Chapter 4: The Daemon Of Light
by Julian Lawler
She was dimly aware of the rain that pattered softly against the back of her head. With every breath she took she winced and cursed away the bruises on her back. The split on her lip burned like a fire. She could feel her hands trembling and her body shaking. She could taste her tears upon her once-tender, rosy cheeks mingling with the rain. She brought her head off the wet ground with great effort and looked around, trying to get some sense of where she was.
She lay sprawled in the middle of a forest clearing, barely clutching to her frail body the tattered shreds of cloth that were the remains of her dress. The forest before her was covered with a dark gray mist. It was hard to tell what time of day or night it was. She fought a wave of nausea as she turned her head to the right. The clearing was large enough for a small caravan. A trail stretched away before her beneath a thick canopy of trees into the shadows beyond.
With grim determination, she attempted to rise from her prone position only to find pain shoot through her body. Her arms buckled with the exertion. She didn’t have the strength to get up on her own. She was in no condition to protect herself.
The Cause. Many were calling it the Conquest. She had fought and struggled for so long. She felt a strange sense of detachment now. For the past ten years, she had led the charge against the tyranny and oppression that gripped the lands. She led armies against kings and brought power to forgotten and imprisoned sons. To the people she had brought hope and justice in a tyrannical land. Now she had been reduced to this. All the fighting and warring; all the burning of records, papers, and documents; all the lost traces of civilization gone forever, burnt up in huge bonfires the size of cities strewn all across the face of the land.
Was it worth the price? She left the question unanswered.
Wincing, she rolled over to her side to look at what was behind her. What she found made her tremble with fear. Lining the clearing on the far side stood twenty men, their blue cloaks pressed tightly about their slender bodies. Their clothes were soaked and their hair was matted to faces she could barely make out in the dimness. She knew who they were. The Hunters. She was alone. Somehow, they had lured her away from her people. Away from the thousands upon thousands that waited to serve her, they had forced her, beaten and battered, to this forest.
Their leader strode forward towards her as he pulled out his sword from its scabbard with a sharp ring. He left the main body of men behind. He wore his hair in a long tail and he let his cloak bellow out behind him as he came closer. She blinked away the rain to get a better look at the man. Whatever blood remained in her drained as he came closer. This was the man responsible for her condition.
He came up to her with a sure stride as his blade dragged behind him. It made a small rut on the forest floor and she wondered what a blade like that could do to her skin. As he pulled up close to her, she could see his cold blue eyes stare back at her unblinkingly. She flinched at his emotionless gaze. Here was a man set out to accomplish her demise, and he now had his goal in sight. She struggled to move away from him, but he continued to follow her slow progress, mocking her waning strength. His boots crunched grass and leaves with every step. Twigs snapped loudly above the steady drizzle. This unnerved her more than she cared to admit.
She crawled on the wet ground and through mud to a nearby tree where she turned to face her pursuer. The tree’s bark bit hard into her back as she lifted herself with weak legs. She bit back a cry and forced herself to look determined. She had to show defiance. She had to! The man came close. She could see him clearly. He had long blonde hair with cold blue eyes she refused to meet again. He wore black, knee-high boots made of leather and wore gloved hands. He wore a white dirty shirt along with black pants. She caught a glint of a chain link shirt beneath his collar. As he came up to her, he brought his sword arm up and leveled his gaze with hers. His large, steel blade following suit.
She looked down the length of his blade into his eyes, uncaring of the fact that she was shivering from the cold drizzle. She held her tattered dress close to her, but didn’t flinch when the man’s eyes dropped for an instant to appraise her. They quickly rose to meet hers. She wondered if she had imagined it.
“Lady,” he said in a smooth, uncaring voice, “you have come to the end of your life. If you must say something, then say it now.”
She looked over his shoulder. The rest of the men were starting to come closer. They weren’t rushing forward, but slowly, like a pack of wolves ready to bring down their prey. They had their weapons out and in the dimness of the forest clearing she could sense their bloodthirsty anticipation. New tears started to roll down her face. She didn’t want to kill anyone, but she knew she would if she had to.
The man took her silence for an answer. “Very well,” he said, “if you may, please come with me. There is no need to go through what you have already endured. I will end it quickly.” He smiled at her; a cruel, malicious parting of his lips.
She almost whimpered. What they had done to her was beyond cruelty. They had beaten her and raped her. They had cut her for the mere sake of enjoying the screams that had come out of her parched throat. They had left her unconscious in a room with no sunlight for days to disorient her more than their blows ever could. When they felt fit, they had paraded her through the tiny village she had been caught in, naked and bleeding, making half the trip on her knees, dragging her till her knees were rubbed raw.
A sudden spark of anger flared to life within her as she stared at the man. He was the very reason why the Conquest was taking place; because of men like him and women to weak and scared to do anything. She looked around again, fighting a wave of nausea as she did so. The forest all around was dim, almost black with shadows that would only come with nighttime. She hoped beyond hope...
As if reading her thoughts, the man smiled again his viscious smile. “This place is warded. You cannot use your powers here. The light you need is beyond your reach now. I have made sure you cannot harm us in this place. Be lucky I brought you here. I would have given you to a Netweaver if I weren’t so kind.” She could have beaten a Netweaver, she knew. Their nets might have held her power for a while, but with coming daylight, she would have escaped. But here, blocked from real daylight, she was almost completely helpless. He came a step closer, his sword point now touching the soft flesh under her collarbone.
She refused to believe this man. There wasn’t any warding strong enough to shield her from her power. She didn’t reach for her light, though. If he sensed what she was doing, and she failed to get to it, he would kill her. Any hope of survival depended on his mistake. She needed time. “Only one thing,” she said with newfound resolve.
He regarded her carefully as he nodded. “Quickly, and don’t try any tricks.” To emphasize his point, he pricked her skin with his blade. A small bead of blood splattered on her cheek. She felt it travel down her neck to her chest and down the inside of her tattered dress.
She stifled a yell as the pain made her dizzy. Through bleary eyes, she counted the men advancing behind her attacker. Twenty. She needed them to get closer. Just a little closer and they would all pay for what they had done to her. She would only get one shot at this, and then death.
“Why do you do this?” She knew the answer, but she needed time, knowing her enemy would indulge in his reply.
“Because!” The man’s face contorted with rage. “Because you are a dremion! You are a daemon of light. All daemons must be destroyed. You serve the night by destroying the light! You seek powers where none should tread! You seek the aid of Seers when they cannot help you! You take from them, like you took from Galim Elden, what they cannot give! You,” he lowered his voice icily, “must die.”
She dodged his sword stab and his blade buried itself deep into the tree where her head had been. The man stepped around the wounded tree as she ran off into the depths of the forest. She had no idea where she was going, but the sound of men giving chase only gave her more speed. Branches, hanging low underneath the canopy of trees, reached down to grab her like arms to pull up a child. They whipped at her face, scratching and blinding her. Branches snagged her tattered clothes, ripping the last strands into rags.
She ran unconcerned of the direction she was headed. She chanced a glance over her shoulder and cursed as she almost tripped over an uprooted tree. Behind her, the group of men gave chase, crouching low to the ground to keep from hitting the branches themselves. She knew she was making enough noise for them to take their time. She knew too she could not run forever. But she would not give them the luxury of rolling over for them and dying.
The Cause had been her doing. Thousands and thousands of men and women were at her beck and call. She would fight. There was no other choice. Stumbling, she stretched her arms and gathered all her strength. She could feel her arms tingle with the effort of gathering the light. She felt a wave of giddiness and hope sweep through her. The man was wrong. The place wasn’t warded. There was no warding in the world strong enough to hold her from her power.
Even in the dimness of the forest, there was enough of a glow for shadows to gather; shadows that were caused by light. It was enough. It was enough for her to pray and hope that she could find enough light to fight back one last time. Then, of course, she would die. She already knew that.
“Give up!” She could here the leader of the band yelling behind her. If they thought she was going to give up, they were in for a surprise. Almost exhausted beyond consciousness, she tripped and fell to her knees. She was carried forward several feet by her momentum and landed face down. The impact caused her to lose her breath and she struggled to remain conscious.
Behind her, the men came charging up to her. She couldn’t see them, laying face down in the muddy floor, but she could hear their heavy, booted steps draw near. She heard the clang of steel against steel, and a minor scuffle ensued. Men grunted and shouted with the effort of the fighting. For a brief instant, she hoped help had arrived. But then hope dwindled for the last time like a piece of paper held to a burning torch.
“No! You fools!” came the leader’s yell. “We are not to fight each other, remember? She is the enemy! She is the one who destroyed Galim Elden. She is the one that has left our people leaderless. She is the daemon of light that has left us to wonder aimlessly. She is the one who deserves to be punished. Her!”
She could only assume he was pointing at her back.
“Let’s end this mess, then!” said a man in a deep voice. “The dremion are sneaky, maybe she put us up to this fight. Let’s kill her now!”
“Yes, of course.”
Copyright © 2004 by Julian Lawler