ra, but I'll leave that up for you guys to decide. So... I guess the only thing left is for you to read and (hopefully) enjoy!
PS. I'll be holding a poll very soon to figure out which of the short stories you guys want me to finish. Keep an eye out for it.
The sun glinted off the Blade of Wyvern, held aloft by the strong, slender arm of the Xirian Knight, Lady Arwana. Her long, blond hair flowed in the oil-tinted breeze as her powerful boot ground into the chest of her defeated foe, Irloc the Devourer. Cheers raised from the throngs of soldiers in glimmering armor that surrounded the pair, the clang of swords and shields bashed together in celebration erupting through the air. There they stood, feet away from the Cliffs of Vengeance, a staggering drop miles long, straight into the Dark Lands. The beauty of Xiria, the forests, the fields, came to a crashing halt, the landscape littered with flames and cluttered with the broken remains of the robotic crusaders of the Red Hand.
The Twin Moons gazed down from their heavenly seat as the Lady Arwana brought the mystic blade to her foe's throat. The lizard-like fiend sneered and opened his mouth to curse her, but the glow of the blade silenced him. The Lady's Trusted assembled behind her, her siblings-at-arms, sworn to her service entrusted with her very life. The stains of oil and rust from the Devourer's Death Bots covered their armor, but they were alive, alive and ready to take on any challenge to their land or Lady.
“I hope you understand, Irloc, that your evil can never overcome lands where good people still live, work, and love,” the Lady announced. “You will answer for your crimes.”
“You are a fool, Arwana,” the lizard replied, his blue tongue flicking in the air, tasting the bitterness of his defeat. “This alliance you hold, this magic of camaraderie can never truly bring the order that Xiria needs.”
“I am a fool for believing in honor? In friendship?”
“No... you are a fool for believing I wouldn't have a Plan B!”
The lizard let out a raucous laugh and a thick cloud of blue smoke engulfed him, the Lady, and her Trusted. Their blades snicker-snacked through the air, but found nothing. Coughing, shielding their eyes, a single soldier pointed over the edge of the battlefield, past the Cliffs of Vengeance where a small, blue figure could be spotted in the distance atop his ram-jet.
“My Lady! He is escaping!”
“Leave him,” she commanded, sheathing her magical blade. “He is no threat to us today.” She stepped forward, reaching out to clasp the domed head of a Death Bot, lifting it for her soldiers to see. “We have defended Xiria once more! Let no man forget the honor we claim on this day!”
Armor clashed and clamored as it dropped to the floor of Diri Castle's barracks. The sound of cheering soldiers was even more deafening than the metal as the young page, Art, scrambled to collect it all. She was small, with dusty brown hair and a face more freckles than skin. Her nose was wrinkled and body hunched over as she tried to ignore the sound and, more overwhelmingly, the smell of Lady Arwana's Trusted. Chest plates, helmets, shields, and swords, each gathered carefully and taken to the back to scrub as the Lady led her soldiers to the Mess Hall.
Art sighed as she looked at the stack of oil and mud stained armor. Sleep would elude her tonight.
“Art!” The young page turned to see her friend, Everee, peeking her head in, her black, curly hair preceding her. “Are you in there?”
“Somewhere beneath all this armor,” Art replied.
“Well, you better hurry up. The soldiers are eating; they're going to want their mead soon.”
“I know, I know. I'd be out there already if they'd just learn to drop their armor in the back to start with.”
“They're celebrating a victory, Art. You can't blame them for being preoccupied.”
“Oh yes, another great victory. What's that, three this week?” she replied, stacking a chest plate for later cleaning.
“Are you complaining again?” Everee asked with a small grin.
“Of course not,” Art answered, standing straight and pushing back her hair, affecting a regal pose. “To be in the service of the Knights of Xiria is an honor in itself. I should know, they've told me enough times.”
Everee chuckled as she stepped into the room, reaching out and mussing her friend's hair. “Come on. They're getting thirsty.” Art rolled her eyes and accompanied her friend out through the Mess Hall, watching as the soldiers and their Lady shouted and cheered, songs drifting through the air.
“I don't suppose I can con you into serving with me?” Art asked as she dodged the waving arms of a celebrating solider.
“If I could, I would. I'm only here because Sir Braun wanted me to bring the Lady another gift. I have my own room of armor to clean tonight.”
“Another gift? He's never going to woo her.”
“Art!” cried out the loud, but undeniably dignified voice of the Lady. “The mead!”
The two servants quickly ducked into the kitchen and made their way to the buttery. They giggled as they pulled open large barrels and filled ornate serving pitchers. The scent of fruit and honey filled the air as the mead filled the vessel, Everee helping her friend fill several and setting them aside.
“Do you have to go?” Art asked, hoisting a filled jug.
“I have my own duties, Art. And if you took yours more seriously, perhaps you'd be a squire by now.”
“Ugh...” she moaned. “Like it would matter. Trade me masters!”
Everee giggled and swatted playfully at her friend. “Good luck out there.”
“Art!” The Lady's voice echoed through the hall. The young page watched as her companion waved and disappeared. Heaving the jug to her chest she made for the Mess once more.
Blue streaks of light zapped across the target range, obliterating a series of crudely made clay pots stacked atop pink bales of Alura hay. Art squinted one eye, leaning closer to the energy crossbow locked tightly in her grip, squeezing the trigger and watching as the pot at the end of her lane remained stubbornly in one piece. One lane down she could see the pots of Everee popping into clouds of clay confetti with every loud zap from her weapon.
Concentrating, she lined up her sights once more, placing the pot halfway between the large orbs at either end of her weapon's muzzle. CRASH! The young page leapt up with a shriek of joy, her friend leaning over to check on her.
“Hey, you finally hit it!”
Art pulled the green tinted goggles from her face, the protective eyewear leaving red impression around her eyes and nose. “Finally! These things are terrible to aim with!”
“You have to get used to the sights. And they tend to pull to the right, too.”
Art stared at the chrome plated weapon in her hands, testing the heft of it as she thought. “Why don't all the knights use these? They seem much more useful than swords and spears.”
“Magic swords and spears, Art.”
The page shrugged and turned back to her lane. “Then why do they bother having us train in these?” She lowered her goggles and took aim once more. “You know, back on Elutheria, we wouldn't be doing this.” Her blast went wide.
“I'm aware. And they don't have Death Bots and Terror Bats that attack in the middle of the night, either,” Everee recited.
“Exactly!” she replied. The next shot grazed the pot, spinning it slightly. “You know what we'd be doing all day? School!”
“We go to school, Art.” Everee's pot shattered, bringing a grin to her face.
“No, real school. With teachers and books and lockers and sports and dances...”
“We have that stuff.”
“It's not the same, Everee! People there live without want. They have art and music and flying cars-”
“We have ram-jets.”
“That's not the point!” Art sneered as the fresh pot at the end of her lane mocked her. “I just...
“You want to go to the homeworld.”
“And you will. Someday.”
“Sure,” Art replied, fidgeting with the sensitivity dial at the base of her stock. “But first I have to be a page, then a squire, then a soldier, then a Trusted, then maybe a full knight, and then, if I've been a good girl, maybe the King will grant me a title and I'll finally have access...” she paused, lifting her eyes up to the sky, glancing at the large moons hovering in the sky, “...to out there.”
Art stared at the sky for several moments as Everee awkwardly returned to her lane. She dusted three pots before checking to see that her friend was still staring into nothingness.
“Look, Art. I don't see what's so great about that place anyway. We have everything they do. The homeworld sounds boring. There's no excitement. No adventure.”
“There are people, Eve. People who solve their problems without stabbing someone. Families that love and protect their children. And don't send them off to serve the nobility.” Art lifted her weapon once more, sighting her target and squeezing the trigger. The clay pot shattered into a cloud of dust.
“If you'll open your datapads and move to page 324 you can see a series of quotes. May I have a volunteer to read?”
Art watched as Jimmy raised his hand before the other students had even found the right page. He was such a teacher's pet. As Jimmy read some quote about Elutheria's first voyages into space, Art's attention drifted. She looked out the window at the beautiful, sunny day that lay just outside. Green grass waved in a light breeze and people in light, sensible clothing moved to and fro. The skies were filled with the exciting buzz of hover cars and a cleaner drone even dropped by, spritzing a clear solution onto the glass.
Art turned back reluctantly, sliding through the pages in her datapad and trying to catch up to Jimmy. He had, of course, read more than the single quote asked of him, forcing Mrs. Truman to cross the room and halt his overzealous recitation. She liked Mrs. Truman. She was strict, but fair, and never failed to answer any question Art might have about the lesson. She seemed as if she genuinely cared about the well being of her students. Then a sword pierced her chest.
The students screamed and scattered, tripping over desks and bags as the teacher collapsed onto the desk of the frozen Jimmy, his poor face locked in a look of absolute terror. Art, however, dropped her head backward and sighed.
“Guys,” she groaned, “do you always have to kill Mrs. Truman?”
Two soldiers, bearing the gleaming armor that took Art the entire night to clean laughed as one pulled his blade free from the woman's chest.
“Your time's up, Art! We have combat simulations scheduled.”
“Come on, guys! She didn't even get to the homework!” Art slid out from her desk, dodging as one of her classmates stumbled past her in a panic. “Computer, end school simulation.”
The classroom, the desks, the shrieking students, and even the once again deceased Mrs. Truman rippled and vanished, leaving only Art and the two soldiers alone in the simulation chamber. The black walls with seemingly random polyhedral protrusions always seemed so ugly to Art, but it was the closest she'd ever get to seeing the homeworld. Grumbling to herself, she turned for the door, but one of the soldiers called out to her.
“Oi. Before you get yourself too busy, the Lady has asked to see you.”
“Oh, great. What'd I do?” she turned and asked.
“Dunno. But let us know when you do; we have a pool going.”
Art suppressed the urge to sneer around her superiors, instead giving a casual salute before heading out the door.
“Art, I've been concerned about you.”
The young page sat silently in the wooden chair across from her mistress. Since entering the Lady's chambers she hadn't uttered more than two words that weren't “Yes, m'lady,” or “Apologies, m'lady.” She never liked being scolded, but from the Lady Arwana it always seemed so much worse. Not that the Lady was mean or loud, but that her voice betrayed the disappointment she had, a disappointment Art was certain was shared by the entire barracks.
“The rest of the apprentices have been squires now for some time, but you still haven't satisfied the requirements to move up. Do you not want to advance?”
“No, m'lady. Er, yes, m'lady! I mean... Yes. I wish to become a squire.”
“Then why aren't you? Your rifle accuracy is low at best, your combat skills lack behind the rest of the squires, and you always seem to be a day behind on your duties.”
“No,” the Lady replied, stepping closer to her ward. Her long, beautiful hair fell past her shoulders as she leaned closer, peering into Art's soul with those diamond-like blue eyes. “I don't want apologies, Art, I want results. I want to see that you're trying.”
“I … I am...”
The Lady pulled away, moving to the opposite end of her chambers. Shadows danced around her frame as the candelabras' light flickered. She stood in silence for several moments, a silence that Art dared not break. She simply watched the Lady's strong, form, her tall stature. She was everything Art wasn't. Brave. Beautiful. Confident. And absolutely in love with this world.
“Perhaps it is my fault.”
“I've been told that boredom breeds sloth. Trust and responsibility breeds maturity.”
Art cringed at the word “responsibility,” her mind drifting to the armor she cleaned, the meals she served, the halls she scrubbed, and the horses she cared for. This was, of course, not even considering the schooling, the shield training, the energy bow practice, and hand-to-hand combat training. “Perhaps I could double my efforts on the responsibilities I already have, m'lady?”
“No. I need to show you that I trust you with something important. Your friend, Eloree?”
“Yes, she is … ugh... Sir. Braun's squire, correct?”
“Does he let her clean and care for his weapon?”
“The... the Spear of Gol? No! Of course n- er... I mean. No, m'lady.”
“I thought not.” Lady Arwana, moved to her closet, opening the ornate doors. Light shone from within, illuminating the entire chamber. Inside was a long, glimmering sword, the Blade of Wyvern. The Lady took it from it's hallowed resting place and held it before her. “For Xiria, for honor, and for victory!”
The room shook and blinding light bleached the room, forcing Art to shield her eyes. Her heart beat fast, threatening to burst from her chest. She had only beheld the Lady's transformation once, but then she was nowhere near this close. Lightening seemed to strike from the air around them, racing through the blade and arcing onto the Lady's body. Metal slid into place, bit by bit. The breastplate, curved to her form and inlaid with gold in the symbol of the Knights of Xiria, appeared, moving across her chest like water. Her bracers and greaves formed from nothing, engraved with ornate patterns and a series of studs. And finally her regal crown, it's band weaving itself in a tight pattern around her brow, wings of blades exploding forth from the temples and lowering down to shield her.
She was at least a foot taller to the young page's eyes, maybe more, and her hair seemed to flow in an unseen breeze. Her eyes glowed with a righteous fury and as she stepped closer to the young girl, she appeared both beautiful and terrifying.
“Art, my young page, from now on I will entrust to you the care and maintenance of the Blade of Wyvern.” With a quick thrust she stabbed the blade into the floor before her servant.
“I need you to know that I trust you. That I value you. I want you to take care of the blade when not in my use.”
“I understand this is a great responsibility, Art, but I know you are equal to the task.”
Art, body shaking, breath failing her, stared at the mystic sword, it's glow shining against her. She leaned closer, as if verifying the sword was real. Her mistress smiled.
“It is pretty cool, isn't it?”
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Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.