Hello! You all know how flash fiction is supposed to hang around 1000-2000 words? Yeah, well, that didn’t happen this month. The flash piece became a full-fledged short story at over 4800 words. It’s pure fantasy romance with swords and magic, goddesses and demons and is a bit spicier than the others.
This short has potential the same way Petri and Shoba had potential. I currently don’t have time/mental space for another series, but this one? Yeah, this one goes in the possible pile. Enjoy!
July – The Battle Maiden of Light
Tiva rested her hand on her sword’s pommel and brushed her thumb over the smooth stone set at the base. Deepest red, almost black in the shadows in which she lived, the ruby was her only nod to her past. A past drenched in sunshine and joy. The laughter of children and young lovers, the warm security of her parents’ touch. A halcyon place beneath the brilliance of the goddess’s blessing. Then the shadows came, and the temple refused to send aid.
She’d begged, begged them to help. There were innocents in the village, babes and toddlers too young for evil to twist their souls. There were wizened elders, former battle maidens and paladins still adhering to their paths. The priestesses huddled behind their marble columns and warded walls and sent them all away. One by one, the villagers approached the temple until the shadows swallowed the light, and the life, of everyone in her village.
Everyone but her.
She’d made the first plea. A child not yet a woman, she’d raced to the temple to bring the first warnings and requests. She’d brought the twentieth. And the fiftieth. None had swayed the priestesses, and the goddess hadn’t rebuked them. So, Tiva turned her back on her ruined village and lost family, turned her back on the goddess, and fled before the shadows could take her, too.
Now, the shadows were on the move again. They swallowed three homes last week and another last night. She drew her blade with a quiet, practiced move and stalked deeper into the gloom. They would not take another. Not on her watch.
Beside her, Andrje held up his fist in a silent signal to stop. She couldn’t see or hear the threat he sensed, but she trusted him now as she hadn’t trusted another being in a long, long time. They met three years earlier in a shithole tavern on the edge of the province. Tired but triumphant after a grueling mission into the deadlands, Tiva wanted only a cool drink, some decent food, and a warm bed. Food and drink were easy, the bed inexpensive, but a place to sit and enjoy her meal was harder to come by.
A local festival was in full swing, and the ale flowed freely. After dodging more than one drunken male with more confidence than competence, she considered taking her meal to her rented room. Then she saw him sitting alone at a table in the far corner.
A dark, winged warrior with jet-black hair and eyes as crimson as the ruby set in her sword. His chest and shoulders were broad with thick muscles to power the obsidian wings tucked neatly along his back. Hardened warriors stood at the bar or held up the wall rather than approach him for a seat. No one was drunk enough to encroach on an anzukir’s privacy. Tiva had watched him for a long moment, grabbed her meal, and asked if she could join him. He’d said yes, and they’d been partners ever since.
They’d clashed more than once since that day. Andrje’s morals held very few shades of grey. To him, good people were to be protected, and bad people were to be killed. It’d taken her nine months to convince him that good and evil was measured by degrees, another six to argue the punishment should suit the severity of the crime. In return, he kept her from crossing the line that kept her on the side of the light.
And she never, ever let him know just how hard she’d fallen. Not to darkness but to him. For him, she was determined to be a better person, to not let bitterness twist her into something he’d see as evil. She wanted to do better, to be better, to be someone he’d proudly call his friend. She wasn’t there yet. Her temper was ever her downfall, and the loss of her village, her family threatened to turn her cruel. Until him, she hadn’t realized just how close she’d come to taking that irrevocable step.
He held perfectly still while his gaze swept through the room. Not a breath of sound or rustle of a feather betrayed him. The anzukir were ambush hunters able to remain immobile for hours and then attack in a burst of blinding speed and savagery. Tiva… wasn’t as patient. The waiting was torturous, the shadows deep enough to hide a dozen monsters.
Andrje took another careful study of the hall before dropping his hand to his waist, palm up and waiting. She’d given him permission at the start of their partnership, but he always waited, always allowed her to close that final distance. She rested her hand on his, and magic punched into her.
The shadows fled leaving the long hall a washed-out gray color with darker patches to denote distance and dimension. Several doors lined both sides of the corridor, all of them closed. Torches flickered in the distance, the dancing flames creating lighter shadows in the stygian darkness. To their left, the cerulean outline of humans sleeping peacefully in their beds. Their sense of safety an illusion created by barred windows and locked doors. To their right, a monstrous creature limned in amber fire shifted slightly on impatient feet.
“Ergalon.” Andrje’s mental voice was a familiar rumble in her head. The big man rarely spoke aloud and never during combat. “Lord of Pain and Shadows. He’ll be a difficult opponent.”
“Weaknesses?” Her mental voice wasn’t as strong as his, this form of communication his gift rather than hers, but the magic he shared through their clasped hands allowed him to hear the thoughts she directed at him.
“Light. Fire. Silver.” He stepped closer, his body a muscular wall of heat along her left side. “The torches aren’t just for illumination. They’re for containment.”
“Uncertain.” He looked around again, his head tilting slightly. “The flames are unnatural.”
She squinted then frowned. “Those aren’t sconces or torches. The fire is floating.”
Tiva knew the spell which created dancing fire spheres. All squires of the battle maidens learned it in their first year. Her fingers tightened around Andrje’s.
Once, light would’ve come at her call as easily as her blade cleared its sheath. That was before the betrayal, before the loss of her village. Before the goddess abandoned them. She felt the reassuring warmth of his warm skin beneath her fingers, the weight of the sword in her other hand. Light no longer bent to her will, but she wasn’t helpless.
“I have silver.” She angled her weapon to let the faint light glint off the runes etched into the blade. The magic required to merge the liquid silver into the etched steel had cost her a season’s worth of profits and a week in recovery, but it’d been worth it. Few monsters could withstand a strike from her blade.
“You also carry Rumylkia’s blessing.” A statement and a question, one he’d asked in many different ways over the past three years.
“The ruby honors my parents, nothing more. I have no other link to the goddess,” she spat the last word as if it were a curse. Andrje curled his fingers over hers when she made to move away, and she knew she’d betrayed too much. Her words sounded as angry and bitter as she felt.
“Tivalyn?” His crimson eyes held hers while his thumb brushed over her skin.
She broke contact for the first time since their partnership and shook her head. Now wasn’t the time for this conversation. If she was truly lucky, later wouldn’t be either. Perhaps, she thought with an ache in her heart, it was best if they parted before he learned the truth. Then she could pretend he’d miss her as much as she’d miss him.
Andrje stepped in front of her, stopping her before she could move deeper down the hall. His fingertips traced the line of her jaw, and another jolt of sensation speared through her. It was so unfair. She’d lost her family, her friends, her home, and her faith. She didn’t want to lose him, too.
His voice whispered into her mind. “So much sorrow, zecaña. So much anger. Your heart bleeds.”
She caught his hand, held it against her cheek for a heartbeat too long before pulling it away. “It’s nothing.” It would always be nothing. Anzukir didn’t mate outside their kind. The risk of bearing wingless offspring was too great. No one as skilled and honorable as Andrje would take such a chance. “We need to hurry. Morning comes.”
His frown deepened, his eyes darkening until they looked black in the pale light. She’d given too much away. Grateful for the urgency of the mission, self-appointed as it was, she moved to the door and waited. Andrje took his place by the handle and counted off on his fingers.
Three. Two. One!
Tiva entered first, rising from her roll to parry a massive paw tipped with claws as long as her hand. When Ergalon’s arm raised for a second strike, Andrje jabbed one curved kukri into the demon’s armpit and slashed across its back with the other. Its howl of fury and pain raised all the hairs on Tiva’s arms, for in that howl rang a lifetime of agony.
She dodged the demon’s kick, ducked beneath a second paw, and felt fire sear along her back. It’d managed to rake her with its claws. Gritting her teeth, she pivoted, stepped into her thrust, and slid her sword between the demon’s ribs. Twisting the blade, she tried to slice through the creature’s chest. If she could find its heart, the silver would banish it from their lands for a millennium or more.
It flailed trying to dislodge their weapons, kicking and swatting at them like they were a pair of annoying insects. A foot connected with her thigh, and she went flying. She hit the wall with a teeth-rattling thud. A sharp pain in her back signaled a cracked or broken rib, and breathing grew as painful as the wounds on her back. Another blow like that and she’d be down for good. She blinked trying to clear the spots dancing in her vision until a pained grunt pushed thoughts of everything aside except finding Andrje.
Pulling a pair of daggers from thigh sheaths, she stalked toward the shadow demon. One of Ergalon’s arms hung limply at his side from a few stubborn strips of skin and tendon. The other held Andrje’s neck in its paw. With one wing hanging at a painful angle, the anzukir clawed the demon’s wrist and gasped for air. He had no leverage with his feet dangling in the air, and with every passing heartbeat his movements grew more sluggish.
No. No! The shadows would not take the only remaining person she loved. She wouldn’t allow it. The old words coalesced in her mind, the prayers and incantations of a lifetime ago when she studied for a place among the goddess’s battle maidens.
Tiva resheathed her daggers and held her hands in front of her. Muscle memory guided her hands into the proper pattern: palms facing the demon, fingers slightly curved, thumb and forefinger touching each other. Terror warred with bitter fury. It had to work. The goddess had failed her once before, but she wouldn’t allow Andrje to die. She’d hunt the goddess like a hound after a stag should she fail.
“Iussa Rumylkia, discedien Ergalon!”
The moment the words left her lips, she leaped for her sword. If she could redirect the creature’s fury, Andrje would live. If she could find its heart, Andrje would live. He had to live. He had to. Her hands closed on the hilt, and light burst from the ruby set into the pommel. As bright as midday and welcome as a sunrise, it filled the room until no shadow remained. Ergalon bellowed in agony and stumbled back, dropping the anzukir to the floor. Tiva scrambled to stand over her beloved’s crumpled body. Ergalon would not take him a second time.
But there wasn’t a second time. A black cloud formed around the howling demon followed by hissing and an unholy stench which threatened to empty Tiva’s stomach. Time crawled, each second lasting minutes as she waited for the next strike. Waited for the demon to emerge from the shadowy gloom seeking vengeance. The cloud dissipated, the hissing quieted, and all that remained of the demon Ergalon was a pile of clothing drenched with putrid fluids.
Tiva tossed aside her blade and knelt beside Andrje. Dark bruises marred his throat, blood seeped from several claw marks on his chest, one wing twisted at an odd angle, but his chest rose and fell with steady breaths. He lived. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she checked his pulse. It was too fast and too weak, but it was there. Relief flooded her, and she pressed kisses to his forehead, his cheeks, and even his lips. It was a stolen intimacy he’d never know, and she’d never forget. It would carry her through the days and years to come.
Ten days later, Andrje entered her room as she was packing her gear. She’d spoken to the healer on one of her many visits. The temple had done its best, but they didn’t have enough knowledge of the anzukir to have confidence in their healing. He needed to return to his people to ensure his injuries healed completely. They’d done all they could for his wing but couldn’t be certain he’d have full mobility without seeing an expert. Tiva wouldn’t begrudge him the care he needed, refused to see him grounded for her selfish need to keep him close, but she also couldn’t be here when he returned.
“Is it time to go?”
His clan weren’t comfortable landing in a human town, so they’d agreed on a meadow across the river. She couldn’t go with him, but she could ensure he remained safe until in the hands of his own people. Then she could let her heart break.
His hand closed over hers, his skin warm with life and callused from years of bladework. “Tivalyn.” She stared at his hand and tried to burn another sensation into her memory. The thought of never again hearing his voice inside her mind threatened to drive her mad. “Tell me why your soul weeps, zecaña.”
She shook her head. All she had left was pride, so she wrapped it around herself like armor. “It’s nothing. We should go if you’re to arrive on time.”
He tightened his grip on her hand and pulled her around to face him. When she wouldn’t look at him, he nudged under her chin with his other hand. “Please don’t cry.”
He wasn’t going to let this go. Scrambling for something, anything to say to distract him, she offered him one truth to hide the bigger, more painful one. “The healers tell me high emotions are to be expected. Shock, relief, and the other stuff.” The goddess’s magic continued to sing through her veins more potent now than it had ever been in her youth. She offered him a smile and a shrug. “They say it’ll level out eventually.”
“Don’t lie to me, zecaña.” He released her chin to cup her cheek, his thumb brushing away the tears which refused to stop. “You’ve always held a knot of sorrow in your heart, but it’s grown over the past year until it’s an agony I can no longer ignore. Tell me why you hurt.”
Closing her eyes, she knew it was time. “When I was fourteen, the shadows crept into our village. One or two houses at first, then six or seven. Livestock stripped to nothing but bone, entire families lost. I was training to be a battle maiden, so I begged the temple for aid.”
“What did they do?”
“They refused,” she whispered. “Two days later, the entire village was lost. All my friends. My parents. My sister and her new babe. Dead.”
“Why didn’t they help?”
He’d tugged her closer until she stood in his embrace. Goddess, it felt so right. She allowed the hold for a handspan of heartbeats before she took a step back. It felt right, but it wasn’t.
“Because it was my fault.”
Now that she’d admitted her crime, the words wouldn’t stop. She told him of the foraging trip into the forest outside the village, of finding the crumbling wall of stone set into a hillside. She’d tossed a light enchantment into the gap between stones and marveled at the cave lined with sigils and ancient paintings.
“I tore down the wall,” she confessed. “I set it free, and the temple could not aid one who’d committed such an act. They escorted me out of the temple and barred the doors in my face. I returned almost every day. I begged them to help the others, offered myself as sacrifice to the demon if they’d save my family and friends. They did nothing.” The anger and guilt and bitterness continued to eat at her soul. “I set Ergalon free, and it repaid me by trying to destroy everything I ever loved.”
Unable to bear seeing Andrje’s handsome face twisted in disgust, Tiva snatched her satchel off her bed and headed for the door. She’d replace anything she’d yet to pack, but she couldn’t stay another second.
Strong arms wrapped around her from behind and pulled her against a familiar hard chest. He pressed his lips over the racing pulse in her neck, his words harsh and angry in her mind. “Self-righteous, arrogant fools! You were a child, zecaña, with a child’s curiosity. Rumylkia’s priests should’ve sensed Ergalon’s evil and dealt with it. That they did not and blamed you for their incompetence tells me all I need to know about that temple.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I set him free.” She stressed each word. “Not some random kid on a dare. Me, an apprentice to the goddess’s battle maidens. I betrayed everything Rumylkia stands for.”
“Then why did she answer your call?”
She’d asked herself the same question for the past ten days and arrived at the only logical conclusion. “To save your life.” The goddess had answered her plea because Andrje was worthy of her aid.
“The anzukir aren’t her people. I think she did it to save yours.” He rubbed his cheek against hers before returning his lips to her neck. She shivered as pleasure zinged through her. He laughed suddenly, the sound soft and warm against her skin. “Now I know she did it for you.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at your hands, zecaña.” He nipped sharply at her neck before bathing the sting with his tongue. “You’re glowing.”
Tiva wasn’t sure if he was being serious, because it felt like her skin was on fire. His lips at her throat had ignited a bonfire of desire that demanded more—more of his touch, more of his lips, more of him. Goddess help her, she had to get away before she did something stupid like beg him for a real kiss.
“Andrje!” He’d tightened his hold again until his arms felt like steel bands caging her against him. She was strong, had been strong for years, but no one was that strong. She had to get away. “Let me go.”
He took her hand in his and brought it up to her eyes. She blinked then stared, certain it was an illusion. Raising her other hand, she turned them both this way and that, but he’d told the truth. A soft yellow glow emanated from beneath her skin limning her in the goddess’s light. She’d never seen it in person, but she’d heard about it during her time in training at the temple. Only those who’d felt the divine touch of Rumylkia received her blessing. The aura branded her as beloved of the goddess, a high priestess of the light.
“But… why?” Why her, and why now?
“I don’t know.” A press of lips against her neck, the glide of his callused hands across her bare stomach. He’d slipped them beneath her shirt. Blessed light. “But I do know your goddess would never touch one who carries evil in her heart. You are not the monster you believe yourself to be.”
“It doesn’t change what I did.”
“No, but maybe with her help, you can view it from a different perspective. You were a child, zecaña.” He repeated.
She didn’t answer, couldn’t answer. He didn’t know the temptation he dangled before her. She’d trained to serve beneath the goddess’s banner for most of her life. The realization she might truly be worthy of such service almost blunted the pain of the lonely years before her. Almost.
“Now.” He walked backward and pulled her with him, his lips brushing along her neck and his hands roaming higher until one settled beneath the weight of her breast. She bit back a curse. “Will you stop trying to leave me?”
“We’ll discuss it later. You need to get to the clearing.” Goddess save her, he was driving her insane. He’d begun to brush his thumb over the underside of her breast, her thin wrap doing little to block the warmth and feel of him. Feather soft and fleeting until her skin was afire with sensation. She bit her lip to stifle a moan. What was he doing?
“I’m seducing you. What do you think I’m doing?”
Shit. He wasn’t supposed to read that, but she couldn’t maintain her mental shields with his mouth on her pulse, his hands on her bare skin. Months of shielding crumbled with every teasing caress. She had to get out of his embrace.
“Why do you need to leave?”
“I.” She arched her back when his thumb brushed her nipple, nearly sobbed when he returned his hand to her stomach. He was toying with her. He had to be. She hadn’t believed him capable of such cruelty. “Please, just let me go.”
His body went motionless, his arms tightening around her until it bordered on pain. “Is that what you think of me?” His voice, deep and harsh and furious, echoed not in her mind but in the room. He’d read her thoughts again and spoken aloud. “Do you really believe I’d treat you as prey to be hunted, used, and discarded?”
“I’m not anzukir! It doesn’t matter what I think or how I feel. When it’s time for you to settle into your clan and take a mate, it won’t be me. It can’t ever be me. I can’t have you and then watch you walk away, Andrje. I won’t. It would destroy me.”
The words hung in the air like a magician’s spell or the final toll of a bell. Tiva felt the blood rush from her face at the realization of what she’d said, what she’d confessed. Telling him about Ergalon had been a breeze compared to this. She had to go. Now. She couldn’t bear his pity.
At her first struggle, he tossed her onto the bed and pressed his full weight on top of her. The shock of feeling him against her in such a position stole her breath, and then he kissed her. It wasn’t tentative or playful or chaste. It was joyful savagery and furious victory. It was a claiming. His mouth, his tongue, even his teeth demanded her surrender. His hand closed over her breast, and she gasped. He took advantage and deepened the kiss.
Tiva didn’t fight him. She wanted this more than she wanted her next breath, had dreamed of it for months. Later… She slammed the door on those thoughts. She’d deal with the aftermath later.
“Do you know,” his mental voice was hoarse, his lips hot on her throat, “what zecaña means, Tivalyn?”
She felt the cool kiss of a blade seconds before her shirt fell away to leave her exposed to his touch. He closed his hand over her bare breast and squeezed. He teased her nipple with his thumb, pinched it until it hardened into a tight little nub, then soothed it with his tongue. Light save her, she screamed.
“Answer me.” He paused to stare up at her, his lips wet and glistening in the glow which illuminated her body.
“N-no.” He expected her to talk? Now?
His laugh was dark and wicked, his lips on her breast even more so. “So responsive, my zecaña. So deliciously sensitive to my touch.” He rose to cup her face in his hands. His eyes were pools of crimson fire, but his smile was luminous. “As a mate should be.”
“Mate?” She gripped his wrists as hope battled against her fear.
“Yes. You, Tivalyn Shadow-Killer, blessed and beloved of Rumylkia, are my mate. My zecaña.”
She shook her head. “I can’t be your mate. I’m not anzukir, Andrje. You deserve a family, children you can be proud of.”
“And I will have them. With you.” He frowned. “Is that why you’re so determined to leave? Zecaña, I love you, want you, not any fledglings we may or may not bear together.”
“What if they lack wings?”
“They will until they’ve seen at least three winters. Your humanity won’t affect that.” He settled on top of her again, his fingers gently wiping away her tears. “Anzukir traits are dominant. Our children will fly. Humans see our infants and jump to conclusions. It doesn’t make those assumptions true.” His kiss was a tease of soft licks and gentle nips. “My father is human, zecaña. I swear to you, our children will fly.”
Tiva traced his lips with trembling fingers. Either she’d died fighting Ergalon or this was a dream. She didn’t care which was true as long she could hold him, claim him for this small moment in time.
She kissed him and tasted the salt on her lips. Tears continued to leak from her eyes, hope and heartbreak overflowing until she couldn’t think. If this was a dream, she’d deal with the pain when she woke.
“It’s no dream.” His voice rang in her head in a gently exasperated tone touched with tenderness. “I swear it.”
He stopped trying to convince her with words and used touch instead. Tiva drowned in sensation as every caress, every suckling kiss led her closer and closer to ecstasy. When they came together, his body hard and strong inside her, her resistance shattered. This was where she wanted to be, was meant to be. With her hands in his hair and her mouth on his, she claimed him as he’d claimed her. For as long as he’d have her, he was hers.
“You’re still glowing.” Andrje lay beside propped on his elbow. His expression was smug and self-satisfied as he ran his hand lightly from her shoulder to her thigh and back again.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I don’t know how to control it.”
“First, you must accept it, child.”
“Who’s there?” Tiva jerked upright only to be tugged back down against Andrje’s warm body.
He shifted until she lay half beneath him, his wing draped over her like a downy blanket. “Think, zecaña.”
Think. Right. He’d just loved her into an incoherent pile of sated goo, and he expected her to think. Stroking her fingers along the underside of his wing, his feathers warm against her skin, she tried to focus on the mystery voice instead of tugging the sinfully gorgeous anzukir down and demanding round two. Who’d dare enter their room? Their locked and warded room. Her eyes widened.
“I am wherever you are.” The voice was at once soft and blinding, as dim as twilight and blinding as midday. It echoed in the room, in her mind, in her very bones. Rumylkia, Lady of Light and Life, was speaking to her. “I have battled Ergalon since the dawn of time and will do so until the end. Long has he held the advantage, trapping me in his prison of shadows and darkness. By destroying his mortal form, you set me free.”
“It’s my fault,” she began. The guilt which stalked her steps for a decade surged forward and gripped her by the throat.
“NO.” The single word held the weight of a command. “Ergalon traced your power to the village and placed his trap. He knew the threat you posed and sought to destroy you. The seal on his tomb was already broken when he set his trap. I have wreaked vengeance on those responsible.”
“What do I do?”
“Accept your place as my champion. There is time enough later for the rest.”
Tiva searched for Andrje’s hand and held it in a bloodless grip. So many changes in her life. So many blessings. So much responsibility. His wing stroked along her side in a tender caress, and suddenly she could breathe again.
“I accept.” She held Andrje’s gaze as she spoke, her words a pledge to both her goddess and her lover. Her mate. His smile glowed as bright as a goddess’s light, his joy everything she could’ve ever wished for.
copyright 2023, Elaina Roberts