This is the story of Sharia, sword mistress of the Eladrin of Mithrendoom, and how she came to be known as the Princess of the Flame.
Part 2 Sharia faces her nemesis, the shadow witch Cryzlyx
Sharia dashed across the square towards her mount, Jubul, seeking the heavy ceramic urns strapped to his back. The camel meandered through the shade of a ruined wall, snuffling amongst the thorny weeds at its base. A dark doorway yawned in the wall, and as Jubul meandered past it, Sharia saw a pale white arm reach out and grasp the trailing reins. With a savage pull, the camel was drawn into the darkness of the building. Glancing back with longing at the billowing mist, now dissipating in the desert breezes, Sharia grit her teeth and leapt through the doorway.
For a moment all was darkness as her wide-set almond eyes adjusted to the dim interior. She used the time to slip her curved blade from its belt loop, and take up a defensive posture. In Nazerak the shadows were the most dangerous of places. This was especially true after the sun set, when the world was cast in shadow; but even at the height of day, the hungry souls who haunted the darkness found shade-havens to wait out the long red days.
Sharia knew of the curse that seethed within all her people. Even as the eladrin of Nazerak were compelled to continue the meaningless clash of arms against their brethren in mockery of an ancient civil war, so were they beholden to the curse even unto death. When a high elf of Nazerak fell in battle, they would rise again that night as a shadow eladrin, or Shadar-kai as they were sometimes called, which roughly translates to gloom-cousin. These gloom cousins were stripped of all that was noble and honorable upon waking, and they lived second lives of cruelty, pain, and pleasure in the deep shadows beneath Nazerak. When a shadar kai was slain – and they were hunted ferociously by the people of Nazerak – a new eladrin babe was born, thus completing the cruel circle of the curse.
(The wise spoke of the ties to the mystical realms, the feywild and the shadowfell, which brushed against Nazerak – one of the few links left in the desolate world – and how the life-blood spilt into the sands of Nazerak strengthened those bonds. In turn, as the eladrin suffered, so they kept their city alive. Without these ties to the still verdant fey realms, no water would flow, by day or by night, and the dry desert would finally have its victory. This they believed was also why each succeeding generation of eladrin born was more unhinged than the last. When a new babe was born, a sliver of his soul went to feed the fey wild, strengthening the bond between realms, but diminishing the soul of the eladrin.)
As Sharia waited for her eyes to adjust, her blade began to glow with an edge of flame. She could see the dim outline of her camel off to one side, snorting and huffing at the indignity of finding itself in a dark interior. She heard the sudden booming crash of breaking ceramic, and recognized the sound as one of her urns. From behind the camel a woman stepped.
She was a mockery of Sharia. Where the eladrins skin was tinted pink from sun exposure, the shadar kai had skin pale to the point of translucence. Her locks were long and stringy, and dyed a garish crimson to cover the lack of natural hue. Where Sharia stood tall and proud, the woman in front of her was hunched, cringing almost, though she held twin daggers with skill and fell intent. Her eyes glowed in the reflected flame of Sharia’s blade, Skarn, and her glare was filled with a hatred of all things warm and bright.
Rage sparkled in Sharia’s eyes. “You!” She took a step forward. A cruel smile parted her lips. “You broke my urn, witch. I will make you pay for that.” To break the urn was to cause thirst and suffering for her people.
The shadar Kai witch Cryzlyx took an unconscious step back, seeking the deepest shadows as was her nature. But even as she retreated, she was sizing up this bright flame before her, watching for weakness, hoping for an error of judgment. Cryzlyx was as warlike as her sun-cousin, but she fought with stealth and sleight of hand. The plunges from her knives came from unexpected directions, and she had no interest in engaging the paladin on even footing. Thus had she planned this ambush for days, waiting for one so foolish as to claim the title Flame Princess that rightfully belonged to Cryzlyx.
Crylzyx once felt the cool burning fur of the flame spirit. She too had held an element of the eternal flame in the palm of her hand and laughed with delight as she controlled the waters of the well, and called herself princess of the flame. But her time as princess was too short for her tastes, and when she inevitably fell in battle, as all eladrin must sooner or later, she woke that night to find herself stripped of fame and flame. Indeed the laughing mockery of her new kin, the shadar kai, confirmed her lost stature. But Cryzlyx was no ordinary soul, she was consumed with a remembrance for things lost, and determined that if she could no longer wield the spirits flame, she would see to it that no one else held that glory. And so for many long days she waited and plotted for someone to claim the title, and now she meant to get it back or slay Sharia for her boldness.
“Your urns will quench no thirst, flame princess,” the witch drawled, pointing at her with a dagger. She reversed her other dagger so the blades back edge followed the slight curve of her fore-arm and raised it high. Her feet shuffled in the sand so her left foot was forward, but her weight was behind.
“It is your blades thirst that will go unquenched,” Sharia laughingly retorts. She unconsciously drops into her own fighting stance, scimitar loose in her hand, knees slightly bent but head held high. Her back is to the door, a rectangle of brilliant bronze light that silhouettes the eladrin as she prepares for battle. Three paces separate the foes but neither makes a move to bridge that gap.
Suddenly Cryzlyx lashes out. In one fluid motion she takes a small step forward while moving her high blade to eye level. This causes Sharia to pull her scimitars blade inward and upward as she instinctively prepares for an assault. But it doesn’t come. Instead, the witches low-held dagger flashes forward and faster than the eye can follow, slashes through the inix-shell skirts that protect Sharia’s thigh, drawing blood.
Sharia gasps but shows no other sign at her first-drawn blood, now draining down her leg, spilling over the lip of her knee-high boot. Amazingly the dagger is back in Cryzlyx’ hand, incarnadine. Sharia wears a smile that holds no mirth. She hates pain, hates taking a hit. It reminds her of her mortality, and this annoys her more than the witch. She heaves her scimitar around and prepares to charge ahead those three paces to engage this shadar kai up close. However, her scimitar Skarn feels lighter than it ever has, and it leaves an arc of flame as she brings it up and forward. On a whim, Sharia turns the swing into a throw and watches as Skarn seems to open up in flight as it crosses the space between the women. Like a winged bird of flame it arcs up and down again, exploding against the crossed daggers Cryzlyx brings up to ward the blow – but they cant stop the explosion of fire that sets the ends of the witches faded hair on fire and bathes her chest in red heat.
The flames turn into burning sparks that cascade down to the sandy floor. Even then a ball of fire appears in Sharias hand and re-forms into Skarn. It is good to be the princess of flame. Sharia nods approvingly at the effect it has had on the witch, who is now quivering in pain and anger as she smothers the lingering flames. With a screech, Cryzlyx launches herself across the space that divides them. Her two daggers above her head, points down, Cryzlyx closes the distance in a single bound.
Sharia has just time enough to bring Skarn up and with CL-CLANG, she stops the crossed daggers above her face. A drop of Sharias own blood lands on her lip from the bloody blade. With a heave, Sharia forces her scimitar forward, and Cryzlyx’ arms are thrown back. Skarn slashes down in a two-handed headsman chop that slices through the tight leather bindings that contain her bodice. The pale flesh beneath is revealed, split by the savage cut that wells slowly with the thick blood of the undead, it is Cryzlyx turn to feel the suffering. She screams. She also recovers her fighting stance even as her breast ignites in pain, and her daggers dance before her in a pattern like two spiraling blood-hawks. A dive, a dodge, the daggers blur between Cryzlyx and Sharia. So confident she split the witch in two, Sharia now takes an unsure step back as she watches the torn flesh of the witches breast twitch and pull apart with sick sucking sounds, oozing a black ihor.
Distracted, Cryzlyx has her opening and a dagger stabs forward towards Sharia’s heart, but finds her shoulder instead. It twists as it goes in and Sharia cannot help the gasp that is pulled out of her when the dagger scrapes and saws against her shoulder blade. She turns and in a fluid motion switches Skarn to her uninjured side. The sword swings around behind her, picking up momentum, and Sharia continues to move with it and for an instant in time witch and paladin stand back to back.
“You will suffer!” Cryzlyx cries to the ceiling above.
“You smell.” Sharia replies.
Then the momentum of Sharias blade brings her back around, and they square off on opposite sides. Now it is Cryzlyx outlined by the bronze light of the open doorway.
They close quickly, like lost lovers embracing, but for the blur of steel, the clash of blades, the grunts of each of them as they push, pull or turn to their advantage. Slowly the fast knives of Cryzlyx begin to make a difference. Sharia is cut, stabbed, and slashed as she tries to hold back the onslaught, but the witch blades are too quick. Each of the wounds is shallow and superficial, but for the blood lost, and Sharia can feel the strength in her fingertips, in her arms and wrists straining, weakening against the inevitable. She cant win this battle. Not like this.
Sharia is a born and bred warrior. She has learned many tricks along the way to mastery, and she uses all of them in this fight. She counts strokes, timing the slashes, waiting for the plunging stabs, finding the rhythm of a foe whose heart is cold. When the next stab comes, Sharia is not there. She stands aside and instead of a breast, Cryzlyx stabs the air, over-extending her arm. Sharia brings her scimitar down in another chop, and this one has the desired effect. The dagger and the hand that holds it tumble to the floor in a pool of congealing blood. Cryzlyx screams again and without pause, leaps shrieking onto Sharia, whose blade is buried deep in the sand next to the severed hand in that critical moment.
It is all Sharia can do to block the lone dagger Cryzlyx now wields, but the witch stabs her over and over with the jagged bone that juts from her bloody wrist. Sharia is driven to her knees, shocked by the witches resilience in the face of such a grievous wound. Her play for victory was made, there is no strategy to escape the mad fury of Cryzlyx, not on her knees with her sword to the side. Sharia breaks one of the first rules she ever learned, and releases the hilt of Skarn to fend off Cryzlyx’ wild attacks as best she can.
Lower and lower Sharia sinks, holding off the bleeding stump with her now free hand, while she bats the blade of the other away with the shells strapped to her wounded arm. Cryzlyx is over her, knees in her stomach, grinding Sharia into the sand. Sharia feels the sand in her hair and knows there is no further retreat. The witch-knife stabs into the ground to the left, then to the right. It slices through a swath of crimson curls, and Cryzlyx pauses to breathe cooingly over Sharia. “I will wear your hair tonight.”
Sharia grits her teeth. She is the flame princess, warrior of Nazerak, hope of her people. She cannot be subdued. “I will wear yours every night, witch!” she screams and gives a mighty heave, her body bucking up off the sand. Sharia is buxom, strong muscle and sinew twine under her fair skin. She wears the heavy inix shell armor of a knight easily, and when she pushes with all her might, with a strength she thought had already fled her muscles, Cryzlyx cannot resist. She goes flying to land crouched on all fours in front of the doorway, hissing. Sharia doesn’t wait but launches her booted foot out and up, connecting to Cryzlyx chin. With a cracking sound the witches teeth slam together and she rocks backward, through the doorway, to land on her back in the hot golden sand of the courtyard.
Cryzlyx manages to find her feet. She stands, staggering under the sun, and lurches forward a step as her skin begins blackening, steaming, and cracking. Her severed arm reaches out to grab the door jamb, to pull herself back into the shadows, but there is no hand left to grab with, and she falls forward and slides to the ground in the doorway as Sharia watches, eyes wide. Cryzlyx glare never leaves Sharia as she sinks into blackened, smoking ruin. Her eyes are the last to go, as her body smolders in the sun that is anathema to the shadow eladrin, Her eyes, finally, lose the flame that ignites them.
“Well, that was unexpected.” Sharia sighed. She grabbed the reins of her camel with one hand and pushed it out into the coppery sunlight of afternoon. The flame spirit was there, across the courtyard perched on the edge of his well. His tail of flickering flames swished back and forth across his paws.
“I never liked that one, much,” he whispered into her mind. Sharia was too exhausted to respond. It may be that the story should end here, but it would do no justice to Sharia to ignore what she did next. With a backward glance into the shadows, she shuddered that she might ever return to that haunt, by day or by night. She knelt and cut Cryzlyx stained and charred hair and tied a loose braid and hung it from her belt, for ever after as a reminder. She took the knives too. In Nazerak a looted corpse is a gift to the living.