LEGACY OF BONDS
“My first memory was when I was about six years old. I woke up in small clinic and my head was throbbing like hell. I remember being surrounded by curious fishermen and one old elven man. The doctor asked me what my name was, or if I could tell them what happened to me, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t remember anything. Since no one could find my parents, the doctor and his wife decided the best option was to take me in. In a sense, this was where the person I am now was born”
Chapter One: The Sword, The Wolf, and The Mask
The air on the plains was still, and it was one of few times it wasn’t carrying the snow that helped to name the city of Snowcap. Whilst the snow hadn’t thawed out (the snow never disappeared completely in Snowcap), some patches of greenery were starting to poke through, the true sigh that summer had arrived in the white wasteland that the werewolves called home.
On top of a rise a short distance away from the city, sat a group of Snowcap’s soldiers, all werewolves, passing round a flask of water and chatting amongst themselves, save for their leader who was still standing and casting his eyes over their surroundings.
This werewolf, Corvan, was fairly young compared to most officers with his rank, but few denied his skill in combat or leadership, in fact his actions in a recent war had led to being a semi-celebrity in the city, but like always, he did his job to the best to his abilities. He cast his eyes back towards the city, continuing his search before finally catching sight of what he was looking for. There was a figure a short distance away walking towards them, who Corvan had made arrangements with by letter to meet at this location. She was a young woman in her early twenties with sky blue hair, which along with her ears ending in a small point, was the clear sign that she was a half elf. Her most distinct feature however was wearing a dark blue chegam, a style of dress from the eastern country of Chequan, something was rarely seen in Snowcap or anywhere else on the continent.
Corvan couldn’t help but smile as he recognised these features. The two had talked to each other by letter a couple of times, but this was the first time he had seen her since the war, and just seeing her again brought up all the fond memories he had of his former comrades. It was only a few months since the end of the war, but now that everything was at peace, it felt like another lifetime.
“Hey! Cornel Vargant! Are we going to start that special training soon or what!?”
Corvan mentally sighed as he turned to face the rowdy cadet. The squad he had been assigned was a bunch of cadets who had rough talent, but were far too full of them of themselves, believing that promotion was only a stone’s throw away (the fact they were serving under a famous war hero wasn’t helping matters either), and keeping them in line was tough work. He often prayed to every single god he could think of that this wasn’t how he came across when he was in their position, although (as he often realised) it would explain why his instructors were so brutal with him (or gave him embarrassing nicknames like ‘scrappy dog’).
“In a moment cadet” He said in his usual stoic tone, “we’re just waiting for our guest to arrive”, “Wait guest? I thought this was academy was for soldiers, not a tea party!” A few of the other cadets chuckled, but Corvan remain unfazed; he was irritated yes, but he knew anger would get him nowhere , and he had developed his own ways of dealing with jibes like this.
“Soldiers have to be prepared to face all kinds of threats cadet” he replied in a professional manner, “and it just so happens, one of my comrades from the war is well versed in the fighting styles of Chequan, and is willing to demonstrate those skills to us to further your training. You can of course head back home if you wish, but I’m not sure if ‘narrow minded’ and ‘judgemental’ are good words to have on your records when I had them over for recommendations”.
The cadets were quickly silenced by that line, to which Corvan smiled; whilst others restored to violence or mockery to keep their soldiers in line, Corvan preferred to quell any misbehaviour with his most trusted weapon, well-timed demoralising quips.
He glanced to his right to see that the figure was now in clear view, waving as soon as she noticed that Corvan was looking at her. He smiled once more before turning to his cadets; “Anyway” He said as he turned to his cadets again, “I’d like you welcome our guest today, Rachael Hawcon Morlock”. The cadets turned to look at Rachael who smiled warmly by way of a greeting, but she got a response that even the most generous of men would describe as lukewarm at best.
Corvan paused briefly to mentally assign insults from various languages to each of his cadets before continuing; “I will admit that she is not a professional soldier, and she describes herself as an adventurer rather than a mercenary, but that is no reason to doubt her skill or resolve. She was one of my comrades in the war against Sheltem, part of the same group that the common people now call ‘Warriors of Dawn’, and she is highly adept in the Chequan sword arts. As I have stated, she has generously come here today to help you with your training by showing you some of the different fighting styles in this world, which you may have to fight against one day”.
As Corvan talked Rachael watched the cadets, trying to assess what kind of people they were, but she was quickly seeing the problems Corvan had to deal with, and realised that his attempts to warm them to her were doomed to failure. She knew that it was at times like this that actions spoke louder than words.
“Ok boys, listen up” Rachael said, drawing her sword in sudden movement to catch their attention before pointing it straight at them, “this...is a Chequanese broadsword. It’s a not glamorous weapon, in fact it’s modified butcher’s knife all honesty, but the key to Chequan’s internal style is not the weapons you use, but the mindset you use. But this all easy stuff to say, so how about I show you guys how it’s done?”
She quickly scanned her eyes over the cadets again, before singling one out by pointing her sword towards them, in this case the cadet who seemed to be paying the least attention.
“You and me, one on one” Rachael’s command caught the cadet off guard for a second, but he quickly regained his senses and begrudgingly rose to his feet.
The two quickly drew their weapons and took their stances; Rachael taking a casual stance whilst keeping her blade firmly parallel to the ground, and the cadet took the approach he had been trained in, a standard Snowcap army combat stance armed with a claw glove, a weapon unique to the werewolf race which extended long metal claws over the knuckles whenever the wearer clenched their fists.
As the two of them prepared themselves, the cadets began whispering to each other about how they thought the battle would go, but Corvan, battle trained warrior that he was, could easily tell how it was going to end.
“Okay then cadet, you may attack at any time” Rachael said, her manner being strangely calm. The cadet hesitated for a brief moment, unnerved by just how calm she was, before mentally shrugging and charged straight at her, activating the claws in his glove as he took a swipe straight at her chest. In one instant, the situation changed; Rachael raised her sword and twisted her waist to the side, deflecting the werewolf’s blow past her, before stepping forward and twisting her waist back, bringing her sword just a centimetre away from the cadet’s body.
“This is what’s known as an internal style” Rachael explained as the cadet tried to recover his senses, “it doesn’t rely on body strength, instead...”
The cadet jumped back and took another swipe at Rachael, who in turn stepped back to avoid the claws and hopped forward, bringing her sword above his head this time;
“It relies on precise movement”.
The cadet charged again, but Rachael sidestepped brought the sword to his back;
“And a relaxed state of mind”
The cadet growled and spun around only to find that Rachael had taken a step back and was pointing her sword at his forehead.
“With these you can read your opponents, move when they move...”
The cadet flung himself at Rachael with a series of swipes, but Rachael calmly stepped backwards to avoid all of them before suddenly sidestepping and letting one swipe go past her before stepping forward again.
With each word, Rachael circled round him with a step and swung her sword in a graceful arc towards another part of his body, once again stopping just an inch away from the skin. First the chest, then the back, and finally then neck before suddenly thrusting her arm out in a swift movement, striking the cadet in just the right spot to push him off balance and send him to the floor with a hard thud.
The cadet rolled over to face Rachael, and looked like he was about to get again, but his will to fight disappeared once he saw Rachael pointing her sword directly at him.
“Once you have those basics down, you will always have an edge in battle” she said before offering the cadet a hand, who in turn gritted his teeth before taking it, allowing Rachael to help him to his feet. Corvan clapped and quietly said “thank you Rachael” as stepped forward and turned to face his cadets; “Do you cadets still believe this is a waste of time, or would you like to learn something?”
And so the training began. Rachael’s display seemed to have fired up the cadets, who were now eager to try and figure out her secrets by either sparing with her or have her teach them her steps. Corvan also took the chance to teach his now much humbler cadets where they were going wrong and push them even further by having them spar against him or each other.
Eventually, the cadets hit their limit and Corvan signalled that it was time for a break. The whole group sat down and the cadets started passing a canteen of water amongst themselves whilst pestering Rachael with endless questions.
“What made you join the war Racheal? Did Snowcap hire you or something?”
“No I wasn’t paid to do it, I was travelling with my brother at the time and we just happened to bump into Corvan whilst he was on a mission. We were going to the same direction so I decided to join him...and after that things spiralled out of control”.
“So are you from Chequan yourself?”
Rachael couldn’t help but give out a small laugh. “Nah, I grew up in Whalen, but I travelled to Chequan and lived there for a few years-”
“Whalen? That fishing hole!?” One of the cadets blurted out in disbelief, only to swiftly shut his mouth a few seconds later as Rachael turned her gaze on him.
“I do hope you weren’t insulting my home just now”; Rachael said it in a playful manner, but it still caused the cadet to shake a little, whilst his comrades quietly laughed at him.
“Oh...o-o-of course not, it’s just that umm...I’d never expect someone like yourself to come from there”.
“And that’s why you should never jump to conclusions...or say the first thing that comes to your head” Rachael said, raising her finger like she was a teacher before laughing it off with the other cadets (save for the cadet who asked the question, who just hung his head and wished that he would disappear from sight).
As they laughed Rachael turned her gaze towards Corvan, and her smile slowly faded. Corvan was ignoring what was going on around him, and was staring into the distance, and his ears were pricked up. This meant nothing to the other races, but after travelling with werewolves, Rachael knew what it meant. Corvan was had heard a distant sound and was trying to focus his attention on it. She followed Corvan’s gaze and saw an odd figure walking towards them.
It appeared to be human, but it was difficult to tell because they were wearing a large cape that covered most of their body and a thick animal skin on their shoulders, which combined with the mane on the front of skin (which now surrounded the figure’s head), gave the figure the appearance of an bestial giant. As they stepped closer, they could see that they were also wearing a white mask over their face, the only features being dark grey eyes shapes painted over the holes.
The two of them watched the figure walked firmly towards them, slowly followed by the cadets who began to notice that something wasn’t right.
A cloud of tension slowly began to fall over the group. The figure wasn’t exactly doing anything threatening, but their odd appearance and the fact that it seemed to walking straight towards them with a sense of purpose made it unclear as to whether or not they were a threat. It was when the figure was fifthteen paces away from the group that Corvan decided to try and talk to them.
“Excuse me can we help you?”
The figure stopped dead in their tracks but didn’t answer.
One of the cadets nervously chuckled; “What’s the matter? Cat your tongue?”
Again there was silence. No movement, not even a glance, just ridged stillness.
Rachael to ease the tension with a faint smile; “Are you a traveller? If you’re lost Snowcap is over that direction, just follow this road here. You can also go to Mt Makai with this road if go in the opposite direction”.
The figure at last responded, moving her head towards Rachael and focusing all of her attention on her.
“Are you Hawcon’s daughter?” The voice was gruff, but feminine, carrying no sense of emotion, only a straightforward question, but somehow that only added to the unnerving atmosphere.
“Who are you?” Rachael was never one to be stand-offish, but the figure’s appearance and tone of voice ruled out most circumstances of polite conversation. Also, few people knew the importance of her middle name, so to say that she had been caught by surprise was an understatement.
“Draw your blade and face me”. The command was blunt, almost emotionless, backed up by the figure pushing aside her cloak to reveal a short sword in their left hand.
Everyone leapt to their feet at the sight of that blade, some took defensive stances, some reached for their weapons, and one of the cadets stepped forward and barked “Hey! What’s the big idea!?”
But the figure barely reacted, tilting her head towards the cadets before turning her attention back to Rachael.
“The cubs are outmatched. Tell them to stand down”
Once again, the command was blunt, but it didn’t have the desired effect as the cadet who had stepped forward before was now only getting angrier.
“We are Knights of Snowcap! How dare you be so disrespectful!?”
“Golman! Stand dow-!” Corvan started to yell, but the cadet had already drawn his sword and lunged straight at the masked figure.
Her reaction was calm and her movements were swift and precise.
One step avoided the lunge; three sword strikes powered through the cadets attempts to block and slashed him across the chest before sending flying back towards his squad.
The cadets stared at their fallen comrade in stunned horror for a moment, but before that horror could turn into anger or fear, Corvan quickly stepped in “All of you stand down! This is not an enemy you can fight alone!”
Rachael meanwhile, acted without a word. Drawing her sword, she ran towards the figure and attacked with a flurry of graceful sword strokes, forcing the figure on the defensive.
Before she could gain the upper hand though, the figure suddenly took a step back and thrusted her sword straight into the ground. Without any warning, a large stalagmite burst out of the ground, striking Rachael in the chest with enough force to send her stumbling backwards.
She quickly regained her balance, but the pain was echoing throughout her chest, stinging with every movement she made. Rachael started taking deep breaths to try and take her mind off the pain as well as to calm herself down. She had encountered magic users before, but even the greatest sages needed some kind of incantation or at least some time to gather energy for the spell, how was she able to cast instantaneously like this?
She wasn’t able to dwell on this thought for long however, as the figure leaped into action and pinned Rachael down with an assault of sword strikes, reversing the situation.
Trapped on the defensive, Rachael tried to find an opening, but the masked woman was too precise with her strikes, and her injuries were slowing down her reflexes considerably. Her chances didn’t look too good.
But once again, everything changed in an instant. As the figure continued their assault, a sudden sound caught their attention and turned their head just in time to see Corvan bearing down on her with his claw glove activated.
Acting on instinct, she brought her left arm, revealing a buckler strapped to it, to block Corvan’s swipe, and was about to counter with her sword but Rachael was quick to act, launching into a thrust that caught the figure’s thigh (or as far as she could tell through the thick cape).
The figure let out a sharp cry and fell to her knees quickly bringing down her sword as she did so. Once again, a stalagmite burst out of the ground, but Rachael and Corvan were ready this time and stepped out of harm’s way in just the nick of time.
Corvan took a second to glance back at Rachael, who responded with a quick nod before renewing her grip on her sword.
The figure rose to her feet but didn’t have any time to launch an attack as Rachael and Corvan continued their combined offensive.
The two of them were determined to give her no room to attack, staying close to prevent her shaking them off.
It was only a matter of time before the figure began to tire out and one brief lapse of concentration was all Corvan needed. One quick punch slipped through her defences and the extended claws dug into her shoulder. The figure cried and stumbled backwards and Corvan charged in to follow up his attack, when a sudden movement caught his eye. As she stumbled, the figure swung her sword backwards, cutting straight one of the stalagmites she had created earlier. The rock exploded instantly and Corvan was forced to shield himself with his arms, winching as each stone struck him at great speed.
Rachael however managed to avoid most of the blast and continued her attack, flowing gracefully from one strike to the next, pausing only to defend against the occasional counter attack from the figure.
The two of them were equal in skill, and Rachael knew she couldn’t maintain this pace with her own injuries; she had to end this now.
As another attack bounced off the figure’s buckler, Rachael pulled her blade back, took a deep breath and blocked out everything else from her mind and focused of the sword in her hand.
The figure was about to counter, when they suddenly caught sight of what looked like red sparks of light dancing around Rachael’s sword and instantly moved to block as Rachael swung her sword.
The blade slammed into the buckler with a tremendous force that caused the victim’s arm to buckle under the strain. In the brief few seconds it took for Rachael to pull her weapon back, the figure gritted her teeth as the stinging left her arm as was about to counter when she caught a glance at her buckler and her eyes widened in horror.
Rachael’s blade hadn’t just bounced off the buckler, it had actually sliced through the metal, leaving a long gash along its surface. As Rachael flowed into another attack, the figure quickly brought her sword in front of the buckle for extra defence and braced herself as the blade struck again with full force.
Her makeshift defence managed to stop the sword in its tracks, but she wasn’t able to take advantage of this.
Before she could move something heavy slammed into her side and threw her to the ground. Corvan had recovered from the earlier assault and used this chance to run up and throw his entire weight behind one well-placed shoulder barge.
The figure hit the ground with a dull thud and rolled a short distance away. Rachael and Corvan tried to get closer, but froze in their as the figure quickly traced a line across the ground with her sword, summoning a makeshift wall of rock that block her from sight.
After all the intense fighting, the following silence (broken only the three warriors trying to catch their breath) was almost unsettling. Neither of the two warriors relaxed their guard for even a second as they watched and waited for the slightest movement from the other side.
Then the figure spoke again.
“You two are better than I expected. I’ll have to leave, but I will see you again...Afara”
Rachael’s eyes widened upon hearing those words, but before she could act, the wall in front of them shattered into a cloud of dust and stone, forcing Rachael and Corvan to shield their eyes from the onslaught.
When she was able to open her eyes again, the figure was already a dot on the horizon. Rachael was about to give chase, but could only take five steps before moved Corvan managed to get in front of her, and raise an arm to block her path.
“Leave her. We have injured men and we’re not in great shape ourselves; pursing her under these circumstances is not a good idea”.
A part of Rachael wanted to protest against Corvan’s words, but as she took a glance back at the various cadets tending to their fallen comrade, she quickly realised that he was right and after a quick nod of agreement, walked back towards them.
The cadets had been quick to put some cloth over the wounds, but the combination of inexperience and panic prevented them from providing any further treatment.
Rachael kneeled by Golman‘s side and briefly surveyed the wound before asking “Are you alright?”
“I’ll...I’ll live” the faint smile he tried to give couldn’t disguise the pain in his raspy voice, but it still caused Corvan to smile at his bravery before turning to Rachael.
“He needs basic treatment before we can move him”
“Already on it”.
Sparks of energy started to fly around Rachael’s arms, only this time they were softer shade of blue and gave off a sense of warmth.
The cadets watched in awe as these spark flew down to Rachael’s fingertips and gathered together to a form an orb of light which she slowly pushed down towards the soldier’s wound.
After a few seconds the orb began scattering the blue sparks over the soldier’s body and the gash slowly began to close up, leaving only a faint scar as evidence of what had happened.
“I-Is this another Chequan technique?” One cadets asked in amazement as the light began to fade from sight.
“No; These are called Spirit Arts. This is something I created”. Rachael closed her eyes and tried to focus on the task at hand; At that moment it was only thing she could do to stop her mind turning into a maelstrom of thoughts.
Many hours passed as the group walked back to Snowcap and reported everything that happened. Rachael and Corvan didn’t see other again until the evening. Corvan had suggested a local tavern that he liked to visit when he was off-duty and Rachael agreed to meet him there and spent most of the afternoon either drinking or chatting with the locals.
When the two of them finally did meet each other, they quickly exchanged greetings and ordered drinks before getting down to business.
Corvan cut straight to the point; “Golman‘s going to pull thorough. He lost some blood so he’ll need to rest of a day or two, but thanks to you he’s past the worst of it”
“Good” Rachael said as she sighed in relief, glad to have at least one weight off her mind.
Corvan continued; “Did you find out any information about our attacker?”
Rachael shook her head. “All I got was the name ‘Lonewind’, who apparently wears the same cape, but nothing more than that. Can we get anyone to track her?”
“We’ve reported the incident” Corvan replied grimly, “but her scent was faint by the time a squad was sent up there, and she left several smelling salts behind to confuse us. She knew what she was doing”.
He sighed and briefly paused to take a brief swing of his drink to try and release some of the tension.
“How are your arms”? Corvan was a little taken by Rachael’s sudden question, but then smiled as he put his drink down. This was just like her.
“Still stinging a little, but I’ve had worse. How’s your chest?”
“Same, but it’s dying down now” Rachael replied as she patted her wound to reassure him.
Corvan sighed took another swig of his drink. “I’m sorry for putting you through all of this Rachael. I never expected anything like this to happen in a simple training exercise”
“Don’t worry about it” Rachael flashed a brief smile, but then looked away and lowered her head, as she resumed her trail of thought. “To be honest I should probably be apologising to you”.
Corvan responded to this remark with a quizzical look, but Rachael took another sip of her drink and paused for a long moment before turning to him again.
“You know that I was adopted right?”
“You mentioned it yes”. Corvan and Rachael had swapped stories during their time together, but they were never able to get beyond the basic information, there was a war on after all.
“I lost my memory when I was six” Rachael continued; “and I’ve only been finding out bits and pieces about my birth parents since then, but I do know three critical facts”. She turned away to avoid Corvan’s gaze before continuing; “My parents are now dead, their last name was Hawcon, and my birth name...was Afara”.
Whilst Rachael had another swig of her drink, Corvan stiffened as the processed the meaning of her words. He had wondered if the attacker knew something about Rachael, but this had confirmed it.
“Is this information common knowledge?”
“Only in Redwood” Rachael replied, still avoiding eye contact; “the other person who could have known was my mad uncle Nickar and well...we know how that ended”
Corvan grimly nodded. He and Rachael had confronted Nickar a couple of times in the last war, and frankly those were memories he didn’t like to dwell on.
“You believe it’s a grudge against your family?”
“Maybe; She only called me Hawcon’s daughter and she wasn’t interested in you before the battle, so that rules out any connections to the last war”.
Corvan nodded, “So what do we do from here?”
“I plan to go Redwood” Rachael said turning towards Corvan again. “I have some friends and contacts there, so I might be able to dig up some more information”
“You’re planning to go alone?”
“Sure, why not?”
“Why not!?” Even Corvan’s professionalism couldn’t hide the dismay in his voice, “someone tried to kill you today, it took the both of us just to injure her, and you want to wonder out into the open all by yourself!?”
“I know what tricks she has now, I won’t be caught off guard again. Besides what choice do I have?”
“We could get an escort assigned to you, hell I could go with you if needs be or maybe Ma-”
“Corvan, I may be a war hero, but I’m also a civilian” Rachael said bluntly. “Snowcap is still recovering from the war effort, it cannot to waste soldiers on someone like me, especially not one of their famous heroes”
“At least stay here a little while longer where you are safe”
“That’s not going to help anyone, if anything it’s going to bring her to this city. There’s already one person in an infirmary because of my battles and I don’t want to add to that list.”
There was a moment’s pause as Corvan sighed in a mixture of frustration and reluctance. “I know; I know you’re right Rachael, but I’m not happy about it. Just...be careful alright? I don’t want to add you to a list of comrades we’ve lost”.
Rachael smiled, “Different time, different place, same old Corvan”.
“The war may be over, but as far as I’m concerned, you and the others are still my comrades, my friends, and that will never change, no matter what happens, and I will help and protect you in any way I can”.
“Thanks Corvan...that means a lot” Rachael sipped the last of her drink before standing up.
Corvan shook his head; “Of course I can say that, but I can’t do anything right now. If I could I set off on this journey with right now but-”
“There’s no need to beat yourself up, I’ll be fine” Rachael reassured him, “besides, I’m thinking this journey is a personal one”
“At least take this” Corvan rummaged through a pouch on his belt before handing Rachael a significant amount of money. “This should cover your travel expenses and allow you to buy some more supplies”
Rachael was about to protest but she could see the determination in Corvan’s eyes and decided it was best not to argue.
“I guess I can’t refuse our fearless leader” she joked whilst pocketing the money.
Corvan grunted “No need to overdo it, besides I don’t remember us ever having a chain of command”
The two of them chuckled for a moment, enjoying the brief reminiscence of days long past. It had only been a year or so since the war, but so much had changed that it felt like another lifetime now.
“It’s been nice seeing you again Corvan”
Rachael started to walk towards the door.
“Good luck with your cadets”
“Good luck with your journey”
With those words, Rachael gave Corvan a wave and walked out of the door without looking back.